In 2007, a freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama seemed like he might mount a run for the White House. But when fellow Democratic senator Joe Biden offered backhanded praise of Obama, calling him “articulate,” some wondered: Was Obama, the son of a black father and a white mother, black enough to win the hearts of African Americans?
“As much as his biracial identity has helped Obama build a sizable following in middle America, it’s also opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man,” future MacArthur genius Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote for Time. “In calling Obama the ‘first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,’ the implication was that the black people who are regularly seen by whites — or at least those who aspire to the highest office in the land — are none of these things. But give Biden credit — at least he acknowledged Obama’s identity.”
Well into Obama’s second term, questions about his blackness have faded into the background somewhat. After all, Obama isn’t running again. But late Wednesday, a challenge to the president’s racial authenticity came from a man not known for opining on identity politics: conservative News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Murdoch’s comments came in a tweet praising Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and his wife Candy — both of whom are black.
“Ben and Candy Carson terrific,” Murdoch wrote. “What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide? And much else.”
Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide? And much else.— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) October 8, 2015
Murdoch, while praising Carson’s mettle, appeared to dismiss his candidacy earlier this year.
“Wonderful character, up from Detroit ghetto, sadly seems political naif,” he tweeted in March.
In recent weeks, however, Murdoch seemed to be coming around to the good doctor from the Motor City. On Aug. 30: “Ben Carson polling. So character DOES count. His life story should make every American optimistic.” On Sept. 2: “Latest Iowa poll has Carson level with Trump. America land of hope versus fear.”
But if Murdoch intended to bring support to Carson’s cause, he failed. Instead, the tweet brought a social media scolding.
“Rupert Murdoch, much less FOX Noise has ZERO credibility to part their lips & say anything about the US Black lives they regularly demonize,” blogger Monica Roberts wrote.
“I only listen to authoritative voices on black identity, like Rupert Murdoch,” NBC reporter Ronan Farrow wrote.
As outrage bloomed, Murdoch offered a source. “Read New York magazine for minority community disappointment with POTUS,” he tweeted.
This led readers to a recent piece by Jennifer Senior at New York magazine: “The Paradox of the First Black President.”
“The price that Obama has had to pay — and, more important, that African-Americans have had to pay — is one of caution, moderation, and at times compromised policies: The first black president could do only so much, and say only so much, on behalf of other African-Americans,” she wrote. “That is the bittersweet irony of the first black presidency.”
In a message to The Washington Post, Senior offered comment on her place in Murdoch’s bibliography.
“He didn’t read the story,” she wrote . “A) If he did, and that’s the conclusion he drew, Heaven help us all. B) That tweet was part of an extended series, which, when read together, make up a love sonnet to Ben Carson.”
Murdoch’s comments also offered a bit of a grammatical puzzle. Was he implying Obama isn’t a real black president, or that Obama isn’t a real black president? Put another way, was the conservative media mogul saying that Obama wasn’t really the president at all?
“Murdoch, the conservative media scion and occasional Twitter user, is obviously not a fan of the sitting president, but it was revealed Wednesday night he apparently isn’t totally convinced that Barack Obama is the ‘real’ President,” Elliott Hannon wrote at Slate.
Hours later, Murdoch tweeted an apology.
Apologies! No offence meant. Personally find both men charming.— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) October 8, 2015
This post has been updated.