Discussing a column by Frank Rich about media coverage of controversial comments made by televangelist John Hagee, who has endorsed Sen. John McCain, and those made by Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert said on Imus in the Morning: “I don't think -- the Hagee thing, McCain has not been questioned ... scrutinized about that.” But Russert ignored his own role in the lack of scrutiny, not mentioning Hagee once on Meet the Press since his endorsement. Russert also said “You know, if there was video of Hagee, it makes all the difference in the world.” But there is audio of Hagee stating that Hurricane Katrina was “the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans” for its “level of sin” and audio of his defending those comments.
On the May 5 edition of ABC Radio Networks' Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus asserted that it was a "[b]ig stretch, I thought, for [New York Times columnist] Frank Rich to try to suggest that Reverend -- Reverend [John] Hagee is somehow -- [Sen.] John McCain has the same relationship with him that Senator [Barack] Obama had with Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright." As Columbia Journalism Review staff writer Liz Cox Barrett noted, NBC Washington bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim Russert responded to Imus by saying: “You know, if there was video of Hagee, it makes all the difference in the world. It's interesting.” But, in fact, there is audio of televangelist and McCain supporter John Hagee asserting in 2006 that “New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God” and that “Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.” Hagee -- whose endorsement McCain sought and recently said he's “glad to have” -- defended those comments on April 22. Russert also said: “I don't think -- the Hagee thing, McCain has not been questioned in great scrutiny by that -- scrutinized about that, or a lot of things. I mean, he's been -- really been given this grace period to go around the country, unify his party, raise some money, put a campaign together, and he's benefited from enormously. There's no doubt about it.” However, Russert failed to note his own role in the disparate scrutiny given McCain over the specific issue under discussion -- Hagee -- compared with that given Obama over Wright. Indeed, according to a Media Matters for America Nexis search*, Meet the Press has focused on Obama's former minister, Jeremiah Wright, significantly more than Hagee. Between February 27 -- when Hagee endorsed McCain -- and May 6, Wright was brought up on eight of 10 editions of Meet the Press and his name was mentioned 62 times as indicated by transcripts of the program. Hagee's name does not appear in any Meet the Press transcript during that time. Moreover, as Media Matters noted, Russert's guest mentioned Hagee -- though not by name -- on the March 2 edition of Meet the Press, stating that McCain didn't need to be campaigning “with televangelists in San Antonio,” but Russert ignored the comment.
As Media Matters has noted, Hagee made his controversial remarks about Hurricane Katrina on the September 18, 2006, edition of National Public Radio's Fresh Air, with host Terry Gross, and defended his comments on the April 22 edition of Dennis Prager's nationally syndicated radio show. Hagee's comments about Hurricane Katrina are available at NPR.org and audio of his defense of those remarks is available on thinkprogress.org.
Media Matters has also documented (here, here, here, and here) the disparity between the media's extensive coverage of controversial comments made by Wright and other supporters of Obama and their coverage of controversial comments made by Hagee and other supporters of McCain. For example, Media Matters documented that since Hagee endorsed McCain on February 27 through April 30, The New York Times and The Washington Post combined have published more than 12 times as many articles mentioning Wright and Obama than they have mentioning Hagee and McCain. Media Matters also documented that many media outlets had reported only on the controversy over Hagee's remarks about Catholics, but not his controversial statements about Hurricane Katrina, Islam, women, and homosexuality.
From the September 18, 2006, edition of National Public Radio's Fresh Air:
HAGEE: All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are -- were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades. So I believe that the judgment of God is a very real thing. I know that there are people who demur from that, but I believe that the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment. And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.
From the May 5 edition of ABC Radio Networks' Imus in the Morning:
IMUS: Big stretch, I thought, for Frank Rich to try to suggest that Reverend -- Reverend Hagee is somehow -- John McCain has the same relationship with him that Senator Obama had with Reverend Wright, but he did run it up the flag pole yesterday, didn't he?
RUSSERT: He sure did. And there's been a lot of chatter on that about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's comments after September 11th. You know, if there was video of Hagee, it makes all the difference in the world. It's interesting. The Wright story was around a little bit, had been talked about at the Cleveland debate, right after [Nation of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan had said some nice things about Obama. I asked Obama about Farrakhan and Wright, and what really broke it out, though, was that video that got on the -- on the reel, and it kept playing over and over and again, and because, as you point out, the 20-year relationship, and having married him and baptized his kids. But I don't think the kids -- I don't think -- the Hagee thing, McCain has not been questioned in great scrutiny by that -- scrutinized about that, or a lot of things. I mean, he's been -- really been given this grace period to go around the country, unify his party, raise some money, put a campaign together, and he's benefited from enormously. There's no doubt about it.
IMUS: You need to read Matt Taibbi's book, which comes out tomorrow, called The Great Derangement, in which Taibbi goes down there and he goes on a -- I mean, he's just an insane person. But he goes on a religious retreat sponsored by Reverend Hagee's -- I think he -- I think he actually knows Reverend Hagee so it's a lot of -- well, a lot of people who are devotees of Reverend Hagee are not going to be happy with Mr. Taibbi's book, but --
RUSSERT: How much time -- how much time did he spend with him?