Last week Newsweek reporter Allison Samuels defended Barack Obama's decision not to leave the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright whose America-hating sermons have become a big political issue on the campaign trail. Responding to questions from host Greta van Susteren on the Fox News show "On the Record" May 5, Samuels goes easy on Obama, excusing his decision to stick with Wright for years after Obama supporter Oprah Winfrey quit the Trinity United Church of Christ (apparently) in disgust. (Video here, transcript here, Samuels article on the same subject in May 12 Newsweek here)But what Samuels didn't disclose to TV viewers was that she is no neutral observer standing on the sidelines making a good faith effort to objectively chronicle the truth for posterity. More on that in a moment. On May 5, Samuels said Obama joined the church because he was "searching for his identity as an African-American and as an African-American male." Winfrey didn't need to go on the same quest because, unlike Obama, she grew up in a "traditional African-American household," Samuels said. So, Samuels argued, Winfrey didn't need an "instruction manual from Reverend Wright to tell her about racism in America...[but] Obama, he did need that. He did need to sort of hear those words." Samuels's defense of Obama makes perfect sense given her own words published a few weeks earlier which strongly suggest she is just another journalist who has fallen in love with the junior senator from Illinois. Samuels wrote an op-ed in Newsweek, called "The Legacy of My Grandmother," after some of her feminist friends accused her of disloyalty to that cause for not supporting Hillary Clinton for president. The column, published March 17, leaves little doubt that Samuels is a passionate Obama supporter. Some excerpts from the essay:
A few of my more socially progressive girlfriends have expressed surprise and dismay that, as a woman, I seem to feel no particular allegiance to Hillary Clinton and her quest to become the first female president. They question my sisterhood and my support for women attaining real power. I'd like to say their accusations bother me, but they don't......the demise of the black family, the growing number of young black men behind bars and the faces of [Hurricane] Katrina all haunt me and remind me constantly that, until there is an honest conversation about race in this country, African-Americans will continue to lag behind in income, health care and education. My desire to see someone at the top care about these issues, too, trumps my desire to see a woman in the White House.Obama's presence alone forces a change of dialogue. [Italics in original] Just one look at Michelle Obama and the couple's two beautiful daughters speaks volumes about the diversity of this country and the possibility for anyone who fights the fair fight to have a chance to succeed. Whatever your politics, it is hard to deny how transformative it would be to see those two girls playing on the White House lawn, or watch Michelle's elegant charm as she works the room at an official White House dinner. When I see Obama, I see a black man who can redefine what it means to be a minority in this country-a man whose very presence may actually encourage the black men I know to believe in their own futures and force those around them to do the same.I know that a woman president would change the course of history, too, and many might even argue that gender is far more of an albatross than race. That just hasn't been my experience. I know Gloria Steinem might not agree with my decision to be swayed by Obama's poise, intellect, beliefs and, yes, his color. But like my grandmother before me, I can't afford the luxury of fighting two battles when one is so clearly a matter of life and death.
Wouldn't it have been better for Samuels to disclose her personal bias on TV so that viewers could have decided for themselves how much weight to give to her words?(Note: I would have written about this earlier but I missed the show and only learned of it when Yahoo! News belatedly spotlighted it May 11. Further note: This blog post contains the personal opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of his employer.)