2008: Media Spun, Ignored and Downplayed Reverend Wright; What Will 2012 Bring?

Four years ago this month, journalists began spinning, downplaying and, at times, ignoring Barack Obama's close ties with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a man who famously implored, "Goddamn America!" As the nation begins another presidential race with Obama as the head of the Democratic Party, what will they do this time?

In 2008, reporters tried many different angles. On April 28, 2008, then-Good Morning America reporter David Wright (no relation), gushed over the "soft-spoken man" who "couldn't seem more different from that fire-brand preacher we've all seen in those soundbites."

On March 13, 2008, CNN's Anderson Cooper practically apologized for providing any coverage at all. Prefacing a clip of incendiary preacher who blamed the U.S. government for creating AIDS, the Anderson Cooper 360 anchor lamented:

We’re running it because — like it or not, legitimate or not — it has become an issue....All this seems to have nothing to do with actual issues that the country is facing, which these candidates should be talking about and we probably should be talking about.”

Initially, the networks simply ignored the story, according to an analysis by the MRC:

The broadcast network evening news shows gave virtually no coverage to Wright soundbites in March. Snippets of Wright’s sermons drew only 72 seconds of evening news coverage in all of March, or an average of 24 seconds per network, less than one commercial.

The Big Three morning shows gave four times as much time to Wright soundbites as the evening shows in March. The morning shows carried almost five minutes of Wright clips (297 seconds), with ABC offering the most at 128 seconds. The other two networks each ran less than 90 seconds.

By March 14th, 2008, NBC and MSNBC journalist Norah O'Donnell was publicly wondering how she could stop covering Wright: "Rush Limbaugh went nuts today on his program about this story...How do we get away from this?"

Perhaps CNN's David Gergen summed it up best:

“Every time he [Reverend Jeremiah Wright] 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....I think it’s time for him to get off the stage and frankly, for the media, I suggest, to move on.”
— CNN’s David Gergen during live coverage following Wright’s speech to the National Press Club, April 28, 2008.

What will journalists tell Americans they need to "move on" from in 2012?

To read the best of the worst Wright quotes, go here.

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