Gray Lady vs Jeremiah Wright, Round 2: Did Wright intimidate the Times into pulling punches?

posted at 10:00 am on March 31, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The New York Times has responded to an angry letter written by Rev. Jeremiah Wright — more than a year ago. The letter resurfaced this past week, and it contains accusations of misrepresentation and “duplicitous behavior” on the part of the Gray Lady in reporting that Barack Obama had disinvited him from his official announcement for his presidential run. Wright had originally been scheduled to give the invocation, but Obama thought better of it, for reasons much better understood now than in March 2007.

The NYT’s political editor shrugs off Wright’s charges:

Ms. Kantor conducted herself professionally and honestly throughout her dealings with Mr. Wright. She did what any journalist would do: She brought the news he conveyed during the interview to the attention of her editors, including me. We decided to do what a newspaper does: to present that news to our readers, accurately, fairly and as quickly as possible. Ms. Kantor in no way misrepresented the nature or purpose of the interview; as soon as it was ready for publication, we published exactly the longer story we told Mr. Wright we were working on and that he referred to in his letter.

Putting aside the question of why a letter that is more than a year old is suddenly getting new circulation, it is worth noting that at no time has Mr. Wright challenged the accuracy of either story written by Ms. Kantor – both of which, given the events of the last several weeks, seem remarkably prescient about the potential political peril in the Obama-Wright relationship.

In a contest pitting the New York Times against Jeremiah Wright, it’s difficult to decide who to cheer. It’s like watching Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini go to war. The best outcome is to have both of them lose credibility in equal measure.

However, the Times has the better argument here. If Wright didn’t expect Jodi Kantor to report on his exclusion from the Obama event, he either operated under extreme naiveté or flat-out foolishness. The profile that the Times actually published more than a month later might have seemed a little stinging to Wright at the time, but in retrospect, Kantor really missed the boat in a big way. Eleven months later, these passages seem extremely tame:

Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views. …

Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, who by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less. That message can sound different to white audiences, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School and a Trinity member. “Some white people hear it as racism in reverse,” Dr. Hopkins said, while blacks hear, “Yes, we are somebody, we’re also made in God’s image.”

That’s about as close as Kantor ever got to the incendiary rhetoric offered by Wright. She apparently didn’t bother to research the videos and copies of sermons easily available, and so missed the exhortations that 9/11 was America’s “chickens coming home to roost”, that black people should sing “God Damn America”, and that the US had created HIV-AIDS as a tool for genocide against people of color. One wonders why Wright bothered to complain about the minor issue at hand while all of these political land mines remained just below the surface — and why Kantor and the Times never bothered to research Wright in more depth.

The entire national media missed the Wright Stuff, so it’s not entirely fair to hold the Times and Kantor solely responsible for the failure. However, the paper had a reporter assigned to the story, and clearly Kantor had an inkling of the kind of damage Wright could do to Obama’s campaign. Did the Times deliberately pull its punches, even after getting slapped by Wright over Kantor’s early reporting? And more to the point, did the Times pull its punches because Wright complained about their early coverage?


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The entire national media missed the Wright Stuff, so it’s not entirely fair to hold the Times and Kantor solely responsible for the failure.

I thought Sean Hannity has been talking about it for some time. What do you mean missed it?

JiangxiDad on March 31, 2008 at 10:08 AM

As Rev Wright continues, and will continue in the future to be in the news, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for him. Will he complete the trinity with Jackson and Sharpton? Will he replace them all together? Will an Obama defeat be blamed on him causing him to be marginalized? I have a feeling we will be hearing a great deal from and about the good reverend for years to come.

Spider79 on March 31, 2008 at 10:09 AM

Did the Times deliberately pull its punches, even after getting slapped by Wright over Kantor’s early reporting? And more to the point, did the Times pull its punches because Wright complained about their early coverage?

It’s the MSM of course they are in the tank for Obama.

Theworldisnotenough on March 31, 2008 at 10:12 AM

What I’m wondering is when will the next shoe drop. Wright has to have more racist material out there. In 30 years this is not all there is, I think Obama knows this as well. His appearance on the View helped him in this regard. He needs more distance to offset future landmines.

