I am ashamed to admit that after all the Reverend Wright controversy, I was too lazy to track down the full context of his infamous remarks. I always suspected that the sound bites were distortions and perhaps this suspicion was sufficient to make me feel no urgency at tracking down the facts.
Bill Moyers, whom I greatly respect, did America a favor last Friday night and interviewed Reverend Jeremiah Wright. More importantly, he played fuller versions of Wright’s sermons which put his “chickens coming home to roost” and “God damn America” comments in full context. Any reasonable person, watching these full excerpts understands that Wright is not the crazy demon he has been portrayed in the media.
Surely, one has to listen to his sermon in the context of religion. On the Sunday following September 11, 2001, he tries to help his congregation make sense of the senseless slaughter that has occurred, and in particular what reaction should a Christian have to the tragedy. He points out, with biblical references to back him up, that all too often we move from attacking the armies of our oppressors to attacking the “innocents”. He points out that nations or governments are flawed just as humans are flawed. He points out that Japan, Germany, England and, yes, the United States of America have done shameful things … have killed and abused innocents to avenge a perceived wrong. His sermon was NOT meant to say that the United States deserved to be attacked on 9/11 but that our response to this attack must not take the form of irrational revenge.
What we have gotten over the past six weeks are the sound bites of Reverend Wright. It is not shameful that Obama’s political enemies sit back with glee as the snippets are endlessly looped on the nightly news. That is to be expected. What is shameful is that every major TV news outlet chose to dumb the story down. None had the courage to play even one more sentence beyond the limit of the original sound bite. After Wright said, “America’s chickens have come home to roost”, he then reminded his audience that these were the words and warnings of a white ambassador, who had been interviewed on Fox news. An ambassador, Edward Peck, who was warning America that its foreign policy had put it in danger. We never saw that part of the sermon. We just saw the damning few minutes that made the story sexy.
The ultimate irony, is that in the hours immediately following Moyer’s interview, the main stream media was again picking the sound bites that would make the best story. “Wright is saying that the Philadelphia speech on race was nothing but politics.” That of course, is NOT what Wright said. In fact, he said that the speech was important and was one of the only good things to come out of the despicable distortions that had preceded it. The fact that Wright said he is a pastor and Obama is a politician is not nearly as fatal a comment as the main stream media would have you believe. As Gwen Ifill pointed out on “Meet the Press” today, Obama is a politician, what a surprise! Wright made no degrading revelation there. He realistically pointed out that truth spoken from the pulpit must use different language from truth spoken on the campaign trail.
There remains talk about whether America is ready for an African American President. I think that misses the point. Is America ready for an intelligent discussion and analysis of people and issues? When the media reduces everything to easily digested simplistic video loops, are they reflecting their own condescension of the audience or are they reflecting our true capacity for intelligent, reasoned discourse?
If we truly are a sound bite nation, then perhaps we deserve John McCain in November?
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