How Will Simple Media Handle Complex Obama Speech?

Barack Obama handed the media a huge challenge this morning. How will media cover his speech — how will a simplifying, sound-bite, conventional-wisdom-loving media deal with his speech, his sermon, on race and understanding and America?

Go listen to his whole speech (not yet on the web). It’s full of the complex dynamic that is America and its history. He starts with his view of the Constitution as a living document, one that was signed with slavery and the slave trade still legal but that had the hope embedded in it of liberty and justice for all. A flawed document from a flawed and human country that had within it the way to transcend those flaws.

That alone is a challenge for the media to deal with — let alone the audience.

His sermon looked at himself, his minister, his campaign and his country and his hopes and his country’s hopes and flaws — as an unfolding story, a story in motion. Pinning his views down in a sound bite is like catching a butterfly and pinning it to a board. It’s no longer alive and flying. This is partly why the spoken word is such a powerful way to connect human to human.

Let’s see what the media does with this — to me — uplifting and educational and brave speech.

— Benidt  college grants kind

30 thoughts on “How Will Simple Media Handle Complex Obama Speech?

  1. Greetings from Dublin, where I can tell you that hearing and seeing the report on SkyNews (a television channel owned by Rupert Murdoch), I found the reporting so confusing to hear and watch, that I jumped online to read a print version of the story.

    So, chalk one up in the “not great coverage” column!

    And, Bruce, I am in total agreement about the quality and bravery of Obama’s speech. The race issue has been danced around for so long in this campaign without ever being discussed head on by anyone. I feel almost a great sense of relief that it’s finally out there – as uncomfortable as it will make some feel.

  2. Get Serious says:

    What’s complicated about a politician getting busted for worshiping 25 years at the altar of a racist, anti-semitic, America-loathing “Christian” preacher?

    The Good Reverend, in fact, remains on Obama’s campaign advisory team.

    If anything is complicated, it’s how Obama will extricate himself from the race issue when all he has to run on is race.

  3. Kris, I tend to agree. At first blush, I’m really impressed with Obama’s speech today. Not once did I cringe or shake my head like I did during Romney’s “big faith speech.”

    Get Serious, thank you for weighing in with that line. I’m sure Bill O’Reilly is busy taping a show.

    Here’s what’s complicated about it: Most – honest to god: most – probably have some hints of racism or other bigotry deep down. Some are “worse” or more severe than others, and some of it gets acted on and some it gets buried or maybe thought about and learned from.

    I’m curious to learn about the anti-semitic claim. I don’t believe I’ve heard that yet, so I’m not really able to comment wisely on that.

    If I were feeling chippy – and I so often am – I’d argue that “god damn America” could just as easily be rooted in America-loving as it could America-loathing. The guy is a Marine! “Loathe and serve” doesn’t make sense to me.

    And I don’t dare put words in Obama’s mouth, but if I were in his position, I’d say that you couldn’t be more wrong when you say I worship at the altar of Rev. Wright – “I worship at the altar of Jesus Christ,” I would say. (Obama wouldn’t do this, but after saying that, I’d get a really smug, self-satisfied look on my face and maybe say “Damn straight!”)

    And actually, according to news reports (if you can believe those liberal bastards), Rev. Wright was removed from that advisory post: Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

    It’s not that I don’t want to hear your side of the argument, Serious. I really do. I just want you to bring some meat to the table.

  4. Get Serious says:

    The root problem here is that Obama (if you can believe what he says) has been faithfully attending this church for 20+ years, listening to the same inflammatory hateful rhetoric, and yet he still chose to belong, silently.

    “He has been like family to me – he strengthens my faith,” Obama said of the reverend. (Audio recordings are stubborn things.)

    Geraldine Ferraro is 100% spot on – Obama is a frontrunner only because he is black. He has no substantive qualifications or achievements; he only has his skin color. The same, frankly, can be said of Hillary and her last name.

    This hyper-sensitivity about race is a creation of liberals – it’s also turning out to be their ruination. When people call Geraldine Ferraro a racist – we need no further proof.

    McCain is looking more and more likely every day.

  5. jloveland says:

    I’m in the cult, but thought the speech was remarkable. I don’t believe half of what our minister says, but I can see how fundamentalists especially might assume that other church goers buy it all the way fundamentalists, by definition, buy it all.

    I liked this passage: “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation.”


  6. jloveland says:

    Get Serious indeed. Tell Shirley Chisolm, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Al Sharpton, Harold Washington, Tom Bradley, John Lewis, Carol Mosley Brown, Devall Patrick, Martin Luther King and many other prominent national black politicians that all you have to do to win the Democratic nomination for President is have black skin. All they would have had to do is enter the presidential race and the nomination would be automatic???

    Being black hurts Obama with some voters and it helps him with some. I’m frankly not sure how that nets out. I suspect it’s still a net negative, but I have no data.

    But there is no way Obama would be where he is today if he weren’t the most talented Democratic politician from the stump of my generation. That talent is his central appeal, not his race.

