Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: NYT's Sorrowful Account of the Obama-Wright Split

Obama has finally broken it off with his radical Rev., and the Times took notice with a Thursday front-page story by Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor, "A Strained Wright-Obama Bond Finally Snaps."

Clearly sympathetic to the candidate, the paper took for granted that Obama had no clue how radical his old pastor was, and that Obama's slow (suspiciously slow, some say) anger that boiled over in his Tuesday speech denouncing Rev. Wright was in fact righteous and not just politically vital.

Late Monday night, in the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C., Barack Obama's long, slow fuse burned to an end. Earlier that day he had thumbed through his BlackBerry, reading accounts of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s latest explosive comments on race and America. But his remarks to the press this day had amounted to a shrug of frustration.

Only in this hotel room, confronted with the televised replay of the combustible pastor, did the candidate realize the full import of the remarks, his aides say. At the same time, aides fielded phone calls and e-mail from uncommitted superdelegates, several demanding that the candidate speak out more forcefully.

As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright's implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that.


In recent months, the candidate has tried to distance himself from Mr. Wright and his often radical views, even as he felt compelled to understand and explain his former pastor to a larger, predominantly white political world.


In this learned and radical pastor, Mr. Obama found a guide who could explain Jesus and faith in terms intellectual no less than emotional, and who helped a man of mixed racial parentage come to understand himself as an African-American. "Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black," Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography "Dreams From My Father."

At the same time, as Mr. Obama's friends and aides now acknowledge, he was aware that, shorn of their South Side Chicago context, the words and cadences of a politically left-wing black minister could have a very problematic echo. So Mr. Obama haltingly distanced himself from his pastor.

How Wright's rants that America deserved 9-11; that the government used the AIDS virus to wipe out minorities; and his praise for the anti-Semitic Lewis Farrakhan, benefited by context is left unexplored.

The more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger vibe of the Obama-Wright breakup is maintained throughout the story, as Powell and Kantor insist on seeing Wright as some kind of victim lashing out at an unfair world:

That month, Mr. Obama gave his speech on race in Philadelphia, a long, pained, nuanced take that purchased distance between himself and his mentor, even as he struggled to explain Mr. Wright's hurt to the larger world. "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me," Mr. Obama said. "He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms."