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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Interview With Illinois Senator Barack Obama; Severe Storms Strike Atlanta

Aired March 14, 2008 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Barack Obama at the center of a firestorm that has the potential to derail his campaign for president. My interview with Senator Obama in a moment about the incendiary remarks his retiring pastor has made about America, about, Hillary Clinton, and 9/11, and a whole lot more.
You will also hear tonight from this man, his new pastor. Is his new message any different than the old pastor's? CNN contributor Roland Martin sat down tonight with the Reverend Otis Moss. We will join him shortly.

Also, allegations of guilt by association, and Barack Obama is not alone where that is concerned. John McCain is on the defensive about two of his religious backers. And Hillary Clinton, of course, is still dealing with Geraldine Ferraro's explosive statements on Obama, herself, and race. We will cover all of that.

But we begin with Barack Obama doing damage control tonight, no doubt about it, condemning statements made by the outgoing pastor of his church in Chicago. Barack Obama has been a member of this church for nearly 20 years. His pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their kids, even gave him the title for his bestselling book "The Audacity of Hope."

But it is excerpts from some of his past sermons that have the country talking. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: ... and then wants us to sing "God Bless America?" No, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America. That's in the Bible, for killing of the innocent people. God damn America.

It just came to me with -- within the past few weeks, you all, why so many folk are hating on Barack Obama. He doesn't fit the model. He ain't white. He ain't rich. And he ain't privileged.

Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, today, Senator Obama severed the last ties between his campaign and Reverend Wright, announcing he is no longer on Barack Obama's African-American Religious Leadership Committee. I spoke with Senator Obama earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: (AUDIO GAP) ... was created by the government to kill black people. He's called America the number-one killer around the world. He's said that black people shouldn't sing "God Bless America," but say God damn America.

There's a lot of folks in America right now who have heard that. And I want to ask you why you have been listening to this pastor and close to him for nearly 20 years?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, Anderson, you know, I strongly condemn the statements that have been shown on the tape.

I have to confess that those are not statements that I ever heard when I was sitting in the pews at this church. This is a church that I have been a member of for 20 years. This is a well-established, typical, historically African-American church in the South Side of Chicago, with a wonderful set of ministries.

And what I have been hearing and had been hearing in church was talk about Jesus and talk about faith and values and serving the poor...

COOPER: How...

OBAMA: ... something that the church (INAUDIBLE) some.

But so the -- what is -- what is undeniable is that, you know, these are a series of incendiary statements that I can't object to strongly enough. Had I heard those in the church, I would have told Reverend Wright that, you know, that I profoundly disagreed with them. They didn't reflect my values, and they didn't reflect my ideals.

COOPER: Did you not know, though, that, I mean, a couple days after 9/11, he said, you know, this was America's chickens coming home to roost, a result of what he called American terrorism around the world?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I mean, you may not have been there, but have you -- you must have heard that he had said these things.

OBAMA: You know, I confess that I did not hear about this until -- until I started running for president.

And then there was a story that was issued in which I strongly objected to these statements and condemned them. But what I also understood that was -- was Reverend Wright was on the verge of retirement and that a new pastor was coming in. The church family was one that was very important to me. It's where my wife and I got married. It's where our children were baptized. And, so, my belief was that this was something out of the ordinary. Obviously, some of these statements indicate that this was happening more frequently.

But I also want to say this, Anderson. This is somebody who was a former U.S. Marine, who is a biblical scholar, who's preached and taught at theological seminaries all across the country, and has had a reputation as a preeminent preacher in the country.

And, so, I have to strongly condemn the statements that were made. They do not reflect my views or Michelle's views, or probably the views of many people in the church.

On the other hand, you know, Reverend Wright is somebody who is like an uncle or a family member who you may strongly object to what they have to say, but, as he's about to retire, I have no intention of leaving the church itself.

COOPER: But, I mean, uncles are blood relatives who you're kind of stuck with at family gatherings, even when they say outrageous things. You can't get rid of them.

You can walk out of a church. You can walk go up to a pastor and say, this is wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: And, as I said, Anderson, if I had heard any of those statements, I probably would have walked up, and I probably would have told Reverend Wright that they were wrong.

But they were not statements that I heard when I was in church.

COOPER: So, no one in the church ever said to you, man, last week, you missed this sermon; Reverend Wright said this; or...

OBAMA: No.

COOPER: I mean, I think I read in your books that you listened to tapes of Reverend Wright when you were at Harvard Law School.

OBAMA: I did.

COOPER: So, you had no idea?

OBAMA: I understand.

I did not. Well, I want to be clear that, when I ran for president, some of these statements started surfacing.

COOPER: Right.

OBAMA: And, at that point, I was very concerned about it. I had conversations with Reverend Wright about it. And I put out statements indicating that these were not my beliefs. But, as I said before, he was on the verge of retirement. He's preached his last sermon. He will be no longer a pastor at the end of March 31. And, so, our belief was that the most appropriate way to handle it was to be very clear about my strong condemnation of the statements, but to continue to be a part of the church.

