Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech Tuesday was a transparent attempt to quell the controversy over his ties to fiery anti-American minister Jeremiah Wright. But the New York Times, along with the rest of the media, portrayed the speech just the way the Obama camp would have wanted -- as a transcendent address on race in America, past, present and future, with Obama's long connection to Wright a secondary matter.
It was an extraordinary moment -- the first black candidate with a good chance at becoming a presidential nominee, in a country in which racial distrust runs deep and often unspoken, embarking at a critical juncture in his campaign upon what may be the most significant public discussion of race in decades.
In a speech whose frankness about race many historians said could be likened only to speeches by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, Senator Barack Obama, speaking across the street from where the Constitution was written, traced the country's race problem back to not simply the country's "original sin of slavery" but the protections for it embedded in the Constitution.
Yet the speech was also hopeful, patriotic, quintessentially American -- delivered against a blue backdrop and a phalanx of stars and stripes. Mr. Obama invoked the fundamental values of equality of opportunity, fairness, social justice. He confronted race head-on, then reached beyond it to talk sympathetically about the experiences of the white working class and the plight of workers stripped of jobs and pensions.
He faced a choice: Having already denounced Mr. Wright's ferocious charges about white America, he could try to distance himself from the man who drew him to Christianity, married him and baptized his two children. Or he could try to explain what appeared to many to be the contradiction between Mr. Wright's world view and the one Mr. Obama had professed as his own.
To some extent, he did both.
In a setting that bespoke the presidential, he began with the personal: He invoked his own biography as the son of a black Kenyan man and a white American woman, grandson of a World War II veteran and a bomber assembly line worker, husband of a black American who carries "the blood of slaves and slave owners." Seared into his genetic makeup, he said, is "the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts -- that out of many, we are truly one."
Scott quoted no opponents, just long-time black liberal activists John Hope Franklin and Julian Bond.
The main story on Obama's speech was from Jeff Zeleny, who previously covered Obama at the Chicago Tribune. Even the headline, "Obama Urges U.S. to Grapple With Race Issue," helped Obama transcend the issue by putting the onus on America for racism, not on Obama for his long history with the hatemongering minister Wright.
In a way, Mr. Obama seemed to be arguing not only for his own candidacy but also against the often-reductive nature of presidential politics. To answer the brief, incendiary clips of his pastor's statements that have been dominating television airwaves and the Internet, Mr. Obama made a long, nuanced speech, seeming to bet that voters will care enough about him and the race to give it many minutes of attention and thought.
The address, which Mr. Obama wrote himself, seemed partly like a historical refresher course for white voters on discrimination against African-Americans.
Kantor again praised Obama for nuance:
It was one of several times that Mr. Obama seemed to be quite purposefully arguing two ideas at once -- another dangerous tactic in presidential politics, in which statements are sifted for hints of contradiction and every speech is an attack ad waiting to happen. He admitted that his pastor is both a divisive figure and an inspiring one. He said that his candidacy should not be viewed through a merely racial lens, though racial reconciliation is one of the reasons he ran.
In interviews, Democratic and Republican strategists, scholars, and voters all agreed that Mr. Obama had given a brave, incisive speech about one of the topics most difficult to address in American life. But nearly all of them expressed doubt that his address will fully put to rest the firestorm over Mr. Wright's statements.
Kantor did eventually note criticism at end of story -- the only critics to appear in the paper's coverage, by Times Watch's reckoning. Nowhere did the Times question the integrity of Obama comparing privately muttered racist talk by his grandmother to Wright's publicly aired, conspiracy-minded hatred.
The Times didn't say anything about the contradiction by Obama caught by Politico -- finally admitting that he had in fact heard "controversial" remarks by Rev. Wright.
Contrary to his earlier suggestion, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) acknowledged in his speech Tuesday that he had heard "controversial" remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?" Obama said. "Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."
Obama had initially written on the Huffington Post website:
"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."