Over the last three weeks, Fox News has devoted at least 46 minutes of coverage to Georgia Senate candidate Raphael Warnock’s sermons in his Atlanta church, two-thirds of which took his statements out of context to claim he’s a “radical.”
A Media Matters analysis found that from November 17 through December 7, Fox covered Warnock’s sermons for at least 46 minutes -- 32 minutes of which were spent making bad-faith characterizations of what he said in order to portray him as an anti-military radical leftist. In the same time frame, CNN covered the sermons for just about 3 minutes, and MSNBC covered them for a little more than half an hour -- largely in one lengthy segment debunking the smears about Warnock’s rhetoric.
Warnock and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who was appointed by Georgia's Republican governor in 2019, are competing in a January runoff election after neither reached the 50% threshold needed on Election Day to secure the seat. In the middle of November, Loeffler, her GOP allies, and right-wing media outlets began to attack sermons Warnock had given over 15 years as a reverend at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, an iconic site of the civil rights movement.
As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway noted, Loeffler herself appeared at the Ebenezer Baptist Church last January for Martin Luther King Jr. Day before her campaign began attacking both Warnock and the church itself. In his December 1 opinion piece, Galloway warned the attack “crosses a line”:
Until last weekend, the Loeffler campaign had wisely steered clear of direct attacks on Ebenezer itself. As a cultural touchstone, the storied church once led by King and his father has become — as Loeffler noted — a sacred place.
But then U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a vanquished Republican rival now campaigning at Loeffler’s side, said this about Warnock on Saturday: “There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor. What you have is a lie from the bed of Hell. It is time to send it back to Ebenezer Baptist Church.”
I have been unable to decide which is more disturbing — referring to an African American man as an “it,” or marking Ebenezer and its congregation as a den of satanic influence. But it is hard to walk either back — and with her silence, Loeffler has acquiesced to both.
In mid-November, a conservative media outlet somehow came by the knowledge that, ‘way back in 2011, Warnock uttered the phrase “America, nobody can serve God and the military. You can’t serve God and money.” A three-minute YouTube video was provided as evidence.
The problem is that there were 30 minutes of sermon in front of that clip, which make clear that Warnock was delivering a very standard pulpit point about priorities — that one cannot serve two masters, and that one’s first loyalty is to God.
But Fox’s coverage has still repeatedly taken Warnock’s sermons out of context to claim he is an anti-military “radical” who is out of touch with Georgia. During the November 18 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Fox host Tucker Carlson went as far as calling Warnock “a fake minister with a tax exemption,” adding, “If you have the wrong skin color, this guy thinks you’re fundamentally flawed.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade even dismissed Warnock’s clarification that his 2011 sermon comes from the book of Matthew, which states, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
In contrast, while MSNBC spent a comparable amount of time on Warnock’s sermons as Fox did, all 33 minutes of the network’s coverage were spent either debunking the bad-faith attacks from right-wing media or putting the clips of Warnock in the proper theological context. From the November 25 edition of MSNBC’s The ReidOut:
Fox News previously dedicated an overwhelming amount of coverage to then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s religion during her Senate confirmation hearings -- but from a very different perspective. Then, the network helped manufacture the false right-wing media narrative that Democrats opposed her nomination because she is a practicing Catholic, and in stark contrast to their coverage attacking Warnock’s sermons as a reverend, Fox hosts insisted Barrett’s faith is a private matter that would have no bearing on her role in government.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for any of the terms “religion,” “faith,” “sermon,” “Serve God and the military,” “when truth meets power,” “god,” “military,” “money,” “wealth,” or “mammon” within close proximity to “Warnock” (including misspellings) between 6 a.m. and midnight EST from November 16 through December 7, 2020. We included all references to Warnock’s comments, including teasers, headlines, passing mentions, interview questions, breaking news, and full segments.