Press Coverage (part 1)

I turned on the radio the other day to hear NPR all abuzz about the Obama speech on race. Over and over, the commentators latched onto a few key phrases, but they all sang its praises, and I began to wonder about the rest of the speech. The Third Motion blog pointed me to the full text, and I was amazed at the richness there, blending history and anecdotes and political vision.

Talking of Rev. Wright, Obama said,

Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Indeed. I recall a devout Baptist friend who told me that after 20 years she finally had worked up the courage to get up and leave the church during sermons where homesexuals were condemned — but she kept going back, Sunday after Sunday.

The history lesson was educational, too, distilling the key facts of black history and how they have affected black reality today. The perspective on current economic issues angering many whites today was an interesting balance to that view, surely crystalized by many town hall questions on the campaign trail.

Those pieces of the speech were mentioned in the press, directly or indirectly. But not this:

“For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned. “

Of course, the press didn’t talk about that part of the speech. The spectacle, the nightly news, and the gaffes are the meat and potatoes of the press. Hope doesn’t sell newspapers. Tackling real problems doesn’t fit into a sound bite or even a one-hour indepth coverage report.

So beware, my friends, of the press. Beware of their modern cousins, short e-mails full of scandalous factoids. Do a little research on the internet to get the full picture. It takes more time, but it’s time well spent.

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