April 15th, 2008
06:01 PM ET

In search of Obama

AC360 looks at Barack Obama's journey of self-discovery, and the choices that put him on a path to the White House. Full report Tonight 10p ET
AC360 looks at Barack Obama's journey of self-discovery, and the choices that put him on a path to the White House. Full report Tonight 10p ET

Catherine Mitchell
360° Producer

The assignment was pretty straightforward: produce a profile on Barack Obama. Now for the twist: focus on a theme or a narrative that runs throughout the presidential candidate’s life. Obama’s life is full of narratives that have shaped him - his mother’s strong influence, his father’s glaring absence, his multi-cultural, bi-racial background. But what came up over and over again in interviews with Obama’s closest friends and associates, is his life-long search for identity.

Obama was born in the racial melting pot of Hawaii. The son of an African father and a white mid-western mother, he grew up with a palpable confusion over where he fit in. Obama’s community organizing boss, Jerry Kellman, told me Barack wanted to live in two worlds, but society said, “you choose, you’re going to live in a black world or a white world.” He was raised in a white world, brought up by his white grandparents in Honolulu where he attended an elite prep school and was very much in the minority. Obama’s high school crush Kelly Furishima said if he was struggling, he hid it well with his great sense of humor and easy way.

But one of Obama’s closest high school friends, Keith Kakugawa told me that he knew the real Barack (or Barry as he was known back then). “If you interview anybody else, they’ll tell you about this great smiling happy kid,” he said. “Except for me, I won’t tell you that, because that isn’t true.” Kakugawa says that Obama blamed himself for his father’s absence, and that he felt abandoned by his mother, who remained in Indonesia while his grandparents raised him. Like plenty of adolescents, his friends say, Obama felt untethered, insecure about his identity. And his complicated family situation and diverse racial make-up exacerbated those feelings. (An interesting side bar: Keith Kakugawa is a convicted drug felon and has been homeless off and on for years. How the two friends took such different paths is a story in its own right, but since this story is about Obama, it’ll have to wait).

Obama found a place to belong on the basketball court. Here, racial lines blurred and Obama made some of his closest friends, despite as he puts it his “limited talent.” Off the court, however Obama struggled. He says he experimented with marijuana and cocaine to numb the confusion. Obama’s meandering trajectory continued his first two years at Occidental college in Los Angeles, and then it was as if something clicked.

Jerry Kellman says it was the voice of his mother. He says up to that point Obama was a “chronic underachiever” until his mother’s influence finally came to bear and he began applying himself. His newfound motivation would take him on to Columbia to finish college, the streets of Chicago as a community organizer and Harvard law school where he became the first African American president of Harvard Law Review. But all the while, friends say his accomplishments and confident demeanor belied his search for an identity and a place to belong.

Eventually, Barack Obama would find his identity and his purpose. And his journey of self discovery would turn into a journey toward the White House. To find out how Obama went from “chronic underachiever” to candidate for President of the United States, I hope you’ll watch the piece.

Editor's Note: Watch AC360 tonight at 10p for an in-depth profile of Barack Obama

Filed under: Barack Obama • Raw Politics
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Frank

    Well I watched, what a waste of time-who paid for this love affair with Obama> This is not an investigative program-it was young group of teenage girl cheerleaders..I hope you reported this as a paid campiagn commercial for Obama. No wonder people are finding the real news on the internet.. This is just another example how far the MSM has fallen into a corrupt bankrupted shameless entity. Controlled by who???

    April 23, 2008 at 6:59 pm |
  2. Larry Mac

    Better Larry Sinclair story break as an April surprise, than an October surprise. If there is nothing to it, then Obama can weasle his way out of it as usual. However, if there is, finally, mainstream media can do their job and find it before Obama gets the nomination and we are stuck with four more years of trickle down economics and war. Now is the time for MSM to get off their butts and do their job, because the Republican attack machine will make them in October.

