October 3rd, 2012
07:46 AM ET
6 years ago

Conservative media coordinates on release of old Obama video

(CNN) - On the eve of the first presidential debate, conservative media outlets seized on footage of a five-year-old, widely covered speech by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who argued at the time that the federal government discriminated against Hurricane Katrina victims.

The June 2007 speech at Hampton University in Virginia was widely covered by CNN and other news outlets, as Obama was already well into his presidential campaign, running alongside then-Sen. Hillary Clinton at the front of the polls.

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However, the conservative news outlets that pushed the video Tuesday night argued the media skipped over portions of the speech.

Speaking to a largely black audience, Obama in the video made the case that race relations still had a long way to go in the United States, claiming the divide most severely has an impact on impoverished parts of the country.

The 2007 event was open to the press, and CNN affiliate WAVY recorded the full speech. The crux of his speech was reported by CNN at the time on air and online.

The speech was reported on or discussed multiple times on CNN over a three day period.

Segments aired on the "The Situation Room" and CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on June 5, 2007, which was also the day of a CNN Republican presidential debate.

The next day, CNN anchor Paula Zahn noted in her program, "Because of the Republican debate, you might have missed a new controversy involving Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama." Her program, "Paula Zahn Now," included a report on the comments and a panel discussion. A report by CNN Correspondent Mary Snow on the racial aspect of the comments also ran on CNN that day.

Clips of Obama's speech also aired on CNN "Newsroom" at least twice on June 7, 2007.

Five years later, CNN Senior Political Analyst and National Journal Editorial Director Ron Brownstein pointed out on CNN's "Newsroom" Wednesday morning that the speech was widely covered not only by CNN, but by others.

"This was hardly a secret tape," he said. "It's in the tape library of most of the networks, including CNN. It was a publicly covered event. It was discussed not only with [Fox News commentator and conservative] Tucker [Carlson] but on Fox. ABC talked about it."

In the re-circulated version of the video Tuesday conservatives especially jumped on a moment in the speech when the president appeared to stray away from his prepared remarks and blast the government for allegedly treating victims of the Sept. 11 attacks differently than those of Hurricane Katrina.

In the speech, delivered before a minister's conference, Obama first spelled out a provision in the Stafford Act that requires local and state governments to match a certain percentage of federal funds provided for emergency assistance. The law currently says those state and local governments must share 25% or less of the cost of "essential assistance."

"Some states, for example, have established a 15% local and a 10% state match combination," the law stipulates.

Obama, however, slammed the government for not waiving the matching funds in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

"Now here's the thing, when 9/11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act – said, 'This is too serious a problem. We can't expect New York City to rebuild on its own'," Obama said, growing emotional. "And that was the right thing to do. When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, 'Look at this devastation. We don't expect you to come up with y'own money, here. Here's the money to rebuild. We're not gonna wait for you to scratch it together – because you're part of the American family'."

He continued: "What's happening down in New Orleans? 'Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money?' Makes no sense. Tells me that somehow, the people down in New Orleans, they don't care about as much!"

In the years since Katrina, the government has taken steps to expedite assistance and funds to the ravaged Gulf Coast. As of the disaster's seventh anniversary, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had spent $19.1 billion in Louisiana alone to help victims of Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Critics also highlighted comments Obama made about his pastor at the time, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Standing on stage, Obama pointed to Wright in the audience and described him as "the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me."

"He's a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country," he added.

Less than a year later, the presidential candidate would be forced to distance himself from Wright after video emerged of the reverend making controversial comments about race in a sermon.

Some conservatives argued Obama's 2007 praise of Wright represented his true feelings about the pastor.

Throughout the 2007 remarks, Obama called for more investment and job training in poor communities and minority-owned businesses. His speech was targeted to his audience and tailored with themes of "hope" and "overcoming obstacles" that are traditionally heard in black churches.

The then-senator ended his remarks, saying: "America will survive. Just like black folks will survive. We won't forget where we came from. We won't forget what happened 19 months ago, or 15 years ago, or 300 years ago."

Conservative blogs and news websites lit up Tuesday afternoon when the right-leaning news aggregator, Drudge Report, first alerted that a television network would be releasing "curious tape" that would "ignite accusations of racism–in both directions."

Matt Drudge, who runs the site, later tweeted the network was facing an "internal debate" over whether to air the footage on the night before the cycle's first presidential debate.

Blogs began to publish a YouTube link of the suspected video–a nearly 10 minute clip of the same 2007 speech. Many reporters quickly noted the address was fairly well known and was broadly covered five years ago.

However, at 9 p.m. ET, Fox News' Sean Hannity, the conservative news website "The Daily Caller" and Drudge released what they described as an "exclusive" video of the nearly 40 minute speech, which included the comments about Sept. 11 and Katrina, which were not seen in the nine-minute YouTube video.