COOPER: I want to play one of the statements which you have condemned that Reverend Wright said discussing differences between yourself and Hillary Clinton. I just want to play a brief excerpt of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: Hillary never had a cab whiz past and not pick her up because her skin was the wrong color.

Hillary was not a black boy raised in a single-parent home. Barack was. 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 (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's one of the segments you condemn.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

Well, I just don't think that it's necessary to talk about Senator Clinton or anybody in those terms. And, so, as I said, you know, I think that I can't be clear enough about these not reflecting my views or the views of Michelle or our family. And had I heard or known about some of these statements, I would have been very clear about it.

Now, the one thing I will say, Anderson, just in terms of putting it in context, this is a man who preached for 30 years and, during those years, was regarded as an outstanding preacher all across the country.

And, so, many of the sermons that I heard were extraordinarily powerful. One of them, which I have written about, titled "The Audacity of Hope" is one that helped inspire my convention speech.

And part of what I think I see is Reverend Wright as somebody who grew up in the '60s, had very different life experiences than I had, has continued to harbor a lot of anger and frustration about discrimination that he may have experienced.

And, so, his life experiences have been very different than mine. And part of what is going on within the African-American community is a transition, in which some of the rhetoric and statements and -- and frustrations of the past have given way to opportunities that I have experienced, and -- which is part of the reason why I speak in very different terms. And that's part of what our campaign has been about, is to surface some of these issues and to be able to move forward and get beyond them.

COOPER: It's an interesting...

OBAMA: But -- but some of these things are still there. And they're things that I have to deal with, you know, and these are things that America has to deal with as well.

But I can't be clear enough about the fact that these are not reflective of the views that I have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A lot of comments already on the blog. I'm posting throughout the hour. As always, you can join the discussion by going to CNN.com/360.

We will have more of our 360 interview with Senator Obama right after this break.

I ask him how he squares his campaign's apparently unifying message of getting beyond race with Pastor Wright's explicitly racial sermons.

You will also hear from Reverend Otis Moss. He's Barack Obama's new pastor. Will Reverend Moss be any less controversial? Well, you will see and hear for yourself in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: Hillary was not a black boy raised in a single-parent home. Barack was. 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 (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Hillary has never had her people defined as a non-persons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, some of the sermons from Reverend Wright.

Tonight, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is doing his best to distance himself from the racially charged remarks, like that one, from Reverend Wright. The retiring pastor of a Chicago church, the guy who married the Obamas and baptized their kids, Senator Obama has called Wright his longtime spiritual adviser, but now the pastor's inflammatory sermons are threatening to discredit the core message of Obama's campaign.

That's where part two of my interview with Barack Obama picks up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's so interesting. I mean, it's an interesting point you make, because so much of your campaign and your message seems to be about moving beyond race and seeing things through a racial lens. And, yet, this is a man, a preacher, who, clearly, even in some less incendiary remarks, sees things very much through a racial lens.

OBAMA: Well, and I think that this is a struggle that we have in the African-American community. And it's a struggle that we have had about race for many years, which is that we have a history of discrimination and, you know, slavery and Jim Crow that continues to have a powerful pull on the African-American memory.

And, yet, at the same time, because of the struggles of black and white and brown, new opportunities have opened up. And we have a future which is focused on not racial identities, but what brings us together as Americans.

And that's the struggle that we're going through, is to try to get to that place. And part of what my campaign has been about is, how can we push the country into that direction, so that white America and black America are able to recognize this history, acknowledge it, but not engage in the blame and the anger that is counterproductive and doesn't lead us to actually helping our children lead a better life?

COOPER: How much damage do you think this has done to you?

OBAMA: Well, I think there's no doubt that, you know, having a sort of a greatest hits of incendiary comments that don't reflect my beliefs played on -- on film is not something that, you know, I am thrilled about.

But it's something that I think is hopefully going to offer me a capacity to teach and to talk about some of these issues. And I think it's important, because it's real. These -- as I said before, I was asked about some of the statements of Geraldine Ferraro. And I said at that time, I have never been naive enough to think that we get beyond these issues of race or gender or our history or our past.

What I have said is that we have the capacity to move beyond them and improve our relationship with each other in a way that actually reflects the best of American values and American ideals. And -- and I think one of the things that's most frustrating to me, listening to some of the comments of Reverend Wright, is, ironically, the book that I titled "The Audacity of Hope," drawing from one of his sermons, ends with my statement about my love of this country.

And, you know, that is who I am and what I believe, that this country is everything to me. But this country also has pain and anger and frustration. And, you know, I think that what you heard from Reverend Wright in these statements is part of that American history that we have to get beyond, and that, you know, it's very important for me to send a clear signal that that is not the essence of what America is.

COOPER: Just for the record, you have no problem singing "God Bless America"?

(LAUGHTER) OBAMA: I don't want to sing it here, because...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: ... people might question my talents. But...

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: All right. We will leave it at that.

Senator Obama, appreciate your time.

