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CBS's Rodriguez: Obama's Speech 'A Defining Cultural Moment'

By Media Research Center
March 20, 2008

Wednesday's CBS Early Show devoted four segments to Obama's speech on race and the Jeremiah Wright controversy and that coverage began with a proclamation by co-host Maggie Rodriguez: "It's being called a defining cultural moment in America. Barack Obama speaks about America's racial stalemate, a moving moment, a political risk." Rodriguez went on to tease upcoming coverage of the speech by again emphasizing its "historic" nature: "It was without question a defining moment in American political history. But for an African-American presidential candidate who'd played down race in his campaign, this was a huge gamble politically."

     The first of the show's four segments featured a report by correspondent Byron Pitts, who observed: "If critics hoped Senator Barack Obama would disown his controversial pastor, they were disappointed." After speaking of Obama's "disappointed critics," Pitts went on to praise Obama's unifying message and give some political advice: "But beyond condemning his minister's words, Obama tried bridging the racial divide, acknowledging years of bitterness and anger amongst blacks and whites...While Obama invoked the tone of a preacher, it was a politician speaking. With a slip in the polls, the Illinois Senator needs to take the nation's attention off race and back on jobs, health care, and the war in Iraq."

     [This item, by Kyle Drennen, was posted Wednesday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     Following the report by Pitts, co-host Russ Mitchell went on to highlight one of Obama's "disappointed critics": "As you might expect, Obama was a hot topic on talk radio as well. Take a look." Mitchell then played a clip of Rush Limbaugh: "Barack makes whites feel good. Jackson and Sharpton did not, but his association with Reverend Wright now threatens this, the association with Reverend Wright has de-masked Obama."

     Mitchell then went on to show a sample of voters reacting to Obama's speech. If one includes Limbaugh's comment, their were 3 comments critical of Obama and twice as many, 6 comments, in favor of Obama. One such pro-Obama voter, Ann Loeb, remarked: "I wish that people would just stop. I think the problem is that the primaries period is much too long, and people can't help digging up little things that are really beside the point, and I would just like to forget about it and move on."

     Mitchell followed that comment by colluding the segment this way: "Well, the polls show this incident has cost Obama support among some voters. Many political pundits give him credit for tackling the issue right now, head on."

     In the second segment of the day, co-host Maggie Rodriguez talked to CBS political analyst Jeff Greenfield and pollster Frank Luntz about the political fallout of the speech. Rodriguez introduced the segment by quoting a new CBS poll: "About 30% said that Reverend Wright's statements made their view of Obama less favorable." Of course the CBS has barely reported on Wright's most controversial comments, so one wonders what "statements" to which the poll refers.

     Rodriguez began by asking Greenfield: "Consensus seems to be that this was yet another great eloquent speech by Barack Obama, but, Jeff, let's start with you and take it further. Do you think that it accomplished his task, which was to diffuse the Reverend Wright situation?"

     Greenfield said no and actually provided some tough criticism for both Wright and Obama when he later said that: "Some of the things that Reverend Wright said -- that AIDS was a government conspiracy to commit genocide against black people. These are the words of a crackpot, and the question is if this is a spiritual mentor, this is a guy that's part of your life, at what point do you look up and say this guy is too much off the rails for me to be associated with him."

     For his part, Luntz explained why the speech was not the "great eloquent" one that Rodriguez described: "Also, he had two Teleprompters, left and right, when you watch clips of it, you'll notice that he never looked straight at the camera. This is important. Voters want to see your eyes. They want to judge whether or not you really believe what you're saying, but, instead, he's going back and forth. And third, he had to spend so much time on Reverend Wright that people have already forgotten the key points of his speech where he did talk so powerfully about race."

     The third segment on Obama's speech was hosted by Mitchell, who talked to Time Magazine's Rick Stengel and liberal columnist for the left-wing Mother Jones magazine, Debra Dickerson. At one point Mitchell asked Dickerson: "Debra, as you watched the speech, did anything cross your mind that he had done particularly wrong?" Her response was predictable: "That he had done wrong? I got to tell you, I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was visionary. I don't think he struck a false note. He didn't -- he didn't -- he didn't distance himself -- he didn't distance himself from the things that have been said. He put them in context. I don't think he struck a false note at any place in this speech. He forgave Geraldine Ferraro. He put Jeremiah Wright in context in Obama's life, not in the context of Jeremiah Wright, 'You're not voting for him. You're voting for me. And this is my relationship with him.' I think it's a speech that people are going to be studying for a long time. I don't think he did anything wrong."

     Later, Dickerson praised Obama for not denouncing Reverend Wright and she used Obama's own comparison of Reverend Wright to his grandmother: "I think it's exactly what he's -- what people wanted him to do and what he did not do, and I really admire, is he was basically asked to disown him, and he specifically refused to do that, and I think it's exactly like being required to disown one of your grandparents, and I thought that was beautiful in the speech because your grandparents are wise and they tell these crazy stories that don't make sense until the end. They smack you upside the head and give you a meat loaf sandwich, but then once or twice a month they say something so heinous and horrific that you're embarrassed. You never know what grandma is going to say. But you can't disown grandma."

     The forth and final segment on Obama's speech was simply a 7 minute edited version of the speech. This 7 minutes was nearly half of the show's total 16 minute's of coverage of Obama.

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