NBC’s Curious Obama, Mandela Faith Healing Story

NBC and its various affiliates are very excited about a story that former South African president Nelson Mandela, who is in critical condition at a hospital in Pretoria, opened his eyes and smiled when told about President Barack Obama's impending visit to the country. Curiously, the only source for the story is Zindzi Mandela, one of the great man's somewhat controversial daughters. The story does not appear to have been picked up by South African media, who have been camped out by the hospital round-the-clock for weeks.

Furthermore, while Obama is scheduled to visit South Africa, he is not going to meet with Mandela, according to the South African government. NBC's story therefore requires the reader to believe that Mandela was so excited that Obama will visit South Africa--which he has done before--or just so excited about Obama in general that he emerged from unconsciousness to express his pleasure. That is so at odds with what is known about Mandela's condition and about his recent health that it must have been a miracle.

Or not. The question is why such a story would be told, and embraced. Obviously, NBC is playing up the story because it flatters Obama, not only through its "faith healing" aspect but also by establishing a kind of supernatural connection between him and the revered Mandela, who is truly a world-historical figure in a way that Obama aspires to be. The other beneficiary is Zindzi Mandela herself, who is no babe-in-the-woods but knows the American media well and has, in the past, been found liable in the U.S. for shady promotions.