Will MSNBC devote as much coverage to McCain's embrace of Hagee's support as it did to Obama's rejection of Farrakhan?

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE & KATHLEEN HENEHAN

On February 27, MSNBC devoted significant coverage to an exchange from the most recent Democratic presidential debate in which NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert repeatedly questioned Sen. Barack Obama about praise he received from controversial minister Louis Farrakhan, whose statements Obama has denounced. The same day, Pastor John Hagee -- who has made controversial comments about homosexuality, Islam, Catholicism, and women -- endorsed Sen. John McCain, who embraced Hagee's support. Hagee's endorsement and McCain's response to it raise the question of whether MSNBC will report on them as extensively as it did on Farrakhan's praise.

On at least nine* different occasions on February 27, MSNBC either aired or discussed an exchange from the February 26 Democratic presidential debate in which moderator Tim Russert, NBC's Washington bureau chief, repeatedly questioned Sen. Barack Obama about controversial minister Louis Farrakhan, whose statements Obama had previously denounced and whose support Obama said during the debate he "would reject and denounce." Among those instances, MSNBC's Monica Novotny said, "NBC's Tim Russert introduced a new topic into the debate last night, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan"; Mika Brzezinski asserted that Obama had been "put on the spot a little bit"; and Willie Geist said that the exchange "could have been an ugly issue for him, because as Tim Russert said, Minister Farrakhan is someone who's called Judaism a 'gutter religion.' Do you really want this guy on your team?" Also on February 27, John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas --who has made numerous controversial statements about, among other things, homosexuality, Islam, Catholicism, and women -- endorsed Sen. John McCain for president. Following Hagee's endorsement, McCain said, "All I can tell you is I'm very proud to have pastor Hagee's support." The endorsement and McCain's embrace of it raise the question of whether MSNBC will devote coverage to them comparable to its coverage of the Farrakhan issue.

On the September 18, 2006, edition of National Public Radio's Fresh Air, host Terry Gross said to Hagee, "You said after Hurricane Katrina that it was an act of God, and you said 'when you violate God's will long enough, the judgment of God comes to you. Katrina is an act of God for a society that is becoming Sodom and Gomorrah reborn.' " She then asked, "Do you still think that Katrina is punishment from God for a society that's becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah?" Hagee responded:

HAGEE: All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are -- were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know that there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment. And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.

Earlier in the program, Gross asked if Hagee believed that "all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews," to which Hagee replied, "Well, the Quran teaches that. Yes, it teaches that very clearly."

A March 7, 1996, article (accessed via the Nexis database) in the San Antonio Express-News reported that Hagee was going to "meet with black religious leaders privately at an unspecified future date to discuss comments he made in his newsletter about a 'slave sale,' an East Side minister said Wednesday." The Express-News reported:

Hagee, pastor of the 16,000-member Cornerstone Church, last week had announced a "slave sale" to raise funds for high school seniors in his church bulletin, "The Cluster."

The item was introduced with the sentence "Slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone" and ended with "Make plans to come and go home with a slave."

A July 27, 2006, Wall Street Journal article about Hagee noted the incident:

To help students seeking odd jobs, his church newsletter, The Cluster, advertised a "slave" sale. "Slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone," it said. "Make plans to come and go home with a slave." Mr. Hagee apologized but, in a radio interview, protested about pressure to be "politically correct" and joked that perhaps his pet dog should be called a "canine American."

A December 23, 2007, Reuters news article on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) visit to Hagee's church reported that "some Catholics were angry about the visit." The article noted:

In his recent book "Jerusalem Countdown," Hagee wrote: "Most readers will be shocked by the clear record of history linking Adolf Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews."

On February 28, Michael D. Shear reported at the washingtonpost.com election blog The Trail that Catholic League President Bill Donohue (himself a controversial figure) "today blasted Sen. John McCain for accepting the endorsement of Texas evangelicalist John Hagee, calling the controversial pastor a bigot who has 'waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church.' " Shear also reported that Donohue said: "Senator Obama has repudiated the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, another bigot. McCain should follow suit and retract his embrace of Hagee."

Additionally, investigative journalist Sarah Posner noted in God's Profits: Faith, Fraud and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters (PoliPointPress, January 2008) that in his book What Every Man Wants in a Woman (Charisma House, 2005), Hagee wrote:

Do you know the difference between a woman with PMS and a snarling Doberman pinscher? The answer is lipstick. Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a woman with PMS? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Posner also noted that in another Hagee text, "Bible Positions on Political Issues," (John Hagee Ministries, 1992) Hagee wrote, "[T]he feminist movement today is throwing off authority in rebellion against God's pattern for the family."

