The cloak of media invisibility is slowly beginning to lift from Barack Obama's most important administrative leadership experience, helming an expensive educational reform effort in Chicago that failed to produce any measurable academic gains, according to the project's own final report.
Add in the fact that former Weatherman and admitted terrorist William Ayers (whom Obama described in the Philadelphia debate as merely a "neighbor") was head of the operating arm of the CAC, working with Obama on distributing scores of millions of dollars to grantees in the wards of the city, and you have a topic that the Obama campaign wishes to avoid at all costs.
A compliant media has averted its eyes so far. A timeline of Obama's career from George Washington University omits it. Why the McCain campaign has not raised more questions on the subject is a question beyond my pay grade. But there are signs it is on the case.
The four plus years (1995-1999) Barack Obama spent as founding chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) represent his track record as reformer, as someone who reached out in a public-private collaboration and had the audacity to believe his effort would make things better. At the time he became leader of this ambitious project to remake the public schools of Chicago, he was 33 years old and a third year associate at a small Chicago law firm, Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland.
This was a big test for him, his chance to cut his teeth on bringing hope and change to the mostly minority inner city school children trapped in Chicago schools. And he flopped big time, squandering lots of money and the time of many public employees in the process.
Given Senator Obama's lack of any other posts as leader of an organization, someone unschooled in the ways of the American media might expect that for months reporters have been poring over the records of the project to get an idea of how it managed to fail so badly. Examining the track record of the guy who wants to lead the federal government would seem to be part of the campaign beat for media organizations.
But as a matter of fact, until recently, only a few bloggers were looking into the most important organized effort ever led by Barack Obama, prior to his successful campaigns for public office.
Now, it appears a cover-up is underway, in order prevent journalists and researchers from getting access to the records of this charitable project housed in a taxpayer supported library. And there is a mystery:
The UIC Library says it is acting on behalf of the donor, whom it refuses to name.
It took Stanly Kurtz, of National Review Online to ask permission to see the files held by the publicly-funded University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). After initially agreeing, The Richard J. Daley Library withdrew permission. Kurtz writes:
"The Special Collections section of the Richard J. Daley Library agreed to let me read them, but just before I boarded my flight to Chicago, the top library officials mysteriously intervened to bar access. Circumstances strongly suggest the likelihood that Bill Ayers himself may have played a pivotal role in this denial. Ayers has long taught at UIC, where the Chicago Annenberg Challenge offices were housed, rent-free. Ayers likely arranged for the files of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge to be housed in the UIC library, and may well have been consulted during my unsuccessful struggle to gain access to the documents."
It is highly unusual and legally questionable for a publicly-funded archive to deny access to records in its collection, particularly when they have a bearing on matters of intense public interest: the qualifications of a man seeking to be Commander in Chief. But even if the university manages to stall release of the records until after the election, it is only drawing attention to the project. Already, the nation's mainstream media have taken notice (however imperfectly) of the University's unusual actions, albeit without exploring the subject in any depth yet. In the midst of a heated presidential campaign, it is going to be hard to keep this interest in Obama's Annenberg years contained, now that it has surfaced.
A blogger, Steve Diamond, has put together enough data from public sources to seriously embarrass Obama over the closeness of his association with Ayers in the project, and to describe the wrong-headed and politicized approach taken by the project. Anyone can go to this page and look at the latter half of the very lengthy post to see the data uncovered by this intrepid researcher. At a minimum, it proves that Obama has seriously misled the public about his association with Ayers. And it documents and analyzes some of the complex left wing politics underlying the effort.
As the public begins to notice this outlines of the history of the CAC presented by Diamond, more questions are bound to be asked. The First Cover-up
Diamond examined public documents, receiving cooperation from the Brown University Library, where the Annenberg Challenge Program national headuarters had been housed. Until, that is, Diamond's requests for further information fell on deaf ears following publication of a post highlighting a grant to one of Ayers' former revolutionary cohorts in the Weathermen. He writes:
"...while the representative from the university I originally corresponded with had been quite friendly and accommodating prior to my June 23 post, afterwards my additional requests for further information went unanswered. I did not pursue it at the time because I felt I had told a significant part of the story already. Thanks to the diligent work of Dr. Kurtz, however, we now know there is much more to know."
So the appearance of a cover-up actually began in June.
If Ayers were the sole point of interest in seeking the Annenberg Challenge files promised to Kurtz, all "132 boxes, containing 947 file folders, a total of about 70 linear feet of material", then the Obama camp might claim it was merely guilt-by association and persuade at least some of its own partisans. But the fact that Obama was in charge of a massive expensive project makes it indisputably a matter of proper vetting to examine his track record at delivering on promises of hope and change.
The Obama camp has already noted that it does not control the archives at UIC. All well and good, though it would be nice for the candidate to plead with the university and the mystery donor to let the sun shine on his track record. After all, he is a new kind of politician.
But even if he doesn't, the Annenberg Challenge is slowly entering the national consciousness, and that's very bad news for Barack Obama.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.