WASHINGTON -- The Daily Caller, working in collaboration with Fox News, released a video Tuesday night of a speech President Barack Obama delivered at Hampton University back in 2007. The release was preceded by an all-afternoon Drudge Report banner headline splash, billing the video as some sort of electorally game-changing revelation with racial overtones that was going to affect the 2012 campaign ahead of the first presidential debate.
It ended up being a rerun of a 2007 story that was already well known to reporters and political partisans. So, as a piece of new and incendiary news, it was something of a letdown. However, as a piece of Internet trolling that forced political reporters to bide their time until the evening release of the video, instead of watching the goings-on in the last days of Major League Baseball's regular season, it was a work of genius.
So, here, in 2012, is how a screaming Drudge-siren scoop comes and goes, in 10 easy steps.
1. We get a big tease, about a bombshell video scoop that's going to "drop," from Matt Drudge. He uses Twitter to get the word out. Relatively speaking, that's kind of new. Anyway, this is enough to prompt zillions of political reporters to point their browsers at the Drudge Report and start refreshing like mad. Relatively speaking, that's kind of old. But, hey, if you want to attract lemmings, give 'em a cliff.
2. Naturally, one sort of suspects that something of a letdown is coming. Condoleezza Rice, after all, was not selected to run alongside Mitt Romney. But the promised outcome is that the video is going to "cause controversy, ignite accusations of racism -- in both directions!" (No, I've no idea what "both directions" is supposed to mean.)
3. Those madcap browser-refreshers get gradual payoffs. We learn that the video in question will be shown on Fox News later Tuesday night. It's billed as "Obama's other race speech." A later update teases: “THE ACCENT … THE ANGER … THE ACCUSATIONS …THE SHOUT OUT TO REV. WRIGHT WHO IS IN AUDIENCE ...”
4. Matt Drudge has an image to his Obama video splash, of Obama speaking, in front of some sort of drum kit. He is apparently unaware that Google allows anyone to do a reverse-search to find information about images. A reporter from BuzzFeed, Jessica Testa, figures this out, and identifies the image as Obama, giving a speech at Hampton University, in 2007. She and her colleague, Andrew Kaczynski, start finding relevant portions of the speech on YouTube.
5. As it turns out, Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish has had a transcript of the prepared remarks of the speech since 2007. (Though Obama did, at times, improvise from those remarks, as the videos BuzzFeed gathered demonstrate.)
6. And Politico reported the "shout-out" to Wright in 2008 as one of the "top eight gaffes of the campaign." By which I mean, the 2008 campaign.
7. Newsbusters wrote about this appearance, speech, et al., back in 2008 as well. This virtually assures that everyone who was a) alive in 2008 and b) a conservative political blogger, is well aware of this story.
8. Actually, they were likely aware of it even before Newsbusters wrote about it. CNN's Roland Martin, in fact, pushed back against the conservative outcry over this speech in 2007.
9. Tucker Carlson, who was chiefly responsible for rolling out this old video, insisted earlier today that all the extant video clips that were found to be in wide circulation were incomplete, and that he, exclusively, had the full video. What's really strange about this is that Tucker Carlson already covered this speech -- back in 2007, on his eponymous MSNBC show.
10. The Daily Caller and Sean Hannity collaborate on an explosive release of this story, releasing it simultaneously at 9 p.m., as if it had not happened a long time ago.
And that's how the entire political Internet was briefly trolled on Tuesday, and into Tuesday night.
For what end? Well, it's a largely a reheat of something that conservatives have already pretty much bugged out over once before. The Daily Caller, writing up the video in a post published to coincide with Hannity, runs down a list of what it finds objectionable: Obama shouted out the Rev. Wright, he used "an accent he almost never adopts in public" (meaning it's an "accent" he sometimes uses), and he criticizes the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina. (As did Bobby Jindal, and David Vitter.)
Obama expresses his dissatisfaction thusly:
“People in Washington, they wake up, they’re surprised: ‘There’s poverty in our midst! Folks are frustrated! Black people angry!’ Then there’s gonna be some panels, and hearings, and there are commissions and there are reports, and then there’s some aid money, although we don’t always know where it’s going — it can’t seem to get to the people who need it — and nothin’ really changes, except the news coverage quiets down and Anderson Cooper is on to something else.”
And that ...pretty much accurately describes Washington's official response to this, actually, right down to Anderson Cooper finding something new to cover. The only thing I'd object to, is that there didn't end up being all that many panels and hearings and commissions and reports. So, Obama is in the wrong here, by giving Capitol Hill even that much credit.
