The Character Assassination of Rev. Barbara Reynolds and Sen. Hillary Clinton
Yesterday, I wrote:
I eagerly await blog posts at Americablog, Daily Kos, Talkingpointsmemo and The Huffington Post about the Powerful Mind ControlTM that Sen. Clinton exerts over Jeremiah Wright. The kind of control that was responsible for Wright giving his latest speech and displaying his self-reverence by falsely claiming that criticism of him is the same as criticism of the Black church.
Of course I intended that to be sarcastic, but soon after I wrote that, the first sign that I was somewhat prescient became apparent pretty quickly: this column by Errol Louis of the New York Daily News. Like clockwork, John Aravosis at Americablog published a short post yesterday evening titled "Speculation grows that Hillary was behind Rev. Wright's loony Press Club appearance". The entire substance of the post? "The NY Daily News and the LA Times are bother [sic] wondering what Hillary's role was in getting Wright his spot at the Press Club yesterday." So, some people were "wondering" and Aravosis was happy to uncritically advance the "speculation". (Tough competition for Power Line and Michelle Malkin - maybe John can have them guest blog too, to expand the "range" of his "coverage"?).
I erred in saying yesterday that the column by Errol Louis was just mind-numbing stupidity. It was also pre-emptive character assassination. To understand why, let's start with Andrew Malcolm who joined in the "fun" in the Los Angeles Times blog Top of the Ticket (emphasis mine, throughout this post):
But now, it turns out, we should have been paying a little less attention to Wright's speech and the histrionics of his ensuing news conference and taken a peek at....
who was sitting next to him at the head table for the National Press Club event.
It was the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, a former editorial board member of USA Today who teaches at the Howard University School of Divinity. An ordained minister, as New York Daily News writer Errol Louis points out in today's column, she was introduced at the press club event as the person "who organized" it.
But guess what? She's also an ardent longtime booster of Obama's sole remaining competitor for the Democratic nomination, none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. It won't take very much at all for Obama supporters to see in Wright's carefully arranged Washington event that was so damaging to Obama the strategic, nefarious manipulation of the Clintons.
Their supporter, Reynolds, helps arrange a speech by the outspoken and egocentric Wright which receives blanket national coverage to the disadvantage of Clinton's opponent. As Louis writes: "The Rev. Jeremiah Wright couldn't have done more damage to Barack Obama's campaign if he had tried. And you have to wonder if that's just what one friend of Wright wanted."
His proof for her being an "ardent longtime booster"? This claim by Louis:
On a blog linked to her Web site- www.reynoldsnews.com- Reynolds said in a February post: "My vote for Hillary in the Maryland primary was my way of saying thank you" to Clinton and her husband for the successes of Bill Clinton's presidency.
Let's just say that the phrase "ardent longtime booster" gave me a very different impression. (NOTE: That website doesn't seem to have any content at the time of my writing this piece, but Rev. Reynolds has another website - reynoldsworldnews.blogspot.com - where I couldn't find the post in question).
Anyway, let's get to the crux of the matter. Malcolm talks about Rev. Reynolds being a bit critical of Sen. Obama previously (in the context of how Sen. Obama responded to the Wright-sermon revelations in March) and then posts this update:
UPDATE: Sylvia Smith, the press club president, confirmed today that Reynolds is on the club's speakers committee. She told Michael Calderone on Politico.com that she still doesn't know whom Reynolds supports for president, adding, "Rev. Wright is newsworthy, period."
This is character assassination at multiple levels - both an assassination of the character of Rev. Barbara Reynolds and an attempt to assassinate Sen. Clinton's character by extension without any evidence whatsoever (as Malcolm says, without any hint of irony, "It won't take very much at all for Obama supporters to see in Wright's carefully arranged Washington event that was so damaging to Obama the strategic, nefarious manipulation of the Clintons."). Here's why.
1. First, Malcolm, instead of merely linking to Michael Calderone, could have highlighted something important and partially exculpatory that Calderone pointed out in that very post:
But Wright wasn’t as newsworthy two years ago when Reynolds first pitched Barack Obama’s controversial pastor as a potential speaker for the press club, according to Smith.
At that time, the speaker’s committee—of which Reynolds is now a part of, but wasn’t at the time—didn’t move forward with selecting Wright.
In other words, Rev. Reynolds had pitched Rev. Wright as a speaker to the National Press Club two years ago when Sen. Obama was not even in the race. So, there is at least some indication that her motives might have had little to do with politics and more to do with Rev. Wright himself.
