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Barack Obama Speaks Out on Reverend Wright; Virginia Reels from Three Tornadoes

Aired April 29, 2008 - 15:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the minister and the senator who would be president.
Barack Obama says he can't make his former pastor shut up, but he can make clear that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright does not speak for him.

MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Obama says the Reverend Wright shocked him yesterday with outrageous rants and is not the man he knew for two decades.

And Wright, Obama says, clearly does not know him either.

Hello to you. I'm Melissa Long here at the CNN Center in Atlanta. I'm in today for Kyra Phillips.

LEMON: And I'm Don lemon. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

All right. Right off the top here, anger, shock and surprise from Barack Obama, as he responds to the latest comments from his former pastor.

The Democratic front-runner chose to speak out about Jeremiah Wright a short time ago in North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, everybody.

Before I start taking questions, I want to just open it up with a couple of comments about what we saw and heard yesterday.

You know, I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That's in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding, to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings.

That's who I am. That's what I believe. That's what this campaign has been about.

Yesterday, we saw a very different vision of America. I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.

I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.

His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. And I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.

They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.

Now, I have already denounced the comments that had appeared in these previous sermons. As I said, I had not heard them before. And I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia, explaining that he has done enormous good in the church. He's built a wonderful congregation. The people at Trinity are wonderful people. And what attracted me has always been their ministry's reach beyond the church walls.

But, when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States' wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced.

And that's what I'm doing, very clearly and unequivocally, here today.

Let me just close by saying this. I -- we started this campaign with the idea that the problems that we face as a country are too great to continue to be divided, that, in fact, all across America, people are hungry to get out of the old divisive politics of the past.

I have spoken and written about the need for us to all recognize each other as Americans, regardless of race or religion or region of the country, that the only way we can deal with critical issues like energy and health care and education and the war on terrorism is if we are joined together.

And the reason our campaign has been so successful is because we had moved beyond these old arguments. What we saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing and I believe an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his intentions, that was the result.

It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for. And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign.

I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that, when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am.

And anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign is about, I think, will understand that it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.

Last point, I am particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me. It's never been about Senator Clinton or John McCain. It's not about Reverend Wright.

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that's what we should be talking about.

And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that, somehow, it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me.

So, with that, let me take some questions.

QUESTION: Senator...

OBAMA: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: ... why the change of tone from yesterday? When you spoke to us on the tarmac yesterday, you didn't have this sense of anger and outrage.

OBAMA: I will be honest with you, because I hadn't seen it yet.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIC)

OBAMA: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIC) the AIDS comment?

OBAMA: I had not. I had not seen the transcript.

What I had heard was s that he had given a performance. And I thought at the time that it would be sufficient simply to reiterate what I had said in Philadelphia.

Upon watching it, what became clear to me was that it was more than just a -- it was more than just him defending himself. What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for.

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion, somehow, that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the commonality in all people. And, so, when I start hearing comments about conspiracy theories and AIDS and suggestions that somehow Minister Farrakhan has been a great voice in the 20th century, then that goes directly at who I am and what I believe this country needs.

QUESTION: Senator, what do you expect or what do you plan to do about this right now to further distance yourself from him, if you think you need to do that? And what does this say about your judgment to superdelegates who are right now trying to decide which Democratic nominee is better? If your candidacy has been based on judgment, what does this say?

OBAMA: Well, look, as I said before, the person I saw yesterday was not the person that I had come to know over 20 years.

I understand that I think he was pained and angered from what had happened previously during the first stage of this controversy. I think he felt vilified and attacked. And I understand that he wanted to defend himself.

You know, I understand that, you know, he's gone through difficult times of late and that he's leaving his ministry after many years. And, so, you know, that may account for the change.

But the insensitivity and the -- the outrageousness of his statements and his performance in the question-and-answer period yesterday, I think, shocked me. It surprised me.

As I said before, this is an individual who has built a very fine church, and a church that is well-respected throughout Chicago. During the course of me attending that church, I had not heard those kinds of statements being made or those kinds of views being promoted.

