Media continue to ignore McCain endorsers' controversial comments

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Media Matters has extensively documented the disparity in media coverage devoted to controversial comments made by supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and to those made by supporters of Sen. John McCain. Several major publications have reported only on the controversy over remarks by McCain supporter John Hagee targeting Catholics, but not his controversial statements about Hurricane Katrina, Islam, women, and homosexuality. Most of those same publications have yet to report on pastor Rod Parsley and his controversial remarks in the context of McCain's campaign.

On the March 18 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House, Air America host Rachel Maddow commented on the disparity in media attention to the controversial comments made by supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and those made by supporters of Sen. John McCain, and asserted: "That double standard can't be sustained." According to Maddow:

MADDOW: [T]here is a double standard here in terms of the Republican Party's full-on embrace of the religious right in this country and all of the controversial things that come with it. We've almost accepted that as the politics as usual. Therefore, when we start seeing religious controversy, religious-oriented controversy in the Democratic side, it's a huge story.

But immediately we're confronted with these bad parallels. It can't be that Jeremiah Wright is a huge controversy, a potential career-ending stumble for the Obama campaign, where Rod Parsley, who says that, you know, that the purpose of the United States of America's existence is to destroy the faith of Islam, and John McCain describes him as a spiritual guide, that can go with just a peep in the liberal media and it never even makes it on to television. That double standard can't be sustained.

As Media Matters for America has documented (here, here, here, here, and here), the media have devoted extensive coverage to Obama's supporters, but have failed to report the controversial comments of supporters of McCain. While there have been media reports on controversial televangelist John Hagee's endorsement of McCain and McCain's repudiation of Hagee's anti-Catholic comments, many media outlets have ignored altogether remarks Hagee has made about Hurricane Katrina, Islam, women, and homosexuality. Further, most of those same publications have yet to report on the comments of another McCain supporter, World Harvest Church senior pastor Rod Parsley, who has written of Islam: "The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed."

According to a March 25 search* of the Nexis database, while they have included references to Hagee's anti-Catholic comments, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, NBC, and ABC have not reported on Hagee's comments about Hurricane Katrina, Islam, women, and homosexuality since Hagee endorsed McCain on February 27. According to Factiva, The Wall Street Journal also has only mentioned Hagee's "anti-Catholic remarks" and "divisive statements."

Additionally, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, NBC, ABC,** and The Wall Street Journal have not reported on Parsley*** or noted his comments in the context of McCain's campaign. A March 17 USA Today article reported only that Parsley was "accused of urging war on Muslims."

John Hagee

After Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, endorsed McCain for president on February 27, McCain said, "All I can tell you is I'm very proud to have pastor Hagee's support." McCain asserted just days later that his acceptance of Hagee's endorsement did not signal that he "agree[s] with all of Pastor Hagee's views" and stated on March 7, "I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics." McCain further stated on March 11, "I repudiate any, any comments that are anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, racist, any other. And I condemn them and I condemn those words that Pastor Hagee apparently ... that Pastor Hagee wrote."

Below is a sampling of the controversial statements Hagee has made about Hurricane Katrina, Islam, women, and homosexuality.

  • As Media Matters has noted, 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 had asked Hagee if he believed that "all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews." 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 further 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."

  • The Wall Street Journal also noted the "slave sale" incident in a July 27, 2006, article:

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."

  • 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" (Page 14).
  • Posner also noted that, in another Hagee text, "Bible Positions on Political Issues" (John Hagee Ministries, 1992), he wrote, "[T]he feminist movement today is throwing off authority in rebellion against God's pattern for the family."
  • Posner further reported that Hagee "complains that the military is downsized -- not that it matters since he predicts there will be a nuclear war to bring about Armageddon -- and blames it on Bill Clinton for making 'the military the habitat of homosexuals by executive order. ... The military will have difficultly recruiting healthy and strong heterosexuals for combat purposes. Why? Fighting in combat with a man in your fox hole that has AIDS or is HIV positive is double jeopardy' " (Page 83).
  • In What Every Man Wants in a Woman, Hagee wrote: "As I write this book, the issue of same-sex marriage rages on the front pages of America's newspapers and is seen on national telecasts each evening," and noted that "Massachusetts has just agreed to recognize same-sex marriages." Hagee added: "For a fact, Sodom and Gomorrah are being reborn in America." Several paragraphs later, he asserted that if the United States Congress failed to pass an amendment "recognizing only the marriage between a man and a woman," then "the gates of hell will be opened." He continued: "It will open the door to incest, to polygamy, and every conceivable marriage arrangement demented minds can possibly conceive. If God does not then punish America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." He also wrote: "It is impossible to call yourself a Christian and defend homosexuality. There is no justification or acceptance of homosexuality," and "Homosexuality means the death of society because homosexuals can recruit, but they cannot reproduce" (Pages 68-69).

