NPR presented vice president of conservative think tank as sole expert on Democrats' appeal to religious voters

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

On the February 21 edition of Nation Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition, following a report on Republican presidential candidates' attendance at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention and Exposition, co-host Renée Montagne introduced a segment she described as "a look at how Democratic candidates are reaching out to religious voters." But her only guest was Michael Cromartie, the vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank that says it is "dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy." Montagne and Cromartie used the terms "religious" and "evangelical" interchangeably and focused on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, which Cromartie described as matters that "[e]vangelicals and religious conservatives care deeply about." Montagne and Cromartie did not discuss how the views of other religious voters might differ from those of evangelicals, and NPR did not balance Cromartie's perspective with any comment from Democrats or liberal religious leaders.

The Ethics and Public Policy Center is a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank that, according to its website, "was established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues." Sitting on EPPC's Policy Advisory Board are Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, another conservative think tank. Additionally, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. In 2004, Cromartie was appointed by President Bush to a two-year term on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In 2005, he was elected chairman of the commission. His biography on the EPPC website lists numerous conservative publications to which he has contributed book reviews and articles, including First Things, The Washington Times, and Insight -- but no liberal or progressive journals.

Montagne quoted only one source -- and not a Democrat -- to comment on Democrats' outreach to "religious voters." In contrast, during the report on Republican candidates' attendance at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention that aired immediately before the Cromartie interview, NPR reporter Rachel Martin presented comments and speech excerpts from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Christian broadcaster Stuart Epperson.

From the February 21 edition of National Public Radio's Morning Edition:

MONTAGNE: We've just heard about Republicans courting evangelicals. For a look at how Democratic candidates are reaching out to religious voters we turn now to Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Good morning.

CROMARTIE: Good morning, Renée.

MONTAGNE: Democratic presidential candidates are also talking about faith and values. Are they simply courting religious voters or is there something different about this group of candidates?

CROMARTIE: Well, there is something different, and that is they realize that if they don't win more religious voters in America then they're not going to win the -- either the nomination or the presidency. So, you know, Senator Hillary [Rodham] Clinton [D-NY] has hired what the press has called a "faith guru," Senator [Barack] Obama [D-IL] has hired a religious outreach director. So efforts are being made.

MONTAGNE: Is this all to good effect in the sense that are evangelical voters more open to Democrats this time around?

CROMARTIE: I wouldn't say they're more open because the reason they wouldn't be more open -- it's not because people have faith gurus around them, but they're concerned about public policies. And so, at the end of the day, it will not be whether you have a religious outreach director but whether, in fact, your own policies reflect the concerns of the people we just heard about in Rachel Martin's report.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about that?

CROMARTIE: Well, all I'm simply saying is that Democratic candidates can begin to speak in religious language and appeal to religious themes but, at the end of the day, people will really want to know what is your view on the issues that they hold most dear.

MONTAGNE: Right. And give us a sense of what those views are that would conflict, say, with evangelicals even now.

CROMARTIE: Well, I mean, I think the key issues will be the appointment of judges in the Supreme Court. Evangelicals and religious conservatives care deeply about, as one woman said, the sanctity of marriage and same-sex marriage. They care deeply about the abortion issue and the pro-life debate and so if Democrats show at least some sympathy and some empathy for those positions and say, "Actually, I'm far more moderate on this and even more conservative on this than you give me credit," then they can actually make an appeal.

MONTAGNE: Though, if they do that -- that is pull back to some degree from previous positions -- couldn't they do that without alienating the Democratic base?

CROMARTIE: This is the real dilemma and challenge for the Democratic candidates and that is, as they move to try to appeal to religiously conservative voters, they will do as you just suggest -- is alienate their own base, which is the base of the Democratic Party now. More and more polls are showing, are nonreligious people who attend church very infrequently or the kind of people in polls who, when asked religious affiliation, they say none.

It's going to be a real challenge for the Democratic Party.

MONTAGNE: Give us a concrete example of how Democrats and some of the leading candidates are using language to define their positions to appeal to religious voters.

CROMARTIE: Well, Senator Obama has been very good at this, you know, he's an excellent speaker and he's a member of a church in Chicago and when he speaks to groups he always appeals to biblical themes for the policy positions he takes. You know, whether it's concern about education or poverty or world hunger or even war, there is a way to appeal to themes throughout Scripture that can bring to the attention to the listener that your concern --

MONTAGNE: Right.

CROMARTIE: -- that what you believe is also rooted in a religious tradition.

MONTAGNE: Thanks much for joining us.

CROMARTIE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. That's a Washington, D.C., think tank dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to public policy issues.

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