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Obamarama - Memo to pundits *** Updated x2 ***

Friday, Feb 23, 2007

[Updated and bumped to the top.]

The coverage and analysis in the national media of how Obama’s support is supposedly shaping up in the black community has irked me for weeks. So, I decided to literally send the pundits a memo via my Sun-Times column

Memo to all national political journalists, columnists, pundits, etc.: Please, get a clue.

Perhaps because I live in and cover the politics of a state which has elected two African-American U.S. senators, a black mayor of our largest city and a black secretary of state who four years ago carried all 102 counties, I find your coverage of the ‘’race issue'’ in the presidential contest to be utterly devoid of insight and context. I’ll try to fill you in.

First, just because a prominent African-American leader endorses Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t mean Barack Obama’s campaign has suffered a mortal wound. It may seem unusual to you that some black leaders aren’t supporting a black candidate, but, take it from me, this happens all the time. […]

Next, you “experts” assume that just because viable, credible black candidates end up winning overwhelming majorities of black votes that polls currently showing Hillary Clinton leading Obama among African Americans are somehow important.

Wrong again.

Go read the whole thing for plenty of examples, context and more analysis, then come back here and discuss.

*** UPDATE *** Not all the national coverage is mindless. The Wall Street Journal has a pretty good article on Obama’s time at the Statehouse.

…a lawmaker of lofty, liberal rhetoric who nonetheless pragmatically accepted bipartisan compromises that won over foes — and sometimes left supporters dissatisfied. […]

As for sharp elbows, the scraps for which Mr. Obama is remembered — including near-fisticuffs once on the Senate floor — were with fellow black Democrats, some of whom were resentful of his ambitions and his successes. […]

When the legislature revisited the ethics issue in 2003, Mr. Jones was among those who resisted changes Mr. Obama promoted. “He wouldn’t buck Emil Jones,” Ms. Canary said. The Senate and House agreed to a weaker bill.

The credit that went to Mr. Obama for the racial-profiling and videotaping measures stoked tensions among black colleagues who had sponsored similar proposals only to see Mr. Jones promote his protégé’s efforts. One was state Sen. Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon, an outspoken Democrat, who once had to be separated from Mr. Obama in the Senate after confronting him for reasons that witnesses don’t recall and Mr. Hendon won’t discuss.

*** UPDATE 2 *** By the way, I was there during that fight with Hendon. I thought this incident looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember the details. It all came back to me when a former PAR intern sent me an e-mail this afternoon reminding me that he was there in the press box with me.

As he remembers it (and I’m pretty sure he’s right), Obama had voted against one of Hendon’s amendments for the South Side. Then Obama spoke in favor of a different amendment for the region. Hendon rose to complain during debate.

Afterwards, the two talked, and Obama wagged his finger in Hendon’s face. Well, Hendon didn’t like that much so he swatted Obama’s hand away. There was a throwdown and then they were separated.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Number 8 - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 8:58 am:

    Rich, I’m glad to see you call these people out. Their assumptions are pathetic and their focus on race completely off track. Race is a factor here to the extent that Barack could become the first black President of the U.S. — thats it. His support is wide and deep and will only get stronger as he becomes better known nationwide.

    I hope that you continue (start?) to be the barometer of good journalism and the whieslt blower of misguided media reporting.

  2. - Bill Baar - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 9:08 am:

    Yet another example along those lines was the 1983 Chicago mayoral race when incumbent Jane Byrne (white) was endorsed by a whole host of black political leaders. African-American Congressman Harold Washington came in at the right time, with the right message and the right campaign, set fire in the precincts and won the race, carrying the black wards by a large margin. In the end, the endorsements did Byrne no good.

    Washington destroyed the regular and reliable Black Political Machine in Chicago. Now we have Obama at the right time, with the right message and the right campaign and he may well do the same thing to the most reliable political block of votes Democrats have. Get a guy out there setting fires and people wonder who’s going to get burned.

