April 25th, 2008
09:20 PM ET

A thought on tonight .....

John King      
Chief National Correspondent


The politics of race is a dicey topic, and one not to be treated lightly. So when we decided to spend some time tonight exploring race and the presidential campaign, I decided to check in with an old friend: Professor Merle Black of Atlanta’s Emory University.


I have been touching base with Merle for the past two decades; he and his twin brother Earl are among the best in the nation at analyzing political trends, and have for the past quarter century watched race play a role in the region they know best, the South. Their book, “Divided America,” is a good read for anyone who wants to take a closer look at the factors that drive American politics today.


The brothers Black don’t play the hyperbole game – they let history and data do the talking. So this got my attention: “The reappearance of Pastor Wright here is a nightmare for the Obama campaign.”


Merle’s point was that be believes across the Midwest and South, in the smaller communities that tend to settle close races for president, voters will have questions about Obama’s 20-year relationship with a church whose pastor has said some pretty controversial things. It is in part a question or race; if he wins the nomination Obama will be asking the country to make history.


“The contradiction is that Obama is someone who presents himself as someone who has transcended race, and this is a church where race is clearly central to its theology,” Merle Black told us.


And, Merle says, it is also about the questions every candidate for president faces.


“It goes to the character and judgment of Barack Obama,” he said. “Across the South and the heartland of the United States, you know many are, especially rural small town Americans … they really couldn’t understand why someone would be a member of that church for 20 years.”


The Obama campaign is correct in saying voters want to hear more about the candidates’ views on the economy and health care and the war in Iraq.


But all candidates for president, especially those who are newcomers to the national stage, also face the considerable challenge of introducing themselves to the American people. And my conversations with Merle and others today leave me convinced Senator Obama, for all his strengths as a candidate, still has his work cut out for him when it comes to introducing and defining himself – before his critics and opponents do it for him.


Program Note: John King anchors AC360 Friday night at 10p ET

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Pat Comstock

    Rev. Wright is a walking contradiction. He's very intelligent, insightful and has done much good in his community. But, at the same time, he is displaying a pronounced lack of maturity in his present quest to defend his legacy at a time when the Obama campaign desperately needs him to just "be quiet" at least until the election in November is over. He can "defend his legacy" then. He is showing himself to be an egotistical, selfish and self-centered individual who really does not care about what is best for the black community or this country.

    April 28, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Educator

    It is really sad when people to do not take the time to listen and learn. Rev. Wright spoke about different styles of learning, a proven fact yet still people who are ignorant or simple refuse to listen and learn are ready to refute this fact. I will take this moment to state the people who refuse to accept that there are different learning styles should educate themselves by reseaching Howard Gardner Multiple Intelligence. Thank you Rev. Wright for loving our country and proudly serving America. Thank you also for speaking the truth. As the saying goes "the true may hurt, but it is not a sin."

    April 28, 2008 at 12:29 am |
  3. marie

    HILLARY is the candidate who can save our country. She is the candidate for everyone. I am choosing not to comment on Obama and the Rev. Wright. I listened to Wright's entire speech, and Wright certainly spoke for himself!!

    April 28, 2008 at 12:22 am |
  4. LORI

    It is never too late for the Country to see that Mr Obama might one day in the future make a fine President once he has gained some more experience but for todays problems that we are facing we need someone who can kick some serious butt and that is Mrs Clinton.
    Change change change well that sounds great but we need solutions and actions and we can not wait for someone to get good at it, we need someone who is good at it.
    Change will follow once we have healed the deep wounds that this Country is facing RIGHT NOW.
    Preaching, good looks, promise of change, being a nice guy is not going to help us today.
    When it comes down to kicking butt no one does it better than the USA
    and that is why I feel that in the end the people will get it right.

    April 28, 2008 at 12:20 am |
  5. Trudi Martin

    What this country is witnessing is how far we must go as a country to recognize and solve the issue of racism. Those who are used to believing in feelings of false superiority are hampering the progress of America. We must be able to admit that racism exists first. If it didn't, we would be more concerned about what is happening with our economy, the lost of lives in Iraq based on a lie, medical coverage and the list goes on and on. Instead, we view incessant sound bites of Rev. Wright. Pundits used the Rev. to minimize one candidate while going lightly on another (who deliberately lied on camera about ducking sniper fire repeatedly). There is hope for our country if we can realize that despite our differences, we all have the same basic needs. Let not racism keep us from having them met. CNN, make us really look at ourselves as a nation.

