Rev. Joseph LoweryRev. Joseph Lowery said at hastily-called Friday press conference that his recent controversial remarks about heaven and hell were distorted by the “dart”-eyed small-town journalist who first reported them.

Lowery, who delivered the benediction at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration and was later awarded the Medal of Freedom for his work in the civil rights movement, said his comments at a weekend rally in Forsyth, Georgia that “all white folks were going to hell” were intended as a joke.

But the Monroe County Reporter, a newsweekly serving a middle Georgia community of some 14,000, shared them as something decidedly less.

“Lowery said that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell,” the Reporter’s Diane Glidewell wrote. “Then he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was.”

Lowery said it was a joke he’s told a “million” times previously — and one that’s passed muster with other reporters.

“In all the years years I’ve told this story, not one media person, not one, has ever used it,” he said. “Everybody thought it was funny, and nobody used it. I thought it was funny. I’ve told that story a million times. This is the first time it’s ever got any attention.”

Asked if he had any regrets for telling the story, Lowery said his only misgiving was the context in which Glidewell framed it.

“I’m sorry that she framed it the way she did,” he said. “She had darts in her eyes. Maybe she’s ambitious.”

But Glidewell maintains that the reverend’s anecdote didn’t strike her as any joke.

“He was talking about all the bitterness and anger that has come from this election and it wasn’t exactly in the context of a joke,” she told Atlanta Fox News affiliate WAGA.

She says she even buried the remarks–the offending comments came only in the nineteenth paragraph online and were found on the very last page of the paper’s print product–to avoid stirring controversy.

“I debated on whether to include it,” Glidewell said, “but he said it, and it was part of it, and it was a big part of his speech.”

But Lowery said it wasn’t only Glidewell that misconstrued the story, also wagging his finger at a number of national conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. It was of the former that he had an especially sour impression.

“Rush Limbaugh. He’s a liar, racist to the core,” Lowery said of the conservative radio talker.

– James Richardson