OBAMA: Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, up next, we have got a lot of to talk about with CNN political analyst David Gergen, CNN contributor Roland Martin, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

Also ahead, Roland's interview with Obama's new pastor, the Reverend Otis Moss. Is his message really any more moderate?

Remember, I'm live blogging throughout the hour about all of this. The conversation is going on very strongly. Join me at CNN.com/360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: It just came to me with -- within the past few weeks, you all, why so many folk are hating on Barack Obama. He doesn't fit the model. He ain't white. He ain't rich. And he ain't privileged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Those words, many more like them, preached by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright from the pulpit of Barack Obama's Chicago church. They have ignited the latest firestorm over race in the Democratic presidential battle.

We're digging deeper with our panel. You heard from Barack Obama earlier.

CNN contributor Roland Martin, also Tony Perkins joins us, president of the Family Research Council and author of the upcoming book "Personal Faith, Public Policy." It just came out last week. Also joining us, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, when we covered this story last night, I wasn't really sure this was a legitimate topic. But the more I have heard of Pastor Wright's sermons, the more I think this is completely legitimate, because they are so at odds with what Barack Obama has said he believes in.

Do you buy Obama's response tonight that he never knew about some of these pastor's comments until January of last year?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt on that, Anderson.

But I also think that journalists ought to dig deeper and just to verify that what he says is correct. I think we should not disbelieve him until we have had a chance to -- to check it out. If there's been a history of these kind of sermons in the church where Obama has been present, then he's got a serious problem. If there has not been, you know, life goes on.

But I have to say, Anderson, there's a difference between fairness and politics on this one. Fairness demands that we not condemn someone for guilt of association. He's not responsible for what the pastor said. Fairness demands that we take recognize and take him at his word for what he believes.

Politics would say that he's been wounded by this, and that it's going to allow his rivals to feed off a lot of perceptions about what Michelle Obama said about her lack of pride in America until this campaign and other statements. And I think that he will be wounded by this. I think he's trying to repair the damage right now.

COOPER: Tony, do you believe that Barack Obama, when sitting in this church for how many sermons he might have sat in over the last 17 or so years, that he didn't hear any of these kind of sermons or these kind of messages?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: It's kind of hard to believe, Anderson.

I travel a lot and speak on the weekends. But my home church, I hear what happens when the pastor preaches a good message, which is quite often. But what happens, it circulates, because we're a community. That's what it means to be a part of a church. You're a part of a community. And it impacts your life.

It's hard to believe that you could sit in a church week after week, month after month, year after year, and describe the pastor as -- as your spiritual mentor, and somehow not be influenced by his teachings.

I would question why you would be going to that church if you weren't being influenced by -- by the teachings of the pastor.

COOPER: Roland, do you think the Obama campaign gets how potentially serious this is? The fact that Senator Obama offered himself up for this interview tonight and on other networks as well is pretty telling. But they didn't drop this guy from his religious leadership committee until a couple hours ago.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, again, though, you look at the fact that he offered himself up.

They also issued the statements. And, so, obviously, they recognize how serious it is, because, basically, what -- this whole thing got started, really, with Sean Hannity, FOX News, getting -- buying the actually DVDs of the sermons. And, all of a sudden, they're going out.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Well, actually, it was ABC News...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: ABC News did an investigation the Thursday before that, Brian Ross, in which they bought dozens of these DVDs.

MARTIN: Yes, but actually...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Anyway, it doesn't matter where it began.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It's clear it's out there.

MARTIN: Right. So, it's out there.

The bottom line is, they recognize that. And, so, again, like any other story, you watch it in these campaigns, you see what happens, and it percolates. No different from the Clinton campaign. Ferraro started on Monday. Then it just crescendoed.

On Thursday, they said, you know what, we have got to end this thing right now.

That's what happens in politics. You hope something will go away. And then, when it doesn't, reaches critical mass, then you basically cut it off at the head.

COOPER: Roland, you're in Chicago. I mean, do you believe that -- that Senator Obama -- do you take him at his word that he didn't her any of this stuff, he didn't even know any of this stuff was being talked about?

MARTIN: Well, I think here's the key.

If you're playing snippets -- first of all, we were playing two sermons. So, the question is, did he hear these two sermons? How many sermons are we talking about?

So, look, my wife is a pastor, for 20 years, OK, ordained minister. And, so, there may be statements that my pastor may say that I don't particularly hear, maybe some stuff that I do hear. So, I really don't know.

As David said, all I can do is take him at his word. But the reality is here. What we have today is, you have many pastors out there who combine political views, social views with theology. You see this in black churches. You see it by white pastors, Hispanic pastors. And it has grown significantly, whether your name is Jeremiah Wright, whether your name is John Hagee, or Rod Parsley, Pat Robertson, or any minister. We see it happening a lot today across America.

(CROSSTALK)

PERKINS: Well...

COOPER: Go ahead.

PERKINS: Well, I was just going to say there's no question that the Reverend Wright has the right to be wrong. He can preach and think whatever he wants. And that's his right as an American, and I would defend that right. So, I don't question whether or not he can do that.

