Wright stuff: Reassessing the prophet

LincolnArtI am completely confused by the media coverage of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. I feel as if the media went from providing a bit too much context for his incendiary remarks to completely abandoning the man. Is there any substantial difference between what he said this week at the National Press Club and what we saw in televised snippets from his sermons? Has he said anything different about his famous parishioner Barack Obama than he did in his old interviews with the New York Times or Rolling Stone? Did the mood change because he went after the media in their own house? Did the mood change because the media support Obama and it's clear Wright is hurting Obama? It all seems a bit unfair. From my view, Wright hasn't changed one bit and now, all of a sudden, he went from being a prophetic preacher to a really bad man. His only media friend is PBS' Bill Moyers. Why has the mainstream media changed its tune?

The real point of this post, however, is to look at how Bible verses are created in the media. Lynn Sweet, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Wright at the press club event as follows:

During a question and answer session after his speech, Wright was asked why he waited so long to try to explain himself: "As I said to Bill Moyers -- and he also edited this one out -- because of my mother's advice to me. My mother's advice was being seen all over the -- all over the corporate media channels, and it's a paraphrase of the Book of Proverbs, where it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. The media was making a fool out of itself because it knew nothing about our tradition.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank paraphrased the paraphrase in his piece denouncing Wright for praising Louis Farrakhan, defending the view that Zionism is racism, accusing the United States of terrorism, repeating his view that the government created the AIDS virus to cause the genocide of racial minorities, standing by his previous remarks (e.g. "God damn America") and holding himself out as a spokesman for the black church in America:

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, explaining this morning why he had waited so long before breaking his silence about his incendiary sermons, offered a paraphrase from Proverbs: "It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Linking to Milbank is Dayo Olopade at The New Republic:

Breaking his silence to the DC press corps today, Wright had the audacity to cite Proverbs: "It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

As Nathan Goulding pointed out at National Review, the problem with that last reference is that Wright was citing President Abraham Lincoln, not the Book of Proverbs. Lincoln was referencing Proverbs, of course. Proverbs 17:28, to be precise:

Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.

Image via the Lincoln Art Gallery

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