LA Times falsely claimed that, during speech, Obama "offered a different account" of what he had heard Wright say

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN

In an article on Sen. Barack Obama's speech on race and the controversy surrounding remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Los Angeles Times reported that prior to the speech, "Obama had said that when he sat in the pews at Trinity United Church of Christ, he had not heard Wright make some of his more controversial statements," and that during the speech, "Obama offered a different account." But Obama did not change his account with respect to the specific statements "that are the cause of this controversy," but said in the speech that he had heard Wright "make remarks that could be considered controversial."

In a March 19 article about Sen. Barack Obama's March 18 speech on race and the controversy surrounding remarks by his recently retired pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Writing on the Huffington Post website last week and in interviews with Chicago newspapers, Obama had said that when he sat in the pews at Trinity United Church of Christ, he had not heard Wright make some of his more controversial statements." The Times continued: "On Tuesday, saying 'nagging questions' remain for some voters, Obama offered a different account" [emphasis added]. As evidence of this, Times staff writers Peter Wallsten and Peter Nicholas noted that Obama said in his speech: "Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes." However, contrary to the Times' reporting, Obama did not offer a "different account" from his previous statements on the issue.

In a March 14 Huffington Post column, Obama wrote of -- and condemned -- the specific remarks by Wright that sparked the controversy and that have been repeatedly quoted in news reports: "The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation" [emphasis added]. Similarly, during his March 14 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Obama referred specifically to "the statements that have caused controversy," and said: "I'll be honest with you. I wasn't in church when any of those sermons were issued." The same day, during an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Obama also referred to the particular Wright quotes that have been repeated by the media, stating: "The clips that have been shown over the past couple of days are deeply disturbing to me. I wasn't in church during those sermons." Thus Obama did not change his account with respect to the specific statements "that are the cause of this controversy," but said in the speech that he had heard Wright "make remarks that could be considered controversial."

In quoting from Obama's speech, the Times omitted the distinction Obama drew between the "remarks that could be considered controversial" he said he heard and "the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm," which Obama said "weren't simply controversial," and which he had said he had not heard. Obama stated on March 18:

OBAMA: On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation, and that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy, and in some cases, pain. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis, with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial; they weren't simply a religious leader's efforts to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive -- divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change -- problems that are neither black, or white, or Latino, or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

On March 19, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Writing on the Huffington Post website last week and in interviews with Chicago newspapers, Obama had said that when he sat in the pews at Trinity United Church of Christ, he had not heard Wright make some of his more controversial statements.

On Tuesday, saying "nagging questions" remain for some voters, Obama offered a different account.

"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes," Obama said.

"Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."

But in his Huffington Post column, Obama specifically referred to the Wright remarks that have been endlessly repeated by the media, and that had become "the cause of this controversy":

The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

Let me repeat what I've said earlier. All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn. They in no way reflect my attitudes and directly contradict my profound love for this country.

From Obama's March 14 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times:

Q: Do you need to distance yourself from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

A: "He's retiring. He preached his last sermon and is on sabbatical until his official retirement in May. I put out a statement today very clear about my clear rejection of the statements that have caused controversy. I'll be honest with you. I wasn't in church when any of those sermons were issued. I've known Rev. Wright for 20 years. I've known him as a former Marine, as a biblical scholar who's well-known and well-regarded around the country and has taught and lectured at some of the top theological seminaries. He is someone who is not my political advisor but has talked with me about faith and family and my relationship to God. I'd never heard him, he's always preached a social gospel, in a style that, I think, was more casual, less traditional than a lot of people. But the sermons I've always hear were no different than the sermons you hear in many African-American churches. I had not heard him make such, what I consider to be objectionable remarks from the pulpit. Had I heard them while I was in church, I would have objected. Had that been the tenor of the church generally, I probably wouldn't be a member of the church. The church I know, Trinity, is a pillar of the community, one of the most active and well-established churches in the country. It is a welcoming church that is visited by people from all across the world, particularly in the United Church of Christ family, so I strongly reject the statements that he's made.

[...]

A: I have to say that the particular statements that have been pulled out of Rev. Wright's sermons are ones I profoundly disagree with. And if I had heard Rev. Wright making those statements while I was sitting in the pews, I would have talked to him afterwards and said, 'I'm troubled by these statements, and I think they don't reflect my truth and how I feel about this country or race relations.' On the other hand, he preached for 30 years ... there's a well-rounded portrait with him.

From Obama's March 14 interview with the Chicago Tribune:

Obama: Rev. Wright. He preached his last sermon, he's now in retirement. I've put out a statement today. Ill be honest with you, this is somebody who I've known for 20 years. I basically came to the church and became a member of the church through Trinity [United Church of Christ] and through him. He's the person who gave me the line "the audacity of hope." He is somebody who is a former Marine, a biblical scholar, has taught and lectured at major theological seminaries across the country and has been very widely regarded and admired.

And, you know, he hasn't been my political adviser, he's been my pastor. And I have to say that the clips that have been shown over the past couple of days are deeply disturbing to me. I wasn't in church during those sermons.

The things he said and the way he said them I think are offensive. And I reject them, and they don't reflect who I am or what I believe in. In fairness to him, this was sort of a greatest hits. They basically culled five or six sermons out of 30 years of preaching. That doesn't excuse them, and I've said so very clearly, but that's not the relationship I had with him. That's not the relationship I had with the church, and if I had heard those kinds of statements being said, if I had been in church on those days, I would have objected fiercely to them, and I would have told him personally.

When some of these statements first came to light was right around when I was starting to run for president. He was a year away from retirement, and the church itself is a pillar of the community and a well-regarded, well-known church. I suspect there are members of the Tribune family that are also members of Trinity.

From Obama's March 18 speech in Philadelphia:

OBAMA: On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation, and that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy, and in some cases, pain. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis, with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial; they weren't simply a religious leader's efforts to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive -- divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change -- problems that are neither black, or white, or Latino, or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television sets and YouTube, if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

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Los Angeles Times
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Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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