Was Russert Push-Polling America?

I’ll pull the transcript when I can, but the line of questions on Louis Farrakhan and Libya was beyond the pale. What would Obama’s jewish supporters think if…?
The questioning of Clinton on her personal finances and her public schedule was equally badgering, though on a somewhat less explosive issue.

The last 10 minutes of the debate – with questions towards both candidates – have been shameful.

Post Title Disclaimer: There have been a lot of blog posts and diaries on the occurrence of push polling. In almost all cases, push polling isn’t actually taking place and obviously a question in a debate is not a push poll. But speculating on how information about Libya, Farrakhan, or Farrakhan’s specific statements would impact Obama’s support in the Jewish community is simply disgusting. It looked like Russert wanted Obama’s supporters to get new information that caused them to bolt, which is generally what push polling aims to do.


Here’s the transcript of the exchange between Russert and Obama on Farrakhan:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Obama, one of the things in a campaign is that you have to react to unexpected developments.

On Sunday, the headline in your hometown paper, Chicago Tribune: “Louis Farrakhan Backs Obama for President at Nation of Islam Convention in Chicago.” Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments. I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with Minister Farrakhan.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you reject his support?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, Tim, you know, I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that he thinks I’m a good guy. (Laughter.) You know, I — you know, I — I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is on those comments.

MR. RUSSERT: The problem some voters may have is, as you know, Reverend Farrakhan called Judaism “gutter religion.”

OBAMA: Tim, I think — I am very familiar with his record, as are the American people. That’s why I have consistently denounced it.

This is not something new. This is something that — I live in Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I’ve been very clear, in terms of me believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate. And I have consistently distanced myself from him.

RUSSERT: The title of one of your books, “Audacity of Hope,” you acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the head of the Trinity United Church. He said that Louis Farrakhan “epitomizes greatness.”

He said that he went to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan to visit with Moammar Gadhafi and that, when your political opponents found out about that, quote, “your Jewish support would dry up quicker than a snowball in Hell.”

RUSSERT: What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether it’s Farrakhan’s support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?

OBAMA: Tim, I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign. And the reason is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel’s. I think they are one of our most important allies in the region, and I think that their security is sacrosanct, and that the United States is in a special relationship with them, as is true with my relationship with the Jewish community.

And the reason that I have such strong support is because they know that not only would I not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, but also because of the fact that what I want to do is rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American community and the Jewish community.

You know, I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole host of Jewish Americans, who supported the civil rights movement and helped to ensure that justice was served in the South. And that coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part of my task in this process is making sure that those lines of communication and understanding are reopened.

But, you know, the reason that I have such strong support in the Jewish community and have historically — it was true in my U.S. Senate campaign and it’s true in this presidency — is because the people who know me best know that I consistently have not only befriended the Jewish community, not only have I been strong on Israel, but, more importantly, I’ve been willing to speak out even when it is not comfortable.

When I was — just last point I would make — when I was giving — had the honor of giving a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in conjunction with Martin Luther King’s birthday in front of a large African-American audience, I specifically spoke out against anti- Semitism within the African-American community. And that’s what gives people confidence that I will continue to do that when I’m president of the United States.

The two sections in bold from Russert strike me as the most outlandish, offensive lines coming from this alleged journalist. Russert was suggesting that Obama either was or was vulnerable to being perceived as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. That suggestion simply has no basis in reality and is part of a disturbing trend that every crazy thing either (a) some objectionable black person says or (b) any person Obama has ever met will be something that the media and Obama’s opponents demand he to respond to. Lastly, as a Jewish Democrat, I found it offensive that Russert would persistently suggest that Obama would have to defend himself from charges of anti-Semitism because an anti-Semite whose support he denounced happened to support him.

For what it’s worth, Russerts line of questioning here strikes me as worse than David Shuster’s “pimp” line regarding Chelsea Clinton.

Update II:

Speaking of denounce or reject, Clinton’s pushback on Obama’s Farrakhan answer was pretty bad, too. Aswini Anburajan of MSNBC’s First Read adjudicates the definitions of the two words in question:

For the word-o-philes out there, Obama wins with the word denounce which is more applicable to use when you find someone’s positions distasteful

re·ject -a verb used as an object…
1. to refuse to have, take, recognize, etc.: to reject the offer of a better job.
2. to refuse to grant (a request, demand, etc.).

de·nounce -verb (used with object), -nounced, -nounc·ing.
1. to condemn or censure openly or publicly: to denounce a politician as morally corrupt.

So that settles that.

2 thoughts on “Was Russert Push-Polling America?

  1. As offensive as this whole line of questioning is, it is nothing compared to the garbage being circulated on the internet targeting Jewish voters, particularly in Florida, claiming that Obama is a closet Muslim and supporter of al-Queda. In a twisted way, every opportunity that Obama has to address these slimes head-on has to help him


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s