The Lynching

We have failed.

I’m a big fan of Al Franken, and have read all of his political commentary books.  In one of them he recounts the hateful words spoken by the late Jerry Falwell during an interview with Pat Robertson of “The 700 Club” fame.

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen’.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

Franken continues to incredulously explain that Pat Robertson had tried to defend himself by saying that there was a problem with the sound and he didn’t hear what Falwell had said, while Falwell himself had tried to claim that the media was taking this all out of context.  Franken then explained that the only way that the above quote would be okay in context was if the entire rant was preceded with the words, “I’d be a complete fucking moron to say…”

We know that never actually happened, but it does make a very solid point.  Context is important.  Someone can take any sentence,or any sentiment expressed by anyone talking about the controversial issues that face our nation on any given day, and shrink them down to a point where someone is going to be offended.  In Falwell’s case, context shows that he didn’t say, “I’d be a complete fucking moron to say…” before his hate-filled rant, and therefore he actually meant it, and later had to come out and apologize for his terrible words.

But what about Jeremiah Wright?  Did anyone even ask about his words in context?  Or did we all just buy off on that truncated YouTube clip as gospel without keeping in mind the motivations of the source, or the possibility that there might have been an “I’d be a complete fucking moron to say…” moment that the YouTube clip cut off?

Sadly, no one did what was needed to be done before the damage had already been taken in by the Obama campaign.  I didn’t; I failed.  Even though some of the things that Wright professed in some of the blurbs taken from his sermons rung unequivocally true to me, I didn’t bother to defend.  Even though I knew that this clip was mashed up by Fox, taken from footage purchased by Fox, I did what most on the left side of the blogosphere did and outright condemned his words.

And that’s not what we are here for.  One of the prime purposes of the liberal blogosphere is to challenge the mainstream media, to investigate the veracity of its stories and do the digging it seems unwilling to do.  We’re supposed to be the watch dogs, and this time we let creep by this controversy without the slightest bit of speculation because I think we too were too afraid to defend Wright.  The clips that were put forth for mass consumption were so ugly that for a moment we all forgot our role in the media and tucked our heads and tails in our shells and hoped we’d weather the storm.

It wasn’t until after the damage had been done that CNN’s Roland Martin did some snooping and found that at least one of the controversial snippets from the Wright YouTube mashup was taken grotesquely out of context.  The sermon in question was the one in which Jeremiah Wright claimed that 9/11 was America’s chickens coming home to roost, but here’s a more fleshed out transcript of what was said.

“I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday did anybody else see or hear him? He was on FOX News, this is a white man, and he was upsetting the FOX News commentators to no end, he pointed out, a white man, an ambassador, he pointed out that what Malcolm X said when he was silenced by Elijah Mohammad was in fact true, he said Americas chickens, are coming home to roost.”

“We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, Arikara, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism.

“We took Africans away from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism.

“We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel.

“We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenage and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers.

“We bombed Qaddafi’s home, and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against the rock.

“We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they’d never get back home.

“We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.

“Kids playing in the playground. Mothers picking up children after school. Civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff that we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.

“Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y’all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.”

He was paraphrasing Ambassador Edward Peck who had gone on Fox in the days following the September 11th attacks and said that those attacks were in part a result of US foreign policy.

Here is a much more context laden clip of Wright’s sermon.

As you will notice, the message takes on a whole new light when we see the sermon in its entirety.  We see this as a call to reflect upon ourselves and our family, and a call to reinvest not in more wars of adventure but instead to reinvest in our own society, to help our own struggling masses.  And we see him making a call for people to reflect and renew their own personal relationship with God.

I’m not a spiritual person.  I’m not an atheist, but I’m not a church goer and organized religion instills within me more skepticism than desire to worship.  But this plea by Wright to use this great tragedy to engage in introspection with one’s own personal relationship with God struck me as particularly authentic and resounding.  That day when 3000 people were unjustly murdered brings to the forefront our own mortality, and Wright was saying that tomorrow you may not have a chance to get right with your maker, so you need to do it today.

