Not News, Not Journalism, Not Anything of Value
There are lots of things to say about The Daily Caller’s release and reporting and Hannity’s televised reveal of the (not-at-all) SHOCKING video of not-yet-President Obama giving a speech to a predominantly black audience in 2007 at Hampton University. After reading Carlson’s Daily Caller article in which he claims that Obama uses an “accent he almost never adopts in public” (except here and, according to Rush Limbaugh, here and here) and Hannity’s yelling at Juan Williams over Hannity’s apoplexy that Obama’s voice sounds different than usual in the video, one could introduce Carlson and Hannity to the concept of code-switching among many, many, other things.
While there are other important issues that this whole deal raises in terms of race in America and white privilege, for instance, I am not an expert in those areas; I want to stick to areas that I know well when posting in this space. I want to call attention how The Daily Caller’s decision to “release” the video, their reporting about the video, and Hannity’s show covering the release of the video are an affront to journalism.
Hannity and Carlson both read Obama’s mind to then directly contradict what Barack Obama said in his speech with what they asserted were “facts” about his “real” intent. Hannity and Carlson used evidence not related to their argument to “prove” their argument.
Reporting the Olds and not the News
Most of this video has been online for years; a transcript of the prepared remarks was also available, though Obama deviated from the script. Carlson argued that the deviations were important, telling, and disgusting. Of course, Tucker Carlson himself covered the speech (well, he reported on it; he was not there covering it) back in 2007. The “shout out” to Jeremiah Wright was named one of Obama’s top gaffes of the 2008 election by Politico. What is new? Only the items below; claims that were ignited by Carlson, stoked by Drudge, and fanned by Hannity.
Mind Reading and the Telling of Direct Lies
Carlson claims that the real reason Obama is giving the speech is to tell the audience, “They don’t like you because they are black. That is the theme of the speech from front to back, from beginning to end.” It is really impressive of Carlson to read Barack Obama’s mind. This is especially impressive because Carlson is able to read Obama’s mind despite what Obama actually said in the speech!
As ABC’s Jake Tapper reported (I noticed that NBC’s Today did so too this morning), Obama explicitly says to the same crowd in the same speech that race is not a factor in his anger at the government over the response to Hurricane Katrina. Obama said that he thought the Bush administration’s “incompetence” was “colorblind” and was not about race. That is an explicit rejection of the entire thesis of Carlson and Hannity’s absurd exercise – even though Carlson views Obama’s comments about New Orleans (including the direct claims that the government’s failures are not racially motivated) as “remarkable moment, and not just for its resemblance to Kanye West’s famous claim that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Umm, no. If it is remarkable, it is because it makes no such claim at all. In fact, it directly rejects such claims (see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fascinating essay ).
Leaving aside the wisdom of Carlson’s use of the word “whipping” when describing his view that then-Candidate Obama was trying to build “race hatred and fear,” in his speech – where is the fear? Obama does not tell the audience to fear the government, to fear whites, or to fear anything (except, perhaps – if you really want to stretch – complacency). Carlson seems to want to argue that Obama is race-baiting and trying to make people afraid without evidence that he is doing so and despite actual words from the actual speech that explicitly state he is not doing so.
Obfuscation and Totally Unfair Comparisons
Journalism is about reporting the verifiable truth, not providing falsely equivalent facts for readers, viewers, and listeners to sift through. Yet, Carlson’s reporting on the Hampton University speech is SHOCKING (sorry) with respect to how facts are used. Candidate Obama complained that the Stafford Act provision requiring a 10 percent local match of federal dollars to rebuild, in this case, New Orleans, had not been waived even though it was waved after 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew. That was a reasonable question to ask.
Carlson calls it “basic dishonesty” because the “federal government had sent at least $110 billion” to help with Katrina. Carlson’s fact is true, but it has nothing at all to do with the fact about the Stafford Act that Obama presented to his audience. Obama asked about the basic fairness of waiving the Stafford Act requirement for one hurricane (and 9/11) and not waving it for another. That is unrelated to whether the federal government gave money to help with rebuilding efforts.
What is worse, Carlson goes on to say that a little while after Obama’s speech, (after Obama’s speech), the Bush administration sent another nearly $7 billion to locales affected by Katrina with “no strings attached.” Stafford waivers did come later as well, which Carlson noted in a lazy way, claiming that the waivers came at (here at the actual) times.
Is Carlson angry at Obama for not appreciating something that had not happened yet? I think he is and I think that that is actual “basic dishonesty.”
Another unfair comparison is Carlson’s use of government aid in response to 9/11. “Compare this,” Carlson writes (referring to the $110 billion in aid given to Katrina-affected areas) “to the mere $20 billion that the Bush administration pledged to New York after Sept. 11.” First, this leaves aside other money pledged to the victims of 9/11 and their families, but more importantly, it implies that the cleanup and rebuilding of the horrific destruction of the Twin Towers is directly comparable to the cleanup and rebuilding costs for an entire city; indeed, an entire gulf region, after a devastating hurricane. This is a ridiculous claim and a wholly unfair comparison.
Why is it Terrible to Remember History?
Carlson closes his Daily Caller post noting Obama’s veering off-script to conclude his speech by saying that “we won’t forget what happened 19 months ago, or 15 years ago, or 300 years ago.” Carlson writes, “Three hundred years ago. It’s a reference the audience understood.”
What is Carlson implying here? That the audience understands Katrina happened 19 months from the time of the speech, the L.A. riots 15 years prior, and slavery 300 years before? If so, that’s great, he is praising the audience for understanding history. Of course, I suspect (but can’t know for sure) that Carlson is not implying this. Carlson’s interview on Hannity suggests that Carlson rejects Obama’s references to race (though again, Obama did not make them in the way Carlson claimed) as destructive, mean-spirited, manipulative, and divisive. I’m not so sure it is a bad idea to recall the effects of a devastating storm, riot, or national scar. What is there to fear from recalling history and then engaging in a debate about what historical events are analogous to today, affect what is happening today, and might help us understand what to do tomorrow? We certainly don’t have to agree about what role racism and slavery played in these and other matters to have productive conversations about them.
He Has Seen the Media and it isn’t Him
At one point last night, Sean Hannity said that he hoped “the media” would start to cover Obama’s speech from 5 years ago. If only he had a radio show, a television show, a website, a friend named Tucker who worked for a media outlet at another website to talk with on television, and a web-muckracker named Matt to promote Hannity’s multi-platform megaphone…