But, clearly, his message was unscriptural. I mean, as Christians, we're instructed in the New Testament to pray for the well-being of our government, so that we might live a peaceful and quiet life. It's -- it's hard to imagine how praying for the damnation of one's own country could lead to tranquility, and clearly an un-American message.

And I think Barack has to do more than distance himself. He has to prove that he was not influenced by this message.

COOPER: David, how badly do you think this could damage the campaign, especially with Pennsylvania coming up?

GERGEN: I think, if he acts aggressively, as he did tonight, to address it, and then moves on, Anderson, because we have spent our whole week on all these kind of issues. And, meanwhile, the economy is going in the tank.

And, if he gets -- if these candidates -- and Barack ought to be on this next week. They have got to speak seriously about the fact, you know, what's going on economically with the stock market going down, the dollar going down, prices going through the roof on oil and all the rest.

And I think that will help a lot. But I do think -- I hope, in the next segment, we can come back to understanding that there's a discourse, there's a conversation in the black community.

COOPER: Yes.

GERGEN: There has been for a long time, which is different from what is in the white community. And we ought to understand and appreciate the differences...

MARTIN: Very true.

GERGEN: ... and not expect everybody to be just the same in this country.

COOPER: And that's -- we are actually going to look at that extensively, both in a package and also in a discussion with all of you, coming up.

As we said at the top, Reverend Wright is no longer connected with the Obama campaign. He's retiring as a pastor of his congregation.

Just ahead, you will hear what the new pastor has to say about the controversy, his own philosophy, and his relationship with Barack Obama.

Also, controversial religious figures in other campaigns and how those campaigns are dealing with them.

Also, breaking news tonight: a possible tornado causing damage and injuries in downtown Atlanta. That's next also.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Some breaking news: reports of damaging weather, possibly a tornado, hitting downtown Atlanta.

The storm came through about half-an-hour ago. A tornado warning was in effect at the time. A college basketball game was under way in the Georgia Dome. People watched as the roof rippled. Scaffolding that holds up the scoreboard swayed back and forth, we're told.

At CNN headquarters nearby, water poured into the building. In the atrium, glass broke. The building filled up with dust. There are no -- there are some injuries reported at this point.

With us on the phone, Captain Bill May of the Atlanta Fire Department.

Captain, how bad is it?

CAPTAIN BILL MAY, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, ATLANTA FIRE DEPARTMENT: We do have extensive damage throughout parts of downtown Atlanta. We have reports of numerous injuries. But, at this time, we have not heard of any fatalities.

COOPER: Was it a tornado; do you know?

MAY: I have not gotten verification on the extent of the size of the storm, just that it has done extensive damage.

COOPER: And what do you do now? I mean, how many -- do you know how many calls you have gotten about injuries?

MAY: We certainly have quite a few going on at the same time. I don't have an exact figure on that. We're still trying to reach all the people at the moment.

COOPER: But at this point, no reports of fatalities?

MAY: I haven't heard of any of those yet.

COOPER: All right. I know you're busy, Captain Bill Denay (ph). We appreciate you joining us. We'll check in later throughout this hour. Thank you very much.

Now to the new Pastor at Barack Obama's church, Otis Moss III. That is his name. Moss was handpicked by the man he succeeded, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose racially charged sermons have thrown the Barack Obama campaign into crisis mode this week.

In a statement posted on the Huffington Post Web site today, Senator Obama wrote, and I quote, "With Reverend Wright's retirement and the ascension of my new Pastor, Rev. Otis Moss III, Michelle and I look forward to continuing a relationship with a church that has done so much good."

Senator Obama also wrote and said to me tonight that he never personally heard Wright preach the sermons in question and that he outright rejects what his longtime spiritual advisor said.

Earlier today, CNN contributor Roland Martin interviewed Otis Moss III, whose father, Otis Moss Jr., preached with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Describe, from your vantage point, who Reverend Jeremiah Wright is?

OTIS MOSS III, PASTOR: An incredibly powerful, creative, prophetic voice of this age, and it is unfortunate that 36 years of ministry, 207,000 minutes of preaching have been reduced to 30 seconds. A prophetic and powerful voice who has been passionate in the pulpit. And if we had more passion in the pulpit, we would probably have less cowardice on Capitol Hill.

MARTIN: There are individuals who say he has passion, but he also has racial rhetoric. I read a piece in the "Wall Street Journal" written by an editor of Newsmax.com, a conservative Web site, made several different statements. For instance, in one of these statements, he wrote that, quote -- quoting Reverend Wright: "America is still the No. 1 killer in the world. We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns, and the training of professional killers. We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Gadhafi. We put Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God."

How do you think, though, America will look at that statement and then say, that's -- that's not something that a preacher should be saying, a man of God should be saying?

MOSS: I wonder what -- how people would view the statements that Jesus makes in terms of that I'm called to preach the good news to the poor and to set the captives free, that I am not coming to bring peace, but to bring the sword, that what you do to the least of these you also do to me.

