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Website says Obama attended anti-white Wright sermon; campaign says no

March 16, 2008 |  9:58 pm

In a posting this evening, Newsmax.com reports that its correspondent witnessed Sen. Barack Obama attending one of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's anti-white sermons on July 22 and nodding his head in agreement with the black congregation.

The report on the conservative website directly contradicts the Democratic presidential candidate's recent statements that while he denounced the pastor's controversial anti-American and anti-white rhetoric, he had never heard such declarations himself in church or in private.

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, immediately denied the Newsmax report, saying Obama was in Miami that day.  He referred to an item hastily posted on the Obama Fact Check website saying simply: "Fact: Obama did not attend services on July 22."

The lengthy Newsmax report by Ronald Kessler said its correspondent, Jim Davis, attended services on July 22, 2007, at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side and saw Obama in attendance.  Kessler's story states:

"In his sermon that day, Wright tore into America, referring to the 'United States of White America' and lacing his sermon with expletives as Obama listened.  Hearing Wright’s attacks on his own country, Obama had the opportunity to walk out, but Davis said the senator sat in his pew and nodded in agreement."

(UPDATE: On Monday the Newsmax site issued a statement with the Kessler story that it stands by the account, despite campaign denials that Obama was in church that day. It points out that he could have attended some services and still traveled to Miami that day and that its correspondent attended several July services and saw the senator and his Secret Service detail witness the service as described in the article. It says Obama spokesmen declined several opportunities to comment before publication of its initial report on the sermon.)

The Sunday night Kessler story links to Davis' original account of the ...

July 22 service, which was posted on the Newsmax website on Aug. 9, 2007, and headlined: "Obama's Church: Cauldron of Division." In it, Davis describes being initially blocked from entering the church, how few whites (except for Obama's Secret Service detail) were among the 2,500 people in attendance and how skilled an orator the Rev. Wright was.

He describes the now-familiar anti-white rhetoric, the excitement of the congregation, Obama's two decades of close ties to Wright and how another congregation member and a prominent Obama supporter, Oprah Winfrey, had joined the church in 1984 but withdrew her membership some years ago allegedly over Wright's preachings.

It's an extremely touchy issue for the Illinois senator's campaign.  The minister coached and counseled Obama during his early community organizing days, and one of his sermon titles led to the title of Obama's best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope."  Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized both of their daughters.

In a Sunday conference call, Obama campaign manager David Axelrod admitted that the campaign recognized Wright as a potential problem more than a year ago and had disinvited the pastor from giving the invocation at the announcement of Obama's presidential candidacy on Feb. 10, 2007, in Springfield, Ill.

On Friday, as the issue and videos of Wright's statements flamed across the Internet and his campaign realized the scope of the controversy, Obama posted a statement on HuffingtonPost.com denouncing Wright's "inflammatory and appalling remarks."

The senator added: "I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue."

Later in his statement Obama added: "The sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn.

"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."

Kessler's story tonight, headlined "Obama Attended Hate America Sermon," also said: "If Obama’s claims are true that he was completely unaware that Wright’s trademark preaching style at the Trinity United Church of Christ has targeted 'white' America and Israel, he would have been one of the few people in Chicago to be so uninformed. Wright’s reputation for spewing hate is well known."

Newsmax.com, which also publishes the magazine Newsmax, was founded in 1998 by Christopher Ruddy, a former journalist who describes the Florida operation as "the leading independent online news site with a conservative perspective."  Its early investors reportedly included the family of the late CIA Director William Casey and Richard Mellon Scaife, a well-known conservative publisher in Pittsburgh.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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