After calling for ABC to fire Rosie O'Donnell over religious comments, conservatives silent on disclosures of Bush White House contempt for Christian conservatives
Research ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
Conservatives in the media have attacked Rosie O'Donnell for comments she has made regarding Christianity and Catholicism, and several have even called for O'Donnell to be fired. But those same conservatives have yet to comment on disclosures in a newly released book that the Bush White House has pandered to Christian conservatives for votes, while breaking promises on policy and referring to them as "the nuts," "insane," and "ridiculous" behind closed doors.
In recent weeks, a number of conservatives in the media have attacked Rosie O'Donnell, co-host of ABC's The View, for comments she has made regarding Christianity and Catholicism, and several have even called for O'Donnell to be fired, claiming that "the appropriate punishment ... is the network guillotine." Those same conservatives, however, have yet to comment on disclosures in a newly released book that the Bush White House has pandered to Christian conservatives for votes, while breaking promises on policy and referring to them as "the nuts," "insane," and "ridiculous" behind closed doors. Those disclosures are made in Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (Free Press, October 2006) by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
O'Donnell's fellow co-hosts on the view are former ABC 20/20 co-host Barbara Walters, comedienne Joy Behar, and former fashion designer and reality TV star Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Hasselbeck's bio on ABC.com notes that she is "[q]uick to express her conservative views," and that she was one of the featured speakers at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City).
On the September 12 broadcast of The View, O'Donnell, during a discussion on the war on terror, said that "radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America." On September 29, O'Donnell and Behar said regarding the Catholic communion rite:
O'DONNELL: No. I remember they would do "Body of Christ." You'd have to say "Amen" and first it [the communion host] went on your tongue. And then sometime in the '70s, there was a big congregation, and you were allowed to get it in your hand. Do you remember this?
BEHAR: No, I think I dropped out by then.
O'DONNELL: Oh, yeah, well, it was big because my mom always used to say when you have that host in your mouth, don't let it touch your teeth because it was against -- so you know, the pressure on the child getting it, you know the priest would put it right on your tongue and you're not allowed to get it stuck on the roof of your mouth because you can't touch it. So you spend the rest of Mass [indicates she's trying to clean the roof of her mouth with her tongue]. Yeah, it was a lot. But anyways, cheers.
On the October 2 broadcast of The View, O'Donnell, in discussing the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), said:
O'DONNELL: And it's the same thing that happened in the Catholic Church when pedophile priests would move from parish to parish because the Catholic Church was afraid of lawsuits.
And here's the most interesting thing about the Deliver Us From Evil documentary, that the person who was in charge of investigating all the allegations of pedophilia in the Catholic Church from the '80s until just recently was -- guess who? -- the current pope.
A variety of media figures, Christian conservatives, and bloggers have since attacked O'Donnell for these comments, and called for her to be fired. A September 20 article from AgapePress, a news service operated by the conservative American Family Association, reported that conservative Christians called for O'Donnell's dismissal:
Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow with Concerned Woman [sic] for America, called for Rosie's job. Crouse argued, "I think Rosie's statement was very unprofessional. I think it was ill-advised and I think American people ought to be outraged. She ought to be fired summarily for making a statement like that."
Bill Gray, writing for Conservative Voice, made his sentiment clear. "I want no more of Rosie O'Donnell," stated Gray. "I have sent this message to the president of ABC .... [l]et's let him know that this time ABC has definitely crossed the unforgivable line -- and ONLY an ABC minus Rosie will ever satisfy Christian America or a Christian world." Thus, to many a Christian activist the appropriate punishment for Rosie's rebellion is the network guillotine.
The AgapePress article was referring to a September 18 "Message to ABC" by Gray, who heads World Christian Ministries, posted on TheConservativeVoice.com, in which he declared, "I want no more of Rosie O'Donnell." Gray also highlighted American Family Association founder and chairman Donald E. Wildmon's "ActionAlert" urging readers to "[t]ell ABC that O'Donnell's comments deserve an apology and a reprimand."
