‘The Jeremiah Wright of academia’? Nice try

Updated
Andrew Breitbart, speaking at CPAC shortly before his March 1 death, hyped the release of video from Barack Obama’s days at Harvard, video that he claimed would expose the President. “I’ve got videos,” he said. “This election we’re going to vet him.” This “vetting” began on Fox News Channel last night, when two Breitbart.com editors were to reveal this video to the world! (Or at least to those safely inside the conservative media bubble, and those of us shaking our heads from the outside.)

When they were done, the only new thing we thought we saw was a hug. (And even that was old news.)

The video in question is WGBH footage of the President in his Harvard Law days, speaking at a 1990 protest advocating increased diversity on the Harvard Law faculty. One of those faculty was law professor Derrick Bell, a constitutional scholar, civil-rights attorney, and one of the principal advocates of critical race theory. Bell had taken unpaid leave from the university until a Black woman was hired as a professor. Bell eventually left Harvard when his leave wasn’t extended, but not before the future President spoke on his behalf. BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski “scooped” the Breitbart folks before their FNC in their appearance last night, posting a clip in the morning.

When I watched it, I felt immediately as if I’d seen it before, and I was right. Along with likely millions of others, I saw this speech in part featured in the 2008 “Frontline” documentary, “The Choice.” You can view the moment in question in the film, queued up here. Thanks to Andrew Golis, the director of digital and senior editor of “Frontline,” you can see the young Obama’s full speech, embedded below:

Watch Obama Speaks at Harvard Law in ‘90 on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

While BuzzFeed did not publish all of the available footage of the event — a manager here noted that they were paying for each second of footage — they did post the entirety of what was available of Obama’s speech. While other cameras could have shot additional material from the event, no other footage of the event exists at WGBH.
And while there does appear to be editing in the footage available, that was almost certainly done in 1990. The Ten O’Clock News practice was to store completed segments as aired along with any relevant additional footage that might be useful in the future.
The part which Breitbart.com complained had been “selectively edited” out of the BuzzFeed version, and which they dared to Shock the World!™ with last night? The hug you saw there between Professor Bell and his student after the speech. The Breitbart.com editors complained that WGBH had refused to release the footage to them, but dude – it had been on YouTube since October of 2008. It didn’t even shake up that election, and they claim it was going to affect this one?

One of the Breitbart.com guys also called Bell the “Jeremiah Wright of academia.” Bill Ayers’ photo was brought into the conversation. I’d joke about this, but the Breitbart.com guys are going out of their way to not take a joke. They complained that Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree showed the WGBH video – man, everyone had this thing – and quite obviously kidded about hiding it during the 2008 election. (Even if Ogletree was serious, as I said before, the video was available on YouTube.) 

It doesn’t take a Harvard Law professor to see what’s happening here. This is what happens when one side of the political argument faces an improving economy, increasing tolerance, and an uninspiring candidate slate – and ends up feeling as though they have no argument but one in which they dip into the gutter. They target the Derrick Bells, the Lani Guiniers, the Shirley Sherrods of the world; it’s Lee Atwater boilerplate. But to call it journalism – when actual journalists already had, and used the video – is especially ridiculous. They call it “vetting” when it is actually character assassination, an especially cruel tactic when the character in question is not here to defend himself.

Derrick Bell’s death last October was overshadowed by that of Steve Jobs and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, all on the same day. It is a shame that there are likely people who had never heard his name before yesterday, and are being introduced to him in this manner. There are better eulogies. I’ve linked a few here, here, and here. Our host wrote about Bell shortly after his death. Read his work, hear him speak, and make up your own mind.

'The Jeremiah Wright of academia'? Nice try

Updated