    April 28, 2008 at 12:16 am |
  6. Pam Gould

    There are many of us out here, decent, hard-working white middle-class, middle-Americans that are frankly weary of being lectured to and denigrated by Senator Obama and his friends, particularly Rev. Wright, in the name of better race relations,"Unification" and "Understanding". Race issues in this country, in my experience, are not about a person's skin color but their attitudes and behaviors. If I am treated with Basic courtesy, respect and kindness I respond in kind. Unfortunately I must say that as a rule, and especially with younger black men, kids who have had many more opportunities available to them because of their race not their accomplishments, those basics don't seem to be a part of their behaviors. Most of us however, try to accept each individual for who & what they are and the constant raising of the race issue by the Obama campaign and its surrogates is ripping wounds wide open in this country and they have no one to blame but themselves. While we are threatened and intimidated by surrogates and supporters of the Obama campaign saying that if Hillary wins the nomination through the same venue that Obama will be required to ie: Superdelegates, there will be rioting in the streets and a shredding of the Democratic party, the party leaders semm to be trying to push her out of the race. I hope there are cooler heads in the Superdelegates; people with the courage to stand up for the candidate that may have some baggage but is a true leader and will win the race and get this country turned around.

    April 28, 2008 at 12:15 am |
  7. Linda

    Rev. Wright speech was amazing. I'm small town America and in the South and white. I didn't hear the division in Rev. Wright's speech, I heard the difference. He is trying to help us understand our differences between our cultures. So we can find some common ground among us all. Rev. Wright is a personable man. He is a God-fearing man. I now understand why Senator Obama can not denounce this man . Those 10 second sound bites should of never been aired. Why would anyone want to ruin this man's reputation? To win an election...you think?

    April 27, 2008 at 11:58 pm |
  8. Sandra B.

    PLease!! If everyone could look past color and gender, this nomination would be decided by now!

    April 27, 2008 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Sandra B.

    Mary, Barack is more a man who makes hollow speeches, and is definitely "NOT"arrogant. And please, learn how to spell....

    April 27, 2008 at 11:51 pm |
  10. Sandra B.

    Well done Rev. Jerimiah Wright and CNN! Understandable that Rev .Wright used this event to clear his name and reputation. But please remember he is NOT running for President of the United States, so why re-run this speech "THREE" times! . Barack on the other hand ,gave a prolific and historic speech on race which only aired "once" in its entirety!! Barack's speech was a great and positive turning point in American history, but received in effect ,"zero" air-time as opposed to this speech given by the Reverened! How sick is that!!

    April 27, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  11. LMani

    Honestly. I think why so many people are disappointed with Obama is because they thought he represented not so much achievement in relations between Black and White but a symbol to finally resolve or get over the racial issues that exist between us here in America. Unfortunately thats not the case.

    Obama's story is the story of many African Americans. As African Americans we and those around us represent an American story that so many wish to deny exists but stands there in reality.

    If it wanst Obama, it would have been Rice. If not Rice, it would have been Collin Powell. When you have such a unique narrative like those of African Americans you cannot escape this issue.

    To put it in context, think of an Irish Person running for Prime Minister of Britain. A Hindu for Pakistan. A Jew for Germany. An Israeli for Palestine or vice versa. Would not their narrative be different? Would it be almost expected that they, who preach unity, would have those in their lives that disagreed with the country or state based on their narrative and lifestory.

    We have called this divisive. No its not. Its a narrative. Maybe a narrative we do not want to hear, but a narrative. The challenge though is how we read this narrative.

    We have a choice America. We can either be ignorant to the complex issues that exist between us and make us who we are. Or we can begin to talk about them, to understand them and to respect them. It's ironic that one of Obama's criticisms is that he talks but has not action. Yet I raise this question for all of us, how long have WE talked about dealing with the issue of race and taken no action.

