The Free Congress © Commentary:

The Smearing Of Senator Santorum
By Paul M. Weyrich
April 24, 2003

The Associated Press used to be known for having reporters who kept their opinions out of the story. But when Senator Rick Santorum sat down with an AP reporter to discuss his eight-year record in the United States Senate, the interview ended up including his views on privacy and the tension between individual freedom and the traditional family values necessary to maintain a healthy society. Expressing his viewpoint, which is no doubt shaped by the faith that he shares with millions of his Pennsylvania constituents, Senator Santorum discussed a case before the Supreme Court in which the constitutionality of a Texas law regulating sodomy is being challenged.

So, what happened?

The remarks that Senator Santorum made about the legal case were placed in the third paragraph and, once the story appeared, homosexual rights organizations launched attacks against Senator Santorum for what he said in the interview.

Given that the writer, Lara Jakes Jordan, is the wife of Jim Jordan, the manager of John Kerry's presidential campaign and a former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, it is worth asking whether the AP is going to review the work of this reporter.

Is Mrs. Jordan bringing bias into her reporting?

The lead paragraph in another story that she had published recently credited the Fellowship, sponsors of the National Prayer Breakfast, with being a "secretive religious organization." The Fellowship maintains a home on Capitol Hill in which six members of Congress -- conscientious Catholics and Protestants -- live. Current tenants include Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Rep. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA). They are able to obtain convenient housing at a good price. More importantly, they are able to find Christian fellowship in a city preoccupied with hardball politics. There are weekly discussions about the role that religion plays in their daily lives.

Mrs. Jordan's use of quotes -- particularly one from Rev. Barry Lynn, the head of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State - and some of her own descriptive phrases in the story make the organization sound rather shadowy, perhaps just a little bit sinister. Its mission is to bring Christian elected officials in this country and others together in prayer. Even after one of the Fellowship's board of directors is quoted explaining its goals as an organization, she sees fit to mention that "few in the Fellowship are willing to talk about its mission."

Will the AP have an ombudsman investigate to see why Mrs. Jordan highlighted Senator Santorum's quotes about a Supreme Court case, rather than concentrate more on what Senator Santorum has been saying and doing during his eight years in the United States Senate? Is there any way in which her reporting might have been conducted in a way to help Senator Kerry in his quest for the nomination or the groups that are his allies?

These are questions worth asking.

Not just because Senator Kerry, as one might expect from a presidential candidate, criticized Senator Santorum's remarks. But so did the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee along with the Human Rights Campaign and other pro-homosexual special rights organizations. The DSCC and the Human Rights Campaign have tried to embarrass Senator Santorum by calling on him to resign his post as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

A Human Rights Campaign official actually went so far as to allege the Senator's remarks would "fuel prejudice that can lead to violence" against homosexuals.

Frankly, I wonder how many people would have read or heard about the remarks if not for the Human Rights Campaign's effort in attacking them so vociferously. If the Senator's remarks are so likely to lead to violence against homosexuals, why is the Human Rights Campaign so eagerly publicizing them?

Maybe the real answer is that the Human Rights Campaign, by trying to instigate a media feeding frenzy similar to the one that devoured Trent Lott, is attempting to fuel its own publicity and fundraising efforts.

Many of the people who are represented by Rick Santorum agree with him, and they derive their views from their religious faith and belief in traditional values, particularly when it comes to acknowledging the importance of the traditional family in maintaining a stable and orderly nation. They take very seriously the admonition to love the sinner, but hate the sin. They do not commit violence; they express themselves in policy debates in a respectful manner.

What the tactics of the Human Rights Campaign are really aiming to accomplish is political extortion, not a rightful redress to a grievous wrong. Unless a public official agrees completely with the positions advocated by the Human Rights Campaign and other homosexual rights organizations then he or she will be tarred as being "intolerant" and a "bigot."

Senator Santorum is absolutely right to make clear that he has no intention of resigning from the chairmanship of the Senate Republican Conference. He is absolutely right not to give in to this attempt at political extortion. He is absolutely right to remain steadfast in his support for the traditional family.

It's time conservatives stopped being cowed by these accusations of "hate" and "intolerance" when we are addressing in a calm and thoughtful manner the philosophical and legal questions surrounding the social policy issues of the day. If we cannot do this without having our reputations eviscerated, then where is our society heading?

As far as I am concerned, the Human Rights Campaign owes Senator Santorum an apology for impugning his character. There, I've said it. I hope more conservatives and fair-minded Americans will start sounding this call too.

We're mad about what's happened. And we shouldn't have to take these kinds of attacks any longer.

Paul Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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