Obama Responds to Former Pastor
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
This afternoon, Barack Obama responded to the recent remarks of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In an extraordinary appearance before reporters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination said he was outraged and appalled by what his former pastor had said in appearances over the past several days.
Obama has described Reverend Wright as the man who strengthened his faith, married him, and baptized his children. But after seeing what Wright said yesterday, he said his view of the man is changed.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. And I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs.
SIEGEL: Reverend Wright spoke yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington. Over the weekend, he addressed the black clergy and he gave an interview to Bill Moyers on PBS. In that appearance, when asked about Obama's previous rejection of his remarks, Wright said, he's a politician and he said what he had to say, and I'm a pastor, and I say what I have to say.
Well, today, Obama emphasized that what he says about Jeremiah Wright is what he believes.
Sen. OBAMA: And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.
SIEGEL: And Senator Obama cited specific remarks of Reverend Wright's that he rejects.
Sen. OBAMA: When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS; when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century; when he equates the United States' wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans, and they should be denounced.
SIEGEL: And that, Obama said, is what he was doing very clearly and unequivocally in his words today.
Well, NPR's Don Gonyea has been covering the Obama campaign, and he joins us from North Carolina. And Don, obviously, the Jeremiah Wright story must have been hurting Obama.
DON GONYEA: Absolutely. And the big problem with it is that it distracted from what Senator Obama wanted to be talking about in these crucial days, really this crucial final week now before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, which are next Tuesday.
We've been talking about how he has retooled his stump speech to really focus more on nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts economic issues - you know, gas prices, the mortgage crisis, jobs. And here we are a day and a half, and all of the headlines are about Jeremiah Wright, and that really frustrates and has angered the campaign.
SIEGEL: How did Senator Obama handle, well, the obvious question about these remarks that these are things that Jeremiah Wright said months, if not, years ago, what's different now?
GONYEA: He says that those tapes that emerged, you know, months back, he felt that they didn't represent a man that he knew. He felt that they caricatured Reverend Wright and did not give him any credit for all the good that he has done, you know, in the south side of Chicago.
Today, he was talking about how Reverend Wright, in his talks with the National Press Club yesterday and in the interview with Bill Moyers, had become kind of a caricature of himself. And the thing that seemed to anger him most is that he said Reverend Wright understands what this election is about. Reverend Wright has to understand the issues that he, as a candidate - Barack Obama as a candidate - is talking about and that the American people want to focus on. And that it is unfortunate, it is outrageous - he used the word outrageous or some form of it three times in his remarks today - that he would take the attention off of those things and put it squarely at himself like this.
SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Don.
GONYEA: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Don Gonyea covering the Obama campaign in North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.