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Obama’s Convention Performance Suppressed by the Press

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By Ron Walters

NNPA Columnist

The Democrats went into their convention plagued by press questions about how Hillary and her female supporters would behave, whether Bill Clinton would behave and support the ticket and whether Barack Obama could define change in policy terms and fire up the Democratic Party. 

By all accounts, the political questions were resolved in the strong embrace of the ticket by the Clintons, the lack of conflict and the stupendously historic scene in INVESCO Field where Obama did his thing.   Democrats came out of their convention unified, motivated, and primed for a fight.

But rather than give Barack Obama and the Democratic convention its due, some members of the press panned Obama's speech and while it would be understandable by right wing journalists, some of those who appeared reluctant to give him his due are regarded as "objective." 

Indeed, Frank Rich of the New York Times noticed this in a recent op Ed piece ("Obama Outwits the Bloviators," 8/31) when he asserted the "astonishing" ...disconnect" of the major media to the point that "it has become a major part of this year's story."

An example of what he meant was the assertion by David Broder, known as the dean of American political journalism, that there was "no theme music" in Obama's speech, that the basis of his attack on John McCain was "standard Democratic fare," that Obama "picked a bad night [to] be ordinary."  

He justified this view because "we know so little about Obama and therefore, whether he really means to challenge partisan gridlock" in Washington. It seems when Barack Obama has fulfilled one set of questions created by the opinion makers, they set up another group of worrisome hurdles he has to overcome. 

Another Washington Post opinion writer, Michael Gerson observed in the same edition (August 30) that "in substance, Barack Obama's convention speech could have been given by Al Gore," that "in tone, Obama's big speech was small, partisan, often defensive and occasionally snide."  He continued, writing that some of the attacks against McCain were "unfair" and that in summary it was "aggressively, unexceptional" and "unmemorable." 

I think we were in different stadiums, but the same negative assessment was made by Republican Joe Scarborough that was successfully countered by Keith Olbermann Obama supporter, both show TV talk show hosts on MSNBC where a war of sorts is occurring.

In my view Obama delivered an admirable speech at the Convention.  For those who keep saying they don't know him, he re-introduced himself and his values not only to the 84,000 people in the stadium, but to the 40 million watching television.  He moved on to answer the criticism of those who said that he had not been specific enough by defining change in terms of specific references to a set of policies, such as health care, education, energy, the War in Iraq, the economy and others.  And for those who said he had not been tough enough, he repeatedly challenged McCain on specific points of disagreement, profoundly suggesting that he didn't get it, he did not understand the importance of this moment for the American people.

These and other examples may be perceived to be merely differences of opinion by various journalists on an event. But remember Obama's magnificent tour to the Middle East and Europe and the way in which his outstanding performance was virtually suppressed by the media in a withering array of non-questions about the political value of celebrity.  

This was the event that said to many African Americans that if Obama had been white, this event would have been regarded as a resounding success, rather than a feat of guarded significance.  But the cause may be more than just race.

What this may mean is that Barack Obama has a formidable challenge from the mainstream media whose advertising contracts reflect both the dominance of the Republican capitalist structure as well as the Anglo culture they represent.  

They may also be resentful that his campaign constructed a media strategy which released him from their control by creating a corridor around them through the internet. Indeed some of the resistance to giving his achievements the credit they deserve may be based on this.

In any case, many highly regarded journalists have been consistently wrong about Obama's impact on this election and perhaps the final error will be when he wins the presidency itself. 

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park.  His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (U. of Michigan Press.)

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