CNN's Soledad O'Brien would not brand Saul Alinsky as a leftist radical, and neither would she say President Obama was influenced by his writings – but she had no problem tying Alinsky's controversial beliefs to the Tea Party movement on Monday's Starting Line.
As a community organizer in Chicago, Barack Obama mirrored the tactics Alinsky laid out in his book "Rules for Radicals" – which featured a tribute to the devil Lucifer, "the very first radical." GOP candidate Newt Gingrich has recently connected Obama's beliefs with Alinsky's, sparking a media debate over the matter.
O'Brien wanted to set the story straight on Monday, and delivered a neutral take on the controversial community organizer. "He spent his life helping minorities in poor neighborhoods exert their political force by organizing them to get to the polls," she stated.
Then she hastily dismissed a connection between Obama and Alinsky. "President Obama has never said that he was influenced by Alinsky. In fact, he was 10 years old when Alinsky passed away." It was a rather brief dismissal of evidence that Obama's Chicago mentors learned at a school founded by Alinsky.
However, O'Brien was more than willing to connect Alinsky with the Tea Party, quoting FreedomWorks leader Dick Armey as admiring the effectiveness of Alinsky's tactics while condemning his ends and goals.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on January 23 at 8:53 a.m. EST, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It is time for "The Reveal" this morning, and we are taking a look at Newt Gingrich and a name that he keeps mentioning over and over in speeches and interviews. The name is Saul Alinsky. Listen.
NEWT GINGRICH, Republican presidential candidate: The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.
I could debate Obama head-to-head, that I could convey conservative values, and that I could in an articulate way explain what American exceptionalism was all about, and why the values that he believes in, the Saul Alinsky radicalism that is at the heart of Obama.
I am going to represent the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the great heroes of American history. He will represent Saul Alinsky, European socialism, secular radicalism, and all the ideas he got at Harvard and Columbia.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Ok first of all, nothing wrong with getting ideas at Harvard and Columbia by the way. But also people listening are like, "Huh, who is Saul Alinsky?" Well, the Speaker mentions Saul Alinsky often especially when he is talking about President Obama and what Speaker Gingrich believes to be his radical liberal beliefs.
So we wanted to ask, who's Saul Alinsky? He's a guy who was born in Chicago in 1909. He was a community organizer, just like a young Barack Obama in Chicago as well. He spent his life helping minorities in poor neighborhoods exert their political force by organizing them to get to the polls.
But Alinsky is probably best known for a book that he wrote which is called "Rules for Radicals." And he is referring to Machiavelli's "The Prince" and he wrote this, "The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the haves to hold power." "Rules for Radicals", his book is written for the have-nots on how to take it away.
President Obama has never said that he was influenced by Alinsky. In fact, he was 10 years old when Alinsky passed away. And in doing our research, we found this. Alinsky's organizational tactics haven't only influenced Democrats. In fact, his practices have been linked to some conservatives and his tactics have been used with great success by the Tea Party.
Former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey admits he has been influenced by Alinsky, saying, quote, "What I think of Alinsky is that he is very good at what he did, but what he did was not good." And in an interview with "The Financial Times," the head of FreedomWorks which is aligned with the Tea Party, said regarding Alinsky's work, "We don't organize people to turn up at these town hall meetings, but we tell them about the meetings and we suggest good questions they could asks – ask, I mean, not asks.
Sounds like something Alinsky might do. The problem, perhaps, that Newt Gingrich has with Alinsky and the reason he is trying to link him to President Obama wasn't really Alinsky's organizational skills but the book outlining how the have-nots could take power from the haves. So we will be sure to ask the former Speaker that next time we get a chance to talk to him about that.
- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center