Conservative blogs have been noting since the untimely death of conservative media maven Andrew Breitbart about his promised last scoop, a video of Barack Obama during his college days that would provide more vetting and, by implication, be a story that would bust this town wide open.
Most damning, from the standpoint of journalistic credibility, is what PBS’s Frontline had to say:
The web is abuzz today about video of a speech Barack Obama gave in 1990 (some reports have incorrectly identified the speech as occurring in 1991) at Harvard Law School defending the actions of Professor Derrick Bell. Bell, the law school’s first tenured black professor, had protested Harvard’s failure to offer tenure to women of color as law school professors. Online publisher Andrew Brietbart, who died last week, had said he possessed the speech and hinted that he would release it, arguing that it provided evidence that Obama has long held radical political beliefs.
Today, the website BuzzFeed published a clip of the speech along with an article explaining some past and current context for Obama’s remarks. The website claimed the clip was “not previously available online.” The editors at Brietbart.com responded that the video on Buzzfeed had been “selectively edited” and said that they would release the full footage tonight on Fox News.
But there’s nothing new about the clip or Obama’s role in the controversy at Harvard Law School. In 2008, as a part of our quadrennial election special The Choice 2008, FRONTLINE ran the same footage of the speech as a part of an exploration of Obama’s time at Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1991. It’s been online at our site and on YouTube since then. You can see that part of the film below.
You Tube has this chunk of the speech and video that it had been suggested would bust this town wide open:
It was perhaps Barack Obama’s most intense immersion in the charged campus racial politics of the late 1980s and early 1990s: As President of the Harvard Law Review in the spring of his final year there, 1991, he aligned himself with Professor Derrick Bell’s dramatic protest for diversity on the faculty of Harvard Law School.
Bell was the first black tenured professor at the school, and a pioneer of “critical race theory,” which insisted, controversially, on reading issues of race and power into legal scholarship. His protest that spring was occasioned by Harvard’s denial of tenure to a black woman professor, Regina Austin, at a time when only three of the law school’s professors were black and only five women. He told Harvard he would take a leave of absence — a kind of academic strike — “until a woman of color is offered and accepted a tenured position on this faculty,” and he launched a hunger strike to dramatize his point.
Obama was a major figure on campus, the first black president of the Law Review. Some friends, in a prescient joke, just referred to him as “the first black president.” He had a reputation as a conciliatory figure, not a confrontational one like Bell.
“”How Obama would react to Derrick Bell’s protest was a matter of some interest,” New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in his exploration of Obama and race, The Bridge.
Some blogs now are suggesting the released video was part of some conspiracy — there are new parts that will reveal more. (Is there a Grassy Knoll?)
What can you say about this?
1. This shows the provincial state of American politics where the idea is to get something, anything to try discredit someone. Debating on policy ideas? Oh, that’s so 20th century..
2. This major campaign revelation, it turns out, is not about Barack Obama so much as trying to discredit him by pointing to people who he interacted with at college. Did anyone vet the Taco Bell manager Obama chatted with while in college yet?
3. Some blogs are already running posts about Bell. So let me get this straight: the more things that seem unpleasing about Bell from a certain person’s political perspective that emerge, the more that is supposed to make voters decide they can’t vote for Barack Obama?
4. Although some may feel differently, the bottom line is that the bulk of Americans do not consider Barack Obama a dangerous radical who plans to remove the white and blue from the American flag if he’s elected to a second term. Many Democratic liberals feel Obama has turned out to be too moderate. Many voters may not like Obama, they may feel he was a huge disappointment, they may consider him inept, they feel he is too liberal for their tastes — but a dangerous, foaming at the mouth radical?
It’s one more example of how American politics now revolves around the small battles and mini issues — even battles that are synthetic battles, hyped up to be battles by partisans but of no interest to the average American. These battles can drive up website hits, they can drive up ratings on ideological political shows, they can boots the profile and/or speaking fees of those who push these synthetic battles and involve pushing partisans’ hot buttons.
But the average person will look at this and say: Who cares? So what? And why did you waste my time?
Which is the reaction on this one, no matter how many details people write about Bell’s life or beliefs or activities.
The major revelation in this video? Obama’s hair (Rick Perry eat your heart out).
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.