NYT Glosses Over Wright's Rants on 9-11, "God Damn America"

Prodded by clips of minister Jeremiah Wright's hateful, anti-American preaching, the media is hesitantly broaching Barack Obama's now-controversial relationship with Wright, the minister of Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ. Wright delivered a sermon that provided the title for Obama's autobiography "The Audacity of Hope." The Times, while not ignoring the story, has often glossed over some inconvenient bits, both now and when it first became an issue in early 2007.

Journalist Mark Steyn noted Wright's "God damn America" quote from a 2003 sermonwas relayed in the Monday edition of the International Herald Tribune (the Times' international edition) but not by the Times itself. "God damn America" has appeared in the New York Times only in a William Kristol column, not in the news pages.

Brian Knowlton and Jodi Kantor's IHT story played Wright's offensive remarks in the second paragraph.

Senator Barack Obama was struggling Monday to contain a growing storm over incendiary comments by the former minister of his Chicago church, and he planned to deliver a major speech Tuesday to try to put the matter behind him.

As political blogs and cable television continued to air remarks by the minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr., saying, "God damn America" and suggesting that the country bore some blame for the attacks of Sept. 11, Obama moved forcibly to distance himself.

But the phrase is absent from an altered, updated version of the story coauthored by Kantor and Jeff Zeleny on Tuesday's New York Times front page.

It's not U.S. prudery that's kept Wright's phrase out of the paper. After all, the Times used "God damn America" on January 6, 2007, quoting a banner in Beirut in a story on outrage over the hanging of Saddam Hussein.

(The full Wright quote: "Not God bless America, God damn America! God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.")

It's clear now that reporter Jodi Kantor didn't provide the full story of Wright's inflammatory sermons in her interview with Wright in the April 30, 2007 Times, although she had at least strong hints of the specific hateful content of his sermons.

Witness this excerpt from Kantor (h/t Bill McGowan):

[Barack Obama] had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.

Few of those at Mr. Wright's tribute in March knew of the pressures that Mr. Obama's presidential run was placing on the relationship between the pastor and his star congregant. Mr. Wright's assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.

And how's this for a rationalization for visiting some of the world's dictators?

[Wright] 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.

Near the end of that 2007 story, Kantor left out the specifics of Wright's comments on 9-11 (though to her credit, she quoted them deep ina March 15 story):

On the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Mr. Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later he wrote that the attacks had proved that ''people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just 'disappeared' as the Great White West went on its merry way of ignoring Black concerns.''

What Wright actually said in his sermon of September 16, 2001:

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

Feeling the heat, Obama addressed Wright in a Tuesday speech in Philadelphia. Reporter Jeff Zeleny, who covered Obama in Chicago for the Chicago Tribune, characterized Wright's previous rants in strong terms but also didn't quote them in his initial online filing at nytimes.com.

In an address at the National Constitution Center, a building steeped in the nation's historic symbolism, Mr. Obama delivered a sweeping assessment of race in America. It was the most extensive speech of his presidential campaign devoted to race and unity, a moment his advisers conceded presented one of the biggest tests of his candidacy.

For nearly a week, Mr. Obama has struggled to distance himself from a series of controversial statements by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who characterized the United States as fundamentally racist and the government as corrupt and murderous. Mr. Obama concluded over the weekend that he had failed to resolve the questions, aides said, and told advisers he wanted to address the firestorm in a speech.

In his address here, delivered in an auditorium to an audience of about 200 elected officials and members of the clergy, Mr. Obama disavowed the remarks by Mr. Wright as "not only wrong, but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity." But he did not wholly distance himself from his pastor or the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, on Chicago's South Side.