Hannity repeatedly distorts passage in Michelle Obama's senior thesis to suggest alumni views on race are her own

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN

In recent broadcasts of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity has repeatedly distorted a passage from Michelle Obama's 1985 Princeton senior thesis to suggest that Obama was asserting her own views when she wrote that "[i]t is possible that Black individuals either chose to or felt pressure to come together with other Blacks on campus because of the belief that Blacks must join in solidarity to combat a White oppressor."

In the past week on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity has repeatedly distorted what Michelle Obama wrote in 1985 in her Princeton senior thesis, focusing on the presence in the thesis of the words: "because of the belief that Blacks must join in solidarity to combat a White oppressor." But the full paragraph in the thesis makes clear that Obama was purporting to document attitudes among black Princeton alumni who attended the school in the 70s, and not asserting her own views. Yet Hannity has repeatedly taken the phrase out of context to suggest that Obama has divisive views of race.

For example:

  • On February 25, Hannity said, "And then we've discovered that Michelle Obama, who made this comment last week when she said she felt proud of her country for the first time in her life, she, in her thesis at Princeton, wrote the following talking about -- she said "because of the belief that blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor," she talked about why African-Americans joined together at Princeton. Is race going to now be an issue for them?"
  • On February 26, while discussing the Obamas with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Hannity asserted: "she had written this thesis while she was at Princeton, where she talked about, quote, "blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor." Later, in a separate segment, Hannity said to his guests: "[Obama's] wife in her thesis at Princeton said, quote, 'Blacks must join in solidarity -- the belief that blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor.' On top of -- on heels -- on the heels of the statement, "For the first time in my life, I'm proud to be an American." Does that -- do those racial issues concern people?"
  • On February 27, Hannity asked former White House senior political adviser Karl Rove, "When you add that to the comments of his wife about 'the first time in my adult life, I'm proud to be an American,' the use of the word 'white oppressor' in her thesis -- do you think the people are going to respond negatively to all of this?"

But, contrary to Hannity's suggestion, Obama was not asserting that "blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor." Those words are part of the following passage:

As discussed earlier, most respondents were attending Princeton during the 70's, at a time when the Black Power Movement was still influencing the attitudes of many Blacks.

It is possible that Black individuals either chose to or felt pressure to come together with other Blacks on campus because of the belief that Blacks must join in solidarity to combat a White oppressor. As the few blacks in a white environment it is understandable that respondents might have felt a need to look out for one another.

Obama went on to write: "One can contrast the mood of the campus years ago and the level of attachment to Blacks to that of the present mood of the campus [in 1985] which is more pro-integrationist." Obama's thesis was based on a questionnaire sent to Princeton alumni to assess how their attitudes about the "Black and White communities," among other things, have changed over time.

Further, on February 25, co-host Alan Colmes introduced a discussion about Michelle Obama by asserting that her patriotism "is being questioned once again, this time because of her senior thesis" without providing a single example of anyone actually questioning Obama's patriotism based on what she wrote in her senior thesis (although he then criticized the focus on her thesis). Moreover, a search* by Media Matters for America found no examples of anyone calling Michelle Obama's patriotism into question because of her senior thesis.

From Michelle Obama's senior thesis, "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community":

Another possible hypothesis created from this study's findings explaining why respondents became attached to Blacks at Princeton is that the mood of Black students at Princeton during the time that most of the respondents were attending Princeton was more separationist. As discussed earlier, most respondents were attending Princeton during the 70's, at a time when the Black Power Movement was still influencing the attitudes of many Blacks.

It is possible that Black individuals either chose to or felt pressure to come together with other Blacks on campus because of the belief that Blacks must join in solidarity to combat a White oppressor. As the few blacks in a white environment it is understandable that respondents might have felt a need to look out for one another.

One can contrast the mood of the campus years ago and the level of attachment to Blacks to that of the present mood of the campus, which is more pro-integrationist, and the level of attachment to Blacks. Presently, with the Black Power Movement behind us and with the implementation of CURL (College Undergraduate Residential Life), the mood of the campus has been shifted in such a way that Black students are discouraged from forming separate groups because of a fear that they are segregating themselves from mainstream campus life by doing so. Thus, if a survey were to be made today of the level of Black involvement in minority organizations and their involvement in campus organizations, there would be a larger percentage of Blacks involved in mainstream life in comparison to the years when these respondents were at Princeton. But, on the other hand, the percentage of involvement in Third World organizations would be much lower now than then. It appears, that the present mood of the campus is one that encourages integration and assimilation of Blacks, whereas the mood of the campus and even society in general several years ago encouraged the separation of Blacks. Thus, the mood of the time may have contributed its influence to more respondents becoming attached to Blacks.

