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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Race and Politics - Black in America
Aired April 3, 2008 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a "360" Special - Race and Politics, Black in America.
Forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., we're hearing issues related to race discussed in a presidential campaign like never before.
We have got new data tonight about how ready Black -- how ready Americans say they are for a black president. And you'll also hear from some clergy of Jeremiah Wright's church, who today spoke out saying they want to - quote, "Take back their sacred space."
Also tonight, Hillary Clinton's battle for superdelegates. Is her campaign playing the race card, saying Barack Obama can't win? And using Reverend Wright's sermons as reason number one?
Today, Senator Clinton seemed to deny she ever said anything of the sort, but just an hour or so ago, her campaign clarified her remarks. And now her denial sounds like a non-denial -- denial. We'll tell you the facts and let you decide for your self.
And later, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell's latest words on the campaign. He drew fire for raising doubts about Senator Obama's winning white voters in his state. Hear what he is saying today, now that the contest is getting tighter.
We begin with new numbers, polling and money. First, the money. $40 million, that is how much the Obama campaign says it raised last month. No official announcement from the Clinton side, but CNN has learned the campaign pulled in about half that amount $20 million.
Now the polling, a CNN "Essence Magazine" opinion research survey, when asked whether the country is ready for a black president, 76 percent said yes; 22 percent no. When asked the same about a woman, the results were 63 percent yes and 35 percent no, a 26-point difference.
So the polling reflects the reality - gender now matters more than race. These issues are hard to gauge in polls, however. How the questions are asked? Who asked them? How honest the answers are? All can skew the numbers. As we've seen over the last several months, issues related to race have repeatedly made headlines.
CNN'S Candy Crowley has the "Raw Politics."
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The 91 South Carolina, Barack Obama took the stage in Columbia with the crowd chanting "Race doesn't Matter." but of course it does.
DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT, PSYCHIATRIST, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: I think you can get beyond race in America because of our history, continuing racial prejudice and tensions between the races. I think it's there. So you can exactly transcend it or put it aside. And what we saw happen is that it emerged anywhere.
CROWLEY: And it emerged in ways that baffled many whites and felt familiar to many blacks.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: African-Americans have always understood code language.
CROWLEY: Race has been like an undertow in the campaign, occasionally pulling everyone under. One late night in New Hampshire, Bill Clinton was criticizing Obama's statements on the Iraq War.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I ever seen.
CROWLEY: Several black leaders said privately that they saw Clinton's statement as part of the concerted effort to question the legitimacy of the Obama campaign. As one put it at a time, it's like the Clintons were saying, who does Obama think he is?
MARTIN: In a sound byte culture we always have to say -- you know all of this stuff I'm hearing from Obama is a fairy tale to African-Americans wait a minute, what are you talking about, you talking about, the fact that he is running for president? He actually can't be president?
CROWLEY: And on and on, including Former Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro who said this of Obama's campaign success, "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." To some ears, it is code for you got your job because you're black.
POUSSAINT: Some interpreted that too that somehow Obama was some product of affirmative action in some way and didn't have the qualifications to be president of the United States.
CROWLEY: Furious, Ferraro said the Obama campaign was playing the race card, deliberately misinterpreting what she said.
GERALDINE FERRARO, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Being white...
CROWLEY: Still nothing shook up the race more than Obama's Pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright who is angry Anti-American words from the pulpit offended many whites, while blacks took offense at the repeated playing of a few sound bytes to represent a 30-year career in the pursuit of social justice.
The undertow of race turned into a tsunami that Obama faced with a broad speech about the parallel universes of black and white.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We may have different stories but we hold common hopes. We may not look the same and may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction.
CROWLEY: Some people, black and white, believe however painful, this has been a learning experience. Race still matters, but however the '08 campaign ends, maybe it will matter less.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Chicago.
COOPER: That remains to be seen, especially considering the latest allegations that the Clinton forces are injecting race into the campaign behind the scenes in conversations with superdelegates.
There's a new development tonight you should know about. Here is what happened. Senator Clinton tried to put one story to rest today, comments she allegedly told Bill Richardson Barack Obama can't win.
Now, those alleged comments were literally front page news. Obama can't win, the banner quote in today's "New York Post." The paper and ABC News reporting that Senator Clinton said those words to Bill Richardson just before he endorsed Senator Obama, not he won't win, but he can't. Pundits were quick to pounce saying they -- that she was referring to something inherent such as race.
Earlier today, Senator Clinton gave her side of the story. Apparently denying she ever said the words at all. Listen...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Clinton did you tell Governor Richardson Barack Obama can't win?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we have been going back and forth in this campaign about who said what to whom, and let me say this about that. I don't talk about private conversations, but I have consistently made the case that I can win, because I believe I can win.
