ABC's Claire Shipman Probes Voters for Racism: Is Obama 'Uppity?'

On Wednesday's "Good Morning America," reporter Claire Shipman used a test designed by a liberal professor to interrogate the supposedly unconscious racist views of a group of undecided voters. After taking the complicated quiz, which involved linking words with colors, Shipman grilled the men and women about whether negative advertising had changed their view of Senator Barack Obama. "Anyone here have a sense that he is arrogant," she challenged." Shipman followed up, "Anybody think he's uppity?"

The ABC correspondent, who once cooed over the "fluid poetry" of Obama, wasn't dissuaded by the instance that none of voters thought of the Democrat that way. She solemnly intoned, "But in fact, although 'ready' and 'calm' were in the top five [test results], 'uppity,' that classic southern expression drenched in racial overtones, was the number one word subconsciously associated with Barack Obama." And at no point did Shipman mention that Professor Drew Weston of Emory University, the co-designer of this test, is a liberal who bashed Senator John McCain and asserted the Republican's only chance to victory was "the low road."

Writing at the New Republic website on June 23, 2008, he attacked:

With all that stacked against him, the only road that could take McCain to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the low road, one of the few pieces of infrastructure left in good repair by President Bush. His father paved it against Michael Dukakis....The path to success for McCain is to make the election a referendum on his opponent, by working in silent concert with 527 groups and media outlets such as Fox News to pursue character assassination, guilt by association, and, most of all, the effort to paint Obama as different, foreign, unlike "us," and dangerous (and did I mention that he's black?).

Speaking of unseen bias, do those words sound like ones coming from an objective, fair source or a person who wants to see racism everywhere? And Shipman gave no real explanation as to why viewers should buy the validity of this so-called test. She breezily explained its workings this way: "The test shows a picture of the candidates while flashing words in different colors. You have to identify the color by pressing a key. The longer it takes you to do that, the more meaning that word has for you." (During the test, she did briefly ask the group about subconscious feeling they might have over McCain's age, but mostly focused on Obama.)

Shipman followed up her questions about Obama being "uppity" and "arrogant" with video of John McCain's now-famous "celebrity" ad played. (This was the one that featured images of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and large Obama crowds.) Over the footage, Shipman insinuated, "And that's the point, say the experts. Ads like these, suggesting arrogance, or who-does-he-think-he-is, can make a lasting impression."

She closed by adding, "But whether they [the ads] ultimately enter your decision making process is up to you. Well, the conscious you." So, in other words, it's not possible to poke fun of Obama as a celebrity or call him arrogant without being a racist?

As noted earlier, Shipman seems to have her own bias, conscious or subconscious, towards Barack Obama. On the January 18, 2007 GMA, speaking of the (then) simmering primary battle between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, she rhapsodized, "And the side-by-side talent show? Next to Obama's fluid poetry, Hillary Clinton's delivery can seem overly cautious." What should viewers take away about Shipman's "unconscious mind" from that particular quote?

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:43am on October 29, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: And with six more days to go until the election, you have to look back and realize what a withering, torrent of negative ads the American people have been subjected to in the past months. And most of us think, oh, they don't affect us. We tune them out. Right? We're above and beyond all of that. Well, stay tuned because senior national correspondent, Claire Shipman has a test.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN: The unconscious mind. What exactly lurks inside? Does any of this barrage of information stick? And how does it affect what you might do when you're alone in the voting booth?

PROFESSOR DREW WESTEN (Psychology, Emory University): You can be pulled in two levels by your gut. One of them is the conscious, gut-level feeling of this isn't how I should be voting, or this is how I should be voting. And another is a gut-level feeling that you're not even aware of.

SHIPMAN: Drew Weston and Joel Weinberger put these largely undecided Virginia voters through a simple, online test that measures implicit biases. Thoughts you might not have even known are in your head.

JOHN ROBILETTE (Virginia voter): I was surprised by this.

SHIPMAN: They might not have thought ads like this affected them.

VOICE [OBAMA AD]: Out of ideas. Out of touch.

SHIPMAN: Is anybody here who thinks John McCain is too old to be president?

KEITH HAGEN (Virginia voter): I think if you get through the riggers of a campaign, I think you're physically fit enough to be president.

SHIPMAN: But, according to their test results, old was one of the top five words they associated with John McCain, along with Bush, out of touch and erratic. And the buzz words about Obama?

SARAH PALIN: As someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists.

SHIPMAN: Is there anyone who thinks he has connection to terrorists?

ALL: No.

SHIPMAN: But, in fact, that word, terrorist, was one of the top three in their unconscious minds about Barack Obama.

ROBILETTE: Are you sure this is fool-proof, this test?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Well, I don't know how honest we're all being.

SHIPMAN: The test shows a picture of the candidates while flashing words in different colors. You have to identify the color by pressing a key. The longer it takes you to do that, the more meaning that word has for you. And words that evoke fear are especially prone to stick.

PROFESSOR JOEL WEINBERGER (Psychology, Adelphi University): We're more open to negativity. Just, our brain is. It's wired that way because we are wired to avoid threats more so than we're wired to go after positives.

SHIPMAN: It's this, the strip of prefrontal cortex, our thinking brain, that battles our unconscious brain as we make decisions. And so what about that loaded issue of race? Is it a factor in how they might vote?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No.

ROBILETTE: Absolutely not.

SHIPMAN: But- Anyone here have a sense that he is arrogant?

ALL: No.

SHIPMAN: Anybody think he's uppity?

ANDREW DARROW (Virginia voter): No.

SHIPMAN: But in fact, although 'ready' and 'calm' were in the top five, 'uppity,' that classic southern expression drenched in racial overtones, was the number one word subconsciously associated with Barack Obama. Does it surprise you guys?

ROBILETTE: I am surprised by that. I am. Because it doesn't figure into my consciousness.

SHIPMAN: And that's the point, say the experts. Ads like these , suggesting arrogance, or who-does-he-think-he-is, can make a lasting impression. But whether they ultimately enter your decision making process is up to you. Well, the conscious you.

DARROW: It's the back of your mind, until the day you go to that poll. And it's still going to be there when you're sitting there deciding, am I going to press this button or that button?

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org