Ever since Barack Obama renounced the outlandish comments made by his now-former pastor Jeremiah Wright, the mainstream media have done a bang-up job of helping him make sure the chasm between them is deep and wide. Newsweek may get the prize with a quadruple effort in the May 12 edition.
Page 8 – “Something Wasn't Wright” is the headline over a piece about Oprah Winfrey joining and leaving Wright's church. The article details how Winfrey joined Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ when she moved to Chicago in 1984 because she was “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown's black community.” She also “admired” the work that church was doing with the poor and “she took pride in upholding her Southern grandmother's legacy of involvement with traditional African-American houses of worship.” The article states that Winfrey attended the church off and on through the mid 1990s but then left it, a “major reason” being the preaching of Wright. The article quotes several anonymous sources who discuss the reasons Winfrey and Obama attended the church. But the agenda comes out in full glory at the end, when a friend of Winfrey's says the talk show star was “blindsided” by Wright's “personal assault on Obama.” Reporter Allison Samuels closes the story with this quote: “She also never thought he'd (Wright) intentionally hurt someone trying to make history and change the lives of so many people.”
Page 10 – The Conventional Wisdom column gives Wright a down arrow and says, “Loony pastor from hell does all he can to damage a black man's candidacy. Jealous?”
Pages 32-33, the centerfold story of the issue – “Obama's New Gospel” – spends two pages and lots of words introducing readers to two Obama supporters, former Indiana congressman Tim Roemer and Joshua DuBois, Obama's director of faith outreach. Romer and Dubois are on a mission to convince America that Obama is a committed Christian, that he is offended by Wright's comments, and that he is pained by, but resolute in, his decision to cut ties to a man he has known for two decades. The article also details Obama's reactions as he watched the videotape of Wright's press conference held on April 28. But, again, it is the last sentence which makes the point of the story: “Now guys like Roemer and DuBois can give a simple answer when they're asked about Obama's relationship with the controversial preacher: it's over.”
Page 34 – “A Turbulent Pastor” is not a story about Jeremiah Wright. No, flipping the page after “Obama's New Gospel” the reader finds a picture of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain with John Hagee, the Texas-based pastor who endorsed McCain but also has made controversial statements about the Catholic Church and Iran and Israel. It is obvious that Newsweek is seeking to mitigate the damage Wright has done to Obama by trying to make a comparison to the Hagee-McCain relationship. But the comparison doesn't work because Hagee wasn't McCain's pastor for twenty years and McCain has been specific in saying that his relationship with the pastor is based on Hagee's pro-Israel stance. Reporter Holly Bailey pounds the non-existent comparison by mentioning that Hagee donated to McCain's campaign and “with Jerry Falwell” (the media's favorite “controversial pastor”) held “a reception for the senator at a convention of influential religious broadcasters.” She reports that McCain was offended by Hagee's controversial statements and then seems to pay the pastor a compliment by reporting that since he endorsed McCain in February the two have not been seen together and “the pastor has tried to limit potential damage” including telling reporters it is “better” if he doesn't comment on McCain or his campaign.
The photos accompanying the stories work just as hard as the text to proactively contribute to Obama's damage control efforts. The article about Oprah features her looking very concerned with her hands together, raised as if in prayer. The two-page feature on Obama includes a picture of him speaking from a pulpit with a cross in the background. The story about McCain and Hagee comes with a picture of the two men in front of a McCain campaign backdrop.
Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.