And I did not vet my pastor before I decided to run for the presidency. I was a member of the church. So, you know, I think what it says is that, you know, I have not -- you know, I did not run through -- run my pastor through the paces or review every one of the sermons he made over the last three years -- 30 years, but I don't think that anybody could attribute those ideas to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: OK. What effect will this have on Obama's campaign? How does he respond to that? And was it an attack on the black church, as Reverend Wright has said? And will Barack Obama continue to go to Trinity United Church in Chicago? He answers those questions right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: Senator Barack Obama, while on the campaign trail today, took just shy of 30 minutes to answer questions from reporters in North Carolina about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy.

He used the words "appalling," "ridiculous," and that the "comments offend me" when talking about the Reverend Wright. Now, we're going to play the second part of that lengthy news conference for you. And I just want to set it up. You will hear a question from a reporter in the audience. And the question is, what could this all do to the Obama campaign?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIC)

OBAMA: You know, that's something that you guys will have to figure out. And, you know, obviously, we have got elections in four or five days, so we will find out what impact it has.

But, ultimately, I think that the American people know that we have to do better than we're doing right now. I think that they believe in the ideas of this campaign. I think they are convinced that special interests have dominated Washington too long. I think they are convinced that we have got to get beyond some of the same political games that we have been playing.

I think they believe that we need to speak honestly and truthfully about how we're going to solve issues like energy or health care. And I believe that this campaign has inspired a lot of people. And that's part of what -- you know, going back to what you asked, Mike, about why I feel so strongly about this today, you know, after seeing Reverend Wright's performance, I felt as if there was a complete disregard for what -- for what the American people are going through and the need for them to rally together to solve these problems.

You know, it now is the time for us to not to get distracted. Now is the time for us to pull together. And that's what we have been doing in this campaign. And there was a sense that that did not matter to Reverend Wright. What mattered was him commanding center stage.

QUESTION: Have you had a conversation with Reverend Wright? And...

OBAMA: No.

QUESTION: ... what's going to happen if these distractions continue?

OBAMA: Well, the -- I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that, obviously, whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this.

I don't think that he showed much concern for me. I don't -- more importantly, I don't think he showed much concern for what we're trying to do in this campaign and what we're trying to do for the American people and with the American people.

And, obviously, he's free to speak out on issues that are of concern to him. And he can do it in any ways that he wants. But I feel very strongly that -- well, I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive.

And, to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me.

QUESTION: I remember, after the story -- when the story immediately broke, Trinity Church, the current pastor kind of defended Reverend Wright. I'm wondering -- I don't know what -- how he has reacted to the latest, but I'm wondering if you continue planning on attending Trinity.

OBAMA: Well, you know, the new pastor, the young pastor, Reverend Otis Moss, is a wonderful young pastor. And, as I said, I still very much value the Trinity community.

This -- I will be honest. This obviously has put strains on that relationship, not because of the members or because of Reverend Moss, but because this has become such a spectacle. And, you know, when I go to church, it's not for spectacle. It's to pray and to find -- to find a stronger sense of faith.

It's not to posture politically. It's not to -- you know, it's not to hear things that violate my core beliefs. And, so, you know -- and I certainly don't want to provide a distraction for those who are worshipping at Trinity.

So, as of this point, I am a member of Trinity. I haven't had a discussion with Reverend Moss about it. So, I can't tell you how he's reacting and how he's responding. OK?

QUESTION: Senator, I'm wondering, to sort of follow on Jeff's question about, you know, why it's so -- a little different now, have you heard from some of your supporters? You know, you have some -- obviously (OFF-MIC) supporters who have expressed any alarm about what this might be doing to the campaign?

OBAMA: No, look, the -- I mean, I don't think that it's that hard to figure out from if it was just a purely political perspective.

You know, my reaction has more to do with what I want this campaign to be about and who I am. And I want to make certain that people understand who I am.

In some ways, what Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts everything that I have done during my life. It contradicts how I was raised and the setting in which I was raised. It contradicts my decisions to pursue a career of public service. It contradicts the issues that I have worked on politically. It contradicts what I have said in my books.

It contradicts what I said in my convention speech in 2004. It contradicts my announcement. It contradicts everything that I have been saying on this campaign trail.

