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How "Media Black Out" on Barack Obama's Pastor Was Broken

April 7th 2008

Ronald Kessler
Ronald Kessler

For more than a year, the media ignored Barack Obama’s close association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Now media critics are asking why.

The answer is that reporters and editors are enamored of Obama and do not want to touch such a racially charged subject.

As chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax, I began doing stories about Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ and its so-called Black Value System on Jan. 7 with “Barack Obama’s Racist Church.”

The story said the Black Value System asserts that America structures “an economic environment that induces captive youth to fill the jails and prisons" and takes other steps to “snare” blacks rather than “killing them off directly” or “placing them in concentration camps.”

I cited two exceptions to the media blackout about Obama and his church. Tucker Carlson of MSNBC had described Trinity as having a “racially exclusive theology” that “contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity.” Sean Hannity of Fox News had confronted Wright on TV and asked how a Black Value System would be any more acceptable than a white value system.

On Jan. 14, I broke the story on the church’s lifetime achievement award last December to Louis Farrakhan with “Obama Minister Honored Farrakhan.” The story on Newsmax.com quoted Wright’s glowing praise of Farrakhan in the church magazine, Trumpet.

The next day, Richard Cohen wrote a Washington Post column on the award.

“Maybe for Wright and some others, Farrakhan ‘epitomized greatness,’” Cohen wrote. “For most Americans, though, Farrakhan epitomizes racism, particularly in the form of anti-Semitism.”

In subsequent weeks, I wrote more stories, including one pointing out that Obama was dissembling about the reason for the award. Obama said that the award was for Farrakhan’s work with ex-offenders. In fact, the award presentation said nothing about ex-offenders.

On March 6, I wrote “Obama Minister Exudes Hatred.” That story quoted the full text of a sermon Wright gave at Howard University on Feb. 15, 2006. Based on that, I sent a proposed Op-Ed to the Washington Post’s editorial side. I sent a similar piece to the paper’s “Outlook” section. Both rejected the piece.

On March 12, Fox News ran a portion of a Wright sermon. ABC ran more excerpts the next day. On March 15, my Op-Ed, “Obama and the Minister,” appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Based on reporting for Newsmax, it included excerpts from the Howard University sermon. The Op-Ed had been submitted the previous week.

Referring to that piece, the March 15 New York Times said, “On Friday, Senator John McCain’s campaign forwarded to reporters an article in The Wall Street Journal in which Mr. Wright was quoted as saying, ‘Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run,’ and accusing the United States of importing drugs, exporting guns and training murderers.”

That same day, the Washington Post reported in a Page One story that “more examples of Wright’s rhetoric surfaced this week, including a speech Wright delivered in 2006 at Howard University in which he said: ‘Racism is how this country was founded and how this country was run ... We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.’ The speech was quoted in an Op-Ed article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal.”

Beginning with the first story on Jan. 7, I sent my Newsmax stories and later The Wall Street Journal Op-Ed to key reporters, editors, and television producers at major news organizations.

Addressing Obama’s belated public criticism of Wright’s comments, Richard Cohen wrote in his March 16 Washington Post column, “How is it possible that a campaign apparatus that sniffed out Geraldine Ferraro’s offensive statement to a local California newspaper (the Daily Breeze, 12th paragraph) did not know that Wright’s statements condemning America were all over the internet and had been cited March 6 by the (reputable) anti-Obama columnist Ronald Kessler?”

As a former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter myself, I have many contacts in the media. When I first began doing the stories, a reporter for one of the networks told me she could never propose such a story.

“The media love Obama,” she said. "If you want to do a critical story about him, you are considered by the network to be biased.”

Other contacts pointed out how the racial aspect of the story contributed to fear of touching it. In fact, I received many e-mails accusing me of being a racist. Despite the sensitivity, Chris Ruddy, CEO and editor in chief of Newsmax, never flinched.

According to pollsters, largely as a result of the recent stories about Wright, Obama’s double-digit lead over Hillary Clinton in national polls has now vanished. At the same time, John McCain has shot up in the polls.

Still, the media are hesitant to run critical stories about Obama. To date, no newspaper has pointed out that on April 11, 2007, Obama called for the firing of Don Imus over his racially offensive comment. Yet, in an exquisite example of a double standard, Obama spent two decades listening to Wright’s trademark denunciations of whites as racists and never walked out or called for his dismissal.

Instead, Obama looked to Wright as an adviser, sounding board, and friend. In a video on YouTube, Obama calls Wright a “great leader.” To this day, while Obama has distanced himself from Wright’s known seemiongly paranoid and hate-filled statements about whites and America, he refuses to denounce Wright himself.

New York Times bestselling author Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of www.Newsmax.com, from which this story was adapted.

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