Of Gaffes and Perspective

By Jaketapper

May 27, 2008 9:41pm

I’ve never been one to shy away from coverage of a gaffe or flub by any candidate, certainly not Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, But I must confess to finding some of the coverage of this current controversy uncomfortable.

Obama’s great uncle helped liberate Buchenwald, not Auschwitz, and Obama got it wrong. (Sunlen Miller and Rick Klein have the details HERE.)  It’s unclear as of now whether Obama just mixed up the names, or he got his facts wrong, or through family lore he’d been told the wrong tale.

And now we know the truth– his great uncle as part of the 89th Infantry Division helped liberate Ohrdruf, a sub-camp at Buchenwald. (You can read an account by one of his fellow soldiers HERE. Two survivors of the camp tell their story HERE.)

For me there’s a tonal issue going on here with some of the Republicans pouncing on the issue and some of the blog coverage.

I suspect many members of the Jewish community wouldn’t think this mistake that big a deal. Good for his great uncle for having helped liberate a concentration camp.

There’s another argument, of course, that the best way to honor those killed in the Holocaust is to know their history, to know that Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians and was in Poland, and that Buchenwald was liberated by the U.S. and was in Germany, that Auschwitz was much larger than Buchenwald.

No matter where you stand, I guess I just don’t particularly care to see Concentration Camp survivors on the same page as cartoon Pinnochios, as whoever does graphics for the Washington Post’s great fact-checker Michael Dobbs has done HERE.

And do we really need the headline "Where In the World Is Auschwitz?" This isn’t a joke.

I am certainly part of the media world that pounces on politicians when they screw-up. As such, I’m often guilty as charged when it comes to not seeing the forest for the trees. In this instance, the forest is the deliberate extermination of 12 million people. And the sacrifices of the brave Americans who risked and gave their lives to save those people victimized by Nazi barbarism. Not to mention our fighting men and women through the generations who have had to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a conversation about which prompted Obama to mention his great uncle.

Obama deserved to be called out for his mistake. But it’s also worth noting that despite all the talk about Obama’s problems with the Jewish community, he’s never mentioned before that his great uncle helped liberate a concentration camp until it came up in North Las Vegas in a conversation about PTSD.

- jpt

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