As we observed yesterday, President Barack Obama may have engaged in an hour-long conversation with WTF podcast host Marc Maron, but the media only seemed to care about one 30-second clip. Specifically, the moment in which Obama dropped the “n-word.”
Using TVEyes for research, we found that one clip, which begins with Obama saying, “Racism, we’re not cured of,” and ends with “Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior” aired at least 14 times on Fox News over the course of the day on Monday (and twice more Tuesday morning).
A slightly longer passage, which included Obama’s mention of “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives,” played repeatedly on CNN and MSNBC. That portion, including the “n-word” line, aired at least 15 times on MSNBC and at least 11 times on CNN yesterday, all according to a TVEyes transcript search.
But the words that President Obama said to Maron immediately preceding that oft-repeated quote were practically non-existent across the cable news landscape.
Following Maron’s question about “racial relations” in America after Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston, Obama said:
“First of all, I always tell young people in particular, ‘Do not say that nothing’s changed when it comes to race in America unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s, or ’60s, or ’70s.’ It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and attitudes have changed. That is a fact.”
It was only after those comments that Obama proceeded to give the flip side of that argument:
“What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives: that casts a long shadow. And that’s still part of our DNA. That’s passed on. We’re not cured of it—racism. We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”
Listen to the full clip below, via WTF:
That fact that the second quote begins with “What is also true…” should indicate that both elements of Obama’s answer are necessary to understand what he believes. Yet the first part appeared on cable news just two times yesterday.
The first instance was on Fox News, where reporter Kevin Corke, who happens to be African-American, introduced the clip by pointing out that Obama “himself sort of took umbrage at the idea that some people say ‘race relations have never changed in this country, they’re as bad as they’ve ever been.'”
The following hour on MSNBC, Alex Wagner was unique in highlighting the nuance of Obama’s comments on race. “The substance of his remarks about race were sort of two fold,” she said. “And one important part is that he wanted to underscore the point that a lot has changed in America.” She then recited the president’s quote referencing what he tells young people.
But other than those two short moments, the flip side of Obama’s “n-word” comment was never mentioned on cable news. And, on Fox News in particular, commentators specifically used that remark to demonstrate how Obama supposedly thinks nothing has changed when it comes to race in America.
“He’s playing into this narrative because it supports what he needs to push and his agenda,” contributor David Webb said on Fox & Friends. “He says we basically have not evolved as a society, that racism is still institutional in the United States… As a matter of fact, we have overturned racism.”
“You see all of the people coming together in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, black, white and otherwise, coming together, praying, supporting each other,” Deneen Borelli said later on America’s Newsroom. “And here you have the president make this insane, crazy comment of using the ‘n-word’ to really distract. This is all a distraction, grand distraction to take away from the people uniting and then the president in chief, the rapper in chief, now further dividing our country. I find it outrageous.”
“This president, if you look at the context of where he used that ‘n-word,’ what he was essentially saying, is that things have not really changed,” Niger Innis added on Hannity.
In each of the three cases above, Fox contributors used the narrow clip that contained the “n-word” to bolster their own specific narrative about how President Obama supposedly thinks race relations have not improved in America. But if they had taken the time to play a little bit more of what Obama said, they would have completely negated that point with his own words.
As Marc Maron told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and others in follow-up interviews this week, the great thing about podcasts is that they allow for longer, more “intimate” conversations that cannot and should not be reduced to tiny soundbites.
“The context of the conversation was very broad, the point he was trying to make in saying that word was succinct, and part of a longer discussion about race,” Maron said, “and for them to get hung up on that is exactly what he’s talking about later in the interview, which examines sort of why the echo chamber creates an environment where no real political conversation can happen.”
Maron was referring to this quote from his conversation with the president: “The media is so splintered now that we’re not in a common conversation — the fact that if you watch Fox News you inhabit a completely different world with different facts than if you read The New York Times.”
As Obama indicated, that’s why he wanted to appear on the WTF podcast, to reach a broader portion of the electorate that has no interest in consuming partisan media. But now, thanks to cable news — and Fox in particular — the entire, nuanced discussion has been boiled down into one, out-of-context “n-word.”
[Photo via screengrab]
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