In a report on the controversy surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, NBC's Lee Cowan uncritically aired clips from a YouTube video that Cowan said "hits not just on Obama's pastor and his faith ... but on the senator's patriotism, too." Cowan did not mention who was behind the video or comment on any of the video's content. However, the Politico reported that the video was created in part by Lee Habeeb, "a former producer of the Laura Ingraham Show" and currently "director of strategic content at Salem Radio Network, the conservative talk radio powerhouse." Cowan's uncritical airing of the video echoes similar reporting on Fox News, which has aired several YouTube videos smearing Democrats.
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On the March 20 edition of NBC's Today, in a report on Sen. Barack Obama's March 18 speech on race and the controversy surrounding his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, NBC News correspondent Lee Cowan asserted that the controversy "became a clear angle of attack" and noted: "Already there's a YouTube mini-movie out entitled 'Is Obama Wright?' " Cowan then uncritically aired clips from the YouTube video, which Cowan said "hits not just on Obama's pastor and his faith ... but on the senator's patriotism, too." Cowan did not mention who was behind the video or comment on any of the video's content. However, Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin reported on March 19 that the video was created in part by Lee Habeeb, "a former producer of the Laura Ingraham Show" and currently "director of strategic content at Salem Radio Network, the conservative talk radio powerhouse that airs programs hosted by figures such as Bill Bennett and Hugh Hewitt."
Martin noted that "the incendiary video ... also includes footage of Malcolm X, the U.S. Olympians who raised their hand in the black power salute and the song 'Fight the Power.' " Martin reported that Habeeb said, "I didn't do this to make him like a scary black man," but, as Martin wrote, Habeeb made this assertion "despite the inclusion of Malcolm X, the black Olympians and a rap song by Public Enemy." On Today, Cowan aired the part of the video that included the U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos -- gold and bronze medalists, respectively, in the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Olympic Games, who stood with their heads bowed and black-gloved hands raised as the U.S. national anthem played during the medal ceremony.
Habeeb reportedly told Martin that he produced the video -- with two co-producers Habeeb described as "conservatives" -- because "I'm trying to join the YouTube generation and have some fun." He also said: "We wanted to see if we could get [it] in circulation," according to Martin.
Hours after the video aired on Today, Martin reported that "[a]n aide to John McCain was suspended from the campaign today for blasting out an inflammatory video that raises questions about Barack Obama's patriotism." Martin wrote that the staffer, "who works in McCain's political department, sent out the YouTube link of 'Is Obama Wright?' on twitter at 12:31 today with the tag, 'Good video on Obama and Wright.' It has since been taken down."
From the March 20 edition of NBC's Today:
LAUER: Now to Senator [Hillary] Clinton's rival, Senator Barack Obama, and his high-stakes speech about race a little earlier this week. Many people seemed to like it, but plenty of his opponents see the senator's response as a political opportunity. NBC's Lee Cowan has more.
[begin video clip]
COWAN: At the K&W Cafeteria in Fayetteville, North Carolina, lunch is served to a diverse crowd. For many here, Barack Obama's call for racial reconciliation was long overdue.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: For some things, you need to talk about and get it out in the open, so healing can start.
COWAN: But there were just as many who thought the speech some called "historic" may have done the senator more harm than good.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think, for the most part, it rubbed people the wrong way. I really do.
COWAN: The senator's political rivals see an opening in that kind of response. After months of images of the freshman senator who could do no wrong, the controversy over his relationship with his longtime pastor, Revered Jeremiah Wright, became a clear angle of attack.
WRIGHT: Not "God Bless America," God damn America!
COWAN: And Obama knew it from the start.
OBAMA: There's no doubt that, you know, that this will be used as political fodder.
COWAN: And he knew a single speech, no matter how historic, would likely not be enough to erase it.
RICHARD WOLFFE (Newsweek magazine): In some ways, he was always going to fall short because you can't stop that kind of thing, either being aired again or the memory of it.
COWAN: That was clearly evident. The airwaves are still full of sound and fury over Reverend Wright and Obama's reluctance not to come to terms with him sooner, despite his reasoning.
OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.
JOE MADISON (radio host): I will say to white America -- especially you white men -- there's nothing to be afraid of.
PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC political analyst): Well, they're not afraid, Joe, but I'll tell you this --
MADISON: Well, then why the reaction?
BUCHANAN: -- well, we don't like to hear our country spat upon and ranted against.
COWAN: Already there's a YouTube mini-movie out entitled, "Is Obama Wright?" that hits not just on Obama's pastor and his faith --
OBAMA: I wasn't in church.
WRIGHT: They live below the level of Clarence, Colin, and Condamnesia.
OBAMA: I wasn't in church.
COWAN: -- but on the senator's patriotism, too.
SINGER: And the home of the brave!
SCARBOROUGH: If Republicans had to select their opponent right now, it would be Barack Obama because they knew that this fall, they would have Barack Obama and they would tie Reverend Wright together with him as his running mate.
COWAN: Through it all, though, the senator can take comfort in at least one thing, and that's that the number of YouTube hits that his Philadelphia speech on race is getting, has now outnumbered the number of hits that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments have been getting -- at least for now. For Today, Lee Cowan, NBC News, Charlotte.