Obama's 'Pastor Souljah' Moment

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama finally denounced Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but he will never get past the Wright controversy without resolving the questions it has raised about his credibility, judgment and philosophy.     

Unfortunately for Obama, the media have been reluctant to ask him those difficult questions. The media seem concerned only whether Obama's “Pastor Souljah” putdown of his former mentor had stopped the political bleeding inflicted by the exposure of Wright's radicalism (much as Bill Clinton benefited from criticizing radical black hip hop singer Sister Souljah).

Wright “mentored” and preached to Obama for nearly 20 years. The possibility that a devotee of Wright's neo-Marxist “black liberation theology” could become President is sending chills down the spines of millions of Americans.   

At the National Press Club on Monday, Wright defended the most controversial “snippets” from his sermons, including his call for God to “damn” America and his absurd suggestion that the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill off “people of color.” 

In a Tuesday news conference in North Carolina, Obama dismissed his former pastor's views as “outrageous” and “a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth.”   He also said, “The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.  His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate…” 

On Tuesday evening, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams asked political analyst Tim Russert, “Do you think this stops the damage?”  CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric asked political analyst Jeff Greenfield, “Is today's repudiation enough to kind of control the damage?”  ABC's David Wright said Obama is “hoping it will finally put the Wright controversy behind him.”

On Wednesday morning, CBS Early Show anchor Harry Smith was sounding the same tired refrain when a network journalist, political analyst Bob Schieffer, finally hit the nail on the head:

SMITH: This is all about distance. Did Barack Obama successfully distance himself from Rev. Wright yesterday?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't know what else he could say. He basically denounced Rev. Wright, he said he did not represent his views, he put as much separation as he possibly could. But the question now, Harry, is will people believe him? Will they say, “look, if this is how he feels about the man, why didn't he know about all this before? Why did he keep going to the church?”

Schieffer touched on Obama's first problem coming out of the Wright fiasco, credibility.  Obama has repeatedly claimed he didn't hear Wright preach the sermons in which he made his infamous remarks. During his “race in America” speech in Philadelphia, however, Obama admitted he was aware that Wright held extreme views.

Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely…

So, are we seriously to believe Obama was, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, “shocked, shocked” to find out Rev. Wright had been preaching hatred in the pulpit?  Obama implied in North Carolina that Pastor Wright's views had changed for the worse since he “met him 20 years ago,” but Wright's philosophy was in place long before that. Wright's church adopted a radical philosophical statement, The Black Value System, in 1981.

After credibility, judgment.  Obama has admitted he knew about Wright's “controversial” views.  So why did he remain in Wright's church?  Did Obama lack the judgment and gumption to turn away from his “outrageous” pastor and find a new church home? 

Inquiring journalists should want to know.

The most important question is Obama's philosophy.  Is it possible that Obama remained at Wright's church because, generally speaking, he agreed with Wright?  How deeply has one of America's three leading presidential candidates been infected by paranoid radicalism? 

These are the questions the media need to ask, and Obama needs to answer believably, before the Wright controversy can be set aside.  Americans need to know where Barack Obama stands.

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