NBC’s David Gregory Spikes Rev. Wright/Clinton Story; Cites Jewish Beliefs

June 13th, 2008 2:17 PM

Has NBC White House Correspondent David Gregory turned over a new leaf?

Gregory, who has earned a lot of critics for having an anti-Bush/liberal bias, made it seem that way during a discussion about ethics in politics and journalism Thursday. He claimed to struggle with Jewish teachings about saying bad things about others - at least when it comes to Democrats.

Gregory, who is Jewish, said he relies on the Jewish law on speech to make editorial decisions for his MSNBC daily afternoon show "Race for the White House."

According to Jewish Law, it is a sin discredit or say negative thing about a person, even if they are true, a sin called lashon ha-ra. Gregory said the law kept him from doing a story showing an connection between former President Bill Clinton and controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

That's a bit of a departure from Gregory's reputation for being confrontational with White House press secretaries from Scott McClellan to Tony Snow.

"Something had happened where it somehow reminded me of Bill Clinton," Gregory said during the ethics discussion at the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C. "[I]t reminded me of the fact that Bill Clinton had had this gathering of a prayer group, where Jeremiah Wright was, where he said, ‘I don't have a fancy way to say that I have sinned.' And I said to my producer, ‘This is perfect! We can use this. This is Bill Clinton talking while Jeremiah Wright was in room."

Gregory was referring to a September 1998 prayer breakfast at the White House. The report surfaced after Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama's (Ill.) former church, made derogatory comments about former President Bill Clinton and former Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.). Bill Clinton was in attendance and was photographed with Wright.

"I stopped," Gregory said. "I had just come from my study session and said, ‘No, that would be oppressive to remind Bill Clinton of his past on my program. And so, I elected not to play that sound byte because I wanted to, you know, try to take a little high ground."

Gregory has faced his share of controversies in the past that some might have considered to have crossed the some of these guidelines. He was accused of showing his own partisanship in December 2006. Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow challenged Gregory for trying to frame questions about the Iraq Study Group "in a partisan way." Snow, however, apologized to Gregory a week later.

Gregory also has a brush with former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who is now garnering a lot of attention for his book, "What Happened," that is a supposed exposé of the Bush administration. According to a post by Mike Allen on Time.com from Feb. 13, 2006, the dust-up occurred in an off-camera White House press briefing about Dick Cheney's 2006 hunting accident:

"McClellan accused Gregory of grandstanding: ‘Hold on. Cameras aren't on right now. You can do this later.' That infuriated Gregory. ‘You don't have to yell,' McClellan said. Gregory shot back: ‘I will yell. If you want to use that podium and try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong.' McClellan said: ‘Calm down, David.'"