2. Second, Calderone also posted this update (linked to the same post):
Earlier today I reported that National Press Club member Barbara Reynolds brought up Dr. Jeremiah Wright speaking back in 2006, but it was not pursued.
But Wright did speak there in 2007 on a panel, as part of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference (which Wright is attending this week in Washington D.C). This was not an NPC-sponsored event, but held at the club.
Most importantly, Reynolds was listed as the contact back in '07. That's before Obama was the Democratic front-runner and anyone could have imagined Wright would be such a distraction. And it's before Reynolds wrote on her blog that she voted for Clinton in the Maryland primary.
So, Rev. Reynolds had arranged for Rev. Wright to speak at a conference held at the National Press Club in 2007 even before Sen. Obama was a front-runner and even before she cast a vote for Sen. Clinton over Sen. Obama. Put another way, on two separate occasions previously, both unrelated to Sen. Obama's candidacy, Rev. Reynolds tried to get Rev. Wright a national-level speaking engagement. To me this is a very strong indication that her current motive might have had little to do with politics and a lot to do with Rev. Wright himself. (Incidentally, you would not have figured this out easily if you read Andrew Malcolm's or Errol Louis' egregious posts.)
3. Third, Louis tries to minimize the level of character assassination in his post by hedging ever so slightly:
I don't know if Reynolds' eagerness to help Wright stage a disastrous news conference with the national media was a way of trying to help Clinton - my queries to Reynolds by phone and e-mail weren't returned yesterday - but it's safe to say she didn't see any conflict between promoting Wright and supporting Clinton.
It's hard to exaggerate how bad the actual news conference was. Wright, steeped in an honorable, fiery tradition of Bible-based social criticism, cheapened his arguments and his movement by mugging for the cameras, rolling his eyes, heaping scorn on his critics and acting as if nobody in the room was learned enough to ask him a question.
Wright has, unquestionably, been caricatured and vilified unfairly. The feeding programs, prison outreach and other social services he has built over more than 30 years are commendable, and his reading of the Judeo-Christian tradition as an epic story of people trying to escape slavery is far more right than wrong - and not something to be caricatured or compressed into a 10-second sound bite.
But Wright should have known - and his friend and ally Reynolds, a media professional, surely knew - that bickering with the press can only harm Wright and, by extension, Obama.
I hope that wasn't their goal.
Rev. Wright was caricatured and vilified by the media - so, in response, he should have, um, shut the hell up and not gone to the media to set the record straight, because, um, it would otherwise harm Sen. Obama. Who cares whether or not Rev. Wright's reputation was worth salvaging even a whit! Also, how could Rev. Reynolds help Rev. Wright stage a "disastrous news conference"?
Notice who's bringing politics into the fray here? It was Louis, not Rev. Reynolds.
Louis' comments are offensive at many levels. In contrast to the pathetic Louis, let's really ask why Rev. Reynolds - who is a religious African-American ordained minister and a long-time friend of Rev. Wright - might have been trying to get him a national speaking engagement this time around. It's not too difficult to decipher if someone took a minute to go to her blog and read her post of March 17, 2008 titled "Pastor Jeremiah Wright". Let me cite just a portion of it and you can go read the rest of her post:
Without the prophetic, bold voices and organizing ability of leaders like Pastor Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago there would be no U.S. Senator Barack Obama with a decent chance at becoming the first black president of the United States.
And it is a sad testimony that to protect his credentials as a unifier above the fray the Senator is fueling the media characterization that Rev. Dr. Wright is some retiring old uncle in the church basement instead of respecting Wright for the towering astute father of progressive social and global causes that he is.
For 20 years, Rev. Wright has been a " friend, mentor and pastor." This is how Sen. Obama described him in a letter dated February 5, 2007. In that letter, the senator wrote "I constantly remember Rev. Wright as the shepherd who guided me to my commitment to Christ one Sunday morning at Trinity. I often consider, as I work in the Senate how he lives his life—a life of service to Trinity, Chicago and the nation; his activism on behalf of causes that few would champion and his dogged commitment to the first principles of love for God and fellow man. And in my personal walk, I seek daily to imitate his faith."
Pastor Jeremiah Wright is no weird, anti-American hater and separatist cult leader. He loved his country enough to serve in the U.S. Marines. His denomination, the United Church of Christ, is a 90 percent white denomination. As a pastor, Wright married the Obamas, baptized their children, and a Wright sermon provided the title of Obama’s best-selling book "The Audacity of Hope."
