Obama's Ex-Pastor Resurfaces, at Potential Cost to Candidate

Pastor's public defense may serve only to reignite the firestorm.


April 25, 2008— -- The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is on a campaign to explain controversial remarks of his that created a firestorm for his former congregant, presidential hopeful Barack Obama, but many believe Wright's fiery remarks could burn Obama once again.

"If he was a Barack Obama supporter, I think he would pull himself off of the stage at this point," said National Public Radio senior political analyst Juan Williams.

"Nothing good comes of this for Barack Obama," concurred ABC News political contributor Cokie Roberts.

Six weeks after controversial video clips of sermons by Obama's former pastor splashed across the national media, Wright is now speaking out publicly in an interview on PBS. Wright will also be speaking to the NAACP on Sunday and will be in Washington D.C. on Monday addressing the National Press Club.

The controversial pastor is speaking up as Obama heads into the crucial Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

"If you're with the Barack Obama campaign this morning, you're pulling your hair out," said Williams.

In the PBS interview on the "Bill Moyers Journal," Wright complains that reporters picked sound bites from his sermons with the intent of defaming him and, by association, Obama.

"At a political event, he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician," Wright told Moyers. "I continue to be a pastor … He's a politician. I'm a pastor."

Roberts and others saw the defense as short of unassailable.

"Even though he was defending himself, quite nicely, he said Barack Obama spoke as a politician. That is the last thing Obama wants people to think of him as. He has approached the American people as a pastor-type himself," said Roberts.

Williams agreed that calling Obama a politician would have Americans asking "was he simply being politically expedient, or was he being sincere?" during his "race speech" in Philadelphia last month.

In the Moyers interview, a soft-spoken Wright expresses his horror that the media has made him a bogeyman, endlessly replaying sound bites of fiery sermons which he claims were taken out of context.

"I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue," the former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ told Moyers, adding that some of the snippets were taken from many years ago.

For instance, after the 9/11 attack, Wright famously preached that the "chickens had come home to roost." Wright said it was clear to those present for the sermon that he was quoting President Reagan's former ambassador to Iraq.

"I think his manner, his demeanor, comes off being very appealing … but if you actually look at the snippets for what they are, where he's damning America, or the KKK in America, or the white government spreading AIDS in America, it's just so unappealing. At some point it's hard to explain away why the words were coming from his mouth. And then it invites to question Barack Obama's judgment, in sitting there all those years and being part of that kind of, what he calls by his own admission, 'divisive, hate speech,'" said Williams.

Roberts argued that Wright's coming out now would serve as "an excuse for everybody to play the bites over and over again."

She also pointed out that since clips of the Moyers interview came out Thursday that "the TV shout-fest is in full cry" already.

"The people that are defending Reverend Wright are saying things that are also going to be incendiary to a lot of Americans. I think this is all about him and not about Barack Obama," Roberts said.

Wright points out that his history shows that he's not unpatriotic. He volunteered for the Marines and fought in Vietnam. As a corpsman in 1966, he served on the medical team that cared for President Lyndon Johnson. The White House gave him three letters of commendation.

"The church members are very upset because they know it's a lie, the things being broadcast," Wright said, adding that there have even been death threats on him and bomb threats on his church.

A Web site has now been set up by one of the church's members seeking to defend Wright and to provide fuller context of the sermons: you can visit TruthaboutTrinity.blogspot.com by clicking here.

The Obama campaign says it had nothing to do with either the timing or the content of Wright's interview.

The full interview airs tonight at 9 p.m. on PBS's "Bill Moyers Journal."

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