Slow-Building Controversy

October 10, 2008 3 min read
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Commentators on the political right have fueled much of the controversy over connections between Sen. Barack Obama and 1960s-radical-turned-education professor William C. Ayers. Key moments as the story gained attention this year include:

• Feb. 2, 2008: The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, makes the Ayers-Obama connection in a column by Peter Hitchens, kicking off interest among bloggers on both sides of the Atlantic.

• Feb. 15: Bloomberg News reports that Sen. Obama and Mr. Ayers served together on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a philanthropy.

• April 15: At a time when the connection had become a topic on conservative radio and TV talk shows, two hosts—Sean Hannity, on his national radio show, and Steve Malzberg, on his New York radio show—raise its profile even further. In separate interviews, they suggest to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that he ask a question about Mr. Ayers at the next night’s Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia.

• April 16: In a debate between Sen. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Stephanopoulos asks Sen. Obama about Mr. Ayers. The Illinois senator says he is a “guy who lives in my neighborhood” and not someone “who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.” Sen. Clinton says this will be “an issue that people will be asking about.”

• April 17: Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley issues a press statement calling Mr. Ayers a “valued member of the Chicago community.”

• April 20: On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, says the Obama-Ayers association is “open to question” and calls Mr. Ayers a “friend” of Sen. Obama’s who helped “kick off” the Democrat’s state Senate campaign.

• April 22: University of Santa Clara law professor Stephen F. Diamond, who will become a prolific blogger on the subject, makes his first blog post about it, saying the real issue is whether Sen. Obama follows the education reform ideas of Mr. Ayers.

• April 23: Sol Stern, of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, writes that Sen. Obama’s real problem is that Mr. Ayers is a “radical educator with influence.”

• Aug. 1: Jerome R. Corsi’s book The Obama Nation, which includes a chapter on Mr. Ayers and Sen. Obama, debuts and will end up on The New York Times bestseller list.

• Aug. 21: The American Issues Project, a conservative political action group, starts airing a television ad in parts of battleground states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that asks: “Why would Barack Obama be friends with somebody who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it?”

• Aug. 26: The University of Illinois at Chicago sparks news stories with its release of documents from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school improvement project in which Mr. Ayers and Mr. Obama were involved.

• Sept. 16: A “Support Bill Ayers” Web site is launched, with signatories including New York University’s Deborah Meier, a prominent school reformer who also co-writes a blog hosted by edweek.org.

• Sept. 23: Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes an The Wall Street Journal commentary-page article headlined: “Obama and Ayers pushed radicalism on schools.”

• Oct. 1: The Judicial Confirmation Network, a conservative group, launches a television ad in some markets linking Sen. Obama to an unnamed associate who “helped bomb the Pentagon and said he ‘didn’t do enough.’ ”

• Oct. 4: The New York Times publishes a front-page article about the “crossed paths” between Sen. Obama and Mr. Ayers and says the two “do not appear to have been close.”

• Oct. 4: GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin uses the Times article in a campaign appearance to accuse Sen. Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” The Obama campaign responds that Gov. Palin’s attacks are “desperate,” “offensive.”

• Oct 8: In an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, Sen. Obama says of Mr. Ayers: “This is a guy who engaged in some despicable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old. ... All these statements are made simply to try to score cheap political points.”

• Oct 9: Sen. McCain cites the Ayers-Obama link in an ABC interview with Mr. Gibson, and in a campaign speech in which he refers to Mr. Ayers as “an old washed-up terrorist.”

• Oct 10: The McCain-Palin campaign launches a television ad saying Sen. Obama worked with a “terrorist” and then “lied” about it.

SOURCE: Education Week

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A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2008 edition of Education Week as Slow-Building Controversy


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