And one of the calls as a Christian is one to speak in the words of Howard Thurman, to those who have their backs against the wall. And it is the call of every preacher to raise questions, literally to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. And that's the powerful thing about preaching, that at times it gives you hope, but at times it makes you uneasy.

MARTIN: Are you sensitive to the fact that people may still look at that as being hateful to America, as condemning America?

MOSS: I don't believe that that is being hateful to America, or condemning America, because I think it's very important, just as if I'm reading a book that I do not just read a chapter, but the entire book.

And the media has focused on a few comments, reduced the ministry of Dr. Wright for the last 36 years to about 30 seconds. And we want to make sure that things are seen in a full context.

MARTIN: There are clear laws in terms of what Pastors can and cannot do, what they can and cannot say: endorsing of candidates. Your critics say that there were clearly endorsements from the pulpit of Senator Obama over Senator Clinton and Senator John McCain.

MOSS: That's what the critics say, but that is not what we say. And so in terms of what "The Wall Street Journal" is saying, because "The Wall Street Journal" has never been to seminary, anybody who's writing for "The Wall Street Journal" in terms of these articles.

"The Wall Street Journal" does not understand the African- American tradition in terms of preaching. "The Wall Street Journal" has not spent time within the ministry here of Trinity United Church of Christ or other ministries.

And so it's important to keep it in reference to context in terms of this has been a part of our tradition. If we were silenced, then we would probably still be calling people master and everything else.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, we're digging deeper with our panel: CNN contributor Roland Martin, who did that interview; CNN senior political analyst David Gergen; and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Roland, he's essentially saying that Reverend Wright is being taken out of context. But a lot of folks out there who are listening to this will say, how much context do you need to understand when someone tells his parishioners that the government created AIDS to kill black people?

MARTIN: Well, obviously, and that particular point there, people will say, "Wait a minute, that makes no sense whatsoever."

But I was watching another channel where they played a sermon where he said that America infected African-American men with syphilis, called the Tuskegee Experiment. That actually did, indeed, happen. And President Clinton, I believe, apologized, as president, for that type of thing.

And so that's one of the other issues. I think he does make a point when you talk about context. Because the question is, what are you speaking of when you're talking about what America has done, what individuals have done? And so you do have to, I think, examine an entire sermon.

I can tell you right now, you know, my -- like I say, a lot of people I know who preach, if I look at one comment, I might say, "Man, what are they talking about there?" But if I hear what happened before or after, then I might understand.

COOPER: Well, Roland, David Gergen brought up an interesting point that I want to put to you about the African-American experience, the African-American experience in church versus white American experience in church and the tradition. Different traditions.

Is there -- is there something that -- I mean, white people looking at this interpret differently -- you can't generalize like this, but that African-Americans looking at this may see it differently or hear things differently than white Americans listening to this?

MARTIN: Absolutely. Because I think, for instance, one of the sermons when Reverend Wright talked about the -- talked about Israel and South Africa and apartheid. A lot of people will say, you know, hey, you know, South Africa, the African National Congress, they were a communist organization. But African-Americans will say, that's apartheid.

And so I remember even when Dick Cheney did not support the condemning of apartheid, because he said they were communists. African-American Pastors were saying, "Wait a minute. Apartheid is wrong."

Other people were saying, "No, we think communism is wrong." So we've had that history.

Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967, gave that famous speech at Riverside Church, condemning the Vietnam War. Well, others said, "Wait a minute. How dare you speak out against the nation when it comes to this war?"

There's a history in the black church of combining theology with sociology as well as politics for the advancement of African- Americans. So yes, a lot of people don't have that understanding of those issues.

COOPER: David, you brought this up. Why do you think that's an important point?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because there's a long tradition, Anderson. And among black leaders to have a different view of American history, going all the way back to Frederick Douglass, who was one of the greatest American heroes of the 19th century, you know, who -- who gained his freedom from slavery in a great order.

He was invited the a July 4th celebration to give a July 4th speech in 1852, and he showed up and said, "You know, you whites see July 4 very differently from what I see it. This is not a day of celebration for us."

And I have found that in my classroom with black students frequently. When they speak their minds and when they speak their hearts, they have a very different view. I've had a young woman tell me, "July 4, we still can't celebrate it in my family, because of what's happened to us."

And I think that we as whites have to be understanding and empathic toward that and try to understand that, that people who are African-Americans legitimately have a different perspective on what American history has meant and take that into account as we hear this.

And it's not a lack of patriotism. It is a different form of patriotism. Actually, Reverend Wright may love this country more than any of us but feel we've fallen short of what we preach and believe.

COOPER: I want Tony Perkins to get in there.

(CROSSTALK)

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Let me jump in there. Because in our book, "Personal Faith, Public Policy," my co-author is an African-American Pastor. And we write about the issue of racial reconciliation.

I agree that there is a difference in the black church. I've been in black churches and I have to tell you what, I actually like black churches better than white churches, because they really have church.

