NBC Nightly News: Mohammad Ali, Walt Whitman, Annie Oakley and Now...Barack Obama

NBC News is certainly enthralled with David Remnick’s new book, ‘The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.’ After giving him a guest slot on Meet the Press and an interview on Monday’s Today show, NBC Nightly News on Monday showcased Remnick in an “In His Own Words” segment to expound on his admiration for Obama’s racial identity journey, starting with how Obama follows in the tradition of Annie Oakley:
There are a lot of American characters no matter what the field who make themselves, who create themselves out of what’s in the cultural air. It’s an American thing, whether it’s Mohammad Ali or Walt Whitman or Annie Oakley. And Barack Obama is somebody who grew up in Honolulu and had to learn how to be African-American in the absence of African-Americans. Racial identity is a drama that Obama had to undergo long after he had become comfortable with his own identity.
Remnick, a former Washington Post reporter who is now Editor of The New Yorker magazine, recalled that after Obama delivered “an electrifying speech” at the 2004 Democratic convention, “that makes him a national figure, maybe a world figure,” at the airport he’s “racially profiled.” When that upset his campaign manager, a delighted Remnick recounted how “Obama says, ‘dude,’ he really said it, ‘dude, don't worry about it. Don't sweat it. I’ve gone through this all my life.’”

Obama’s election, Remnick asserted in explaining the title of his book published by Random House, “was an enormous bridge to the future that was uplifting to, I think, many, many people who didn't even agree with him politically.”

From the Monday, April 5 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: There is a new book out on how Barack Obama got the job in the first place. The book is called The Bridge. It’s written by David Remnick, a veteran journalist and author who is the Editor of The New Yorker magazine. There are a lot of first time ever reported details in the book, in which Remnick charts Obama's unlikely rise to the White House, especially where race is concerned, and finds him to be a unique product of his times.

Tonight, author David Remnick, In His Own Words:
DAVID REMNICK: There are a lot of American characters no matter what the field who make themselves, who create themselves out of what’s in the cultural air. It’s an American thing, whether it’s Mohammad Ali or Walt Whitman or Annie Oakley.

And Barack Obama is somebody who grew up in Honolulu and had to learn how to be African-American in the absence of African-Americans. Racial identity is a drama that Obama had to undergo long after he had become comfortable with his own identity. Now he had to play it out in public, in politics. Remember, this is a guy who in 2004 goes to the Democratic convention in Boston and delivers an electrifying speech that makes him a national figure, maybe a world figure, and when he gets to Logan airport a couple of days later he’s pulled aside for extra examination at the security line. He’s racially profiled and his campaign manager says, you know, “what’s going on?” And Obama says, “dude,” he really said it, “dude, don't worry about it. Don't sweat it. I’ve gone through this all my life.”

So while he may have not gone through the trials and tribulations of the civil rights generation, he knows what it is to be African-American in this country even at this late date. Race is the longest and most painful drama this country has known. So the election of Barack Obama does not end that, does not solve every ill where race is concerned. Far from it, but it was an enormous bridge to the future that was uplifting to, I think, many, many people who didn't even agree with him politically.

WILLIAMS: By the way, there’s more of our interview with New Yorked Editor and author David Remnick, it’s on our Web site, nightly.msnbc.com.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center