COMMENTS: Hanoi Hannah and Other Posers

NBC anchor Brian Williams underlined the decision to make the candidates the focus of the commemorations by interviewing all three of them on his newscast. His live q-&-a with John McCain had to compete with an outdoor rally so a second, different interview is posted online. On the actual newscast, McCain recounted a strange tale of how the news of the assassination of that prominent anti-Vietnam War activist played in the prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam. McCain remembered Hanoi Hannah, the North Vietnamese radio propagandist, broadcasting the news of King's death: "They knew it would harm our morale and cause chaos and further their cause." Was McCain's morale really harmed back in 1968 by this news? Did those prisoners of war really feel solidarity with leaders of the anti-war movement back home? Williams did not push him with a follow-up.

Candidate Barack Obama responded to Williams' questioning by emphasizing King's commitment to economic justice and downplaying any lasting racial divide. On the racial front Obama saw "enormous progress" over the last 40 years and "attitudes that are light years away from where they were." Not so for the economy: "Having an agenda that ensures economic justice so that everybody can get paid a decent wage and find a job, that part of Dr King's dream has not yet been achieved."

As for the questions Williams asked Hillary Rodham Clinton, they were so opaque that one just had to feel sorry for her. How can a candidate with even the best message discipline devise something intelligible in response to posers like these: "Is the sun rising or setting where race as a topic in this country is concerned?" "How can you become the leading voice for matters of race?" "It has been theorized that not having a national conversation on race was perhaps one of the missing elements of your husband's Presidency. Can you pledge yourself to a national conversation on race?"


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