And, you know, what I tried to do in Philadelphia was to provide a context and to lift up some of the contradictions and complexities of race in America, of which, you know, Reverend Wright is a part and we're all a part, and try to make something constructive out of it.

But there wasn't anything constructive out of yesterday. All it was, was a bunch of rants that -- that aren't grounded in truth.

And, you know, I can't construct something positive out of that. I can understand it. I -- you know, the -- you know, people do all sorts of things. And, as I said before, I continue to believe that Reverend Wright has been a leader in the South Side. I think that the church he built is outstanding. I think that he has preached in the past some wonderful sermons. He provided valuable contributions to my family.

But, at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough. That's a show of disrespect to me.

It's a -- it is also, I think, an insult to what we have been trying to do in this campaign.

QUESTION: Senator, did you discuss with your wife (OFF-MIC) Reverend Wright's performance (OFF-MIC)

OBAMA: Yes. No, she -- she was similarly angered.

Joe?

QUESTION: Reverend Wright said that it was not an attack on him, but an attack on the black church.

First of all, do you agree with that? And, second -- second of all, the strain of theology that he preached, black liberation theology, you explained something about the anger that feeds some of the sentiments in the church in Philadelphia.

How important a strain is liberation theology in the black church? And why did you choose to attend a church that preached that?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, in terms of liberation theology, I'm not a theologian. So, I think, to some theologians, there might be some well-worked-out theory of what constitutes liberation theology vs. non-liberation theology.

I went to church and listened to sermons. And, in the sermons that I heard -- and this is true, I do think, across the board in many black churches -- there is an emphasis on the importance of social struggle, the importance of striving for equality and justice and fairness, a social gospel.

So, I think a lot of people would rather use -- rather than using a fancy word like that, simply talk about preaching the social gospel. And that -- there's nothing particularly odd about that. Dr. King obviously was the most prominent example of that kind of preaching.

But what I do think can happen -- and I didn't see this as a member of the church, but I saw it yesterday -- is when you start focusing so much on the plight of the historically oppressed, that you lose sight of what we have in common, that it overrides everything else, that we're not concerned about the struggles of others, because we're looking at things only through a particular lens, then it doesn't describe properly what I believe, in the power of faith to overcome, but also to bring people together.

Now, you had a first question, Joe, that I don't remember.

QUESTION: Do you think (OFF-MIC)

OBAMA: Do I think -- I -- you know, the -- I did not -- I did not view the initial round of sound bites that triggered this controversy as an attack on the black church. I viewed it as a simplification of who he was, a caricature of who he was, and, you know, more than anything, something that piqued a lot of political interest. I didn't see it as a view -- as an attack on the black church.

I mean, probably, the only time -- the aspect of it that probably had to do with specifically the black church is the fact that some people were surprised when he was shouting. I mean, that is just a black church tradition. And, so, I think some people interpreted that somehow as, well, wow, he's really -- he's hollering.

And black preachers holler and whoop. So, that, I think, showed sort of a cultural gap in America.

You know, the sad thing is -- is that, although the sound bites I, as I stated, I think, created a caricature of him. And when he was in that Moyers interview, even though there were some things that continued to be offensive, at least there was some sense of rounding out the edges.

Yesterday, I think he caricatured himself. And that was -- as I said, that made me angry, but also made me sad.

Richard.

QUESTION: You talked about giving him the benefit of the doubt before, especially, I guess, in the Philadelphia speech, and trying to create something positive about that.

OBAMA: Right.

QUESTION: Did you consult with him before the speech or talk to him after the speech in Philadelphia to get his reaction (OFF-MIC)

OBAMA: You know, I tried to talk to him before the speech in Philadelphia, wasn't able to reach him because he was on a -- he was on a cruise. He had just stepped down from the pulpit.

When he got back, I did speak to him. And I -- the -- you know, I would prefer not to share sort of private conversations between me and him. I will talk to him perhaps some day in the future. But what I can say is that I was very clear that what he had said in those particular snippets I found objectionable and offensive. And that the intention of the speech was to provide context for them, but not excuse them, because I found them inexcusable. So...

