Saturday, September 20, 2008

Biden says rumors still hurt Obama in rural areas; we say it's time for rural media to deliver the facts

Persistent false rumors about Barack Obama, especially in small towns and rural areas, are hamstringing his efforts to win over undecided voters in key states, his running mate said yesterday.

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, a native of Scranton, Pa., told Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post about one Pennsylvania woman who said she wanted to vote for the Democratic ticket but couldn't because she had received an e-mail on her cell phone saying that Obama, a Christian, is a Muslim. "She said, 'Everybody tells me that.' And I said, 'I promise you that's not true,' and she said, 'What do I do?' And I said, 'Well, vote for me.' And she looked at me and said, 'Does that mean I have to vote for him, too?' "

"More campaigning by both Obama and his supporters, particularly in small towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania, would be crucial to turning that around, Biden suggested, because 'It's about people getting comfortable. He's new to them, they're just getting introduced to him.' Biden said 'forms of validation' would also be important for Obama -- for example, the vouching for him by former president Bill Clinton." (Read more)

UPDATES, Sept. 22: John Harwood of The New York Times and CNBC asked Obama in an interview if race is a big barrier between him and swing voters. Obama replied, "Are there some who might vote for me because of my race? You bet. I think ultimately, though, the question's going to be decided by a guy or a woman who is working hard every day trying to save enough to send their kid to college, trying to pay the bills. And the real question they're going to have is, you know, can this guy help me in my life?" For more of his reply, click here. For video of the interview, click here. Asked by Meredith Viera on NBC's "Today" why Obama has such a narrow lead in a state Democrats have carried the last four times, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell did not repeat his primary-season comment about Obama's race, but blamed Republicans: "They have a lot of Pennsylvanians convinced that Sen. Obama's gonna raise their taxes." Asked about his primary-season comment that Obama "talks down" to voters and the candidate's comment about bitter Pennsylvania voters who cling to guns and religion, Rendell said, "When he lets people see who he is, not the big great speeches ... to 35,000 people ... but when he gets in a group of 500 people and answers questions, they get him." On The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, Rush Limbaugh says Obama "employs the tactics of the old segregationists" by stirring ethnic hatred with a Spanish-language TV commercial that mischaracterizes Limbaugh's comments about Mexicans. says the ad is misleading. Chuck Raasch of Gannett News Service quotes Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll, as saying that McCain's age, 72, may be a larger factor in Ohio than Obama's race. (Read more)

UPDATES, Sept. 21: The Obama camp thinks the time to talk about race is after their candidate is elected, "But the national conversation appears to have arrived," Ben Smith and Avi Zenilman write in the morning's top story on Politico. "Racial considerations that have long been palpable in southern Ohio and other crucial regions are again in the foreground. A new poll that accompanied a much buzzed-about Associated Press article [by Ron Fournier] on Saturday appears to starkly quantify the cost of racism to Obama: 6 percentage points in the polls. . . . Many Democrats see the explicit discussion of race and politics as almost unambiguously negative for Obama." Some even think economic troubles will harden racial resentment. David Paul Kuhn of Politico analyzes polls on race and the race.

"Almost one-third of voters 'know' that Barack Obama is a Muslim or believe that he could be," writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, noting a recent Pew Research Center poll. "When I’ve traveled around the country, particularly to my childhood home in rural Oregon, I’ve been struck by the number of people who ask something like: That Obama — is he really a Christian? Isn’t he a Muslim or something? Didn’t he take his oath of office on the Koran? In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously. John Green, of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says that about 10 percent of Americans believe we may be in the Book of Revelation’s “end times” and are on the lookout for the Antichrist." There's even a T-shirt that calls Obama such.

We've heard the same rumors, and given their virulence and persistence, think it's time for rural news media that don't normally deal with presidential campaigns to run columns like Kristof's, or write columns of their own, based on easily available facts -- from sites like FactCheck and PolitiFact, which separate truth from falsehood and misleading information in candidate statements and advertising -- and decline to print letters to the editor that report false rumors as fact, whether they are about Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin or Joe Biden.

For now, Obama is the chief victim of misinformation, partly because, as Kristof writes, "Religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian." He concludes, "Journalists need to do more than call the play-by-play this election cycle. We also need to blow the whistle on such egregious fouls calculated to undermine the political process and magnify the ugliest prejudices that our nation has done so much to overcome." (Read more)


fred said...

Greetings Al,

New SEJ-er and rural blogger and small-town journalist here. I appreciate the heads-up on the Blacksburg event on the 15th but unfortunately (or fortunately depending) I’ll be in Roanoke at my first SEJ conference.

I found your blog and clipped a bit of the “muslim” post for my blog--as you say, it is essential to correct the well-entrenched errors of fact out there about Mr. Obama. link

And btw, I like the Utterli widget; may look at that for my blog.

I am wondering if there is an blogroll of SEJ members blogs and sites. I’ve asked Bill Kovarik about it. I know I’d like to have that kind of aggregator potential and think it would serve the memberhip well--especially new folks like me--to get to see what folks are saying in real time in their home spaces.

Al Cross said...

The following comment refers to an NPR town hall meeting that will be held in Blacksburg, Va., on the night of Oct. 15, after "Covering Climate Change and our Energy Future in Rural America," a one-day seminar that will kick off the annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Roanoke and environs.