Russert and Clinton Unsuccessfully Try To Use Farrakhan Smears Against Obama


In what Josh Marshall has called Russert’s Lowest Moment, (video above) Tim Russert brought up Farrakhan. During the exchange, which I previously discussed here, Hillary Clinton once again demonstrated her lack of integrity while Obama further improved his support among Jewish voters. Josh Marshall wrote:

I discussed this in the live debate blog. But I think it’s worth going back and watching Russert’s run of shame here. I would say it was borderline to bring up the issue of Farrakhan at all. But perhaps since it’s getting some media play you bring it up just for the record, for Obama to address.

That’s not what Russert did. He launches into it, gets into a parsing issue over word choices, then tries to find reasons to read into the record some of Farrakhan’s vilest quotes after Obama has just said he denounces all of them. Then he launches into a bizarre series of logical fallacies that had Obama needing to assure Jews that he didn’t believe that Farrakhan “epitomizes greatness”.

As a Jew and perhaps more importantly simply as a sentient being I found it disgusting. It was a nationwide, televised, MSM version of one of those noxious Obama smear emails.

Hillary Clinton tried to make an issue out of arguing over the meaning of denounce versus reject. Denounce was exactly the right word for Obama to have used. There were no offers of assistance or financial contributions from Farrakhan, and Obama certainly never solicited his support. Therefore there was nothing specifically to reject. Still, Obama realized that it wasn’t worth trying to explain this point to Clinton and quickly dispensed with her attack by saying, “If the word ‘reject’ Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word ‘denounce,’ then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.”

An example of how neither this smear or Clinton’s attempts to capitalize on the smear is working can be seen in a post from Shmuel Rosner at Harretz:

Tim Russert started the debate by pressing Obama on the endorsement he got from the anti-Semitic African-American leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama said: “I have been very clear in my denunciations of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments. I did not solicit this support.”

If anyone had any doubt that Hillary’s campaign is trying to score points against Obama in the Jewish community – today she gave us the proof, publicly. “You asked specifically if he [Obama] would reject it [the endorsement] and there’s a difference between denouncing and rejecting”, she argued. Meaning – Obama is merely denouncing Farrakhan instead of rejecting the endorsement.

What was she trying to say – that Obama is somewhat anti-Semitic? Let’s assume she was just thinking that Obama was playing politics and is trying not to offend Farrakhan’s supporters while he denounces his views.

In any case, in this exchange Obama got the upper hand: “If the word ‘reject’ Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word ‘denounce’, then I’m happy to concede the point and I would reject and denounce [Farrakhan]” he said.

Obama spoke about this same issue a few days ago as he was meeting a group of Jewish activists in Cleveland. Some who attended the event and do not belong to his camp said he was very convincing. “At his best,” one of them said. But in the debate he was even better and was able to score again on the same topic, elaborating on something of great importance to Jewish liberals.

Just recently we were all watching The Jewish Americans series on PBS, in which the story of Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement was front and center – and the part describing how the bond between black Americans and Jewish Americans was breaking was almost puzzling.

Obama, talking about Farrakhan – and about anti-Semitism among African-Americans, which he also denounced in his speech on Martin Luther King Day – touched a sensitive nerve when he was talking about one possibility that’s inherent to his candidacy: he has the chance to restore the alliance between blacks and Jews.

Obama might not receive the vote of every Jewish liberal, but those votes he does not receive are unlikely to be based upon the smears regarding Farrakhan. As soon as the smears began, Obama distanced himself from Farrakhan with statements such as, “I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.” He received a strong letter of defense sent jointly by several Jewish organizations which included this passage:

As leaders of the Jewish community, none of whose organizations will endorse or oppose any candidate for President, we feel compelled to speak out against certain rhetoric and tactics in the current campaign that we find particularly abhorrent. Of particular concern, over the past several weeks, many in our community have received hateful emails that use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and who he is as a person.

These tactics attempt to drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion. We reject these efforts to manipulate members of our community into supporting or opposing candidates.

A group of uncommitted Jewish Senators also wrote a similar letter defending Obama against these smears:

We won’t dignify these falsehoods by repeating them in order to refute them. Instead, we will express our outrage at these tactics, which are being used to demonize a good and decent man and our friend and colleague. Attempting to manipulate voters into supporting or opposing one candidate or another based on despicable and fictitious attacks is disgraceful. These false and malicious attacks should not be part of our political discourse.

The manner in which Obama has dispensed with these smears provides a stark contrast to Ron Paul, whose campaign was derailed due to actually soliciting support from extremists, refusing to return a contribution from Don Black, and whose writings echoed some of the same extremist views of those endorsing him.

