Obama's pastor vs. NY Times

JeremiahWright 01It is rare that we get to hear someone on the left side of the church aisle tee off and blast a major media institution, accusing it of being unethical and, yes, biased. Well, here's one.

The seed for this explosion was the New York Times article focusing on the decision by Barack Obama to withdraw his invitation to his some-would-say controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., to do the invocation at the public event announcing the senator's decision to seek the presidency. The Times noted:

But Mr. Wright said Mr. Obama called him the night before the Feb. 10 announcement and rescinded the invitation to give the invocation. ... Some black leaders are questioning Mr. Obama's decision to distance his campaign from Mr. Wright because of the campaign's apparent fear of criticism over Mr. Wright's teachings, which some say are overly Afrocentric to the point of excluding whites.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said the campaign disinvited Mr. Wright because it did not want the church to face negative attention. Mr. Wright did however, attend the announcement and prayed with Mr. Obama beforehand.

That leads us to the following letter. Click here to read the whole text (the original begins on p. 10 in this PDF from Wright's church), but here is the first half:

March 11, 2007 Jodi Kantor The New York Times 9 West 43rd Street New York, New York 10036-3959

Dear Jodi:

Thank you for engaging in one of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years. You sat and shared with me for two hours. You told me you were doing a "Spiritual Biography" of Senator Barack Obama. For two hours, I shared with you how I thought he was the most principled individual in public service that I have ever met.

For two hours, I talked with you about how idealistic he was. For two hours I shared with you what a genuine human being he was. I told you how incredible he was as a man who was an African American in public service, and as a man who refused to announce his candidacy for President until Carol Moseley Braun indicated one way or the other whether or not she was going to run.

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. Your own question to me was, Didn't I think it would be incredible to have somebody in the Oval Office who not only knew about Muslims, but had living and breathing Muslims in his own family? I told you how important it would be to have a man who not only knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis prior to 9/11/01 in the Oval Office, but also how important it would be to have a man who knew what Sufism was; a man who understood that there were different branches of Judaism; a man who knew the difference between Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews and Reformed Jews; and a man who was a devout Christian, but who did not prejudge others because they believed something other than what he believed.

I talked about how rare it was to meet a man whose Christianity was not just "in word only." I talked about Barack being a person who lived his faith and did not argue his faith. I talked about Barack as a person who did not draw doctrinal lines in the sand nor consign other people to hell if they did not believe what he believed.

Out of a two-hour conversation with you about Barack's spiritual journey and my protesting to you that I had not shaped him nor formed him, that I had not mentored him or made him the man he was, even though I would love to take that credit, you did not print any of that. When I told you, using one of your own Jewish stories from the Hebrew Bible as to how God asked Moses, "What is that in your hand?," that Barack was like that when I met him. Barack had it "in his hand." Barack had in his grasp a uniqueness in terms of his spiritual development that one is hard put to find in the 21st century, and you did not print that.

As I was just starting to say a moment ago, Jodi, out of two hours of conversation I spent approximately five to seven minutes on Barack's taking advice from one of his trusted campaign people and deeming it unwise to make me the media spotlight on the day of his announcing his candidacy for the Presidency and what do you print? You and your editor proceeded to present to the general public a snippet, a printed "sound byte" and a titillating and tantalizing article about his disinviting me to the Invocation on the day of his announcing his candidacy.

I have never been exposed to that kind of duplicitous behavior before. ...

You get the picture.

This is a very interesting look at the Times from a liberal leader on the other side of the reporter's notebook. Toward the end, Wright even accuses the newspaper of conservative bias because of its early take on the Iraq war and its acceptance of some Bush arguments -- or its straightforward representation of White House arguments as part of a debate with the left. I am sure that many conservatives will read this part of the letter in amazement, trying to imagine a conservative slant at the Times. Can the right feel Wright's pain?

tower ball and chainIt also seems that Wright sounds rather hurt, perhaps because of his assumption that this particular newspaper would not spin quotes from a liberal leader in a direction that "hurts" him. Certainly a theocratic leader, Dr. James Dobson perhaps, would not go into an interview with the Gray Lady assuming that the newspaper would treat him well. No way.

Finally, there is another side to this encounter.

Click here to read a fascinating post by Newsweek's Richard Wolffe on Wright's church and its attempt to control the access of the press. Oh my, it appears that press paranoia exists on the left and the right.

Check it out! Can you imagine major newspapers accepting this kind of ball-and-chain arrangement at, let's say, a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention? To land an interview with Billy Graham? Holy PR! Did The New York Times really agree to this stuff?

Wright's Chicago mega-church, Trinity United Church of Christ, imposes strict requirements on journalists who want to speak to the pastor. Reporters must sign two sets of legal papers on behalf of their news organizations before any interviews in order to be allowed inside the church.

The church has a list of what it calls "policies and procedures for use with outside media sources" or OMS for short. The paperwork states that the journalist will "fact-check the article" with the reverend's daughter, Jeri Wright, who is his media services director. The journalist also agrees to "give a full and fair idea of what to expect from the story." In addition, the journalist promises to give the church "any quotes derived from the interview process, prior to publication" and promises that all published quotes "are original quotes and will not be altered by the OMS in any way."

The second agreement, entitled "official waiver for use with outside media sources," states that "any infraction" of the church's OMS policies and procedures would lead to the reporter's "immediate removal" from the church and the confiscation of all interview notes and photos.

Has anyone seen a reaction to all of this by Obama?

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