Published March 31, 2008
Here are a set of 22 questions political reporters and other journalists might want to press Barack Obama to answer about his relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago:
1. In early March you said your church was not “particularly controversial.” Later in the month, after video clips of Jeremiah Wright had been repeatedly played on television, you admitted that you had heard Wright make statements in church that qualified him as a “fierce critic” of U.S. domestic and foreign policy and that “could be considered controversial.” You also said you “strongly disagree[d]” with some of Wright's political views. Can you tell us what you specifically heard Wright say that you considered fiercely critical of U.S. policy, controversial, and with which you strongly disagreed?
2. During the approximately 20 years you attended Trinity United Church of Christ, did you hear Wright make comments or read things published in the “Pastor's Page” of the church bulletin that could be fairly deemed to be anti-American, anti-Semitic, and/or a “profoundly distorted view of this country” (to quote from your speech on race)?
3. When did you first become aware of the fact that in 1984 Reverend Wright traveled to Libya with Louis Farrakhan to visit Muammar Qadhafi? Similarly, when did you become aware of Wright's role in giving Farrakhan a lifetime-achievement award and that Wright referred to the Nation of Islam leader as a man of “integrity and honesty?” Did those things trouble you when you learned of them?
4. Did you ever, even once, have a conversation with Reverend Wright in which you expressed your concern about his rhetoric and worldview? If not, do you now wish you had? What ought to have triggered that conversation with Wright?
5. In the speech on race you delivered a couple of weeks ago, you said you could “no more disown [Wright] than I can disown the black community.” Does that mean you believe Wright is synonymous with the embodiment of the black community, that they are one in the same? Is it your view that to disown any person who is black means you would therefore disown the black community? If so, does that mean you would be unable to “disown” someone like Louis Farrakhan? Are there any grounds on which you would disown Wright? If so, wouldn't that (by your own logic) mean that you would disown the whole of the black community?
6. On ABC's The View you said “had the Reverend [Wright] not retired and had he not acknowledged what he had said had deeply offended people and [was] inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying there at the church.” Had you done so, how would that be different from “disowning” Wright?
7. Can you cite a single public statement in which Reverend Wright acknowledges that what he said deeply offended people, and was both inappropriate and a mischaracterization of what you believe is the greatness of this country? To what evidence of Wright's public contrition can you point?
8. When you/those on your campaign cancelled Reverend Wright's delivery of the invocation when you formally announced your run for the presidency in February 2007, what were the grounds for the cancellation? What did you know about Wright then that moved you to cancel his appearance?
9. With which elements, if any, of black liberation theology — as represented by Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ — do you strongly disagree? Do you think any of the core tenets of black liberation theology are racist? Are they consistent with, or fundamentally at odds with, your expressed desire to end racial divisions in this country?
10. Is there anything Reverend Wright has said in your presence that you fear will be made public and that your campaign is working to keep from coming out?
11. You have complained that America has been presented with an incomplete picture of Reverend Wright. Would you therefore urge Wright and Trinity United to make public all the sermons of Wright, as well as things he has written in the church bulletin and elsewhere, so we can see the full body of his work? And will you let us know, to the best of your ability, the dates you attended church services during the last 20 years?
12. Since the Wright story broke there seems to have been a concerted effort to keep Reverend Wright from speaking to the press or in public. If he is the man you says he is — if the soundbites we have all seen are anomalous and the portrait of him is a caricature — then why not encourage him to do interviews in order to set the record straight?
13. Do you think it was surprising or out of character for Reverend Wright to reprint an oped by a leading Hamas figure, Mousa Abu Mazook, in the “Pastor's Page” of Trinity United's church bulletin?
14. Do you consider Reverend Wright, within context and based on his public comments, to be anti-Semitic? What more would he need to say to cross that threshold?
15. Do you consider Reverend Wright, within context and based on his public comments, to be anti-American? What more would he need to say to cross that threshold?
16. Do you consider Reverend Wright, within context and based on his public comments, to be racist? What more would he need to say to cross that threshold?
17. Whom do you consider to be a more admirable and impressive figure and whose public words do you more closely associate yourself with: Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. or Justice Clarence Thomas?
18. If the GOP candidate for president had a close, intimate relationship of almost two decades with a pastor whose church provided shelter to homeless people, provided day care and marriage counseling but who was himself a white supremacist, asked God to damn rather than bless America, said that the United States got what was coming to it on 9/11, advocated conspiracy theories about genocidal policies being promoted by the American government, said that Israel is a “dirty word,” believed it was a terrorist state and promoted the views of Hamas leaders, would that trouble you? And would you accept the word of the GOP candidate if he insisted that he was not sitting in the pews when those things were said and therefore claimed he ought not be tarnished by the association?
19. Have you ever heard things contemporaneously said by Reverend Wright that you considered as offensive, or more offensive, than what Don Imus said about the Rutgers women's basketball team (something you considered to be a firing offense at the time)?
20. In looking back on this whole matter, do you think you have made any significant errors in judgment regarding your relationship with Reverend Wright? To what degree are you responsible for this controversy? And have you been completely forthcoming in telling Americans about what you heard from Wright and when you heard it?
21. When Reverend Wright told the New York Times last year that if you got past the primaries he thought you might have well have to publicly distance yourself from him — and your reaction was that you agreed — what did both of you know at the time?
22. Will you answer the questions posed above? If so, when? And if not, why?
— Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.