And sometimes people draw the conclusion I'm saying somebody else can't win. I can win. I know I can win. That's why I do this every day. That's what my campaign is about. I'm in it to win it and I intend to do just that. It's a no.
COOPER: She said -- we cut it out -- that's a no. It sounded like she was saying no, she never said those words. But that's a no was actually in response to a follow-up question.
An hour ago, we got this clarification from the Clinton campaign about this last three words "that's a no." They say the Senator misheard the question and "The Senator was simply reiterating the point she just made that she does not discuss private conversations."
So in other words she was not denying she said Obama cannot win, it is certainly confusing. What is clear though her campaign is trying to get mileage out of the Reverend Wright affair. Still Clinton campaign adviser Harold Ickes telling a blogger "I tell people that they need to look at what they think Republicans may use against him" talking to that superdelegate.
He maintained however that he doesn't raise the issue only that "Wright comes up in the conversations."
With me tonight CNN's senior political analyst David Gergen, and CNN's political analyst Amy Holmes and CNN contributor Roland Martin.
David, help me try to understand this, it's confusing. I don't know how to read what Clinton now said about her alleged comments to Richardson. She said she doesn't talk about private conversations and talks about the fact that she believes she can win. But the declarative, no, I didn't say that was never said now.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right, because she doesn't talk about private conversations so she may or may not have said it. I don't think she's denying she might have said it. She's only trying to steer people away.
COOPER: But she is -- she's implying that she misheard because she was talking about that she can win.
GERGEN: Yes, she did imply that, I agree with that. And the clarification from the campaign would suggest that they got some pushback from the Richardson's side saying wait a minute, you don't want to get go an argument about with it about this because he'll will come out and say no, no, that's what she told me.
So if there's a lot of confusion over this point. But however it goes, Anderson, the larger point is this -- clearly there are enough reports now that the Clinton campaign behind the scenes is using the Reverend Wright affair to basically tell superdelegates, come with us because the Reverend Wright affair is going to drag down Barack Obama.
And I think we've seen this a lot in politics. What's unbecoming about it is this very sort of win at any cost sort of approach is really driving people away from her, not toward her. And what we don't hear from the Barack -- we don't hear any reports that the Barack Obama campaign is saying behind the scenes, you know, this Monica Lewinsky case, that's going to come back and haunt Hillary Clinton again and again.
You just don't have that kind of politics going on the other side, and I think that's what is helping to elevate Barack Obama and making it more difficult for Hillary Clinton.
COOPER: It's interesting, Roland because if publicly Hillary Clinton was on the campaign trail talking about Reverend Wright, she would probably be criticized by many Democrats. And yet if that's what they're saying behind the scenes, is that just as bad? MARTIN: Well --
COOPER: This is what the Republicans are going to bring up. So why fair enough if Harold Ickes will bring up to the superdelegates.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, it has got to do with the Republicans going to bring up. What she is trying to do is get some kind of advantage for the superdelegates to come to her side. And so when she says, look, she likely say it he can't win, okay?
But that's what she's supposed to say. I can guarantee you when Obama says and he said on the campaign trail, that she has very high negatives, and so can she be able to appeal to independents? No.
And so they are both saying the exact same things both candidates want to be able to establish themselves by saying look, I'm the best choice, because the person over here, they have baggage, you should go with me because I can carry us to victory. That's what both are saying. So I am not surprised by it, it's called politics.
COOPER: But, is race involved, Amy? I mean if she's saying he can't win, is there an implication that race is part of the reason or is the reason?
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's sort of tricky. I don't think that she is implying he can't win because he's black and America is not ready for a black candidate. And let's face it, he is winning, he is raising records of amounts of money, he is beating the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton.
So I don't think that's the meaning, but I do think that because we know that Harold Ickes is talking to these superdelegates about Jeremiah Wright that he's trying to racialize the question for superdelegates to say he's got this, you know, baggage hanging around him. And it's not going to be able to get over the finish line in November.
And I would say again it's another Clinton tactic. We saw it in New Hampshire that they blame Republicans. Republicans had nothing to do with Jeremiah Wright. They are getting this tape on television. They are not the once who are calling up superdelegates. We saw this in New Hampshire and Republicans are going to bring up Barack Obama's pastor abuse, when in fact it was the Democratic chairman of New Hampshire who did that.
ANDERSON COOPER: At this point Republicans don't need to do that when you have other Democrats are doing that.
COOPER: David, go ahead.
GERGEN: Wait a minute, let's be real here. I mean the Reverend Wright comments have been used fairly well on Conservative Talk Radio. It's not as if Conservatives aren't bringing this up.