    This is and never has been about Obama. This is something greater, its the American Narrative, and how we as Americans, Black, White, Jew, Christian, Muslim, write this story from this point on is up to us.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  12. Gaby

    John King and Anderson Cooper,

    I do not think that Rev. Wright is a nightmare for the Obama Campaign,
    it is a nightmare that haunts America for its indignant crimes committed against those of color. Many parts of America does not want to come to terms with this. For those who succeed on the backs of slave labor of others, setting the stage of segregation and maintaining it are the ones who have this nightmare, and now try to "White wash" it,. By trying to shift the blame back on Rev. Wright for speaking the truth, but yet as America is, now want to label him as being polarizing. Remember only the truth and change will set those who have this nightmare FREE. Yes we are different people of different backgrounds and this is supposed to make this Melting Pot a united America. It's Hillary who has been carried around in a velvet chair, not Obama. Now let's get back to the issues and talk about her endorsements from Rendell, who has praised Farrakhan, but did not denounce and reject him, is this a double standard or is it racism?

    April 27, 2008 at 11:41 pm |
  13. Mike from Westchester

    I listened with interest both to the PBS interview and the NAACP speech. I now do not see this man as a problem. He is intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, and insightful. If that is threatening to anyone, it probably says more about them than about J. Wright.

    He is a bona-fide war hero, serving voluntarily in the Marines in Viet Nam and then as a cardio specialist with the Navy, where he was at a level both in terms of skill and trust to assist in operating on President Johnson. He holds two master degrees, a PhD, and speaks five languages.

    He built a struggling 80 member church into one with 100 times that number with ministries that help feed the poor, provide scholarships to college students, help aids patients and those dealing with alcohol and drug problems, and assist the aged, among others.

    Although some may legitimately disagree, most of those still lambasting this man are doing so only to hurt Obama, reinforce their own candidate or validate their own prejudices.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:41 pm |
  14. Concerned citizen

    Those that think rev. Wright is polarizing might want to think about the following perspective. The 'Mainstream' culture of the US, as portrayed in the media, has pushed the politically correct notion that all Americans are the same. That there is only one culture here. The reality is that people come from very different families, communities, histories, and beliefs. Usually the word 'diversity' is used without understanding what it actually means. Saying that everyone is the same does not destroy racism in the USA. Saying so disrespects individuality and is a rejection of different cultures. This man lived through the civil rights movement, and to this day has fought for people to open their minds.

    Why is it that rev. wright has received non-stop attention, even though Barack Obama has denounced the reverend's past inflammatory comments? Why has Pastor John Hagee received NO attention by the media?... He's the Pastor who John Mccain has stood behind, even though the Pastor had once claimed that New Orleans had deserved God's wrath.

    -Concerned Citizen

    April 27, 2008 at 11:36 pm |
  15. steve

    I have been following this story for a while now and i have come to the conclusion that pastor Wright is a good role model for this world today. I dare anyone that claims that they were offended by his comments to say that any of it is untrue. In fact if we would just stop, step back, and take a look at the big picture we may not like what we see. I don't think that pastor Wright has offended anyone, instead i beleave he is exposing a real truth, that racism still exist, that unless we change how we live our lives that there will always be racism, that there are indeed two different americas and unless we bring it all together nothing will ever change. We can sit back and try to justify or discredit pastor Wright, but when it is all said and done can we really say it was all just a lie. I have always heard that the truth hurts, her's the proof.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  16. md from ct

    It is interesting that the polarity now gripping the Democratic party filters
    every fact presented by and for each candidate. It is approaching the
    hysterics from over identification with a sports team that Americans, including myself, use to define who we are.

    Rev. Wrights speech was for the specific group to which he was speaking. The rest of us were allowed to hear as part of the election process. I believe that Wright's statement that black culture being different is historically accurate and there may even be some distinctions in the brain chemistry but probably he overemphasized it for the purpose of making his point that "different is not deficient." That overemphasis ignores that the similarities between the races are more abundant than the differences. But so did "Mary" in the response above when she talked about "level headed Catholics."