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

OBAMA: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) on Sunday you were asked whether or not (INAUDIBLE).

OBAMA: There's been great damage. You know, I -- it may have been unintentional on his part, but, you know, I do not see that relationship being the same after this. Now, to some degree -- you know, I know that one thing, that he said was true was that he wasn't -- you know, he was never my quote, unquote spiritual adviser, he was never my spiritual mentor. He was -- he was my pastor.

And so to some extent, how, you know, the press characterized, in the past, that relationship, I think, wasn't accurate. But he was somebody who was my pastor and married Michelle and I and baptized my children and prayed with us at -- when we announced this race. And so -- and so I'm disappointed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OBAMA: All, right?

Thank you, guys.

Appreciate it.

LEMON: All right. So you heard it -- Senator Barack Obama defending himself, so to speak, against the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and many of the allegations and -- accusations is probably a better word -- that he made about his relationship, I should say, with Barack Obama. And the senator there distancing himself from what he calls Reverend Jeremiah Wright's caricature of himself in his antics yesterday and over the weekend.

Let's bring in Candy Crowley, who was in the room -- Candy, I heard several people say this back in March -- and since this has happened again, since the Reverend Jeremiah Wright has resurfaced, that Barack Obama missed the moment in March to completely distance himself from the reverend and had he done, that we would not be going through this now.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean had he said -- had he been as strong and as angry as he seemed when this first came up, then it probably -- you're right, we would have said well, he's already dismissed him. What -- and he talked about this today, to some extent, saying, you know, I tried when he gave the speech on race. I tried to put it in perspective.

And I think, to a certain extent, what we're seeing is a little bit of a conflict of the personal versus the context of the political. And, you know, we talked about why, in fact, yesterday he seemed, you know -- he basically came out and said well, Reverend Wright doesn't speak for me and I don't speak for him. And today he was so much more forceful. And he said well, I hadn't said what he -- you know what he -- I hadn't heard what he had said. He repeated the things that I'd already denounced. And to come out and repeat them again -- and then -- and this really seemed to get him angry -- for Reverend Wright to suggest that Obama -- that he didn't -- that he, Obama, didn't mean what he said...

LEMON: OK...

CROWLEY: And so that disrespects me.

LEMON: Well, Candy, listen, I think this was you.

Was that you asking the questions about the superdelegates?

CROWLEY: Yes.

LEMON: That was your voice. OK. Your question about the superdelegates, should they be alarmed -- and then, you know, Hillary Clinton's campaign, her whole thing, her whole argument lately has been well, he may be leading in the popular vote -- even though she's saying she's leading because she's counting Michigan and Florida. He may be leading in that, but he's not electable. He can't get the people behind him -- the Democrats who are important for Democrats to win the general election.

When you questioned him about that, what was his response? What did you think of that?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, his response, actually, was to turn it back to listen, this was my reaction to this and people need to know who I am. He said I don't think you need to be a genius to understand the politics of this and but then turned it right back to this is how I am reacting to what I saw.

But the fact of the matter is you're exactly right, that Hillary Clinton has been -- both privately and a little more tactfully publicly -- saying that Barack Obama is unelectable. And one of the reasons, she says, is that he's an unknown -- who knows what else is out there?

LEMON: That he hasn't been vetted yet. And this is the whole reason she's saying she's staying in, because who knows what's going to come up.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

LEMON: And, ultimately, she doesn't believe that he can be elected.

CROWLEY: Right. And, as you know, they have been talking about the blue collar vote and how he hasn't been able to get the blue collar vote. And, of course, the assumption here is that Reverend Wright and the things he's been saying are particularly anathema to blue collar workers. I mean there is, as you know, a race component to this. And the suggestion is that somehow the blue collar workers are not coming to Obama and in some ways will be turned off by Reverend Wright in a way that other groups have not been.

LEMON: Yes. And the race component that -- you know, people may not say it, but I'll say it here, is that an African-American man who is a pastor, in some sense, might have the power to unhinge the election of the possible first viable candidate -- African-American candidate for the highest office in the land. So it's very interesting what's happening right before our very eyes.