HOLMES: Certainly. Everyone has been part of that conversation.
GERGEN: Well of course what I mean, we shouldn't say were Republicans have no interest in this. Like they're the disinterested party; they're just holding peoples coats and letting them fight. They're helping to stir this up.
But what I do think would be helpful for Hillary Clinton is to do a surprise, and the surprise would be for her to go to the country and say, look I don't want race to be part of this campaign. We should transcend that. This would be historic if we have a white or black and she should make a statement about how important it is to put the Reverend Wright affair behind us so we can deal with the merit.
If she did something like that would elevate her and get her out of this posture where she seems to be, you know, showing the dark side of the Clinton machine, and that's not where they want to be in order to win.
HOLMES: But and remember, David --
COOPER: Amy, finish your thought.
HOLMES: That Hillary Clinton did address this directly herself when she said Reverend Wright would not have been her pastor. She's been very willing to try to bring this up.
GERGEN: I agreed on that Amy and I think that's right.
HOLMES: Yes but what we've seen is that it's backfired that her approval ratings are at an all-time low. So I think David she should be taking your advice, it doesn't look like she is doing that.
GERGEN: I agree with that, too.
MARTIN: Anderson, prior to the Reverend Wright controversy, Senator Clinton was up any where from 12 to 16 points. After Senator Obama's speech about race in America a week later, now her lead is six.
And so I think what he is showing is even with the baggage of Reverend Wright, he's has been able to overcome that. So if I'm the Clinton campaign, you know what find another reason for you to get the votes. And as David said, it's a great point, she should come out and make that statement.
But the bottom line is it's not working. They're losing for every other reason and that's what it boils down to. You have to win, somebody is going to lose. And so Obama has weathered the storm. And so they can bring up Reverend Wright all day but of all a sudden he wins Pennsylvania or closes the gap, that's going to say it didn't matter.
COOPER: We'll be watching it. David Gergen, Amy Holmes, well Martin thanks very much.
A program note. The conversation in CNN'S coverage tonight marks the beginning of a month-long examination of black life in America today. As part of that effort, tomorrow CNN will host a conversation with black America featuring some of the nation's top African-American talk radio hosts and their listeners. You can see it from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time and once again at 8:00 in the evening tomorrow.
As always we're blogging tonight, join the conversation go to cnn.com/360. Coming up, Barack Obama's church, trying to close the book pretty shortly on its incendiary former preacher.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain't never been called a [ bleep ]. Hillary has never had her people defined as non-persons.
COOPER: Today, church leaders spoke out about those comments and about the media's use of those comments and trying to take back the church. Are they raising a new uproar? See for yourself tonight.
Also the battle for superdelegates. Are Clinton advisers using electability as a code word for race to scare superdelegates back to their side? Hear what Hillary Clinton had to say about that and why her campaign has now clarified her remarks.
And later, and a completely unrelated story Naomi Campbell's newest brush with authorities. You'll never guess it had something to do with a temper tantrum. That and more when "360" continues.
COOPER: As everyone knows by now, Senators Clinton and Obama are locked in two races, one for the popular vote, and another for superdelegates.
Tonight Clinton is leading superdelegates 243 to Obama's 212. Of course we don't know what a number of superdelegates are thinking right now. The battle is certainly fluid to say the least. Both candidates are lobbying hard and some superdelegates are switching camps with race a growing part of the equation.
We will look at that, here's CNN's Soledad O'Brien.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fight for Democratic superdelegates is rough and racial.
REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER II, (D-MO): I've received letters saying I won't support you anymore unless you vote the way I want you to vote which is to leave Senator Clinton and go to Senator Obama.
O'BRIEN: The Web site color of change which says it speaks to make government more responsive to concerns of black Americans has a petition with nearly 27,000 signatures to pressure black superdelegates to vote the way their districts did. An African-American Blogs and activists call for black leaders to support one of their own. Something Congressman Gregory Meeks thinks is unfair.
REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D-NY): The fact that you try to say that I should be supporting Barack Obama simply because, you know, we share the same ethnicity, I wouldn't say to someone else who happens to be the same ethnicities as Hillary Clinton where she the one there that should make -- should change just because of their color.
O'BRIEN: There have been demonstrations outside Meeks' office and he says he was recently the victim of a negative flyer campaign, calling him a racial slur for sticking with Hillary Clinton, even though his district voted in favor of Obama.
MEEKS: I know that I'm not a handkerchief head. I know what my record stands for and speaks for itself and so you looked past out.
O'BRIEN: But some superdelegates have changed sides, including long time Clinton supporter and civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis whose at Atlanta District voted for Obama 3-1.
REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D-GA): As a superdelegate, at the democratic convention next summer, I will be casting my vote for Barack Obama.
O'BRIEN: A handful of other black leaders have also switched their allegiances to Obama, including Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwells, whose district went for Obama.
KEVIN CONWELL, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCILMAN: As a delegate, I should represent my people because they're the ones who put me in office. They're my board of directors and they are my bosses and I am in one with my residents.
CLEAVER II: We're talking about following the rules. That was not the rule. Superdelegates were supposed to be independent, party faithfuls, elected officials who, at a time of disturbance at a convention, if you will, could come together and try to help move the party toward selecting a candidate.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver says he has a clear conscience about voting for Clinton even though his district didn't. His main concern is what this racial horse trading may do to the party come November.
COOPER: It's interesting, Congressman Meeks talks about this -- that in areas that went for Clinton, superdelegates who are white who want Obama are not under the same sort of pressure that African- American superdelegates are.
O'BRIEN: Look at the state of Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, white guys who are for Obama, their state went for Clinton. Not as much pressure at all for them. So it's really the question as I kind of put at the end of the piece there, is it the board of director's CEO relationship or is it really the superdelegates are supposed to be wildly independent? That's kind of the $64,000 question, it's not really clear. And because it's not really clear, it leads to the host of problems that we're seeing now.
COOPER: It never has been as important to get some clarity on that as it is right now. With their all great piece tonight and great documentary on Martin Luther King's assassination, it's really remarkable.
Coming up, more on the new accusations that Senator Clinton is playing the race card after reports she said Barack Obama can't win the general election.
But first, exclusive testimony at Capitol Hill, whistleblowers speaking out against the FAA and their bosses. Are you at risk when you fly?
And a sort of ridiculous story -- super model Naomi Campbell accused of bizarre behavior. We will tell you about her new troubles with the law when 360 continues.
COOPER: Coming up, Hillary Clinton accused of playing the race card. Two superdelegates weigh in on the allegations she said Obama can't win. Just ahead.
But first Erica Hill joins as with the 360 bulletin -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson in Rio de Janeiro Tonight, military and health officials working to battle a massive outbreak of dengue fever. More than 55,000 people are infected with the mosquito- borne virus. At least 67 people have died; nearly half of those were children.
And a "360" follow up for you -- explosive testimony on Capitol Hill today from FAA whistleblowers. The inspectors told lawmakers their bosses allowed unsafe Southwest airplanes to fly, one even said his manager made threats against him and his family if he revealed what he knew.
And Naomi Campbell - in trouble with the law again. The supermodel was reportedly arrested at London's Heathrow airport today for throwing a major diva fit. You may recall last year she was ordered to sweep the grounds of the New York Sanitation Department for attacking her maid with a cell phone. And of course who could forget what she wore to do her public service.
COOPER: Bizarre story. It seems like they never stop getting in trouble.
All right, up next, playing the race card. Hillary Clinton getting heat for allegedly saying Barack Obama can't win. We talked about it earlier before. We've mentioned today she tried to put the story to rest but a new clarification by her campaign seems to raise even more questions.
We'll dig deeper and talk to the supporter of both campaign to what they have to say when "360" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I have consistently made the case that I can win because I believe I can win. And well, sometimes people draw the conclusion I'm saying somebody else can't win. I can win. I know I can win. That's why I do this every day and that's what my campaign is about. I'm in it to win it and I intend to do just that. That's a no.
COOPER: Senator Clinton today appearing to deny she told Governor Bill Richardson that Barack Obama can't win shortly before he endorsed Senator Obama.
Then late tonight, her campaign issued a clarification that seemed to cast doubt on it denial saying the Senator was simply refusing to discuss the conversation when she said "that's a no" not denying the alleged substance of it.
With me now DC Congresswoman and Obama supporter Eleanor Holmes Norton, also Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones who supports Hillary Clinton. Great to have you both on the program.
Representative Tubbs Jones let me ask you. Is it inappropriate for Clinton advisers to be having conversations with superdelegates, bringing up Reverend Wright?
REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: You know what? I heard that accusation has been made and because you asked me to be on this show tonight, I specifically called Mr. Ickes and asked him what was the conversation? He said to me very clearly that in every instance, there were superdelegates who raised the issue of Pastor Wright with him.
He did not raise it with them. And his response to them was, that's a personal decision that you have to make. Come on, Anderson, let's talk about something that's going to bring some life to the campaign. Did she -- she said no that she deny that's not a subject matter for a great show like yours.
COOPER: Representative Holmes Norton do you agree, is this much ado about nothing?
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: It probably is. Hi, Stephanie.
JONES: Hi, Eleanor.