From the February 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Let me ask you if you think the issue of race is going to be a bigger part in this campaign than it's been to now. Now, we had Barack Obama's pastor on this very show. And he has, for example, the Black Value System that he wants his congregants to commit to. You know, the black family, the black community, the black work ethic, on and on and on.

Louis Farrakhan had nice things to say about him this weekend. And then we've discovered that Michelle Obama, who made this comment last week when she said she felt proud of her country for the first time in her life, she, in her thesis at Princeton, wrote the following talking about -- she said "because of the belief that blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor," she talked about why African-Americans joined together at Princeton. Is race going to now be an issue for them?

MORRIS: Right. No, I think once you carry Utah and Idaho and North Carolina, you've basically have proven that you're going to get white votes.

From the February 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: She's a Princeton University and Harvard Law graduate, a successful lawyer, mother of two. Has Michelle Obama become a liability for her husband's campaign? Last Monday, she came under fire for this comment.

MICHELLE OBAMA [video clip]: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.

COLMES: She later clarified her remarks, but her patriotism is being questioned once again, this time because of her senior thesis, where she writes, "I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

She goes on to say, quote, "Further integration and/or assimilation into a white culture and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society; never becoming a full participant."

With us now, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., both Fox News contributors.

And Congressman Ford, let me go to you first on this. Is this what we can expect in a general election, should Barack Obama be the nominee? They're going to attack Michelle Obama for talking about her black experience and her blackness at a predominantly white school? Is this what they're going to make into a political football?

FORD: If this is the ammunition that the opposing side has against Barack, if he is fortunate and blessed to be the nominee of the party, he's probably going to have an easy time becoming president.

If we're looking back to how students, spouses of presidential candidates, when they were students in elementary and junior high and middle and high school and even college, to determine whether or not their husband or their spouse is fit to be president, I think we've sunk to a new low.

Michelle Obama is a model for what anybody would want their daughter to be. She's smart. Not only a -- wonderfully capable and accomplished academically, but she's an incredible mom.

And I don't fault any spouse for enthusiastically supporting their husband -- his or her husband or wife. I don't fault Bill Clinton for supporting his wife. Nor would I fault Cindy McCain for being avid in her support for her husband. We would expect that.

COLMES: Let me go to Senator Santorum on this. Look, Senator, I mean, the idea that this is going to be what is focused upon in a campaign? Do you think that's a good idea for Republicans to look at her thesis as a student, talking about how she felt as a black, young woman at Princeton, a predominantly white school, where there wasn't -- where there was a very small black studies department? Is this what it's going to be about?

SANTORUM: Well, I hope not. I agree with Harold. First off, I think a spouse's personal life is out of bounds, period, end of discussion. This is something that she did, you know, at an age when, you know, you write some pretty strange stuff sometimes. I hope they don't pull up my college thesis papers.

COLMES: Yeah, that's a great idea.

SANTORUM: I mean, that's -- I'm sure, Alan, you'll now do that.

COLMES: I'm going to Google you as soon as I get off.

SANTORUM: Thank you, thank you. But no, I mean, you write, you know -- you write things in college that, you know, you come back and say, "Oh, boy, was that a stupid thing to write." So, no --

COLMES: But this wasn't even -- this wasn't stupid.

SANTORUM: Well, but -- I'm not saying it was. I'm just saying that it's out of bounds. I mean, it's irrelevant to the discussion. If she's out, as she was on the campaign trail, speaking on behalf of her husband, and she says something at that point and it's in the public-policy realm, fine. Then that's a legitimate point. But to dig out someone's past -- out of bounds, leave it alone, move on.

HANNITY: Hey, Congressman Ford, welcome back, both of you. Senator, good to see you. Welcome to the program.

FORD: Thank you.

HANNITY: Congressman Ford, if you found out Sean Hannity -- let's say I was running for office. And you aren't going to campaign for me, although I'd try to talk you into it.

Now, if I was running for office and you found out I belonged to a church, and as part of the precepts or the value system of my church was a personal commitment to embrace the white value system, and it had 12 points. And some of them were commitment to the white community; commitment to the white family; commitment to the white work ethic; a pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the white community; pledge to allocate, regularly, a portion of personal resources for strengthening and supporting white institutions -- would you say that I was part of a separatist church and one that you'd be concerned about for racial reasons?

FORD: If you were part of that, I would ask -- I'd say that's not the Sean I know and would imagine -- would want to know why you were -- or maybe you could explain that to me.

I think what you're getting at is maybe -- I know some of the questions that have been raised about Senator Obama's church.