Candy Crowley, I'm sure you'll agree.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. I mean, there is a lot going on here, a lot of dynamics -- how are the other campaigns going to handle this. We saw Hillary Clinton saying yesterday well, you know, I'm very saddened to see that the Republican Party is making Reverend Wright's comments an issue.

LEMON: Yes.

CROWLEY: She, of course, said in Ohio that she wouldn't have stayed in that church. Interesting today that there also was some indication from Obama that he didn't know about his relationship with the church, that, you know, he said I don't want to go there and be a spectacle.

LEMON: Right.

CROWLEY: I don't go to church to be a spectacle.

LEMON: Right.

CROWLEY: So there is so much going on here at the political and the personal and the philosophical level, it's just -- as always, an election the likes of which we have not seen before.

LEMON: Candy Crowley, thank you so much.

We'll see you a little bit later on in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

Candy, thanks again.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Don.

LONG: Coming up, we will continue to hear from Reverend Wright. We're going to replay some of the comments and remind you of the comments that the reverend made yesterday before the National Press Club in Washington. And then, also, we'll speak with CNN contributor Roland Martin and get his perspective on all of this.

Also, a powerful force of nature zigzags across Virginia. We have stories of survival from the disaster zone, coming up in THE NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: Let's get in the time for you. It is 3:40 in the afternoon Eastern. And here's a look at some of the stories we're working on for you in THE NEWSROOM today. Buildings and homes are shredded in Southeastern Virginia, where people are still reeling from that string of tornadoes. More than 200 people injured, but no deaths have been reported. The governor has declared a state of emergency.

DNA tests confirm, in Austria, the worst. The results show Josef Fritzl did father at least six children with his daughter. He allegedly kept her locked in the cellar for 24 years. And he was in court today.

Tight security in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City today for the Olympic Torch. Earlier in Hanoi, police took several anti-China protesters into custody for displaying a banner that said "Boycott the Beijing Olympics".

LEMON: All right, and, of course, the big story here today in the CNN NEWSROOM, Barack Obama makes a big move away from his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Just a short time ago in North Carolina, Obama said he was outraged by Wright's comments yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington.

Among other things, Wright said attacks on his racially charged sermons were actually an attack on the black church.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for. And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right. Joining us now from Chicago, CNN contributor Roland Martin. Roland, thank you so much for racing in here to talk to us.

We appreciate it.

In my introduction just before that sound bite, I said he distanced himself. And not to be flippant, that was a Heisman. He was saying, you know what, I'm pretty much done with you.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And that was the unfortunate thing. I mean, I think, Don, the personal side is really important here. And you sort of touched on it with Candy. Obama tried everything he could to maintain the relationship, to still provide Reverend Wright a sense of dignity with his previous comments.

But it really was yesterday. I don't -- I'm telling you right now -- you know, I've talked with a lot of folks in the Obama campaign. They were very worried about the Bill Moyers interview. But there was really a great reaction to it. So it really went over well Friday.

Some were bothered by Sunday, but it wasn't too bad. Yesterday, though, that's what really ticked them off. And what I got from the campaign, also, is that this was not a campaign decision. This wasn't a matter of sitting with advisers, talking to fundraisers. This was Obama saying no, I am going to do this because this ticked me off. This hurt me and I'm going to stand out here and say it.

Obviously, political, you know, ramifications there, as well. But he was personally offended by what he saw yesterday. And for him to call it a performance, that tells you how he felt.

LEMON: OK. Remember the whole chickens coming home to roost thing, that garnered so much attention, played off of the Internet and a sermon that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright had some time ago.

MARTIN: Yes, well, it was the 9/11 sermon, yes.

LEMON: Yes. OK. So then he also referred to that again yesterday at the National Press Club.

