Politico article on Obama's recent church attendance ignored Bush's sporadic attendance as president

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

In an article headlined "Obama skips church, heads to gym," Politico reported, "On the three Sundays since his election, Obama has instead used his free time to get in workouts at a Chicago gym," and also asserted, "Both President-elect George W. Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton managed to attend church in the weeks after they were elected." However, Politico ignored numerous reports that Bush attended church infrequently over the past eight years and did not belong to a Washington congregation. Politico's report was echoed by other media, including Fox News and the syndicated radio show The War Room with Quinn & Rose.

In a November 23 Politico article headlined "Obama skips church, heads to gym," senior political writer Jonathan Martin and White House reporter Carol E. Lee wrote, "On the three Sundays since his election, [President-elect Barack] Obama has instead used his free time to get in workouts at a Chicago gym," and also asserted, "Both President-elect George W. Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton managed to attend church in the weeks after they were elected." However, in focusing on church attendance "in the weeks after they were elected," Martin and Lee ignored numerous reports of Bush's infrequent church attendance over the past eight years, as well as his reported lack of membership in a Washington congregation. After Politico posted its report, Fox News' Brit Hume echoed its claims on Special Report, and on the syndicated radio show The War Room with Quinn & Rose, co-host Rose Tennent purported to contrast Obama with former President Reagan, who, she said, "felt [it] was his mandate ... to go out and to, you know, bring about a spiritual awakening in the country."

By contrast, in articles about where the Obamas might decide to go to church, other media outlets have reported that Bush has attended church infrequently:

  • In a November 17 article, the Associated Press' Matthew Barakat reported that Obama "could choose, as many presidents have done, not to attend services at all. President George W. Bush, for instance, has only infrequently attended services in Washington, occasionally going to St. John's [Church, near the White House]."
  • In a November 14 article, Time magazine senior editor Amy Sullivan noted that "Ronald Reagan didn't go to church at all" and reported that while "[t]he Clintons drove down the street every Sunday to Foundry United Methodist ... George W. Bush never became a regular member of any local church, preferring to worship most often at the chapel at Camp David."
  • In a November 11 article, The Hill's Jordy Yager wrote: "President Bush is widely known for his religious beliefs, but for eight years has not frequented a local church, at times citing security concerns." Yager added that "security does not make regular worship impossible. Both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, for example, attended D.C.-area churches. Clinton's church, Foundry Methodist Church, installed metal detectors because many tourists attended services on Sunday -- some simply to catch a glimpse of the president."

In addition, in an article headlined "Empty Pew," for the October 11, 2004, issue of The New Republic, Sullivan criticized the media for its lack of reporting "on the president's whereabouts on Sunday mornings":

What most [Americans] -- including many of the president's fiercest supporters -- don't know, however, is that Bush doesn't go to church. Sure, when he weekends at Camp David, Bush spends Sunday morning with the compound's chaplain. And, every so often, he drops in on the little Episcopal church across Lafayette Park from the White House. But the president who has staked much of his domestic agenda on the argument that religious communities hold the key to solving social problems doesn't belong to a congregation.

In addition to repeating the gist of the Politico report and omitting relevant reporting about Bush's church attendance, Hume featured the following on-screen graphic:

On the November 24 broadcast of The War Room with Quinn & Rose, Tennent said that Reagan "believed that what we needed in this society, in this country, was another awakening, a spiritual awakening." She continued:

Now contrast that -- and I just heard a story in the news: Obama, unlike all the other presidents -- you know, the Sunday after the Election Day -- all the presidential candidates, typically, or the winners, go to church. He went to the gym. So I just want you to contrast the two leaders, and what they believe should be the foundation of this country, and what Ronald Regan felt was his mandate, which was to go out and to, you know, bring about a spiritual awakening in the country. Obama wants to deaden that spirituality.

In fact, in God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life, author Paul Kengor wrote that "after surviving an assassination attempt in 1981, Reagan chose not to attend church regularly as president."