NORTON: Actually it really is what the public sees is important. Barack continues to soar ahead. He continues to get superdelegates. Harold Ickes is concerned about that and he's doing what he's supposed to do. He's trying to get people to switch or at least to move toward his own candidate. We're not concerned with what he says to them. We don't think that -- we're concerned with what they ask him to do. We think what the superdelegates are going to do is to move, they're watching what is happening every day.
Hillary loses the superdelegates, Barack gains superdelegates because the superdelegates are the grown-ups of the Democratic Party. They are the party officials and they are the elected officials.
They're going to move to whom they think can win, and it's pretty clear who can win this nomination. So we're not really much concerned particularly as we continue to be ahead.
JONES: Eleanor, I love you dearly but I'm not going to suggest to you that all the candidates, all the superdelegates are moving to Barack Obama. This is a fight to the finish.
It's very close. And it's very tentative and I believe that Hillary is going to ultimately win out. And what's the beauty of this is people are complaining about this campaign going on. I love it going on because people are engaged. We have more registered voters, we're raising more money.
COOPER: As it goes on though, are you concerned at all -- I mean the way race has come up in this campaign over the last several months?
JONES: Let me say this, I am proud to be a gorgeous African- American woman, and every chance I have I shout about it and say to the world. The thing that's very important in this campaign is that people understand the qualifications of the candidates, decide based on the qualifications of those candidates, and move on with their decision making.
And sometimes, by reiterating the things that we're talking about tonight, people are paying more attention to do it than they would if we left it alone and moved on.
NORTON: Well it is certainly time to leave it alone because Stephanie, the question isn't whether you're gorgeous black woman. The question is whether or not race or gender ought to be in this campaign. And I regret that it has been, because both candidates have risen above their gender and their race.
I believe it's others who are putting it into the campaign. I congratulate the Senator that he doesn't want either in.
COOPER: So Representative Holmes Norton does it concern you the way it has come up?
NORTON: I believe both candidates have behaved admirably on that score.
COOPER: But in terms of what surrogates have said, I mean often if -- what we're hearing if from surrogates, is not from the candidates themselves.
NORTON: Right indeed in the Lewis controversy where Hillary was supposed to have said that Barack can't win, I didn't hear her say because of his race.
JONES: Thank you Eleanor, thank you.
NORTON: Some of them imply that she didn't say that. So black people aren't putting that in it and women aren't putting that in it, but it does heat up the campaign. And others put it in it and I can tell you this much, it was very difficult for me to choose. I'm a card carrying feminist who believes that Hillary Clinton is very well qualified to be president of the United States.
I happen to think Barack is better qualified, but I can tell you this, I will break my neck trying to get her elected if she beats us to the nomination and becomes our nominee to be president of the United States. And I am sure that's exactly what Hillary will do.
JONES: Absolutely. That's the beauty of being on a TV show with Eleanor Holmes Norton; she's a woman of reason and great sense. Even though we disagree on the candidacy, whether it should be Hillary or Barack, and I think Hillary is better qualified, we've all committed when it's all over with, whoever after everybody has had a chance to vote, ten more states, that we're going to be onboard with the candidate to whoop --
NORTON: How can either of us lose? How can Stephanie or I lose? Here we are, black and we're women, and we got a black and a woman running. Hey, we're running.
COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Congresswoman Stephanie Jones, Congresswoman Ellenor Holmes Norton. Appreciate you both staying up late with us. Thank you.
COOPER: Up next, for better or worse, the man at the center of the race in politics firestorm, Reverend Jeremiah Wright today from the same pulpit where he preached. Church leaders fired back at the media and the way their church has been portrayed. You'll hear from them tonight.
Also ahead, Pennsylvania's governor Ed Rendell. He said Barack Obama might have a white voter problem in his state. Hear what he's saying tonight about Obama's rising poll numbers, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST, CHICAGO: We bombed Hiroshima and bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because of the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard! America's sins are coming home to roost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That, of course, is one of the well-known sermons by now that ignited a firestorm a couple of weeks ago for Senator Barack Obama and fueled a nation-wide discussion on race, religion and politics but it's far from over. Obama, of course, has distanced himself from his pastor's most controversial remarks.
Reverend Jeremiah Wright officially retires next month from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and what he said is not going away. United Church of Christ has more than 1.2 million members and most of its worshipers are white.
Today, its president and leaders of the National Council of Churches joined together at Senator Obama's house of worship to give the nation a message and to say enough is enough.
CNN's Susan Roesgen reports.
REV. MICHAEL KINNAMON, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: In recent weeks, I have seen the United Church of Christ more than occasionally portrayed as some kind of radical sect. This, of course, is nonsense.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Standing behind the pulpit where former pastor Jeremiah Wright inspired his congregation and enraged critics, national church leaders defended the church and blasted the news media.
