Obama's stance on race debated as 2007 videotape resurfaces

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In the summer of 2007, his White House campaign well under way, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama waded into racial politics and accused President George W. Bush of sitting idly by as a "quiet riot" simmered in black communities.

The news created a stir. NBC News led its "Nightly News" broadcast with it. The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune wrote about it, and it was mentioned in a New York Times op-ed column. Conservative writer-pundit Tucker Carlson devoted an entire segment of his MSNBC program to it.

Then the speech largely faded away -- until last month, when someone calling himself "Sore Throwt" started emailing conservative activists and media outlets, claiming to have a bombshell video that would jolt the presidential election. On Tuesday, on the eve of the first presidential debate between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, Mr. Carlson's current venture, The Daily Caller -- a website started with financial help from conservative donor Foster Friess -- pushed the video back into circulation.

Its report brought to the forefront a wave of questions that have long been favorite topics in conservative circles: about Mr. Obama's views on race, his associations with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and whether the mainstream media was willfully ignoring embarrassing episodes from Mr. Obama's past.

The video of Mr. Obama's 2007 remarks shows him saying complimentary things about Mr. Wright, questioning whether race was a reason that federal aid was slow to reach New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and speaking in a more distinctly African-American idiom than he normally uses in public addresses. By Wednesday morning, it had mushroomed into a lead story on network news programs, a dominant cable-news coverage theme and a developing story online.

Months ago, many Republicans rushed to distance themselves from an aborted plan by another conservative donor, Joe Ricketts, to finance a campaign that would have touched on similar themes, and Democrats dismissed the video this time as old news.

Yet with the campaign moving into its final stages, the tape's re-emergence drove the news on the day of the first presidential debate, as Mr. Romney sought to put behind him whatever political damage he had suffered from his secretly videotaped "47 percent" comments and to energize conservative voters. Among conservatives, it was widely discussed as evidence that the nation still does not have a handle on Mr. Obama's true agenda, and that liberal news organizations were covering up for him.

Mr. Carlson and editors at his website, founded with $3.5 million in seed money from Mr. Friess, a leading backer of Rick Santorum's super-PAC, immediately saw the tape as relevant to their conservative audience. To them, it was a perfect confluence of all their complaints about the way the mainstream media has covered Mr. Obama: credulously and insufficiently.

The Drudge Report picked up word of the news before it broke, alerting readers Tuesday afternoon that a major scoop was coming. It told readers to tune in to Fox later that night.

After Mr. Carlson posted the article on his website, timed for the prime-time Fox News programming lineup, he appeared on Fox's Sean Hannity program to explain what he had found. There was the president, speaking in a way he usually does not in public, telling a black audience that the government did not care about them.

The president was using racial tensions to try to divide America into different classes of people, Mr. Carlson argued. And the accent? To him, it was further evidence of the argument that many Obama foes on the right have been pushing in their writings, talk shows and films for years: We don't really know who this man is.

The video's re-emergence tapped into simmering views among conservatives that the mainstream media have glossed over information deemed potentially damaging to Mr. Obama, while showing no such mercy to his GOP opponents.

After the video's release on The Daily Caller and Mr. Hannity's program, it was the talk of the rest of the conservative media. "Clearly race-baiting, clearly angry, and I'm telling you: This is who he is to this day," Rush Limbaugh told his audience Wednesday.

Mr. Carlson declined to say how he acquired the full video, which news networks have had in their libraries since 2007. He said only that he had received the video in the past few days.

The video had apparently been circulating in conservative circles at least a week. One person contacted about it described receiving an email pitch from someone calling himself Sore Throwt, a pun on Deep Throat, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal.

"Sore Throwt" wanted to be paid in exchange for handing over the video, this person said, speaking anonymously to divulge a conversation he had pledged to keep confidential. Mr. Carlson would not say whether he paid for the tape.

nation


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