NBC's Today and CBS' The Early Show both aired interviews with Sen. John McCain while the candidate was in New Orleans, but in neither case asked McCain about controversial comments that one of his endorsers, Pastor John Hagee, recently made about Hurricane Katrina, though both programs discussed controversial comments made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
The April 25 editions of NBC's Today and CBS' The Early Show both aired interviews with Sen. John McCain while the candidate was in New Orleans, but in neither case did they ask McCain about controversial comments that one of his endorsers, Pastor John Hagee, recently made about Hurricane Katrina. By contrast, on the same day, both programs discussed controversial comments made by Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. As Media Matters for America noted, Hagee said in 2006: “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.” As the blog Think Progress noted, on the April 22 edition of Salem Radio Network's The Dennis Prager Show, televangelist John Hagee affirmed his 2006 comment about Hurricane Katrina; host Dennis Prager asked Hagee: "[I]n the case of New Orleans, you do feel that God's hand was in it because of a sinful city?" Hagee responded, “That it was a city that was planning a sinful conduct, yes.”
As Media Matters has documented, on the April 20 edition of ABC's This Week, McCain stated that it was “probably” a mistake to solicit and accept Hagee's endorsement and stated: “I condemn remarks that are in any way viewed as anti-anything.” Nevertheless, McCain said: “I'm glad to have his [Hagee's] endorsement.”
The lead story on the April 25 Today was a preview of PBS host Bill Moyers' interview with Wright, scheduled to air in full on the April 25 edition of Bill Moyers Journal. During NBC's report on the Moyers interview, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell aired controversial statements that Wright had previously made. She then asserted of the Moyers interview: “At the very least, this is an unwelcome diversion to Obama's campaign.” Mitchell also aired Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart's assertion: “The Reverend Wright interview hasn't set questions to rest that people have about him or about Senator Obama. If anything, it's resurrected them, and depending on the full interview, might even raise even more.” After the report, Mitchell said to Today co-host Matt Lauer that Wright is “more concerned right now about his own legacy and his own reputation, but clearly this is not helpful to his former parishioner, Barack Obama. Not at all.” Moreover, during her interview with McCain, co-host Meredith Vieira aired part of a North Carolina Republican Party advertisement, including a video clip of one of Wright's controversial comments.
On The Early Show, before airing her interview with McCain, co-host Maggie Rodriguez said Wright's “fiery words hurt Obama's campaign and may do so again in North Carolina. ... The controversy over Reverend Wright came up in my interview with Senator John McCain, who campaigned yesterday in New Orleans, courting voters in a largely Democratic region.” After airing the McCain interview, co-host Harry Smith said, “More now on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, speaking out on the controversy that hurt the Obama campaign and may cause it new headaches.” After his report on the Moyers interview, CBS White House correspondent Jim Axelrod said, “Obviously, this will revive a story that the Obama campaign badly wanted to see die, especially as Obama begins his next push in North Carolina and in Indiana.”
Media Matters has documented (here, here, here, here, here, and here) the disparity between the media's extensive coverage of controversial comments made by supporters of Obama and their coverage of controversial comments made by Hagee and other supporters of McCain. While there have been media reports on McCain's repudiation of Hagee's comments related to Catholics, the media have largely ignored remarks Hagee has made about Hurricane Katrina, Islam, women, and homosexuality.
According to a Nexis database search, Today has not mentioned Hagee since August 3, 2006, and has never reported his Katrina comments. The March 1, 2008, edition of CBS' Saturday Early Show was that program's only mention of Hagee's Katrina comments. During that show, CBS senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield noted that Hagee “has offered some highly provocative views on a variety of subjects; for instance, linking Hurricane Katrina to the gay rights movement.”
From the April 25 edition of NBC's Today:
MITCHELL: Just when the Obama campaign thought that the controversy surrounding the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was dying down, Obama's former pastor is back on the national stage, defending himself for the first time.
[begin video clip]
WRIGHT: Oh, how I love Jesus!
MITCHELL: It's been six weeks since Jeremiah Wright's fiery sermons transfixed the Democratic campaign.
WRIGHT: No, no, no. Not “God bless America.”
MITCHELL: Now Reverend Wright tells Bill Moyers on PBS that his controversial remarks were snippets, taken out of context.
