Editing Reverend Wright's Wrongs

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

The Sermons Erupt

The Wright-sermon story really broke open on television with Brian Ross on the March 13 Good Morning America. Employing clips of Wright sermons that were available on DVDs sold by the church, Ross revealed several shocking pulpit outbursts from Wright:

The United States, dominated by the Ku Klux Klan? "And they will not only attack you if try and point out what’s going on in white America. U.S. of K.K.K.A.!"

The black Republican sellouts. "They live below the sea level. They live below the level of Clarence, Colin and Condamnesia."

Our own terrorism brought 9/11. "We bombed Hiroshima! We bombed Nagasaki! And we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant, because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard! America’s chickens are coming home to roost!"

ABC tried to balance this hard-hitting report by bringing in Obama campaign religion adviser Shaun Casey for an interview with anchorman Chris Cuomo. Cuomo asked if Obama would disassociate himself from Rev. Wright, and Casey quickly began accusing the media of singling Obama out: "I mean, it's interesting to me you haven’t vetted Hillary Clinton’s pastor’s sermons. You haven’t vetted President Bush’s pastor’s sermons. You haven’t vetted John McCain’s pastor’s sermons. So, you’re not holding them to that standard, which I think is very interesting."

2008-03-14-NBC-NN-luckBarry3The network coverage that followed was quite sensitive to the idea that Obama was unfairly singled out on this story. A day later, Obama put out a statement condemning the featured Wright bites, but the networks didn’t see the story as a top story. The next evening’s NBC Nightly News allocated a mere 22 seconds to Obama’s condemnation of what fill-in anchor Ann Curry vaguely described as ‘’inflammatory remarks that his long time pastor made about Hillary Clinton and the nation." NBC then devoted three minutes to a celebratory piece about how excited Obama’s childhood friends in Indonesia are about his candidacy, a story which began and ended with a picture of Obama’s classmates in front of huge "Good Luck Barry!" lettering.

Snippets of Wright’s sermons drew only 72 seconds of evening-news coverage in all of March, or an average of 24 seconds per network, less than one commercial.

Wright1The morning shows carried almost five minutes of Wright clips (297 seconds), with ABC (whose first story ran 70 seconds of Wright snippets) offering the most at 128 seconds. The other two networks each ran less than 90 seconds (CBS 82, NBC 87). Versions of Wright’s 2003 "God damn America" remarks were the most common snippet (although often the soundbite was clipped to only four seconds long). It appeared five times on the Big Three evening shows, and thirteen times on the morning shows in March. Wright yelled that black criminals were victimized by America [see box].

The second most common soundbite was Wright suggesting "Hillary ain’t never been called a ni**er." (The word was always bleeped.) That was aired once on each network’s evening newscast, and four times on the morning programs.

Wright’s most outrageous comments about 9/11 being "America’s chickens coming home to roost" were spiked by all three evening shows, as well as by CBS’s The Early Show. None of the network shows aired Wright’s soundbite on how governments lie and how the federal government hid the truth about "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." (It came on April 13, 2003, in the same sermon in which Wright yelled "God damn America.") CBS analyst Jeff Greenfield decried it on the CBS Evening News on March 18, hours after Sen. Obama’s speech on Wright and race. "How does a guy who spent 20 years with somebody with some notions that seem very bizarre – like AIDS is a government conspiracy – what’s he doing with that guy for 20 years?" He said the speech itself would not end the controversy. The next morning on The Early Show, he repeated that critique, saying of Wright’s AIDS claim, "these are the words of a crackpot."

When the networks weren’t spiking the worst soundbites, reporters tried to minimize how many people would find them offensive. CBS’s Byron Pitts even claimed that Wright’s speeches were only regarded by some people as anti-American. On the March 18 Early Show, directly after a "God damn America" clip, Pitts suggested these Wright remarks were merely "comments critics have called anti-American and anti-white."