But what struck me as the strongest part of this speech was the call to end the cycle of violence, this so antithetical to the way in which Wright has been demonized in the media as being a spouter of hate.  This hate-filled preacher had made a call for peace, had confronted a controversial text in the Bible and said that to follow it was not Christian, was not what the world needed, and that the only way to end the violence was to end OUR participation in the violence.

Now, let’s remember the greater context in which this message was delivered.  Remember your own emotions on that day.  Remember the things you wanted to do to Osama bin Laden when it was first reported that he was the person ultimately responsible for those deaths.  For those of you who were like me and were actually duped by the administration, who actually believed that Iraq did have ties to al Qaeda, recall your feelings when we invaded Iraq.

In the days and months following September 11th, 2001, we were not a nation asking for peace, we were a nation calling for blood.  This man was a rare voice for peace in a time when the nation had only eyes for war; that’s not hate, that’s courage.

But we did not know this, nobody bothered to dig into this.  An entire liberal blogosphere that has come to look upon Fox News as though it weren’t even above super market tabloid status took the organization at face value.  Now, I’m not going to excuse the other questionable comments that Wright is being taken to task for, but neither am I going to sit by and say that they were wrong out of hand before seeing them put into context anymore.

This situation with the “Chickens have come home to roost” sermon alone has raised new and disturbing questions about the veracity of the entire hit piece.  And should the context of the other sermons provide vindication, well, I think we know what we have just seen.

A lynching.  A political lynching upon racial lines, and to a degree, I believe we’ve already seen that.  Yes, this is all about race, and it is a disgrace especially considering that Mr. Obama has attempted to run as colorblind of a race as was humanly possible.

Jeremiah Wright was accused of hating America following 9/11 with his greater message being forgotten.  Barack Obama was eviscerated by the media because of his connections to Wright first, and by some for his speech on race relations in this country.  Obama himself was taken out of context, accused of throwing his grandmother under the bus and playing the race card, all for meeting the challenge of elevating the discourse on race in America.

This was a lynching.

This was a lynching because too many people wanted to say what they couldn’t say, that a black man could not be our president, that too many people wouldn’t vote for a n—-r.  It was the 500 lb nondescript mammal in the room and every person opposed to Obama’s presidency whether on ideological lines or just for the sake of winning were prohibited from mentioning it.

But turning Wright into a racist made it okay.  Turning Obama into a panderer on race made it okay to attack him along racial lines.  And Fox news threw some sermons through their malformed lens and maligned Wright, then their commentators did whatever they could to malign Obama’s reluctant message on race, and all of a sudden that 500 lb nondescript mammal was being used to thrash Obama.

And throughout this entire ordeal, I want to know where the outage is against McCain who is not coming to grips with a complex relationship with hate filled preachers such as Hagee and Parsley, he’s courting them for political expediency.  I want someone to explain why he started courting Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell during the preseason of the presidential elections when he once called them “agents of intolerance”.

All you’re likely to find is stuttered mumbles about it not being as bad as a twenty year relationship, or not being serious, or whatever.  But Fox puts the hit out on Wright and Obama and the only outrage there is is against Wright and Obama.

The hit was called, and the pile on ensued; a slew of white people indignantly attempting to sink a black man’s campaign absurdly for being racist. 

I’ll hold final judgement until the context of the remaining sermons is fully known, but the sick feeling in my gut is that we just watched a public political lynching carried out by Fox News and the right wing punditocracy, and we on the left, we whose self-described role in the media is to put a stop to this nonsense, we stood by and let it happen.


6 Responses to “The Lynching”

  1. xranger says:

    Well, here’s how it really started, not by Fox News:

    “The fracas started Thursday morning, when ABC’s “Good Morning America” ran a Brian Ross expose on Wright that included old video of him saying: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God bless America’? No, no, no. Not God bless America. God [expletive] America.” ”

    Good to see you’re up on the latest kook spin, though.

  2. Betsy says:

    Things take a slightly different perspective when viewed in the right context.

    Whether one agrees with Reverend Wright or not, it seems to me that he has been unfairly demonized to make a media controversy.

