Barack Obama returned to Chicago Sunday and made an appearance before the UNITY minority journalists' convention (including the whole soup of black, Latino, Asian, and Native American journalist solidarity groups.) The Chicago Tribune's Swamp blog found some journalists were restrained, and some were not:
At UNITY, the applause was restrained, after organizers reminded conference participants that the appearance was being nationally broadcast and they should make every effort to maintain "professional decorum."
Still, Obama received a standing ovation from many in the audience at the start and end of his appearance. There was also a rush toward the stage after his speech, as Obama shook hands and signed autographs.
One journalist was also overheard wishing him luck, while another squealed, "He touched me!" as she left the ballroom.
Obama offered up his support for "affirmative action" programs, and addressed the idea that he's dissing Muslims and he dispels rumors he's a Muslim:
"This is a classic example of a no win situation, right?," he responded. "So, I try to correct something that is false, and then people say, well why are you correcting this thing in a way that isn't sufficiently, ah, well, let me put it this way: first of all, I have repeatedly on various occasions said, I am not a Muslim, but this whole strategy of suggesting that I am is indicative of anti-Muslim sentiment that we have to fight against. So, maybe you haven't see those quotes, but they're out there and I have said them on more than one occasion....I just don't like the idea of somebody falsely identifying my religion...If you were a Muslim and somebody consistently said that you were a Christian, I suspect that you would want to have that corrected because that's offensive to your faith. I think my credentials on supporting Muslim Americans are very strong."
Obama reminded the audience that he spoke out against discrimination of Arab Americans in his 2004 Democratic national convention speech in 2004.
"I have visited mosques here in my community, repeatedly, and met with Muslim leaders on a wide range of occasions," he said. "So, what I would ask is that I am treated like other candidates in terms of expectations, and that people look at my entire record."
Obama was asked a follow-up question on whether he could have gotten as far as he has, had he been a Muslim.
"That's a hypothetical that I don't know how to answer," he said. "I will tell you this that the American people are more tolerant and more open minded than I think a lot of the pundits give them credit for."
Isn't it embarrassing when journalists cheer wildly for a candidate? On Saturday, Kelly McBride, a media ethicist for the Poynter Institute, declared it was not something she would disparage or discourage. She began by recalling she was shocked and offended when a Florida reporter asked her about journalists losing objectivity around Obama:
And now I am about to eat crow. Barack Obama is coming to the Unity Convention on Sunday morning and many of the journalists who will still be in Chicago are likely to provide him with an enthusiastic reception.
"It's going to be euphoric," predicted Glen Barbour, a former NBC newsman who now works for Orange TV, a local government information channel in Orlando, Fla.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Obama's enthusiastic welcome goes over the line," said George Rede, Sunday opinion page editor at The (Portland, Ore.) Oregonian.
"He's going to say some cool stuff that's going to get people very excited," said Dalton Walker, a reporter for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., who saw a lot of Obama during the run-up to the South Dakota primary. "I hope it doesn't turn into a rally."
Obama's crowd of journalists at Unity may be a bit small, given the flight schedules of many of the journos who booked their trips home before the candidate announced his Sunday appearance. But if the more than a dozen interviews I did here on Thursday are any indication, Obama can expect a wholehearted welcome. By Monday, media critics will be tsk-tsking and pointing to the liberal bias of all journalists.
I won't be one of them.
After my conversations with Unity participants, after hearing the stories of how hard it still is to make progress toward equal representation in our newsrooms, after listening to journalist after journalist describe why she got into the business (because she thought she could make a difference), I'm not going to be the one to tell them to sit down and mind their public image.