In case you haven't seen it, the indispensable Marc Ambinder apprears to have caught the Times' resident hack-propagandist making what appears to be a pretty serious error. Here's what Bill Kristol writes in his column this morning:
It certainly could be the case that Obama personally didn’t hear Wright’s 2003 sermon when he proclaimed: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, not God bless America, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. ... God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”
But Ronald Kessler, a journalist who has written about Wright’s ministry, claims that Obama was in fact in the pews at Trinity last July 22. That’s when Wright blamed the “arrogance” of the “United States of White America” for much of the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks. In any case, given the apparent frequency of such statements in Wright’s preaching and their centrality to his worldview, the pretense that over all these years Obama had no idea that Wright was saying such things is hard to sustain.
This particular Wright comment isn't the most egregious thing in the world to have said or heard, but it's still somewhat awkward if you're running for president.
Except that, as Ambinder points out, it doesn't look like Obama was in church that day:
The error is in trusting the source without checking.
The truth is that Obama did not attend church on July 22.
He was on his way to campaign in Miami.
(Here is some video evidence.) This was before he signed an agreement forbidding himself from campaigning in Florida.
Here is the original, false, Newsmax story:
Obama Attended Hate America Sermon. ...
Now, a simple Google search suggests that Obama spent most of the day in Miami. But a simple e-mail or telephone call to Obama's campaign might have cleared things up.
It's possible, as this vague Newsmax clarification suggests, that the author of the original story got his dates confused but is right about the underlying facts. I'm sure this is only the first iteration of a prolonged back and forth. In the meantime, I think we can say a couple of things about where we find ourselves thanks to Wright:
1.) Looking forward to the general election, it's obviously a concern that professional right-wing smearers like Kristol have not only jumped on the Wright controversy, which is fair game, but also feel entitled to embellish details as they please (or, at the very least, repeat them from other sources unquestioningly). This the kind of stuff that can take on a life of its own if not stamped out quickly, which is why the Obama campaign must be very grateful to Ambinder.
2.) Having said that, I think the effect of all the conservative noise-making about Wright could be very different in the primaries. The constant drumbeat from the likes of Kristol and Limbaugh could actually drive Democratic voters toward Obama. I could see the Kristol column leading to the sort of media backlash only Hillary has benefited from so far. (For the record, I don't see this netting Obama new votes, but it could neutralize the damage Wright has done among Dems.)
The irony is that Kristol's point (as opposed to his facts) isn't entirely wrong: Obama almost certainly did hear Wright say things that would make a lot of voters uncomfortable, even if they didn't rise to the level of "God damn America" or Wright's other greatest hits. And Obama almost certainly knew Wright was prone to saying outlandish things. But, thanks to Kristol's sloppiness, the Obama campaign may have some immunity against these charges. Get ready to hear Kristol invoked as a short-hand for all kinds of inaccurate reporting on Wright.