Obama Rips Rev. Wright

(CBS/AP) Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday he was outraged by the latest assertion by his former pastor that criticism of his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church.

The presidential candidate is seeking to tamp down the growing fury over Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his incendiary remarks that threaten to undermine his campaign.

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday," Obama told reporters at a news conference.

"Obama's decision to address Wright's recent comments after several days of trying to stay away signals concern over the damage that was being done to his candidacy," said CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs. "His strong denunciation of Wright's remarks, particularly those made yesterday at the National Press Club, was aimed at voters in the upcoming primaries, a national audience and the Democratic superdelegates who hold so much power in the nominating process. It may bring even more attention to the issue but Obama clearly felt he needed to make a very clear and public break with his former pastor."

After weeks of staying out of the public eye while critics lambasted his sermons, Wright made three public appearances in four days to defend himself. The former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been combative, providing colorful commentary and feeding the story Obama had hoped was dying down.

"This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright," Wright told the Washington media Monday. "It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."

Obama told reporters Tuesday that Wright's comments do not accurately portray the perspective of the black church.

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago," Obama said of the man who married him.

Wright criticized the U.S. government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities. "Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything," he said.

In a highly publicized speech last month, Obama sharply condemned Wright's remarks. But he did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member.

On Tuesday, Obama sought to distance himself further from Wright.

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he's done enormous good. ... But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. ... There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced."

Wright recently retired from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He became an issue in Obama's presidential bid when videos circulated of Wright condemning the U.S. government for allegedly racist and genocidal acts. In the videos, some several years old, Wright called on God to "damn America." He also said the government created the AIDS virus to destroy "people of color."

On Monday, in a defiant appearance at the National Press Club, Wright said that criticism surrounding his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and rejected those who have labeled him unpatriotic.

"I served six years in the military," Obama's longtime pastor said. "Does that make me patriotic? How many years did (Vice President Dick) Cheney serve?"

He said the black church tradition is not bombastic or controversial, but different and misunderstood by the "dominant culture" in the United States.

He said his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has a long history of liberating the oppressed by feeding the hungry, supporting recovery for the addicted and helping senior citizens in need. He said congregants have fought in the military, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"My goddaughter's unit just arrived in Iraq this week while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls to die over a lie," he said.

Wright said he hopes the controversy will have a positive outcome and spark an honest dialogue about race in America. Wright says black church traditions are still "invisible" to many Americans, as they have been throughout the country's history.

He said he hopes "the most recent attack on the black church - it is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright - it's an attack on the black church," he said to applause, "just might mean that the reality of the African-American church will no longer be invisible."

Videos clips of Wright's sermons, circulated widely on television and the Internet, knocked Obama's presidential campaign off-stride. The Illinois Democrat distanced himself from the comments of Wright, whom he has known for 20 years.

In a sermon days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Wright said "America's chickens are coming home to roost" after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan and "supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans."

Asked about some of the comments after the terrorist attacks, Wright challenged the reporter questioning him.

"Have you heard the whole sermon? No? The whole sermon?" he responded. When the reporter shook her head, he said, "That nullifies that question."

He said criticism comes from people who only have heard sound bites playing repeatedly on television and have never listened to his entire sermons.

Wright said he's told Obama that if he is elected in November and is inaugurated in January, "I'm coming after you." He said that's because his differences are not with the American people, but U.S. policies.

"Whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God on November 5 and January 21," Wright said.

CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder reports that Obama saw the news coverage yesterday, and, according to aides, was deeply angered and insisted that he give a press conference today.

©MMVIII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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