Monday, August 18, 2008

What's in the Chicago Annenberg Challange records?

Will we ever find out?

Obama's relationship with Weather Underground terrorist and unrepentant Pentagon bomber, Bill Ayers, came up during the Democratic primaries, but the press has been lax on following up on the details of this relationship since Obama dismissed Ayers as some guy who lives in his neighborhood.

On Obama's short resume, his Chicago community activism plays a central role. According to wikipedia Obama served on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challange (CAC) from 1995 to 2002, including a four year stint as chairman of the board. Bill Ayers founded the CAC and wrote the charter grant in 1993 and served as a co-chair with Obama.

During the Democratic primary debates, the question of Obama’s association with Ayers came up and Obama dismissed it casually:

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis."

An extensive collection of records of the CAC are currently housed in the J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Writing at, Stanley Kurtz outlines the potential significance of these documents:
That document cache contains the internal files of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The records in question are extensive, consisting of 132 boxes, containing 947 file folders, a total of about 70 linear feet of material. Not only would these files illuminate the working relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers, they would also provide significant insight into a web of ties linking Obama to various radical organizations, including Obama-approved foundation gifts to political allies. Obama’s leadership style and abilities are also sure to be illuminated by the documents in question.

Kurtz contacted the library and obtained written permission from library officials to view the records. As Kurtz was boarding a plane to Chicago to examine the records, he received an email that his access had been revoked!

Kurtz’s expedition into the depths of the UIC bureaucracy to view the enigmatic CAC records can only be described as Kafka-esque. The whole tale is detailed here, and it reads like the plot line of a political thriller – all it is missing is a car chase and a couple of shootouts:

Chicago Annenberg Challenge Shutdown?

It is well worth the time to follow the link and read Kurtz’s full account. He sets loose an avalanche of questions; whose answers may have major implications in the upcoming election. Why was Kurtz’s access to these files abruptly revoked? What do these records have to say about Obama’s relationship with Ayers? What else might they tell us about Obama? Who is suppressing their release? It’s possible that this is dead end, just a bunch of ho-hum meeting minutes of some obscure education committee, but if so, why go through all the trouble to hide them from the public?

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