Race-baiting the President

Rubert Murdoch, Matt Drudge, and their followers sought to use the Gates imbroglio as a racial rallying cry against Obama. With health-care reform on the line, defusing the hysteria was worth a beer.

The right wing longs to transform Barack Obama into their stereotype of Al Sharpton, a factional—and fictional—character in a sensationalist drama of White versus Black. Racializing Obama was the Right's aim throughout the 2008 election, most conspicuously in their operatic shock that the candidate's pastor had misgivings about a nation in which he had been born a second-class citizen, and at Michelle Obama's awkwardly phrased but plainly well-meant statement that candidate Obama's victories had made her "proud' of her country.

Thus it was no surprise when conservative media from Rupert Murdoch to Matt Drudge pounced on the President's remark about a Cambridge, Mass., police officer "stupidly" arresting African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home. Murdoch's supermarket tabloid, the New York Post, devoted its screaming cover to the "Race Storm" it was all too typically fanning—relegating to secondary status the dragnet arrests of 44 politicians, rabbis, and assorted fixers in a jaw-dropping corruption scandal next door in New Jersey. You almost have to admire Murdoch, Drudge and company for their skill in bending the curve of news coverage. The rest of the press followed their lead; after all, this story would sell papers and spike ratings. Besides, health care, the most important issue for the president and the country, is not all that important for many in the media, who already have good coverage.

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