The Jeremiah I know is a sought-after preacher in seminaries across the country. I have traveled with him, introduced him at the National Press Club and use his tapes as teaching tools in my prophetic ministry classes at the Howard University School of Divinity, where he often preaches to adoring audiences.
I am inspired by Wright’s leadership as the founding father of the Samuel D. Proctor conference, which is directed by Dr. Iva Carruthers, a Trinity member. The Conference is the progressive wing of the Black Church and represents some 50 million people through an ecumenical cross section of clergy and inter-faith leaders across the nation.
Pastor Wright is being brutally trashed for his controversial sermons. The mainstream media are the guilty culprit in all of this partly because of ignorance of the historic role of the Black Church, which was born out of the crucible of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow, If those injustices had not been raised with passion, blacks would still be on the plantation, a point that Trinity’s new pastor Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, nicely raised in an interview on CNN.
Wright is much more than a Sunday morning wonder. He had launched more than 70 active ministries that provide housing complexes for senior citizens, day care for children, ministries for people living with HIV and help for families of the incarcerated.
Whether you disagree or agree with Wright’s controversial statements it is a terrible disservice to ignore his contributions as a theologian, pastor, and educator. It is ludicrous that a pastor who has preached more than 207,000 minutes for the past 36 years at Trinity on Sunday, not to mention his weekday worship services, revivals and global preaching, should be judged by a couple of 15 or 30 second sound bytes.
Furthermore, Pastor Rod Parsley of Columbus, Ohio, who is a spiritual adviser to Republican front-runner John McCain, has made ugly comments about destroying "the false religion of Islam" at a time when American- born Muslims are fighting for the United States in Iraq. Somehow this hate speech doesn’t provoke outrage.
There's a lot more in Rev. Reynolds' post. Her post is heartfelt and genuine. Naturally I don't agree with her downplaying Rev. Wright's worst statements but anyone with integrity who reads her post will come away with a simple explanation for why she tried to get Rev. Wright a voice. She obviously respected Rev. Wright tremendously (can you blame her when a leading Democratic Presidential candidate felt the same for about 2 decades until Rev. Wright became a liability to him?) and felt that the media (and the Obama campaign to a much lesser extent) provided a misleading view of who Rev. Wright really was. So is it any surprise that she must have felt she should help Rev. Wright correct the record?
There is no evidence whatsoever that Rev. Reynolds' effort had anything to do with Sen. Clinton or with playing political games. In contrast, there is enough evidence that her repeated efforts have had a lot to do with helping Rev. Wright gain stature in the public sphere. This was one spiritual leader trying to help another spiritual leader - who she felt, fairly or not, was maligned by the media - by trying to get him an opportunity to rebuild his reputation.
Let me also emphasize a point that character assassin Errol Louis never bothered to acknowledge. There was no way that Rev. Reynolds could have known that Rev. Wright would make himself look worse in the public eye as a result. After all, she had arranged a successful speaking engagement for him in 2007, had tried to get another speaking opportunity for him a year before that and his NPR interview a few days earlier was not exactly "disastrous" (it was even praised by Obama supporter Pastor Dan at Street Prophets). You don't have to go too far to figure this out. You can also, for example, take the words of one of the greatest kool-aid infused fluffers of Sen. Obama in the "progressive" blogosphere, who wrote a diary at Daily Kos that predictably made it to the Recommended List:
Where I thought that Wright might use those venues to communicate with a broader public in a way that worked to get past the divisiveness and controversies surrounding some of what we had learned about his preaching in worship service, I completely misjudged what was to come.
Rather than honestly report these facts and explore the non-political motivations that average citizens might have, Louis and Malcolm produced grossly misleading pieces against Rev. Reynolds and by extension Sen. Clinton - who obviously had nothing whatsoever to do with Rev. Wright's appearances.
4. Finally, the implication of Louis' and Malcolm's pieces is that Rev. Wright was essentially a robot who was ready to be exploited on behalf of the Clinton campaign. This is deeply insulting, especially given the self-reverence and pride that Rev. Wright has.
The disgraceful articles by Errol Louis and Andrew Malcolm were simply political smear jobs and they should apologize to Rev. Reynolds. To protect one of the Presidential candidates who was hurt by his long-time friend and pastor, these individuals decided it was time to throw yet another progressive African-American minister under the bus and try to implicate the candidate's opponent on top of that. This is beyond appalling and extraordinarily divisive.