Sudden controversy over Obama 2007 speech tape: A 'bombshell' or a dud before the debate?

The day before tonight’s first Presidential debate, what Fox News’ Sean Hannity calls a “bombshell” has been dropped: a 2007 tape of President Obama, promoted yesterday by blogger Matt Drudge and on Fox News, that shows Obama giving a “special shout-out” to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. At literally the same time Hannity was airing portions of the speech on his show, over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow played parts of Hannity’s comments and of the speech to rebut them. It was one of those instant call-and-response, point-counterpoint media moments that demonstrate how quickly arguments are framed and debated on TV now.

The speech, available on YouTube and other news sources for a while, was picked up by Tucker Carlson’s conservative website The Daily Caller, which then called it to the attention of The Drudge Report. Carlson appeared on Hannity to tout the video. The conservative interpretation of the footage is that “it contains some of the most divisive, class-warfare [sic], and racially-charged rhetoric ever by Barack Obama” (Hannity’s words) and is “whipping up race hatred and fear” via “different cadences” and “different accents” (Carlson’s words).

On The Rachel Maddow Show, the host offered the subtextual interpretation to those charges by pointing out that what Obama’s critics were emphasizing were (Maddow quoted from The Drudge Report) “the accent,” “the anger” in the speech — i.e., the tone of voice Obama used. Maddow said that the conservative spin on why the speech is so incendiary and revelatory is that Obama is supposedly “revealing his secret plan to be way more black than he seems to you now.”

The overarching point here is, of course, the timing of it. Coming into media play the evening before tonight’s debate, repeated and analyzed extensively by Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN throughout the day today, reported on all the morning news shows and in newspapers across the country, it will — depending on your point of view — be a distraction from the important issues for the debate (the economy; the candidates’ visions of the future of the country), or a revealing look at the “true” Obama.

I think the most significant aspect of this is the way what was at most a footnote in the President’s past was successfully revived by conservative sources to force attention, argument, and consideration by liberal outlets and the poor, beleaguered, always-distractable “mainstream media.”

On to tonight’s debate! Where I’ll be shocked if this subject arises, do you agree?

Twitter: @kentucker

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