I have to confess I’ve been enjoying the New York Times’s quietly anguished coverage of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright matter.
I mentioned on March 18, when the Wright affair was first in the news, that the Times had not reported the “God damn America” quote in its news sections. (The only time it had appeared in the paper at that point was in a Bill Kristol column.) Then, on March 26, I pointed it out again, although by that time it had also been mentioned in a Maureen Dowd column. Now, I should say that it has been mentioned again in the paper — over the weekend, in an editorial condemning the North Carolina Republican Party for its Wright ad. “The ad is built around the well-known video clip of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. — Mr. Obama’s former pastor — declaring ‘God damn America,’” the Times editorial says. “We have said before that we find Rev. Wright’s oratory racist.” OK, that’s three mentions on the editorial page. But the news pages of the Times still have a clean record — they have never reported Wright’s original “God damn America” quote.
So what do they do today? Well, the front page of the Times has a story on Wright, but not a news story. Instead, TV critic Alessandra Stanley gets the assignment, and she assures us that Wright is just what Barack Obama said he was, an eccentric relative who might say funny things. “Mr. Wright revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention,” Stanley writes.
The news story is inside the paper, on A-14, and it’s headlined “Obama Adds To Distance From Pastor And Opinions.” The lead is that Obama obviously has no control over Wright. The story does mention some of the things Wright actually said at the Press Club yesterday, on AIDS and terrorism and Louis Farrakhan. But “God damn America”? The record of the Times’s news pages remains perfect.