McCain preachers merit scrutiny, too

April 5, 2008

by David Kopel

On March 28, published an unedited Speakout piece by Evergreen resident Justin Dick, arguing that the media were racist because they covered the hateful statements made by Barack Obama's minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but failed to cover the equally outrageous statements of pro-Republican ministers. The Op-Ed raises an important point, although not an original one.

The point is not original, because almost all of Dick's piece is a verbatim copy of a March 19 article on the Huffington Post Web site by Cenk Uygur. An astute commenter on the Rocky's Web site pointed out Dick's plagiarism.

So here's a tip for Op-Ed editors everywhere: For any Op-Ed being considered for publication, take a couple of sentences, and run each through an Internet search engine. The check should take less than a minute, and can save editors from wasting time on plagiarists.

Uygur, besides writing for the Huffington Post, is an early-morning host for Air America, although his program isn't carried on 760 AM, Denver's Air America affiliate.

To support the thesis that the media treat the misdeeds of white, pro-Republican religious figures differently from the way they treated Obama's Jeremiah Wright, Uygur writes that "Rudy Giuliani's priest" has been accused of child molestation. Actually, the man, Alan Placa, isn't really "Giuliani's priest" or anybody else's priest, since he was ordered by the Catholic Church to cease his performance of priestly functions. Before that, Placa did officiate at Giuliani's marriage to the second of his three wives. Notably, Giuliani did hire Placa to work for Giuliani Partners.

In any case, the Placa-Giuliani relationship was detailed in an Oct. 23 report by ABC's Brian Ross. If the Giuliani campaign hadn't collapsed, the story would have merited further discussion in the mainstream media. But I wouldn't fault the Denver media for not covering the story. Given the increasingly severe space limits for national news, you can't fault the Denver papers for ignoring a peripheral story about an also-ran candidate.

In contrast, readers should expect in-depth coverage of the candidates who might really become president. As with Giuliani, it was ABC's Ross who brought forward the story of Obama's association with a scurrilous man of the cloth.

In March and April 2007, The New York Times published two articles about Obama's efforts to distance himself from his former mentor Wright. In the following 10 months, it would have been easy for a journalist to do what ABC's Ross finally did by March 2008: buy and report on the videos that Wright's church sells, containing Wright's many hateful diatribes. Any Colorado TV station, or even the Web site of one of the Colorado newspapers, could have reported a major national story that would have been important to many citizens, including Coloradans, who cast ballots in January and February, not knowing about Obama's decades-long close relationship with a radically anti-American extremist.

The national political correspondents for the Denver papers were among the many journalists who failed to report a story that was important and easily reportable.

Uygur wonders why the media have devoted so little attention to John McCain's association with mega-church leader Rev. James Hagee (who has made a variety of strongly anti-Catholic statements) and with the Rev. Rod Parsley, who believes that one of God's purposes in creating America was to fight a holy war against Islam. McCain had sought and received Hagee's endorsement, and had praised Parsley at one campaign event in Ohio.

Yet the only mention of Hagee or Parsley in either the Rocky or the Post has been in letters to the editor (and in Dick's plagiarized Op-Ed).

After the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights began a public campaign on the Hagee issue, McCain on March 10 stated: "I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics." Catholic League President Bill Donohue responded: "Sen. McCain has done the right thing and we salute him for doing so. As far as the Catholic League is concerned, this case is closed."

Uygur's March 19 article should have noted McCain's March 10 statement about Hagee. McCain has not issued a similar statement about Parsley.

Uygur (and Dick in plagiarizing Uygur) theorized racism as the explanation for the disparate media treatment of Wright and Hagee/Parsley, but added, "I'm willing to listen to other possible explanations."

The obvious explanation is that McCain has not spent the last 20 years attending a church headed by Hagee or Parsley, nor did he title his own book after a Hagee/Parsley sermon saying how terrible America is, nor did he credit Hagee or Parsley with converting him to Christianity. Simply put, the intimacy and intensity of Obama's association with Wright is orders of magnitude greater than McCain's association with Hagee or Parsley.

That said, a paper that provided thorough campaign coverage would have at least had a short item about Hagee once the Catholic League began making him an issue. Unfortunately, such comprehensive coverage isn't possible given the size of the national news holes in the Denver papers.


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