PASTOR OTIS MOSS III, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: We have received unprecedented scrutiny that has taken its toll on our members, our staff, and our senior pastor.
REV. JOHN THOMAS. PRESIDENT, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: The intersection of politics, religion, and race has heightened our awareness of how easy it is for our conversations about race to become anything but sacred.
MOSS: As a church, we say no more, enough is enough. Today, we, the pastors, members and supporters of Trinity United Church of Christ proclaim that we take back our sacred space.
ROESGEN: Beyond what they say is the hurtful glare of the cameras. Church leaders also say parishioners are hounded by reporters and they say the church received bomb threats. A church that feels under siege now getting national support.
KINNAMON: If there are threats against one church, as there have been here, all churches are threatened. If the privacy of church members in one place is violated as it has been here, all places of worship are violated.
ROESGEN: Those national church leaders are encouraging congregations all across the country to have a sacred conversation, as they call it, about race on May 18th. And by the way, neither Reverend Wright nor Senator Barack Obama was at today's news conference.
Susan Roesgen, CNN, Chicago.
COOPER: You just heard the President of the United Church of Christ speak about the Reverend Wright controversy. The Reverend John Thomas has much more to say and joins us now from Cleveland along with CNN Contributor Roland Martin. Reverend Thomas thanks for being on the program.
Today, Reverend Moss called for the intense scrutiny of the church to come to an end. The church though has sold DVDs of its sermons online. Should what goes on inside a church be off limits to the media?
THOMAS: Well, thank you for having me on.
I think the church has an important message and an invitation to the broader society to what we call the sacred conversation on race. Certainly the church needs to be scrutinized, needs to be analyzed by the wider society but in a way that's honest and fair and that's deeply respectful of the faith and piety of its members.
COOPER: And you feel the way it's been handled thus far, the way some of Reverend Wright's comments have been portrayed are not fair?
THOMAS: I think we saw a caricature and a stereotype, not only of Reverend Wright but the black church. And as a result, the conversation on race has not been sacred but profoundly ugly and unhelpful.
That's why on this anniversary of Dr. King's famous speech before his assassination, we're calling for a sacred conversation on race that we think can achieve and move us toward his challenge to make America a better place.
COOPER: How do you see that conversation unfolding? You're calling for a conversation in churches on a given day. What do you want people to talk about? What is the conversation?
THOMAS: Part of the reason that this conversation is so difficult is that we often are unwilling to be deeply honest with one another. That we view one another simply through a lens of caricature or stereotypes. So we're calling for a conversation where people in a context of trust and respect begin to be more honest with one another, to share their fears, their hopes, their anxieties, their anger.
This is not going to be an easy conversation. Sacred conversations can be profoundly difficult and sometimes they can be loud. But they're important for us and we know that it's only a beginning on May 18th. That's the opening part of the conversation.
COOPER: Roland Martin, has Reverend Wright, has he commented publicly at all since this whole controversy began?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He hasn't commented publicly. He was supposed to preach in Tampa, Florida. That event was canceled. He was supposed to preach at Willard Avenue, a Baptist church in Houston as well and that event is canceled. So he hasn't had any public comment.
I spoke with him briefly at the service at Trinity United Church of Christ on Monday. We did not get the chance to talk at length. But no, he has not talked.
Also, look, the reality is he's still a political story. So anything he says from this point forward, again, simply carries it further as well. So hopefully he'll be able to talk soon and explain himself, share his views, how he's taking this.
I have talked to some of the people who are close to him. This has been very difficult for somebody who is well known across the country, who has been a pastor for 36 years and for your ministry to be defined by a couple minutes is very bothersome to a lot of people close to him, including his family.
COOPER: Reverend Thomas, as you have seen this controversy unfold and you heard those remarks -- A, had you heard those remarks before and what do you make of some of the things that he said, the most -- the more well known ones?
THOMAS: Reverend Wright has always been a provocative preacher in the prophetic tradition. So when I hear those remarks, I hear it in the context of his broader preaching, which is deeply challenging, challenging to the injustices that continue in this society, challenges to the militarism that seems to dominate our approach to foreign policy.
I hear the prophetic word as we hear it through scripture, often in rough and difficult ways but a legitimate word and a word that we need to hear if we're going to have this honest conversation not just about race but about how we engage the world.
COOPER: Are there any comments which he said are inappropriate to you or is everything part of in context part of that tradition?
