Obama and the Sound Bite Nation

I am ashamed to admit that after all the Reverend Wright controversy, I was too lazy to track down the full context of his infamous remarks. I always suspected that the sound bites were distortions and perhaps this suspicion was sufficient to make me feel no urgency at tracking down the facts.

Bill Moyers, whom I greatly respect, did America a favor last Friday night and interviewed Reverend Jeremiah Wright. More importantly, he played fuller versions of Wright’s sermons which put his “chickens coming home to roost” and “God damn America” comments in full context.  Any reasonable person, watching these full excerpts understands that Wright is not the crazy demon he has been portrayed in the media.

Surely, one has to listen to his sermon in the context of religion. On the Sunday following September 11, 2001, he tries to help his congregation make sense of the senseless slaughter that has occurred, and in particular what reaction should a Christian have to the tragedy. He points out, with biblical references to back him up, that all too often we move from attacking the armies of our oppressors to attacking the “innocents”. He points out that nations or governments are flawed just as humans are flawed. He points out that Japan, Germany, England and, yes, the United States of America have done shameful things … have killed and abused innocents to avenge a perceived wrong. His sermon was NOT meant to say that the United States deserved to be attacked on 9/11 but that our response to this attack must not take the form of irrational revenge.

What we have gotten over the past six weeks are the sound bites of Reverend Wright. It is not shameful that Obama’s political enemies sit back with glee as the snippets are endlessly looped on the nightly news. That is to be expected. What is shameful is that every major TV news outlet chose to dumb the story down. None had the courage to play even one more sentence beyond the limit of the original sound bite. After Wright said, “America’s chickens have come home to roost”, he then reminded his audience that these were the words and warnings of a white ambassador, who had been interviewed on Fox news. An ambassador, Edward Peck, who was warning America that its foreign policy had put it in danger. We never saw that part of the sermon. We just saw the damning few minutes that made the story sexy.

The ultimate irony, is that in the hours immediately following Moyer’s interview, the main stream media was again picking the sound bites that would make the best story. “Wright is saying that the Philadelphia speech on race was nothing but politics.” That of course, is NOT what Wright said. In fact, he said that the speech was important and was one of the only good things to come out of the despicable distortions that had preceded it. The fact that Wright said he is a pastor and Obama is a politician is not nearly as fatal a comment as the main stream media would have you believe. As Gwen Ifill pointed out on “Meet the Press” today, Obama is a politician, what a surprise! Wright made no degrading revelation there. He realistically pointed out that truth spoken from the pulpit must use different language from truth spoken on the campaign trail.

There remains talk about whether America is ready for an African American President. I think that misses the point. Is America ready for an intelligent discussion and analysis of people and issues? When the media reduces everything to easily digested simplistic video loops, are they reflecting their own condescension of the audience or are they reflecting our true capacity for intelligent, reasoned discourse?

If we truly are a sound bite nation, then perhaps we deserve John McCain in November?


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8 thoughts on “Obama and the Sound Bite Nation

  1. Rutherford – you are, as always, very thoughtful. However, I think you might not be.. the norm. What part of american culture makes you believe we are ready for an intelligent national discourse?

    Soundbites are not reserved for politics. They pervade all news. They also pervade all entertainment, marketing, and, a good deal of education. Just you wait till your precious little girl sound-bites her way through multiplication tables. Because her teacher made up a jingle for her to remember…

    This is our culture. we would prefer to consumer baby food than chew through the steak ourselves. You can blame the consumer. You can blame the person who pureed our information for us. But i’ll tell you something – I’ve been in marketing-related roles for years. It is REALLY hard to explain anything in 10 words accurately.

    Then the questions remain:

    1) Can we change a culture that hasn’t used its molars in decades?

    2) what’s the tradeoff? Soundbites on race and abortion and economy and wages and a dozen other things – or one thorough debate on a single topic? We like to consume a breadth of information more than depth these days. A swap might lead to an even more single-issue election… albeit well thought out.

