If you've ever wondered why the mainstream media didn't show much curiosity about how 20 years of attending Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church shaped President Barack Obama, there is a perfectly logical explanation. Obama wasn't really there.
According to Richard Wolffe, an MSNBC contributor and former Newsweek columnist that covered the Obama presidential campaign for the weekly magazine, people don't have to worry about the rantings and ravings of Obama's controversial preacher having any impact on his world view because he wasn't there.
Wolffe, in an appearance at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. on June 15 promoting his book about Obama, "Renegade," told the audience the president wasn't naïve about Wright - he was ignorant.
"I don't think I phrased it as naïve, but I was curious to know, as everyone was what he heard and what he thought about it," Wolffe said. "And my conclusion from talking to him and his friends was that the dirty secret of the Rev. Wright episode, which he couldn't really explain, was that he actually really wasn't much of a churchgoer."
Wolffe, who has been criticized for his coziness with Obama, was granted unprecedented access to the president, crediting having covered the Obama campaign from Day 1, going back to Feb. 10, 2007 when he announced in Springfield, Ill. as the reason. He explained Obama was reluctant to attend Wright's services because they were time consuming events.
"When he said he wasn't in church - he was trying to get at that, but I think this is kind of embarrassing for him," Wolffe said. "And he told me look, ‘Yeah,' he said. ‘It's true, I didn't go much, I had young kids. The services would go on for hours, if you've ever taken young kids to church, for three hours.'"
Wolffe told the audience Obama was using religion, specifically his church attendance to garner support for the various offices he held - from Illinois state senate, the U.S. senator and ultimately President.
"And then at the same time, he was running for various offices," Wolffe said. "So when he went to church, and this is where the politician's slipperiness comes in - he didn't say, ‘I wasn't much of a churchgoer.' If he was in church, it just wasn't his church. He wasn't going to church to pray. He was going to church around the state of Illinois to get votes."
Wolffe said the Obama-Wright relationship was important allowed the future president "to find community." He described Wright as "charismatic, erudite figure" and said the controversial preacher of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ was who Obama leaned on to "make sense" of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s "in a modern world."
Wolffe referenced a Feb. 22, 2007 Rolling Stone article and said that was the actual first warning sign to the Obama campaign the radical preacher was a problem for Obama.
"Rolling Stone did a story about Wright's sermons right at the start of the campaign," Wolffe said. "The candidate saw it. He disinvited Wright from giving the public prayer at the start of the Springfield launch. He gave a private prayer with the family and he ordered his campaign staff to go research the sermons. He said, ‘Go find out what's in these sermons,' obviously he wasn't there."
However, as Wolffe explained - the research wasn't done and it took some time before the details emerged.
"That work was never done," Wolffe said. "That was a huge mistake."
Wolffe described the Obama campaign as lucky the news didn't surface before the Iowa caucuses or in the heat of the contest with Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton during the early part of 2008.
"They were lucky, lucky, lucky that it didn't emerge before Iowa, just before Iowa or before he had won that whole string of primaries through February," Wolffe said.