Burying the Wright stuff?

Remember the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright? It’s been a few years since the White House campaign, so let’s review. Wright was President Obama’s pastor who made controversial remarks in his sermons, such as suggesting the U.S. should be damned. Obama gave a speech on race and religion and eventually broke ties with Wright during the 2008 campaign.

The connection put the spotlight on all sorts of hot topics, such as religion, race, Black Liberation Theology, sermons, political connections and the power of YouTube.

Your GetReligionistas were all over this way back when. Now Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller, a website that is trying to blend conservative commentary with serious news, is reporting that members of a group called Journolist, an e-mail list of liberal journalists and academics, tried to promote strategies for suppressing mainstream news coverage of Wright.

The story focuses on two e-mail threads. The first one came after a debate when ABC News anchors asked about Obama’s patriotism. Some members of the list created a letter expressing their outrage.

The quote getting the most attention comes from Spencer Ackerman, who now works for Wired and will reportedly keep his job.

I do not endorse a Popular Front, nor do I think you need to. It’s not necessary to jump to Wright-qua-Wright’s defense. What is necessary is to raise the cost on the right of going after the left. In other words, find a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.

And I think this threads the needle. If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists. Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.

Several conservatives got excited about the report, hoping it would help people see why the media is biased. “It’s encouraging for commonsense conservatives who are frustrated with media cover-ups and biases to see truth revealed,” Sarah Palin responded on her Facebook page.

However, Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has offered some further context.

A couple points pertain. First, the Daily Caller notes, “Journolist members signed the statement and released it April 18.” This is literally true but probably gives readers the impression that all of Journolist signed the letter. In fact, 41 people signed the letter, out of 400 people on Journolist. In other words, Journolist was a vehicle for them to network with each other. This was not an effort “by Journolist.” Most people on Jounolist had nothing to do with it.

…The second email thread is actually even weaker. Chris Hayes, a writer for the Nation, posted a message arguing that the attack on Jeremiah Wright was part of a concerted conservative smear campaign and that the issue did not merit attention. Hayes’ argument was immediately met with sharp disagreement. The Daily Caller does not quote any of the emails taking on Hayes.

Rod Dreher initially responded to the Daily Caller article with outrage but softened a little bit after reading Chait’s response.

And you know, I’ve changed my mind about revealing the letters on this list. Doing so to destroy a single journalist whose reporting (whatever his private opinions) was generally seen to be fair is hard to defend. But exposing something as widespread and as potentially significant as leading liberal journalists conspiring to control the news and to smear conservative journalists for the sake of changing the political game is a story of great significance, it seems to me.

Unfortunately, Strong’s article could have made clearer which journalists were involved in this discussion over Wright. Strong reports in the Caller that journalists from Time, Politico, and the New Republic were also involved in the Journolist discussion, but none were quoted in the story. It is also not clear in actual news editors and reporters were involved.

Instead, it appears that the journalists mentioned in this particular discussion were either opinion writers or contributors to left-leaning publications, including Michael Tomasky, Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones, and Chris Hayes of The Nation. The story is also loaded with some unnecessary drama, such as the lead: “It was the moment of greatest peril for then-Sen. Barack Obama’s political career.”

From the perspective of this blog, the key question is whether journalists were especially afraid of this story because of its emotional and often very complicated religious content. Once again, the MSM faced an opportunity to do serious reporting about the views of a major figure on the religious left. Once again, the MSM punted. Was that part of the Journolist plan?

Like anyone interested in the political discussions of the day, I regularly check sites like Slate, Drudge, Salon, Townhall, etc. But these sites often let potentially solid reporting get bogged down in loaded language and selective fact finding. The Daily Caller has seen the power of reporting. Just last month, it published leaked e-mails from Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who was criticizing prominent conservatives and later resigned from the Post.

In this case, publishing the full e-mail threads may not have driven the Daily Caller’s point home, but it might have been more honest. Let the facts speak for themselves.

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  • Matt

    hey Sarah:

    Why the scare quotes around “liberation”? It’s called liberation theology. Seems like a gratuitous and unprofessional dig to me.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    That was my fault in editing, not Sarah’s.

    Frankly, I was trying to decide if the crucial issue was liberation theology of the “black theology” of Dr. James Cone. The problem there is that there are multiple schools of black theology and it’s hard to pinpoint which is which. So I went back to liberation theology and the quote marks stayed.

    My bad. Of course, if AP ruled that as a MOVEMENT, it would be Liberation Theology.

  • Dave

    Even if I had the original email texts I could not evaluate them without watching Journolist for a while to see what normally goes on and who does it.

  • Susan


    I think it would be important to correct the phrase in question because it is an important to name the theology employed. In general terms, it is properly called, Liberation Theology. In specific terms, it is properly called, Black Liberation Theology.

    How to describe the different flavors within the Black Liberation Theology groups may be similar to the problems we face describing different flavors within any other group within a theological tradition? Anyway, I think it is important to state that it is Black Liberation Theology and I wish you well in doing that. It’s easier said than done.


  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Dave, that might make sense, though it seems that the Daily Caller has been reading more than those two e-mail threads. Ben Smith of Politico posted something today that gives the conversation even more context. http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0710/POLITICO_on_Journolist.html

  • dalea

    During the Democratic primaries, the young male journalists who tacitly supported Obama were referred to by Hillary’s supporters as the frat boys. The Hillary blogs constantly observed and reported on the coordinated press attacks on Hillary. Blogs such as The Confluence, ShakespearsSister and Alegre’s Corner were reporting on this and on the dreadful sexism coming from them. And from Rev Wright. This was also a major issue at Daily Kos among the diarists. The public admission of the Jourolist activity is just another piece of the puzzle.

    Rev Wright had made a number of sexist statements about Hillary and her supporters which the Frat Boys were frantically trying to keep out of the media. And they succeeded. Interesting how the reporting ignores the huge amount of information available on the feminist progressive blogs. The context of the story centers on the battle between the Obama supporters and feminists, which so far the reporting ignores.

    There is also a direct link to the Obama campaign being missed here. His principal speech-writer, whose name escapes me, was a drinking buddy of many of the journalists named. All this has been reported in the left/ feminist blogs for years.

  • Evanston2

    Surprise, surprise. Mr. Dreher changes his view now that it’s fellow journalists (like Fred Barnes) who may have been smeared as racists. No love for Karl Rove…and I suspect normal citizens like “Joe the Plumber.” Nice fraternity you have here.

    Like I said on yesterday’s thread regarding “Faith and the ‘One and Done’ Tradition”: Is it any wonder that journalists are not trusted on any topic any more???

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    Not that it has to do with religion, but the reason this was so “Perilous” to Obama’s campaign is the time line: At the time, he was headed into the PA primary, which Hillary won. Pennsylvania is full of “blue dog” Democrats who go to church…

  • Evanston2

    tioedong, The timeline definitely is important since the outcome of some primaries can have large repercussions. Great point. Was the Rev. Wright story strictly religious at the time? Well, since he touched on political issues from the pulpit, it’s hard to make a clear determination here. Personally, I took it to be a religion story then and now because where you bring your wife & family on a Sunday matters to me since I’m a religious person. As you say, many Pennsylvanians are as well, and Obama was a “blank slate” to many voters. I take the attempt by some journalists to quash this story to be a breach of trust, particularly when smearing fellow journalists and others as racists is proposed.
    So overall I believe this story shows the power of religion and the importance that journalists try to “get it” right.