    April 23, 2008 at 7:52 am |
  3. Maritza

    I stopped watching CNN long ago, lost respect due to the lack of objectivity in the reporting , seems very timely this one sided crush on Obama, the program is right after all of the much deserved scrutiny, that's nothing ,we cought a bit of his temper and how dare you call me out on anything I say, his mocking of Hillary is downright out of the schoolyard, This man is waving red flag's everywhere, from his spiritual advisor, to his Rezko connection , the Ayers friendship, and worst of all ,look down on your fellow Americans, he plays to the croud , tell's them what they want to hear, whats on his list of accomplishments that make him worthy of the highest appointment ?John McCain has hands on experience, integrity, a long list of accomplishments, Hillary also has experience , she's been through the ringer when it comes to the media and the bashing she undergoes each day , she remains committed and focused to serving her country. I'm a republican who's already given my vote, Obama falls short on many levels and many issues , more importantly his resume is missing ten pages.


    April 16, 2008 at 4:15 pm |
  4. T

    why is CNN so PRO-Obama? so dissappoiting

    April 16, 2008 at 11:25 am |
  5. bitter but a believer

    What tires me out the most is reading people's personal viewpoints that for the most part, seem very defensive. If you are smart enough, not only are you watching CNN, but also MSNBC, Fox, and whatever else is out there on the television. Also, listening to radio stations and reading newspaper sources along with any other literature that is out there. Otherwise, get out there and DO SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU BELEIVE!

    Don't focus just on black/white, man/woman contrasts because it only PROJECTS that YOU want it to be. Don't become irrational, sensational, and glitzy in your comments because then you only become part of the "entertainment". And this goes for criticizing and praising your candidate.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:17 am |
  6. marie

    I have trouble Senator Obama because I still do not know what he stands for-every article about him has been glossed over-contrary to the articles about Senator Clinton–Her life is an open book–hundreds of them. I find that his attacks on her are underhanded and always by his surrogates. Where is his courage. He will never apologize for misspeaks-just trys to maneuver around his many gaffes. I hope CNN's profile is fair and balanced about her-not just a "mirror" of Senator Obama's bitter,divisive,potty-mouthed supporters. His message of hope certainly resonated-with people who "hope they can make America a bitter, dependent soceity.

    April 16, 2008 at 10:22 am |
  7. Kenyon

    It must have been extremely difficult growing up as Barack Obama. He was raised by a white mother and grandparents, yet his appearance screamed African American. Of course this would bring about identity issues. Just imagine how difficult that must have been. So why then do we expect him to be perfect? I believe he represents us all in his makeup and in his experiences. I think CNN is doing a great thing by giving us more insight into Barack's life so perhaps we can better understand the man with so many colors.

    April 16, 2008 at 9:58 am |
  8. Nancy


    I don't see how the American People can not see the sneaky Hilliary President Elect for who she really is. The Rose Law Firm and the lies I beleive she told, and how her co-worker lost his life because of it. Hilliary was about to be indicted. Then the President Clinton got an outside attorney from the government. All of a sudden no one heard any thing else. She blotted out some things on her itenarary. The President Clinton is trying to force people into voting for his wife. When Hilliary pulled all the records on the delegates and congress, I wonder did she find things to hold over the super-delegates head to force them to vote for her? Hilliary Clinton President Elect stands for whatever will get her the votes. What mood will Hilliary President elect be in when the 3 A.M. phone call comes through?

    April 16, 2008 at 9:13 am |
  9. dee

    Mr Cooper I always felt you were honest in reporting but know I'm wondering why the media will not report the truth about Obama. You find out more about Obama from the internet then you do the news. the information I have obtain, there is no way this man should be our next president because of the failure of the media for not reporting the truth. The American people have a right to know the truth.

    April 16, 2008 at 7:34 am |
  10. Julie

    "Keeping them Honest"

    Hi Anderson. I've enjoyed your work for some time but, while I hate to say it, I have a complaint. Your biography segment on Obama tonight had a glaring "politics as usual" misrespentation and I was quite taken aback.

    I'm not a journalist but I try to be a responsible and discriminating consumer of information – consulting multiple sources from multiple mediums to avoid blind acceptance of what could be biased reporting. However I always believed that authentic journalism, vs the trend of entertainment journalism I see, presents both sides of an issue or a forthright presentation of a topic free of errors or misleading omissions. (The opposite of "politics as usual", i guess). If any conclusions are offered, whether empirically based, attributed conclusions (so you can follow up on the reference) or op ed conclusions, they should be clearly identified as such. I'm sure the fact that I have absolutely no knowledge of formal journalistic integrity guidelines or ethics is clear – but that's the personal filter I use to judge my sources before I accept them as reliable without the need for additional corroberating data.

