“The immediate, tawdry issue for the Obama campaign,” according to Joe Klein on Time’s Swampland blog directly after Obama’s Speech on Race yesterday, is:
How will the media play it? What will the sound bites be on the evening news tonight (especially the local evening news)? After all, the speech was delivered at 10:45 am, to a miniscule cable audience
Given that many people would be getting their first (or only) taste of Obama’s speech from their local TV news, and given that it would come from a short clip—or maybe two—selected to somehow represent a nuanced, thirty-five-minute speech, Klein worried that local news broadcasts might cherry pick the way that Fox News did at one point yesterday, highlighting some small bit (in Fox’s case: “I can no more disown [Jeremiah Wright] than I can disown the black community…”) that might leave viewers with a very specific and specifically incomplete impression of the speech’s whole.
So, what clips did the local news broadcasts in a couple of cities in the all-important Keystone State go with? With what general impression were viewers left?
The most frequently-played clip last night and this morning in a scan of some local evening and morning news programs in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia was all or some of the following:
Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially-charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems
Generally, the above quote was accompanied by straightforward, just-the-facts reports along the lines of: Obama gave this major speech in Philadelphia today. He condemned his former pastor’s inflammatory words and tried to move the focus beyond them with talk of coming together. Time will tell how the speech affects voters/his bid for White House. Toss in a local clergyman or university professor to add some additional analysis and opinion.
In our quick scan, Klein’s concern did not pan out.
Viewers of Pittsburgh’s Fox affiliate WPGH-TV would, however, have come away with a slightly different takeaway than my italicized paraphrasing of the typical report above. WPGH teased its Obama Race Speech report last night as follows: “Presidential candidate Barack Obama sounds off on racial issues,” along with this clip from the speech: “If we simply retreat to our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges.” The actual report included this clip from the speech: “The anger is real. It is powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.” Followed by this brief analysis: “Obama says he rejects and understands the racially charged comments made by Reverend Wright. The Illinois senator says as imperfect as Wright may be, he has been like family. Obama says he could not disown his pastor.” Then it was on to Senator McCain’s Middle East trip (no mention of this).
Got that? Obama “sounds off on racial issues:” Yes, “come together” but also “anger is real,” and “could not disown his pastor.”
Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.