Media Hazing Of Barack Obama
Now let's look at the other side of the coin: politicians who do things they shouldn't and get protected by the media. The most dramatic example in recent years was Bill Clinton, about whom most Americans never heard serious accusations of drug use, rape and criminal connections. While Marion Barry went to prison on a minor drug charge; the prosecutor who got too close to the Clinton drug story ended up living in fear of her life at a secret location.
[Elections 2008: Media Convicted]
Watching the missteps, misspeaks and misdeeds of politicians, one thing is soon clear: how important these incidents become is largely determined by grace of the media.
There is often no particular connection to the seriousness of the mishap, no clear connection to any political agenda, and seldom a moral purpose.
In these situations, the press is often like a drunk behind the wheel. Perhaps it will take us home safely; perhaps there will be a disaster. You tighten your seatbelt and hope for the best.
Barack Obama has recently experienced the media at its dysfunctional worst. The handling of the irreverent Jeremiah Wright story has no basis in journalistic principle other than laid out by the late Senator Gene McCarthy: reporters are like blackbirds on a telephone wire. When one flies off, they all fly off.
To put some numbers to this, here are the Google hits from news publications over the past month on the leading presidential candidates and their bizarre religious connections:
Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright; 13,095. John McCain and Rev John Hagee; 295. Hillary Clinton and The Fellowship; 37.
In case you think that Hagee and the Fellowship can't hold a candle to Wright, consider this Wikipedia note about Hagee, who is close to McCain: "Hagee denounces abortion, and stopped giving money to Israel's Hadassah hospital when it began performing the procedure. He has spoken out against homosexuality.
In his book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, Hagee interprets the Bible to predict that Russia and the Islamic states will invade Israel and will be destroyed by God. This will cause the anti-Christ, the head of the European Union, to create a confrontation over Israel between China and the West. A final battle between East and West at Armageddon will then precipitate the Second Coming of Christ."
And this about the Fellowship, by Andrea Mitchell and Jim Popkin of NBC, two of the rare major media journalists to even mention it. Referring to Fellowship leader Douglas Coe: "In his preaching, Coe repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It's a commitment Coe compares to the blind devotion that Adolph Hitler demanded from his followers -- a rhetorical technique that now is drawing sharp criticism.
"'Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler were three men. Think of the immense power these three men had, these nobodies from nowhere," Coe said.
"Later in the sermon, Coe said: ‘Jesus said, 'You have to put me before other people. And you have to put me before yourself.' Hitler, that was the demand to be in the Nazi party. You have to put the Nazi party and its objectives ahead of your own life and ahead of other people."
Coe also quoted Jesus and said: "One of the things [Jesus] said is 'If any man comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, brother, sister, his own life, he can't be a disciple.' So I don't care what other qualifications you have, if you don't do that you can't be a disciple of Christ."
The sermons are little surprise to writer Jeff Sharlet. He lived among Coe's followers six years ago, and came out troubled by their secrecy and rhetoric.
"'We were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao. And I would say, 'Isn't there a problem with that?' And they seemed perplexed by the question. Hitler's genocide wasn't really an issue for them. It was the strength that he emulated," said Sharlet….
'They're notoriously secretive,' Sharlet said. 'In fact, they jokingly call themselves the Christian Mafia. Which becomes less of a joke when you realize that they really are dedicated to being what they call an invisible organization.'"
So here we have three presidential candidates with substantial ties to dubious religious figures, but only one of them gets pilloried in the media for it.
Why? One answer is because Obama is going through a special fraternity hazing to see whether he really the sort of fellow the establishment wants to have as its first Black leader. Watching Obama struggle awkwardly with the Wright problem, I was reminded of Sammie Davis Jr. playing golf with Ronald Reagan. "Do you want a handicap?" Reagan asked.
"Look," replied Davis, "I'm a one-eyed Black Jew. What more of a handicap do I need?"
But Obama isn't just playing golf. There is a long tradition of testing Black leaders in this way. Under Clinton, for example, Lani Guinier flunked. And as with Obama, it is not unusual to use the Louis Farrakhan litmus paper. For the media watchdogs of the establishment, Wright was a welcomed addition to the standardized test.
Unspoken in all this is the understanding that there are good Blacks and bad Blacks. There is Colin Powell and then there is Al Sharpton.
From the start, the Washington establishment welcomed Obama with a sigh of relief. A well suited, well spoken, well educated non-controversial black who would let us change colors without changing policies. The enthusiasm was so great that the big guys forgot to conduct the test.
And then Jeremiah Wright appeared and, through him, the scariest Black ghost of all: Louis Farrakhan. You could almost feel the sense of betrayal. And so the test began in earnest. Two months of the most intensive press coverage of a grossly irrelevant topic that we've seen in a long time.
One of Obama's real problems is that he takes himself far too seriously and, in the process, helped his critics elevate the Wright controversy. My thinking at the start was that the last thing you should hold anyone accountable for is remembering what their preacher said in a sermon. Obama might have even buried the whole issue by simply quoting another minister who said of such lectures: "The mind can only absorb what the butt can endure." Or turned it around on the press, demanding of George Stephanopoulos and his ilk: "Tell me what your minister said last Sunday and I'll tell you what I remember of mine." But when you presume to carry as much import as Obama does, such simple exits don't come to mind.
Obama desperately wants to lead the establishment, which is why he so frequently looks like he's auditioning for a lectureship at the Council on Foreign Relations or a fellowship at the Brookings Institution. But, in the process, he fell into the trap the establishment had set for him.
Black politicians aren't the only one to face the hazing. Consider the dismissive, patronizing press coverage of John Edwards, a white southerner with the best economic and social policies of the campaign who was treated as nothing more than an over-expensive haircut.
In 2007, Clinton and Obama got included in over 90% of all two-candidate mentions in headlines, while Edwards only got into 15%. And those to the left of Edwards can forget about getting any mainstream coverage at all. For more than a quarter century, the mainstream media has consigned the left to oblivion, all the while calling itself objective.
Now let's look at the other side of the coin: politicians who do things they shouldn't and get protected by the media.
The most dramatic example in recent years was Bill Clinton, about whom most Americans never heard serious accusations of drug use, rape and criminal connections. While Marion Barry went to prison on a minor drug charge; the prosecutor who got too close to the Clinton drug story ended up living in fear of her life at a secret location.
A similar contrast can be found between the heavily covered story of Obama's one allegedly crooked friend, Tony Rezko, and the near total censorship of information about Hillary Clinton's three business partners who actually went to prison: Webster Hubbell and the McDougals.
Of course, the latter had no known partiality towards Louis Farrakhan. But then which is worse: sitting in a pew and listening to Wright or sitting in an office and plotting with Webster Hubbell?
The foregoing only scratches the surface of the one of the deepest sins of the media: cruel and constant coverage of relatively insignificant misdoings by some politicians combined with consistent concealment of much more serious offences by those who - through personality, ethnicity, ideology or class, or just plain power - are protected members of an establishment to which Washington journalists are desperate to belong - at enormous cost to the rest of us.
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