Nets Stress Wright's Claim His Remarks Distorted, Not How Obama Agrees with Him

Barack Obama's pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, suggested in an interview with Bill Moyers that Obama agreed with his comments which stirred a furor in March, but instead of framing their stories around evidence Obama may be in sync with Wright's paranoid and America-hating rants, the network evening newscasts on Thursday stressed Wright's claim his sermons were unfairly distorted.

CBS's Jim Axelrod relayed how Wright asserted “parts of his sermons were publicized by Obama's opponents to damage Obama, but that they fundamentally misrepresented Wright's ministry and Wright himself.” NBC anchor Brian Williams related how “Wright says he does not think he's been treated fairly,” before reporter Andrea Mitchell began with Wright's insistence “his sermons were taken out of context to hurt Barack Obama.” Leading into a soundbite from Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart, who in March hailed Obama's speech on race as “a very important gift the Senator has given the country,” Mitchell asserted “some analysts agree that Wright was taken out of context.”

None of the stories aired any of Jeremiah Wright's infamous allegations. ABC's David Wright came the closest in recalling that “Wright does not disavow controversial remarks he has made in his church, some of which are sharply critical of the U.S., its history and its policies.”

Indeed, in a sermon the Sunday after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Wright suggested America spurred and deserved the attacks: “We bombed Hiroshima! We bombed Nagasaki! And we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye....We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard. America's chickens are coming home to roost.”

Wright's inane paranoia about AIDS: “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”

ABC and NBC ran the Jeremiah Wright soundbite, from the interview to air on Friday night's Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, in which Obama's pastor attributed Obama's March 18 speech to politics, but only NBC's Mitchell hinted as to its meaning, late in her piece: “Now, Reverend Wright told Moyers, Obama's speech was political.” The clip of Reverend Wright:
I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the soundbites. He responded as a politician. I don't talk to him about politics. So here at a political event he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as politician.
Transcripts of the stories on the Thursday, April 24 evening newscasts:

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Barack Obama, meanwhile, spent the day at home in Chicago, but his controversial pastor broke his silence today. Jim Axelrod is in Washington. And Jim, Jeremiah Wright really went on the offensive.

JIM AXELROD: Yeah, Wright told journalist Bill Moyers, in an interview that will be broadcast tomorrow night on public television, that parts of his sermon -- specific parts of his sermons -- were publicized by Obama's opponents to damage Obama, but that they fundamentally misrepresented Wright's ministry and Wright himself.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT ON PBS: I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt that those who were doing that were doing it for some very devious reasons. [edit jump] I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am 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. That's what they wanted to communicate.

AXELROD: Now, obviously this interview will revive a story the Obama campaign badly wanted to see die, and we will hear more from Wright as well, because he's going to be in Washington to speak to the National Press Club next Monday. Katie.

COURIC: All right, Jim Axelrod. Thank you, Jim.

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: We begin tonight with presidential politics, and what has been a major controversy surrounding Barack Obama's campaign: His relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Ever since brief clips of Wright's sermons hit the airwaves and the Internet, they've become fodder for attacks on Obama. For his part, the candidate has condemned Wright's controversial political statements. But now the pastor, himself, is speaking out. ABC's David Wright is down in Washington tonight. David?

DAVID WRIGHT: Good evening, Charlie. This is the first time that Jeremiah Wright has appeared in public since the controversy erupted. He spoke with Bill Moyers of PBS. And the interview comes at a time when Barack Obama's political enemies are using his association with the pastor against him. In the interview, recorded yesterday in New York, Wright is unrepentant.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT ON PBS: When something is taken, like a soundbite for political purposes, and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the soundbites is exactly what those pushing those soundbites want to communicate.

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

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am 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. That's what they wanted to communicate. They know nothing about the church. They know nothing about our prison ministry. They know nothing about our food-share ministry. They know nothing about our senior citizen's home.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT IN ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: God never fails!

DAVID WRIGHT: Wright does not disavow controversial remarks he has made in his church, some of which are sharply critical of the U.S., its history and its policies.

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: Hillary Clinton has warned that Republicans will use Wright against Obama. Indeed, this week, Republicans in North Carolina, unveiled this ad, seen here on YouTube, exploiting Wright, which they say they plan to run, despite the objections of GOP nominee John McCain. Moyers asked Wright for his reaction to Obama's speech on race relations in Philadelphia.

BARACK OBAMA ON MARCH 18: Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive. Divisive at a time when we need unity.

BILL MOYERS: How did it go down with you when you heard Barack Obama say those things?

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: It went down very simply. He's a politician. I'm a pastor. I do what I do, he does what politicians do. [edit jump] So that what happened in Philadelphia, where he had to respond to the soundbites, he responded as a politician.

DAVID WRIGHT: Now, the full interview will be broadcast on PBS tomorrow at 9. And we'll be seeing a a lot more of Reverend Wright in the coming days: On Sunday he's at the NAACP. On Monday, at the National Press Club. As for the Obama campaign, they say they had nothing to do with either the timing or the content of Wright's remarks. He's his own man, obviously. They would have preferred to keep a low profile. Charlie?

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: There's been a development in presidential politics tonight. Barack Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has given his first interview since that firestorm over parts of his sermons on the Internet shook up the campaign. Wright says he does not think he's been treated fairly. The story from NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Finally speaking out, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright told Bill Moyers on PBS, his sermons were taken out of context to hurt Barack Obama.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT ON PBS: I think they really wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am 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. That's what they wanted to communicate.

BILL MOYERS: What did you think when you began to see those very brief soundbites circulating as they did?

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt those who were doing that were doing it for some very devious reasons.

MITCHELL Obama first defended his former pastor who had married him and his wife and baptized their children. He said he had never heard any offensive sermons, but finally gave a speech criticizing his most fiery remarks.

BARACK OBAMA, MARCH 18: Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive. Divisive at a time when we need unity.

MITCHELL: The issue still didn't die down.

HILLARY CLINTON ON MARCH 25: You know, we don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives, we have a choice when it comes to our pastors.

MITCHELL: Now, Reverend Wright told Moyers, Obama's speech was political.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the soundbites. He responded as a politician. I don't talk to him about politics. So here at a political event he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as politician.

MITCHELL: Some analysts agree that Wright was taken out of context.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST: You can't teach the nation about African-American churches and African-American church-going in 15 minutes.

MITCHELL: Supporters hope Wright's explanation will humanize the pastor and answer his critics. But it could revive an issue the campaign had hoped had died down and add fuel to the race issue in this campaign. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, New York.

WILLIAMS: By the way, you can see the entire interview with Reverend Wright on Bill Moyers Journal tomorrow night at 9 PM on PBS stations.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center