Russert falsely attributed "epitomized greatness" quote to Rev. Wright

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

During the February 26 Democratic presidential debate, Tim Russert falsely claimed that Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, which Sen. Barack Obama attends, "said that Louis Farrakhan 'epitomizes greatness.' "

During the February 26 Democratic presidential debate, co-moderator Tim Russert said to Sen. Barack Obama, "The title of one of your books, Audacity of Hope, you acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the head of the Trinity United Church." Russert then claimed, falsely, "He said that [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan 'epitomizes greatness.' " Russert went on to ask, "What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether it's Farrakhan's support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?" But it was not Wright who said Farrakhan "epitomizes greatness." Rather, in an article in which Trumpet Newsmagazine -- a publication whose CEO and founder is Wright, then-pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, which Obama attends -- awarded Farrakhan the "Lifetime Achievement 'Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Trumpeter Award,' " it was managing editor Rhoda McKinney-Jones, who wrote, "I could not help but think, the Minister, the man with whom I had been so casually speaking, truly epitomized greatness." Fox News' Sean Hannity similarly misattributed the quote on numerous occasions in January. Other media outlets -- in some cases citing Russert -- have misattributed the quote to Wright.

Russert's falsehood about the quote was yet another in a series of falsehoods contained in questions he has asked during the Democratic presidential debates.

Here is what McKinney-Jones wrote of Farrakhan in the article, which appeared in the November/December 2007 of Trumpet Newsmagazine:

Because of the Minister's influence in the African American community, Trumpet Newsmagazine honors him this winter at its Sounds of the Shore gala with an Empowerment Award. It seemed a fitting tribute for a storied life well lived. And as our brief interview drew to a close and he thanked me for taking the time to talk to him, I could not help but think, the Minister, the man with whom I had been so casually speaking, truly epitomized greatness.

The article included praise of Farrakhan from Wright, but nowhere did it quote Wright claiming that Farrakhan "epitomizes greatness" or "epitomized greatness":

"When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens," says the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, likening the Minister's influence to the E. F. Hutton commercials of old. "Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen ... His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest.

"Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience," continues Wright. "His integrity and honesty have secured him a place in history as one of the nation's most powerful critics. His love for Africa and African American people has made him an unforgettable force, a catalyst for change and a religious leader who is sincere about his faith and his purpose."

The Trumpet Newsmagazine website lists Jeri L. Wright as the magazine's publisher and E. Janet Wright as its executive editor.

In his January 15 Washington Post column, Richard Cohen flagged the comment:

In 1982, the church [Trinity United Church of Christ] launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said "truly epitomized greatness." That man is Louis Farrakhan.

Maybe for Wright and some others, Farrakhan "epitomized greatness." For most Americans, though, Farrakhan epitomizes racism, particularly in the form of anti-Semitism.

Following Cohen's reporting, Hannity misattributed the quote to Wright on the January 16, 17, and 18 editions of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and on the March 2 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America, asserting, among other things, that Wright "gave an award to Louis Farrakhan, and he said he's a man who truly epitomized greatness." During the January 18 broadcast, Hannity stated, "Now, I know that -- I know that Barack Obama distanced himself from it, but do you think Louis Farrakhan is a racist, an anti-Semite?" On the January 17 edition, he said, "Barack Obama's pastor says he truly -- and what did he say? -- truly epitomized greatness, about a racist and anti-Semite, Farrakhan."

During the February 26 debate, as Media Matters for America noted, Russert repeatedly questioned Obama concerning praise he received from Farrakhan without noting that the campaign was quoted criticizing Farrakhan in the very article Russert cited to note the minister's support for Obama, that Obama himself said in a speech the day before the debate that he is a "consistent denunciator of Louis Farrakhan," or that Obama denounced Farrakhan's comments in his response to Russert's initial question on the subject. Other media also have falsely attributed McKinney-Jones' quote to Rev. Wright:

