The Magazine

Jeremiah Wright's 'Trumpet'

The content of the magazine produced by Barack Obama's pastor reveals the content of his character.

May 19, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 34 • By STANLEY KURTZ
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To the question of the moment--What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it?--I answer, Obama knew everything, and he's known it for ages. Far from succumbing to surprise and shock after Jeremiah Wright's disastrous performance at the National Press Club, Barack Obama must have long been aware of his pastor's political radicalism. A careful reading of nearly a year's worth of Trumpet Newsmagazine, Wright's glossy national "lifestyle magazine for the socially conscious," makes it next to impossible to conclude otherwise.

Wright founded Trumpet Newsmagazine in 1982 as a "church newspaper"--primarily for his own congregation, one gathers--to "preach a message of social justice to those who might not hear it in worship service." So Obama's presence at sermons is not the only measure of his knowledge of Wright's views. Glance through even a single issue of Trumpet, and Wright's radical politics are everywhere--in the pictures, the headlines, the highlighted quotations, and above all in the articles themselves. It seems inconceivable that, in 20 years, Obama would never have picked up a copy of Trumpet. In fact, Obama himself graced the cover at least once (although efforts to obtain that issue from the publisher or Obama's interview with the magazine from his campaign were unsuccessful).

Building on his reputation as a charismatic and "socially conscious" preacher (and no doubt also upon the fame conferred by his Obama connection), Wright decided several years ago to take the publication national. In September 2005, Trumpet officially separated from Wright's church and became an independent entity, with Wright as CEO and his two eldest daughters managing the magazine. Then in March 2006, with key financial backing from the TV One network, Trumpet released its first nationally distributed issue. The goal was to turn Trumpet into "a more sophisticated publication that would speak not just to black Christians but to the entire African-American community." In November 2005, Wright's daughter and Trumpet publisher/editor in chief Jeri Wright announced the goal of increasing circulation from 5,000 to 100,000 in 10 months. Thanks to a national publicity blitz, she was able to declare that goal had been met well ahead of schedule.

If you've heard about the "Empowerment Award" bestowed upon Louis Farrakhan by Wright, or about Wright's derogation of "garlic-nosed" Italians (of the ancient Roman variety), then you already know something about Trumpet. Farrakhan's picture was on the cover of a special November/December 2007 double issue, along with an announcement of the Empowerment Award and Wright's praise of Farrakhan as a 20th- and 21st-century "giant." Wright's words about Farrakhan were almost identical to those that, just four months later, led a supposedly shocked Obama to repudiate Wright. The insult to Italians was in the same double issue.

I obtained the 2006 run of Trumpet, from the first nationally distributed issue in March to the November/December double issue. To read it is to come away impressed by Wright's thoroughgoing political radicalism. There are plenty of arresting sound bites, of course, but the larger context is more illuminating--and more disturbing--than any single shock-quotation. Trumpet provides a rounded picture of Wright's views, and what it shows unmistakably is that the now-infamous YouTube snippets from Wright's sermons are authentic reflections of his core political and theological beliefs. It leaves no doubt that his religion is political, his attitude toward America is bitterly hostile, and he has fundamental problems with capitalism, white people, and "assimilationist" blacks. Even some of Wright's famed "good works," and his moving "Audacity to Hope" sermon, are placed in a disturbing new light by a reading of Trumpet.

Getting across his political message is Wright's highest priority. Back in May 2007, the liberal, Chicago-based Christian Century published an extended study--really a defense--of Wright's church. Attempting to inoculate Wright (and Obama) from critics like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, Christian Century dismissed the notion that Wright's Trinity church "is a political organization constantly advocating for social change." Yet in Trumpet, Wright and his fellow columnists show themselves to be exactly that.

Wright is the foremost acolyte of James Cone's "black liberation theology," which puts politics at the center of religion. Wright himself is explicit:

[T]here was no separation Biblically and historically and there is no separation contemporaneously between 'religion and politics.' .  .  . The Word of God has everything to do with racism, sexism, militarism, social justice and the world in which we live daily.