Johanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times yesterday misrepresented First Lady Laura Bush's words to make it seem like she was backing away from GOP veep candidate Sarah Palin's criticism of Senator Barack Obama's community organizing days.
Recall, as I noted in the NewsBusters post "Media Freak Out Over Palin and Giuliani's ‘Community Organizer' Jabs" earlier today, that community organizing, in the sense that Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer uses the term, is Saul Alinsky-style political organizing. It's not about church bake sales, picking up litter, little leagues, or parent-teacher associations. It's about agitation aimed at securing big chunks of government money and radical social change. It is not noble. It is radical left-wing activism. It is not community service. It's more like community destruction. Think Jesse Jackson. Think Al Sharpton. Think ACORN. Think Mother Jones.
But that apparently didn't matter to one reporter who listened to the interview and heard what she wanted to hear. Thinking she scored a ‘gotcha,' Neuman wrote a piece called "Laura Bush defends community organizers -- take that, Sarah Palin." Neuman gleefully cited an interview the First Lady gave National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." (Link to audio here, link to text on NPR website here.) Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the interview that I took from the NPR website (the transcript posted there contained a few minor errors and I have corrected them):
ROBERT SIEGEL: You spoke glowingly the other day of a project in Chicago where people work with former gang members to try to prevent violence. And it reminded me of - well, I'll say, a cynical comment that a colleague of mine made. Which was, after the convention last week in St. Paul, Minn., that you attended and that I covered, would somebody who heard the mocking references to community organizers that were made there think that those people are actually serious about encouraging young people to go in and work with gang members in poor Chicago neighborhoods? Or is that just something you do when you're going to church?
LAURA BUSH: Well, CeaseFire Chicago, the group that you're talking about, is a program started by a man who happens to be a doctor. He's a public-health doctor. And the more he thought about violence in communities, the more he realized that that's a public-health problem and that it needs to be addressed, just like any other public health disease.
ROBERT SIEGEL: But is he working with people who could qualify as being called community organizers?
LAURA BUSH: I don't know if that's exactly what you would call them. I don't know exactly what that is. But I will say he gives former gang members jobs, to try to intervene to prevent young people from ruining the rest of their lives because some reason that they'd get into a fight and then end up incarcerated.
That certainly doesn't sound like a "yes" to me. Mrs. Bush opted to remain above the fray and refused to go for the bait. And the First Lady is consistent. At the ServiceNation Summit in New York City this morning, the First Lady called CeaseFire Chicago "violence interrupters," and not community organizers.
Besides, although CeaseFire Chicago does appear to favor gun control, it is not engaged in community organizing in the sense that Obama uses the term. It is not a political advocacy group. CeaseFire Chicago is "a Chicago-based violence prevention program ... administered by the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention (CPVP), which is located at the University of Illinois' School of Public Health," according to a Northwestern University Report. (brief summary here, full report here) CeaseFire Chicago is connected financially to the University of Illinois Foundation, a $1.2 billion charity, according to its tax year 2006 IRS Form 990 (tax return).
Of course, John McCain, Palin's running mate, hasn't been helping matters. As the Politico's Jonathan Martin reported yesterday:
Both Rudy Giulani and Sarah Palin offered mocking criticism of Barack Obama's time as a community organizer last week at the GOP convention, but John McCain said such work is commendable.
"Of course I respect community organizers," McCain said at a forum on public service tonight in New York. "Of course I support people who serve their community and Sen. Obama's record there is outstanding."
But Senator McCain is another story.