#VetThePrez

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 8 2012 8:10 AM

#VetThePrez

The thing you need to know about the Big Government video of Barack Obama and Derrick Bell is that it's not really about Derrick Bell. The video shows a 29-year-old Barack Obama, then already a media star at Harvard Law School, giving the founder of Critical Race Theory a glowing introduction at a rally over Bell's protest of (basically) Harvard's decision to deny tenure to a black professor. Buzzfeed, which outraced Big Government, posted the clip leased from local Boston public TV. The transcript:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

I remember that the black law students had organized an orientation for the first year students, and one of the persons who spoke at that orientation was Prof. Bell. And I remember him sauntering up to the front and not giving us a lecture, but engaging us in a converstion, and speaking the truth, and telling us that [video edit] to learn at this place that I've carried with me ever since. Now, how did this one man do all this? How did he accomplish all this? He hasn't done it simply by his good looks and easy charm, although he has both in equal measure. He hasn't done it simply because of the excellence of his scholarship, although his scholarship has opened up new vistas and new horizons and changed the standard for what people are writing about. [video edit] Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Prof. Derrick Bell.
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What's the story? Bell was a first-generation civil rights activist and scholar who did and thought things about race that, oh, say, a presidential candidate would not. He helped Angela Davis with her legal defense. He wrote science fiction stories to make his points; in "Chronicle of the Amber Cloud," for example, a "Ghetto disease" starts turning white kids black, and a cure is developed for blackness. I'll let Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak explain it, because he did that on Hannity last night.

Derrick Bell was a radical, Derrick Bell was the Jeremiah Wright of academia. He had some crazy views. In fact, just two months before this speech was given, Derrick Bell gave a controversial speech in Chicago where he said that America remains a racist country and the civil rights movement essentially was a shame because white supremacy remains the system and we've got to transform that system radically in order to get rid of racism.

What does "the Jeremiah Wright of academia" mean? Well, it's a good line. But when Wright emerged -- it was ABC News, remember, that put out video of his sermons -- there was already a passel of material ready to prove that he was a radical who hated America. The BigGov launch, in the classic Breitbartian style, didn't include any direct hits on Bell. The implication: It's coming. By praising Bell in one context, Obama was tacitly endorsing everything Bell had said! "It's a clean hit," explained BigGov's Ben Shapiro in the same Hannity interview.

Is it? Hannity himself turned the conversation from Bell-Obama to the media -- and that's really the point of the story.

This wouldn't be a smoking gun, but it would do two things, it would be another brick in the foundation that I think proves a point I tried to make in 2007 and `08 that this candidate is far more radical, now president, as evidenced by the way he's governed, that he's far more radical than he let on, number one. Number two, the media never did its job. The media -- if George Stephanopoulos was on my radio show, the day before he asked one question about Bill Ayers. He started his campaign in his house, gave speeches set on board with the -- so, the real issue here is the media's culpability, they're look into every nuance of every republican, every word that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney have ever said. But they won't do this to Obama.

It has to be a media story, because the media didn't find Obama's connection to Bell to be controversial. He was interviewed about Obama in 2008, so the "connection" was out there. Even this video was out there, because Frontline used a clip of it in its pre-election documentary. The media gatekeepers just didn't find Bell controversial. In comes the Breitbartverse: It's not the media's job to tell us what's important and unimportant about Obama.

That's reall the story. BigGov's version of the tape, which was pale and grainy, did not come from the local Boston station. It came from a 2011 lecture by Charles Ogletree at Harvard, when he played the video -- with the same blips -- just a couple of seconds longer than the Boston station did. "Of course, we hid this throughout the 2008 campaign," said Ogletree in BigGov's tape of the lecture. "I don't care if they find it now."

It's a good get. But... what does "hid" mean? PBS snagged the video. Anyone with some money could have. Non-conservative outlets didn't see the controversy in Obama's introduction, so they didn't chase it, but the video was not hiding in Ogletree's air-conditioned vault. The slightly longer version of the video ends with Obama hugging Bell. "You are showing a hug that the media doesn't show!" said an excited Hannity last night. Because BuzzFeed didn't show the hug in its version, BigGov claimed that the site had "selectively edited it." The hug's a good closer, but does it prove something that Obama's anecdote about riffing with Bell, and his joke about Bell's handsomeness, didn't already prove? The table was set: Obama really liked this guy and endorsed what he had to say that day.

Maybe you're underwhelmed by this. It's understandable! The video doesn't actually do much to prove that Obama is a dangerous radical. But it's supposed to prove that the meda ignores any connection that might make Obama look radical. That's where the "VetThePrez" hashtag comes in. The Breitbartverse will shame the media -- or at the very least, Fox -- into publishing stories it might have deemed un-newsworthy.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.