Rod Parsley

In a March 12 article, Mother Jones Washington editor David Corn reported that Parsley endorsed McCain on February 26 at a campaign rally at which they both appeared. Parsley called McCain a "strong, true, consistent conservative," and McCain referred to Parsley as a "spiritual guide."

Below is a sampling of the controversial statements Parsley has made about Islam and homosexuality.

I cannot tell you how important it is that we understand the true nature of Islam, that we see it for what it really is. In fact, I will tell you this: I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore (Pages 90-91).

  • Citing the August 1984 edition of the conservative magazine American Spectator, Parsley wrote:

"Besides the fact that gay socializing revolves around the bar scene -- with its incumbent drinking, drugs, and late-night carousing -- gay sexuality inevitably involves brutal physical abusiveness and the unnatural imposition of alien substances into internal organs, orally and anally, that inevitably suppress the immune system and heighten susceptibility to disease" (Page 74).

  • Parsley also wrote: "One Canadian study found that 95 percent of extant HIV-AIDS cases were distributed among gay and bisexual men" (Page 76). According to the abstract of the study, published in 1997, that Parsley cited, 95 percent was "the proportion of AIDS cases in gay and bisexual men in this" "large Canadian urban centre from 1987 to 1992." According to an August 2007, United States Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet: "In the United States, HIV infection and AIDS have had a tremendous effect on men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM accounted for 72 percent of all HIV infections among male adults and adolescents in 2005 (based on data from 33 States with long-term, confidential, name-based HIV reporting), even though only about 5-7 percent of male adults and adolescents in the United States identify themselves as MSM."

The following coverage on NBC and ABC and in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal included references to Hagee's anti-Catholic comments, but did not report any of his comments unrelated to Catholics.

From a March 25 Wall Street Journal article:

Presidential candidates have gotten touchy about their prominent friends. Sen. Hillary Clinton dropped former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro from her campaign, Sen. Barack Obama backed away from Rev. Jeremiah Wright and academic Samantha Power, and Sen. John McCain rebuked Texas televangelist James Hagee -- all because of divisive statements the friends made.

The shifts illustrate a reality in this closely fought contest: When a misstep, or the appearance of one, sparks negative press, campaigns are quick to throw a high-profile supporter overboard rather than mount damage control.

One unusual breakup is the Clinton campaign's split with Chicago businessman Mehmet Celebi, who was relieved of duty as a fund-raiser. Mr. Celebi was dismissed on the basis of assertions on the Internet, which he denies, that he produced and bankrolled a film that is anti-Semitic and anti-American.

From a March 23 Washington Post column by ombudsman Deborah Howell:

Wright has been both admired and controversial for many years. Before he retired, he was pastor of the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ; Obama's first book mentioned him prominently. It's natural to want to know about him, his church and his importance to Obama, who said Wright brought him to Christianity 20 years ago, performed his wedding and baptized his two daughters.

Had anyone suggested doing that story at The Post? Religion reporter Michelle Boorstein pitched it twice and was turned down by editors on the Metro and National desks.

Joe Davidson, assistant city editor and Boorstein's editor, wrote: "At the time Michelle suggested the story, before the latest revelations about Wright's comments, there was little that was new. I didn't see what it would add that was significantly different." Tim Curran, deputy national editor for politics, wrote: "I am pleased that we were able to present Eli's very thorough and thoughtful piece on Wright and his relationship with Obama, an article we had set in motion well before the situation came to a head, in such a timely fashion."

The Rev. Andrea Brown, associate pastor of Grandview United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Pa., asked: "Why are the words (and actions) of Hillary Clinton's pastors not being similarly scrutinized? McCain's spiritual leaders?" John McCain has been supported by conservative ministers who also have said some controversial things. And The Post hasn't reported in print that McCain has repudiated some views of supporter John Hagee, an evangelist, that were perceived as anti-Catholic. Clinton is a Methodist, and that church's governing body is considering divesting itself of investments in Israel; that's another story.

From a March 18 Wall Street Journal article:

Sen. Barack Obama today will attempt again to distance himself from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright by delivering a speech on "Race, politics and unifying our country in Philadelphia," according to the campaign.

