This morning the Obama campaign firmly denied the assertion in today's New York Times column by Bill Kristol, citing a story on the online conservative outlet Newsmax that Barack Obama sat through a July 22 sermon when Jeremiah Wright denounced the "United States of White America" for inflicting suffering on the world. 

As of 11:30 this morning the Times had not corrected Kristol's column. But I see that Newsmax has now posted this:

Clarification: The Obama campaign has told members of the press that Senator Obama was not in church on the day cited, July 22, because he had a speech he gave in Miami at 1:30 PM. Our writer, Jim Davis, says he attended several services at Senator Obama's church during the month of July, including July 22. The church holds services three times every Sunday at 7:30 and 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central time. While both the early morning and evening service allowed Sen. Obama to attend the service and still give a speech in Miami, Mr. Davis stands by his story that during one of the services he attended during the month of July, Senator Obama was present and sat through the sermon given by Rev. Wright as described in the story. Mr. Davis said Secret Service were also present in the church during Senator Obama's attendance. Mr. Davis' story was first published on Newsmax on August 9, 2007. Shortly before publication, Mr. Davis contacted the press office of Sen. Obama several times for comment about the Senator's attendance and Rev. Wright's comments during his sermon. The Senator's office declined to comment.

Huh? First this statement obliquely allows only that Obama was present "during one of" several services in July, which obviously could mean a day other than July 22. But then it goes on to assert that Obama "was present and sat through the sermon given by Rev. Wright as described in the story." This makes me wonder if the implication here is that Newsmax might have been wrong about the date of the sermon in question, not Obama's presence at said sermon.

Overall it sounds like Newsmax isn't backing down. But given the level of scrutiny they're under you'd think they could explain things more clearly.

More: I meant to add before posting: To some degree the specifics here are something of a red herring. It seems pretty obvious by now, regardless of which sermons Obama attended, that he's probably long understood Wright's worldview. The main issue is how much people judge Obama on the basis of their overall relationship. (That said, media and politics are strange, and I suppose placing him at a specific sermon makes it easier for, say, a cable TV show to drill into the specifics of that one day rather than discuss more esoteric questions of how to think about the relevance of politician's church.)

Update: Kristol corrects:

In this column, I cite a report that Sen. Obama had attended services at Trinity Church on July 22, 2007. The Obama camapaign has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error.

Update II: Newsmax author Kessler speaks to USA Today, and is much clearer than that cloudy clarification:

A few minutes ago, Kessler told us by telephone that "the NewsMax editors have talked with Jim Davis" and "he might have been wrong about the date."

Davis, Kessler added, "says he could have been wrong about the date, but it definitely happened."

Kessler added that he's confident about the rest of Davis' reporting because "I was impressed by the details he had." Asked if getting the date wrong isn't something that would raise questions about the rest of a reporter's work, Kessler said no. And he said that "in general, (Obama's) claim that he doesn't know anything about these sermons is ridiculous."

Kessler said NewsMax will be posting a new story about this shortly.

--Michael Crowley