By now, the sermons, lectures, and commentaries of Jeremiah Wright quoted, reproduced, and discussed by other sources, ranging from broadcast and cable television and radio, to print and, of course, weblogs and the Internet-based audio- and video-hosting platforms such as YouTube, have been so numerous that sheer scale alone makes it impossible to define where his allegedly “controversial” and “offensive” statements begin, and where they end. But the relative intensity of coverage tells part of the story. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, for the first 125 days of 2008 (January 1–May 4), the Wright-Obama relationship was the most frequently reported news item, receiving roughly 3.8-times more attention than did the second most frequently reported item, how the “superdelegates” were aligning in the primary process; it was covered 4.9-times as heavily as John McCain’s ties to lobbyists.13 Wright and his views also towered over the meager attention given to the views of Hagee, Parsley, and Robertson, and to their relationships with McCain. Media Matters for America reports that between February 27 and April 30—the 27th having been the date on which Hagee endorsed McCain in San Antonio while McCain was campaigning with Parsley in Ohio—the New York Times and Washington Post “published more than 12 times as many articles” mentioning Wright and Obama as they did mentioning Hagee and McCain. In terms of editorials and op-eds, the ratio was even greater—more than 15 to 1.14
Similar patterns were true across the board. For the ninety-six-day period from February 27 through June 1, mentions of Wright’s name in conjunction with Obama’s outnumbered mentions of Hagee’s with McCain’s 10.5 times to 1; they also outnumbered mentions of Parsley’s with McCain’s 40.2 times to 1. (See table 1.) Remarkably, even the Reverend Louis Farrakhan’s name turned up in conjunction with Obama’s more frequently than did McCain’s with Hagee’s or Parsley’s—although Obama has had no connection with Farrakhan whatsoever. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that at the apex of its coverage (April 28–May 4), the Wright-Obama relationship “accounted for 42% of that week’s campaign stories,” while at its apex (May 19–25), the Hagee-McCain relationship “accounted for only 8%.”15 The next week (May 26–June 1), when Obama resigned from Trinity United Church of Christ after a video was circulated of the Catholic priest, Michael Pfleger, mocking Hillary Clinton during a guest sermon at the church, coverage of this “accounted for 13% of all the campaign stories.”16 Indeed, so obsessive and so recurring was the media’s focus on Jeremiah Wright, on Wright’s Trinity United, and on any person or topic that could be squeezed into this frame of reference and used to generate negative reporting and commentary about the black preacher and his ties to the black candidate, that even when the McCain campaign officially rejected the endorsements it had previously sought from Hagee and Parsley, nearly one-half as many more articles mentioned Obama-Wright than mentioned McCain together with Hagee or Parsley. (See table 2.) This reveals a deep bias of remarkable consistency (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Jeremiah Wright in the Propaganda System,” Monthly Review, Sep. 2008).
As Obama’s approval ratings tumble, we’re bound to hear this myth being pushed by the right more and more to assert that the media ignored Obama’s purported left-wing radicalism early on. There are, of course, many reasons to be upset with the media’s light treatment of Obama in certain policy areas, with foreign policy and civil liberties being the most notable. But the idea that they never gave the Rev. Wright connection enough attention is absolutely ludicrous.
As far as meta-media myths go, the prevalence of this one should make it self-refuting.