Radio hosts echo Drudge's distortion of Obama's 2001 WBEZ interview

››› ››› NATHAN TABAK, GREG LEWIS, VARUN PIPLANI, JOCELYN FONG & HANNAH DREIER

Numerous conservative radio hosts, including Chris Baker, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Jim Quinn, Michael Savage and Brian Sussman, echoed the false claim, originating on the Drudge Report, that Sen. Barack Obama said in a 2001 interview that he regretted that the Supreme Court has not addressed the redistribution of wealth. In fact, the "traged[y]" Obama identified during the interview was that the civil rights movement "became so court-focused" in trying to bring about political and economic justice.

On October 27, numerous conservative radio hosts echoed the false claim, originating on the Drudge Report, that in a January 18, 2001, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio interview, Sen. Barack Obama said he regretted that the Supreme Court has not pursued wealth redistribution.

Minneapolis radio host Chris Baker distorted Obama's 2001 remarks by claiming that he said "we gotta have economic justice and the Supreme Court ought to weigh in on redistributing wealth." Baker added: "Yeah, it's too bad you kind of stuck with the Constitution as it was. It's a tragedy that redistribution of wealth was not pursued by the Supreme Court. Can you believe that?" In fact, Obama did not say, "It's a tragedy that redistribution of wealth was not pursued by the Supreme Court," or indicate, as Baker later claimed, that Obama "wants to use the Supreme Court to reinterpret the Constitution in order to force the redistribution of wealth." Rather, as Media Matters for America has noted, the "tragedy" Obama identified during the interview was that the civil rights movement "became so court-focused" in trying to bring about political and economic justice. Later in the interview, Obama added:

You know, maybe I'm showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but, you know, I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn't structured that way. ... You know, the court's just not very good at it, and politically, it's just -- it's very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So, I mean, I think that, although, you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally -- you know, I think you can, any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts -- I think that, as a practical matter, our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it.

Several other radio hosts also falsely claimed that Obama said during the 2001 interview that courts should redistribute wealth:

  • Sean Hannity: On the October 27 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show, Sean Hannity, referring to the 2001 interview, falsely claimed that "Obama actually believes the Constitution is defective because it doesn't allow judges to redistribute wealth." He went on to claim that "if he becomes president, [Obama] wants the Supreme Court and other federal courts to literally have the power to spread the wealth around and redistribute the wealth. Those are his words, his voice."
  • Mark Levin: During the October 27 broadcast of his radio show, Mark Levin falsely asserted that "what the [Supreme] Court should have done from Obama's point of view was impose socialism from the bench." He also claimed that Obama and [Harvard Law School professor] Cass Sunstein are "promoting" an interpretation of the 14th Amendment that it should "be used ... to compel as a matter of constitutional law, the socialist agenda. In other words, constitutionalize redistribution of wealth." Levin then called Obama's position on the Constitution "a radical point of view" and "a foreign approach to the rule of law."
  • Jim Quinn: On the October 27 broadcast of The War Room with Quinn & Rose, co-host Jim Quinn said, "[H]ere's what was wrong with the civil rights movement, according to Barack Obama: The Supreme Court never got into the area of redistribution of the wealth." He added, "Do you want to have a judge tell you how much you can make, and how much of your productivity goes to another man who may have done nothing? You want the court to decide that? And I'm telling you, this guy is gonna make one, two, three -- maybe -- appointments to the Supreme Court, and they're gonna be exactly those kinds of judges. Hold onto your wallet, kids." Quinn also said, " He just got done telling you that the Constitution's only half-done. He needs to write the other half -- you know, the other half where we decide how much we take from you and give to that guy down the street."
  • Michael Savage: On the October 27 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Michael Savage also misrepresented Obama's comments, falsely claiming that in the interview, Obama "says that one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that the courts did not move for redistributive change."
  • Brian Sussman: On the October 27 broadcast of KSFO's The Lee Rodgers Show, host Brian Sussman described Obama's comments as "[t]alking about using the courts for redistributional change." Sussman then played a clip of the portion of the January 18, 2001, WBEZ interview in which Obama referred to "theoretical justifications" for "bringing about economic change through the courts." Sussman then commented: "Did you hear that? Bringing about economic change through the courts? That's judicial activism on steroids." But Sussman did not air what Obama said just prior to referencing the "theoretical justifications" -- "it's very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard" -- or what he said just afterward: "I think that, as a practical matter, our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it." From Obama's 2001 interview:

You know, maybe I'm showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but, you know, I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn't structured that way.

