Keller Admits 'Late to Rev. Wright' in 2008, But Claims Paper Handled Story Well

Executive Editor Bill Keller thinks the Times eventually did a good job covering Obama's Rev. Wright problem: "Yes, Dems should be asked about their faith (and influences) too. We were late to Rev. Wright in '08, but we got there, and did it well." We beg to differ.

The Times' outgoing Executive Editor Bill Keller received some pushback on his recently posted column that demanded, in rather insulting fashion, that the media more aggressively question the religious views of the G.O.P. candidates.

Times Watch and others noted that his paper was hardly a model of journalistic assertiveness during the spring of 2008, when Barack Obama endured political controversy over the racially inflammatory and conspiracy-minded Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's minister at Trinity United Church of Christ. Keller responded via Twitter on Friday morning:

Yes, Dems should be asked about their faith (and influences) too. We were late to Rev. Wright in '08, but we got there, and did it well.

Did they really? Times Watch's coverage from March 2008 finds Keller half-right; his paper was late to the story, glossing over Wright's rants on the attacks of September 11 and leaving off his notorious 'God damn America' quote for months. But they did not cover it particularly well even after they woke up, instead comparing Obama's politically necessary political address on the matter to speeches on civil rights by JFK, LBJ, even Abraham Lincoln. The Times showed unseemly eagerness not only to help Obama move on from Wright, but to paint the confrontation to his political advantage against a racially challenged G.O.P.

Reporters Larry Rohter and Michael Luo glowingly redited candidate Obama's speech with trying to start a conversation on race in the March 20, 2008 "Groups Respond to Obama's Call for National Discussion About Race." 'Religious groups and academic bodies, already receptive to Mr. Obama's plea for such a dialogue, seemed especially enthusiastic. Universities were moving to incorporate the issues Mr. Obama raised into classroom discussions and course work, and churches were trying to find ways to do the same in sermons and Bible studies.'

A March 23, 2008 Week in Review piece by Janny Scott contrasted Obama, who 'spoke with seriousness and gravity and at length' about race to Republicans who used code words to win elections: 'Race did not disappear entirely from presidential campaigns; it went under cover. It lay buried in code phrases like 'crime in the streets,' 'states' rights,' and 'welfare mothers.''

The celebration of Obama's speech on race even continued into Easter Sunday, in a front-page story by religion reporters Laurie Goodstein and Neela Banerjee. The Times canvassed pastors at mostly urban liberal churches to see how Obama's speech would politicize - I mean, enrich-their Easter sermons, in "Obama Talk Fuels Easter Sermons - Some Religious Leaders Interweave Race and Resurrection."