THOMAS: I think members of our church would have different perspectives on that. There is rhetoric that's used that I would be uncomfortable using. But Reverend Wright has been a gifted preacher, an honored preacher in our church. He is trusted and respected, and he is appreciated because he brings a challenging important word that often isn't heard in the context of many churches and in the broader society.
COOPER: What is the date of the conversation in churches that you want to see?
THOMAS: We want to begin that conversation on May 18th, which is Trinity Sunday in the church calendar, in a helpful kind of reminder of how this controversy around Trinity Church has brought us, I think, to the precipice of an ugly conversation. And can we now step back for a sacred conversation on a mountain with Dr. King and his legacy and move America to a better place.
COOPER: Reverend John Thomas, we appreciate your time tonight. And Roland Martin as well. Thank you very much.
THOMAS: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thanks Anderson.
COOPER: Reverend Wright certainly is not the only preacher in the spotlight known for fiery remarks.
In a moment we'll look at some of the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King. We'll show you how his message was received by many in the media back then.
But first, Pennsylvania's governor, a Clinton supporter, has said Barack Obama could have white voter problem in his state. His new comments about Barack Obama's electability, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ED RENDELL, (D-PA): I think people who might tend to vote against Barack Obama because he's an African-American probably aren't going to vote for him on the issues anyway. People who are going to vote against Hillary Clinton because they don't think a woman can be commander-in-chief probably weren't going to vote for her anyway on the issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the politics of race and gender. We're taking a close look at both tonight.
You just heard from Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell, heading into the state's critical primary. He of course is Hillary Clinton's most powerful supporter in that state, and most provocative perhaps.
Governor Rendell recently said there were some whites who were probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate. Now to some, that's a statement of fact, others said the comments were inappropriate, even racist. That word gets thrown around a lot these days.
We don't take sides in this program. We want to give you the facts and let you decide for yourself.
CNN's Randi Kaye sat down with Governor Rendell to see what he says now.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's blunt, brutally honest. RENDELL: People know I don't BS them.
KAYE: And hardly bashful regarding his comments about Barack Obama. In a meeting with the "Pittsburgh Post Gazette's" editorial board, Pennsylvania's Governor Ed Rendell, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton said "You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African- American candidate." Yes, he went there.
RENDELL: They asked me to handicap the race.
KAYE: The governor's remarks sent a chill through the African- American community. Here in Philadelphia, the head of the NAACP called it callous and insensitive. Others have suggested it was politically motivated, even racist.
RENDELL: It wasn't intended to be racial.
KAYE: You don't regret your comments at all?
RENDELL: Do I think there was anything wrong with it? Absolutely not. I told the truth and we've got to be able to speak the truth about race without someone pointing a finger and saying you're racist.
KAYE: Rendell calls Obama a formidable candidate who has done a great job of putting the race issue behind him. Just five days after the Post-Gazette published Rendell's comments, it printed a follow-up article that seems to defend Rendell. "Mr. Rendell didn't dump or strategically plant his opinion about race in our paper on behalf of the Clinton Campaign. He appeared passive but not indifferent to or malicious about our state's backwardness."
Barack Obama agreed with the governor saying, "I think there will be people who don't vote for me because of race. There will be vote for me because I got big ears." But Obama didn't let Rendell off the hook. He also said, "Governor Rendell is a savvy politician, and I think he wants to project strength for Senator Clinton."
This is not the first time Governor Rendell injected race into a race. When he ran for governor in 2006, his opponent was former TV host Lynn Swann, an African-American. After his victory, Rendell said he believed the margin would have been closer had Swann been white.
Swann told us he thought Rendell's most recent comments about Obama were a subtle form of racism. If Clinton doesn't win the nomination, Rendell says he will support Obama.
RENDELL: I had a call from Senator Obama and he said, you know I'm going to be the nominee and I didn't argue with him. I said sure. And he said I just wanted to make sure that nothing happens in Pennsylvania, the campaign here, that will make it harder for us to win in the fall. I said, "Senator, don't even worry about that for five seconds."
KAYE: That phone call may be the only thing to get Governor Ed Rendell to watch his tongue.
Randi Kaye, CNN, Philadelphia.
COOPER: We'll tell you Governor Rendell wanted to tell us what he thought about the latest poll numbers, numbers showing Barack Obama now just eight points behind Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. She had a 16-point lead over him not too long ago.
In a statement, Governor Rendell said and I quote, "Everyone expected the polls to tighten. Anyone who thought senator Clinton would win the primary by 16 points was either ill informed or didn't give Senator Obama the credit he deserves as a campaigner. Hillary Clinton is a warm and wonderful person with a great heart, great ideas and the best interest of the country at heart. But 16 points was unrealistic.
Up next, the inspirational and controversial words of another preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King. How would they play in today's political environment? You might be surprised.
