ABC Defends 'Soft-Spoken,' Patriotic Jeremiah Wright

In an attempt to rehabilitate Jeremiah Wright and, by extension, Senator Barack Obama's connection to the man, Friday's "Good Morning America" featured two segments on the "soft-spoken," patriotic pastor, a man who urged God to damn America. Reporter David Wright, a well-known Obama partisan, described an appearance Pastor Wright made with liberal PBS journalist Bill Moyers. Wright cooed, "But the soft-spoken man who sits down with Bill Moyers couldn't seem more different from that fire-brand preacher we've all seen in those sound bites."

During his segment, the ABC reporter seemed to accept Reverend Wright's contention that he had been smeared by the media. Journalist Wright, no relation to the pastor, asserted, "In the interview, Pastor Wright expresses his horror that the media has made him a bogeyman." As though he were a PR representative, (reporter) Wright mentioned the reverend's military service and spun, "There's plenty in Wright's background that speaks to his patriotism." He argued that some of the pastor's comments were taken out of context, citing the background of Wright's "chickens are coming home to roost" remark. However, the ABC journalist skipped over the incendiary preacher's contention that "the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." Was that "soft spoken" falsehood taken "out of context?"

In a follow-up segment, GMA co-host Diane Sawyer also appeared to be doing her best to rehabilitate Jeremiah Wright's image. Before playing an extraordinarily long one minute and 11 second clip of the Moyers interview, Sawyer set up a template for the need to understand the reverend in a broader context: "'Cause I want to do something different. I want to let a long bite play, so we can really hear him talk, as opposed to the short sound bites and see if it doesn't effect everybody's idea of the total context of the man." Now, first off, it needs to be pointed out that at no time did David Wright or Sawyer mention that Bill Moyers is a committed leftist and former Democratic official in Lyndon Johnson's White House. Secondly, is there anything in the pastor's "total context" that gets past his "God damn America" exclamation or his belief that the United States government is responsible for the HIV virus? Are those ideas "patriotic?"

Continuing the defense of Wright, Sawyer tried to draw a parallel between Senator Obama's preacher and John McCain. She brought up Reverend John Hagee, a minister who has made his own incendiary remarks against Catholics and homosexuals. Sawyer spun, "Let me turn the tables, though, and talk about Reverend John Hagee." A few seconds later she proceeded to ask guest Juan Williams if there was a "great deal of difference" between Obama's situation and McCain. Although Williams did criticize McCain for the Hagee issue, he also stated the obvious: "But it's a big difference of having been [in Wright's congregation] for all those years, which is a matter of judgment on Senator Obama's part."

As has been noted several times on NewsBusters, reporter David Wright has a long history of aggressively defending Barack Obama. Just last week, on April 17, he dismissed the senator's connection to William Ayers, a man involved in domestic terrorism in the '70s, as simply a "neighbor."

A transcript of the April 25 segment, which aired at 7:02am, follows:

7:02am

ROBIN ROBERTS: But we begin with the race to '08 and Reverend Jeremiah Wright's first interview since his comments from the pulpit set off a political firestorm for Barack Obama. ABC's David Wright has the latest from Washington. Good morning, David.

DAVID WRIGHT: Good morning, Robin. This interview comes at a time when Wright's mere association with Obama, has become political dynamite for Obama's enemies. But the soft-spoken man who sits down with Bill Moyers couldn't seem more different from that fire-brand preacher we've all seen in those sound bites. In the interview, Pastor Wright expresses his horror that the media has made him a bogeyman.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue.

BILL MOYERS: Did you ever imagine that you would come to personify the black anger that so many whites fear?

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: No, I did not.

DAVID WRIGHT: Obama's former pastor says reporters cherry-picked sound bites from his sermon with an eye to defaming him (sic) and by association Obama.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: The blow up and the blowing up of sermons preached ten, fifteen, seven, six years ago, and now, becoming a media event, again, not the full sermon. But just snippets from the sermon and sound bites, having made me the target of hatred. Yes, that is something very new and something very, very unsettling.

DAVID WRIGHT: He also describes his reaction to Obama's efforts to distance himself.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: He's a politician. I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences.

DAVID WRIGHT: There's plenty in Wright's background that speaks to his patriotism. He was among the first black U.S. Marines during Vietnam. As a corpsman in 1966, he served on the medical team that cared for President Lyndon Johnson. The White House gave him three letters of commendation. And those controversial sound bites? Some were taken out of context. For instance, after 9/11, he famously preached that the chickens had come home to roost.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: American's chickens --

DAVID WRIGHT: But as Wright made clear in the sermon, he was quoting President Reagan's former ambassador to Iraq, speaking on Fox News.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: This is a white man and he was upsetting the Fox News commentators to no end.

DAVID WRIGHT: Wright told Moyers the controversy hasn't been easy.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Well, the church members are very upset because they know it's a lie, the things that are being broadcast.

MOYERS: There have been death threats?

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Yes, there have. Both on myself and on Pastor Moss and bomb threats at the church.

DAVID WRIGHT: Now, the Obama campaign said it had nothing to do with either the content or the timing of Wright's interview. And frankly, they would have preferred to keep off center stage. But he's going to be in the limelight in the coming days. On Sunday, he's at the NAACP. And on Monday, he's speaking to the National Press Club. Diane?

