The night before the coveted first presidential debate, a bit of "news" transpired. One network in particular, Fox News, led with the story on several of its broadcasts and dedicated a significant portion of its programming to this earth-shattering information. The breaking news? A video tape of President Obama from 2007 addressing a largely African American audience where he allegedly panders to the crowd and gives a shout out to Jeremiah Wright -- yes, that Jeremiah Wright. While people like Hannity, Tucker Carlson and others championed the video as proof that the president practiced "black liberation theology," most other media outlets, journalists and pundits cast the tape aside as fodder, or conservative desperation at best. And though they may be correct in their assessment, we should not be so quick to dismiss this video's significance. In addition to directly impacting the minds of Fox viewers and Daily Caller readers, it appears it unfortunately influenced the president himself.
Back in 2008 when an initial Jeremiah Wright video surfaced, then-Senator Obama quickly distanced himself from his pastor for 20 years and delivered an impassioned speech on race. Everyone, including Wright himself, understood that this was necessary because no matter what the full context of the tape was, a segment of the population would only view Wright as some sort of radical revolutionary. Fast-forward to 2010 and another tape -- this one doctored and edited (released by the folks at Breitbart.com) -- shows former USDA official Shirley Sherrod appearing to make racially charged statements against whites, when in fact she was arguing the exact opposite. But unfortunately, before we learned of the entirety of her remarks, the White House reacted too quickly and pressured Sherrod to resign.
Time and again, for fear of a backlash from the right, this administration has jumped the gun and caved to pressure from groups and individuals who utilize outlets like Fox News to spew their misinformation. And because Fox, which holds some of the highest ratings on television, reaches millions and millions daily (and is therefore the epitome of what mainstream news means), the president's advisors routinely give in to their outcries without fully vetting the situation themselves. In turn, those with specific agendas on the right continue to push nonsensical videos and other glaring mistruths because they know they can -- and probably will -- get their way. Last week was no different.
It was only one evening of non-stop coverage, but the revelation of the new Obama/Wright video was enough to make the president likely alter his approach in the debate. To be fair, President Obama regularly has to balance the difficult line of expressing his viewpoints and not appearing as the "angry black man." But when footage released the night prior juxtaposed him once again with Wright and once again with the notion of "black power," he became extra subdued during the debate. Either convinced by his inner circle, or by his own subconscious, the president delivered a performance that was perplexing to many. He continually failed to look his opponent in the eyes, and for much of the debate, failed to even look up from the podium. His voice was less forceful than usual, and his body posture not as confident. While the substance of his content was spot on, his overall demeanor appeared off. Yet in all the post-debate analysis, hardly anyone has mentioned the new video.
Perhaps we will never really know what the president's thought process was for this first debate. Or maybe it was in fact part of a larger plan to make Romney utilize all his arguments this go around and then hit him hard during the next one as some have suggested. But one thing is irrefutable: optics in a debate cannot be erased. And when you have a voting public that values how you say something far greater than what you are actually saying, this first debate could prove problematic. And the larger disturbing dilemma may very well be the Administration's reaction to right-wing hysteria.
There are plenty of times that journalists/groups on the left push issues or criticize the president, but these individuals/organizations are usually either ignored or castigated as being on the fringe. Ironically, most of them understand this nuance and still support the president. But the reaction from D.C. when the right begins its assault is patently different and distressing. Instead of fully researching the facts, the president is often advised, or out of his own volition, conforms to the pressure.
In 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson had the audacity to interrupt the president and yell "you lie" during his nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress. This act, though seemingly simple, unfortunately set a dangerous precedent for all who would like nothing more than to see this president fail.
There's only a few weeks remaining until Election Day, and the barrage of attacks against the president are guaranteed to multiply. But regardless of what new videos or 'breaking news' stories emerge, let's hope the president and his advisors never again give in to pressure from the right so easily because no entity should ever have that much power.