Let's take a listen to Barack Obama and we'll talk about Barack Obama's response just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, SENATOR BARACK OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR: Jesus said do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principals, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: OK. So that was yesterday, him saying that was biblical principles. Barack Obama, again today, saying, you know what, I think his -- his -- what he said during the press conference was that you can't be so focused on the plight of one group of people and not focus on or give attention to what we all have in common. And it seems that, in his estimation, that that's what the Reverend Jeremiah Wright had done in all of this.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know if that particular comment goes with that particular sound bite. You know, but, again, I think what Obama is saying that the message of a pastor should be one where he's talking about uplifting. You know, look, pastors, whether we like it or not, do speak to ills they see, whether it's war, whether it's terrorism, whether it's poverty. But the problem, also, yesterday really was a matter of tone. It was actions. It was -- it was just his whole attitude.

I mean, look, today's "New York Post" has a sign of -- has a photo of Reverend Wright, you know, sort of looking like this here, which for those of us, you know, in black fraternities know that's the sign of Omega Psi Phi.

LEMON: Right.

MARTIN: He's a member.

LEMON: Right.

MARTIN: And so, if you're a theological scholar, you take the high road. You go to the National Press Club. You're there to present a different sort of view, a different perspective. In many ways, Reverend Wright yesterday lowered himself versus showing exactly who he is, in terms of raising himself.

LEMON: Yes.

MARTIN: That's really what the issue is. And look, we dealt -- and a lot of people, a lot of columnists, a number of people on talk shows were really bothered by the tone and the actions of Wright, not just the words.

LEMON: And he was flippant. And didn't seem contrite at all.

MARTIN: Right.

LEMON: Let me read this. And this is -- there have been a lot of editorials and a lot of things written about this week and about his performance yesterday. This one, particularly, is an op-ed column from Bob Herbert.

And here's what he says. He says: "The question that cries out for answer from Mr. Wright is why -- if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks -- does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African-American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency?"

And many people are going to read it -- are going to read it this way, especially among urban radio and black writers are going to say a black man destroying the possibility or the campaign of another black man.

MARTIN: Well, obviously, and again -- look, I agree that Reverend Wright should have defended himself, defended his church. But the question is not do you speak, it's a matter of when you speak and how you speak.

I believe, Don -- there's no doubt in my mind that if the Bill Moyers interview was left to stand and -- or even Sunday, and those were the clips that we referred to, we would not be having this conversation.

LEMON: Yes.

MARTIN: And if you really listened to what Obama said, he kept referencing yesterday. Yesterday.

LEMON: Yesterday.

MARTIN: Yesterday at the Press Club. LEMON: He even said Bill Moyers was a more rounded interview. He said that. He said that was a rounded interview, yes.

MARTIN: Precisely. And that tells you that it was the events on yesterday that actually caused what happened today.

LEMON: Yes. OK, Roland...

MARTIN: And that's -- look, guys like me, the same thing. That's what it boils down to.

LEMON: Hey, Roland, we've got to...

MARTIN: He should not have done it. He was advised against it and he did it and it failed.

LEMON: We've got to run.

All right, thank you, sir, again.

We appreciate your running in here to offer some perspective on this.

MARTIN: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Roland Martin, CNN contributor.

And, of course, all the latest campaign news is available right at your fingertips. Just go to CNNPolitics.com. We also have analysis from the best political team on television. It is all there, CNNPolitics.com.

LONG: A powerful force of nature zigzagging across Virginia -- was it an EF3 or an EF4?

Well, while we wait for official word, we're going to find out more about the destruction in that community in Virginia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: About 23 hours ago now, this is what was heading for Suffolk, Virginia. And then minutes later, neighborhoods and shopping centers would be smashed. About 200 people would be injured.

Some live pictures right now from our affiliate, WAVY, in that community, showing the ground right there, obviously.

But what we're most focusing on right now is the governor, Tim Kaine. He earlier declared a statewide emergency and now is touring the damage, trying to get a better perspective on just how bad that storm was and just how many people have been affected. So as we hear from the governor today, of course, we'll share his comments with you a little bit later.

But right now, let's get to CNN's Rob Marciano, who is reporting from Virginia. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST (on-camera): Residents here in Southeast Virginia trying to cope after three tornadoes tore through this part of the state yesterday. Here in Suffolk, a very strong tornado -- probably the strongest one, around 4:30 or 5:00, tore through this what was a brand new strip mall. About 45 miles an hour, likely winds of well over 120, just barreled right through there, gutting the whole thing, taking cars in the parking lot, flipping them around and twisting them like toys, pulverizing their windshields and piling them on top of each other, in some cases like this, just flipping it on its roof.

