COMMENTS: Geraldine Farrago

Geraldine Ferraro was Topic A on the campaign trail as she resigned from her fundraising role for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Walter Mondale's Vice Presidential nominee was on the defensive for saying that Barack Obama "happens to be very lucky to be who he is" in explaining that if "he was a white man he would not be in this position." Obama called Ferraro's evaluation "ridiculous and wrongheaded." NBC's Andrea Mitchell quoted Obama's thought experiment on her network's Today: "If you were to get a handbook on what is the path to the Presidency, I do not think that the handbook would start by saying be an African-American named Barack Obama." On CBS, Dean Reynolds used a different soundbite: "I do not think my name or my skin color would be in the asset column."

NBC's Mitchell worried that "race has begun to divide Democratic voters" citing exit poll results from Tuesday's Mississippi primary that showed the victor Obama winning with almost unanimous support from African-American voters but with less than half of the white vote. This is tendentious reporting from Mitchell. Who could imagine Mississippi as a bellwether for the state of race relations? As Mississippi goes, so goes the nation!

Ferraro herself appeared for an interview with Ann Curry on NBC Nightly News, taking airtime to explain herself while simultaneously insisting that she resigned from Rodham Clinton's campaign "because I wanted to get this off the news." Earlier in the day Ferraro appeared on ABC's Good Morning America and in both interviews she characterized the Obama campaign's criticism as of her character, denouncing her as "racist," rather than of her comments, calling them "ridiculous." None of the networks cited an instance of the "racist" rap, which made it seem as though Ferraro was invoking a straw man.

In her explanation to NBC's Curry, Ferraro went further. She defended her initial comment about Obama's luck as a way of congratulating him on running an "historic campaign." She accused the Obama campaign of initiating the controversy--"they started it"--by publicizing the newspaper account of her remarks about Obama's race. She characterized Obama's aides as "playing the race card…they should apologize to me for calling me a racist."

It is sloppy reporting to leave that "racist" question ambiguous. Was Ferraro accurate in quoting such an accusation or was she misleading us in inflammatory fashion?


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