WASHINGTON--The controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- Sen. Barack Obama's pastor -- is speaking Monday at the National Press Club as part of a divinity conference of black church leaders. Wright's decision to headline an event at the Press Club -- open to all media -- risks giving Obama's critics more fodder, as if they don't have enough already.
Meanwhile, PBS is touting an interview with Wright to be broadcast Friday on "Bill Moyers' Journal." Fresh material from Wright -- no matter how well-intended -- is not what Obama needs.
Wright's Press Club talk is supposed to be about offering perspective on black churches -- theology, history and politics, and the torrent of coverage stemming from Obama's presidential bid.
Wright's relationship with Obama triggered an uproar when video of Wright's inflammatory sermons surfaced. Faced with a crisis, Obama delivered a highly regarded speech in March about race and why he would not "disown" Wright, the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side.
But the speech, good as it was, did not push Wright out of the picture.
Wright looms as a serious problem for Obama in his fight to be the Democratic presidential nominee over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and, if he wins, as a general election candidate against Sen. John McCain. Look no further than an ad the North Carolina Republican Party released Wednesday featuring a clip from Wright's "God Damn America" sermon and calling Obama an "extremist."
Fox News has been all over Wright -- helicopter shots of his Tinley Park mansion under construction -- and host Bill O'Reilly has been pounding Obama over Wright regularly on his show.
The backfire potential of Wright having any sort of a public profile at this point seems obvious.
I asked the church about the prospects of Wright further wounding Obama's candidacy, and I was e-mailed material about the divinity conference.
When the uproar over Wright started, Obama chief strategist David Axelrod asked his friends at Jasculca Terman -- a public affairs firm -- to advise Trinity on how to handle the crush of media coverage, and they did, pro bono. Jim Terman, the president of the firm, said, "We were not asked to provide our advice about the reported speech of Rev. Wright in Washington" and did not know about it until it was scheduled.
McCain denounced the North Carolina GOP party ad. "It's not the message of my campaign," he said. He wrote a letter to the state party chairman imploring them to pull the spot. The ad "degrades our civics," McCain said. The Republican National Committee also told the North Carolina party the ad was not "appropriate or helpful."
Obama, in Indiana, said he assumes if McCain "thinks that it's an inappropriate ad, that he can get them to pull it down since he's their nominee and standard bearer." The spot as I write this has not been pulled.
O'Reilly, chatting with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on his show Wednesday night, said he was "flabbergasted" that Wright just does not "take a vacation." When O'Reilly is right, he's right.