Theworldisnotenough on March 31, 2008 at 10:14 AM

The Gray Lady vs. the gray man. Sounds like a great cage fight.

fourstringfuror on March 31, 2008 at 10:16 AM

Gee, if the voters in the early primaries had known about BarryO’s long-time, five-figure-financed, racist pastor, would Hillary be behind the eight ball right now?

tommylotto on March 31, 2008 at 10:23 AM

racism of everything from daily life in Chicago

LOL, yeah ok, then why did Dr. Rev. move to Tinley Park, 93% white…make that, 93% RICH WHIIIITE PEOOOOPPPLEEEE!!!

Wright is a scumbag.

benrand on March 31, 2008 at 10:29 AM

They deserve each other.

mymanpotsandpans on March 31, 2008 at 10:33 AM

JiangxiDad on March 31, 2008 at 10:08 AM

Missed it in the sense of who had this story a year ago, when it should have been a huge landmine waiting to get stepped on. And Hannity is not a member of the “national press”, in this context. I think he means the MSM.

IMO, the fact that Kantor and the Times had this story so long ago only confirms that they tried to soft-sell it to cover their bases later. Now they are in the unenviable position of having to go toe-to-toe with this knucklehead.

Jaibones on March 31, 2008 at 10:33 AM

In a contest pitting the New York Times against Jeremiah Wright, it’s difficult to decide who to cheer. It’s like watching Saddam Hussein and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini go to war. The best outcome is to have both of them lose credibility in equal measure.

Come on Ed, that’s really unnecessary. While the NYT is a biased, partisan publication, not above obscuring facts and distorting coverage, Wright is a vicious, Anti-American racist. Let’s not make the Obama error of trying to excuse Wright by morale equivalence to lesser evils.

Clark1 on March 31, 2008 at 10:40 AM

benrand on March 31, 2008 at 10:29 AM

True, but it’s not what it seems. He is building in a gated community with a club and a public golf course, called Odyssey. Most of the big houses are on the golf course – his isn’t.

I don’t know the demographics of the housing inside the wire there, but it’s significantly more African-American than Tinley Park proper, which is more like 99% white. And Odyssey sits across Ridgeland Avenue from Creekside in Matteson, which is something like 95% African-American, and is otherwise surrounded by a huge outdoor concert venue (formerly the World Theatre, now the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre), a tract of Cook County Forest Preserve (I run my dogs there), farmland, and the developing commercial sprawl west of Harlem Avenue.

So they have a little island at Odyssey. There aren’t more than 20 houses in the corner of the development where he is building. I don’t know how the tax thing works, but is the Township getting screwed out of the $20,000/year that his house should be assessed, just because the church owns it?

Jaibones on March 31, 2008 at 10:42 AM

We decided to do what a newspaper does: to present that news to our readers, accurately, fairly and as quickly as possible

That made me laugh. The only thing about that statement that is correct, when applied to the NYT, is the part about as quickly as possible. Which is evidenced in the lack of research on the part of Ms. Kantor to reveal what Rev. Wright was really all about.

KrisinNE on March 31, 2008 at 10:53 AM

Most of the big houses are on the golf course – his isn’t.

RACISM!!!!

benrand on March 31, 2008 at 11:02 AM

NYT ….. “We decided to do what a newspaper does: to present that news to our readers, accurately, fairly and as quickly as possible.”

Sorry Ed, but I couldn’t read any further after that double whopper with cheese.

fogw on March 31, 2008 at 11:08 AM

Democrats, even those in the “fact finding” business, are constantly lying, omitting, slanting, etc., events of the day in order to influence other peoples’ views and thoughts and are ultimately trying to influence elections! I hope there’s a special place in hell for these democrats, although I really hope everyone goes to heaven, thanks to JC. In the meantime, God help us.

bluestater on March 31, 2008 at 11:16 AM

Uh Ed, I’m sure he expected that to be in the article. However I also suspect he (Rightly) believed that they wouldn’t just toss away over two hours of conversation for just that small segment of their conversation. That is definitely deceptive, and if Wright weren’t on the other side of the aisle, I’m sure you’d agree.

