David Gergen on CNN: The Media Needs to ‘Move On’ From Rev. Wright Issue

Later in the segment on CNN’s "Newsroom" between Tony Harris, David Gergen, and Roland Martin after the Reverend Jeremiah Wright speech at the National Press Club (which Mark Finkelstein blogged about earlier), Gergen suggested that "it’s time for him [Rev. Wright] to get off the stage, and frankly, for the media, I suggest, to move on." He also twice characterized the whole affair as a "sideshow" [audio available here].

Shortly after a commercial break which came in the middle of the discussion, Gergen, in response to a question from "Newsroom" co-host Tony Harris, said of Rev. Wright, "Every time he appears, he just gives legitimacy and a hunger by those who oppose Barack Obama to re-run those tapes, to keep him at the center of controversy, to let this overhang and define Barack Obama, when it has, you know -- it has very, very little to do -- it's a very marginal piece of who Barack Obama is and what he stands for."

Gergen then talked about how the Rev. Wright issue was a distraction, and how the preacher should have handled himself after the controversy broke, all the while heaping praise on him, and at the end, making his "move on" suggestion.

GERGEN: And it takes attention away -- we have huge, huge problems facing this country. The candidates are increasingly coming down on opposite sides. We're having no discussion of that. Instead, we're off on this sideshow, which is -- and I think that, you know, this good preacher, I'm sure he's a fine man, and if he had taken Bill Moyers on a walking tour of his parish, and shown people the good works that church was doing, you know, how it is helping the hungry, how it is looking after young kids, and the many other good things that church does -- that would have been totally appropriate. But to be on this publicity blitz, when we have to listen to his varied views, you know, I think it's time for him to get off the stage and frankly, for the media, I suggest, to move on.

Martin voiced his agreement with Gergen, which prompted a one-liner from former presidential advisor, and even agreement from the host himself.

ROLAND MARTIN: You know, David, when he spoke at the National Press Club today, he actually did that. He talked about all these ministries the church is involved in. I mean, I thought his opening statement -- he gave a theological, a sound opening statement. But again, the focus will not be on any of that. The focus will not be on the war, will not be on their HIV/AIDS ministry, will not be [on] any of that. It's going to be his answer to the AIDS question, it's going to be his answer towards -- talking about Dick Cheney. That's the problem with that.

(CROSSTALK)

NewsBusters.org | still shot of David Gergen on CNNGERGEN: If this man cares one wit about electing an African-American to the highest office in the land, he should get off the national stage. You know that.

HARRIS: Point-blank.

MARTIN: I know. I agree. I agree. It just -- it did not help at all, and frankly, it's going to invite more questions, and so now the question is, Reverend Wright -- where does he go next? Does he continue? Does he keep talking, because absolutely, people are going to perceive...

GERGEN: He should just go away, go back to the pulpit.

MARTIN: Well, I tell my radio listeners that every day.

Harris then asked his two guests, "what does Barack Obama do now in the face of this?" After an extended pause, the two give their advice. Martin thought that Obama needs to drive the point home that he is his own man. Gergen suggested that Obama "sit down in a round-table discussion with the voters from that area, with working people and talk about his hopes and plans, and let them fire away questions for what he's going to do."

The transcript of the discussion from 46 minute mark of the 10 am Eastern hour of Monday’s "Newsroom:"

TONY HARRIS: I guess the point I would make, David, is that it seems to me that [presidential] race seems more and more -- you look at the results in Pennsylvania -- and it looks like more and more there are camps forming here, and that race, whether we speak of it or not, is seemingly finding its way more and more into this [presidential] race. And I was wondering if that was a moment being used -- that window being used by Reverend Wright to make that point, which I thought was powerful, that different does not mean deficient.

DAVID GERGEN: You know, those are important points to make -- he's not the right person to be making them on behalf of Barack Obama's campaign. Every time he appears, he just gives legitimacy and a hunger by those who oppose Barack Obama to re-run those tapes, to keep him at the center of controversy, to let this overhang and define Barack Obama, when it has, you know -- it has very, very little to do -- it's a very marginal piece of who Barack Obama is and what he stands for. And it takes attention away -- we have huge, huge problems facing this country. The candidates are increasingly coming down on opposite sides. We're having no discussion of that. Instead, we're off on this sideshow, which is -- and I think that, you know, this good preacher, I'm sure he's a fine man, and if he had taken Bill Moyers on a walking tour of his parish, and shown people the good works that church was doing, you know, how it is helping the hungry, how it is looking after young kids, and the many other good things that church does -- that would have been totally appropriate. But to be on this publicity blitz, when we have to listen to his varied views, you know, I think it's time for him to get off the stage and frankly, for the media, I suggest, to move on.

(CROSSTALK)

TONY HARRIS: Go ahead, Roland.

ROLAND MARTIN: You know, David, when he spoke at the National Press Club today, he actually did that. He talked about all these ministries the church is involved in. I mean, I thought his opening statement -- he gave a theological, a sound opening statement. But again, the focus will not be on any of that. The focus will not be on the war, will not be on their HIV/AIDS ministry, will not be [on] any of that. It's going to be his answer to the AIDS question, it's going to be his answer towards -- talking about Dick Cheney. That's the problem with that.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: If this man cares one wit about electing an African-American to the highest office in the land, he should get off the national stage. You know that.

HARRIS: Point-blank.

MARTIN: I know. I agree. I agree. It just -- it did not help at all, and frankly, it's going to invite more questions, and so now the question is, Reverend Wright -- where does he go next? Does he continue? Does he keep talking, because absolutely, people are going to perceive...

GERGEN: He should just go away, go back to the pulpit.

MARTIN: Well, I tell my radio listeners that every day.

HARRIS: One final question for both of you: what does Barack Obama do now in the face of this?

(PAUSE)

HARRIS: Wow.

MARTIN: Well, I know Barack Obama does -- I think what Senator Obama does -- he keeps moving, he keeps focusing on his message. But also, he interates consistantly, I am running for president. I speak for myself. I am the one advocating these policies. And I am the one who is going to be sitting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, making the decisions to affect you. That's what he has to do. He has to make it clear it is not about anyone else out there but me, Barack Obama.

HARRIS: David?

GERGEN: I also think that Barack Obama would serve himself well if he sat down now for additional interviews with the press that start off pushing off and away from this. He handled himself well on Fox yesterday with Chris Wallace. I think that if he now -- in Indiana and North Carolina -- were to buy an hour's worth of time in each media market and sit down in a round-table discussion with the voters from that area, with working people and talk about his hopes and plans, and let them fire away questions for what he's going to do. And let them just get a chance to know what's on his mind and what his priorities are, as opposed to this sideshow.

HARRIS: Yeah.

GERGEN: He needs to have a direct conversation with voters now, not a speech -- we all know how marvelous he is in those speeches -- but a direct converstation about what his hopes and dreams are, to transform this country, and he needs to that very directly with voters, with working people.

HARRIS: David Gergen, thank you. Roland Martin, thank you. Boy, we needed this this morning, just a better handle to put it in a little bit better context. Thank you both.

GERGEN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BETTY NGUYEN: That was a good discussion....

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center