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. paul

    Like Obama or not, his story is a true American story!! Every kid in America should is reminded that only in these United States can a kid irrespective of his color, social class (with hardwork) be whatever he/she wants to be.

    Anderson, thanks for telling Obama’s story! Wish it was longer.


    April 16, 2008 at 12:03 am |
  2. Karen Mitchell

    What is it with the media? I have never seen a political figure (Obama)get so much favoratism. When something of true concern to the American people comes to light (Obama's relationship to Rev. Wright), it's swept under the carpet. He gives a great speech but never answers the real question, how did he sit there for 20 years? I am very disappointed in the media. If your going to do a show on the background of Barack Obama, when do you do one on the other candidates where their best friends, relatives and associates can tell you exactly how wonderful they are too! Anderson Cooper, when do you start becoming a reporter again and not a talk show host? Unbelievable!!!!

    April 15, 2008 at 11:59 pm |
  3. Elle

    Dear Anderson,

    I want to tell you how much we appreciate the fact that you are profiling all three candidates.
    Your Obama profile piece was extremely well done, like everything you do.
    You exhibit a kind of journalism that we describe as excellent!
    I am a Hillary supporter but look forward to the John MCCain profile also.

    Thank you, Anderson!

    April 15, 2008 at 11:57 pm |
  4. Tribbett

    Media love affair with Obama? What the 5 days of inane media bashing of Obama about nothing? I love how the HRC crowd blames the failures of her message, campaign and more importantly her lack of character on the media. You all can come to the birght side any time you want.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  5. mitchell martin

    what an inspiration!finally,a politician of hope,for a people of hope.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:34 pm |
  6. demondeacon90/20

    Someone better give an accurate account of this man's background at some point – the bad as well as the good – or the DNC is going to have a big mess on its hands. Your counterparts in radio and at big bad Fox News will drag out the ugly, and there's plenty – and Anderson et al know it – at a time when it will devastate. The media is making a huge mistake, and in the end shortchanging half the voting public.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:20 pm |
  7. Amanda

    Hmmm, so another evening of media's love-affair with Obama, and I'm supposed to sit through this? No, I don't think so. I am done with MSM. The monumental failure of unbiased coverage in this most important election has been their doing. A failure which is going to cost everyone of us.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:11 pm |
  8. Wendy

    I think its great to have this program on Obama. People are confused by right wing talk show rumors of his being a Muslim because of his middle name ..(.though he only lived in a Muslim country (Indonesia) when he was in primary school and went to a Catholic school and then a public school )...and because they do not know his background, they believe such rumors in this divisive and hot campaign..too and suspect his public persona is so attractive and good, that it just cant be true.
    That is a sad commentary on how low our expectations have become for political candidates. I fully believe that the more people know about Obama, the more support he will have.
    Though Clinton is more well known , I expect a similar program will be done as was done on McCain. We have the time to see all such programs and see all of them as interesting and well meaning persons and stop demonizing those who are not our first choice.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  9. Bon

    No more fluff on Obama. Do some investigating. A presidential candidate does not have to undergo a security check. The people of the US have to vet a candidate. That's our job. So dig deep.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  10. sue B

    Not surprised that my first blog is not posted...yet it is hard to give up after watching your Search For Obama..just few mins ago on TV.
    Your blog and interviews did throw some light on his life, his identity and where he stands right now.

    What I have gathered about him after reading his fascinating novels and hear him speak that this candidate might just bring the change that we so need right now.
    To be fair, we would like to know more about the "true Elitists-MCaine and Clinton" also.
    At the same time what good is the analysis? Look at who continues to be on the throne after so much media scrutiny?

    April 15, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  11. Rob, Arvada, CO

    Just goes to show you that when you sit down and pay attention to everything this man says and does, he really is the best candidate for our country. The problem is so many folks have short attention spans, short memories, and only care about themselves. We have a revolutionary cause in our country, and this our chance to take our country back, with the help of Barack Obama. America will have come full circle, and the healing can begin to restore us a great nation.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  12. Mike

    If Barack sneezes, he would be accused of sneezing in an "Un-American" way. Not only that, he would have to pay for his associate's sneezes. Hence, I wonder why. This racial stuff is so ridiculous and deeply imbedded, I hope that he would just drop out and let the "Americans" have their aggressive election.

