Foreshadowing the Jeremiah Wright Scandal

If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.

– Jeremiah Wright, April 2007

Today, former Reverend Jeremiah Wright is nationally infamous as the controversial former head of President Barack Obama’s former church. During the primary campaign, tapes of Mr. Wright’s sermons did deep damage to Mr. Obama’s candidacy, to which Mr. Obama later responded with a unique and heartfelt speech about race. To this day the Wright affair remains the most damaging scandal the president has encountered.

ABC’s news report, however, was not the first time that a news organization reported about Mr. Wright’s controversial statements. Take, for instance, this fascinating New York Times story – a report written a full year before the Jeremiah Wright scandal exploded.

The story is titled “A Candidate, His Minister, and the Search for Faith.” Generally the report is about what the title says it is – Mr. Obama’s experience with religion and the black church. Given Mr. Wright’s involvement with the latter, he is also a presence in the report.

The Times cannot help but note several of Mr. Wright’s controversial stances, including his support for black liberation theology. It quotes a professor who says that “Some white people hear it [black liberation theology] as racism in reverse.” Later, a long quote goes:

Mr. Wright’s political statements may be more controversial than his theological ones. He has said that Zionism has an element of “white racism.” (For its part, the Anti-Defamation League says it has no evidence of any anti-Semitism by Mr. Wright.)

On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later he wrote that the attacks had proved that “people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns.”

Presumably the reporter had read Mr. Wright’s statement that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” or something quite similar.

What is most interesting about this report is what happened afterwards: nothing. No controversy broke out. Fox News did not take up the report. The story disappeared into the black hole of history, even though it expressed concern about many of the same things ABC News later would.

There are reasons for why this happened. A written description of a controversial statement holds much less power to incite than actually hearing said statement on video. This is especially true with Mr. Wright, who preached in a particularly passionate and inflammatory manner. And Mr. Obama’s candidacy was barely known in April of 2007; he still trailed far behind Ms. Clinton at the time, and most did not believe the candidate had a chance of becoming president.

The story finishes with a distinctly prophetic statement – the quote at the beginning of the page. More than a year before the Jeremiah Wright controversy exploded, Mr. Wright himself predicted that Mr. Obama “might have to publicly distance himself from me.”

And that is exactly what happened.

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One Response to Foreshadowing the Jeremiah Wright Scandal

  1. Student says:

    This is quite a fascinating topic. I never really took much time to inform myself about President Obama’s views on faith. I’ve been meaning to read his books for quite some time, but I never got around to it. Perhaps I should bump them up higher on my to-read list.

    I personally think it’s regrettable that being associated with Reverend Wright should be scandalous for a presidential candidate. In fact, I’d rather think more highly of President Obama for his willingness to join a rather unconventional congregation. Quite honestly, I don’t have much respect for traditional Christian institutions and their rather horrible track record of support for and complicity with some of the most antiprogressive and damaging historical causes.

    The Times article seemed to portray Reverend Wright in a fairly level way. This is something I’m pretty glad for. Honestly, I haven’t heard much about him outside of the scandal. Wright’s general portrayal in cable news at the time of the scandal was overwhelmingly negative, and I couldn’t help but be skeptical of that. It seems that he’s more of a complicated individual than the news was willing to portray and his views are more nuanced than they were made out to be.

    To some extent I agree with all the claims purportedly made by Reverend Wright in this article. I think that Professor Dwight Hopkins absolutely had it right in saying “Some white people hear it as racism in reverse, while blacks hear, Yes, we are somebody, we’re also made in God’s image.” Mostly white political commentators tend to jump on this sort of “black radicalism,” and label it as separatist and anti-white. Sure there are some actual black separatist movements, but most of these are in the past (and should be considered within their relevant historical context), and I can’t seriously believe that Wright is actually advocating separatism. I think that he’s being critical of the societal systems of white privilege and the corresponding oppression of people of color, and the general white public seems to view that as a threat and as “reverse-racism.”

    Even the claim that the 9/11 attack was the result of violent American foreign policy isn’t very controversial. Many non-black leaders have made that claim and haven’t been jumped on by the media. Although the President denies that claim (probably for political reasons), there’s certainly a kernel of truth to it. American foreign policy in the middle East hasn’t exactly been spotlessly clean. The CIA overthrow of governments, countless military interventions, the support of Israel (which has been making very questionable moves lately), and numerous western colonial legacies have led to a serious resentment of “western meddling.” To act as if the attacks were entirely unprovoked is to take things out of context. Certainly the attacks were horrible, but to claim that American foreign policy isn’t infallible and to use the attacks as very real evidence of that fact shouldn’t be considered anti-American.

    My claim is that an unwillingness to turn a critical eye to the actions and policies of our nation, both on the domestic and international levels, is anti-American.

    But yeah, that’s just me. Although I often feel hopelessly hopeless about the seemingly slow prospect of positive change in this country, I really do feel grateful that we have a president like Obama. I think he’s genuinely a good person and his heart is in the right place. I’m glad to see that he has an understanding of social justice and inequality that I’m fairly certain Senator John McCain does not have. A willingness to engage ideas that are outside of the mainstream is a positive trait for a President.

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