The ConWeb collectively misleads and lies about what Barack Obama said about the Supreme Court and the Constitution in a 2001 radio interview.
By Terry Krepel
It's clear that the ConWeb cares nothing about facts when it comes to Barack Obama. That was demonstrated yet again this past week with its overheated misinterpretation of -- and outright lies about -- statements Obama made in 2001.
Here's what Obama actually said:
I mean, I think that, you know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order in, as long as I could pay for it, I'd be OK. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.
In full context, Obama was saying that the civil rights movement relied too much on the court system to advance its agenda instead of promoting change from the bottom up, i.e., legislatively, and the Supreme Court under Earl Warren was not as radical as right-wingers claim it to be because it refused to take up "more basic issues of political and economic justice."
But that's not what the ConWeb will tell you Obama said.
At NewsBusters, P.J. Gladnick howled that "Barack Obama explicitly calls for the 'redistribution of wealth'" in the interview -- which he didn't. Mark Finkelstein claimed Obama said "he laments the Supreme Court's insufficient radicalism in pursuing redistribution and refers to the civil rights movement's failure to develop a better strategy to bring about wealth redistribution as a 'tragedy[']" -- which he didn't.
David Patten wrote -- falsely -- in an Oct. 27 Newsmax article:
One of the tragedies of the Civil Rights movement is that it failed to lead to income redistribution in the United States, Barack Obama appears to state in an audio excerpt of a Chicago public radio program recorded in 2001.
Newsmax's Phil Brennan severely misinterpreted Obama's words, turning Obama's declarative statement that the Warren court "didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution" into a false question by putting words in Obama's mouth, under the headline "Obama Attacks Founding Fathers, Constitution":
According to Obama if the Constitution "didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as its been interpreted and [the] Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties." [emphasis added]
Obama didn't say "if the Constitution"; that's a fabrication by Brennan. Yet Brennan claimed that Obama "shows a shocking ignorance of the purpose of the United States Constitution" and "would have sent shivers up the spine of Thomas Jefferson, et al."
Susan Jones asserted in an Oct. 27 CNSNews.com article that "The audio clip makes it clear that redistribution of wealth, or 'redistributive change,' is something Obama’s been aiming at for years." No, it doesn't; "redistributive change" could have referred to political power as well, or exclusively. Similarly, CNS editor in chief Terry Jeffrey falsely asserted that Obama "expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court 'never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth.'"
The Media Research Center's Seton Motley proclaimed "damning new evidence of Illinois Democratic Senator and Presidential nominee Barack Obama's radical views on how we need to 'break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution' because it 'doesn't say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.'" Obama didn't say that.
Motley also quotes MRC chief Brent Bozell saying of this story: "We will monitor who does -- and doesn't -- cover this story, and we'll document it." Of course, the various MRC tendrils, which include NewsBusters and CNS, have done nothing but lie and mislead about Obama's words.
WorldNetDaily soon joined the parade of misinformation, falsely claiming that Obama "said in a radio interview the U.S. has suffered from a fundamentally flawed Constitution that does not mandate or allow for redistribution of wealth." He didn't say that; in context, the "fundamental flaw" to which Obama alluded is a reference to slavery.
That mass of lies and misinformation took place on just the first day of ConWeb coverage of the issue. The second day didn't get any better:
Later, WND columnist Ellis Washington falsely claimed that "Obama was rather forthright about what type of America he wanted an America free of the 'constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution,'" bizarrely concluding, "Most frightening is what Obama would do to the original intent of the Constitution's framers f--- the framers!"
Meanwhile, David Horowitz's FrontPageMag website came up with creative ways to lie and mislead about Obama's statements.
In an Oct. 28 FrontPageMag article, ex-WorldNetDaily reporter Paul Sperry began by repeating the discredited lies that "Obama said it's a 'tragedy' the Constitution wasn't radically interpreted to force redistribution of wealth for blacks" and that Obama said "the Warren Court was not 'radical' enough."
Sperry then took a huge leap of logic and common sense by declaring that Obama's "remarks can only be interpreted to mean one thing: economic reparations for slavery." He then insists that government programs such as "universal health care, universal mortgage credits, college tuition, job training and even universal 401(k)s" are tantamount to "stealth reparations."
Sperry also embarked on creative reinterpretations of Obama's other work as well. He wrote:
He also wrote in his recent autobiography that he sympathizes with militant black activists who fear that "white Americans will be let off the hook" for past crimes, such as "a hundred years of lynching under several dozen administrations."
