I’m in Houston this week visiting with some friends and clients like Joel Osteen and others, and doing a book signing at a bookstore convention. While I get ready for the signing, I’m sitting in a hotel room watching the news networks circle the latest Jeremiah Wright statements like sharks to blood. Just when surveys revealed that Barack Obama had survived the original controversy because of an excellent speech last week, this new wave has hit, and who knows what might come next. He might have weathered the original blast, but there’s a legitimate question about his ability to survive the continued burst of flack. Whatever you think of the controversy, there’s some interesting media issues at work here:
1) I’ve written before that Google isn’t just about “search” – it’s about “reputation management.” I tell people that the old DUI in college that you thought everyone had forgotten about will probably turn up in a Google search. More than one pastor, business leader, or school teacher has been brought down by revelations that surfaced during a Google search. In the past, what a pastor said in the pulpit was only heard locally, but now, Wright’s original statements were easily available through various web search tools, and as such, immediately made it’s global accessibility a factor in the impact.
2) Media is immediate. With email, websites, blogs, and text messaging, communication is immediate. In the digital age, it’s tougher than ever to contain a potential PR disaster.
3) Was Obama stretching the truth about his relationship with Wright to begin with? I had an interesting conversation last week with an African-American pastor, who believes that Wright wasn’t really Obama’s pastor at all. But moving up the political ladder in Chicago, it was necessary to make people in the black community think he had a connection with a local church. So Obama made the most of his “membership” in Wright’s church, but he rarely showed up. That’s why Obama could honestly say he was shocked and surprised when the statements were revealed. So what’s worse? I’ll let you decide.
4) Cable news is 24 hours a day. That means stories that would have made page 8 of the newspaper 10 years ago, are now hammered over and over on cable TV 24/7. As a result, “balance” is lost, as marginal stories get major coverage because the networks are desperate to fill a 24 hour TV schedule.
5) While you can forgive a few exaggerations or wild statements – as these things pile up over and over, we have to wonder what type of Christian community this is. The Sermon on the Mount sure gets trashed when a pastor uses profanity in reference to his enemies. Re-printing anti-Israel venom from Hamas. Referring to Italians as “garlic noses.” Where’s Christ in all of this? Where’s the tolerance so many African-Americans have taught for so long? The very tolerance and equality Wright is looking for, doesn’t seem to be something he’s willing to give to others.
Agree or not, I do believe it’s giving a huge number of voters – especially faith-driven and conservative voters – second thoughts, and the polls confirm it.