A lot has been said recently about the April 28 National Press Club appearanceÂ of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Because of the event’s apparently toxic effect on the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the post-appearance discussion has generated a lot of heat, but very little light, especially among Black journalists.
As far as I’m concerned, the most disturbing assertionsÂ are that Press Club Speaker’s Committee member, the Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Reynolds, “set up” the retiring Senior Pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ–the church where Sen. Obama has been a member for more than 20 years–set up the “Black Liberation Theologist” to appear there, in order to boost the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
That’s a bit much, because, who could have known that the distinguished pastor who has been unfairly lambasted by the corporate-owned, mainstream media, would respond on the national news stage with the back of his hand for USA Today reporter Donna Leinwand, vice president of the Press Club, who presided over the reverend’s rare breakfast speaking appearance; and that he would show the rest ofÂ White AmericaÂ his bare backside.
I am,Â like the former Marine and pastor,Â also anÂ “Angry Black man.”Â I amÂ just four years younger than he and I share his anger. I attended the Press Club event andÂ I cheeredÂ his every bombastic gesture, and flippant response. Still,Â I recognize that as far as Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign is concerned the Rev. Wright’s appearance was a disaster. Even Truth, when spoken out of season, does not bear fruit.
For my part, I long ago complained that Sen. Obama’s so-called “post-racial” campaign requires all the rest of the Black people all over the world, to putÂ their just ambitions, not just on the “back burner,” but off the stove altogether, and back into the refrigerator, so as not to upset the possibility of electing the first Black President of the U.S. So, as far as I’m concerned, the question forÂ a laterÂ discussion is: “Is it worth sacrificing everything ‘Black’ in the ‘Black Agenda’ in order to elect the Black President?” Why, once again mustÂ Black peopleÂ go to the back of the bus–albeit a presidential campaign bus this time–with their hopes and dreams for equality in a truly just America?Â Regardless of how anyone answers that question, it would neverÂ justify intentionally sabotaging Sen. Obama’s quest for the White House.
As much as I identified with allÂ his antics, I recognize that the Rev. Dr. Wright’s appearance, was truly a disaster for his former parishoner’s presidential hopes and dreams. But as far as his invitation to be on that national stage at that hour is concerned, there was no Press Club conspiracy to torpedo the Obama campaign, orchestrated by former Chicagoan, Barbara Reynolds.
I’ve known my friend Barbara Reynolds for more than 30 years.Â I knowÂ this is not the first time she has had “issues” wth a Black presidential “campaign.” (Read “America’s David…” the re-issue of her unauthorized 1970s biography of the Rev. Jesse Jackson). I have appeared often with her on TV commentary shows and know her to be a forceful, (unrelenting even) advocate for her opinions. I do not thinkÂ however, any of that entered into her role in arranging the Press Club appearance of the Rev. Dr. Wright.
Having been a member (for the second time) for four years or so on the last occasion, of the National Press Club Speaker’s Committee (I resigned in the fall of 2004 when I started working full time at a Washington radio station), I know that the goal is not to “set people up” by arranging their appearances, but rather to try to get the strongest, most news-worthy speakers to appear, in anÂ environment which is too often driven by K-Street-lobbyist types with clients’ views to promote, or book publicists trying to get some free face-time to sell their clients’ books. In 2006, the Rev. Dr. Reynolds joined the Speaker’s Committee and filled the void of an “out-front” African American on the Committee left by my departure.
In all ofÂ the newsmakerÂ luncheons, I worked onÂ I never recall the presiding officer preparingÂ his or herÂ own list of questions, as appeared to happen on this occasion! In all the luncheons I attended, the moderatorÂ always depended on “spontaneous” questions coming from the audience written on specially printed cards distributed before on all the tables of all the diners.Â For my luncheonsÂ I had to invite the head table guests, invite the guests to attend the VIP head-table reception, andÂ write a draftÂ introduction of the speaker. I don’t know who wrote Rev. Wright’s caustic introduction in this instance, I suspect the VP wrote it herself. It was also during my time on the committee that we began using the disclaimer that all the the attendeesÂ in the audienceÂ are not working press members. That’sÂ because the ClubÂ liberalized its rules in orderÂ to make it easier for the public (more potential paying customrers) to pay and attend Club events.
TheÂ point, from the Press Club’s perspective, is to always sell enough luncheon (or in this instance breakfast) tickets to make the appearance profitable for the club. I twice had to call the NAACP to cancel luncheons we’d set up for then President Kweisi Mfume, because not enough tickets were sold (read bought by NAACP supporters and allies), because Club members were not sufficiently interested in the events to buy tickets. Often Black speakers who may want to appear, are not seen by the Committee as being of sufficient news value orÂ interest to the Club’s overwhelmingly White membership to sell any tickets, and the Oprah’s of the world, are always too busy, or not interested in facing the potential Press Club grilling, when their 15-minutes of fame renedered them newsworthy.
The Press Club does not pay speakers. Does not pay their plane fare. Does not pay their hotel bills. And does not permit open pandering of the upcoming movie or book, which might be a reason a potential speaker might be interested in the national platform on NPR and C-SPAN. For that reason the speeches (which have to be arranged way in advance) have to coincide with when the potential speaker will already be in Washington. Frequently, the Bill Cosby’s of the world have their agendas already set by the time the word gets out they’re coming to Washington. This Rev. Wright event was clearly coordinated along those lines, not just by Barbara Reynolds and the Press Club, but with the full collaboration of Howard University’s Divinity School, as well as with the religious conference around which Rev. Wright was scheduled to be in DC. That was all a part of the planning because, many, many church people, including dozens from Chicago and “liberation theologists” from DC and the surrounding area, had already purchased tickets before I even knew this appearance was about to take place.
By the time I went to the Press Club website, when I heardÂ about this event, it had already sold out! I saw people at this breakfast from Chicago, who had nothing to do with the Church conference, but who in fact are members/supporters of Trinity Church, clearly a designed plan, in which all concerned glady conspired, and who were there to support their “Jeremiah.” This was not a set-up by a supporter of Sen. Clinton’s campaign. If it was, she had a lot of help from those in the Rev. Wright camp.
This event had to be a breakfast becauseÂ a luncheon had already been booked that day, for former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glilckman (yawn), one of those K-Street or book-publicist-arranged deals, which quite frankly the Press Club staffÂ clearly viewed as a snoring anti-climax after the Wright circus. In the case of Rev. Wright, the Press Club was able to have a speaker (who because of the conference schedule may not have been available at lunch time anyway) and a SOLD-OUT breakfast, doing what the Press Club staff does best, which is sell meals to its members and guests…pay the mortgage and the light bill. That’s the extent of the conspiracy. Period.
My friend Barbara may be guilty ofÂ any numberÂ sins (who isn’t), but in the case of this event she was clearly doing what all National Press Club Speaker’s Committee members compete all year round to do (and what indeed reporters inÂ their journalistic way compete to do), which is to deliver a compelling guest/story toÂ their audiences!
The Rev. Wright–the shepherd–should have shown some mercy and grace for one of the sheep from his church flock–Sen. Obama–because these indeed, are trying times.