Was Jeremiah Wright Relevant?

I think, no; but because Sarah Palin’s dredging up this bit of ancient history, in light of recently discovered emails from top journalists hoping to bury the story before it broke, let’s examine.

Off the bat, note that it’s not like “liberals” and “media elites” were the only ones who wanted to move past Wright, and fight the election on ground that actually had some bearing on matters of policy. Palin’s boss did, too. On his say-so, the following ad never ran:

Consider, too, the only theory under which Wright becomes relevant. Despite Obama’s extensive public record on matters racial and political, Wright represented Obama’s only linkage to the more controversial elements of America’s black community, elements which, in all other respects, Mr. Obama had conspicuously avoided, for his entire life.

Wright was a weak way to make a weaker argument, one likely to inflame passions out of proportion with its merit, and otherwise distract the American populace from matters of grave importance — like the collapsing economy. If we conceive of journalism as a way to mediate the flow of information and the cultivation of an educated populace, and not as a campaign adjunct with a discrete agenda, then the journalist’s job is precisely to avoid these kinds of stories. Politicians may fire as they bear (and reap the consequences), but journalists should function as gatekeepers. Someone has to.


  1. Wright was relevant in the sense that he was direct evidence of candidate Obama’s poor judgement. I’m not saying that poor judgement should have disqualified him from office, but it was certainly worth discussing when someone wants to be President.

  2. But you and I both know that’s not what it was being argued as.

    1. It was part of a larger discussion concerning questionable people that candidate Obama associated with. Right? Doesn’t that demonstrate bad judgement?

      1. It was guilt by association.

  3. The attitude of the quoted journalists on that mailing list is indeed unfortunate. And I’ll agree with Mike that the story about Rev Wright was at least not trivial (and it is exactly the trivial that the gatekeeping journalists exist to ‘protect’ us against).

    On the other hand, Ames is also correct that the angles that were put on the story in many cases went beyond good journalism. So I guess the lesson here is that if you want good, professional journalism, you’ll have to look for it in the actual mainstream media, rather than in either the left or the right fringe.

    On related note, I think that Palin is precisely the wrong person to issue a ‘J’accuse‘ in this case, considering the hissy fits she herself threw over the (equally non-trivial) stories about her lack of qualifications following her nomination. Goose and gander.

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