[...]

You know, the court's just not very good at it, and politically, it's just -- it's very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So, I mean, I think that, although, you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally -- you know, I think you can, any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts -- I think that, as a practical matter, our institutions just are poorly equipped to do it.

Later in the broadcast, Sussman introduced the same cropped clip of Obama's remarks by saying: "Now, now, here's how he talks -- this is the -- this is the one that just kills him. Using the courts for that redistributional change. That would be, you know, the Supreme Court becoming the judicial activists that so many libbies want them to be."

From the October 27 broadcast of KTLK's The Chris Baker Show:

BAKER: Now here is Barack Obama in '01 as a state senator talking about redistributing wealth.

OBAMA (clip): The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution.

BAKER: Yeah, it's too bad you kind of stuck with the Constitution as it was. It's a tragedy that redistribution of wealth was not pursued by the Supreme Court. Can you believe that? Now, Joe:

(begin clip)

BARBARA WEST (WFTV Orlando news anchor): How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE): Are you joking? Is this a joke?

WEST: No.

BIDEN: Is that a real question?

WEST: That's a question.

BIDEN: He is not spreading the wealth around. He's talking about giving the middle class --

(end clip)

BAKER: Yeah. Thanks a lot. Thanks for that, Joe. Nice job. All right, so there you go, it's out. Now we're gonna have to have that discussion today. Because I mean that's -- that's pretty clear. And I think that once we get into this, there's going to be a lot of people that are going to owe Michele Bachmann an apology.

[...]

BAKER: Enjoy this beautiful piece of audio. From 2001, Chicago Public Radio, where then-state Senator Barack Obammy was talking about using the power of the court, using the power of the government, to seize your money, and give it to someone else is what he calls some type of economic justice. Let's listen to some of these cuts right now. Now they're a bit long, so bear with us, but you really should listen to this if you have not heard it yet, which I hope you have. But if you haven't, here it is:

OBAMA (clip): The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution.

BAKER: Wow. So they stuck with the founding fathers too much apparently. Now that's a little freaky and, I'm sorry, to me, a little frightening, when a guy who says he wants to use the Supreme Court to reinterpret the Constitution in order to force the redistribution of wealth.

[...]

BAKER: 651-989-5855, Chris Baker radio program. We'll continue with this, the Barack Obama in-your-face hotline is now wide open again. 952-544-6756. All right. So, Michele Bachmann basically -- and these are my words, not hers -- made reference to redistributing wealth as an anti-American value. I agree. Now those are my words, but that's what I got from her comment, and she has taken heat. But when a guy sits here and says in a 2001 interview, we gotta have economic justice and the Supreme Court ought to weigh in on redistributing wealth, I don't know. Sounds to me like Michele Bachmann's right.

[...]

BAKER: Look, I'm sure he's a great guy, but, I mean, I can't go for this redistribution of wealth nonsense. I mean this is crazy. This is what I don't get. Now if he's your guy, sir, he's your guy, OK. And --

CALLER: Well, yeah, I mean, honestly, I just have -- I'm tired of the message that the Republican Party has put out, and I think this country does need a different direction, and I don't believe --

BAKER: But do we need more freedom or less freedom?

CALLER: I think we need more freedom, but I don't -- I think that this is just a scare tactic, you know it's just --

BAKER: Numbers don't lie, sir --

CALLER: Socialism, communism -- it's just a message that you guys are putting out all day long --

BAKER: Yeah, but see, no one can tell me where I'm wrong. Here's a guy who wants to use the power of the court to redistribute wealth, he said so himself. I mean that -- you can't deny that.

CALLER: You're saying activist Supreme Court or maybe -- so having the Supreme Court decide an election, that's not wrong either?

BAKER: Well, eventually you had to go to the court to stop the - well, now we're getting into 2000. By the way, every single media-sponsored recount showed the same results. So, let's not distract. All I'm saying, sir, is that here's a guy who has a history of voting against the Second Amendment, even voted to prosecute a man for defending himself in his own home, who talks about redistributing wealth. I mean, that's spooky.