O'Donnell's remarks about the pope were highlighted on the October 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, and were designated by host Bill O'Reilly as the "Outrage of the Week." Author and former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg called O'Donnell's comments "dumb," and O'Reilly, speaking to Fox News contributor Jane Hall, said regarding O'Donnell:
O'REILLY: But Jane, I am very disturbed by companies like Disney [ABC's parent company] and General Electric [parent of NBC] now saying we're going to do radio. We're going to put anybody on the air. They can say anything they want. It can be defamatory. It can be flat-out wrong. And we don't really care, if we make a buck. And that's what's going on.
O'Reilly's objection to putting people on the air who say things that "can be defamatory" and "can be flat-out wrong" would seem to preclude his own appearances; Media Matters has documented smears and falsehoods by O'Reilly -- both on the radio and on TV -- far too numerous to list. (Further, contrary to O'Reilly's suggestion that The Walt Disney Co. does not currently have a radio operation, Disney owns -- and will continue to hold majority interest in following a merger announced earlier this year -- ABC Radio Networks, syndicator of Fox News host Sean Hannity's radio show, another source of conservative misinformation.)
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued a September 28 press release condemning O'Donnell, which quoted Catholic League president William Donohue saying: "A few weeks ago, O'Donnell compared Christians whom she disagrees with to Muslim terrorists, and now we have her ridiculing Jesus."
In the September 12 entry of her Hot Air video weblog, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin said:
MALKIN: You know, the thing is, seriously, it's a shame that there isn't a single person on that panel who could smack Rosie O'Donnell over the head with a "clue bat" about just how threatening the jihadists are.
In his October 10 "Media Monitor" column, Accuracy in Media (AIM) editor Cliff Kincaid attacked O'Donnell:
Lesbian entertainer Rosie O'Donnell generated headlines when she declared that "radical Christianity" was "just as threatening as radical Islam ... " That's completely absurd, of course, as demonstrated by the violent Islamic reaction to the Pope's simple historical observation about violent Jihad. But it's not a unique view.
For all their attacks on O'Donnell, however, not one of these media figures or bloggers has addressed the allegations in Kuo's book or the statements he has made to the media about what he describes as the White House's pandering to Christian conservatives for votes, while showing contempt for their policy priorities, as well as for them personally. The New York Times reported on October 13:
A former deputy director of the White House office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is charging that many members of the Bush administration privately dismiss its conservative Christian allies as ''boorish'' and ''nuts.''
The former deputy director, David Kuo, an evangelical Christian conservative, makes the accusations in a newly published memoir, ''Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction'' (Free Press), about his frustration with what he described as the meager support and political exploitation of the program.
''National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy,' '' Mr. Kuo writes.
Kuo himself appeared on the October 15 edition of CBS's 60 Minutes and said: "You name the important Christian leader, and I have heard them mocked by serious people in serious places." Correspondent Leslie Stahl reported:
STAHL: Specifically, he says, people in the White House political office referred to [700 Club host] Pat Robertson as "insane"; [Moral Majority founder] Jerry Falwell as "ridiculous"; [Focus on the Family founder] James Dobson "had to be controlled." And President Bush, he writes, talked about his compassion agenda, but never really fought for it.
In the book, Kuo described ways in which the Bush White House manipulated and lied to Christian conservatives. On Page 173, he wrote:
Christian conservatives seemed especially vulnerable to that power and everyone working with them knew that. There were just so many ways to make them happy. In addition to myriad White House events, phone calls, and meetings, they could be given passes to be in the crowd greeting the president when he arrived on Air Force One or tickets for a speech he was giving in their hometown. Little trinkets like cufflinks or pens or pads of paper were passed out like business cards. The White House used them all, knowing the Christian leaders could give them to their congregations or donors or friends to show just how influential they were. Making politically active Christians personally happy meant having to worry far less about the Christian political agenda.
