op-ed

I witnessed Obama worshipping at Jeremiah Wright’s church

Jim Davis Contributor

The emergence of the Journolist listserv at The Daily Caller has created quite a stir on the Internet, but among mainstream media journalists, the silence is deafening. The listserv creates the impression that the entire profession of journalism protected presidential candidate Barack Obama in the spring of 2008, when controversy over his attendance at the church of Jeremiah Wright reached its zenith, and ever since.

The Journolist has now been outed, and a similar, smaller listserv known as Cabalist has also surfaced. But in my opinion, it wasn’t unanimous. At that time, the mainstream media were deeply divided. There were some journalists who were supporting Obama, and others who were supporting his Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

My experience with the mainstream media’s preferences came as a freelance writer for Newsmax. In the summer of 2007, since senior Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler was covering the association between Obama and Wright from Washington, and since I live in the Chicago area, I was assigned to find out whether Obama was still attending Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), where Wright served as senior pastor.

There were five Sundays in the month of July 2007. I attended services at TUCC six times that month. They had three sermons every Sunday: an early sermon at 7:30, a late morning sermon at 11:00, and an evening sermon. Each was preceded by a 15-minute “praise and prayer” service. I took notes in a three-by-five spiral-bound notebook that I kept in my pocket.

The sixth time I attended, Barack Obama was there. I was never 100% certain that the date of that particular sermon was July 22. As originally submitted, my Newsmax story didn’t even contain a date — I just said that it was in July. But my editor at Newsmax, David Patten, called and asked for an exact date. I was 99% sure that it was July 22, and I remain about 99% sure.

While I was working on this story, there was absolutely no response to repeated phone messages left at Trinity United Church of Christ and at the Obama campaign for comment. After the story was published, there was still no response. I tried working on a follow-up story and again got no response to my calls. Finally my editor, David Patten, canned the follow-up story. For seven months, there was no sign of any reaction by the campaign to this story.

In a Webcast sermon on August 12, however, I heard the speaker caution listeners about “reporters in the congregation.” So I got the impression that they had seen the story when it was published.

I’ve never had any formal training as a journalist. My background is in information technology and the law. But one of the important things I learned from my parents is that the answers you get depend on the questions you ask. The wording of the question, as well as tone of voice, facial expressions and body language of the questioner, have a profound effect on the answer.

I’ve watched this game being played all my life. I could see that reporters would toss softball questions to the candidates they supported. But for candidates they didn’t want to win, they asked the tough questions and assumed a more challenging tone. This much I was able to recognize, despite my lack of formal training.

However, I wasn’t aware that if I wanted to be a professional journalist, I was supposed to preserve the notes from these stories until I die. Sometime around Christmas 2007, I was cleaning out my desk at home and I tossed that little spiral-bound notebook in the trash. I thought that story would never come up again.

If the church or the campaign had any problem with that story, I thought, they would have contacted Newsmax immediately after publication, or responded to one of my many calls. We could have reviewed my notes and determined the truth of the matter.

On Friday, March 14 Ron Kessler brought up the Obama/Wright link in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Obama supporters were denying that Obama still attended TUCC. ABC’s Brian Ross then unearthed and cited my August article during the weekend, and was asking tough questions in a challenging tone, touching off a storm of mainstream media attention.

Suddenly Google News searches were turning up my name. The next four days were really remarkable for me.

I had a fact-checker from the Washington Post calling me on my cell phone. I was invited to appear on Fox News in Chicago, and on radio talk shows from Florida to California. I checked in with Dave Patten, and he strongly advised me to stay out of the spotlight.

I wasn’t a big fan of that decision and accepted his advice reluctantly, but in 20/20 hindsight, it was the smart thing to do. Newsmax had professionals like Christopher Ruddy, Ron Kessler, Dave Patten and Ken Williams, who had been dealing with partisan dissembling for decades.