And breaking news, some dangers, possibly a tornado. The report just now coming in. The latest when "360" continues.
COOPER: This hour we've been looking at race and politics, a story as old as the country.
Long before Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermon were posted on YouTube, other African-American preachers were igniting firestorms with their words. 39 years ago this week, the Reverend Martin Luther King made a speech that was considered at the time perhaps just as inflammatory if not more so than the words of Reverend Wright.
Here's CNN's Joe Johns Up Close.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For so many, the power of Martin Luther King's message of hope, the dream, is transcendent. But other words of Dr. King are in some circles controversial to this day.
And perhaps one of Dr. King's most incendiary and controversial speeches of all time occurred 39 years ago tomorrow. One year before his death. Here at the Riverside Church in New York, Dr. King was taking on the United States' government's involvement in the Vietnam War.
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING: I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.
JOHNS: It was 1967, the war in Vietnam was all-consuming and opposition at home reached a violent crescendo. Dr. King spoke out, many question why. But in his views civil rights and the war were inseparable.
KING: We were taking the black young men, who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away, to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem.
JOHNS: Later that month, at his own church, he even went further. The U.S. had invited the wrath of god.
KING: And it seems that I can hear god saying to America, you're too arrogant. If you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power.
JOHNS: It was all shocking; widely denounced as unpatriotic if not anti-American. The comparison to Reverend Wright today is all but impossible to miss. "The Washington Post" said King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people." "Time" magazine stopped just short of calling him a traitor, saying the speech was demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.
And years later, when congress debated a national holiday to honor Dr. King, North Carolina Senator Jessie Helms repeated King's own words in opposition.
SEN. JESSIE HELMS (R) NORTH CAROLINA: He attacked this country in the most vicious way during the Vietnam War, and Ho Chi Minh was categorized as a hero in his book and that sort of thing.
JOHNS: To many at the time, King was a divisive figure. Though what endures today is his power as a man of peace.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Fascinating to look back.
We begin now. We have some breaking news to report. Erica Hill joins us again with the 360 News and Business Bulletin -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're actually following this story out of Arkansas where a possible tornado has caused we're told quite a bit of damage to a residential area, this is near Little Rock.
We're just getting these pictures in from our affiliate KARK. It's some sort of a fireball here. What we're trying to confirm for you is what is burning, is there a structure there underneath that fire? And what may have started it. So that is one of the things we're looking into.
We do know the storm hit parts of -- again it was near Little Rock, it was in Sailing (ph) County that's about 12 miles west of the city. No immediate reports of injuries at this hour. Officials though do say there is damage in several areas, including a mobile home park.
So we'll stay on top of that for you at CNN.
On Capitol Hill, Wall Street in the hot seat. Executives at Bear Stearns and JP Morgan telling lawmakers today the federally-backed bailout of Bear Stearns prevented a wider economic crisis. Similar testimony was echoed by a federal reserve official.
And what is a letter worth? If it was penned by Abraham Lincoln, how about $3.4 million? Today's auctioning off an 1864 note President Lincoln sent to 195 boys and girls who were opposed to slavery.
COOPER: Wow, amazing.
Just ahead, baseball fans risk being hit by the occasional fly ball whenever they sit in the stands. But wait until you hear what hit this young girl at Boston's Fenway Park. Her attacker was flying but it also had wings. That's next on "360."
COOPER: Now tonight's shot. A dramatic, bizarre animal attacker at a major league baseball stadium of all places. Take a look, that's a 3 1/2 pound red tail hawk hovering above 13-year-old Alexa Rodriguez who was taking a tour of Fenway Park today, a tour that soon turned to terror. Take a look at that. The hawk swooped off its nest
HILL: That's awful.
COOPER: -- attacked the 8th-grader, drawing blood from her scalp.
COOPER: She was taken by ambulance to a local hospital treated for a small scratch. One of her teachers said Alexa was a little shaken but otherwise okay. We certainly hope so.
HILL: Thankfully. Apparently at least from where I saw these hawks, this one has been building a next at Fenway since 2002. But they always chase the hawks out before opening day. So the hawk and her mate can find a new home. The Red Sox don't play until next week so apparently park officials thought they had a little time.
HILL: Yes. Wild live officials though did remove the nest today. But how creepy is that?
COOPER: Yes, making a nest out of hair.
If you see some bizarre video, I guess you could say or whatever, tell us about it at cnn.com/360. While you're there, you can check out all the other stuff on the web. The address again, cnn.com/360. Coming up at the top of the hour, the searing and tragic events that changed a nation seen up close. "Eyewitness to Murder, the King Assassination." That's next.
Thanks for watching.
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