MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell Aggressively Defends Video of Kids Singing to Obama

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MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell on Thursday appeared mystified as to why anyone would have a problem with New Jersey school children being led in a song praising Barack Obama. The February 2009 video contained these lyrics: "He said we must be fair today! Equal work means equal pay! Barack Hussein Obama! He said, red yellow, black or white, all are equal in his sight! Barack Hussein Obama!"

She complained to conservative columnist Tim Carney, "I mean, this is children. They're singing a song...If you can make your point again about why this is indoctrination, political indoctrination to praise your President." The MSNBC News Live guest host also dismissed, "I remember certainly in elementary school when Ronald Reagan was President and we sent him jelly beans." Carney quickly quipped "Did you sing a song praising the 1981 Kemp/Roth tax cuts? ‘Cause we sure didn't."

After Carney pointed out that the line about equal pay for equal work is a specific policy endorsement, O’Donnell attacked, "Oh, you don't believe in equal pay for equal work?" The quick-on-his-feet Carney again shot back, "I believe in equal pay. I would love to make equal pay to you ladies, but I don't."

O’Donnell later spun fair pay legislation, which was signed by Obama early in 2009, this way: "Tim, that was passed overwhelmingly, too. There were a number of Republicans that voted for that." So, if something is popular, it’s okay to encourage children to sing about it? Would O’Donnell be happy if video surfaced of teachers in the spring of 2003 leading songs about the glories of toppling Saddam Hussein? Or would she find that to be propagandistic?

Also participating in the discussion was Mike Stark, a reporter for the liberal web page FireDogLake.com. (Of course, Ms. O’Donnell didn’t mention the hard-left bent of the site.) After Stark dismissed the song controversy as nothing more than "tea baggers" getting in "high dudgeon," Carney ripped into him:

TIM CARNEY: Wait, tea baggers? Explain to the viewers what you mean by tea baggers. Do your kids watch this show? Do you want to explain to them? Why do you- You're talking about silly contretemps and you're using a vulgar term!

A transcript of the September 24 segment, which aired at 3:46pm EDT, follows:

NORAH O’DONNELL: And it is time for "making their case." And this one comes from a grammar school in New Jersey. It is video of young school children singing a song about President Obama and it is making its way around the internet. And as you watch the kids sing, out of respect for their privacy, MSNBC is not going to show the kids' faces but look closely at the lyrics of the song.

CHILDREN SINGING: He said they all must lend a hand to make the country strong again! Barack Hussein Obama. He said we must be fair today! Equal work means equal pay! Barack Hussein Obama! He said, red yellow, black or white, all are equal in his sight! Barack Hussein Obama!

O’DONNELL: Well, not long after the video showed up on several major news sites, the school sent a letter to families of the students and the letter reads, quote, "Today we became aware of a video that was placed on the internet which has been reported in the media. The activity took place during Black History Month. Our curriculum studies, honors and recognizes those who serve our country. The recording and distribution of the class activities were unauthorized." Well, is this an innocent activity during Black History Month or just judgement on the part of the teacher? Here to make the case are Mike Stark, reporter for FireDogLake.com and Tim Carney, lobbying editor and columnist for the Washington Examiner. Tim, what's wrong with this video?

TIM CARNEY: Well, our country is supposed to be- the presidency is supposed to be about a position and the powers there and not about the man. And this sort of thing where they are exalting the man, they are exalting his accomplishments that is different from, you know, different from a Black History Month story of Barack Obama making-

O’DONNELL: Tim, he’s the President of the United States.

CARNEY: He is the President of the United States. But again, praise him for how he has risen to that position from where he started. But making kids- I went to New York State public school, I suffered through some of the indoctrination, alongside a great education. But, again, making them praise his accomplishments, making them praise his equal- the equal pay for equal work law, that is something

O’DONNELL: Oh, you don't believe in equal pay for equal work?

CARNEY: I believe in equal pay. I would love to make equal pay to you ladies but I don't. And I believe that the government shouldn’t be in the business of enforcing what an employer pays an employee. That is a position that is debated in American politics. It’s a fine positions on either side, both are respectable. But to force kids to take a position on this political- this political question, that's indoctrination. That is not just praising our president or praising a man, you know, a great black man.

