Rev. Jeremiah Wright says he was hurt by reaction to his sermons
In a rare interview, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. says media organizations that circulated controversial sound bites of his sermons wanted to paint him as "un-American" or "some sort of fanatic" to bring down Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ," Wright tells PBS host Bill Moyers, a member of the same denomination as Wright, the United Church of Christ.
It's Wright's first interview since his comments critical of U.S. policies surfaced on television and the Internet, raising questions about Obama's 20-year association with someone who suggests that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks and that the federal government inaugurated the AIDS epidemic to eradicate African Americans.
" 'And by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint?' " Wright adds. "That's what they wanted to communicate. They know nothing about the church."
Wright, who for four decades built his reputation on straight talk and imperviousness to politicians, has been atypically quiet in recent weeks -- canceling four appearances, declining all interview requests and bowing out of a news conference with other clergy. So controversial were his ...
... widely seen remarks that Obama felt forced to give a major speech on racial issues, declining to disavow Wright.
The fiery pastor preached his final sermon at Trinity in February and officially retires next month. This Sunday, he will deliver a sermon at a Dallas church and later speak to the Detroit branch of the NAACP.
Excerpts from the interview were released shortly after the taping this week. The program is scheduled to be broadcast tonight.
In the interview, Wright tells Moyers that people who heard the entire sermons understood his message and that those who chose to air the sound bites had a "devious" agenda.
"The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly," he says. "When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or, as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a 'wackadoodle.' " Columnist Maureen Dowd used that term March 23 to describe Wright.
Wright said that he was hurt by the use of the sound bites but that he understood why Obama had harsh words about his statements during a speech on race in Philadelphia. Wright said he was obligated to speak as a pastor, whereas Obama addresses audiences as a politician.
"I don't talk to him about politics," Wright said. "And so he had a political event. He goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of God about the things of God."
For a longer sample of a Wright sermon concerning Obama's opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, see the video below.
-- Manya A. Brachear and Andrew Malcolm
Manya Brachear writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau.
Photo: Trinity United Church of Christ