Facing Fire, Obama to Give Speech on Race

In part to address concerns about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama will give a major speech on race today in Philadelphia. Wright, whose fiery sermons have attracted controversy, baptized Obama's daughters.

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. It is Tuesday, March 18th, and I am Alison Stewart, hanging solo today. Rachel Martin getting a little bit of well-deserved time off. I don't mind, though. I love this job. It's a great job. It's a dream job. I always wanted to be in broadcasting, except for a little while when I was a teenager, I wanted to be in politics. You know, I seriously, I almost went to the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. I thought, you know, I really, I want to be a governor, because governors do great things.

And I think I made the right career choice, when I picked up the paper this morning and I saw what else governors do in their spare time. Apparently, the new governor of New York, just sworn in yesterday, admits that he has had extramarital affairs, as has his wife. They've gone to counseling, so they're taking care of that. And then, there's the former governor of my home state of New Jersey. I'm just going to read the headline of the paper. "McGreevy Confirms the Recent Report, Estranged Wife Denies It." There are these things called state budgets, people, they need taking care of. Maybe we could focus a little bit?

On the show today, how carefully do you read the labels on your medicine? How carefully does your doctor read them? And the nurses in the hospital? We're asking this question because a lot of us saw this just amazing and upsetting, frankly, report on "60 Minutes," this past Sunday. Actor Dennis Quaid, you know, very famous, well-known actor - he and his wife were on the show talking about this horrible thing that happened to them and to their twins, who were just born.

They were given this tremendous overdose of heparin at the hospital because of a labeling mix-up. People not reading the labels, getting one dosage, an adult dosage, confused with a child's dosage. We're going to follow-up on this story about pharmaceutical labeling with someone from the Institute for Safe Medicine Practices. Also here at the BPP, just so you know how our day goes, we have two meetings every day. We have one at 10:15 a.m. eastern time. But you know, the best one's at five a.m.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Unidentified People: Whoa!

STEWART: That's pretty much the way it goes. Everybody hates meetings, right? Well, you know what? Let's not assume that. A friend of the show, Jared Sandberg, he writes the Cubicle Culture column for the Wall Street Journal. He found a study that says if you ask people what their ideal day at the office looks like, two-thirds of the people will say it includes a meeting or two. He'll help us analyze our love/hate-meeting schizophrenia.

And it's Tuesday - New Music Tuesday. Jacob, our director, and Ian, our producer, pretty excited about today's releases. New ones from Destroyer, The Kills, the Be Your Own Pet, and Flo Rider. I'll explain that one a little bit later on. We'll also get today's headlines in just a minute. Laura Conaway is sitting in the news booth.

But first, as race is moving front and center in the presidential campaign, Barack Obama is preparing to take on the issue head-on in a major campaign speech today. The Democratic senator will speak in Philadelphia later this morning, giving an address that his campaign is calling a comprehensive take on, quote, "race, politics, and unifying our country," end quote. Obama's aides say he will address the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor at the Trinity Unity Church of Christ, in Chicago.

Reverend Wright officiated at Barack Obama's wedding, baptized his daughters, and reportedly inspired the title of one of Obama's books, "The Audacity of Hope." Wright was also part of Obama's Spiritual Advisory Committee. That was, until last Friday. Now several of the reverend's past statements have created controversy for Senator Obama. In Wright's first sermon after the September 11th attacks, he suggested the U.S. had a hand in it. And in 2003, he cursed America for its treatment of African-Americans.

(Soundbite of sermon)

Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT (Former Pastor, Trinity Unity Church of Christ): The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing "God Bless America"? No, no, no. Not "God Bless America," "God (bleep) America." That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God (bleep) America for treating her citizens as less than human.

STEWART: Obama says he was not in church that day that Wright made those comments, and earlier this month, the candidate responded to questions about his former pastor this way.

(Soundbite of interview)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I don't think that my church is actually - particularly controversial.

STEWART: Later, Obama described Wright as, quote, "an older uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with." But his statements haven't stopped the questions from coming, and recent polls suggest that both Wright in particular and race in general remain issues for Obama. In a new Rasmussen Poll, 56 percent of voters said Wright's comments made them less likely to vote for Obama, and 44 percent of Democrats said the same thing. And all of this takes place as Obama competes fiercely with Hillary Clinton for the support of working and middle-class white men, who are likely to be pivotal in the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary.

The Washington Post compared exit polls in Wisconsin, which Obama won, and Ohio, which he lost to Clinton, and found that many more working class white men in Ohio cited race as a factor in their votes. So that brings us to today, when Obama promises to tackle the issue of race head-on in Pennsylvania, site of the next major primary. Now here's Laura Conaway with some more of today's headlines.

WOLFF: This is NPR.

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