Monday, January 14, 2008

BET Bob smears Obama...

Obama attacked by 'Big Bobcat'

by Frank James

The Big Bobcat tried to get his claws into Sen. Barack Obama today. The question is, did he draw blood?

The New York Times's political blog, The Caucus, is reporting that Robert Johnson, the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, or BET, and owner of the National Basketball Association's Charlotte Bobcats, was campaigning with Sen. Hillary Clinton in South Carolina when he criticized Obama.

It was there that, as Katharine Seelye reports, Johnson made what appeared to be an allusion to Obama's use of illegal drugs as a young man.

It was Johnson's way of defending the New York senator and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, from accusations from the Obama camp and beyond that some recent Clinton comments were dismissive of both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama.

At a rally here for Mrs. Clinton at Columbia College, Mr. Johnson was defending recent comments that Mrs. Clinton made regarding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She did not mean to take any credit away from him, Mr. Johnson said, when she said that it took President Johnson to sign the civil rights legislation he fought for.

Dr. King had led a "moral crusade," Mr. Johnson said, but such crusades have to be "written into law."

"That is the way the legislative process works in this nation and that takes political leadership," he said. "That's all Hillary was saying."

He then added: "And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood - and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book - when they have been involved."

Moments later, he added: "That kind of campaign behavior does not resonate with me, for a guy who says, 'I want to be a reasonable, likable, Sidney Poitier 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.' And I'm thinking, I'm thinking to myself, this ain't a movie, Sidney. This is real life.

Johnson has since tried to make his comments seem more benign, saying he was talking merely of Obama's time as a community organizer and that anyone who thinks he was alluding to anything else (read drug use) is "irresponsible and incorrect."

So he wants us to believe the invidious comparison he was making contrasting the Clintons to Obama was to say that Obama was a community organizer when the Clintons were advancing civil-rights? To borrow a phrase from Obama, that really does seem like the audacity of hope on Johnson's part.

Johnson certainly has a right to issue a "clarifying" statement. But the public also has a right to be dubious, to believe that Johnson was indeed making an allusion to Obama's self-admitted use of pot and cocaine as a young man.

Assuming that that's what Johnson, a lawyer by training who knows how to use language, meant to do is interesting on a few levels.

Johnson made his fortune through a cable channel known in black America for showing so many rump-shaking music videos (videos with scantily clad women shaking their derrieres in the camera) that many people over the years have come to apply the term "bootylicious" to the genre of videos his channel showed.

Furthermore, many of those bootylicious hip-hop videos shown by his channel featured young male rappers whose subjects tended to run the very narrow gamut of guns, drugs, cars and women. (Did I mention drugs?)

Watch long enough and you'd likely see a "gangsta" light up a blunt, a marijuana stogie. This was the fare many black kids across America grew up on as they watched Mr. Johnson's channel.

For that reason, even though Johnson became that rarest of rare creatures, a black billionaire after he sold his channel to Viacom, there's ambivalence about him among many black Americans who viewed much of the programming on his channel as adding to many of black America's problems.

So casting even veiled aspersions on Obama over his youthful use of drugs will no doubt make many people who know Johnson's story and BET say "Now, wait one cotton-picking, bootylicious minute."

As far as Sidney Poitier is concerned, how many young people in a college audience would get that reference to a 1967 movie?

Not only that; did Obama really ever say he wanted to be Poitier? Don't remember that one.

Wonder what Rep. James Clyburn's going to make of Johnson's comments? As many people know by now the lawmaker, the highest ranking African-American in the House leadership and a very influential man in South Carolina, didn't take kindly to the Clinton comments and now he's got a whole set of new ones to ponder, along with whether he should remain neutral or show his unhappiness with the Clinton's by endorsing Obama.

One thing that makes Johnson's comments more interesting in connection with Clyburn is that Johnson, the chief executive officer of RLJ Cos.,. has generously contributed to Clyburn, as he has to other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. For that reason, it would be a stunning thing indeed if Clyburn rebuked Johnson the way he has the Clintons.

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