  • On the February 27 edition of CNN's Election Center, correspondent Mary Snow asserted, "Wright's no stranger to controversy. He once referred to Louis Farrakhan as someone who 'epitomized greatness.' " Snow subsequently attributed the quote to the magazine as opposed to Wright, asserting during the March 2 edition of Lou Dobbs This Week, "[T]he church's magazine gave an award to Louis Farrakhan last year, saying he 'epitomized greatness.' "
  • In a February 28 article headlined "Obama Rebuffs Challenges on His Israel Stance," Washington Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman repeated the quote and misattributed it to Wright, reporting that during the debate, Obama "disavowed an endorsement from Farrakhan but did not directly answer a question about Wright once having said that Farrakhan 'epitomizes greatness.' " Additionally, as Media Matters noted at the time, contrary to Weisman's assertion, the debate question Weisman referenced was not specifically about Wright's reported remarks on Farrakhan.
  • A February 27 Cleveland Plain Dealer article about the debate uncritically reported Russert's misattribution of the quote:

Russert, noting that Wright has said that Louis Farrakhan "epitomizes greatness," asked Obama how he would assure American Jews "that, whether it's Farrakhan's support or the activities of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?" Obama answered first by citing his strong support from Chicago's Jewish community, saying that he has been "a stalwart friend of Israel's."

  • A March 2 article in Newsday misattributed the quote to Wright:

In recognizing Farrakhan for his work rehabilitating former convicts, Wright said he "truly epitomized greatness." During a private meeting last Sunday with Jewish leaders in Ohio, Obama said commending Farrakhan was "a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community," according to a campaign transcript. He likened Wright to "an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with."

From MSNBC's February 26 broadcast of the Democratic presidential debate:

RUSSERT: The title of one of your books, Audacity of Hope, you acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the head of the Trinity United Church. He said that Louis Farrakhan "epitomizes greatness."

He said that he went to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan to visit with [Libyan leader] Moammar Gadhafi and that, when your political opponents found out about that, quote, "your Jewish support would dry up quicker than a snowball in Hell."

What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether it's Farrakhan's support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?

From the February 27 edition of CNN Election Center:

SNOW: Well, [co-host] Campbell [Brown], you know, as Obama denounced Farrakhan, he was also asked about -- at last night's debate -- about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Wright was pastor of Obama's church, the Trinity United Church of Christ. Obama has said he got the title for his book The Audacity of Hope from one of Wright's sermons.

Wright's no stranger to controversy. He once referred to Louis Farrakhan as someone who, in quote, "epitomized greatness."

From the March 1 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs This Week:

SNOW: Once again, Senator Barack Obama is facing questions about his church pastor and mentor, Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ. The questions started at the launch of his presidential campaign when he disinvited Reverend Wright to speak. Why the questions? For one, the church's magazine gave an award to Louis Farrakhan last year, saying he "epitomized greatness."

From the March 2 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America:

HANNITY: And of course, we can't forget the connection that Farrakhan has to Obama's own Trinity United Church of Christ. Their minister and Obama's spiritual adviser, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, honored Farrakhan for lifetime achievement saying, quote, "He truly epitomized greatness." Now, that's in reference to the same Louis Farrakhan who once referred to the white man as the "skunk of the planet Earth."

From the January 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: All right, let me ask you about Barack Obama's pastor. He gave an award to Louis Farrakhan, and he said he's a man who truly epitomized greatness. Now, I know that -- I know that Barack Obama distanced himself from it, but do you think Louis Farrakhan is a racist, an anti-Semite?

From the January 17 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Mark, let me ask you this. Barack Obama's pastor says he truly -- and what did he say? -- truly epitomized greatness, about a racist and anti-Semite, Farrakhan, and then he talks about the Black Value System. Why not the Christian value system?

From the January 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Let's look at the church of Barack Obama. We've had his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, trying to defend what he calls the Black Value System. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen -- hardly a right-winger, by the way -- he wrote a piece about an award that was given.

This is what he said: "Barack Obama is a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister and Obama's spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., in 1982 they launched Trumpet Newsmagazine. Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor."

Anyway, "every year, they make awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah Wright Trumpeter Award to a man, quote, he said, 'truly epitomizes greatness.' The man is Louis Farrakhan."

Steve McMahon, so that's Barack Obama's pastor praising the anti-Semite and the racist Louis Farrakhan. Is that an issue that we should care about in this campaign?

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Tim Russert
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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