Obama Heckled By Blacks At Town Hall Meeting Accused of not focusing on black issues, Barack Obama was heckled today at a town hall meeting in Florida. Plus, a new executive order gives more power to the national intelligence director, angering some members of Congress. Farai Chideya explores those issues in today's reporters' roundtable.
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Obama Heckled By Blacks At Town Hall Meeting

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Obama Heckled By Blacks At Town Hall Meeting

Obama Heckled By Blacks At Town Hall Meeting

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From NPR News this is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya. Barack Obama gets heckled by black voters at a town hall meeting in Florida and a new executive order gives more power to the National Intelligence Director. Many members of Congress aren't happy about that move by the President. On our Reporters Roundtable today we have Bob Butler, an independent journalist and the president of the Bay area Black Journalists Association and Chandra Thomas, assistant editor and writer for Atlanta magazine. Welcome folks.

Mr. BOB BUTLER (Independent Journalist; President, Black Journalists Association, Bay Area): Hi. How are you?

Ms. CHANDRA THOMAS (Assistant Editor and Writer, Atlanta Magazine): Hi.

CHIDEYA: Doing great. So, this is a new twist on the campaign. Barack Obama was in a town hall meeting in Florida today and a few black folks in the audience interrupted him and held up signs that said, what about black America, Obama? Obama asked the protesters to hold their comments until a Q&A session. Here's a bit of the exchange.

Unidentified Man: In the face of the numerous attacks that are made against the African community or the black community, attacks like the killing of Sean Bell by the New York police department and Javon Dawson right here in St. Petersburg by the St. Pete police.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Presidential Candidate): OK.

Unidentified Man: And the Jena Six and Hurricane Katrina and the list goes on. In the face of all these attacks that are clearly being made on the African community why is it that you have not had the ability to not one time speak to the interests and even speak on behalf of the oppressed and exploited African community or black community in this country?

Senator OBAMA: All right. I guess - hold on a second everybody. I want everybody to be respectful that's we're having a town hall meeting. This is democracy at work. And he asked a legitimate question so I want to give him an answer. I think you're misinformed about when you say not one time. Every issue you've spoken about I actually did speak out on.

CHIDEYA: The senator went on to say that he had spoken out more on specific issues and tick them off. Now, Chandra, what's your first reaction to this exchange?

Ms. THOMAS: Well, I think what stands out about this is that, obviously this is a situation that I think Senator Obama should expect especially should he be elected as president. To some people he will always be too black and to some he won't be black enough. And I find it interesting that these African-American voters stood up and if you look historically they have not been so tough on other candidates who obviously were not African-American. So it's sort of like a double standard it's almost like Obama will have to accept that he will always be in that situation where he has to prove himself and the reality is he is not running for president of black America. He's running for president of America, and that's what a lot of people must recognize is that there will always be some issue of him not meeting those standards.

CHIDEYA: Bob, what about the class issues in black America and the political issues in black America? We often think of Democrat and Republican, but there are also people who were black nationalist, people who you know are independents. And there are people who feel less tied perhaps to the traditional political paradigm. I'm wondering if that's part of this?

Mr. BUTLER: It could well be. I mean, it sounds like this gentleman here - didn't sound like he was from Florida, that's my first impression. And there are a lot of people who despite Democrat, Republican, Green party whatever, are not going to be happy with- they aren't happy with the administration, they aren't happy with the way the country is being run now and to them it doesn't matter who is in office whether you're a Democrat, Republican, or whatever they're not going to be happy about it. So, I don't know that this is so much about Democrat, Republican as it is about as you mentioned class.

People who are poor have never had access and I think Chandra said it may be these people haven't been as hard on candidates before but you got to remember there's never been an African-American candidate who's gotten this far and is this close to the prize of the White House. And I think it's bringing people out who normally would have said, well, look it doesn't even make a difference if I say anything. Now, they're saying look, maybe I can really get make a point here because I got a guy who will listen to me or if not if he won't listen to me I have the national stage and I think we can get our issues heard whether or not it's going to work or not, I don't know.

CHIDEYA: Now, Chandra, do you think this is a case of some black Americans expecting too much from Senator Obama, that is, expecting him to be if not a savior at least a friend?

Ms. THOMAS: Yeah, I think as he mentioned because of Obama's presence and how he's handled himself, he comes off as much more approachable. And I think because of that a lot of people expect a lot more whereas these same people as my cohort mentioned would not have come to a John Kerry or an Al Gore in the same way. And I think that it's a sign that he's breaking through and showing himself to be an approachable candidate. But we also have to realize that we must hold him to the same standards that we've held other candidates who obviously were not African-American.

CHIDEYA: Now, Bob, I want to switch to another topic very close to your heart. Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey, you're working on something called the Chauncey Bailey Project, and we're actually going to get a more extensive update from you next week but very briefly just give us a sense of what's going on.