    April 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm |
  13. Daniel

    I am so sick of people referring to Senator Obama as a "black" american. Have people forgotten that his mother is white? America should embrace him for who he is as an individual and also ponder the fact that his very ethnicity, him being biracial, makes him an even more profound presidential candidate. When individuals are mixed, they exemplify, without even knowing it, unity. People need to listen to his speeches and his desperate attempt to get the country to realize that they have to work together not against one another. People: Wake Up!!!!!!!!

    April 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm |
  14. jeanniejo

    Has this show been planned for sometime or is it a crutch do some damage control for Barack Obama?

    The timing for this program does appear to be suspect. I do wish the mainstream would place more scrutiny on Barack Obama.

    There is so much riding on this election. It is more than just a job interview.

    If I was applying for a new job and my prospective employer did not know me very well, I would subject to a background search, a drug test and a credit profile. I wonder if anyone else has thought that our elected officials should be afforded the same treatment as the middle-class when they are seeking employment.

    April 15, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  15. Tina

    Response to Diane Swingle:

    "Enough with the flack on the bitter rural Pennsylvanians. We are. Senator Obama just stated the facts."

    No one is disputing that Americans are angry and some bitter, it's the rest of what he said that was insulting and conscending, not just to PA 's middle class, but every middle class American in the US. And if they weren't then they must not mind being told: YOU only go to church when things are bad? You hate people that are not like you? You pull out your gun and go hunting or what ever when things are bad?
    The majority of Americans were insulted by his comments?

    April 15, 2008 at 9:44 pm |
  16. Annie Kate

    I look forward to the piece on Obama and like others have said I hope there is one also on Hilliary and one on McCain. There has been far more scrutiny on Clinton and McCain than on Obama; perhaps its because people don't want to be called racist. But the fact remains we need to scrutinize Obama as much as the other two candidates. I hope this piece is a step in that direction and not just one big feel-good ad for Obama.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 15, 2008 at 9:39 pm |
  17. Mohamed Nour

    He is the most honest candidate I found. He has the real feel of the middle & lower class of Americans. He talks real issues and address them to the point. America needs the change he is calling for and he has the qualities to honour his words. Enough for oil and wallstreet influence and let us feel the real democracy for Good sake!

    April 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm |
  18. Christine

    Oh my another let's hug and love Obama story. Animal Planet at 10PM again. Cooper's show is just the worst on TV now. If not a huge love fest for Obama it is trying to be a late night "Regis and Kelly". Which is a show to sick to watch at anytime.

    I know this won't get in either.

    April 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm |
  19. annie

    Alot of us are finding out who the real Obama is (with no help from the MSM) and it's NOT pretty. This is MY very strong opinion!!!!

    April 15, 2008 at 9:17 pm |
  20. Christianna

    I must say, I do like Obama. I like his ideas for this country.
    But I don't hate Clinton–in fact, I think she's a revolutionary and I count her as one of my heroes, so I'll have to agree when people ask for a background story on Hillary.
    Having been able to read only so much about the young Hillary, I understand in her childhood she already was a brilliant and revolutionary person, and I wish the media would report more on her as well as Obama, and for that matter, McCain as well.
    I'm sure, since America loves digging into other people's personal lives, we'd all enjoy knowing what little Johnny and little Hillary were like, not just little Barry.

    April 15, 2008 at 9:15 pm |
  21. jon elliot

    The timing is rather off for a soft-focus piece on Obama's life.
    Isn't a TV bio for people who accomplish something?
    Or is this a CNN propaganda piece trying to get him elected president?
    What I would like to know is why AOL Time Warner meddles in our elections?
    You hurt Al Gore, you finished off John Kerry by giving prominent voice to Swiftboaters.
    And now you are trying to kill off a potential president who is very strong and capable, and give us a fumbling neophyte who does not tell the truth.

