NY Times ignored McCain flip-flop on whether he believed Falwell was an "agent[] of intolerance"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In an article about Sen. John McCain's outreach to "evangelicals and other Christian conservatives," The New York Times noted that "[i]n 2000, when he was running against Mr. Bush for the Republican nomination, Mr. McCain castigated Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as 'agents of intolerance.' " But the Times did not point out that McCain subsequently said he no longer believed Falwell was an "agent[] of intolerance."

In a June 9 New York Times article about Sen. John McCain's outreach to "evangelicals and other Christian conservatives," staff writer Michael Luo wrote that "Mr. McCain's relationship with evangelicals has long been troubled. In 2000, when he was running against Mr. Bush for the Republican nomination, Mr. McCain castigated Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as 'agents of intolerance.' " The article did not note, however, that, in April 2006, McCain said he no longer believed Falwell was an "agent[] of intolerance." A month later, McCain delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.

Similarly, in a February 8 Times article, reporters Elisabeth Bumiller and David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that "[c]onservatives fault Mr. McCain for what they consider a long list of transgressions," noting that he "once call[ed] certain evangelical leaders 'agents of intolerance.' " Bumiller and Kirkpatrick also did not note McCain's subsequent statement about Falwell.

From the June 9 New York Times article:

Mr. McCain's outreach to Christian conservatives has been a quiet courting, reflecting a balancing act: his election hopes rely on drawing in the political middle and Democrats who might be turned off should he woo the religious right too heavily by, for instance, highlighting his anti-abortion position more on the campaign trail.

''If McCain tried Bush's strategy of just mobilizing the base, he would almost certainly fall short,'' said John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. ''Because the Republican brand name is less popular and the conservative base is restive, McCain has special needs to reach out to independent and moderate voters, but, of course, he can't completely neglect the evangelical and conservative base.''

The instrumental role of evangelicals in Mr. Bush's victory in 2004 over Senator John Kerry is an oft-repeated tale at this point. Mr. Bush's openness about his personal faith and stances on social issues earned him a following among evangelicals, who represented about a quarter of the electorate in 2004. Exit polls in the 2004 election found that 78 percent of white ''born again'' or evangelical Protestants had voted for Mr. Bush.

In contrast, Mr. McCain's relationship with evangelicals has long been troubled. In 2000, when he was running against Mr. Bush for the Republican nomination, Mr. McCain castigated Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as ''agents of intolerance.''

In a sign of the lingering distrust, Mr. McCain finished last out of nine Republican candidates in a straw poll last year at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, a gathering for socially conservative activists.

James C. Dobson, the influential founder of the evangelical group Focus on the Family, released a statement in February, when Mr. McCain was on the verge of securing the Republican nomination, affirming that he would not vote for Mr. McCain and would instead stay home if he became the nominee. Dr. Dobson later softened his stance and said he would vote but has remained critical of Mr. McCain.

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The New York Times
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Michael Luo
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John McCain, 2008 Elections
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