From the October 27 edition of ABC Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:

HANNITY: There's actually a word for this, it's called welfare. And socialism is welfare. And I don't care how Obama and his supporters deny this or spin this and the -- believe me, that's what they're out there doing now that this has become exposed. But Obama is a socialist, and as he says it repeatedly.

OBAMA (audio clip): I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.

HANNITY: And he wants to redistribute your wealth, and those are his words. And there's one other thing in this 2001 audio you need to focus on. Obama actually believes the Constitution is defective because it doesn't allow judges to redistribute wealth. Now why is that important? Because he is going to potentially appoint two or three Supreme Court justices. So, if he becomes president, he wants the Supreme Court and other federal courts to literally have the power to spread the wealth around and redistribute the wealth. Those are his words, his voice. And that means Obama wants to appoint radical, activist lawyers to the Supreme Court and other courts where you can't throw them out -- in other words, lifetime positions. And they'll use that position to advance his socialist agenda. That would completely and utterly not only disregard but totally and completely undermine our Constitution.

From the October 27 broadcast of ABC Radio Networks' The Mark Levin Show:

LEVIN: Now, this thing about redistributive change, that the -- that the Warren court wasn't all that radical, what he is saying is, what the court should have done from Obama's point of view was impose socialism from the bench. Now what does he mean by that? The 14th Amendment, due process and equal-protection clauses. This is a new theory -- actually not that new, maybe a decade or two -- going around in our law schools, including University of Chicago, where Barack Obama's legal adviser and close friend professor Cass Sunstein works, and who has a shot at going to the Supreme Court if Obama wins -- Cass Sunstein. And there's also other professors. Bruce Ackerman at Yale and Robin West at Georgetown.

What they are promoting is that the 14th Amendment, the purpose of which - the purpose of which was to ensure that blacks would be treated as citizens once and for all -- that the 14th Amendment be used -- equal protection and due process -- to compel, as a matter of constitutional law, the socialist agenda. In other words, constitutionalize redistribution of wealth. That's why Obama is saying, well the court wasn't really that radical. The most radical court in American history, the Warren court, to Obama wasn't that radical at all. Think about that. The most radical court in American history wasn't all that radical at all according to Obama.

So, in this one statement, he talks about a defective Constitution. He talks about what the Constitution should do, not what it does do. He talks about redistribution of wealth. Does that matter to any of you? Any of you who haven't made up your mind or who are supporting Obama, does that matter to you? This is a radical point of view, far outside the American mainstream. It is a foreign approach to the rule of law. A foreign approach to the rule of law.

From the October 27 broadcast of Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose:

QUINN: OK, so Barack Obama doesn't wanna take your wealth and give it to somebody else. Well, facts are stubborn things. As we return now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, public radio, Chicago, Illinois, 2001. Listen to every word:

OBAMA (clip): You know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples --

QUINN: OK. So far, so good.

OBAMA (clip): -- so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order in as long as I could pay for it, I'd be OK.

QUINN: Now, of course, he fails to mention that he - blacks -- had the right to vote for three decades in the South till his party, the Democrats, took over and instituted the Jim Crow laws. There were no Republicans standing on the schoolhouse steps with firehouses and dogs, folks. Anyway, he goes on. Now listen:

OBAMA (clip): But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this --

QUINN: The Supreme Court -- here's what was wrong with the civil rights movement, according to Barack Obama: The Supreme Court never got into the area of redistribution of the wealth. Let me roll it back here.

OBAMA: -- lunch counter and order in as long as I could pay for it, I'd be OK. But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth --

QUINN: Why in God's name would they? Do you want to have a judge tell you how much you can make, and how much of your productivity goes to another man who may have done nothing? You want the court to decide that? And I'm telling you, this guy is gonna make one, two, three -- maybe -- appointments to the Supreme Court, and they're gonna be exactly those kinds of judges. Hold onto your wallet, kids.

OBAMA: -- and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

QUINN: Economic justice. That's another word for redistribution of the wealth by the state, which is another word for communism.