Mr. Wright retired last month as head of Trinity United Church of Christ, where for nearly 20 years he counted Sen. Obama among his parishioners. Mr. Wright was involved in the senator's presidential campaign as an unpaid adviser. Mr. Wright recently suggested in a sermon that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were perhaps warranted. Sen. Obama's condemnation of Mr. Wright's statements have done little to take the edge off a shrill debate.

Republican Sen. John McCain had a similar test when he accepted the endorsement of televangelist James Hagee, who was criticized over anti-Catholic remarks. Sen. McCain repudiated the comments.

From a March 17 USA Today article:

According to CNN, Wright argued that Clinton's road to the White House is easier because of her skin color: "Hillary has never had her people defined as a non-person." He also said in an interview that, "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run."

McCain has had a run-in with controversial preachers. John Hagee, the leader of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church accused of making disparaging remarks about Catholics, endorsed McCain. So did Rod Parsley, leader of the World Harvest Church of Columbus accused of urging war on Muslims.

McCain was not a member of either minister's church, and he denounced their remarks.

From Tim Rutten's March 15 Los Angeles Times column:

It's in the nature of campaigns to careen from the totally unexpected to the utterly unthinkable, but recent events in the presidential contest probably ought to be filed under the heading: "With friends like these."

By Friday, all three candidates had been forced to apologize for the offensive views of a prominent supporter. John McCain was first, when one of the evangelical ministers whose approval he has so assiduously courted turns out to have some inconvenient views. John Hagee, a prominent Texas televangelist, also happens to teach that the Catholic Church is "the whore of Babylon" and a "cult."

McCain, who appeared with Hagee on television to accept his endorsement, at first tried to brush off the matter. Better judgment -- and perhaps, consideration of the Catholic vote's importance -- ultimately prevailed, and the Arizona senator told the Associated Press: "I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics."

From E.J. Dionne's March 11 Washington Post column:

His [McCain's] efforts to pander to the religious right that he so bravely opposed in 2000 (he called Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance") aren't very attractive, either.

And it's mystifying that while Barack Obama has been willing -- in the phrase he made fashionable -- to "reject and denounce" Louis Farrakhan because of Farrakhan's anti-Semitism, McCain hasn't gone nearly as far in dealing with Pastor John Hagee. The evangelical leader, who called the Roman Catholic Church "the great whore," has endorsed McCain. McCain distanced himself from Hagee's anti-Catholicism -- there are, after all, a lot of Catholic swing voters -- but why is McCain so reluctant to use much stronger language about Hagee himself?

All this points to what is maddening about McCain. At times, he has acted with courage and honor. At other times, he behaves like a crafty politician. There is an independent side to McCain that has made him an authentic maverick. But on so many issues, he is nothing more (or less) than a thoroughly conventional conservative politician.

From the March 3 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

DAVID GREGORY (NBC News chief White House correspondent): But McCain is now in the firing line as well. Today he faced questions about the endorsement of Texas televangelist John Hagee. Social conservatives are a key GOP voting block, but some of the televangelist's public remarks have offended Catholics.

McCAIN: It's pretty obvious that you get a lot of endorsements in a political campaign. That does not mean I embrace the views of the people who endorse me.

GREGORY: Today Hagee denied being anti-Catholic.

No McCain endorsement from feminist author and Hillary Clinton supporter Gloria Steinem, who belittled McCain's ordeal as a prisoner of war during Vietnam during a Clinton campaign event in Texas. She was quoted by New York newspapers saying, "This is supposed to be a qualification to be president?" The Clinton team later disavowed Steinem's remarks.

From the March 2 edition of ABC's This Week:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): Doesn't Obama give him another opening? Because you actually raised an issue in this week's issue of the National Journal where you talk about the potential of Barack Obama, because he's getting young people, because he's getting more affluent and educated voters than Democrats often get to create a new coalition for the Democrats the way Reagan did for the Republicans. But let me pose this question to Donna. Doesn't he also create an opening for John McCain? Because Barack Obama has not done as well with working-class Democrats, blue-collar Democrats, he hasn't established a connection to them. And isn't that an opening for McCain?

DONNA BRAZILE (ABC News consultant): No, I don't think so. Look, George, we saw in Wisconsin, Obama finally connecting with those blue-collar voters. We saw it in the Virginia and Maryland primary. We'll see if it happens in Ohio. I think the more he talks about the economy, the more that Obama reaches out and bring them ideas that he can turn this economy around, Senator Obama has an opportunity to win this. Look, McCain had another problem this week. He was endorsed or -- by Mr. Hagee, someone who is considered an anti-Catholic bigot. Again, he had to separate himself. His problem is he has to unify a shrinking base, a shrinking base that will not give him the type of electoral numbers he needs without Hispanics, without suburbanites, without women. And that's where Obama will come in strong.