    April 15, 2008 at 9:09 pm |
  22. Diane Swingle

    Enough with the flack on the bitter rural Pennsylvanians. We are. Senator Obama just stated the facts. We are tired of politicians working for the special interest groups. It is time we have someone with our interests as their #1 priority. Senator Clinton needs to wake up and truly hear what middle to lower class voters are saying.

    April 15, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  23. Dega

    I just wanted to thank you Mr. Cooper in regards to posting my previous comment. I read the comments on here, and I am absolutely horrified.
    I think we have a big problem on our hands. People are so desperate for change. Change comes from the hard work of many, and not by some well written speaches spoken by somebody else. People need to research, and do their homework on ALL candidates. I see blind devotion from so many people. I hope that somebody will take the responsibilty to report this story (LS). I know we will have a battle on our hands, but we must do what is right to save our country. If people want to riot, then we will stop them. WE THE PEOPLE!!!!!! Thank you again Mr. Cooper, and I hope you do the right thing.

    April 15, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  24. Frank

    I would like some real investigating reporting, not another campaign ad for Mr. Obama..Where are the real stories regarding Obama's ties to Tony Rezko, Rev Wright, Larry Sinclair, Donald Young. What is going on here..I voted for Mr. Obama, I want my vote back>>

    April 15, 2008 at 8:35 pm |
  25. bechnan

    This man will never get my vote. He has a weak resume. Throw in the likes of Rezko, Wright, "typical white women", NAFTA dishonesty, "Archie Burnker types", "bitter American, and a wife who is "finally proud of America", and you have someone who is flawed and will never win the general election. That is the paradox Obama represents. Makes great speeches, talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk. His popularity peaked in February, probably because the media never tried to find out who the real Obama is/was. Unfortunately, this sounds like another fluff piece by the media. Thank God, the general public has been waking up to the real Obama, and hence, his slide in the polls.

    April 15, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  26. Ruth

    I am currently reading "The Audacity of Hope" for the second time. I have read "Tales from My Father" twice and I find Barack Obama a fascinating man. His mother had a huge influence on stressing education to him. What strikes me the most is that after he got his Harvard Law Degree, he really could have gone to a top firm and made tons of money. He didn't. He cared about his community. I believe he still cares about making sure that everyone has acceptable living standards...a place to live, food, education, healthcare...things that all people shouldn't have to scrap by to afford.

    Looking forward to this...and SICK TO DEATH of hearing about how he's elitist. No offense to Hillary...she's an extremely bright woman, but do have any idea what her community is like....where she lives in NY? Talk about elite...heck, wish I could afford it!

    April 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm |
  27. Miko

    Ditto, Donna and Bonnie. I am now on count down. Obama has my vote as well. This man represents real people like me. He has seen what being a single mom can do to a family first hand. He really understand that WORKING PEOPLE are hurting and want change in this country. Right now I am having a health issue and having to pay a lot for the care. With his plan I would be covered with out having to stress about paying for it. I believe that because of his past he will be able to represent all races.

    April 15, 2008 at 8:16 pm |
  28. SH

    The media's lack of vetting of Obama is the greatest disgrace and disservice done to the American voter.
    Now, after he is practically at the finish line, the media wants to tell us who he is. CNN, MSNBC, the print media have been irresponsible in not reporting more about this candidate instead attacking Hillary Clinton with age old non-sense.

    There are great gaps in Obama's story , his paper trail from the ILL state legislature is gone, we know of no serious associations besides Rezko and Rev. Wright, friends, ex-girlfriends, classmates, teammates, where are these people? It just makes you wonder–I think there is more there that the media is not covering.

    April 15, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  29. JoeSky

    It's high time that CNN start doing the job of the journalists, and present us a clear pictures of who Obama really is.

    If you want to know the future, looks at the past and the present. How many times that Obama has to change the story about Rezko and Wright. He is not honest and truthful. How can we expect him to be truthful as the president?

