MRC Study: Jeremiah Wright, Edited and Censored

When Rick Warren quizzes the presidential contenders on Saturday night on CNN, will he bring up Jeremiah Wright? Some reporters still seem allergic to mentioning him. In Time's story on the Warren forum, Amy Sullivan could only write in code: "During the primary season both candidates had to distance themselves from, and ultimately condemn, religious supporters who delivered embarrassing and intolerant sermons."

But Wright wasn't merely a "religious supporter," but Obama's spiritual mentor and pastor for two decades. MRC has a new study addressing how the media has tried to minimize (and even censor) the roughest edges of the Wright rants. It's called Editing Reverend Wright's Wrongs. Here's the top findings in brief:

The broadcast networks took an entire year to locate Reverend Wright. Despite a feisty interview on Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes back on March 1, 2007 about Obama’s church’s controversial commitment to a "black value system," the name of Jeremiah Wright didn’t surface on the Big Three networks until CBS first broached it on February 28, 2008. The first story with Wright sermon soundbites aired two weeks later, on ABC on March 13. By then, 42 states and the District of Columbia had already voted.

The broadcast network evening news shows gave virtually no coverage to Wright soundbites in March. Snippets of Wright’s sermons drew only 72 seconds of evening news coverage in all of March, or an average of 24 seconds per network, less than one commercial.

The Big Three morning shows gave four times as much time to Wright soundbites as the evening shows in March. The morning shows carried almost five minutes of Wright clips (297 seconds), with ABC offering the most at 128 seconds. The other two networks each ran less than 90 seconds.

The networks completely refused to air soundbites of Wright’s conspiracy theory about the U.S. government inventing AIDS to kill blacks, and mostly ignored his comments about the September 11 terrorist attacks being "America’s chickens coming home to roost." None of the network morning or evening shows found one opportunity to air Wright’s 2003 sermon accusing the federal government of hiding the truth about their "inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." His attack on America’s alleged record of terrorism was ignored by all three evening shows, as well as by CBS’s The Early Show.

The broadcast networks gave huge chunks of soundbite time to Obama’s "race speech" on March 18. The evening news shows on March 18 carried almost six minutes (348 seconds) of highlights from the Obama speech. The morning shows carried roughly nine and a half minutes (572 seconds) of sound from the speech. Combined, Obama’s one speech drew about 15 minutes of Big Three network clips in 24 hours, while Wright’s years of sermons drew about six minutes in the whole month of March.

Broadcast network interview segments on the Wright remarks and Obama’s race speech in March were dominated by liberal guests. When the networks allowed Republican or conservative guests, they stayed neutral or praised Obama’s remarks. Overall, the network pundit count was 16 to 5.

Wright’s National Press Club vitriol repeating his opinions about an AIDS conspiracy and America deserving 9/11 went virtually unreported. The broadcast network morning and evening shows aired only two and a half minutes (155 seconds) of soundbites from Wright’s April 28 performance at the National Press Club, but there were no soundbites about AIDS and only 23 seconds about America deserving a terrorist attack. By contrast, these same Big Three shows aired almost six minutes (358 seconds) of clips of Wright’s softball interview with Bill Moyers on PBS.

Jeremiah Wright
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