O’DONNELL: Mike, you want to make your case?

MIKE STARK: Yeah, this is just the latest, silly contretemp for the right-wing bloggers and talk radio hosts and tea baggers to get in high dudgeon over.

CARNEY: Wait, tea baggers? Explain to the viewers what you mean by tea baggers. Do your kids watch this show? Do you want to explain to them? Why do you- You’re talking about silly contretemps and you’re using a vulgar term!

STARK: Actually, you know what I want to do. I want to speak without being interrupted.

CARNEY: I’m sorry, you are being vulgar on national television.

O’DONNELL: Let's give- Tim, I gave you a chance. Let’s let Mike explain, okay? Go ahead, Mike.

STARK: If this- If this was directly from the White House, if this was government sponsored, I would be right there with you calling out concern for this but this wasn't. This was some teacher in some school, somewhere in this great United States of ours that taught some kids a song, listen. Let's talk about where this is coming from. This is coming from Rush Limbaugh calling Barack Obama a Nazi, the parallels to the Nazi youth movement are all over the right wing blogoshpere. It’s calling from Glenn Beck calling the President a racist. These folks lead the charge with all their little lackeys on talk radio, like Mark levin, Laura Ingraham, fired up. The bloggers get involved and it’s absolutely silly, a real news story would be the textbook controversy down in Texas where they really are trying to indoctrinate children by writing out evolution in favor of creationism, in writing civil war heroes or writing civil rights history out of the history of the United States. I've got a problem with that. This? This is marginal. It's a fake controversy. It’s just something else for right-wingers to wet the bed over.

CARNEY: Because MSNBC is right-wingers here and they’re the ones who brought us on for this. Sorry, go ahead.

O’DONNELL: No, Tim, I just wanted to get your take on that. I mean, this is children. They're singing a song. And I'm not clear myself. If you can make your point again about why this is indoctrination, political indoctrination to praise your president. I remember certainly in elementary school when Ronald Reagan was President and we sent him jelly beans. We designed all of these things about Ronald Reagan. We sent them to him. And I don't think everybody in the class ended up a Republican because of that.

CARNEY: Did you sing a song praising the 1981 Kemp/Roth tax cuts? ‘Cause we sure didn't. I mean, I know I had history teachers who were very biased. This is very biased. No- it’s policies.

O’DONNELL: I don't actually see anything about tax cuts it’s policy. I see this more nationalistic than I do political.

CARNEY: There are specific policies and specific accomplishments.

O’DONNELL: Because, it's about praising the President and making our country great again. I don't see anything as- anything about, you know, let’s give health care to everybody. Or, you know, no more tax cuts. I mean, there’s really nothing in there that’s that actually that controversial.

CARNEY: They talk about all his great accomplishments, which-That’s a reference to his policies.

O’DONNELL: Well, he’s the President of the United States. Why can't we respect our leaders, whether they're Democrat or Republican?

CARNEY: I'm great into respecting leaders. You should ask your friend Mike Stark there about respecting leaders, about how he, you know, runs off and harasses politicians on the streets. I mean, the fact is, it's great to respect leaders. It's great to praise Barack Obama. His personal story is amazing. I want every kid to know that story. But, again, praising specific policies that he passes is politicizing the classroom. And I suffered through this in New York state public schools where they made us write letters to the governor opposing tax cuts and that sort of thing. I know how it goes.

STARK: I would really like to know where in the language of that song do you see specific policies? I'm really at a loss here.

CARNEY: Again, the Lilly ledbetter Pay Act, which was lobbied for by- I cover lobbying. Look at the lobbying registration for trial lawyers.

STARK: The words Lilly Ledbetter were in there? The words trial lawyers in there? I mean, come on, man.

CARNEY: It says, "He made there be equal pay for equal work." And he did that through specific policy.

O’DONNELL: Tim, that was passed overwhelmingly, too. There were a number of Republicans that voted for that.

STARK: You don’t want little girls to hear that. Tell me what’s wrong with the-

O’DONNELL: Mark Stark- I apologize. We're out of time. This is a good discussion. I appreciate having you both on. Thanks so much.

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