Commentary

Media Downplay Any Talk of Obama’s ‘Socialism’

Dan Gainor
By Dan Gainor | October 27, 2008 | 12:54 PM EDT

When Joe the plumber dared ask Barack Obama about the candidate’s spending obsession, it set in motion a one-sided discussion of an old theme: socialism. Obama’s fateful response, that he would “spread the wealth around,” has revealed the true left-wing nature of many of his policies. And the media’s response has shown their near-complete unwillingness to take that discussion seriously.
 
Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” It’s like they ripped that description right out of the Democratic platform: nationalized health care, eliminating private voting in union elections, massive new taxes and ever bigger government.
 
But when Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber, challenged the man who would be king, er president, the result should have made socialism a subject of debate – especially following the endless rounds of Wall Street bailouts. Wurzelbacher described Obama’s view accurately, saying “that’s kind of a socialist viewpoint.” GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin responded appropriately. “Now is not the time to experiment with socialism,” she said.
 
The media response was woeful. A few network stories quoted Palin’s comment or referenced it, but the issue was hardly discussed. CBS, however, did its part to defend Obama with a “Reality Check” segment on the issue. The Oct. 21 “Evening News” story deployed Wyatt Andrews in defense of the left. “To Gov. Palin, Obama's plan reeks of socialism. This McCain Web ad calls it ‘welfare.’”
 
The story followed with a quick ad excerpt and then Andrews dodging the “socialism” question. “The welfare claim is false. To get Obama's new refund checks, most taxpayers would have to have a job, a home mortgage, or save $1,000 a year. It is not the old concept of money for nothing.” But because his story claimed to knock down the welfare claim, it gave the appearance of fending off the socialism accusation as well.
 
It didn’t.
 
“Hardball” host Chris Matthews showed the ignorance of the mainstream media during his Oct. 20 show. He asked a guest: “Is socialist a bad word, a naughty word?” Of course it is. Ordinary Americans know that answer. Only media types do not.
 
So some in the media went even further. Kansas City Star editorial columnist Lewis Diuguid claimed even using the word was “an old code word for black.” That’s in keeping with a regular media theme that any criticism of Obama is somehow racist.
 
The Columbia Journalism Review, the most left-wing of the industry publications, ran a snarky critique of the socialism argument under the headline “Journos of the World, Unite!” Ironically, they already have – under the Obama banner.
 
CJR staff writer Megan Garber wrote that “there are some basic ways for talking about the socialism charge without giving the charge credence.” Garber suggested an alternative. “‘In an attempt to appeal to latent fear of the Red Menace, Sarah Palin today accused Barack Obama of harboring socialist leanings…’ Or some such.”
 
Only the debate isn’t going away. A new discovery of an old radio appearance by Obama is keeping the issue timely. In a Jan. 18, 2001, interview on Chicago public radio, Obama talked about the limitations of the Supreme Court and how it had “never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in society.”
 
Thank goodness. It is obvious that this is a recurring theme with Obama – dancing around the topic of government as Robin Hood.
 
Despite general media censorship of this issue, there are a few courageous journalists willing to address it. WFTV-Channel 9’s Barbara West took an aggressive stance with Democratic VP candidate Sen. Joe Biden and asked whether Obama was a “Marxist.” Biden seemed stunned that someone in the media didn’t love the dear leader. The Obama camp responded by canceling all interviews with the Florida TV station.
 
CNN’s “Lou Dobbs” show told viewers they need “look no further than their own back yard to see what so-called 21st century socialism looks like.” Host Lisa Sylvester detailed, country by country, how real socialism was destroying freedom in the Oct. 23 report.
 
“In addition to communist stronghold Cuba, Venezuela – Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has seized assets and set price controls. In Nicaragua, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega has befriended Chavez and sharply curtailed democratic freedoms,” she explained.
 
That report shows the true dangers of socialism. It also gets at the heart of the media problem. Most journalists identify socialism by its worst-case-scenario results like Chavez. But it can take years to get there. The insidious dangers of socialism don’t always come emblazoned on a banner complete with hammer and sickle.
 
Sometimes all we get is a smiling new leader wielding the hammer and a clueless media lending a hand.

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