Mr. BUTLER: Well, you know, the mission of the Chauncey Bailey Project was to look at who killed Chauncey Bailey and why. And to look at the police investigation to make sure it was thorough and to look at the organization that your black Muslim bakery to see what it was about that organization that could have led to Chauncey being killed. Well we've done stories about who killed him and we don't really know why yet. We've looked at your black Muslim bakery you know very, very, very closely. The police investigation is where we are right now. We have seen a lot evidence that the investigation has not been very thorough. In fact there are many people outside the law enforcement who are asking why the investigator on the case is still on the case because he apparently had ties to the bakery and we're seeing things that were done that really called into question whether or not he really was had his heart in the investigation and really wanted to find out what happened and why.

CHIDEYA: Well, again we're going to have an update on that on Monday but wanted to at least acknowledge the anniversary. So, I'm going to move on to another topic for both of you. President Bush has ordered a major overhaul of U.S. intelligence services. The executive order gets more power to the Director of the National Intelligence and strips power from the CIA in some areas. Critics say the move is going to decrease the CIA's ability to work with foreign agencies. And want to play a little bit of tape for you. Republican House Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan had his say, he believes the Bush administration has treated congress with quote "total disdain during these revisions."

Representative PETER HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): I decided to leave. I figured it was a waste of my time and a waste of Admiral McConnell's(ph) time to be there and to have a discussion where he had all the information and I had zip. I got up and walked out, I thought hey, we're all busy, this was not set up to be a productive session. You know, I wasn't going to waste my time or the admiral's time this morning by participating in what I thought was a farce of a briefing.

CHIDEYA: Chandra, that was after he had walked out of a briefing on these issues. And it's notable that several Republicans were among those who criticize this. Do you think that this change will make a big difference, and also what does it say about partisan politics?

THOMAS: Well, actually it's good to see that this is not clearly just a partisan issue when you have the house Republicans on the intelligence committee walking out, they're making a statement and they said that they feel that this is a pattern of disrespect for Congressional oversight, and I think this case is definitely going to continue to spark the ongoing national debate spurred by the wire tapping program about the appropriate balance between civil liberties and security. And as you know the ACLU has condemned the order and has really said that they feel that the government is using our tax dollars to monitor us, and they feel that it's not keeping us safer, and it's only making American suspects in the eyes of the government.

CHIDEYA: Bob, when you look at the Bush administration's final months in office, why do you think it's aggressively pursuing an executive order like this when essentially the clock is running out?

Mr. BUTLER: You know that's what's strange about this - you would think that the president would want to just, you know, kind of go to his final months and give the pardons he's going to issue and things like that. You know, it seems like he's really trying to set the agenda, set the tone in Washington that I'm going to do all these things to let you know that I'm really serious about protecting the public. But you know, I would expect the next president may undo many of the things that he's done. I mean, the National Intelligence Chief is a person I believe was appointed by the president. So, it would make sense that he would want to have this person have all of the power when it comes to deciding when intelligence gets used and how who - how it get shared and everything else. But, it does seem strange, I mean, the president is alienating not just the Democrats in Congress but also Republicans. And I can't figure out why he's doing that.

CHIDEYA: All right. I want to breeze through one last topic also related to the White House. Yesterday, a federal judge ruled the White House aides cannot ignore subpoenas issued by Congress. The ruling says that White House aides, both current and former, basically have to step up and give testimony. There has been a contempt of court charge against Karl Rove, a former presidential adviser for example. So, Harriett Miers, a former U.S. attorney - former legal counsel, rather, for the president, is someone who is also on the list. Bob, is this significant?

Mr. BUTLER: I think it is because the White House has been using executive privilege for the entire time that George W. Bush has been in the White House to say, we don't have to tell you anything. And I think the courts are not coming down and telling the White House it does have to do it now. Whether or not these folks will testify while President Bush is still in office, we don't know. But, I would not be at all surprised if they all get subpoenas and aggressive subpoenas once he leaves office. And they don't have the privilege to protect them anymore.

CHIDEYA: Chandra, do you think that there will be, perhaps in the next presidential administration, a series of investigations where folks actually come up and testify who were in the Bush administration?

Ms. THOMAS: Yeah, I feel clearly the judge here is sending a strong message that no one is immune and that these officials will no longer be able to sort of take refuge or cover in this executive privilege. And this is also interesting because most of the time, these type of congressional disputes regarding subpoenas are usually resolved through political compromise not through the court system. So it's interesting, and for Bush, it's basically weakening his congressional authority in oversight investigation. So, I think that if as leaves, this will definitely leak over into the next administration.

CHIDEYA: Well, Chandra and Bob, thanks for joining us.

Mr. BUTLER: Thanks, Farai.

Ms. THOMAS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Bob Butler is an independent journalist and president of the Bay area Black Journalist Association. And Chandra Thomas is an assistant editor and writer for Atlanta magazine. She joined us from the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

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