Joe Scarborough advanced the claim that the White House specifically requested that Jesus' name be covered during President Obama's speech at Georgetown. In fact, the White House reportedly requested that Georgetown cover all signs and symbols on the stage.
On the April 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, while interviewing Democratic National Committee chairman Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA), host Joe Scarborough asked Kaine about President Obama's recent economic speech at Georgetown University and claimed that "there was a White House request specifically to cover up the Jesus sign" during Obama's appearance. Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart followed Scarborough's remarks by quoting from an NBC Washington news report and stating: "[I]n the story that we're looking at, it says, quote, 'The White House asked Georgetown to cover a monogram symbolizing Jesus' name in Gaston Hall, which Obama used for his speech.' This is according to CNSNews.com." However, the local NBC Washington news report, which Scarborough referenced in making his assertion that the White House requested that Georgetown "cover up the Jesus sign," misrepresented an April 16 CNSNews.com article. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, the CNSNews.com article reported that the White House requested that Georgetown "cover up all signs and symbols" on the stage (emphasis added). Indeed, CNSNews.com quoted a Georgetown spokeswoman saying that the university "honored the White House staff's request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage" and that this request was "consistent with what they've [the White House] done for other policy speeches."
As Media Matters noted, on April 16, The Fox Nation and the Drudge Report similarly alleged that the White House requested that Jesus' name specifically be covered during Obama's speech. Their allegations were based on the CNSNews.com report that -- while it made clear that Georgetown refuted the claim that Obama specifically requested that the Jesus sign be covered -- nonetheless had the misleading headline, "Georgetown Says It Covered Over Name of Jesus to Comply With White House Request."
CNSNews.com, also known as the Cybercast News Service (CNS), is a division of the conservative Media Research Center, an organization that purports to have been founded to "prove -- through sound scientific research -- that liberal bias in the media does exist," and to "neutralize its impact on the American political scene." CNS describes itself as "an alternative news source that would cover stories that are subject to the bias of omission and report on other news subject to bias by commission" and that it "endeavors to fairly present all legitimate sides of a story and debunk popular, albeit incorrect, myths about cultural and policy issues."
From the April 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): There's the thing about Georgetown University, the speech and --
SCARBOROUGH: Oh my gosh.
BRZEZINSKI: -- some sort of -- they --
SCARBOROUGH: They covered up the --
BRZEZINSKI: They covered up --
SCARBOROUGH: -- Jesus sign.
BRZEZINSKI: -- some sort of -- we will get to that. I cannot believe that happened. I was reading about that this morning in the [inaudible].
SCARBROROUGH: At a Catholic university. I mean, come on. Mr. President, I'm doing my best, OK? I'm trying -- I'm preaching moderation, people not being intemperate, and you're covering up signs of Jesus.
BRZEZINSKI: With us now, the governor from Virginia, the chairman of the national -- the Democratic National Committee, Governor Tim Kaine. Thanks very much for joining us. Good to see you, sir.
KAINE: You bet guys. Good to be with you.
BRZEZINSKI: All right.
KAINE: Great to be back.
BRZEZINSKI: Yes, it's good to have you back on the show. I'm just cobbling together the elements of this story. I don't know if you heard about it, but during the president's speech at Georgetown, I guess the White House asked the university to cover the religious symbol that would be in the shot with him. And we have now a statement from the university. It's a Catholic university, Georgetown is. And it says this:
I can't imagine, as the bishops' university and the national university of the Catholic Church, that we would ever cover up our religious art or signage for any reason. Our Catholic faith is integral to our identity as an institution of higher education.
SCARBOROUGH: And that's --
BRZEZINSKI: So that's from Catholic University
BRZEZINSKI: What do you think, Governor Tim Kaine, about this and how this helps or hurts the Democrats? What do you make of this story?
KAINE: Well -- well, look, I'm a great Catholic, and like probably Joe and some others on the show. The way I heard this was that the White House asked, in terms of doing the speech at Georgetown, that they wanted American flags as a backdrop. I don't know that they were choosey about exactly what room it was in or what else was there, but they wanted American flags as a backdrop, and so the university and the event organizers put up American flags.
There wasn't a request specifically to cover up any religious symbols or statues, as I understand it. Now, I haven't followed this too closely, but that was just my understanding -- there's kind of a standard backdrop for a presidential --
SCARBOROUGH: Wasn't there a black --
KAINE: -- speech, and it's American flags.
SCARBOROUGH: Wasn't there a black -- there was a black triangle, was there not? Jonathan Capehart?
CAPEHART: A black plywood --
WILLIE GEIST (co-host): There it is.
CAPEHART: -- cover, which you can see over the president's shoulder there, which was -- they wanted to cover the organ pipes and also the IHS symbol --
SCARBOROUGH: The symbol for Jesus.
CAPEHART: That was behind the president.
BRZEZINSKI: I think there's more to come on this. I'm not sure what their motivation was there.
SCARBOROUGH: If, in fact -- it sounds like from what we're seeing -- what Mika just handed me -- that there was a White House request specifically to cover up the Jesus sign and there's this black -- huge black triangle covering that sign up. Is that a mistake by the White House?
BRZEZINSKI: If that's the case?
KAINE: Well, again, my understanding is that they wanted the American flags, and that's the backdrop they want for speeches. And that was the request made at Georgetown. I haven't -- I haven't seen information from Georgetown complaining about it. So, you know, I'm hearing it from you guys. But as you know, when the president gives speeches, the American flags are the traditional backdrop he uses.
SCARBOROUGH: Jonathan Capehart?
CAPEHART: Governor Kaine, in the story that we're looking at, it says, quote, "The White House asked Georgetown to cover a monogram symbolizing Jesus' name in Gaston Hall, which Obama used for his speech." This is according to CNSNews.com.
Do you think this is unusual for the White House to call on an institution, a religious institution like Georgetown, even though it's a higher-education institution, to do something like this?
KAINE: Well, I'd have to check -- I'd have to check who CNSNews.com is and check the source there. I didn't hear you mention any names, et cetera. So again, you're running something by me from a news source that I'm not familiar with.
Again, my understanding of this from end of the day yesterday was just what I've said, that the White House has a kind of tradition of using American flags as the backdrop to speeches.