CNN.com may have tired of the idea of Barack Obama as a political Messiah, so they’re switching it up. On Monday night, it posted a report from rural Mississippi headlined "Grandson of slaves: Obama is our Moses." Senior producer Wayne Drash told the story of poor James "Little Man" Presley, who still picks cotton on the land his ancestors worked as slaves:
He's lived a raw-knuckled life where hope moved at a molasses-slow pace. The last time he had hope for a better future was four decades ago -- first with President John F. Kennedy and then with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Obama has changed everything for the poor in these parts.
"I'm a church man," he says. "And I kind of figured this here is about like it was with Moses with the children of Israel. On that day, when he gets to be president, we're all going to be rejoicing."
TV reporters were upset when the McCain campaign did an ad mocking Obama as Moses (with a clip of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments). But when someone does it without joking, it qualifies as headline news.
CNN's David Gergen even suggested the Moses mockery was racist: "I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it's the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, 'The One,' that's code for, 'he's uppity, he ought to stay in his place.' Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that."
Drash explained how they went looking for a poor descendant of slaves to create a Template of Hope: "As the nation prepares for Obama's inauguration on January 20, CNN.com traveled to Sledge, Mississippi, a forgotten town of about 500 people in the heart of the Mississippi Delta that some consider to be the birthplace of blues in America." CNN was clearly looking for Obama superlatives, and they found them:
He says Obama has brought inspiration to blacks in these parts, the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1968.
"With Obama coming in, it's gonna be another Martin Luther King helping us," he says. "Maybe in the next 40 years, we'll be better off."
Drash tried to set an emotional stage for this report, but it involved some poetic license about Presley and the poverty line: "He and his wife of 57 years, Eva May, raised 13 children and six grandchildren in a cypress-sided house in the middle of cotton fields in northwestern Mississippi. He was a sharecropper most his life, but rarely qualified for food stamps."
It seems a little hard for CNN to pitch their subject as dirt-poor, and then try to build sympathy for him by suggesting he "rarely qualified" for food stamps. He may have been very poor, but too early for the flowering of the "Great Society" -- at age 78, he probably raised some of his 13 children before the food stamp program was started in 1964. Clearly, a poor family that large was a commercial for the food stamp lobbyists, not a group who would rarely qualify.
(Hat tip to Melvin and Paul)