From the September 18, 2006, edition of NPR's Fresh Air:

GROSS: Pastor Hagee, if you believe that the Bible takes precedence over Washington, D.C., I would assume maybe you'd think the Bible takes precedence over the Israeli government as well. If you use the Bible as the basis of policy, is there any room for compromise? And if you use the Bible as the basis for policy, then should Muslims be using the Quran as the basis of their policy? And again, what possible room for compromise is there at that point?

HAGEE: There's really no room for compromise between radical Islam and --

GROSS: I'm not talking about radical Islam. I'm just talking about Islam in general.

HAGEE: Well, Islam in general, those who live by the Quran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews. Now, I had an Islamic on my television show last week. His name was Walid Shoebat. He was raised as a Palestinian terrorist and at one time was -- placed a bomb and was supposed to walk into a bank. And I said, "Walid, I'm trying to understand the definition of what is a radical Islamic person, because I've read many books, many magazines and I can't come up with a good definition of what constitutes a radical Islamic." And he says these words, and I'll quote them, he said, "Anyone who truly believes the Quran is willing to kill Christians or Jews. That's waging jihad." He said, "Now, those people who are willing to go into another country and start a war will only be about 15 to 20 percent of Islam."

There are 1.3 billion people who follow the Islamic faith, so if you're saying there's only 15 percent that want to come to America or invade Israel to crush it, you're only talking about 200 million people. That's far more than Hitler and Japan and Italy and all of the axis powers in World War II had under arms. That is a massive number of people. So while we may define radical Islam as a minority, because there are so many, it is still an overpowering military potential.

GROSS: But what you said is that all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews. Do you believe that?

HAGEE: Well, the Quran teaches that. Yes, it teaches that very clearly.

[...]

GROSS: I just want to ask you one question based on one of your sermons that -- and this isn't about Israel. You said after Hurricane Katrina that it was an act of God, and you said "when you violate God's will long enough, the judgment of God comes to you. Katrina is an act of God for a society that is becoming Sodom and Gomorrah reborn." Do you still think that Katrina is punishment from God for a society that's becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah?

HAGEE: All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are -- were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know that there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment. And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.

GROSS: So I know you're very opposed to homosexuality, but you think that the whole city was punished because of things like the forthcoming Gay Pride parade.

HAGEE: This is true. All of the city was punished because of the sin that happened there in that city.

From the February 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:

WILLIE GEIST (co-host): One of the other somewhat fiery moments last night was the issue of Louis Farrakhan.

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, there is a guy whose endorsement I want.

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, yeah!

GEIST: They talked about Louis Farrakhan at this big important debate for about 10 minutes. It was incredible. So, Farrakhan announced his support for Barack Obama, and Barack Obama was asked whether he accepted it, whether he rejected it, or denounced it. So then we got into a semantic argument about the definition of "is" is --

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, boy.

GEIST: -- but what's the definition of "denounce" and "reject." Here's some of that exchange.

[begin video clip]

RUSSERT: Are you suggesting Senator Obama is not standing on principle?

CLINTON: No, I'm just saying that you asked specifically if he would reject it, and there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting.

[...]

OBAMA: I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it, but if the word "reject," Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word "denounce," then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

CLINTON: Good. Good. Excellent.

[end video clip]

JOE SCARBOROUGH: OK.

BRZEZINSKI: OK, you're right about --

SCARBOROUGH: I mean as far as style goes, you see him kind of smile. He's like "I don't care. I've won this, so I'll do whatever you want to do. You want me to say it's really, really bad?"

GEIST: That could have been an ugly issue for him, because as Tim Russert said, Minister Farrakhan is someone who's called Judaism a "gutter religion." Do you really want this guy on your team?

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, it's horrible. No, you don't.

GEIST: And at the end, that's the last moment of the argument. You know, he absorbs the blow and sort of turns it around.

From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the February 27 edition of MSNBC Live:

BRZEZINSKI: Susan, let's take a look back at the debate last night, a moment where he was -- Barack Obama was put on the spot a little bit about his position on support from Louis Farrakhan. Take a listen.

OBAMA [video clip]: I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought and we're not doing anything I assure you, formally or informally, with Minister Farrakhan.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the February 27 edition of MSNBC Live:

MONICA NOVOTNY: NBC's Tim Russert introduced a new topic into the debate last night, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Listen.

[begin video clip]

CLINTON: There's a difference between denouncing and rejecting.

[...]

OBAMA: I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it, but if the word "reject," Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word "denounce," then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

[end video clip]

NOVOTNY: They're talking about the rejection and/or denouncement of the endorsement of Senator Barack Obama by Louis Farrakhan. Chris Cillizza is a political reporter for the washingtonpost.com, Susan Page, USA Today Washington bureau chief.

* A Media Matters for America review of TV Eyes transcripts for MSNBC on February 27 found at least nine occasions in which the February 26 debate exchange about Farrakhan's support for Obama was discussed.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live, Morning Joe
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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