You know, I'm not one that tries to get -- get in people's sort of faith and religious life. I mean, even when Mitt Romney, who I believe you were supporting for president for a period of time, I mean, there were questions about his religion, which I thought were completely out of bounds.

HANNITY: But this is different. This is a little bit different.

FORD: I don't think --

HANNITY: Let me tell you why this is different. Because this is so important to me --

FORD: The Mormons said that I couldn't go to heaven. Mormons said I couldn't go to heaven for a period of time, and I believe it's been renounced now. But I believed them. Now they believe I can go to heaven. I thought I could go to heaven back then, too, I might add. But I believe them now; they think I can go to heaven. That's not the point.

I think that the issue -- the issue here with Senator Obama, I think, is a little different. And I think in fairness to him, he's made clear he's a Christian. He has made clear throughout his campaign he believes we are all equal, we are all one, and we should operate as that.

HANNITY: Well, I'm a Christian, and I was raised a Catholic. I'm a Christian, and I just believe if you're -- if you have that value system, it's the Christian value system. We're brothers and sisters in Christ. And he's the son of God, and he died to save all of us from our sins. That's my -- what my faith teaches me.

Senator Santorum, but that -- the point is this is the value system of Barack Obama's church. This is -- and its commitment to the black family, the black community, the black value system.

When you couple that with some of the comments that his wife, for example, made this weekend, you know, quote, "to combat white oppression" while she's at Princeton, should people take a look at this? Is that a concern for people?

SANTORUM: Well, I will -- I will answer it the same way I dealt with Mitt Romney, because I think they are similar. I think -- I think it's legitimate to look at it. I think to just say it's invalid, that somehow or another this shouldn't factor into your decision, this is a judgment he made when he joined this church. It's not like he didn't know that.

[crosstalk]

COLMES: Do you want to look into the church of everybody running for office? Do you really want to do that?

From the February 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Well, the issue of race has come up here, not only those comments by Michelle Obama. She said, "For the first time in my life that I am proud of my country" -- which I think stunned a lot of people. There was also the news that came out this week, Mr. Speaker, that she had written this thesis while she was at Princeton, where she talked about, quote, "blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor."

There's the issue of Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who was the pastor of Barack Obama's church. And he has this Black Value System, commitment to the black community, the black family, pursuit of the black work ethic. And it goes on and on mentioning all those things. Do you think those issues will become pronounced as the campaign moves forward, or is that the same mistake Hillary Clinton made, and that's attacking him personally?

GINGRICH: Well, I think Senator Obama has to tell us how he deals with all that and how he sees things. You know, on the one hand, you could make the argument that his experience growing up in Hawaii, his experience at Columbia University, his experience at Harvard University were a pretty good deal.

[...]

HANNITY: Let me ask everybody, because the issue of race now has come up in this campaign, and these are very serious issues that affect the country. And more specifically, his pastor gave the controversial -- I would argue racist and anti-Semite -- Louis Farrakhan an award. He asked that his congregation be -- pledge allegiance to the Black Value System, to the black community, the black family, the black work ethic. Some people believe that that is a separatist belief system.

His wife in her thesis at Princeton said, quote, "Blacks must join in solidarity -- the belief that blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor." On top of -- on heels -- on the heels of the statement, "For the first time in my life, I'm proud to be an American."

Does that -- do those racial issues concern people?

From the February 27 edition of Fox News' Hannity and Colmes:

HANNITY: When you add that to the comments of his wife about "the first time in my adult life, I'm proud to be an American," the use of the word "white oppressor" in her thesis -- do you think the people are going to respond negatively to all of this?

ROVE: Well, what I thought was interesting about his comments about Farrakhan was how narrow he made them. His comment was he disagreed with Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. Well, Farrakhan has made a lot more comments besides his very virulent anti-Semitic comments. He has made very racist comments about whites and about the black-white relationships in the United States. And I frankly think he ought to be dismissive of Farrakhan in his totality, not simply --

COLMES: Actually, Karl, he has. In fact -- welcome back to our show, Karl. It's Alan. Thank you for being here tonight. Not just the debate last night, but speaking to a Jewish group -- a group of Jewish leaders in Cleveland last week, he said, "I have been a consistent denunciator of Louis Farrakhan. Nobody challenges that." And that an award given to -- for his work, for example, on behalf of ex-offenders, unrelated to his controversial statements. He talked about his minister doing things with the community, but that he personally repudiated him and, you know, could not control, he said last night at the debate, who endorses him. He can't censor endorsements. I don't know what more he has to say to get people off his back about Louis Farrakhan.

* A Media Matters search of the Nexis database using the search terms "Michelle pre/2 Obama" and "patriot!" and "thesis" or "dissertation," did not find any examples of people calling Michelle Obama's patriotism into question because of her senior thesis.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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