While President Obama has been hit by black leftists for failing to
help unemployed African-Americans, CNN anchor Carol Costello offered an
impassioned defense of the president Friday morning, framing most every
question to cast Obama in the best light possible.
Hosting the liberal Columbia University professor Mark Lamont Hill, a self-proclaimed "leading hip-hop generation intellectual," Costello repeatedly sought to generate pity for the president. "Aren't we expecting a little too much of him?" Costello pouted during the 10 a.m. EDT hour.
To be fair, Costello also scrutinized  rapper Kanye West's accusation post-Katrina that President Bush didn't care about black people. However, CNN's Larry King and Soledad O'Brien were much more diplomatic toward the comment. O'Brien actually appeared in and endorsed  leftist conspiracy theorist Spike Lee's film about Hurricane Katrina. Lee had publicly suggested  (not in the film) that the New Orleans levees were intentionally exploded by the U.S. government.
The reason Costello was defending Obama in the first place was because Princeton's Dr. Cornel West recently slammed Obama for his failure to reach out to the African-American community, calling him a "white man with black skin" and "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and...corporate plutocrats." Predictably, the racial screed set off a media firestorm. It wasn't the only attack on Obama from an African-American liberal, however.
Costello answered the bell in defense of the president, as just about every question she posed to Hill sought to rescue Obama. "I know West is miffed at the president for perceived slights, but why take it this far?" she pleaded.
Ironically, Costello failed to report the most egregious part of West's rant about Obama being a "black mascot" for Wall Street, instead focusing on his "fear of free black men." This is the part that Costello read to begin the segment: "I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It's understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he's always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening."
Then she covered another rant, this time from PBS's far-left Tavis Smiley who opined that Obama won't do more to help African-Americans out of fear of being called "tribal." She asked "why bring race into this?"
Costello later added that there's only so much Obama can accomplish on the race issue. "He's not Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., right? He's the president of the United States." When Hill agreed, she then asked "Aren't we expecting a little too much of him?"
Costello also hit certain Americans for "psychoanalyzing" the president for every decision he makes. "Every time Barack Obama makes a decision, we tend to psychoanalyze him. 'Oh, it's because he had a white mother. Oh, it's because he had a Kenyan father. Oh, it's because of this'....Why can't he just make a decision because he's a politician?"
A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 20 at 10:43 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
CAROL COSTELLO: Dr. Cornel West has started a war of words online and off. Maybe you heard about it. He gave an interview to "The Washington Post" and he said this, and I quote:
"I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It's understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he's always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening."
Now, that statement has not only caused waves in the black community but, well, just about everywhere. Mark Lamont Hill is an African-American studies professor from Columbia University. Mark, welcome.
MARK LAMONT HILL, professor, Columbia: Good to be here.
COSTELLO: I know West is miffed at the president for perceived slights, but why take it this far?
HILL: Well, let's be clear first. Professor West isn't just upset at perceived slights. He's also profoundly frustrated with the Obama administration's approach to addressing issues of poverty, inequality, marginalization -
COSTELLO: Yeah, but why bring race into it?
HILL: Well, I think it's a racial-ized conversation. He's upset with the way the president has responded to poor black people, for example. So, you have to talk about race. Now that said, I do disagree, even from a strategic representative, that we want to say the president is a mascot or that he's afraid of free black men. Even if it were true, which I don't think it is, I think it takes away from Professor West's more substantive point, which is that the Obama administration has to take a stronger stance of addressing issues of marginalization among America's most vulnerable people.
COSTELLO: And of course, there are other African-Americans who think that the president is overlooking poor black Americans. I talked to Tavis Smiley not long ago. This is what he had to say about it.
TAVIS SMILEY, PBS host: The president has not done enough about black unemployment, in part, I think, because respectfully, he's afraid of being accused of being tribal if he does in fact help the African-American community in specific and unique ways.
(End Video Clip)
COSTELLO: So, there it is again, Mark, I mean, why bring race into this? Because, you know, Barack Obama is President of the United States. He's president for all of us. Not just one segment of the population.
HILL: Right. But black people are citizens of the United States, and other constituent groups are allowed to be named. You can talk about LGBT groups. You can talk about Jewish brothers and sisters. You can talk about the middle class. You can talk about all sorts of folk, but whenever black people get named, it becomes an entirely different conversation. And I think that Tavis Smiley is right to say that President Obama is in a unique position. Because every time race talk emerges, he goes from being a president who's black to becoming a black president. And whenever he becomes racialized that way, he becomes less popular among the majority, read: white Americans.
So, he does have a racial conundrum that he has to address. There's nothing wrong with bringing race into the conversation. Race is a central part of the American project. We have to talk about it. The question is can we talk about it in constructive ways, rather than ways -
COSTELLO: Right. Constructive ways, because he's not Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right? He is the president of the United States.
HILL: That's for sure.
COSTELLO: Aren't we expecting a little too much of him?
HILL: No. I mean, I expect a lot from Barack Obama not because he's black but because he's the president and because black people voted for him. So, I think he owes black people a whole bunch. The question, though, is what strategic approach do we take? I think the approach is to challenge President Obama, but for us to organize and drag him back to the left. Other groups dragged him to the right. We've seen him push to the right on offshore drilling, we've seen him drag to the right on free trade, we've seen him drag to the right on Wall Street reform. Let's drag him back to the left on issues that matter around unemployment. That's what we need to do.
So, does Barack Obama have a responsibility? Absolutely. But I would love to see those of us who are critiquing President Obama organize and form movements that force him the other way. That's the real work that has to be done.
COSTELLO: Well, in just talking about those critiques, something else is interesting that's going on. Every time Barack Obama makes a decision, we tend to psychoanalyze him. Oh, it's because he had a white mother. Oh, it's because he had a Kenyan father. Oh, it's because of this. Why do Americans - a lot of them - insist on doing that? Why can't he just make a decision because he's a politician?
HILL: Well, part of it is because we have tons of free time in the air of 24-hour cable news. We have a lot of time to fill up, and so we need to do a lot of psychoanalysis just to fill time, I think. But the other piece of this is that your culture, your identity, your background, it does inform how you make decisions. No one is independent of their history. We all are constituted, we are all made by all sorts of things. So, Barack Obama is no exception. Does his upbringing form how he governs? Absolutely. As do his advisers. As do the opinion polls. There are a lot of factors. And considering his identity is one of them is not a wrong thing to do.
The question, though, is how accurate is that analysis? Is it too simplistic to say that because he has a Kenyan father and a white mother that he's governing this way or that went to a particular church or that he made a particular policy decision? That's a tough call to make. But I would say that we have to consider it because he's been very transparent about saying that he's struggled with racial identity, that he struggled with cultural identity, he struggled to belong - knowing that does matter.
COSTELLO: Mark Lamont Hill, I could talk about this all day. It's a fascinating topic. Thank you so much for being with us this morning! We appreciate it.
HILL: My pleasure. And can you introduce me as a free black man next time?
COSTELLO: (Laughing) I will. I will! Thanks so much for being with us.
HILL: My pleasure.
- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.