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.