On Pages 239-240, Kuo alleged that Bush and White House senior adviser Karl Rove lied to Christian conservatives about the amount of money the Bush administration had made available for faith-based charities, describing the circumstances:
For two years I had bitten my tongue and toed the line. We in the faith-based office didn't speak too loudly or thunder too much. We were nice. I wasn't angry now, but I was no longer willing to lie. "Sir, we've given them virtually nothing new to give."
He [Bush] had been looking down at some papers I had given him but his head jerked up. "Nothing? What do you mean we've given them nothing?" He glared and angrily pointed toward the window. "Don't we have new money in programs like the Compassion Fund thing?"
Karl was standing next to me in front of the president's desk. He looked stunned. I glanced at him and then looked at the president. "No, sir. In the last two years we've gotten less than eighty million dollars in new grants." I was probably being generous.
"What?! What do you mean?"
Karl looked a bit confused, too. "But what about the other money? You know, the money we've opened up to new charities."
He was remembering our own spin from the winter. Yes, I told the president, because of new regulations there was technically about $8 billion in existing programs that were now eligible for faith-based groups. But, I assured him, faith-based groups had been getting money from those programs for years.
"Eight billion in new dollars?"
"No sir. Eight billion in existing dollars for which groups will find it technically easier to apply. But faith-based groups have been getting that money for years."
"Eight billion. That's what we'll tell them. Eight billion in new funds for faith-based groups. Okay, let's go."
As we walked I vaguely recalled one of Jesus' parables about only being able to reap what you have sown. We had sown the symbolic seeds of compassion with our constituents. They had accepted them gratefully. We had sown them with the president, too, and he was happy with them.
On Page 190, Kuo described Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell's behavior at the National Cathedral in Washington on the September 14, 2001 National Day of Prayer and Remembrance:
I was silent. [Former Sen.] Bob Dole [R-KS], who only got a ticket at the last minute because he was inadvertently left off the invite list, sobbed quietly. I watched his shoulders heave up and down. A family seated a few rows away held each other and cried. Their quiet cries echoed throughout the cathedral.
Ahead, Jerry Falwell was chortling with a fellow conservative leader. As Barbara Bush entered, Jerry chirped, "Whoa, does she look frumpy."
Four pages later, Kuo wrote about Rove's response to Falwell's complaint that Kuo had told people about this incident:
I talked about the [evangelical leader Billy] Graham/Falwell distinction with too many people. One day I was handed a note to call Karl. He had received a fax from Jerry Falwell, fuming because I had been spreading rumors about him. "David, Karl. Jerry sent a fax complaining about you." I told Karl about Jerry's behavior at the Memorial Service. "Listen, I don't know. Would you just call Jerry, apologize and make things nice? We just have to put up with him."
On Pages 229-230, Kuo detailed the White House's private attitudes toward the Christian right:
What they didn't get to see was what the White House thought of them. For most of the rest of the White House staff, evangelical leaders were people to be tolerated, not people who were truly welcomed. No group was more eye-rolling about Christians than the political affairs shop. They knew "the nuts" were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness. Sadly, the political affairs folks complained most often and most loudly about how boorish many politically involved Christians were. They didn't see much of the love of Jesus in their lives.
Political affairs was hardly alone. There wasn't a week that went by that I didn't hear someone in the middle- to senior-levels making some comment or another about how annoying the Christians were or how tiresome they were, or how "handling" them took so much time.
National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as "ridiculous," out of control," and just plain "goofy." The leaders spent much time lauding the president, but they were never shrewd enough to do what Billy Graham had done three decades before, to wonder whether they were being used. They were.
A blogger by the name of "AllahPundit" posted an October 12 entry on Kuo on the Hot Air blog. "AllahPundit," however, did not directly address Kuo's allegations, and Malkin herself has yet to address Kuo, either on Hot Air or her own blog.