SAWYER: All right, David. Thanks. And as everybody knows, Tuesday, a week, another primary coming up, Indiana and North Carolina. So, how will Reverend Wright's return to the national spotlight affect all this this morning? We drive into the center of the debate with NPR senior political analyst Juan Williams and ABC's longtime political observer Cokie Roberts. Cokie, I'll start with you. Good or bad that Reverend Wright is speaking out now?

COKIE ROBERTS: Oh, nothing good comes of this for Barack Obama. It's an excuse for everybody to play those bites over and over again. And what Reverend Wright said, even though he was defending himself, quite nicely, he said Barack Obama spoke as a politician. That is the last thing Obama wants people to think of him as. He has approached the American people as a pastor-type himself. And he does not -- he does not need this controversy comes back to the fore.

SAWYER: Juan, what do you think?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, he just keeps popping up. And I think, just as Cokie said, it doesn't hurt -- it doesn't help Barack Obama. If he really was a Barack Obama supporter, I think he would pull himself off of stage at this point and let Barack Obama and Barack Obama's message of healing and, sort of, post-racial tension, you know, racial unity, come to the fore. Instead, he continues a controversy that really dogs Barack Obama, brings into question exactly, as Cokie said, what was Barack Obama saying in his speech in Philadelphia? Was he simply being politically expedient? Or was he being sincere? All, you don't- If you're with the Barack Obama campaign this morning, you're pulling your hair out. You're-- Oh, my God!

SAWYER: And yet the Republicans said, they're not going to let it go away one way or another.

ROBERTS: Of course not.

SAWYER: And when you listen to the man speak-- let me just play this bite, though, Cokie. 'Cause I want to do something different. I want to let a long bite play, so we can really hear him talk, as opposed to the short sound bites and see if it doesn't effect everybody's idea of the total context of the man. Let's listen.

[Clip from Bill Moyers interview]

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly. Failure to communicate is when something is taken, like a sound bite, for political purpose, and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public. That's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic. Or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a wack-a-doodle.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think they want to communicate?

WRIGHT: I think they want to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I'm un-American, that I'm filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ. And, by the way, guess who goes to his church. Hint, hint, hint.

MOYERS: In the 20 years since you've been his pastor, have you ever heard him repeat any of your controversial statements as his opinion?

WRIGHT: No, no. No, absolutely not. I don't talk to him about politics. And, so here, at a political event, he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor that speaks to the people of God about the things of God.

[clip ends]

SAWYER: So, Juan, I'll ask you. There's a website, I went on it this morning, it's called Truth about Trinity, where you can hear the whole sermon, in which some of these statements are made, or at least longer sections of the sermon. Anything here, that at least reframes a little bit those snippets that have been heard over and over again?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think his man, his demeanor, comes off being as very appealing. You know, but, the thing is, it's always, his claim it's out of context or it's the media that's trying to set him up, there's always a rationalization and explanation. But if you actually look at the snippets for what they are, where he's damning America or talking about KKK of America, or the white government spreading AIDS in America, it's just so unappealing that at some point, you know, it's hard to explain why those kinds of words were coming from his mouth. And then invites the question about Barack Obama's judgment, in sitting there all those years and, you know, being part of that kind of, what he calls by his own admission, he calls divisive hate speech.

SAWYER: Yeah, Cokie?

ROBERTS: And the other thing that's already happened since the snippets of his interview with Bill Moyers has come out, the TV shout-fest are already in full cry. And the people who are defending Reverend Wright, are saying things that are also going to be incendiary to a lot of Americans. So, I think this is all about him and not about Barack Obama.

SAWYER: Let me turn the tables, though, and talk about Reverend John Hagee. As we know, he's someone's endorsement Senator John McCain sought. And this is a pastor who said Hurricane Katrina was the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans, citing a homosexual parade there. And here is what Senator McCain says about that.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: He's a part of campaigns. But I didn't attend Pastor Hagee's church for 20 years. There's a great deal of difference, in my view, between someone who endorses you and other circumstances.

SAWYER: Juan, a great deal of difference?

WILLIAMS: Well, the big difference is, as Senator McCain says, he wasn't in that congregation. I mean, as Senator McCain, I must say, a guy who once condemned people of like that as agents of intolerance and bigotry, is now trying to appeal to the right. And that's part of his, I think, weakness, his political expediency. But it's a big difference of having been there for all those years, which is a matter of judgment on Senator Obama's part. The problem for Senator McCain going forward, is to make it clear that he's not trying to have it both ways. He's not trying to play a game here. You know, that ad down in North Carolina, Diane, where the Republican Party is twinning Reverend Wright and Senator Obama, and making it out that, that, you know, really, if you support Reverend Wright, then you support candidate Obama. That is really playing on the edge of racial code language. Very dangerous. Senator McCain has said now he condemned it, asked the Republican Party of the state to pull it. But, I think, again, there's a difference between Hagee and Wright. But McCain is trying to, I think, do a very fancy dance. And I don't know if he can do it in this country, given all our racial tensions.

SAWYER: And Cokie, we're out of time, but ten-second close?

ROBERTS: Well, the Republicans or other outside groups are going to use those snippets over and over again, regardless of McCain. And it's going to be harmful to Obama.

SAWYER: All right. Thanks so much for both of you joining us this morning. I want you everybody to know that the Bill Moyers's interview with Reverend Wright airs on PBS tonight at 9:00pm tonight. Check your local listing.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org