The Obama campaign faxed some documents to Ken Williams, proving that on the morning of Sunday, July 22 the Obama campaign had a chartered jet with Obama on board, taking off from Chicago’s Midway Airport at 8:50 AM.

Also, it’s been shown that at 1:30 PM on the afternoon of July 22, Obama was scheduled to give a speech to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in Miami. A videotape of the speech is available on the Internet. So the progressive websites like DailyKos, and the Obama supporters posting on other websites, claimed that I was lying.

But Obama didn’t attend the 11:00 service that morning. He attended the 7:30 service, and he was hustling out the door with his Secret Service detail the minute the sermon was over. He didn’t even stay around to shake any hands.

Trinity United Church of Christ is located at 421 West 95th Street in Chicago. According to the Mapquest.com navigational website, the travel time from that address to Midway Airport is 27 minutes.

For most of us, it never works out that well; but Obama was a United States senator and a presidential candidate. With a Secret Service and Chicago Police Department escort, and with more police blocking cross traffic at the stoplights and waving him through, it probably didn’t even take 27 minutes.

And of course, passengers in VIP motorcades rarely have to stand in line for a security checkpoint; they drive right out on the tarmac. With a private jet standing by waiting for him, with its engines warmed up, Obama was able to get in the air by 8:50 AM. But he didn’t make it to his speech on time. There’s a report that he didn’t make it on stage to give his speech until 1:50 PM.

Since I was only 99% sure that it was the July 22 service that Obama had attended, Newsmax issued a clarification statement: we weren’t sure about the July 22 date, but we were sure that it had occurred sometime during the month of July.

It was a watershed moment during the primary season. All the polls had been showing for a year that even if the Democrats were to nominate the proverbial yellow dog for president, he would have won. Throughout the year 2007, it looked as though the election of President Hillary Rodham Clinton was inevitable.

But before that St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Obama had won 11 primaries in a row. He seemed to be an unstoppable juggernaut, a man of destiny.

Jeremiah Wright’s more inflammatory comments were being examined by the national news media, but Obama was claiming that he had never heard Wright say those things. People were wondering how Obama could have attended Wright’s church for 23 years, and identified him as his “close personal friend” and “personal spiritual advisor,” without being aware of Wright’s attitude toward America and toward white people.

After all, Obama had taken the title of one of his books, The Audacity of Hope, from one of Wright’s sermons. Wright officiated at his wedding to Michelle, and baptized both of his daughters. Surely Obama knew more about Wright’s divisive rhetoric than he was admitting.

During that primary campaign, it was my impression that the journalists at ABC and CNN wanted Hillary Clinton to win. They asked Obama the tough questions about Wright. At a mid-April Democratic primary debate moderated by Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, they were asking Obama the tough questions. Remember that Stephanopoulos, for example, worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton at the White House for years before joining ABC.

But at NBC and CBS, in my opinion, they always wanted Obama to win. And after his nomination became inevitable, the people at ABC and CNN joined their colleagues in rooting for an Obama victory.

After my Newsmax story received the attention of the mainstream media, Obama was forced to admit — even though he still denied that he had been in Wright’s church that particular Sunday morning — that he had heard Wright say some other things that were less than kind about America, and about white people.

Obama lost five of the next seven primaries, including losses by wide margins in the key states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Even though he ended the primary season with enough delegates to be nominated, it was by the most narrow of margins. Obama no longer seemed unbeatable.

I am convinced that during the primary campaign in 2008, if the Hillary supporters in the mainstream media had discovered my Newsmax story just a few weeks earlier, we would not be discussing President Barack Obama. We’d be talking about President Somebody Else, and Obama would be running for re-election for his Senate seat this fall, biding his time for another presidential run in 2012.

And in hindsight, it has become clear that Obama was listening when Wright was saying those terrible things. There are too many consistencies between the Wright way and the Obama way, that differ from previous presidential administrations: apologizing for America, poorly concealed contempt for Israel and Great Britain (two of our most stalwart allies), and accommodation for radical Islam.

In your heart, you know he‘s Wright.