And that’s the way it was: March 18, 2008

Presidential candidate Barack Obama gives a speech in Philadelphia on racial division

During the 2008 Democratic Primary, Senator Barack Obama came under fire for incendiary remarks made by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. To address the controversy, on March 18, 2008, Obama gave a speech about race before an audience at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. In the speech (titled “A More Perfect Union”), he addressed his relationship with the preacher, and situated the controversy within a larger discussion about the history of racism in America, and lingering tensions between blacks and whites.

Media reactions to the speech were overwhelmingly favorable. Liberal media opinions, from The New York Times to Chris Matthews, ranged from “a great speech on race in America” to “the greatest speech on race in America”—and, on balance, closer to the latter end of that spectrum. Many conservative pundits were also impressed. Charles Murray, at National Review Online, wrote that “As far as I’m concerned, it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we’re used to from our pols.”

Coverage of the Philadelphia speech also focussed on its spread on the Internet. The campaign’s video of Obama’s oration “went viral”—a concept that was still relatively new at the time. It generated over one million views on YouTube within the first 24 hours after Obama spoke. And, for the next few weeks, videos and transcripts of the speech were the most popular things shared on Facebook. As of the publication of this post, the official video of the speech (below) has over seven million YouTube views.

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.