  3. - Leroy - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 9:14 am:

    “It may seem unusual to you that some black leaders aren’t supporting a black candidate”

    Hehe..remember the time he went to Harvey, wagged his finger at the residents and said: ‘Government is not the place if you want to get rich, if you want to get rich, go into the private sector’. Then he got back into his fleet of SUVs and drove back to his million dollar home in Hyde Park?

    I wonder if that has anything to do with it?

  4. - George Ryan's Cellmate - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 9:40 am:

    Great column, Rich.

  5. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 9:55 am:

    Thanks, GRC.

  6. - Papa Legba - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 10:10 am:


    How can you question the National Press Corps? I mean they are never wrong, they will tell you so, a lot.

    Those idiots pound on a story, true or not, until the masses pick up on it and believe it’s true.

    It happens in many areas, not just politics. All it takes one moron financial analyst to utter something stupid one morning and crash a whole sector of the market for a week or two.

    Americans have lost the ability to think one their own, or they are just too lazy to think.

  7. - Hopefund - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 10:11 am:

    I hope this article is picked up this makes the rounds this weekend! It’s great! Thanks, Rich!

  8. - VanillaMan - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 10:29 am:

    What you are saying makes a lot of sense.

    Why are so many other pundits so off base on this?

    I would like to know how poorly they cover other candidates and campaigns. It seems logical to me that the writers who have been blowing it in regards to Obama and African American voters are also using obsolete thinking and unfounded generalities regarding all campaigns.

    Are African American pundits talking about Obama the way you say other pundits are misinterpreting him and black voters?

    What do you think is going wrong to create an illusion so off-mark? Deadline stress? Laziness? Do we have too many pundits? Is it too easy to become a pundit? Why is this happening in your opinion?

  9. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 10:48 am:

    VM, I think the reason for the Obama errors is that they have no experience covering viable black candidates. Also, while I try to avoid listening to them, many seem to be woefully unqualified, ill-informed, lazy, but clever bloviating gasbags.

    Punditry favors cleverness over research and mindlessly agreeing with other pundits over uniqueness of thought. If you didn’t notice, it thoroughly disgusts me.

    Washington, DC is broken, and the pundits are an integral part of that problem.

  10. - Levois - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 11:14 am:

    Very inciteful. I’ve never thought of this in that way. Perhaps it should be known that blacks play politics too. And that blacks aren’t all affected by who endorsed who.

  11. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 12:19 pm:

    Can any observer of Springfield think of a more compelling reason to support Obama than that he tangled with Hollywood Hendon?

  12. - ZC - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 12:43 pm:

    What most delineates D.C. pundits is that they are paid to gibber endless opinions and sound well-reasoned about subjects that they are usually proven wrong about. And they know this. So as Rich notes, they tend to cluster in a “herd mentality” so if they are wrong, they can at least point collectively and say, “Hey, we were all wrong.” Rare is the D.C. pundit who will go out on a limb and lose that kind of security.

    Nor can pundits get paid for saying, regularly and repeatedly, “I don’t know.” Which is what we all should still be saying about Obama and the black vote. “I am not sure how black voters outside Illinois will react to Obama, but my guess is they will ultimately rally for him,” is a fair statement. Anything too strong beyond that is ridiculous, this many months out. In 2004, none of the other Democratic candidates for IL Senate started off with any goodwill vibes like the Clinton brand still has for many African-Americans. So to compare Obama in 04 and in 08 is slightly apples and oranges. We’ll know soon enough.

  13. - Frank Booth - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 1:22 pm:

    I need to add this line to my resume, thanks Rich:
    Woefully unqualified, ill-informed, lazy, but clever bloviating gasbag.

  14. - Pat Collins - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 1:27 pm:

    Washington destroyed the regular and reliable Black Political Machine

    Really? Todd Stroger might disagree.


    While not wanting to be a jerk, the main point seems rather obvious. I mean, all one needs to do is see where Jesse Jackson won primaries when he ran, and he had WAY more baggage than even I can load on the Prince.