But to paint all of the black churches and black Pastors with the same brush, to say that they would speak damnation on this country, is not true. And I think you can take the words that the Reverend...

GERGEN: That's not...

PERKINS: Well, that's what the Reverend Wright said in his message -- in his messages. And I don't think that is -- that is reflective of the black community.

I think this particular Pastor, again, having the right to do that, but I think he was wrong scripturally. And I think he was wrong in terms of -- it was just un-American.

COOPER: Roland, a quick response.

MARTIN: Yes. When you talk about Senator Obama said, Pastor Wright, a U.S. Marine, also has a picture in his office where he was a nurse for President Lyndon Johnson. And so when you're talking about somebody speaking for that context, he's speaking as a Pastor, but also as a U.S. Marine who might have a different view of this nation than maybe I will.

COOPER: We're going to have more with our panel ahead, a lot more on this topic. Tony Perkins, Roland Martin, David Gergen, we'll talk about you again in a moment.

Up next, guilt by association. It was mentioned in the panel. Barack Obama isn't the only one dealing with controversial comments made by surrogates. Republican John McCain is also on the defensive due to his religious backers, although the criticism has not reached the same level as that of Obama. We've got details on that and discussion next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the U.S. Constitution may spell out the separation of church and state. But in presidential election years, religion and politics often collide. We're certainly seeing that now.

If you stir in a fiery preacher with a controversial message you've got a recipe for campaign trouble. Certainly for Barack Obama; possibly now for John McCain, as well.

"Uncovering America," CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If a Republican wants the White House, he needs conservative Christian support. But support tied to talk like this, easily found on YouTube, could present problems for John McCain.

ROD PARSLEY, PASTOR: Why is the family coming under such brutal attack of the forces of darkness?

FOREMAN: That's Rod Parsley, a hugely influential Pastor, who, along with others, is standing with McCain to convince religious conservatives he's their man.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pastor Rod Parsley, who is here, and thank you for -- for your leadership and your guidance. I'm very grateful you're here, sir.

FOREMAN: It is help McCain needs.

Mark Rozell studies religious and public policy.

MARK ROZELL, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: In their heart of hearts, they don't trust John McCain. They don't think he's going to pursue the issues that they care about if he's elected president.

PARSLEY: I will lift my voice against the agenda of America's tortured and angry homosexual population. FOREMAN: But some of McCain's religious allies also quite openly condemn homosexuality, suggest Islam is an enemy religion and that natural disasters are God's punishment.

JOHN HAGEE, PASTOR: I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God.

FOREMAN: That kind of talk could turn off moderate Christians, who McCain is also courting, people who both of the Democratic candidates would love to snag.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right.

ROZELL: There is some evidence from the 2006 election cycle that the Democrats have done a little bit better with those so-called values voters.

FOREMAN (on camera): That the religious vote is not out of reach for them.

ROZELL: Well, that's exactly right.

PARSLEY: They are intending to pervert God's original intention.

FOREMAN: McCain make it's very clear he does not share all the views of these supporters. But it's a tricky situation. Without them, he may lose the right. With them, he may lose the middle. But played properly? He could win it all.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Delicate balance.

Up next, CNN's Dana Bash, who's covering the McCain campaign, is going to join us, long with Roland Martin and Tony Perkins.

Also an update on the breaking news, a possible tornado hitting downtown Atlanta, damaging the building that houses CNN, disrupting a college basketball game. There are reports of injuries. The story's unfolding. We'll have all the latest details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The Obama campaign has been rocked by the racially explosive remarks of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's longtime pastor. But Senator Obama isn't the first or the only candidate to feel heat for words said by others.

As "Raw Politics" go, plenty to talk about with our panel: CNN contributor Roland Martin, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and CNN's Dana Bash, who's covering the McCain campaign.

Dana, McCain supporter the Reverend John Hagee, who we saw in that piece, he's been accused of being anti-Catholic, of calling the church, quote, "the great, white whore" and a, quote, "false cult system." He's also been quoted as saying, quote, "Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans because of a plan for a gay rights parade, apparently. Has this hurt McCain?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting. It absolutely has come up, and it was a big issue for him when it was first realized back before the Texas primary, back at the end of February, actually, when -- when this first came out. It was a big question, you know, how did this happen?

You know, I actually asked Senator McCain about it the day that it was reported, that Pastor Hagee said all these things. And he immediately said, "Well, just because he endorsed me doesn't mean I endorse everything he said."

It's actually interesting that it hasn't been more of an issue, frankly, for Senator McCain, given the fact that he says over and over -- in fact he said again today, that he is insisting on a very respectful campaign when it comes to how he approaches his opponents. He definitely expects the same for whomever is involved in his campaign.

But, you know, the reality, Anderson, in talking to his campaign is they were in such a rush to get the kind of endorsement from this kind of man, from Pastor Hagee and from the others in the evangelical community.

At the time, remember, he still had an opponent, an evangelical pastor by the name of Mike Huckabee. And he was very, very focused on getting the...

