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The Lessons of the Drudge/Hannity False Alarm

10/03/2012 10:13 am ET | Updated Dec 03, 2012

Like most political junkies, when I first saw the famed "Drudge Siren" announce that there was a tape of Barack Obama that could be a "game changing" event in the presidential campaign, I was intrigued. After all, Drudge usually only breaks out the vaunted siren for very significant "scoops."

However, I almost instantly had strong suspicions that this was going to end up, at best, as a much-ado-about-nothing moment, and, at worst, another black eye for the conservative media and the cause it claims to promote.

The first inkling I had that something was very much amiss was that the photo Drudge posted of Obama looked really familiar to me. This combined with his written reference to a "shout out" to Reverend Jeremiah Wright convinced me that I was certain that I had seen the video before as part of my extensive research for my film on the 2008 election, "Media Malpractice."

Once I heard that the video of "Obama's Other Race Speech" was going to air on Sean Hannity's Fox News program, I was then just about totally positive that this whole thing was essentially a scam (after all, everyone knows that if there is something really credible that "Hannity" is only just barely above "Greta" in the well-defined food chain for conservative content).

Sure enough, in only about 15 seconds I (along with, I am sure, hundreds of others) I was easily able to find one of several YouTube videos which perfectly matched the screen shot that Drudge was using to tout the supposedly dramatic "new" video. Having watched it many times in 2008 trying to decide if it belonged in my movie, I immediately knew that this had to be the Rev. Wright "shout out" video.

Ultimately, I decided then not to put the video in my film (though I did indirectly reference it). While I found Obama's speech interesting (because it did show how close he really was to Rev. Wright and because his accent/cadence seemed to reveal a very different side of him than the perception the media was creating), there simply was no "smoking gun." There was just nothing in it I thought was worthy of the immense amount of time it would take to provide proper context to the subject matter.

That is not to say that I didn't think the speech shouldn't have been an issue in the 2008 campaign. Back then Obama was obviously an unknown quantity and he was running as a "post racial" candidate. Had they somehow been exposed to the whole speech (which, contrary to what Fox News claimed, has been available in its entirety for many years), many Americans who voted for him may have felt that the persona the media was praising so lavishly didn't exactly fit with the man on the podium at that Hampton University event.

But, now that Obama has been president for four years, whatever impact this apparent disparity may have had has clearly faded away. Not one person is going to be exposed to that speech now and suddenly realize that they have been sold a bill of goods by Obama. If anything, the inevitable overreach by the conservative media will further sear into the minds of some independent voters the largely incorrect notion that conservatives are somehow racist in their criticism of Obama.

So what really happened here? Well, if you truly understand the way the conservative media works it is all really pretty obvious. As someone who has had extensive contact with all three of the primary "partners" in this story (Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson) I feel pretty confident that I can piece together the basic progression of events.

Someone at the Daily Caller stumbled upon the old video and, since it didn't make much of a splash in 2008, didn't realize that it was "old news" (or worse, didn't care). Fox contributor Tucker Carlson then pitches it to Sean Hannity (after Bill O'Reilly and "Special Report" either passed or Tucker realized they would never go for it to begin with) and Hannity buys in immediately because, well, he's Sean Hannity and it gives him a chance to play his interview with Rev. Wright again.

Now, I find it hard to believe that Hannity didn't realize that this was not new information because, to his credit, he is an incredibly hard worker who certainly has spent an enormous amount of time on this aspect of the Obama narrative. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked at all if he had already played the "Rev. Wright Shout Out" on his radio/TV shows during the 2008 campaign (there is an interesting homework assignment for you Media Matters).

Perhaps he thought that the Daily Caller had found "previously unseen" portions of the speech. Since conservatives just "know" in their heart that it is very likely that Obama must have said some remarkably radical things when he was "off teleprompter," it is very easy for their imaginations to run wild.

The most interesting/important part of this chain is of course Matt Drudge. When the "story" was offered to him by reasonably credible sources, he probably had some trust that it must not be complete baloney and since he had no recollection of it from 2008 (interestingly the speech occurred in 2007 and Drudge originally misidentified it as being six years old), he figured it was, if nothing else, a traffic magnet. Incredibly, the most logical reason why Drudge had no memory of this story from 2008 is that when the Rev. Wright bombshell broke in 2008, Drudge was notoriously (though not nearly famously enough), significantly, and completely absent from the conversation.

The irony of Matt Drudge, a guy who purposely and obviously ignored the Rev. Wright story in 2008 when it was relevant, getting bamboozled by and singlehandedly promoting into the public consciousness a related video in 2012 when it is not (apparently because he couldn't remember it), is indeed exceedingly rich. It is also a metaphor for why much of the conservative media has made it far easier for Obama to be reelected than the vast majority of their customers could ever imagine in their worst nightmares.