Obama: The Media’s New All-Purpose, All-Terrain Whipping Boy?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

A week ago Senator Obama was criticized by the liberal press for not being aggressive enough in his health care plan. Articles and editorials in the New York Times, The New Republic and The American Spectator (see Searching for Obama for more) all openly opined that his plan reflected his character, that his failure to issue a health care mandate mirrored his caution or lack of audacity as a leader. On Wednesday, however, the tune the mainstream press seemed to be singing after Obama’s speech in Hampton, VA was far different. According to its reports on the speech, Obama was anything but cautious Witness just a few of the more insidious headlines:


Obama: Bush Has Neglected Looming ‘Riot’ Among

BlacksObama: Black unrest brewing

Obama warns of black ‘quiet riot’  

“Quiet Riot” Brews Among Blacks, Obama Says

Aside from the fact that these headlines are deliberately incendiary and misleading (more on that below), they all seem to link Obama with the legacy of the “race riot” without acknowledging  how deeply this image contrasts and conflicts with the “cautious” Obama who only a week ago couldn’t gather the nerve to unveil a truly “universal” health care plan. In political circles this is called “cherry picking” or selectively using facts to buttress a belief one already has while passing it off as “objective” information. In Obama’s case that means he’s not audacious enough one week and a week later (by way of implication at least) he’s prophesizing a race riot.


As my good friends over at Mirror on America have pointed out, this was the speech many of those who are still on the fence about Obama have been waiting to hear. It was the one that went beyond rhetoric and the political vacuity and spoke directly to the community that wants to believe in Obama but has too often been lied to and left with little more than the bitter taste of the latest politician’s pixie dust in their mouths.


The beginning of his speech is about a baby born during the L.A. Riots, that had been shot – in the womb, but miraculously, wasn’t seriously hurt, and the only marker of it would be a permanent scar to the arm.In this speech, Obama talks about: 


 1. SUPPORTING parents with young children
2. A nurse/parent program for low-income mothers to give them pre-natal health care that too many lack
3. Creating a Youth Service Corps
4. Supporting EX-Offenders with a ‘ Second Chance Act’
5. A Prison-to-work program
6. Investing in transitional jobs to help the homeless and disaffected veterans
7. Investing in transportation to help the low income bridge the ‘transportation gap’ that too many poor workers have, with regards to getting to the jobs outside of urban areas
8. Helping minority owned business
9. Affordable health care

Simply put, it was THE speech that many of Obama’s Black critics have been waiting for from him. For all those who have been asking, ‘What about an Urban agenda?’ 

The disturbing outcome of the speech in the national press, one almost solely mediated by Bob Lewis’s AP story which most of the mainstream press picked up and ran rather than send their own reporters to cover the speech (because, I imagine it was only being given to 8,000 black folks), was that all of these issues were either missed entirely or glossed over in favor of the divisive, fear-mongering “quiet riot” headline and its attendant distortions.



Here is how Lewis opened his story about the speech in his AP article circulated around the country:


 HAMPTON, Va. — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Bush administration has done nothing to defuse a “quiet riot” among blacks that threatens to erupt just as riots in Los Angeles did 15 years ago. 

Now, here is what Obama actually said:

Many of the folks in this room know just where they were when the riot in Los Angeles started and tragedy struck the corner of Florence and Normandy. And most of the ministers here know that those riots didn’t erupt over night; there had been a “quiet riot” building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton — you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge — the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.

Those “quiet riots” that take place every day are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better. You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, “Not guilty” — or a hurricane hits New Orleans — and that despair is revealed for the world to see.

At no point in Obama’s speech does he suggest a riot is threatening to erupt. What he suggests is that the spirit of hopelessness that spawned the riots and was revealed via Katrina have yet to be resolved. Which, in turn, leads into his Urban Agenda, chief among which is solving some of the debilitating and grossly under-acknowledged ailments plaguing urban communities.   Now, here are some of the headlines and opening paragraphs from local papers that actually bothered to send reporters to cover the speech.  

Obama Talks of “Quiet Riots”


Daily Press—Hampton, Va Using the 1992 Los Angeles riots and hurricane-ravaged New Orleans as his backdrop, Obama talked about the “quiet riots” of frustration and despair felt by millions of Americans who lacked access to decent housing, quality schools, good health care and jobs. “This administration was colorblind in its incompetence,” Obama said, referring to the Bush administration’s handling of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He said the hurricane exposed poverty that had been there for generations.  

Obama warns of ‘quiet riots’ across America: 


(Richmond) TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER HAMPTON — Literally preaching to the choir, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke to a conference of ministers and choir directors yesterday of the despair that engulfs impoverished blacks.Recalling the riots that broke out in Los Angeles 15 years ago when Rodney King was beaten by white police officers, Obama said “quiet riots” are occurring daily across America.

In Hampton, Obama addresses war, poverty and black tensions


The Virginian-Pilot

HAMPTONThe sense of hopelessness that fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots still exists in a daily “quiet riot” of poverty around the nation, Sen. Barack Obama said Tuesday.“It does describe the reality of many communities around this country,” Obama said at the Hampton University Convocation Center. “When the sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates, despair takes hold.”

All of these articles are decidedly less inflammatory (if at all) than Lewis’s AP story, which because it reaches 1,700 print/online outlets (not to mention 5,000 radio and television outlets), has a far wider reach and broader effect. This is exactly what makes the AP such a dangerous tool. While each news outlet can choose to alter the headline slightly and move bits and pieces of the story around, they ultimately run the same, in this case race-baiting, story. A service like the AP literally encourages lazy reporting, which inevitably means those who have less access to the media in the first place but who have a better more authentic grasp of the facts are shut up, out and down. Bob Lewis and the AP were so interested in creating a sexy headline that they missed the point and in the process made Obama’s speech seem far more outrageous than it was. Meanwhile the local reporters who actually took the time to attend the speech and seemed far less interested in exciting the reading public with provocative, eye-catching (not to mention career-enhancing) jive than Lewis got no real opportunity to counterbalance the tide of disingenuous blather.

To read the entire speech click here