COOPER: Right.

BASH: ... the conservative community behind him that they didn't really vet these guys enough. And they admit that to me, privately, that they really made a big mistake.

COOPER: Tony, I want to read you an excerpt on MotherJones.com quote from a book that Reverend Rod Parsley wrote in 2005. He refers to Islam. He says, quote, "The fact is that America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore."

That may alienate some, but there are probably many conservatives in American who agree with it and like John McCain more for it.

PERKINS: Well, it may alienate some Muslim voters, but I mean, I don't think it's going to alienate others.

Now look, let me make a clear distinction here between John McCain and his endorsement from John Hagee and Rod Parsley. He doesn't attend their churches. He got their endorsement.

And they were not -- they were preaching and pointing out things that they see, just as the Reverend Wright had the right to point out things -- and I'm sure he did -- that were wrong in this country.

But there's a difference. They weren't praying for the judgment of God on this country for those things. Rather, they're -- if you read their sermons, they're praying that the nation would turn from these things so that they would not experience God's judgment. Big difference.

COOPER: But there were -- I think Pat Robertson -- but I think Pat Robertson once prayed for the judgment, you know, of -- against people of Florida, saying that hurricanes were going to come for various positions.

PERKINS: I don't think he prayed for that. I think he said that it was going to happen. I don't think he prayed asking for it to occur.

COOPER: Roland, is there a double standard?

MARTIN: Anderson -- Anderson, what you're seeing here, you're seeing the ideological dance right before your very eyes. So when Tony talks about, in terms of...

PERKINS: My feet aren't moving.

MARTIN: No, no, no. Hold on one second. You talk about the destruction of Islam, guess what? There are members of the U.S. armed forces right now fighting in Iraq who are Muslim. And so when you talk about destroying Islam, you're talking about destroying them.

There are individuals across the country. So when you say that some Muslims -- some Muslims, they might not be offended, but others, they don't mind Rod Parsley, you could say the exact same thing with what Reverend Jeremiah Wright said.

This is what happens, Anderson, when you talk about the issue of faith when it combines with politics. Look, I hosted three faith specials last year on CNN, and we dealt with this. And we said this was going to be an issue and we're seeing it.

The bottom line is you have people on both sides -- Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberal -- who deal with the issue of faith, who make controversial statements. And the people who like those views hold onto them and say, "I like what he or she says."

Then those who are against it, say, "You know what? I condemn what they say." And so it does cut both ways.

COOPER: Tony, where do you draw the line with any of the candidates between their political lives and religious beliefs and/or endorsements?

PERKINS: Well, first, I think the Democrats may have gotten more religion than they bargained for in this election cycle.

But I mean, look, people's faith do impact the way they view politics. I mean, that's -- this idea that we have a private life and a personal life, we saw doesn't work. It didn't work with Eliot Spitzer; it doesn't work with anybody.

What we -- what we hear, what we hear preached, what we hear taught, whether it's, you know, a year, two years or 20 years, has an influence upon our public policy. There's no question about it, and I do think the American public needs -- has the right to know what one believes personally, whether they agree with it or not.

MARTIN: Tony -- Tony, I will say this. When they're sworn in -- when they're sworn in as president, Tony, they're going to put their hand on a Bible, and they're going to swear to uphold and protect the Constitution. Not anyone's faith principles. That's the reality in America.

PERKINS: You're right, Roland. There's no doctrine that they're upholding. They're upholding the Constitution of the United States, but clearly, their world view is shaped by their religious convictions.

COOPER: I want to let Dana in here.

BASH: I just want to say, and Tony Perkins, I'm sure, will agree with this, is what's very interesting about this whole controversy with regard to John McCain is that he's not somebody who talks about his faith a lot. In fact, he doesn't talk about it very much at all. He's not really somebody who you think about as somebody who's really associated with -- with a specific church or a specific set of religious beliefs.

He talks about his experience during Vietnam and his experience in a prisoner of war camp when he had kind of a connection with one of his prison guards with regard to Christmas, but that's kind of about it, what you hear from him on the campaign trail.

So that's why these particular incidents, where something that is actually jarring and very unusual for McCain.

COOPER: Yes.

BASH: And it is because of the political situation that he was in and still is right now about regard to Christian conservatives.

COOPER: We're out of time. I wish we had more, because it's a fascinating discussion. You guys are all doing a great job.

Dana Bash, great to have you on.

Tony Perkins, always a pleasure.

Roland Martin, as well, thank you. Really interesting discussion.

An update now on our breaking story. Heavy weather, possibly a tornado in downtown Atlanta. Erica Hill has details.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Getting more information, a lot of it coming from our colleagues in Atlanta.

It's looking more and more like a tornado actually swept through downtown Atlanta. This happened just before we went on the air here, about 9:45 Eastern Time.

If you're familiar at all with the downtown area of Atlanta, if I tell you that it hit the Georgia Dome, some sort of weather hit the Georgia Dome and then also caused some damage at the CNN Center and the Omni Hotel, you'll understand, because those three buildings are basically in a cluster.