Obama goes on to object that the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act -- which requires localities to match federal relief funds, a requirement that was waived for the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath -- was not waived for Hurricane Katrina relief. But Obama is hardly alone in calling for reforms of the Stafford Act. Here's Desiree Evans of the Institute for Southern Studies:
For years policy advocates have called for an overhaul of the Stafford Act, the primary law that also governs the Federal Emergency Management Agency's role in responding to disasters. Policy advocates say that amending the Stafford Act will better serve people in the wake of disaster. Following the disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina, this call to action became even more urgent.
As the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps pointed out in a recent statement, the Stafford Act was not designed to deal with massive disasters, and it has ultimately retarded recovery in Louisiana and other states. According to the Recovery Corps, "the rigidity of the Act and its voluminous amendments has certainly served to handcuff those federal agents, officers, and agencies working under its oversight."
Critics of the Stafford Act also argue that it needs to give FEMA greater latitude in how it responds to catastrophes as devastating as Hurricane Katrina. The assistance flowing from the Stafford Act has been inadequate following major disasters and unable to fulfill vital needs, human rights advocates argue. Reform advocates also call for more flexibility in providing cash assistance quickly -- particularly in the form of grants to states and localities, while also avoiding the type of bureaucratic red tape that has marred post-Katrina recovery efforts.
Following Hurricane Katrina local Gulf Coast officials said the "match" requirement in the Stafford Act -- which said that affected communities had to pay a 25 percent match upfront before they can receive federal disaster fund -- played a large role in the pace of recovery in the region. After Katrina, the White House reduced the match requirement to 10 percent, but it was still a hefty sum for devastated areas.
Did race play a role in the response to Katrina? That question was put to the 2008 slate of Democratic Party candidates. Well-known angry black guy Christopher Dodd opined: "I believe that if this had occurred in a place with a majorly white population, we would have seen a much more rapid response and a consistent response." Here's Howard Dean, on the same topic: “We must ... come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not.”
It was a fairly mainstream Democratic Party critique of the Katrina response, in other words.
Beyond that, the objections seem to be largely based on Obama acknowledging that the black community hasn't exactly had the easiest time of it in America for the past three centuries. The Daily Caller contends thusly: "Obama describes a racist, zero-sum society, in which the white majority profits by exploiting black America. The mostly black audience shouts in agreement. The effect is closer to an Al Sharpton rally than a conventional campaign event."
Pardon me -- I mean to say that the Daily Caller recontends things that conservative critics already contended four years ago, about this speech. (Newsbusters, circa 2008: "This entire speech is filled with nothing but class warfare, expansions of social programs, raising the minimum wage, typical great society type junk all couched squarely as a civic responsibility enmeshed with Obama's view of Biblical precepts.")
Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt responded to all of this, thusly:
In a transparent attempt to change the subject from his comments attacking half of the American people, Mitt Romney’s allies recirculated video of a 2007 event that was open to and extensively covered by the press at the time. The only thing shocking about this is that they apparently think it’s wrong to suggest that we should help returning veterans, children leaving foster care and other members of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent get training that will allow them to find the best available jobs. If the Romney campaign believes that Americans will accept these desperate attacks tomorrow night in place of specific plans for the middle class, it’s they who are in for a surprise.
There's really not much more to say about this. If you were inclined to object to the content of this speech, you've been so inclined since the 2008 campaign, and you're probably all het up again tonight. If you're open to the argument but need convincing, this might do the trick, but it's just as likely that it will be seen as pretty weak tea.
Four years of the Obama White House basically makes it hard to present Obama -- now -- as an "angry black man" -- the reason Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele's "Obama Anger Translator" comedy sketches work is because Obama never manifests that sort of raw, racially-tinged ire, so watching "Luther," his "anger translator" indulge himself in it is a hilarious contrast. The closest Obama came to that sort of acrimony was when he referred to the police who arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr for breaking and entering "stupid." (Mind you, Gates was accused of breaking and entering his own home. If the day ever comes that the police arrest me for doing the same, I plan on calling them "stupid," quite a bit. They, in turn, should plan to take it with humility.)
So what's the point of this? Well, it's become an article of faith among many conservatives that Sen. John McCain cost himself the election when, in the late stages of the 2008 campaign, he didn't make greater use of the Rev. Wright controversy, and all of the attendant racial dog whistles it offered, to win the election. This rehash of a news event that was exceedingly well covered four years ago is less about new information, and more about fulfilling a conservative tribal need, left unfulfilled by the previous Republican candidate.
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