    Jeremiah Wright’s God Damn America in context on Youtube

  3. Thank you Betsy. I was hoping to find that… I can’t look at it right now, but I intend to when I get home.

    Incidentally, if there are any other Left Fieldians, or Cuffaluffs out there who can watch this, I would really love to get some opinions on this before I do get the chance to watch.


  4. DrGail says:

    I just watched the youtube Betsy was kind enough to link.

    Expressions of religion in general — and sermons in particular — tend to leave me cold. But I thought he made some very sound points that, to a religious person, would be thought-provoking. I found nothing shocking or distressing about it, although I was concerned about potential IRS investigations of the church’s tax-exempt status, particularly if this sermon was delivered prior to the 2004 election.

    The context truly makes all the difference, although I didn’t find the “God damn America” statement to be egregious even in the carefully-selected excerpt so maybe I’m not the best person to weigh in on this matter.

    I can certainly appreciate Kyle’s inclination toward self-flagellation upon recognizing that we “failed to get Wright’s back”. Perhaps it isn’t so much that we fell prey to the right-wing frame and extreme outrage, but simply that many of us have little notion about what goes on in predominantly-black churches?

  5. I really want to watch this, unfortunately the earliest I’m going to get a chance to will be at like 2 in the morning… sigh.

    I had a pretty long conversation about this with a friend, and the general opinion at this point is that this was a damn hard hit job, whomever is ultimately responsible remains to be seen, and for now, it’s best to let the whole thing die until it comes back during the General Election.

    As for why we all bought it hook line and sinker, I take a different tack, though you do have a point. My thoughts are that this thing just came on so hard and fast that we all just kinda got shocked straight into damage control We’ve all heard whispers, of course, but in the end a lot of us got really blindsided and found ourselves so scared of being associated with Rev. Wright’s comments that we went into distancing mode without even thinking about maybe he was taken out of context.

  6. Nancy Noe says:

    Thank you for setting the record straight! I saw the longer 9/11 sermon on UTube a couple days ago and learned that the statements had been taken out of context – he was paraphrasing what Ambassador Peck said on Fox news! What your transcript fails to include is the deliberate way in which Rev Wright bracketed that part of his sermon as a “faith footnote” so that the congregation would know that he was paraphrasing Ambassador Peck. Once he finished with that part of the sermon (“end footnote”), he went on to deliver a very different message about what he felt God wanted him, and us, to do in response to this attack – at a time when everyone else was talking about revenge. And it was inspiring. I was irritated that the sermon was cut off, because I wanted to hear the rest of it, and the two other points that he made that day.

    The longer UTube version of the “God Damn America” sermon only gives the context leading up to the inflammatory remarks, and doesn’t go beyond that point, so it is pretty hard to know where Rev Wright took that message from there. But certainly the sermon fits within the context of the prophetic preaching style that Rev Wright and others use. There is a good article by Jane Lampman in the Christian Science Monitor about Rev Wright, and the role black preachers have played in America, here:

    Another CSM article from July 2007 about Barack Obama and his faith is also very interesting:

    I sent a note to CNN suggesting that they get the full version from the church and post it on their video area, and say something about it, and the fact that Rev Wright’s comments had been taken out of context. I also told them I thought that CNN, ABC and Fox news and others have participated in a smear campaign and should take action to rehabilitate Rev Wright’s reputation. So far, I don’t think they have done anything – perhaps not wanting to inflame the situation further. But since it doesn’t seem to be going away… I think they should “flesh out” the story and not just keep fanning the sparks into flames. It could go a long ways in supporting an important conversation. But it needs to be lifted out of the current campaign politics where any discussion devolves into what impact it will have on the election. The issues raised as a result of the Rev Wright controversy and Barack Obama’s response (and there are many) transcend the election, and should be handled in a serious manner, and involve the participation of people other than political pundits. I could suggest a few luminaries who might have some cogent comments to make on a number of the issues, but the list is too long. Perhaps it is too much to ask of cable entertainment/news network to provide the venue for such discourse.


  1. The Real Reason Wright Won’t Go Away | Comments from Left Field - [...] of those notorious clips were put back into contest, I described the media circus that preceded the re-contextualization as…

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