Sunday, May 4, 2008

Truth & Consequences in American Politics Today: Two Journalists Speak


The following two excellent articles, one by the distinguished political journalist and former Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson from 1964-1968, Bill Moyers (from his award-winning program of political and cultural commentary Bill Moyers Journal on PBS), and the other an incisive and well written analysis of the media's central and often divisive role in the presidential race (and especially the primary war between Democratic Party opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) by an independent black political news journalist (Andre Stephens) are also two of the very few national news articles about Obama and Wright throughout the country that actually tells the real truth about what's not being said and desperately needs to be in this entire incident.


Bill Moyers Journal on PBS
May 2, 2008

Welcome to the Journal.

I once asked a reporter back from Vietnam, "Who's telling the truth over there?" "Everyone, he said. "Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience." That's how people see Jeremiah Wright. In my conversation with him on this broadcast a week ago and in his dramatic public appearances since, he revealed himself to be far more complex than the sound bites that propelled him onto the public stage. Over 2000 of you have written me about him, and your opinions vary widely. Some sting: "Jeremiah Wright is nothing more than a race-hustling, American hating radical," one viewer wrote. A "nut case," said another. Others were far more were sympathetic to him.

Many of you have asked for some rational explanation for Wright's transition from reasonable conversation to shocking anger at the National Press Club. A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly, but I'm not a psychologist. Many black preachers I've known — scholarly, smart, and gentle in person — uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course I've known many white preachers like that, too.
But where I grew up in the south, before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else; a safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed. I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched. Or if my great-great grandfather had been but three-fifths of a person in a constitution that proclaimed, "We the people." Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, and Jesse Helms. Even so, the anger of black preachers I've known and heard about and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic.

That's not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances this week. What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle ? forgetting that black Americans have fought and bled beside them, and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy. Hardly anyone took the "chickens come home to roost" remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9/11 but to understand that actions have consequences. My friend Bernard Weisberger, the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright's absurd charge that the United States deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being. But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing that they were being treated, while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test. Does this excuse Wright's anger? His exaggerations or distortions? You'll have to decide or yourself. At least it helps me to understand the why of them.

But in this multimedia age the pulpit isn't only available on Sunday mornings. There's round the clock media — the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the fast food with emotional content. So the preacher starts with rational discussion and after much prodding throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches. He had help — people who for their own reasons set out to conflate the man in the pulpit who wasn't running for president with the man in the pew who was.

Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering Catholic-bashing Texas preacher who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions, or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.

Jon Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the oval office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy; this is wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.

Which means it is all about race, isn't it? Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettle some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. We are often exposed us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this ? this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner before our very eyes. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said "beware the terrible simplifiers".

Reverend Wright Not Obama's Problem; Media Is
by Andre Stephens
Black Star News
May 3, 2008

[Elections 2008: Our National Hypocrisy]

When Barack Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright appeared on Bill Moyers Journal last week, it was a chance for him to respond to charges of preaching racist and anti-American sermons.

I can only imagine that as Reverend Wright looked for a venue to speak out against the perceptions being advanced by the main stream media about him, he chose Bill Moyers Journal not only because of what Mr. Moyers is, but because of what he isn’t. Mr. Moyers is an ordained minister and a former press secretary in Lyndon Johnson’s administration.

What he is not, is part of mainstream media.

In fact, back in 2005 Moyers old show, Now With Bill Moyers, was the focus of an attack by the right-wing for what they described as “left wing bias.” Moyers was one of the few journalists that bothered to challenge the Bush administration’s assertions of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction in the build up to the invasion of Iraq. In short, Bill Moyers is a reasonable journalist that tries to examine all sides of an issue. He is not prone to sensationalism or “gotcha” tactics.

By now, everyone has seen the video of Reverend Wright’s sermon in which he exclaims “God damn America”. Predictably, the media used the occasion of Wright’s interview with Moyers to replay the video that had already been played and analyzed ad nauseam.

One of the biggest flaws with today’s television media is that they have decided to divest in true investigative reporting and invest in opinion and debate. The airwaves are full of pundits that all have agendas. Finding the facts related to any given issue becomes a huge challenge for the audience.

With regards to Reverend Wright’s sermons, all of the pundits started the conversation from the same flawed premise----that Reverend Wright’s comments were despicable.