    April 15, 2008 at 8:08 pm |
  30. Mike from Syracuse NY

    Obama has built an appealing public facade. Every time it cracks, what's underneth peaks out and isn't so attractive. Whether it's NAFTA, Wright, or bittergate, every slip shows more of the real Obama. Dig deep CNN. Let's not have some puff piece.

    April 15, 2008 at 7:58 pm |
  31. Alex

    Larry who are you, and whatvis your story with Senator Obama?

    April 15, 2008 at 7:55 pm |
  32. Daphney

    I will be watching again, and again, and again. As long as CNN plays it. To Hillary, you damn right I'm bitter and it's not demeaning to me when he said. I don't understand why he has to apologize for his comments when he is right?? Get over it America and move on!!

    April 15, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  33. Titi

    Thank you for doing that, I will make sure to watch it!!!I am so glad CNN are fair & Blance unlike other media.

    April 15, 2008 at 7:38 pm |
  34. Sophia

    This sounds very much like another fluff piece brought to you by the "Buy Barack Obama the Whitehouse Movement".

    This man is no more qualified to be POTUS than my son who is graduating from college. It is frightening to think that he could be that close. Of course, and thankfully, he never will be.

    Have the guts to do the REAL Obama story, including his connections, and present that to America. That would take guts Anderson. Do you have what it takes?

    April 15, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  35. Joan/North Carolina

    Are you going to have show on Hillary Clinton? I think that is only fair!!!!

    April 15, 2008 at 7:35 pm |
  36. Paula

    Obama will never beat McCain after putting down rural America.

    April 15, 2008 at 7:32 pm |
  37. Tyrone Harvey

    Hillary started off a Republican she was once a Gold water girl. She grew up a rich daddy girl and went to a all white school. So how in the hell is she now just one of the guy??/ If she keeps trying to fix in she will have a drinking problem!

    April 15, 2008 at 7:23 pm |
  38. Barry, IL

    What makes Senator Obama different from other bi-racial people is that he talks about both sides of his heritages-European and African. Most of the bi-racial individuals I know just clinge to one side of their heritage, and ignore the other side. Our society is formulated that way too-"Obama is supposed to be only African American". I don't understand it.

    April 15, 2008 at 7:17 pm |
  39. Quyen

    Will there be a similar profile on Hillary Clinton? It seems to me you tend to focus a lot of attention on Obama's positive qualities over the negative ones....just my opinion.

    April 15, 2008 at 7:16 pm |
  40. Pat M Canada

    Seah Ohio, thank you. I have mentioned these buddies of Obama's serveral times on these blogs and each time I did my post was cut.

    I really believe few people know who Obama truly is but I believe many truly want to know.

    Some days I see him as our generation's Martin Luther King or JFK and other days I see him as someone who has something very secretive to hide, and some days I see him as a great intellectual politician, and other days I see him as a washington politician on the attack at any cost, and some days I see him as just an ordinary African American citizen !? It is confusing to say the least. As almost every day I ask myself who is this Barack Obama?

    I am looking forward to tonight's story and I am hoping it will put an end to my question.

    April 15, 2008 at 7:12 pm |
  41. Dega

    I can't say that I'm surpised that my comment didn't get posted.

    The top of this page reads as follows: "Be honest about what you see, get out of the way and let the story reveal itself". – Anderson Cooper

    You need to listen to your own advice Mr Cooper.

    So again, why would Obama supporters spead lies about Larry Sinclair if Barack Obama was innocent of the allegations?

    Why would Obama supporters write fake articles claiming to be from the Washington Post?

    Why this bias coverage on the biggest presidential election in history?

    April 15, 2008 at 7:09 pm |
  42. Donna

    I'm so glad you are doing this piece. I Tivo the show daily, so I will be sure to watch it. Thank you for doing it. This sounds like it will show the more vulnerable side of him. Maybe that's just what he needs right now. He already has my vote. Maybe this will get him more! Thanks again CNN.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:53 pm |
  43. Bonnie H.