    JJ won a lot (not all!) of his primaries by doing very well with the Black vote.

  15. - Truthful James - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 1:27 pm:

    One of the nice things about the Obama candidacy is that it will force the republicans to look for a Black national candidate to fill at least the Veep spot.

  16. - Really? - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 1:48 pm:

    Truthful James,

    I think that’s the same logic the Republicans took in 2004 when they brought in Alan Keyes. How’d that turn out?

  17. - Truthful James - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 1:56 pm:

    Really? –

    Wrong. Keyes was brought in in a fit of pique. Jack ryan was a good candidate. He might have been able to overcome the phony issue (regarding Jeri’s closed door deposition in an effort to gain custody.) The Tribune did not want him and the Thompson/Edgar people did not want a young energetic candidate.

    If Keyes had been vetted one would have immediately found out that he was not running to win on Illinois issues, but running to push his own agenda and widen his mailing list.

    There were, believe it or not, issues in that campaign

    However, on the national scene there are Powell and Rice on the one hand — Powell could top the ticket, and state and national officials who have really been elected to something.

  18. - A Citizen - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 2:23 pm:

    That race and/or gender can so flood the thinking mind as to blind it from rational decision making is astounding and so disappointing. Probably will continue for decades to come.

  19. - grand old partisan - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 2:31 pm:

    I agree with Rich’s assessment of the situation, but for “Number 8” to suggest that race is only “a factor here to the extent that Barack could become the first black President of the U.S.,” well that’s just ridiculous. If we are ever going to have an open and honest discussion about race relations in this country, we can’t pretend that race doesn’t have anything to do with Obama’s ability to get this far, this fast on the national stage. I mean, would Obama-mania as we know it exist today if he hadn’t delivered the 2004 DNC keynote address? No. And would he have delivered that address if he were white? Most likely not. Serious, why in god’s name did the Democrats pick someone who was projected to win about 106% of the vote in his Senate race? Because, despite fancying themselves the “party of diversity,” they were about to nominate two super-rich white guys named John on their national ticket. I find it hard to believe that it’s just a coincidence they decided to put the only viable African-American candidate for a major office that year front and center (Sowell and Majette were projected to lose their Senate races by the same margin Obama was to win, and no African Americans were running for Governor).

  20. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 4:13 pm:

    ZC, this also applies to presidential politics. jesse jackson won the michigan caucus in 1988 even though the black mayor of detroit, coleman young, put his machine behind dukakis. it’s not apples and oranges. it’s black voting patterns. you are making a leap of logic that can’t be supported.

  21. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 6:10 pm:

    CR, all of your comments are automatically going into the moderation que (you may see them on your screen, but nobody else ever does) because most of your posts lately have been little more than off-topic gratuitous insults. Get a life.

  22. - ZC - Friday, Feb 23, 07 @ 7:39 pm:


    That’s why I said name recognition of the Clinton brand, not endorsements … as you note, Coleman Young’s endorsement did not help Dukakis. In 2004, Jim Clyburn, who is supposed to be THE preeminent black power broker in South Caroline, first endorsed Gephardt, then Kerry, then watched Edwards carry SC anyway.

    What I’m talking about, though, is in the days before the SC primary, Bill Clinton appears on every TV throughout the state and encourages the black electorate to go out and support Hillary. That’s what different. Dukakis didn’t have anything like that. Will it help Hillary? Maybe not. But it’s different from Obama in 04.

  23. - State of Farce - Saturday, Feb 24, 07 @ 2:57 am:

    Go Obama! Another reason to love him! Bustin Hendon’s chops….priceless!

  24. - Bill Baar - Saturday, Feb 24, 07 @ 7:19 am:

    LA Times story with Hendon’s endorsement plust some history on Obama’s first race for Alice Palmers seat. I didn’t realize she had changed her mind about not running but Obama wouldn’t back out… and was confronted over it.

    Obama first hit my radar screen with the run against Rush.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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