STEPHANOPOULOS: When you --

GEORGE WILL (contributing analyst): The median age of the electorate is 44. These people do not -- a large part of the electorate do not remember the 1970s that gave rise to Ronald Reagan. They have only the dimmest memory of Ronald Reagan. So when McCain says, truthfully, in trying to unite the base, I was a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, that is so retrospective.

A February 29 post on Washingtonpost.com's The Trail in its entirety:

The president of the Catholic League blasted John McCain on Thursday for accepting the endorsement of Texas evangelist John Hagee, calling the controversial pastor a bigot who has "waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church."

Hagee, who is known for his crusading support of Israel, backed McCain's presidential bid Wednesday, standing next to the senator at a hotel in San Antonio and calling McCain "a man of principle."

But Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement Thursday that Hagee has written extensively in negative ways about the Catholic Church, "calling it 'The Great Whore,' an 'apostate church,' the 'anti-Christ,' and a 'false cult system.' "

"Senator Obama has repudiated the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, another bigot. McCain should follow suit and retract his embrace of Hagee," Donohue said.

Catholics United, a national online group, also criticized McCain. "By receiving the endorsement of an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church, McCain once again demonstrates that he is willing to sell out his principles for a chance to win the Presidency," Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, said in a statement. "We hope Senator McCain will take the principled position of publicly and unequivocally distancing himself from Pastor Hagee's anti-Catholic comments. Intolerance and bigotry do not belong in American politics."

The McCain campaign declined to comment on the statements.

From a February 28 Washington Post item:

John McCain picked up the support of Texas pastor John Hagee, an evangelical Christian who has made support for the state of Israel a centerpiece of his ministry.

"John McCain has publicly stated his support of the state of Israel, pledging that his administration will not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons to fulfill the evil dreams of President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map," Hagee, a televangelist and the pastor of Cornerstone Church, told reporters.

Hagee's endorsement could be of particular help to McCain in Texas, where the Arizona senator will face former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Tuesday. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, has succeeded over the past two months in appealing to evangelical and conservative Christian voters, highlighting a schism in the Republican party. Huckabee was especially successful in the South and in Virginia, where he earned a 40 percent lead over McCain among conservative voters.

But with little doubt about McCain becoming the nominee, conservatives have begun to flock to his side. Asked what McCain could do to appeal to other religious conservatives, Hagee said he was confident that McCain's support for abortion restrictions and for Israel would help.

From the March 18 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House:

GREGORY: All right, and let's also -- and Rachel, you brought this up last night, let's talk about double standards. When the Republicans got in trouble, whether it was the president or John McCain back when, I think it was Jerry Falwell, said that 9-11 was the answer for homosexuality, when Pat Robertson has said incendiary remarks, did they distance themselves completely from these guys?

MADDOW: No, they didn't. I mean, there's been -- well, John McCain has done both. He both denounced Jerry Falwell --

GREGORY: Yes, he did and didn't do it.

MADDOW: -- as an agent of intolerance, and then went and spoke at Liberty University, so he's got both sides of that going. I mean, there is a double standard here in terms of the Republican Party's full-on embrace of the religious right in this country and all of the controversial things that come with it. We've almost accepted that as the politics as usual. Therefore, when we start seeing religious controversy, religious-oriented controversy in the Democratic side, it's a huge story.

But immediately we're confronted with these bad parallels. It can't be that Jeremiah Wright is a huge controversy, a potential career-ending stumble for the Obama campaign, where Rod Parsley, who says that, you know, that the purpose of the United States of America's existence is to destroy the faith of Islam, and John McCain describes him as a spiritual guide, that can go with just a peep in the liberal media and it never even makes it on to television. That double standard can't be sustained.

* SEARCH TERMS = PUBLICATION(New York Times or Washington Post or USA Today or Los Angeles Times or ABC or NBC) and Hagee

** SEARCH TERMS = PUBLICATION(New York Times or Washington Post or USA Today or Los Angeles Times or ABC or NBC) and Parsley and McCain

*** SEARCH TERMS = PUBLICATION(New York Times or Washington Post or USA Today or Los Angeles Times or ABC or NBC) and (Rod Parsley or (Parsley and pastor) or (Parsley and World Harvest))

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