  7. I have a dear friend who’s staunchly conservative. There’s at least one issue on which we disagree: Last I heard, he was not a fan of this whole idea of gay people getting married.

    But you know what? If I were running for office, he’d be at my side. He’s smart, perceptive, funny and one of my truest friends. I understand disagreeing on issues like this is different than Wright’s aggressive, abrasive, even offensive words, but my point is this: When everyone gets together and walks in lock-step, you see things like some of the misguided actions of the current administration.

    I’d much rather have people I love and trust around me than people who’ll agree or be safe, and I’ll certainly never throw a friend under the proverbial bus to appease the swarming pundits or the voters they influence. And to the extent Obama seems to take a similar approach, I’m impressed.

    And who’s to say the few minutes of clips we’ve seen of an angry Reverend Wright are in any way representative of his 20-plus years as a preacher?

    No, he’s not the first person I’d want a presidential candidate to be associated with. But if I were supporting Obama, it’d take a lot more than this guy to turn me off. In fact, as a “probably wouldn’t have voted for Obama”-ite, I’m phenomenally impressed by his handling of this situation.

  8. I like to consider myself pretty moderate, pretty independent. But every time I hear Obama give a speech, the more my cynicism of the country goes on hiatus and the more I believe this man has truly observed the country around him and its people.

    Conservatives and Clinton supporters can say all they want, but this was an oratory of deep meaning by a man who seems to actually want to help his fellow man, not his favorite corporation.

    I am rather young (22) and still pretty naive, but more and more I have been persuaded to believe in this man for the good of my future years.

    McCain nor Clinton make me feel this way. McCain nor Clinton make me want to reach for that lost art of having hope.

  9. Get Serious says:

    Let it be known that the people here view Geraldine Ferraro as racist.

    If Obama were white, no one would know his name. You all know it.

    It’s high time that so-called “Civil Rights” establishment blacks be exposed for their hateful and inflammatory rhetoric. And if it costs them the presidency – so much the better.

    Maybe then blacks will finally see racial ambulance chasers like Shirley Chisolm, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Al Sharpton, John Lewis, Carol Mosley Brown, Devall Patrick, and especially Julian Bond for the charlatans that they are.

    Obama’s (and Hillary’s) problems are just beginning. Just wait for the Philadelphia convention.

  10. DJ says:

    Get Serious,

    The convention is in Denver. Philadelphia’s was in 1776, and then they had another one in 1787.

    I find it ridiculous that people think Obama is only where he is because of race. Yes, his race makes him “different” from our typical candidates. But regardless of whether he was white, black, Latino, or whether he was male or female, he’s been able to stir audiences of people into a grassroots movement. Race along doesn’t get you the most votes, the most delegates and the most money in the campaign.


  11. Garret and DJ, thanks for stopping by and commenting. And Garret, I know what you mean about cynicism taking a break for a while.

    Get Serious: I don’t think Geraldine Ferraro is a racist, and I don’t believe you’re accurate when you say, “If Obama were white, no one would know his name.” Can you help me understand your logic on this?

  12. jloveland says:

    “How Will Simple Media Handle Complex Obama Speech?”

    Much of the coverage predictably sounds like Chic Anderson calling a horse race. An example from Fox:

    “As Barack Obama wrapped up his ambitious speech on race, politics and the historical origin of his longtime pastor’s heated sermons Tuesday, advisers questioned whether he had achieved a simple and practical objective: halting the “loop.” The “loop” is the barrage of anti-American invective from Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. that has saturated national television for the past week.”

  13. Bill Dewey says:

    Hey Get Serious, get serious. If Barak Obama weren’t black, he wouldn’t be Barak Obama. Since before he announced his candidacy, I have felt that he was a person who could speak to black people on behalf of whites, and to whites on behalf of black people, and be heard –and given credence — by all, in either role. He is, in a real sense, both; not just in his genetics but his whole life history, raised by a white family but regarded and was treated by others as black.

    I think, though, that his speech today was speaking to _all_ Americans, not on behalf of any group but on behalf of those who believe that we can do better, that we can continue to perfect our union, a sentiment with which I agree. If you don’t think so, Get Serious, I feel sorry for you, because I fear that you will be left behind when the rest of us move on.

  14. Garret, what a lovely comment — cynicism on hiatus. Obama, or any politician or preacher or human, would love to inspire the banishing of cynicism. He lifts my self-imposed pessimistic weight off my shoulders.

    And Bill, speaking to all is indeed Obama’s gift — and he is able to stand in the shoes of all, it seems.

    Rev. Joseph Lowery just said the speech was the most magnificent he had heard since Martin’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

    One smart commentator this evening recalled that Martin Luther King had said (paraphrase but close) “How can I ask young black men to give up their guns when my government is the biggest purveyor of violence on the planet?” Angry words, and true, and damn hard to hear.

    Obama’s speech has certainly gotten people talking, and God willing, perhaps even listening. Great discussion here.

  15. jloveland says:

    This is a great discussion.