    There was a GLARING misrepresentation in the biography of Obama that is reminiscent of the reason I have revoked my consideration of him for President; narrowing my options BUT not my field of research or investigation. You just never know – especially this election.

    You reported that Obama won his Senate race with an overwheming majority and I think even offered additional "praise" for this astonishing accomplishment (as I recall). However, you failed to report that he was unopposed on the ballot. (Oops.) That is grossly misleading Anderson and it breaks my heart to think it was done knowingly so I'm going to delude myself this time. Forthright reporting would likely go further and mention why he ended as the only candidate on the ballot but, based on the bias I've seen lately, I would not have been surprised with that smaller omission; accepting it as a side story and not in the spirit of the "biography" segment vs. hard hitting investigative journalism. I was, however, gobsmacked by the glaring deception by omission. CNN is better than that. It informs me that I may need to screen CNN's reporting for more bias than I had already taken into consideration. Pleeeze don't make me...it's getting exhausting this year.

    I would ask that you publish an on-air correction so I can keep you in your current place on the bias/reliability continuum. More importantly, so you can have accuracy and integrity in your report. When I get to the point where I spend more time than not yelling at the tv for an obvious follow up question ignored or a glaring allowance of spin, I have to drop the source...at least until after electon season. It's too stressful.

    I believe with every ounce of conviction that a free, unbaised press is the single most important protection of our democracy. Just look at China and other "state-run" press countries to reiterate the vital role you play. I haven't found ANY election coverage thie time around that is 100% reliable in terms of journalistic integrity (for my taste). The glaring mis-reporting or non-reporting of information by various media outlets ruined my innocence forever and opened my eyes to the risk we are taking by failing that duty in this election; bordering on manipulation of the election by our media. Either I've been bamboozled all my life, or this is a new development that is shocking and pretty darned dangerous. You have an important and vital role to play...please don't let us down. We, the American voters, need you. I appreciate your contribution and look forward to the "correction", deal?

    Thank you so much for your immediate "correction", I hope. I'm counting on you.

    Austin, Texas

    April 16, 2008 at 5:54 am |
  11. Craig

    I started out this primary as an Edwards fan(and I still am). However, now that Edwards is out of the race, I feel strongly that Barack Obama is the best canidate for president. I think he has the best chances of beating Father Time...oh, I mean John McCain. I also believe that we need to really shake things up in Washington, and I think he can do that.

    So, with all that said:

    OBAMA / EDWARDS 08 !!!!!!!

    April 16, 2008 at 3:27 am |
  12. neecee

    citizenwells were you on the down low with Barak? I ask because you seem so confident in your comment.

    I really like reading the blogs, however, sometimes I am aghast at some comments. I can only guess lack of intelligence, fear and hate are at the root of some of them.

    I would like to believe that the DNC and their two candidates had the good sense and did not leave any stone unterned when it came to background issues. Just think, a black man – he knows americas will do what they can and if there is nothing they will fabricate something. Fox news!! LOL – get real, those folks are the devil incarnate..... are they taken seriously?
    Hililary as a woman candidate knows that the misogynists will pick the skin off her bones.
    Shame on them if the 'good ole' white boys' find dinasaurs in their closets.

    April 16, 2008 at 2:45 am |
  13. Pablo G. Baldazo

    I voted for Hilary in the primary election because she is a known candidate for me. I think she will really make a better president than Bill Clinton himself. If Barack Obama becomes the democratic nominee against McCain, I know I will vote for Barack Obama since I know him now after reading his book, The Audacity of Hope and after having listened to him several times on TV. I recommend the book to read for anybody if they really want to know him first. I really think he will make a great president given a chance. Barack Obama looks different from all the other people who had been president of this country but after reading his well written book, I have no doubt that he will make himself a truly great American president. John McCain will probably be a great president too. But I believe that Obama will be better.

    April 16, 2008 at 12:18 am |
  14. AngelaMarie

    I am a bi-racial woman and I am amazed by his story. The complexity of race and racial identity is something that most people in America don't have time to explore in much depth. I am impressed with the way his life, his actions and his words have challenged America to elevate our discourse. Challenged us to move beyond the binary, right wrong, black white, woman, man, left right and to see the gray areas between all of us. The political process unfortunately is a very competative dog fight that requires ripping up the other. Whatever happens I know I won't be the same because of what he has brought to the public discourse and I have to thank God for that!

    April 16, 2008 at 12:13 am |
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