Monday, March 31, 2008

NYT Squeals Then Reveals Obama's Consistency On Wright

Richard Stevenson, the New York Times political editor, wrote to The Page to defend Jodi Kantor.
But in this case, I’d like to add some facts to ensure that Mr. Wright’s complaints are placed in their proper context and that the dissemination of his letter now does not unfairly impugn Ms. Kantor’s work or undermine public confidence in our standards and practices.
He did so because a letter from Wright to Ms. Kantor has been circulating on the web (thanks partly to The Page). Wright essentially complained, loudly and colorfully, that Kantor has misled her about her intentions and the purpose of her interview with him. Stevenson notes that the full article that she had told Wright she was investigating did appear belatedly, but in the meantime that she properly brought the news and words and views of Wright regarding Obama decision to have him not do the invocation at the announcement of his candidacy. And that short piece was written first, which is what led Wright to feel he was sandbagged by her and the Times.

I found that last bit pretty funny as the Times standards are not what they should be. (Judy Miller?) Wright mentions Judy Miller in his letter, actually. I canceled my subscription because of my lack of faith in their standards. Newsweek too and now Newsweek is laying off 100s of reporters and losing much of its institutional history (not Evan Thomas, Jon Alter or Howard Fineman).

But my sense of fairness prompted me to read the story that Stevenson said was the full story A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith that Kantor had been working on, which appeared in April 2007.

Check this quote out from Obama in Kantor's April piece:
“Reverend Wright is a child of the 60s, and he often expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism and the struggles the African-American community has gone through,” Mr. Obama said. “He analyzes public events in the context of race. I tend to look at them through the context of social justice and inequality.”
I'm struck by his consistency. This explanation of Wright's anger and where he and Wright diverge and why they diverge is exactly the same as he offered in his speech two weeks ago.

On Obama's reason for dropping Wright from his announcement ceremony sounds exactly like the reason he's been offering these past weeks:
Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright’s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But “we don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.”
Which seems to have been a proper caution given what has bourne out, even in April 2007:
Since Mr. Obama announced his candidacy, the church has received threatening phone calls. On blogs and cable news shows, conservative critics have called it separatist and antiwhite.
Rev. Wright, over the last few weeks, has had to cancel several public appearances.

I personally loved this bit:
He tends to turn to his minister at moments of frustration, Mr. Wright said, such as when Mr. Obama felt a Congressional Black Caucus meeting was heavier on entertainment than substance.
I used to work down the hall from the Congressional Black Caucus when I worked for the Congressional Arts Caucus. The executive directors were friends. I had the exact same frustration working in my office and came to the conclusion, rather quickly, that the Arts Caucus was simply an excuse for congress people (my boss especially) to meet famous movie stars. I did meet Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr, Alex Baldwin and Ron Silver. The year I was there was the year of Mapplethrope and Piss Christ - importance matters at the crossroads of arts and government. So I did get to work on some substance, but only because it was too big to ignore. I left after 13 months and openly and totally agreed with Gingrich when he eliminated such legislative "service" organizations after the Republicans took over. The place I worked was a waste of taxpayer money and my boss the wife, and a despicable person, of a Democratic congressman who wanted a job. The Black Caucus survived that slashing, but gosh reading of Obama's frustration seemed like yet another bit of affinity in my perspectives with his.

Then this bit:

But he also talks of building a consensus among secular liberal and conservative Christian voters. Mr. Wallis, the antipoverty advocate who calls himself a “progressive evangelical,” first met Mr. Obama 10 years ago when both participated in traveling seminars on American civic life. On bus rides, Mr. Wallis and Mr. Obama would huddle, away from company like George Stephanopoulos and Ralph Reed, to plot building a coalition of progressive and religious voters.

“The problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect 10 point plan,” Mr. Obama says in one of his standard campaign lines. “They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man.”

He often makes reference to the civil rights movement, when liberals used Christian rhetoric to win change.

I knew Obama and Wallis were close. Wallis is thanked in Obama's acknowledgments in The Audactiy of Hope, which I noted when I wrote of Obama's entourage. In 2005, he gained notoriety for his book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. You've probably seen him on Meet the Press and other news programs. PBS's Frontline interviewed him for their program The Jesus Factor which you can read here. But I had no idea their friendship went 10 years. I love the image of them huddling in the back plotting how to reconnect progressive, liberal voters to those who consider themselves religious.

Well, I suggest reading the whole April piece, but I have to say I don't blame Wright for feeling misled by the New York Times. Don't we all?

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