Talkers Magazine lists Quinn & Rose on its "Heavy Hundred" list, which it describes as a list of the "100 most important radio talk show hosts in America." According to the show's website, it airs on 18 radio stations and XM Satellite Radio.

From Politico's November 23 article:

President-elect Barack Obama has yet to attend church services since winning the White House earlier this month, a departure from the example of his two immediate predecessors.

On the three Sundays since his election, Obama has instead used his free time to get in workouts at a Chicago gym.

Asked about the president-elect's decision to not attend church, a transition aide noted that the Obamas valued their faith experience in Chicago but were concerned about the impact their large retinue may have on other parishioners.

"Because they have a great deal of respect for places of worship, they do not want to draw unwelcome or inappropriate attention to a church not used to the attention their attendance would draw," said the aide.

Both President-elect George W. Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton managed to attend church in the weeks after they were elected.

In November of 1992, Clinton went to services in Little Rock, Ark., on the three weekends following his election, taking pre-church jogs on the first two and attending on the third weekend a Catholic Mass with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, with whom he was trying to smooth over lingering campaign tensions.

In the weeks after the contested 2000 election, Bush regularly attended services at Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, and Al Gore was frequently photographed arriving at and leaving church in Virginia.

On his first day as president-elect, following weeks of Florida recounts and court hearings, Bush went to church with his wife, Laura. They attended an invite-only prayer service on Thursday, Dec. 14, at Tarrytown United Methodist Church. About 300 people attended, including top campaign staff and visiting clergy. During the service, the Rev. Mark Craig, senior pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, told Bush, "You have been chosen by God to lead the people."

From the November 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: And now, the most enthralling two minutes in television: the latest from the "Political Grapevine." Since Election Day, President-elect Barack Obama's been seen dropping off his daughters at school, taking his wife out to dinner, and frequenting a gym in Chicago. But one location Mr. Obama has not been photographed at is church. In the three Sundays since winning the White House, the president-elect has used his free time for workouts instead. That's a shift from his two immediate predecessors. Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton attended services in the weeks after they were elected. And most presidents have made a practice of going to church and being seen doing so.

The Politico newspaper reports a transition aide noted the Obamas valued their faith experience in Chicago but were concerned about the impact their large entourage could have on others in the congregation. The Obamas are currently without a church home; in June, they resigned their membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in the wake of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy. An Obama aide told Politico the family looks forward to finding a, quote, "church community" here in Washington.

From the November 24 broadcast of Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose:

TENNENT: I like to think about Ronald Reagan, and the verse that his mother had given him when he was -- always a favorite, in fact, in the Reagan family -- but it was a verse that he had opened to in his Bible as he put his hand on the Bible and was sworn in on Inauguration Day, and that's the one that I've only recently learned was his favorite. It's the one that I've had for this -- for our audience for a long time, it's Second Chronicles 7:14. And it's all -- and Reagan believed based on this scripture -- if you have the time, look for it, it's Second Chronicles 7:14 -- he believed that what we needed in this society, in this country, was another awakening, a spiritual awakening. And he believed that that was his job.

JIM QUINN (co-host): Right.

TENNENT: Now contrast that -- and I just heard a story in the news: Obama, unlike all the other presidents -- you know, the Sunday after the Election Day -- all the presidential candidates, typically, or the winners, go to church.

QUINN: Right.

TENNENT: He went to the gym. So I just want you to contrast the two leaders, and what they believe should be the foundation of this country, and what Ronald Reagan felt was his mandate, which was to go out and to, you know, bring about a spiritual awakening in the country.

QUINN: Well, the only way that a limited government --

TENNENT: Obama wants to deaden that spirituality.

QUINN: The only way that a limited government can work is if you have people who will do the right thing when nobody's looking. And -- otherwise it doesn't work. I mean, if you get -- I mean, just take a look at our society today. Everybody's out to get whatever they can get out of it. I mean, everybody's -- the fix is in on everything, "I'm out to get this. Somebody else is out to get something else."

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