While some on Twitter stoked speculation that Mitt Romney's campaign may have been part of the timing of the video's publicity, the GOP nominee's team denied being tied to the media effort.

"We did not have any involvement," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement to CNN.

Brownstein, the political analyst, thought it unlikely that Romney would raise this at Wednesday's debate.

"I honestly don't think he's going to go there himself," he said. "This is the kind of thing that happens by outside groups or outside activists."

Democratic commentators fired back after portions of the speech aired Tuesday night, saying the remarks were old and blown out of proportion.

"I think that there is no material significance here, but the Republicans are very good at taking nothing and turning it into what appears to be something," Boyce Watkins, founder of yourblackworld.com, said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."

He added: "We have to remember that we live in a country that has for 400 years been poisoned by the psychological disease of racism and it doesn't take much to spark that back up."

Countering, conservative blogger and CNN contributor Erick Erickson said Obama's comments were telling of the president's personal views on race in the United States.

"He's addressing a largely black crowd and making the point that very clearly, that they in New Orleans got treated differently from people in New York and people in Florida because they somehow weren't part of the American community," Erickson said. "That's fanning the flames."

Brownstein noted that "this is an intensely racially polarized country," and that race plays a part in both the election and governing.

"There is a racial element that is in the backdrop here," Brownstein said. "Not necessarily racism, but very different views about the role of government and very different views about the parties."

Obama's re-election campaign also weighed in late Tuesday night, calling it an attempt to change the subject from "(Romney's) comments attacking half of the American people," referring to secretly-recorded video of Romney saying 47% of Americans do not pay federal income taxes and are "victims" dependent on the government.

"The only thing shocking about this is that they apparently think it's wrong to suggest that we should help returning veterans, children leaving foster care and other members of Mitt Romney's 47 percent get training that will allow them to find the best available jobs. If the Romney campaign believes that Americans will accept these desperate attacks tomorrow night in place of specific plans for the middle class, it's they who are in for a surprise," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement to CNN.

Filed under: 2008 Election • President Obama
soundoff (132 Responses)
  1. wilson

    we need to get this pres out of there vote Romney

    October 3, 2012 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  2. Namejkane sfl a vote for the gop will cut your moms medicare and soc sec .can you afford to pay for them???

    Conservatives and teaparty people like cantor and Ryan need to be kicked out of government and are the reason that the recovery is slower then it should be . You have cantor preventing diaster flood aid to his own state of Virginia without strings attached. While the gop sponge of the taxpayers money with his 200,000 salary and free healthcare while he votes againest yours , kick them to the curb next month!!!!!!

    October 3, 2012 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  3. sam2777

    Good to know he championed the people during the Bush fiasco response to Katrina. Makes me respect Obama more.

    October 3, 2012 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  4. L.R.Long

    Way too little, way too late.

    October 3, 2012 08:06 am at 8:06 am |
  5. livingston

    The best that they could come up with to counter Romney's "47%" speech is a 5 year old video that we have all seen before? Now that is just sad and it reeks of desperation.

    October 3, 2012 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  6. Gurgyl

    Most of the stuff–he delivered as promised, ex: healthcare law, GM save, Bin Laden kill., fin. Reg. reform bill etc, is this enough?????? List???

    October 3, 2012 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  7. Arthur Ostrowski

    Wow! how outrageous, a president telling the truth.
    With Love from New Orleans,

    October 3, 2012 08:11 am at 8:11 am |
  8. JimB

    A desperate act by the Romney campaign who will say and do anything to win the election. I watched Hannity last night "with this breaking news." He is pathetic.There's nothing here that we all haven't already seen.The reality is that black people were not treated well in Katrina. If there is any race baiting going on it is Hannity, Fox News, and the far right. This is all about reminding people that Obama is black. A sad day in American politics.

    October 3, 2012 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  9. john oh

    Lol 5yr old video for an audience with a 5yr old's mindset. Way to go Republicans you can really pander to the base. But is that who you need to be pandering to at this point? You reek of desperation and that is not very appealing to independent voters.

    October 3, 2012 08:14 am at 8:14 am |
  10. Mike

    IT's still a game of pitting Rep vs Dem. That's the trick, they are the same institution, the government institution. YOu want real "CHANGE" you need to vote 3rd party. You actually need to get up, off your couch, and vote for Gary Johnson. A vote for him is a vote against the governmental control machine. #occupynovember. Get off your rear and vote instead of thinking, well the government is screwy, so why should i bother. Make a change, influence others. Take back America for the people.

    October 3, 2012 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  11. Lyin' Ryan

    I smell desperation!!!

    October 3, 2012 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  12. koedo

    Conservative onslaught? Simple question, did Obama say/do what is claimed?
    Watch the video and decide if the 'liberal' media I'd correct.

