April 30, 2008

The Wright stuff

I'm not surprised that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright emerged as a problem for Obama, but I am stunned at the intensity of the furor. Many people have pointed out that even Wright's most objectionable views aren't discernibly worse than those of other public figures who don't prompt this kind of media panic. When, for instance, Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on the sins of gay people, it made headlines, but didn't arouse the same outrage as Wright's suggestion that 9/11 may have had something to do with American foreign policy. To be honest, Wright's claims seem pretty insignificant compared to the far more egregious beliefs about the law and human rights that have been put into practice by the current administration. Yet new revelations about, for instance, the complicity of senior officials in approving torture and abuse of prisoners have been submerged by a 24-7 feeding frenzy over the statements of a lone minister from a Chicago church.

I know that people are saying, yes, of course there are other obnoxious people out there, but most presidential candidates don't ask Jerry Falwell or Michael Moore or whoever to baptize their children. And I don't have a problem with people exploring Obama's relationship with Reverend Wright. It's the hysteria I don't get.

I can't help but think back to the reporting I did on Rudy Giuliani for this Washington Monthly piece. At the time, I was surprised that his relationship with a guy named Alan Placa didn't cause him more trouble. Placa is a priest who was suspended from the Catholic Church after multiple allegations of child abuse. (A grand jury concluded that Placa had sexually abused teenaged boys "again and again and again," but didn't bring charges because the statute of limitations had expired.) Giuliani has been friends with Placa for almost 40 years. Placa was best man at his first wedding and officiated at his second. He baptized Giuliani's children and conducted the funeral for Giuliani's mother. A few months after the abuse accusations came to light, Giuliani hired Placa to work at his consulting firm. After Giuliani started running for president, their friendship was occasionally mentioned on left-wing blogs. But although Giuliani was considered the Republican frontrunner for most of 2007, the story didn't get a ton of media attention. Even after CBS and ABC did reports, Giuliani refused to fire Placa, stating:

"I know the man; I know who he is, so I support him... We give some of the worst people in our society the presumption of innocence and benefit of the doubt. And, of course, I'm going to give that to one of my closest friends."

After that the story faded, and, as far as I know, Placa kept his job.