Accuracy in Media

Pastor John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) gave a fiery critique of the media at CUFI’s third annual Summit last week. “For several months we’ve found ourselves in the middle of a vicious national media firestorm,” said Hagee, who has been condemned for calling Hurricane Katrina God’s wrath on homosexuals and for calling the Catholic Church “the great whore.” 

Hagee criticized the media for twisting his words and for not being willing to accept the “Bible view.” “The problem is that in the marketplace of ideas, a.k.a the media, they do not understand the Bible view. Many of the attacks on us stem from this unfortunate fact,” he said. “For the moment I am happy to report to you that the storm has passed, but I do emphasize ‘for the moment.’” 

Instead of focusing on Hagee’s rebuttal of the mainstream media, many news outlets this year focused instead on a speech made by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a long-time colleague of John McCain’s. The question seems to be, does the Senator’s attendance imply that McCain still supports Pastor Hagee’s work? 

Washington Times correspondent Stephen Dinan suggests that it does. “But is Lieberman, who has repeatedly served as a top surrogate for McCain’s campaign, speaking tomorrow for McCain, who unceremoniously dumped Hagee?,” writes Dinan. “The McCain campaign didn’t immediately return a call on Lieberman’s role, but Lieberman’s Senate office says this is not a surrogate event…Still, when some-time surrogates meet former surrogates in the heat of campaign season, it’s bound to raise questions.”

J Street, a left-leaning non-profit organization, amassed 42,000 signatures calling for Sen. Lieberman to boycott the CUFI Summit. 

“As you may know, there has been an organized, pretty aggressive campaign to convince me to cancel my speech this evening following the political controversy that broke out over Pastor Hagee and some of the comments that were attributed to him,” said Sen. Lieberman at the Night to Honor Israel banquet. But, he said, “the bond that I feel with Pastor Hagee and each and every one of you is much stronger than that and so I am proud to stand with you tonight.”

Many news outlets ran Sen. Lieberman’s comments as those of a close McCain confidant, even though the speech was advertised as independent from the McCain campaign. “One of John McCain’s most prominent supporters on Tuesday praised an evangelical leader whom the Republican presidential candidate repudiated after a string of controversial remarks were made public,” wrote Andy Sullivan for Reuters. 

“One of Sen. John McCain’s most visible surrogates is scheduled to speak before an organization founded and led by Pastor John Hagee Tuesday night in Washington, despite McCain’s rejection of the endorsement by the controversial pastor,” wrote ABC News’ Rick Klein. Klein’s report focuses on McCain’s ties to the pro-CUFI Lieberman. 

“Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, is one of McCain’s highest-profile supporters, appearing regularly alongside McCain at events and popping up frequently as a campaign surrogate,” wrote Klein.  But in this case, the McCain office said Lieberman was acting independently. “[Lieberman] is chairman of Citizens for McCain, a group for independents and Democrats who support McCain. He is widely discussed as a possible Republican National Convention speaker, and even as a potential running mate for the Arizona Republican,” added Klein.

Many columns deliberately connect Pastor Hagee to the McCain campaign, and some even suggest that Pastor Hagee is McCain’s personal Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

As the Associated Press writer Andrew Miga reported,

“Lieberman’s appearance has sparked criticism, particularly among some liberal advocacy groups who have urged him to sever his ties to the Texas evangelical preacher. Lieberman supports presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who rejected Hagee’s endorsement in May citing the pastor’s claim that God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land.”  

The media’s current obsession with Lieberman’s attendance at CUFI represents an ongoing double standard. While news outlets continue to associate two figures who have distanced themselves from each other, just a few months ago the media were supporting the contention of Obama supporters’ that coverage of Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright is simply a “distraction.” 

In March, Obama dismissed the controversy as too divisive. “[Barack Obama] said the clips spoke “to some of the racial divisions that we have in this country and tapped into those divisions. I hope people don’t get distracted by this because as I said in my speech last week on Tuesday; we can’t afford to be distracted,” reported MSNBC.

A Chicago NBC station also quoted Obama as saying, “Part of what I hope to do in this campaign and as president is to get us beyond these divisions that distract us from our common challenges and our common opportunities and move the country forward.” 

In April, USA Today reporter Kathy Kiely wrote that “Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman campaigning for Obama in his home state—which, along with North Carolina, will hold the next round of primaries May 6—called Wright’s comments ‘an unnecessary distraction.’” Likewise, “Political analysts said Wright’s appearance was a distraction,” writes Kiely, quoting Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. Kiely also quotes a Republican strategist who believes that the issue had been overplayed. 

By this rubric, doesn’t the media’s hyper-focus on the relationship between Pastor John Hagee, Joe Lieberman, and John McCain then count as a “distraction?” 

“I have said I do not believe Sen. Obama shares Rev. Wright’s extreme views. But let me also be clear, Rev. Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual adviser, and I did not attend his church for 20 years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today,” McCain told CNN in May. 

McCain also does not consider Pastor Hagee his “mentor,” nor did the evangelical pastor marry McCain and his wife. Yet some reporters insist on drawing parallels between Pastor Hagee and Reverend Wright. 

“Outside the convention hall, the address received little notice until two months ago when—in the maelstrom that is presidential politics—Hagee became Republican John McCain’s Rev. Jeremiah Wright,” writes Kevin Urban for the Connecticut Post on July 20.  

A disgruntled Washington Post reporter, Dana Milbank, who was refused entry to the summit on Monday, July 21, made the same transparent comparison. (The press was told that the summit would only be open to them for the Tuesday banquet, and then CUFI later extended that permission to attend any Tuesday afternoon session). 

Although Milbank claims he was told about the press blockout “belatedly,” Kara Silverman, a press contact for CUFI, said Milbank was on CUFI’s mailing list and would have received their official notification that the Monday events were closed to reporters. 

This didn’t keep Milbank from writing an angry column, however. “But while McCain has officially renounced the pair (and they him), the program for the summit suggests the distancing came with a wink and a nod,” writes Milbank. “It touts as speakers top McCain surrogate Joe Lieberman and Bauer, a prominent McCain supporter and an informal adviser to the campaign. It displayed three photos of McCain with Hagee at last year’s summit.”

“This election may well come down to which candidate can better control his crazy pastors—and after yesterday’s weirdness at the convention center, McCain has fallen behind by about two cubits,” he writes. 

According to a recent survey by Rassmussen Reports, “the idea that reporters are trying to help Obama win in November has grown by five percentage points” up to 49 percent (versus just 14 percent who believe the same about McCain) over the previous month. Perhaps reporters think that associating McCain with Pastor Hagee will help Obama win this crucial race. 

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