Is Obama Off the Hook?

Are the media ever going to tell us what Barack Obama believes?

After months of embarrassing revelations about the unpatriotic, conspiratorial views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and others, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama finally resigned last Friday from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. 

Though he chose to break fellowship with the congregation, Obama refused to repudiate the church or its teachings.  According to The New York Times, he said, “I'm not denouncing the church, and I'm not interested in people who want me to denounce the church…It's not a church worthy of denouncing.”

This endorsement of Trinity, even as he quit the church, raises afresh the questions that have dogged Obama since those troubling Wright videos first surfaced on YouTube.  Is it possible he agrees with Wright that, to cite just one example, God should “damn” America?  If he disagrees, then why did he and his family remain in the church nearly 20 years?

The obvious journalistic response to Obama's resignation, a seminal development in the story, would be to run a retrospective.  Three months of ugly revelations raising questions about patriotism, radicalism and judgment, punctuated by ineffectual attempts to defuse the political powder keg.  An enterprising journalist might even try to pin down the candidate on the substantive questions about values and judgment: what he believes and why he stayed in the church.     

Instead, the media keep serving up pure politics, usually from the viewpoint of damage control.

When the story broke on Saturday, journalists gave their common sense reaction that Obama's move appeared to be a political stratagem.  ABC's George Stephanopoulos observed, “This also helps cut his ties to a church that has become a source of a lot of political baggage for Sen. Obama in this campaign. I think they figured it was best to cut the ties before Sen. Obama formally got the nomination so he could kind of wipe the slate clean during the general election.”  CBS's Jeff Greenfield told viewers, “That church was going to be used by his political opponents in the fall to define him.”

By Sunday morning, the media were depicting Obama as a knight in shining armor.  All of the networks brought in Democrat politicians to comment on the campaign, and most of them dutifully repeated Obama's principal talking point—that he left Trinity for the good of the congregation.  Not a single network brought in a Republican for balance. 

“He did the right thing for the church….”

CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer provided U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) with a platform to yet again distance Obama from Wright, and to say, “…most importantly he wanted to take the political circus away from the church.”  Next up was Clinton backer Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Penn.), who said, “He did the right thing for the church and the right thing for himself as a campaigner.”

Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press interviewed the former Democratic Senate leader, outspoken Obama supporter Tom Daschle of South Dakota.  Daschle applauded the candidate's resignation from Trinity and stressed that Obama was “outraged and repelled” by Wright's remarks.

On ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos reached right into the paid Obama campaign staff to interview “Barack Obama's close aide and communications director, Robert Gibbs.”  Predictably, Gibbs stood up for his boss:  “I think obviously what Barack Obama made in the past few days is a deeply personal, not a political decision … a deeply personal decision that he thought was best for his family, best for the church.”

The liberal media's principal concern about Obama's break with Trinity is whether it will stop the political bleeding.  From Sunday's New York Times, a hint of desperation:  “Now that Mr. Obama has addressed his ties to the church and pastor in a long speech and fully broken with both, it is not clear what else he can say or do to ameliorate the continued concerns of some voters about those associations.”

How about answering their questions about his beliefs and judgment? 

NBC's Lee Cowan seemed more hopeful on Sunday evening: “Whether this is actually the last word about all of this is hard to tell.  Some say it could actually focus more attention on his church and some of his past associations but at the very least, it will likely end any future embarrassments coming out of that pulpit and do the one thing that he really wants, and that's take the spotlight off his church, at least for now.”

On Monday, a news article in The Wall Street Journal whined before circling the wagons. “The damage done by Sen. Barack Obama's slow three-month break with Trinity United Church of Christ persists even after he has severed all ties with the Chicago congregation. … Critics have begun lashing out at him for attending the church for nearly 20 years and then quitting in what many see as a politically motivated decision.”

Will the liberal media ever address the substantive questions about what Obama believes, and demand a credible explanation for why he remained in Trinity all those years?  Probably not.  On Sunday morning's Meet the Press, Russert and Daschle showed us what to expect for the rest of the campaign.

Russert: “Senator Obama's relationship with Rev. Wright, those comments by Father [Michael] Pfleger at Trinity Church, his comments about the bitterness of small town America gripping onto guns and to faith has created a real problem with him in terms of perception with white voters, blue-collar voters. He was trounced in West Virginia, trounced in Kentucky. How does he get those voters back? What does he have to do? What does he have to say?”

Daschle: “First of all, I'd say that John McCain has had his own problems with religious leaders. Rev. [John] Hagee and [Rod] Parsley have been equally as repulsive, in my view, with some of the things they've said….”

Don't expect answers.  Expect counterattacks, with the microphone provided courtesy of the liberal media.

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.