Typhonsentra on March 31, 2008 at 11:40 AM

Putting aside the question of why a letter that is more than a year old is suddenly getting new circulation, it is worth noting that at no time has Mr. Wright challenged the accuracy of either story

When the truth hurts.

Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright

Is it possible that candidate Obama was and may still be, seduced by a sexy conspiracy theory?

He’s susceptibility to conspiracy is hardly a resume builder for a candidate.

Did the Times deliberately pull its punches, even after getting slapped by Wright over Kantor’s early reporting?

Hmmm, NYT…Black liberation theologist, I’m going with pulled punches.

Speakup on March 31, 2008 at 11:50 AM

Creepy marxist racists.

saved on March 31, 2008 at 12:00 PM

more to the point, did the Times pull its punches because Wright complained about their early coverage?

It’s obvious the MSM has not only been pulling its punches, but slobbering all over its PC self to promote the “post racial” messiah.

My guess is that Obama’s people have pushed too hard, taking exception to anything even vaguely uncomplementary of their candidate as a form of racism.

What we’re seeing now — wasn’t ABC the first network to air the Wright video clips? — is a sort of buyers’ remorse, and perhaps the belated realization that they are being forced into a situation where even the vaunted grey lady of socialism doesn’t want to go: total self-censorship in the name of “racial healing.”

Of course, it will only last until Obama gets the nomination, because even this most unqualified, devisive, cynically conniving and potentially disastrous candidate will get their support, as long as he’s running as a Democrat.

Nichevo on March 31, 2008 at 12:01 PM

Missed it? For the past year, every couple of weeks I got an email regarding Wright’s church.
Most of us have known about it for the past year, but apparently, newspapers don’t go out into the streets anymore…

right2bright on March 31, 2008 at 12:40 PM

Hillary needs to be going to church every Sunday (with media in tow).

faraway on March 31, 2008 at 1:31 PM

“The entire national media missed the Wright Stuff”

Is that like the national intelligence centers failing to ‘connect the dots’ prior to 9/11?

GarandFan on March 31, 2008 at 2:01 PM

All politicians put their cronies in top positions when they get elected – President Obama = Secretary of state Wright !!!

LODGE4 on March 31, 2008 at 2:15 PM

It’s not so much that the Times missed it, but that a year ago, the Times (like almost everyone else) didn’t think Obama had a chance against Hillary, after he faded in the spring and summer following a fast start. No point in destroying the Rev. Wright’s career for a story on a guy who wasn’t going to be president.

But at the same time, given the paper’s white liberal guilt mindset, had Obama been taken as seriously last year as he is today, the Times wouldn’t have focused on the story more, they would have focused on it less, except for the few odd people still in positions of influence at the paper in Hillary’s corner, like Krugman or Gail Collins. The Obama story was done last year as a one-shot curiosity, not out of any desire to do a continuing series. Now, knowing that any story at all would damage the candidate, the Times has no intention on taking the lead in any further investigations of Wright.

They stand by their story from 2007, but probably wish in hindsight that they had never done the story in the first place.

jon1979 on March 31, 2008 at 2:27 PM

I told you what a dreamer he was. I told you how idealistic he was. We
talked about how refreshing it would be for someone who knew about Islam
to be in the Oval Office.

But McCain knows about Islam…
The more I hear about Obama, the more it freaks me out that he just might be our next President.

4shoes on March 31, 2008 at 3:26 PM

Mr. Wright… interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people….

Umhmmm. David Koresh thought it was all about him and his crew, too.

Akzed on March 31, 2008 at 4:12 PM

jon1979 has it right. Wright’s “theology” of victimisation rings true with so much of the liberal press that it really wasn’t much of a story to them. The rave reviews to Obama’s “race” speech are simply further confirmation of what they believe.

DakotaBoy on March 31, 2008 at 6:45 PM