Why did it take until Thursday March 13, 2008, for the nation to begin to learn about Barack Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright? The man whose Trinity United Church of Christ Obama has attended and generously funded for seventeen years? Whom he had publicly and repeatedly cited as his mentor and had named as a campaign advisor? Whom he chose to perform his wedding and baptize his two daughters?
Because, until then, we were in the midst of Phase I — preventative medicine — of the media’s version of campaign health care for the Senator’s Presidential bid. Call it the Plan to Protect Obama (PPO).
The Reverend Wright story had been percolating beneath the surface for several years. It finally broke through to widespread dissemination last week. A picture is worth a thousand words — moving pictures with audio of Wright’s anti-American, paranoid rantings from the pulpit have inspired many more than that.
These videos succeeded in doing what no series of Internet articles and blog blurbs had: they brought to mainstream attention the man who has been perhaps the key figure in the life and rise of the current Democratic frontrunner.
Having been forced to report upon the invective-addled Jeremiah Wright, the media shifted into PPO Phase II — triage. They minimized reporting of Wright’s videos and words in an effort to limit their impact on Obama’s campaign.
Friday March 14th’s NBC Nightly News allocated a mere 22 seconds to Obama’s condemnation of what fill-in anchor Ann Curry vaguely described as “inflammatory remarks that his long time pastor made about Hillary Clinton and the nation.” The newscast then went on to devote three entire minutes to a celebratory piece about how excited Obama’s childhood friends in Indonesia are about his candidacy.
That same day, MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell let slip her intent to control damage to Obama. Said O’Donnell: “Rush Limbaugh went nuts today on his program about this story” and then wondered “How do we get away from this?”
O’Donnell also sought to distance Obama from Wright and us from the story, saying “I don’t even know how these candidates can talk about policy because it seems like every day someone’s asking them to apologize for the comments of their supporters.”
Joining her in attempted damage control was CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “All this seems to have nothing to do with actual issues that the country is facing which these candidates should be talking about and we probably should be talking about.”
For the media, discussing the impact this hate-filled man has had on Obama’s perspective on things over the course of a quarter century is considered a distraction, but excoriating Republicans for appearing at Bob Jones University for an afternoon is somehow not.
On Tuesday the 18th Obama delivered a speech which he said would assuage all concerns regarding Wright. It barely addressed them, and in it he contradicted previous assertions that he had never been present for any of Wright’s controversial statements. Obama declined to disavow his Reverend before turning on a dime to deliver his views on racial issues in America.
But none of this even slowed the media’s damage control effort. In fact, they stepped it up. Overlooking Obama’s refusal to renounce Wright and his inconsistencies, they all fell in line behind his attempt to transform the speech from being about Wright to being about race.
That evening, ABC and CBS displayed “Race in America” on screen as the theme to their coverage. NBC went simply with “The Speech” but anchor Brian Williams described it as “a speech about race.” The gushing ensued.
ABC’s Charles Gibson: “Barack Obama delivers a major speech confronting the race issue head on, and says it’s time for America to do the same. Obama challenged Americans to confront the country’s racial divide.” He then hailed “an extraordinary speech.”
CBS’s Katie Couric: “Barack Obama addresses the controversial comments of his pastor, condemning the words but not the man. And he calls on all Americans to work for a more perfect union.”
NBC’s Lee Cowan: “In the City of Brotherly Love, Barack Obama gave the most expansive and most intensely personal speech on race he’s ever given.” That it had an “honesty that struck his rival Hillary Clinton.”
On NBC, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart asserted “it was a very important speech for the nation. It was very blunt, very honest” and therefore “a very important gift the Senator has given the country.”
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews simply (and again) could not contain himself. He praised the speech as “worthy of Abraham Lincoln,” saying it surpassed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address as the “best speech ever given on race in this country.” His conclusion: “I think this is the kind of speech I think first graders should see — people in the last year of college should see before they go out in the world. This should be, to me, an American tract.”
My conclusion: I need a shower.
Having done their best to spin Obama’s yarn as finely as possible, Press PPO Phase III then began — rehabilitation. Closing the circle and returning to the original media theme of Obama as Victim.
Thursday the 20th was the day the media transformed two minor dalliances by (very) low level staffers into the reincarnations of Gordon Liddy’s Dirty Tricks squad. The Right Wing Conspiracy, apparently, could not get any Vaster.
The two incidents — McCain/YouTube Video-gate and Obama Passport-gate — were unrelated and utterly unimportant save for their utility as media Obama healing instruments.
The video in question accurately intersperses clips of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, and was already widely available and highly viewed — posted as it was on hugely popular YouTube. Regardless, the McCain campaign suspended an entry-level staffer for emailing it about.
Undaunted by the facts, the CBS Evening News went into full Obama-Victim mode. With "Campaign Controversy" plastered across the screen, Katie Couric breathlessly delivered “A low-level aide to John McCain was suspended today for circulating an incendiary video about Barack Obama that’s been viewed by tens of thousands of people on the Internet.”
CBS Reporter Dean Reynolds said he found it “troubling” that “a low-level campaign aide to John McCain has been circulating it.” Resurrecting the equally minor Bill Cunningham incident, Reynolds described the video as “one of several episodes in which aides, supporters, or surrogates have crossed the line and forced McCain to apologize or take action.”
Couric then wondered aloud if the Obama campaign believes “they’ve successfully neutralized the Jeremiah Wright controversy?”
Did you just get whiplash from Katie’s lurching change of direction? McCain has a lackey emailing a video already available at the Wal-Mart of internet film and he has to apologize. But Obama’s two decade relationship with a racist, delusional pastor requires no such act of contrition.
Reynolds told Couric to rest easy: “Obama is trying to build a firewall, a defensive firewall right now, and they hope they’ve started that process this week.”
Case closed then, guys — no more Wright racket.
Then there was the breaking news that some bit-part State Department contractors had looked at Obama’s passport file. This was a huge bulletin, and said to be further evidence that the Bush Administration – at the behest perhaps of the McCain camp? — was thoroughly crooked.
Until it came to light that the files of McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton had also been violated. At which point, the story — having lost its Obama-Victim utility –was immediately dropped.
The media has a hoped-for result for this flurry of Obama reporting — a cumulative, concussive effect where the American people end up losing the Wright forest for the YouTube-passport trees.
They minimized their Reverend reporting both before and during, then maximized their rehabilitative efforts after — all to maintain and protect Obama’s electoral viability, his campaign health as it were.
We won’t truly get an inkling of how effective they have been until the April 22nd check-up in Pennsylvania.