Rev. Wright's Press Club Debacle Has CNN Anchor Groaning 'Ah, Boy'

How bad was Reverend Wright's appearance before the National Press Club this morning? Bad enough that even CNN contributor Roland Martin—who yesterday enthused about Wright's address to the Detroit NAACP, who gave Wright's chat with Bill Moyers an 'A'—flunked it with an 'F.' Bad enough that David Gergen condemned it as "narcissistic almost beyond belief." Bad enough that, introducing a panel discussion of the speech, the palpably distressed CNN Newsroom host Tony Harris let out an audible groan of "ah, boy," and later wondered how much damage had been done.

View video here.

As soon as I realized that Rev. Wright had brought along his own cheering section to his National Press Club appearance this morning, I had a feeling that things would get out of hand. Wright was seemingly egged on by the claque's enthusiatic applause for his remarks and hostile reactions to tough questions. Mugging repeatedly to the crowd, Rev. Wright went on an ego-driven radical rant that must have the Obama camp tearing its collective hair out while Hillary emits an extended cackle. Among his greatest hits, Wright refused to disassociate himself from Louis Farrakhan, declined to retract his allegation that the US used AIDS to commit genocide against black Americans, said it was fair to compare US Marines with Roman legionnaires, and indicated his church had supported the Communist-backed Sandinistas.

Here's the transcript of the panel discussion. In the video, linked above, note host Tony Harris's pained expressions throughout:
TONY HARRIS: Well, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his incendiary services have rallied some and enraged others. Longtime church member Barack Obama has distanced himself from some of the comments. Now the Reverend Wright is speaking out louder than ever. Let's get some perspective here. CNN contributor Roland Martin attended his speech last night in Detroit. And David Gergen is a former White House insider, now serving as a CNN senior political analyst. Good to talk to you both. Ah, boy. Let me start with you, Roland. Last night and today, particularly in the question-and-answer period today, I think we saw defiance. We saw the feistiness of Jeremiah Wright, particularly in the q & A. But I just want your sense of this moment. Overall, last night and then again today before the city club [sic].

ROLAND MARTIN: Well sure. I think Rev. Jeremiah Wright, based on the question-and-answer session today, actually blew it. I actually called this last week on my radio show, WVON in Chicago. I told my listeners that I felt that he should not appear before the National Press Club, that he was walking into a place that was not his comfort zone. It was not, frankly, where he normally is. And that to take questions in an open-ended format on live television was not to his advantage. I did feel, though, that the interview with Bill Moyers, it made sense, it was a different kind of environment. It was a controlled environment. The speech last night before the NAACP was very well received. Some people disagreed with it. But still, it gave you sense of who he was. There were moments today where I felt he was too flippant. I felt his tone was inappropriate and also the behavior there [presumably a reference to his onstage antics and the reactions of his cheering section].

The issue is not substance, the issue is tone, how you come across in what you say. So there's no way in the world -- and also some of the comments he made today, the Obama campaign is going to have to address. He was even more so flippant with the whole issue of the Obama response as a politician, more so than he was in the clips that the Moyers interview provided. And so I was say, certainly the Moyers interview: 'A.' Last night [NAACP]: 'B.' Today: 'F'.

HARRIS: David, what do you think? In Roland's words, did he blow it?

DAVID GERGEN: I'm sure Reverend Wright has many virtues. Loyalty to his former parishioner is not one of them. I think that this has been narcissistic almost beyond belief. And this publicity offensive has been destructive for the Obama campaign. I think Obama, the senator has handled himself well under the circumstances. But you know our conversation about this started, what was it, last Thursday? And it's now five days that we've been talking about Reverend Wright again on the, you know, with the Indiana, critical Indiana primary, critical North Carolina primary just over the horizon. Now John McCain has jumped into it and gone after Reverend Wright and Barack Obama. You know, this is becoming a circus for a great country. We're getting terribly off-course about the big, big issues of our time.

HARRIS: Roland, how damaging? For Barack Obama?

MARTIN: Look, well, first of all, this is still April. Obviously, you know, in terms of Indiana primary, North Carolina is next week. You have a significant number of unsure voters out there. There is still a great distance between now and the November election. Look, the Obama folks knew they would have to deal with this. The question is, how much longer is Reverend Wright going to talk?

Martin might try to whistle past the graveyard by pointing to the time between now and November. But Obama must first get to November. My two cents say Rev. Wright's latest diatribes are devastating for Obama.

From a media-bias perspective, the fact that Tony Harris was so clearly distressed by the situation, and concerned about the damage caused to Obama, speaks volumes. Think Harris would have been upset if John McCain had been hurt by a third-party's comments?

Note: Allahpundit points out that Roland Martin is a life-long friend of Rev. Wright. I heard no mention of that in any of Martin's appearances yesterday or today.

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.