But Sperry took two apparently random statements hundreds of pages apart out of context (in bold in the excerpts below) to stitch together something Obama never said. From "The Audacity of Hope," page 248:
Old habits die hard, and there is always a fear on the part of many minorities that unless racial discrimination, past and present, stays on the front burner, white America will be let off the hook and hard-fought gains may be reversed. I understand these fearsnowhere is it ordained that history moves in a straight line, and during difficult economic times it is possible that the imperatives of racial equality get shunted aside.
From "The Audacity of Hope," pp. 21-22:
My wife will tell you that by nature I'm not somebody who gets real worked up about things. When I see Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity baying across the television screen, I find it hard to take them seriously; I assume that they must be saying what they do primarily to boost book sales or ratings, although I do wonder who would spend their precious evenings with such sourpusses. When Democrats rush up to me at events and insist that we live in the worst of political times, that a creeping fascism is closing its grip around our throats, I may mention the internment of Japanese Americans under FDR, the Alien and Sedition Acts under John Adams, or a hundred years of lynching under several dozen administrations as having been possibly worse, and suggest we all take a deep breath. When people at dinner parties ask me how I can possibly operate in the current political environment, with all the negative campaigning and personal attacks, I may mention Nelson Mandela, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or some guy in a Chinese or Egyptian prison somewhere. In truth, being called names is not such a bad deal.
Those two statements have nothing to do with each other, except in Sperry's fevered brain. But since he's already lying about Obama said in the radio interview, why wouldn't he lie about what Obama said in his book as well?
Fellow FrontPageMag writer Ben Johnson gets it painfully wrong as well, but in a completely different way. in an Oct. 29 article, Johnson dismissed the correctives to right-wing misinterpretations issued in other media as "talking points of the George Soros-funded Media Matters" (itself a false claim) without bothering to disprove any of them -- then goes on his merry misinforming way.
Johnson falsely claimed that Obama "plainly counts among the movement’s 'failures,' indeed 'tragedies'” that “the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.” And he purported to read Obama's mind on the Warren Court comments: "Having listened to the audio, this author did not hear these last words spoken 'with approval.'" How, exactly did Johnson determine that? He doesn't say.
Johnson also assumed that Obama's reference to "redistributive change" can only mean the economic kind; he ridiculed the idea that it could also mean equality of opportunity in education.
WorldNetDaily returned to gross misinterpretation in an Oct. 30 article:
A newly posted video on YouTube has captured Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama appearing to suggest that America after World War II had similarities to Nazi Germany.
But the video edited Obama's words and took him out of context. As Media Matters detailed when Sean Hannity did the same thing -- is WND simply uncritically treating what right-wing radio hosts say as actual news? -- Obama was specifically speaking in the context of the rights of African-Americans after World War II. Here's the complete statement made by Obama, with they key statement WND didn't report in bold:
[T]here's a lot of change going on outside of the court that, you know, the judges have to essentially take judicial notice of. I mean, you've got World War II. You've got the doctrines of Nazism that we are fighting against that start looking uncomfortably similar to what's going on back here at home. You've got African Americans who are returning from the war with certain expectations in terms of, "Why is it that I'm now in uniform and yet am denied more freedom here than I was in France or Italy?"
WND made no apparent attempt to learn the truth about what Obama actually said or hunt down Obama's full statement -- no surprise, since it didn't bother to do so in its first article either.
The article also repeated WND's previous false claim that Obama "suggested his disappointment that the U.S. Supreme Court never had gone beyond the constraints of the Constitution and established wealth redistribution plans."
That combination of laziness and malice comes back to bite Joseph Farah, who exclaims in his Oct. 31 column to claim that the radio interview WND keeps lying about "leaves no doubt that Obama, the likely next president of the U.S., believes the Constitution needs to be scrapped, rewritten or, even more dangerously, reinterpreted by activist judges to permit what it clearly does not permit in plain English the use of government to redistribute wealth to achieve what he terms "economic justice in society." He added: "For anyone who cherishes the Constitution's limits on government power and its protections of fundamental, unalienable individual rights, Obama's words are chilling, to say the least."
The source Farah links to in support of these wild assertions? That fallacious Oct. 27 WND article. Once again, Farah makes the mistake of trusting his own website.
How can lies make something "clear" to Farah? How can Farah be so dishonest as to present such an opinion to his readers on the basis of lies?
And how can the ConWeb as a whole be taken seriously after being caught engaging in such flagrant, premeditated misinformation?