    Respectfully, Lily

  2. I’m nothing like an Obama supporter, but I’ve been VERY frustrated with the portrayal of Rev. Wright. So many people have decided that 30 seconds of selected sound bites are more than enough to be able to judge Rev. Wright and call him all kinds of things … the truth seems not to line up with this at all.

  3. Wow, MJ, we’re agreeing again … we’d better stop that.

    I’d drop the question mark, though.

    Combine some racism and some of the usual hyper-nationalism, and there you are.

    It’s one thing when a couple Religious Right nuts say that the 9/11 attacks were the result of the gay rights and abortion movements, and that Katrina was to wipe out the sins of New Orleans (ignoring that God apparently missed Bourbon Street … I guess omnipotence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be), but to suggest that we made enemies in the Middle East by our arrogance, or that the US has committed sins against African-Americans is just pure evil.

  4. wickle…

    Sorry, I guess was not clear but I was referring to author of the post in my comment.and not you.

    I really did not understand your comment at all. You don’t think the U.S. is part to blame in our problems in the middle east.? The U.S. has never committed sins against African-Americans?

  5. MJ, now that I see your comment was directed at me, I guess you neglected to read the very first sentence of my post “I am ashamed to admit that after all the Reverend Wright controversy, I was too lazy to track down the full context of his infamous remarks..” Therefore obviously, I didn’t read your original post. Congrats on getting to the issue before I did :-/

    I think you missed Wickle’s point. I believe he was contrasting our tolerance of lunatics like Jerry Falwell against our intolerance of Reverend Wright, many of whose points are reasonable (while Falwell’s points were blatant, unadorned bigotry).

  6. Sorry, MJ. My comment made perfect sense to me, but sadly my sarcasm didn’t translate.

    The question mark that I would drop was yours after the word “racism.” I think that a lot of the Wright/Obama attacks are based on other racism or a racially-based double standard.

    That double standard is reflected in the idea that Jerry Falwell was let off easy for suggesting that we were attacked on 9/11 because of abortion and homosexuality, and lots of nutjobs got away with saying that New Orleans was supposed to be wiped out for sins. I further noted that God seems to have missed Bourbon Street, which is where it seems He would most want to wipe out.

    Wright, however, is being treated as evil because he suggested that the US has caused some problems in the Middle East. I meant to point out that that’s hardly evil — actually, he’s right on.

    In particular, we helped depose the democratic government of Iran because they were going to seize Western assets, we played both sides of the Iran-Iraq War (thus showing blatant disregard for the lives of people in both nations), and we continually turn a blind eye to Israel’s abuses.

    Sorry about being unclear. Read out loud the way I intended, I think it was clear … but without the inflections and strategic eye-rolling, I can see how the sarcasm wasn’t so clear.

  7. Isn’t it interesting how this “Reverend Wright is Right!” thread stopped cold in its tracks just prior to the National Press Club Reverend Wright “show”. Apparently soundbites were enough in this case as Wright continued to promote the notion that the US Gov’t started AIDS to attack the Black community.

    And what is this evil the US has committed in the Middle East? Yes, we give a lot of money to Isreal. Can anyone tell me the billions we’ve given to Palestine? I didn’t think so. And what does the Middle East offer in the way of the global economy? Answer: one thing and one thing only, oil. And we are their number one customer of their one and only product. Can you imagine running a store and getting so upset at your number one customer that you call him “The Great Satan”? Would you damn your number one customer to Hell? Answer: not if you have one sane bone in your body. (That about settles the Middle East discussion, doesn’t it?)

    Reverend Wright is a kook. That’s why no one except Rosie O’Donnell has defended him post-press club shenanagins. He is a reverend who preaches like a congressional whip. He is filled with poison and stuck in the same era as Woodstock. And if he is so worried about race in 2008 (sigh), maybe he can tell us why Obama can win 43 to 50% of the white vote but Hillary can only wn 10% of the black vote?

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