Tribeca: Nate Silver, Doc Director Talk Differences if Obama-Rev. Wright Scandal Happened in 2016

Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
Nate Silver and Eric Drath ahead of Wednesday's panel

"If he'd have waited five days [to respond], there'd be memes all over Facebook. Late night would have crushed him already. He could not have waited the way he did in 2008 in 2016," ABC contributor LZ Granderson said in a panel discussion following a screening of a short doc about the 2008 primary-season revelation of Rev. Wright's incendiary sermons and Obama's powerful speech on race in America.

In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama waited five days to respond to revelations that his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was delivering incendiary sermons. But when he did respond, he did so with a powerful speech about race in America. But how would that scandal have played out in 2016's much more social-media-filled age?

For one thing, if Obama and Clinton were facing off in a presidential primary in 2016 and something like the Rev. Wright scandal broke, he likely couldn't have waited that long to respond, according to panelists at a Tribeca discussion following the screening of a short documentary about the scandal.

FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver said Wednesday that the data shows the Wright scandal wasn't much of a blip for Obama. "That might be because there were only a handful of days separating it becoming a story and the response," he added. "Five days in 2008 time really was five days. Now five days is an eternity. Things seem to move a lot faster."

Indeed, ESPN senior writer and ABC contributor LZ Granderson said following the screening of the documentary, A More Perfect Union, that if Obama had waited the same amount of time now, "There'd be memes all over Facebook. Late night would have crushed him already. He could not have waited the way he did in 2008 in 2016."

But when moderator and FiveThirtyEight politics editor Micah Cohen asked if Obama, who worked into the wee hours of the morning writing his own speech, could have delivered such eloquent, powerful comments with a shorter timeline, Granderson conceded, "I don't think that same speech would have happened if it needed a six-hour turnaround."

Director Eric Drath felt that it remains true what pundits say in the film — that Obama was the only presidential candidate who could deliver that speech — but there would be more attention around it.

"I think that the speech was such a powerful speech that, as so many of the pundits have said, that only he could deliver, that I think it still would be favorable for him to respond that way — especially against Clinton," Drath said. "I don't think there would be any difference. [The speech] would be more anticipated. More people would know. There would be more eyeballs watching the speech, which actually would have bode better for Obama ultimately."

Meanwhile Silver said he thought it helped Obama that he wasn't the one saying what Rev. Wright did.

"These are not things that Obama said himself and I think voters realize there's some distance between Obama and Rev. Wright where frankly Donald Trump has said things that inflammatory from his own mouth."

Speaking of Trump, Granderson also voiced his frustration at how Trump's campaign seems to be unaffected by media coverage of his controversial statements.

"As a journalist I'm naturally inclined to believe that if you present people with information, usually that information will have some sort of impact on them," he said. "It does seem to appear that no matter what information you present to his supporters there won't be any pumping of the brakes."

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