    But this is the communications reality I fear: Most will not hear the speech. They’ll just hear a snippet of news narrative and a short clip. For that guy walking past the TV fleetingly as he rushes out the door, the leave-behind might well be, “Man, now that guy is REALLY sinking because he and his black pal say God should damn America.”

    After all, the takeaway from weeks of the news media assuring us that “Obama isn’t Muslim” was that 13% think Obama is a Muslim.

    Sometimes things get lost in translation, and sometimes people just conclude “I don’t have time or interest to sort this out, and where there is smoke, there must be fire.”

  16. Get Serious says:

    Many of the same apologists for Barak Obama and the Most Reverend Jeremiah Wright are the same people that tried to hang David Duke around the neck of George Bush nine years ago.

    What goes around …

    P.S. I still haven’t heard a persuasive argument from any of you why Obama’s 20-year patronage of (and close friendship with) the Reverend is excusable. Do you expect us to believe that the recorded rants of the Reverend were isolated and infrequent?

  17. jloveland says:

    For decades I was the member of a church where the priests actively promoted things I strongly disagreed with, such as condemning people who use condoms and birth control pills, when birth control prevents poverty, suffering and destruction of God’s creation. That offended me every bit as much as Wrights wrongs.

    Yet, for decades I stayed in those pews. Why? Tradition. Family. Friends. Community. Inertia.

    Overall, I guess I was willing to do what we all do sometimes. Compartmentalize. Accept the good parts and reject the bad parts. After all, for every one time the priests said something that offended me to the core, there were dozens of things they said that were profoundly compelling and important to me. It can be very hard to leave the good parts behind.

    I imagine the same is true for Obama and his church.

  18. Get Serious says:

    I presume you’re referencing the Catholic church. Still, none of the Church’s failings you mention come close to Reverend Wright’s transgressions. I think the general public would validate this assumption as well.

    I say this because Catholic church teachings and personalities are not saturating the current 24/7 news cycle.

  19. Dennis Lang says:

    Caught a snippet of MPR’s interview with Juan Willams this morning who also questioned Mr. Obama’s longstanding relationship with the vitriolic reverend. The “grandmother” reference being particularly weak and specious in an otherwise galvanizing speech. Kudos to the Crowd–lively dialogue!

  20. jloveland says:


    1) We’ll have to agree to disagree about Catholics v. Wright. To me, what the Catholic church does – on birth control alone, not to mention turning an institutional blind eye to widespread child sexual abuse — is worse than what Wright says. My point isn’t that Obama was right to stay there. My point is that Obama’s decision to remain a member despite his disagreements is a decision LOTS of church members make, and that association doesn’t necessarily equal A-to-Z agreement.

    2) Not sure I understand your point about the clip with the racist black minister attacking Obama for having a white mom and working with whites. There are kooks in every religion and race, and I don’t know any presidential candidate who agrees with what that guy is espousing. It’s deplorable, but is it relevant to the Wright controversy?

  21. jloveland says:

    Slithery political strategist Dick Morris has an interesting take on this that may be at least partially true:

    “Wright’s rantings are not reflective of Obama’s views on anything. Why did he stay in the church? Because he’s a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him. But obviously, he can’t say that.”

  22. I almost find Get Serious’ comments amusing because this reverend, who most had never heard of until last week, is basically the equivalent of a Sunday television mass preacher on steroids. So Get Serious, you’ve never had someone linked to you that has said or done some bonehead things? If so, apparently you are more holier than thou.

    With that said, I find this whole reverend thing amusing because people are trying to negate Obama from the words of people linked to him. Why? Because they can’t find anything really wrong with what he’s saying. The whole spiel about his wife being not “really” proud of America until now. And now a fraction of Obama’s spirituality is on trial because of a pastor who grew up during the worst of Jim Crow. Neither “blemish” have nothing to do with Obama’s character.

    Here’s what it boils down to: He didn’t make either statement — people close to him did. They have the right to their opinions, but it doesn’t mean that those opinions define Obama and his ideals.

    Obama isn’t creating his own language based on suffixes (Bush) and he isn’t making karate noises during pep rallies (Howard Dean). Obama is exulting a message that we all can understand in one way or another and seems darn intent on walking that message if he gets to the White House.

    In short, it seems to me the media, the conservatives and the Clinton supporters are trying desperately to find a flaw in Obama, but they can’t find it in his message. So instead, they look for secondary sources screwing up instead of listening and comprehending what is coming from Obama’s mouth.

  23. Obama is a Christian, as he’s said time and time again. Unless you think Jesus Christ is “an avowed American-hating racist,” the statement above is not accurate.

  24. That’s not at all the case. I was simply clarifying your word choice. Old journalism-school habit I can’t seem to kick.

    More importantly, I’m more concerned about the candidate personally – and those he appoints to cabinet and other executive positions – than what his friends say. I have a lot of friends who I wouldn’t want to be considered ambassadors of my political views but are friends nonetheless.

    And let’s not shit each other about the role Jeremiah Wright played in the campaign. A non-paid member of a religious “advisory committee” sounds to me like an honorary position to me.

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