The conservative Heritage Foundation shows some pluck by searching for the late law school professor Derrick A. Bell in the White House visitor’s logs, and finds that “Visitor logs show that Derrick A. Bell visited the White House twice since President Obama took office. The logs show two visits by an individual of that name on January 29 and 31, 2010.”
Why would this matter? Bell has recently splashed into the conservative media world after Breitbart.com and Fox News showed some video of then-Harvard Law School student Barack Obama speaking at a rally on campus in 1990 in support of Bell’s efforts to improve the diversity of the school’s faculty. The video had been previously shown on Frontline in 2008, including a scene of Obama hugging the professor,* which some falsely claim was not in the original PBS documentary. Bell without question held some controversial views (read this 1993 New Republic piece for more on that) and some conservatives seek to portray this as yet another close Obama associate with radical views – with a lapdog media covering it up.
There are two problems with the Heritage post. One: it excludes some details from the visitors’ logs. There are 28 columns on the publicly released records, the Heritage blog lists seven. The data they omit includes a description of what the visit was for: in this case, for both visits: TOURS. A White House tour – not MEETING or APPOINTMENT. Another data point: TOTAL PEOPLE. This is a reference to how many people were present for the tour, meeting or appointment – in this case 304 people and 282 people.
But Bell surely could have taken a tour or two and then met with President Obama, right? Sure, it’s possible – and I asked the White House about it. The answer from a White House official: this was not the same Derrick A. Bell. He had a different birthday than the late law professor, whose birthday was November 6, 1930. That would seem to undermine the significance of this visit.
*This post has been updated with the corrected fact that the “hug” scene was indeed in the original Frontline clip.