As Josh Marshall has noted, Tim Russert has essentially repeated an email smear on national television. The saddest part of all for Democrats is how Hillary Clinton unsuccessfully tried to use this to her political advantage. In doing so, Clinton lowered herself to the same level as those who are sending out the email smears against Obama.

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  1. 1
    BigSherm7 says:

    ObamaBlog Question #28: Will Barack Obama’s Meteoric Rise Toward The White House Indicate An End of Racism In America?

    There will undoubtedly be those who will point to Barack Obama’s meteoric rise toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a sure sign from heaven that forever settles the issue of whether or not racism still exists in the United States, especially considering the diverse political support which he is receiving from whites. Unlike Shirley Chisolm, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, et al., who could only win primaries where African Americans predominated the voter rolls, Obama has won primaries and Caucuses in states such as Colorado, Utah, and Idaho, states which all have very negligible African American populations.

    But are these astounding achievements on the part of Barack Obama justification enough to proclaim that the vile virus of racism has been eradicated? That would be analogous to declaring that electing a Jewish president automatically signals the end of anti-semitism. Such an assertion is too tremendous a leap of faith to be truly believed by any truly rational person. While Obama’s political success does indeed signal substantial progress in U.S. race relations, those relations are still slowly evolving toward Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community.

    For example, did the election of John F. Kennedy as the nation’s 35th president put an end to all bias against Roman Catholics? Of course it didn’t. As a matter of fact it may have stoked the fires of anti-Catholic bias, especially from those already on the racist and religiously bigoted fringes of our society. I totally expect that if Barack Obama is elected as the next president of the United States, there will be an unfortunate backlash from those who already feel threatened by the possibility that a person of color could lead this, a country founded by and still largely controlled by those of European heritage. And if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and is elected president, this won’t end discrimination against women. As a matter of fact it may put more pressure upon them to live up to the ideas and ideals of the nation’s first female commander in chief.

  2. 2
    vecene says:

    My resolve to support Obama is sorely tested every time I read over-the-top commentary like this in his defense. I have to keep reminding myself that the extremes some go to is not his fault.

    First, support by controversial figures (like Farakhan) is something to which every politician and every public figure must respond. Bringing the subject up in itself is no more a ‘smear’ than asking for other details about associates, backers, financial dealings, etc.

    Yes, Hillary tried to re-frame the topic so as to reflect well on herself. That’s what politicians do. That’s what Obama does (see his interpretaion of Hillary’s health plan). That’s what McCain does. That’s why they appear before crowds and in media interviews. At this rate,the act of inhaling air will soon be held up as an example of Hillary’s dirty tactics.

    There are substantive reasons to support Obama. This sort of over-reach risks eliciting a protest vote, or a sympathy vote for Hillary.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    To ask about the subject is one thing. The questions from Russert were over the top, as was Clinton’s attempt to make an issue over whether Obama denounced or rejected him. Obama answered the question in a satisfactory manner, but both Russert and Clinton tried to make something out of it when there was nothing there.

    There is absolutely no comparison between what Clinton did and Obama raising a legitimate policy difference over health care. This is quite typical of Clinton supporters (and people like you who repeatedly repeat Clinton’s campaign memes) to create such false comparisons.

  4. 4
    vecene says:


    People like me?
    I haven’t read Clinton’s memes and don’t read Clinton supporting blogs.

    I did watch the debate, however, and am perfectly able to draw my own conclusions.
    Obama’s criticism was as ‘pwefectly legimate’ as one can expect during the campaign season. Both his plan and Hillary’s have some drawbacks, and a really honest analysis would compare the pros and cons of both, without using silly terms like ‘legitimate’ for what you agree with and ‘smear’ for what you disagree with.

    Aooarently, that’s not your way, though.
    At least now I know how much legitimacy one can expect here.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    You’ve repeated Clinton’s memes several times in comments here.

    Three is a tremendous difference between a disagreement over policy (heath care) and Clinton’s attempts to capitalize on the Farrakhan smear. Nobody but Clinton supporters buys such attempts to claim that it is equivalent when Obama disagrees with Clinton on policy and when Clinton engages in smears.

    Note that the objections to these tactics are not just coming from me as you falsely claim in your comment. The post quotes from others who have come to the same conclusion regarding the manner in which Russert and Clinton are engaging in smears.

  6. 6
    Vigilante says:

    Speaking of renouncing, denouncing and rejecting, IMHO McCain needs to renounce and reject Hagee, and MSNBC needs to renounce and reject Tim Russert. Whichever comes first, I don’t care. Russert’s true calling is to be found on Faux News. He’s not a journalist. There’s just not a polite word for what he is.

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