    October 3, 2012 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  13. Rudy NYC

    Did you notice that the right wing media is blasting the "liberal mainstream meda" for not releasing this video, while at the same time the right wing has been sitting on it, too? The 2008 McCain campaign left it alone. Why? In someone's mind there something is wrong with a black guy speaking to a mostly black audience.

    October 3, 2012 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  14. ghostriter

    I heard about this and tried to watch Hannity to see what all the fuss was about. Is this it?

    Seriously, I think the republicans have figured out that they don't have to actually have anything damaging. They just have to have something and complain enough about it. Alot of folks were outraged at the fact that Americans were stranded on tops of houses for days. Not hours. Days.

    Rev Wright.......nice. How'd that work out for you guys in 2008?

    Basically, they are trying like heck to put out videos to damage the president. However, Ryan now has one saying the same thing as Romney.

    Republicans......your videos were within the past year. Closed events where you guys didn't think the world would see. I would rather have a man sympathetic to black folks than two who are apathetic to the 47%.

    October 3, 2012 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  15. wordowe

    I dont get what is controversial about this vides. It is common knowledge that the government poorly handled Katrina. It is one of the worst (of many) bruises on the bush adminstration. GOP is really getting desparate. I liken it to trying to freeze an NFL kicker on an extra point. Game over people. Obama really has to screw up the debates to lose this election.

    October 3, 2012 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  16. Jeff R.

    CNN failed then and they fail now to report anything of substance. Fail.

    October 3, 2012 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  17. MrBeenThere

    The Republicans need to start policing there own.......... Voter fraud, outlandish statements, Voter suppression and dividing this country, that's the real story....................

    October 3, 2012 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  18. David

    So showing more of the speech is misleading by showing more of the speech that was open to the press is trying to redirect the commentary for this election. (DUH) But a hidden camera in in a closed meeting is ok to use to set the direction of the discussion. I thought Chicago was west of Lake Michigan and not at 38.8900° N, 77.0300° W (Washington DC.)

    October 3, 2012 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  19. Mike in NH

    Nice speech from the great divider. There is an unlying bitterness that our President holds when he has been the recipient of every affirmative and charitable action this country has to offer; from his private HS thru his Harvard JD. He is part of the entitlement crowd.

    October 3, 2012 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  20. dohnmd

    In reading this article i really have no words to say other than am so disappointed with American News. This article seems to lean distinctly in a liberal way or maybe way liberal. That's why I tend to get most of my news from sources from outside this country like the BBC. For more years than can be counted it has been listed as the least biased. No american news organization are asking any tough questions of Pres. Obama except fluff questions! I'm not really a Romney supporter but i listen to the questions he's asked and then Obama and I want to say "Seriously?" American news Organizations need to stop being biased and report the news for news sake! Seriously! I just want a president that will stay in Washington instead of going on late night tv and the view and such and attend at least 95% of his Security meetings! COME ON! attending only 30% in this day and time! that in itself speaks volumes!

    October 3, 2012 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  21. JD

    This is what is in president Obama's heart. America is unjust, and justice comes through "redistributive justice".

    You look at the democrat voting blocks and it's all about emotion.
    Young people – get them excited
    Elderly – make them fearful
    Minorities – "fairness", "voter suppression"
    Women – "war on women".

    These are very powerful plays in emotion. And it works. It keeps the facts out of play.

    October 3, 2012 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  22. SafeJourney

    Drudge is just another Breitbart. Just shows you that when one Breitbart scum dies anyone emerges to take its place

    October 3, 2012 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  23. Sandy

    Why not report on the 30% video of Paul Ryan:? That was just months ago, but this video was FIVE YEARS AGO. Funny that they are trying the Rev Wright card again. This only proves that Obama has empathy for the least of us and that he is NOT MUSLIM. The Right just proved themselves wrong about Obama. LOL

    October 3, 2012 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  24. Nick

    The only thing more audacious than Fox calling themselves news, is Fox accusing any other organization of bias. They have been in constant campaign mode against the president, and cry about the fact the rest of the media wont' join them. Every article about Obama and democrats is negative, and even would-be positive articles have negative spin towards moderates and democrats. Fox needs to quit trying to create news, and just report it. Having their "anchor" Sean Hannity (who doesn't even have an earned college degree, let alone a degree in Journalism) "break" a 5 year old story that was already public information is pathetic. It shows the desperation of the far right wing, and conservatives should be worried. If this pathetic attempt to turn things around in Mitt's favor is the best Fox News can do, the chances of there being an October surprise out there for your benefit is very slim.

    October 3, 2012 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  25. Jason

    Of course they leave out the "bullet is still in the gun" comment, and nice couching of the title, I would suggest something a bit different, "Newly released tape of candidate Obama's racist words underscore the extreme left bias in the media"

    October 3, 2012 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
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