We know that the atrium -- you're actually looking at pictures of the atrium at CNN Center right now. That's the food court area. The atrium flooded when glass broke, plaster came down. The storm, we're told, elsewhere brought down trees.

Don Lemon is standing by in Atlanta with the latest for us -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erica, I can tell you that this is very serious. Ask yourself the question, whenever you heard the last time that a tornado hit a major city. It usually hits in rural areas.

There are thousands of people here for the SEC championship this weekend, and they're all staying in this area where the event is. I've see, people being treated. I've seen people, bloody people on the street. I've seen facades off of buildings.

I have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) two miles away when I work here and run up to the Omni Hotel. It's unbelievable. I had to drive through shards of glass that had been blown off buildings.

HILL: That was going to be my next question for you, Don. Because I know -- I know sort of the area that you live in, and you're not that far away.

Were you able to actually get into the parking decks that are right there at CNN Center? Could you get close to the building, or did you have to leave your car and walk? How is the damage?

LEMON: I got nowhere close to the building, Erica. I had to park underground. I had no idea. I just ran up -- ran up here, probably about a mile, mile and a half. And as I was running through, I was running through debris from a tornado.

So it's by no means easy to get to this area. And with all the people in town, it's -- again, it's serious.

HILL: You mention the people in town for the game. There is, of course -- there are two games in progress, as I understand it. The Hawks game, the NBA game there at Phillips Arena, which is also right next to the Georgia Dome, right next to CNN Center. Also, this SEC game. Not only are people staying there; that game's going to let out. Any idea, Don, how are these people going to be getting out of the area? Is that something that's in the works now to manage that?

LEMON: Well, they have it cordoned off, but I think it's probably -- the further it gets into, you know -- having happened, I think people are coordinated. But I don't think people really knew in the beginning.

When I first got here to the lobby, they started pushing people back, because they saw another rain system coming through. So they started pushing people into the exhibit haul, because the exhibit hall has no windows. So they're pushing people away back from the windows.

And as they're doing that, I see people walking by, a guy walking by, one side of his body just bloody. Probably just fell on -- you know, on glass. But still, you know, to see that in downtown Atlanta is -- is pretty unusual.

HILL: It's the last thing you'd expect. That was my first thought, a tornado in a city.

Chad Myers is standing by, severe weather center expert.

Chad, what's happening right now in the area? Any more chance for severe weather to continue coming through?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: ... which is way South and Southeast of Atlanta, but it was rotating over Marietta and Smyrna, which is up where I live, down through I-75 right through downtown. And it was rotating the entire time. There's no way to know whether there's a tornado on the ground the entire time, but certainly the potential was there.

When one side of the cell was going one direction and the other side was going to the north and the south and spinning, that spin was right downtown, and that's when all the damage occurred. Very well could have been just straight line wind damage.

You know how it happens in New York City when the winds blow through the tunnel, which is downtown New York City. The winds really get funneled in like a wind tunnel. That could have happened downtown.

But the damage I'm seeing really does look like a tornado, Erica.

HILL: You're thinking that it was a tornado. And do you know how much warning there was, Don? Was there enough warning for -- Don -- I'm sorry, Chad -- for the people in the area?

MYERS: Well, I was very surprised that the storm did not have a warning on it earlier, but there was about 15 minutes for the people of downtown. I was surprised that there wasn't a warning out for Cobb County, which was north and northwest of where the storm was then.

So I would think, probably, 10 to 15 minutes. But for all those thousands of people downtown with the SEC tournament and the Hawks game, I'm not sure that was enough.

HILL: And just to clarify, too, Chad, is the threat over for the Atlanta area right now, or is there more weather on the way?

MYERS: There is a little more weather on the way. But the storm that is rotating to the west of Atlanta right now will definitely move south of the airport, which is at least 10 miles south of where the damage is now.

HILL: That's one of the things we'll keep an eye on.

And Don, how are people dealing with it? The games haven't gotten out yet. But does there seem to be -- do they seem to be handling themselves pretty well?

LEMON: Yes, Erica, pretty well. And it's weird, because people had been coming from different events at different times. So there have been waves of people coming through, having experienced it all in different ways.

You know that thing where they say -- like, the first question I asked as I was running over here, what did you hear? And it's that old "It sounded like a freight train thing." That's exactly what they said.

And as I walked into the lobby, I saw people with their bathrobes on, because the power had been knocked off to their rooms, so they had to come down to the lobby.

HILL: It must have been a frightening thing, and we can just hope that everyone is all right tonight.

Don Lemon, Chad Myers, thank you both.

And Anderson, as soon as I heard about it, I actually called one of my neighbors, because my house in Atlanta is about two miles away. And she told me she didn't hear anything, but it was eerily quiet because the power was out. She had heard the hail, but that it was tough because they were sort of in a information vacuum. They didn't know.

COOPER: Yes. To hit -- hit a city like this is crazy. We'll continue to follow it, and appreciate it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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