    If the Democratic party is to win, each voter must convince them self of
    the good qualities of the current adversary in the primary when it is time for the general election or the Republicans will win. The Republicans alway have the advantage of a more unified constituency like the Roman legions. The Democrats are a more diverse group like a band of barbarians. Stay tribal and you will be beaten.

    United we stand, divided we....

    April 27, 2008 at 11:30 pm |
  17. Susan

    White, 48 year old woman, rural small town northern California, I appreciated Rev. Wrights speech tremendously. Barack Obama has my vote for so many reasons unassociated with Rev. Wright. But his speech I believed helped. For the record, as a Catholic, I don't always agree with what our priest says or does, but it I don't leave my parish because of it. I love my faith, as does Sen. Obama. Rev Wright proved to the country that he loves America, and all people. A HUGE PLUS FOR OBAMA.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:25 pm |
  18. D Kennedy

    I have to give a "You go CNN" The news is sometimes so limited and the view of the show producers. Tonight you broke protocol and not just told it but showed it like it is! Rev Wright is not running for Oval office but a member of his church is! Rev Wright is a very intelligent & bold speaking man. He speaks and preaches his lifes experiences. They are his views shaped by a life that he lived. He has an impressive resume and I would listen to him talk for 20 years over and over again. You may not like or even agree with what all he has to say but it is his view on his religion and life they are facts. He speaks about the positives and negatives that have happened and shaped the USA and it's people. He is intriging and exciting, both uplifting and sometimes comical. We as the USA are a unique group of people with diverse backgrounds and cultures. Thank GOD we all can speak our views in the USA. What I would love is to see us respect each other for who and what we are and work together to make everyone's life a little easier. Healthcare for all, lower gas prices, more fuel effecient EVERYTHING, and out troops home! By the way I was and still am an Obama supporter for what he stands for and for what he wants to do. Rev Wright made no impact on me but to have a greater respect for a man that has refused to allow a few seconds of his life define his many accomplishments. Thanks again CNN for keeping it real and allowing the people to see all the facts and move on to the real issues at hand!

    April 27, 2008 at 11:24 pm |
  19. Fred-Florida


    All I can say is for someone most people have never heard of prior to 2007 Obama has some serious baggage! This guy has a better chance of finding a one leged ballerina, then winning the presedency! People better hope the Super Delagates pick Hillary as Obama will be crushed by the Republicans with all this Racial problems. By the way I was a Obama supporter prior to tonight!

    April 27, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  20. Glenn Dunn

    I found the speach tonight an insult to intelligence. I heard the whole thing not just a "sound bite" Great efforts were made to establish the fact that we are "different not deficient." Who in this country already doesnt know that? It wasn't our intollerance of diversitiy that drew criticism of Wright. It is the content of the message. There is no getting around that. The damage has been done. The attitude resounds loud and clear wether the beat is on one and three or two and four. Wright and Clinton need to take a long cruise together for a long time.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  21. Donna rosebush

    I had the rare privledge of watching Rev. Wright's speach tonight and was able to see a very positive, educational opportunity to learn and understand more about why we as Americans can benefit and embrace change while learning the differences between "different vs. deficient". As I was watching the follow-up I was deeply distressed to the point that I marched to my computer and for the first time ever sat down to email CNN. Although I applaud your station for running the speach in its entirety I am aghast and deeply disappointed in the irresponsibility that your network showed by allowing the two political analysts to make comment when they in fact admitted that they had not seen the speach. What they said was in direct conflict of what Rev. Wright's point actually was and by saying that Barack should distance himself further was in my opinion a poor choice (especially coming from the Obama supporter) If I were Barack I would be proud and pleased with the image that Rev. Wright portrayed this evening and as a white middle aged female, I stand in applause of Dr. Wright and sheepishly and shamfully hang my head for those times that I judged the black community because their heritage was "different" than mine. I too was deeply distressed with the statements made that were continually run on the U-Tude loop (and your network) but after seeing tonight's speach I take this man and his comments in a much greater context. Later seeing the short clips that you chose to run, I felt again opened the door to negative misinterpretation. This is the type of dialogue that we need more of. Quit spinning it in a negative direction. Its media people that keep the fires burning. Please I beg of you to try to be more responsible and let the flames die out!!! There was much to be learned by Rev. Wright's delivery tonight. I pray that more people took the opportunity to view the entire speach in oder to make up their own minds rather than having them shaped by your short minded commentators and analysts. Start listening to the American people, Please.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  22. Gladys-Florida

