COMMENTS: Free Publicity for PBS Scoop

Kudos to Bill Moyers of PBS. His current affairs magazine program Journal snared an interview with Jeremiah Wright, the longtime pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago. Moyers' sitdown was Wright's first public appearance since incendiary soundbites from his sermons were used to raise questions about Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. The Obama campaign was Story of the Day and the lead item on ABC. NBC led with the continuing decline in the housing market and CBS chose the aftermath of last fall's raid by Israeli warplanes on a suspected nuclear weapons facility in Syria.

All three networks had their correspondents introduce soundbites from the promotional clip of the Moyers-Wright interview: Jim Axelrod on CBS, Andrea Mitchell on NBC and David Wright on ABC. Obama has worshipped at Trinity United for 20 years and Moyers asked Wright about Obama's speech in Philadelphia in which Obama called some of Wright's comments "not only wrong but divisive." Replied Wright: "He is a politician; I am a pastor. I do what I do; he does what politicians do."

As for that phrase he does what politicians do none of the three correspondents delved into its meaning. It could have been derogatory, implying that Obama's disavowal of Wright's words was insincere and expedient, a form of words to provide political cover. It could have been an allusion to the Biblical injunction to keep the political and spiritual spheres separate: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Render unto God the things that are God's." More reporting is required. Perhaps Moyers, himself an ordained minister, will provide.

Coverage of Barack Obama's campaign was rounded out by a profile of his "backroom warriors" at their Chicago headquarters by CBS anchor Katie Couric. Couric promised that this would be the first of three behind-scenes Presidential pieces, with John McCain's machine and Hillary Rodham Clinton's operation still to come. Couric checked on campaign strategy, logistics, organizing, speechwriting, fundraising, press relations--and was struck by how young the Obama team is. "When a meeting adjourns it looks like classes are out on a college campus. Most of these staffers are in the twenties."

Only NBC covered Republican John McCain as he paid attention to poverty "in places from Appalachia to Alabama," as Kelly O'Donnell put it. "McCain has visited poor, rural and minority communities trying to appeal to the same voters Democrats are counting on in November." The tour ended in New Orleans where he focused on those catastrophic floods caused by levee failures during Hurricane Katrina. McCain castigated President George Bush for the "terrible and disgraceful way" in which the Katrina disaster was handled and he dismissed the theory by evangelist John Hagee that Katrina was God's punishment for New Orleans' sins. McCain called Hagee's attitude "nonsense" yet did not disavow his endorsement: "I did not attend pastor Hagee's church for 20 years."


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