CHICAGO -- In a rare interview, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. said news media organizations that circulated controversial sound bites of his sermons on the Internet wanted to paint him as "un-American" or "some sort of fanatic" in order to bring down Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ," Wright told journalist Bill Moyers in the first interview he has granted since comments critical of U.S. policies surfaced on television and the Internet.
"'And by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint?' That's what they wanted to communicate," he said. "They know nothing about the church."
Wright, who for four decades built his reputation on straight talk and imperviousness to politicians, has been atypically quiet in recent weeks - canceling four appearances, declining all interview requests and bowing out of a news conference with other clergy.
The fiery pastor preached his final sermon at Trinity in February and officially retires next month. On Sunday, Wright will deliver a sermon at a Dallas church and later speak to the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Moyers is a member of Wright's denomination, the United Church of Christ. Excerpts from the interview, conducted this week, were released yesterday. The interview will be broadcast on Bill Moyers Journal on PBS stations tonight.
In the interview, Wright told Moyers that people who heard the entire sermons understood his message and that those who chose to air the sound bites had a "devious" agenda.
"The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly," he said. "When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or, as the learned journalist from The New York Times called me, a 'wackadoodle.'"
Columnist Maureen Dowd used that term March 23 to describe Wright.
Wright said he was hurt by the unfair use of the sound bites but understood why Obama had harsh words about his statements in a speech on race that the Illinois senator delivered in Philadelphia. Wright said he is obligated to speak as a pastor, but Obama addresses audiences as a politician.
"I don't talk to him about politics," Wright said. "And so he had a political event, he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of God about the things of God."
Manya A. Brachear writes for the Chicago Tribune.