"Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts treated Father Michael Pfleger to a fawning interview on Thursday in which she mostly ignored his radical comments and lauded the "maverick priest," describing him as "not someone to be silenced."
Although, a previous segment featured a single clip of Pfleger's sermon at the former church of Barack Obama where he viciously attacked Senator Hillary Clinton, Roberts ignored other, more inflammatory remarks by the priest, such as his assertion, made during the same sermon as the Clinton attack, that "America has been raping people of color and America has to pay the price for the rape!" Of course, Roberts didn't mention this quote. Instead, she spun Pfleger as someone who is "passionate about the Word" and cheered the anti-crime and poverty work he's done.
At one point, Roberts affectionately stated that "despite being knocked down," the Chicago priest will continue to wrestle with real problems. Seeming to admire his defiance, the journalist also extolled, "But you also said [in a recent sermon] that you are -- you're not someone to be silenced." Roberts's tough questions, such as they were, included politely asking if Pfleger had gone "too far" and speculating how he would feel if Obama lost the White House as a result of his comments. (But that's more of a liberal critque disguised a hardball query.) More representative was when the host served up this easy question: "In 2008, are you surprised that race is still such a hot button issue?"
Roberts also attempted to portray Father Pfleger simply as a crusader of the poor: "Pfleger has since spent the last 30 years cleaning up his impoverished south side Chicago parish, fighting the presence of poverty, drugs, gangs and gun violence." However, contrast that attitude of a caring, forgiving minister with his now infamous May 25, 2008 sermon at Trinity United, Barack Obama's former church:
PFLEGER: In America, you have to understand that to say to people of color, 'Well, you gotta get over it' ... or 'It's time to move on,' it's like saying to a woman who has been repeatedly raped over and over and over and over and over, 'You need to get over it.'
The HELL I do! Get the sucker who's been rapin' me and make him pay!
America has been raping people of color and America has to pay the price for the rape!
How dare you say, 'Get over it'!
[Emphasis added.] And while Roberts briefly explained how Pfleger has attempted to fight "gun violence," she somehow ignored his 2007 threat to "snuff" out Chicago gun shop owner John Riggio. CNSNews.com recounted it this way:
"I want the NRA [National Rifle Association] to understand - you have a lot of money, but money can't buy moral authority and it can't buy justice or freedom, and we will fight you, NRA," he says.
Pfleger then turns his attention to Riggio. "He's the owner of Chuck's. John Riggio. R-i-g-g-i-o. We're going to find you and snuff you out … you know you're going to hide like a rat. You're going to hide but like a rat we're going to catch you and pull you out. We are not going to allow you to continue to hide when we're here …"
Again, according to Roberts, this is someone who is simply "passionate about the Word."
A transcript of the June 26 segment, which aired at 7:07am, follows:
ROBIN ROBERTS: Well, after the program yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Father Pfleger for an exclusive interview about his controversial sermon mocking Senator Clinton, which played a part in Barack Obama's decision to leave his longtime church. At any point, when you were making those comments at Trinity Church, did you feel that you were going too far? At any point did you feel that way?
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Well, let me say this, I think, first of all, you know, I was at a church family that I've spoken to many times, that I know well, and I think when you're around family, you're looser and do you get carried away, do you get more dramatic, do you get caught up in the crowd when you're around your friends and your family? Absolutely. And I acknowledge that. I was giving a talk about race, and is entitlement one of the things about race that I believe in? Is an unequal playing field one of the things I believe in? Yes. So, I don't apologize for being passionate. I don't apologize for being free. I apologize when my passion or my freeness and my flawness (sic) of character get in the way of the content, which is much more important to me, that people hear the message and when I am in the way of the message, then I'm not only apologetic but I'm also apt to, apt to change.
ROBERTS: Do you understand why some people were offended by what you said, especially when you were talking about entitlement, how that really just stung a lot of people when you said that?
PFLEGER: I understand it. Like I say, I apologize for my mannerism of what I said. I don't apologize for speaking about-- I think entitlement is a reality in this society.
ROBERTS: Racial tensions are not new to the maverick priest who was first inspired to activism after seeing Martin Luther King speak. Pfleger has since spent the last 30 years cleaning up his impoverished south side Chicago parish, fighting the presence of poverty, drugs, gangs and gun violence. As you said over your time in the church that you've -- when you talk about race, that's when you get the most reaction and after the comments that you made, we understand that you received death threats.
PFLEGER: Yes, I received death threats. I received people saying, I wish you were dead. Kill yourself or I'll kill you. I wish you were dead. I wish you'd be in a car accident. I wish one of the folks in your dangerous neighborhood would shoot you. It's the reality of the sensitivity of this country, the name-calling, the number of e-mails and letters using the "N" word, calling me a wigger and telling me why don't I go to Africa and just the racial language and the meanness tells me how sensitive an issue race is in this country.
ROBERTS: In 2008, are you surprised that race is still such a hot button issue?
PFLEGER: I'm not surprised. I have to say I'm saddened, though. That, you know, I look sometimes at that great speech that Dr. King gave, the "I have a dream" speech and his prayer of his children not being judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.
MARTIN LUTHER KING: --By the content of their character. I have a dream.
PFLEGER: And yet all the studies tell us that still the number one factor of judgment in this country is still color, more than any other factor. That we still have an unequal justice system, that we still have more people of color in poverty, in jail, in poor education systems, lack of health care, all those statistics still tell us that we have not come as far as we'd like to come.
ROBERTS: I know that you've made a promise to the cardinal that you will not talk about the candidates. You will not use their names. But you also said on Sunday that you are -- you're not someone to be silenced
PFLEGER: Absolutely. I think that -- I think that the church's mission, you know, the church has to be the one to be the voice of conscience to the world and can't be afraid to be that so it has to speak to politics and policies and politicians and raise those questions or we're not faithful to what our mission is. Ours is not to ever be controlled by politics, but to speak to politics and address politics, and not be afraid of that.
ROBERTS: And what if Obama loses the White House due in part to religious controversies involving Reverend Jeremiah Wright or Father Pfleger? He makes no apologies.
PFLEGER: I think that would be a cheap shot to blame Reverend Wright or myself. I think it's easy to put a blame somewhere than to acknowledge what is the real reason. But I also think to be careful we don't look for easy outs to blame for real problems we're not willing to wrestle with and deal with and face.
ROBERTS: Something Father Pfleger is clearly not afraid to do despite being knocked down.
PFLEGER: [File footage] But you see me. I can get back up again. I can stand again. [File footage ends] We will trip in life and we will stumble in life and we'll make bad decisions and wrong choices in life but we have to make to that moment like Elijah under the broom tree when he's there saying let me die. Take my life. And the voice of God comes to him and says, get up.
ROBERTS: You can see that last bit of video, recent video and that's his style. He's very -- he doesn't apologize for being passionate about the Word. He-- I asked him again and again about but you're a priest and seen mocking and many people say that's not Christian-like. And, again, saying he does not apologize for his message but he does have regrets in the manner in which he delivered that message.
CHRIS CUOMO: It's a good interview.