Editing Reverend Wright's Wrongs

How the Networks Censored and Manipulated Jeremiah Wright Soundbites and Glorified Barack Obama's Race Speech

Where's Reverend Wright?

In the current election cycle, Reverend Wright first arrived in the national spotlight on Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes back on March 1, 2007, when Sean Hannity broached the issue of Trinity’s dedication to a "black value system." Rev. Wright scorned Hannity as a neophyte who’d never read the masterworks of "black liberation theology." But it took an entire year for Reverend Wright’s name to emerge on the broadcast networks.

There were other opportunities to broach the issue. Five days later, The New York Times reported that Obama disinvited Rev. Wright from offering a planned invocation at his campaign announcement on February 10, 2007 due to "the campaign’s apparent fear of criticism over Mr. Wright’s teachings, which some say are overly Afrocentric to the point of excluding whites." ABC’s Jake Tapper mentioned the controversy in passing on the February 11, 2007 World News Sunday: "His foreign-policy views are just one target for Obama’s critics, who have questions for the senator about any number of issues, including whether his church here on Chicago’s South Side, which expresses a message of black power, is too militant for mainstream America to accept."

On January 15, 2008, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a column decrying how Trinity’s magazine The Trumpet fulsomely praised Rev. Farrakhan. Obama’s campaign issued a statement from the candidate. "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan," Obama said in the statement. "I assume that Trumpet magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree."

But the name of Jeremiah Wright didn’t surface on the Big Three networks until CBS first broached it on February 28. In campaign terms, it was very late in the fast-forward primary process, after 36 states and the District of Columbia had held primaries or caucuses. John Edwards had suspended his campaign almost a month earlier. The first story with Wright sermon soundbites aired weeks later, on ABC’s Good Morning America in mid-March, after another six contests. Before that, Obama’s church and minister were barely mentioned – and usually as an Obama defense mechanism.

ABC's Jake Tapper offered Obama’s church-and-minister defense twice in November and December – but never with a whisper of the name of Reverend Wright. On ABC's World News with Charles Gibson on November 16, Tapper offered a generic story on negative phone calls and e-mails, including suggestions Obama was a Muslim. Obama said: "There are a variety of nasty e-mails going out. This is similar to the e-mails that’s, e-mails that have been floating around that says I am, you know, I’m a Muslim plant who’s planning to take over America, you know? This would surprise my pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ." On November 19, Tapper repeated a version of that on Good Morning America. Tapper also replayed Obama’s "Muslim plant" joke on the December 5 Nightline.

When Dean Reynolds first broached the controversy on CBS, devoting about a minute to it on February 28 CBS Evening News, he brought up Farrakhan, the point of Cohen’s column from six weeks earlier: "Obama has said the church’s former pastor and his spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright, is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things I don’t agree with. Among Wright’s pronouncements, that racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. A church-related publication saluted Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, a well known anti-Semite, who in turn has praised Obama's candidacy as recently as last Sunday."