    I am so saddened by the uninformed comments on this blog. I am even more saddened by CNN who has brought in political analysts to analyze a speech that they admit they have not heard in it's entirity. Some of you people remind me of the dark ages when books were
    burned that had different thoughts from popular thought of the day. It's
    so sad that many American are still in the dark ages in their minds. This is probably we currently have an administration that has eroded more of our civil liberties than at any other time in our history, and I suspect we will be getting another one because the uniformed is easily fooled especially those who don't want to hear the full truth by turning off something before they actually know what is going to be said. Ignorant of the facts and choosing to remain ignorant.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  23. Gigi Jones

    While Obama may have the "problem" of introducing himself to America, people who believe he is responsible for what Rev. Wright said and continues to say are patently wrong.

    If he were to ask Catholics why they didn't leave their churches when they discovered the child molestation scandal, he would be considered lower than Hitler. He's a better person than me, because I would not have explained my religious affiliations – it didn't help Romney when he did it.

    Many white Americans are so entrenched in their bigotry that no one who is different from them could EVER get their vote. Maybe you don't like to talk about it on your show but there are huge areas of this country where few or NO people of color live, and the whites living in those areas are comfortable with their limited contact/non-existent contact with anyone who is not white.

    Obama's purpose is to run for president. He cannot make all white people like him – hell, even they don't all like each other, and it's the same with all of us. That's life; what he does need to do is make sure he is seen as strong and capable of DEALING with all kinds of Americans. He cannot come off as weak – that's the position he has to develop and then maintain.

    Those whites that are not used to blacks, or don't like blacks are not going to change. All Obama can do is wittle down the numbers, one primary at a time. Obama doesn't need to apologize for his words, or the actions of his friends and associates – that's a total waste of his time!

    Any one who believes that Obama hates white people, or that he is a Muslim, or that he is too bold as a black man, isn't going to vote for him, no matter who his pastor is.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  24. Tate,Nc

    Oh my! A Pastor of an inner city church is controversial. No of you would have the guts to stay there for 41 years. It's called dedication! I believe they have vacancy to be filled, any taker's. I didn't think so. Rev. Wright is not running for President get over it and move on.

    Don't be stuck on stupid!

    April 27, 2008 at 11:16 pm |
  25. arian

    Rev. Wright, is correct all children learn differently. you have cognitive learners and visual learners among others.
    He was on point. Very good speech. I guess it may hurt BO,in that people do not want to hear the truth. Different not deficient.
    A change is gonna come. BO may loose support, but remember Rev. Wright stated, he is not a politician a child of god (preacher). All of Rev. Wright words should not be attributed to BO. I guess some would say, how he dare talk about JFK and EFK (linguistics) not policy
    Remember he is not a politician

    A change is gonna come.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:11 pm |
  26. Zennie Abraham

    I think the main problem is that the "process" of hearing what Rev. Wright says has been so distorted that some people - not all - tune out what he's saying after the original sound-bites have been aired. I think both John King and Merle Black are very guilty of this "myopic hearing" if you will. John, for actively seeking out someone who's Black to do John's talking for him, and Mr. Black, who's the willing participant in that process. This covers up the real need to hear not just what Rev. Wright has said, but who also said it. Let's take 9-11: anyone who looks at our history without blinders knows that Somalia was the birthplace of hostilities that led to the World Trade Center attack. It was also a "white" (whatever that really means) Ambassador who said that America's chickens came home to roost. Rev. Wright said that the ambassador made that statement - but that fact has been ignored by people like John King, who could be accused of fanning the flame of racism for the sake of ratings and using someone African American to make a statement King himself personally believes. That's not CNN's roll. Not at all.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  27. Gil Genn

    Reverend Wright's entire speech and predominant theme that "different is not deficient" was more substantive than any graduate course in Sociology at Harvard or Yale.
    Wright single-handedly revealed the biases of the ignorant and intolerant and brilliantly gave us specific examples, once contemplated, that leads to a clear path to understanding human diversity - being different is not being deficient.
    All men and women are created equal but that different "sociological DNA" doen not make us unequal. In light of the diatribes hurled at this man, this speech must be required viewing by anyone who has ever questioned or feared different dialects, languages, religions, and yes, skin color, of people. No person or politican needs to repudiate anything in this landmark speech.