Then the thing made like a right turn and headed right toward a residential area. There's been over 140 homes that have been damaged or completely destroyed by these twisters across the state, 200 injuries. And, miraculously, after about 50 percent of the homes being searched, there is zero fatalities.

Researchers and rescue workers hope to have the search done by nightfall. And they certainly hope that that number -- zero fatalities -- will hold true when it's done.

Rob Marciano, CNN, Suffolk, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LONG: As Rob was just pointing out, cars tossed like toys, homes flattened.

Let's bring in meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, just how powerful was that storm?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we don't know. But some of the pictures -- and I've lived in Oklahoma and have been doing some -- have been doing weather a long time. I would say we're still looking at probably a strong EF3 to a weak EF4, which would still be in the old category three, an F3, somewhere between 160 to 180 miles per hour.

there could have been 200 mile per hour winds in this storm, but it didn't look ever wide enough to maybe get to that point. I did see multiple vortices at one point in time, which means there were actually more than one suction spot on the ground spinning around -- tornadoes actually spinning around other tornadoes, and then one big funnel in the middle.

From our affiliate, WAVY, these are some of the hardest hit areas. Now, this is just to northwest of downtown Suffolk. And it moved right through a community -- a little bit of lake activity in there. People had boats behind their houses and things like this.

But this right there, that's probably F2 damage. That would be the fringe of the tornado itself. But some of these houses don't exist anymore. All you literally see are the concrete slabs that they used to sit in and sit on.

And so that was where I'm thinking probably the F4 damage would be coming in.

So we'll see. They're going to get out there and look at it. But somewhere -- the numbers are going to range from 150 to 200. We'll just see what the upper -- the number that I'm concerned about and worried about is zero -- and that's the number of fatalities. And I still can't believe it.

LONG: Yes. And let's hope that does hold true.

MYERS: Yeas.

LONG: But about 200 people injured.

Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

LEMON: What do you think, it's going to be a very busy day in "THE SITUATION ROOM," do you think?

LONG: Just a hunch, yes.

LEMON: Yes.

LONG: I think it is going to be.

Let's check in with Wolf Blitzer. A busy day on tap, I imagine.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very busy, guys.

Fresh off his meeting with the militant group Hamas, I'll be speaking with the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. And we'll talk about his decision to go ahead and meet with Hamas. And I'll ask him if he's willing to meet with other terrorist leaders, including Al Qaeda. Jimmy Carter is here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

Also, President Bush accusing Congress of dragging its feet on the stalled U.S. economy. The Democrats fire back. We're going to tell you what they're saying.

And Barack Obama says he's "outraged" -- outraged at some of his former pastor's comments. We're going to tell you how this latest controversy could affect Obama's chances for the nomination.

All that, guys, and a lot more, coming up right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

LONG: Thank you, Wolf.

LEMON: All right, thank you, sir.

A spectacular crash we want to tell you about on a winding racetrack in Italy. You'll probably have the same reaction these drivers did off track in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. Here's a picture that caught our attention here in the CNN NEWSROOM and has been garnering a lot of attention. A Formula One driver off-track in Italy and caught on camera. In turn one, Stefan Artelli (ph) spun out, then his car went airborne. He cart wheeled across the track.

You can see how he barely missed that other car. Take a look at it again. Amazing, Artelli suffered only a broken ankle. And you can see that the other racers there were even as shocked by it as the lay people out just watching. It was an -- it was an amazing piece of video.

LONG: He's lucky.

LEMON: Yes, very lucky.

LONG: OK. Yes.

Well, coming up now on the closing bell, the Dow has been down, the NASDAQ has been up. A mixed day wrapping up.

LEMON: Yes.

Susan Lisovicz is going to lay it out all for us.

Hey, Susan.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

LEMON: Have a good one Susan, thank you.

LONG: We'll talk to you tomorrow.

Now to go to Washington and Wolf Blitzer.

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