CNN repeats smear of Obama supporters as "creepy" and "cult-like"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

CNN's Carol Costello said that audience response at a Barack Obama rally is "a scene some increasingly find not inspirational, but 'creepy,' " quoting columnists who have likened Obama supporters to members of a cult or described their enthusiasm as "creepy." On-screen text during Costello's report read: "OBAMA-MANIA BACKLASH" and "PASSION 'CULT-LIKE' TO SOME." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer similarly cited other writers to make the same assertion: "ABC's Jake Tapper notes the 'Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities' of 'Obama worshipers,' what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls 'the Cult of Obama.' "

On the February 15 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer described "so-called Obama-mania": "Obama has some very passionate supporters out there and some are suggesting some may be a little bit too passionate." Contributor Carol Costello said that audience response at an Obama rally is "a scene some increasingly find not inspirational, but 'creepy' " and then cited columns by Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Time columnist Joe Klein, all of whom likened Obama supporters to members of a cult or described their enthusiasm as "creepy." On-screen text during Costello's report read: "OBAMA-MANIA BACKLASH" and "PASSION 'CULT-LIKE' TO SOME."

Additionally, on-screen text of the word "creepy" was shown overlaying a crowd of Obama supporters.

Costello reported that "some" find it "creepy" that Obama supporters "wildly respond" to him, "chanting enthusiastically." But "chanting enthusiastically" at political rallies is common; rallies for John McCain in recent weeks have frequently featured supporters chanting "Mac is Back!"

Like Costello, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer cited parts of Stein's and Klein's columns in his February 15 column. Krauthammer also quoted from a blog post by ABC senior national correspondent Jake Tapper. Krauthammer wrote: "ABC's Jake Tapper notes the 'Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities' of 'Obama worshipers,' what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls 'the Cult of Obama.' " Krauthammer continued: "Obama's Super Tuesday victory speech was a classic of the genre. Its effect was electric, eliciting a rhythmic fervor in the audience -- to such rhetorical nonsense as 'We are the ones we've been waiting for. (Cheers, applause.) We are the change that we seek.' " "Helter Skelter" is the name Charles Manson gave to his idea of a coming race war, which he thought the murders committed by his followers would hasten.

From the February 15 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Also, the Obama phenomenon has gone too far for some. You're going to find out who's calling the intense enthusiasm surrounding his campaign -- and I'm quoting now -- "cult-like."

[...]

BLITZER: Obama has some very passionate supporters out there, and some are suggesting some may be a little bit too passionate. Let's go to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us. What can you tell us about this so-called Obama-mania that's going on?

COSTELLO: Well, you know, Wolf, you've heard the criticism of Barack Obama: he's all flash and no substance. But now critics have taken that one step farther, saying the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality.

[begin video clip]

COSTELLO: He takes the stage, and his supporters go wild. Cheering. Some crying. Some shouting, "I love you!"

OBAMA: And my faith in the American people has been vindicated because they are ready for change.

CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama!

COSTELLO: Many political observers say they've never seen anything like it. Thousands wait in line to see him, and it seems with every speech, they always latch onto Obama's three favorite words.

OBAMA: Yes, we can.

COSTELLO: Obama supporters wildly respond, chanting enthusiastically along with their candidate. But it's a scene some increasingly find not inspirational but "creepy." L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein calls this Obama outpouring "Obamaphilia," although he admits he's fallen for it too. Others call it cult-like. Conservative columnist David Brooks compares Obama to a messiah and his supporters to the members of the Hare Krishna. Soon, Brooks says, Obama's people ... [will] be selling flowers at airports. Time magazine's Joe Klein writes writes, "Obama's message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is," he says. All of this is not lost on Obama's opponents.

CLINTON [video clip]: There's a big difference between us: speeches versus solutions. Talk versus action. You know, some people may think words are change. But you and I know better. Words are cheap. I know it takes work.

COSTELLO: But others say the criticism is unfair. Obama does talk policy. But Berekley's George Lakoff says at this moment in time, Democrats want something different. "Yes, we can" may sound empty, but Lakoff says voters understand it intuitively.

LAKOFF: He's comparing himself to not only Hillary but other Democrats who have said "No, we can't. We can't overcome Bush."

[end video clip]

COSTELLO: And Lakoff says the pundits just don't understand that, but the voters do. But even Obama supporters are a little mystified by Obamaphilia. Joel Stein wrote in the L.A. Times, "The dude is Urkel with a better tailor." He went on to say, though, but how you can root against a guy who believes he can change the world? Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers remember Urkel. I don't know if Jack Cafferty does, but I certainly do. All right, Carol, thanks very much. Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

From Krauthammer's February 15 Washington Post column:

Interestingly, Obama has been able to win these electoral victories and dazzle crowds in one new jurisdiction after another, even as his mesmeric power has begun to arouse skepticism and misgivings among the mainstream media.

ABC's Jake Tapper notes the "Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities" of "Obama worshipers," what Joel Stein of the Los Angeles Times calls "the Cult of Obama." Obama's Super Tuesday victory speech was a classic of the genre. Its effect was electric, eliciting a rhythmic fervor in the audience -- to such rhetorical nonsense as "We are the ones we've been waiting for. (Cheers, applause.) We are the change that we seek."

That was too much for Time's Joe Klein. "There was something just a wee bit creepy about the mass messianism," he wrote. "The message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is."

You might dismiss as hyperbole the complaint by the New York Times's Paul Krugman that "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." Until you hear Chris Matthews, who no longer has the excuse of youth, react to Obama's Potomac primary victory speech with "My, I felt this thrill going up my leg." When his MSNBC co-hosts tried to bail him out, he refused to recant. Not surprising for an acolyte who said that Obama "comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament."

I've seen only one similar national swoon. As a teenager growing up in Canada, I witnessed a charismatic law professor go from obscurity to justice minister to prime minister, carried on a wave of what was called Trudeaumania.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, CNN
Person
Charles Krauthammer, Wolf Blitzer, Carol Costello
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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