OBAMA: And, to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren court, it wasn't that radical.

QUINN: That's right. The Warren court wasn't radical enough for Barack the radical. He wanted the court to decide who gets what.

OBAMA (clip): It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution --

QUINN: Now wait a minute. His problem with the court -- now here this, folks, before you make a horrible mistake. His problem with the Supreme Court was it didn't break free of the constraints placed upon it by the founding fathers' Constitution? Hello? Am I -- am I taking a leak in the wind, here? Is anybody listening?

OBAMA (clip): -- at least as it's been interpreted. And Warren court interpreted it in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties -- says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you. But it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf --

QUINN: You know what this means, don't you? He just got done saying that the Constitution is negative. It tells the central government what it can't do to you, but it doesn't address what the central government should do for you. Now, how do we get around that, folks? Let me tell you how you get around that. You get around that with a constitutional convention; it's called a con-con. And there is legal foundation to do that. James Madison warned against it -- said, don't ever, ever have a constitutional convention, because even back then he understood that everybody with a grievance, and of course now in this day and age, every group with a grievance would show up and want new rights that placed burdens on his fellow American. It would lead to the transfer of wealth from one person to another. That's why you never want a constitutional convention. He just got done telling you that the constitution's only half-done. He needs to write the other half -- you know, the other half where we decide how much we take from you and give to that guy down the street.

OBAMA (clip): -- and that hasn't shifted. And one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movements became so court-focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground -

QUINN: Wait a minute, the court lost sight of community organizing?

OBAMA: -- that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you --

QUINN: The coalitions of power -- group power -- the groups that will come to your door, dominant culture, and say, "guess what, you screwed us, now we're gonna screw you." This is who you're about to elect. Are you crazy? That was spoken like Hugo Chavez, except in quiet and measured tones.

From the October 27 broadcast of Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation:

SAVAGE: Go all the way down the list to the liberals you have known. Where does Obama fit? You think he's a [unintelligible] liberal? Well, you listen to what he said in the speeches that were found over the weekend, and you have to say, well did he outgrow it? If he outgrew it, how come he hasn't said he outgrew it? He says that one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was that the courts did not move for redistributive change. He also said in Chicago Public Radio speech from 2001, he said that our Constitution -- the U.S. Constitution -- reflects a blind spot of the founding fathers -- it's a flaw of the country that continues to this day. Here is an arrogant -- an arrogant child raised by a white grandmother after being ditched by his mother and his two Muslim fathers. You want the naked truth? I'm giving it to you.

From the October 27 broadcast of the KSFO Morning Show:

SUSSMAN: Now, maybe the best one is coming up. And we'll do -- share this one for you in just a moment here on Hot Talk 560, KSFO. Talking about using the courts for redistributional change. You've gotta hear this, on KSFO.

OBAMA (clip): Although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally - you know, I think you can -- any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts --

SUSSMAN: Did you hear that? Bringing about economic change through the courts? That's judicial activism on steroids. Now, we've got more for you, and we're gonna play it, so stay tuned, here on Hot Talk 560, KSFO. Officer Vic, you got a traffic check for us?

[...]

SUSSMAN: Now, listen to this. Here, he says: Hey, man. The courts can't do it all. We need to have community organizers, you know, like ACORN. Community organizers who are guilty of voter fraud and other agitation schemes. Shakedown artists. They need to do our bidding for us. It's cut number two, Larry. Yeah, here we go.

OBAMA (clip): I think one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movement became so court-focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways, we still suffer from that.

SUSSMAN: Redistributive change. Redistribution of wealth, social justice, pitting one group against the other, leveling the playing field -- that's what he means by that. Now, now, here's how he talks -- this is the -- this is the one that just kills him. Using the courts for that redistributional change. That would be, you know, the Supreme Court becoming the judicial activists that so many libbies want them to be. Larry, go ahead and play it.

OBAMA (clip): Although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally -- you know I think you can -- any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts.

SUSSMAN: A rationale.

OFFICER VIC: A rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts. Any of the three of us here could come up with that. Well.

SUSSMAN: That's what the dude's talking about. That's what he wants. And that's what we're going to get, should he be elected. You just heard it here, on Hot Talk 560, KSFO.

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