Guest pundits whose agenda was to insulate Senator Barack Obama from Wright’s comments bashed the reverend. Hillary Clinton’s people saw Wright’s comments as an opportunity to attack Obama and bash Wright. The Republicans, well, they were being Republicans.

Once the media declares that you are a villain, there’s not much one can say to change their opinion. Reverend Wright had been universally labeled an extremist. Today’s media doesn’t see putting stories in their proper perspective and context as part of their responsibility. News broadcasts all seem to omit the same facts and include the same rhetoric, regardless of which channel. Pundits seek to increase their stardom by competing to see who can appear to be the most obnoxious.

With regard to the Reverend Wright story, the networks found pundits of all shapes, sizes and colors to express outrage at Wright. The networks love nothing more than finding Black pundits to confirm their perceptions when other Blacks are involved. This allows them to easily dismiss opposing views. What they’re really saying is, “The Black guy even says he’s offended by Wright’s comments.” (Without elaborating that “This is our Black guy.”)

That explains why the media’s review of Reverend Wright’s appearance on Moyers’ show featured a single clip of Wright responding to Moyers’ question about his reaction to some of the things Barack Obama said about him during Obama’s speech in Philadelphia.

Reverend Wright’s response was, “He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds.”

Even without the benefit of seeing the entire interview at the time, my reaction to the clip was that it seemed like a reasonable response to me. However, most of the mainstream media used Wright’s comments as some sort of slight directed at Barack Obama. I can personally witness that The Today Show, CNN and MSNBC had some form of “Reverend Wright Continues to be a Problem for Barack Obama” as their top story.

When I finally saw Bill Moyers’ interview of Reverend Wright in its entirety, my reaction was that anyone who saw this interview and still regarded Reverend Wright as un-American or racist was never going to be a Barack Obama supporter one way or the other.

Wright was insightful, intelligent and inspiring. It must have taken a tremendous effort on the part of whoever decides what the next day’s news will be to pick an excerpt out of that interview to use against Wright and Obama.

Much to my surprise, Reverend Wright even provided a reasonable explanation for his now infamous, “God damn America” statement. Bill Moyers showed the entire clip, not just the part repeated on television. In short, Wright was preaching about the downfalls of great civilizations throughout history, due to their moral collapse. His point was that God will not bless a government or country that commits atrocities against its own people and, or, other countries. He was saying that if we continue on the path we are on, God will not bless America, it will instead, damn America.

So what’s really behind all of the coverage of Reverend Wright? What better way to minimize Barack Obama’s appeal than to link him to a scary, radical Black man?

Last year I wrote an article in which I stated that I didn’t think a Black man named Barack Hussein Obama had a chance to be President of the United States. It wasn’t because of Obama. It was because of my belief that there are too many whites that would never support a Black president. Our country is still in denial of its racist past and present. To be fair, I don’t think Hilary Clinton has a “snowballs chance in hell” of becoming president either.

Even though Blacks are only 12% of the total U.S. population, fear of a Black reprisal has impacted policy in this country since the slaves were freed. That’s why it’s perfectly legitimate in the minds of some whites to compare the Nation of Islam with the KKK. While I don’t agree with all of their practices, I defy anyone to name a White person that was killed at the hands of the Nation of Islam. By contrast, countless Blacks were lynched, burned and beaten at the hands of Klansmen. All Blacks have to do is talk scary to be compared to Whites that murder.

Obama detractors understand this. All they have to do is create the appearance of Obama having relationships with perceived Black radicals to put an end to his candidacy. I believe that’s referred to as “playing the race card.”

Lastly, Id like to see Obama stand up to this whole Reverend Wright situation by asking Hillary Clinton what she thinks of the 8,000-members that attend Wright’s church? Does she believe they are ignorant, misinformed sheep? Did she not notice their acknowledgement of Reverend Wright’s words? Does she understand that there are millions of Black, former Clinton supporters across the country that agree with everything Wright said in his sermon?

If Obama really is interested in inclusion, perhaps he should stop acting embarrassed by Reverend Wright’s comments and challenge Hilary and the rest of the country not to reject Wright and his comments, but help bridge the gap between the folks that agree with Wright and folks that are scared of him.

Reverend Wright is not Obama’s problem. The media’s insistence on creating controversy to further their own individual and corporate agendas is what Obama is up against.

Black Star News columnist Stephens can be reached at