    I am looking forward to seeing this tonight, I have heard so many judgments on this man and I hope people watch tonight so they can get to know the Brilliant Man that should be our President. He overcame so much and I have the the utmost respect for hIm and what he has overcome to be where he is today. Barack Obama 2008!

    April 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm |
  44. seah Ohio

    You putting his best friends in

    Rezko, Ayers, Wright, siad, the rest of His chicago buddies for over 20 years. I am sure they have taught him a lot and the wind beneath his wings.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:48 pm |
  45. citizenwells

    I have been researching Obama extensively and have written
    quite a few articles about him.
    I was initially a huge skeptic of Larry Sinclair. The more
    I researched Obama and the more Larry was attacked personally
    and the more I was attacked for asking simple questions, the
    more believable Larry's allegations are.
    Obama is hiding something.
    Look for some big news to break soon.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:47 pm |
  46. lb

    In search of Obama?? I am sure Mr B. Obama knows who he is, Where he came from and surely where he's going. He is not mixed up. Those of you looking for him, look inside of yourselves. This Young man is what make us all proud to be American. I can understand his wife's Comment about the fist time she felt proud to be an american. Not the twisted way in how the comment was used, but to understand how long it took for a black man to come to the point and make it this far in running for the presidency. Oh, many will never know what it means to be black. because you just cannot, and never will, America is getting a shake up and OBAMA has to be president or something is totally wrong with this USA. Your Polls don't mean a thing and saying that Ms clinton have a higher averege of winning here and there makes no sence not a penny. she has lost this election and she knows it.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:45 pm |
  47. citizenwells

    The real Obama?
    Well, a lot of us are searching for the real Obama.
    It has been made more difficult due to Obama not complying
    with Illinois FOIA and records access laws and by his evasive
    What we know about Obama is scary enough.
    Anyone with doubts should follow the Tony Rezko trial
    and check out the Oprah site for her show in April
    2004 about down low.
    Citizen Wells

    April 15, 2008 at 6:31 pm |
  48. lb

    It is just great to know and see America in Obama. This is something that the Anderson Coopers can read and say " I am Proud to be an American. This is because of all the Obama's in it, that 's what makes it so colorful and beautiful so "That boy's finger does NEED to be on the button"

    Ms Clinton's kitchen sink has hit all of us especialy Black america, and a lots going to change when Obama faces that other guy.
    Many have served this country. but why sshould we vote for someone simple because he was a soldier. many of voluntered. many of us came back and are in wheel chairs, he's no special than the rest of us.

    AND YES AMERICA IS BITTER, Bitter about people like the Clintons who cannot see the pain of lost jobs, lost homes, not house, food and gas prices etc,.

    may the real BLACK PRESIDENT COME ON DOWN and press the button if he has to.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:31 pm |
  49. Teresa, Ohio

    I will look forward to watching this piece. Ever since Obama came into this race, I have noticed TWO of him. I hate to put it this way but: there is a side he shows to the blacks and "minorities" and a side he shows to the typical white folks. I think he is still confused about who he is. I get the impression EVEN he doesnt believe in himself. I would love a piece in the media to focus on his TONE OF SPEECH while he is talking to the two different groups. One is street slang and the other is for the white folk. While some might feel he is adjusting to the group he is talking to and that he can "fit" into any genre, it simply isn't true. Actually, it's downright insulting.

    I truly hope people know WHO they are voting for in this election.

    Best of luck to all candidates.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:29 pm |
  50. Gail Davern

    When will you have a similar piece on Hillary Clinton?
    I'm getting so tired of the inequitous presentation of the 2 Democratic candidates. Because sexism is much more accepted and subtle in our society, not much is made of it in this election, only racism because it is easier to identify and talk about. Most of the male announcers take great pleasure in putting Hillary down but give Obama nothing but accolades. It's discusting. Even if you don't want her as president, her achievements, as a woman in this American society, are enormous and should be honored. And one day perhaps she will be respected as much as an African American man because, really, after all is said and done, a woman in the White House would be the only REAL change!

    April 15, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
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