Obama's 2007 Video: 'Bombshell' or Old News?

Jill Lawrence

Matt Drudge sure knows how to stir up the political Twitterati.

“@DRUDGE: Curious tape dropping tonight. NOT from MOTHERJONES. Will cause controversy,  ignite accusations of racism -- in both directions!” he tweeted at 2:03 p.m. Tuesday.

Frenzied reporting and speculation ensued and, about three hours later, Buzzfeed and New York Magazine identified the tape and located excerpts online. It was a June 2007 speech to black ministers at Virginia’s Hampton University, a historically black college founded in 1861.

At 9 p.m. sharp, The Daily Caller posted the video and Sean Hannity opened his Fox News show with this: “A bombshell is about to be dropped on the 2012 race for the White House.”

Hannity characterized the speech as “some of the most divisive class warfare and racially charged rhetoric ever used by Barack Obama.” He said “the most outrageous comments were completely ignored” by a “left-wing press” that’s “in the pocket of Barack Obama.”

Everything old, apparently, is new again. “you know who aired video of Obama's Hampton speech in 2007? Fox News. Tuesday, June 5, 2007. 6:00 PM EST. Thanks, Lexis-Nexis,” tweeted CNN’s Peter Hamby.

What the heck, let's go to the videotape anyway. The Fox News report centered on three points at which Obama departed from the prepared text distributed by his campaign.

  • A shout-out for Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was in the audience. Obama called his controversial pastor “the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He’s a friend and a great leader…” Obama broke with Wright in spring 2008. Was his 2007 shout-out hidden by a protective media? Not entirely. The Associated Press, though it did not include those particular quotes, noted that Obama praised Wright.
  • A push for more investment in minority businesses and public transportation to get people to jobs in the suburbs. “We don’t need to build more highways in the suburbs,” Obama said. Said Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson: “This is not a dog whistle. This is a dog siren.” However, Obama was not alone in that view. “Know who else thought that?” tweeted The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis. You guessed it, Mitt Romney.
  • Criticism of the federal government for waiving local and state matching funds for victims of the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Andrew, but insisting that New Orleans contribute its share after Hurricane Katrina. “Tells me the people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much,” Obama said. Okay, a bit raw for a general audience, but it’s hard to look back with pride on the feds’ Katrina performance.

Carlson said the theme of the speech “from front to back” was that “the federal government doesn’t like you because you are black.” What’s more, he said Obama delivered the speech in an absurd and phony accent. “You are seeing a remarkable exhibit of falseness on display,” he said. To which Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski counter-tweeted: “Here are three videos of Obama using that ‘accent’ he apparently never uses.” 

Will moderator Jim Lehrer suddenly add questions on Jeremiah Wright, Hurricane Katrina, and racism to the Wednesday night debate agenda? Will Obama feel compelled in the interests of consistency to respond to Lehrer in the same cadences he used in his address to black ministers at a black university? Not seeing it.

That's not to say the revival of this moment in time will have no impact at all. We’ll give the last word to Michael Cohen, a Democratic author, foreign policy specialist, and former speechwriter. “A bit late to this Drudge video,” he tweeted, “but if my sources are correct it appears that Barack Obama is a black man.”