    April 27, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  28. Lynne

    I watched the entire Rev. Wright speech on CNN tonight and I have to say – it was GREAT! He's a colorful speaker and tonight there was humor, challenge to all of us to accept differences in races. He gave examples of cultures, differences in music, speech and even compare JFK's Boston accent, Johnson's southern drawl as examples of difference in speech.

    I thought he hit a home run. I was glad I watched the Whole Speech, not just the snippets everone else will see tomorrow.

    I regretted that CNN interviewed two supers and neither one even saw the speech...there were supers in attendance at the speech. I'd like to know what they think.

    Rev. Wright helped Obama a LOT tonight, in my opinion.

    Hillary is not honest – people don't change. Read the history.

    April 27, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  29. Rob -Canada

    It must be admitted that the Clinton campaign has done a lot for McCain to make that trip even remotely possible.I do still believe Obama will get the nomination and be able to connect by November enough to be the next President.

    April 25, 2008 at 11:08 pm |
  30. mary

    Obama is arrogant in that he says he is change and he is hope.

    How can America hope to change if Barack Obama continually never acknwoledges the past and what ah been accomplished by OTHERS before him and without him. Barack Obama did not create the peace and prosperity of the 80's and neither did he actively campaign to stop the war in IRAQ. As always, he does not take action but makes hollow speeches.

    Change for Change sake does not mean a thing. Hope is not something someone can give, and he is selling the equivalent of smake oil if he says that by electing him and donating to him, you are donating to yrou own Hope. (Sounds ridiculous, but that is what the pschological "BUY-IN" has occurred already in America without check). Only level headed Catholics, Smart Women of America and progressive men of America knwo that the better candidate to make true change through planned strategic actions is HILLARY CLINTON.

    And by the way, if this Democartic Primary is so revolutionary, why all the CNN press on Black America only. Where is the equal tiem usd to cover the MILLIONS OF WOMEN VOTERS WHO SUPPORT HILLARY CLINTON. Where has CNN's equal coverage of the woman of America who have actively chosen to support Hilary never or rarely get to voice their opinions of what they admire and liek about Hillary. Woman of all races who support Hillary deserve at least as much press as you have afforded black america.

    April 25, 2008 at 11:06 pm |
  31. Khadija

    Dear John King, I've read some of your blogs and have dtermined that
    many of your viewers are not against Barack Obama, but are against
    hearing the "truth" because it destroys their myth.

    April 25, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  32. Heather

    I agree 100%.Obama gave a incredible unifying speach at the Dem Nat Conv. Now hes gone from giving great speeches that inspire to in my opinion preaching. The reason he spent 20 years going to this church is because he agrees with him. My question for Obama is what kind of Pres does he want to be. A pres of all of us or some of us.I dont believe Wright is leading a cult. I think he has some major issues. Obama needs to figure out what america and the melting pot we are known for is he is apart of. His preaching is smooth and at times arrogant.

    April 25, 2008 at 10:10 pm |
  33. Annie Kate

    Thank you John for telling us about the book and the brothers and their analysis. The brothers are right – Obama is still largely an unknown for a lot of us and his action plan if he is elected is an even larger unknown. He is running out of time to introduce himself and his action plan as well. Hope he gets the message and rectifies that soon because right now McCain is starting to look unstoppable in his trip to the White House.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 25, 2008 at 10:01 pm |
  34. Tracey - Boston

    Obama and Wright again!! What a sad case.

    April 25, 2008 at 10:01 pm |
  35. Kathy

    John you are "among the best in the nation at analyzing political trends"

    April 25, 2008 at 9:48 pm |