Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show" devoted four segments to Obama’s speech on race and the Jeremiah Wright controversy and that coverage began with a proclamation by co-host Maggie Rodriguez that: "It's being called a defining cultural moment in America. Barack Obama speaks about America's racial stalemate, a moving moment, a political risk." Rodriguez went on to tease upcoming coverage of the speech by again emphasizing its "historic" nature: "It was without question a defining moment in American political history. But for an African-American presidential candidate who'd played down race in his campaign, this was a huge gamble politically."
The first of the show’s four segments featured a report by correspondent Byron Pitts, who observed: "If critics hoped Senator Barack Obama would disown his controversial pastor, they were disappointed." After speaking of Obama’s "disappointed critics," Pitts went on to praise Obama’s unifying message and give some political advice:
But beyond condemning his minister's words, Obama tried bridging the racial divide, acknowledging years of bitterness and anger amongst blacks and whites...While Obama invoked the tone of a preacher, it was a politician speaking. With a slip in the polls, the Illinois Senator needs to take the nation's attention off race and back on jobs, health care, and the war in Iraq.
The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Tuesday framed coverage of Barack Obama's speech, in reaction to the furor over the racist, paranoid and America-hating remarks of his long-time pastor, not by focusing on what it says about Obama's true views and judgment but by admiring his success in “confronting” the issue of “race in America” in an “extraordinary” speech. Indeed, both ABC and CBS displayed “Race in America” on screen as the theme to their coverage, thus advancing Obama's quest to paint himself as a candidate dedicated to addressing a serious subject, not explain his ties to racially-tinged hate speech. NBC went simply with “The Speech” as Brian Williams described it as “a speech about race.”
In short, the approach of the networks was as toward a friend in trouble and they wanted to help him put the unpleasantness behind him by focusing on his noble cause. “Barack Obama addresses the controversial comments of his pastor, condemning the words but not the man,” CBS's Katie Couric teased before heralding: “And he calls on all Americans to work for a more perfect union.” On ABC, Charles Gibson announced: “Barack Obama delivers a major speech confronting the race issue head on, and says it's time for America to do the same.” Reporting “Obama challenged Americans to confront the country's racial divide,” Gibson hailed “an extraordinary speech.”
NBC's Lee Cowan admired how “in the City of Brotherly Love, Barack Obama gave the most expansive and most intensely personal speech on race he's ever given,” adding it reflected “honesty that struck his rival Hillary Clinton.” On NBC, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart asserted “it was a very important speech for the nation. It was very blunt, very honest” and so “a very important gift the Senator has given the country.” [Updated with Nightline]