MITCHELL: At the very least, all this is an unwelcome diversion for Obama's campaign.
CAPEHART: The Reverend Wright interview hasn't set questions to rest that people have about him or about Senator Obama. If anything, it's resurrected them, and depending on the full interview, might even raise even more.
MITCHELL: Although showing a different side of Reverend Wright could take the sting out of the controversy.
WRIGHT: I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of God about the things of God.
CHUCK TODD (NBC News political director): The Obama folks do need to have Reverend Wright not seen as a crazy preacher, but as a thoughtful minister.
[end video clip]
MITCHELL: And Reverend Wright is not going quietly. He's scheduled to speak at the NAACP convention and also at the National Press Club and is giving a sermon in Dallas -- Matt.
LAUER: Andrea, I'm just curious. This story, as we mentioned, has been making headlines for about a month or so now. Why did Reverend Wright -- did he even mention why he chose to speak out and give this interview now?
MITCHELL: I think he wants to make himself heard and put himself in the context -- he feels that he was taken out of context. He's more concerned right now about his own legacy and his own reputation, but clearly this is not helpful to his former parishioner, Barack Obama. Not at all.
LAUER: All right, Andrea Mitchell for us this morning.
VIEIRA: And now back to politics. As the Democratic presidential candidates battle on, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is on what he is calling, “It's Time for Action” tour, reaching out to so-called forgotten Americans. On Thursday, I spoke to McCain, shortly after he toured the devastated Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. And I started by asking him what he told residents of that city, who are still angry about the government's botched handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
[begin video clip]
McCAIN: I'm telling them: Never again will such a mismanagement of a natural -- national -- natural or man-made disaster take place in America when I'm president.
VIEIRA: The Democratic National Committee has said, “Don't believe the rhetoric. The fact is McCain has a history of denying the Gulf Coast aid when it needs it most and a record of outrageous votes to show for it. Instead of helping the area rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, McCain actually voted to deny emergency funding for the area, voted against giving victims of Katrina access to Medicaid and unemployment benefits.” And then it cites your voting record. What do you say to that?
McCAIN: The fact is that the governor will attest, and others, that I have been helpful. I've been down here. I've supported every effort that I could.
VIEIRA: You know, Senator, the DNC also began running an ad this week that questions your judgment when it comes to the economy. They're beating up on you, sir.
VIEIRA: OK. I want to switch gears here and talk about the latest controversy. It's over an ad in North Carolina, coming two weeks before the Democratic primary.
[begin video clip]
NARRATOR: For 20 years, Barack Obama sat in his pew, listening to his pastor.
WRIGHT: -- and then wants us to sing “God Bless America”? No. No. No.
[end video clip]
VIEIRA: The ad says Obama's, quote, “just too extreme for North Carolina.” Now, you have called this ad degrading, and you've asked the state party to pull it, but so far, they've refused to do that. Why do you think they're not listening to you, A, and why do you believe they would continue to raise questions about Senator Obama's patriotism?
McCAIN: They're not listening to me because they're out of touch with reality and the Republican Party. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, and this kind of campaigning is unacceptable. I have said that. It will harm the Republicans' cause. And I've done everything that I can to repudiate and to see that this kind of campaigning does not continue. I have engaged in and will continue a respectful campaign of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton.
VIEIRA: Senator Obama said that if you wanted to, you could get that ad pulled because you are, after all, the nominee and the standard-bearer. So, if you can't get the ad pulled, does it raise any questions about your leadership?
McCAIN: I don't know exactly how to respond to that, except that I would hope that Senator Obama would repudiate and apologize for his remarks concerning the heartland of America where some kind -- where his elitist remarks indicated that people who are hardworking, dedicated people who fought -- who harbor traditional values and principles and value their religion and the Second Amendment of the Constitution would not be treated in an elitist fashion. I hope he'll apologize for that.
VIEIRA: I know that you have questioned his comments about small-town voters being bitter and clinging to their guns and religion and called that remark elitist.
VIEIRA: You obviously know the Senator through the Congress --
McCAIN: They are. They are.
VIEIRA: -- and because he may be the nominee, I assume that you've sort of looked into his record, both working within the inner city of Chicago and also as a state legislator. Anything that you have seen that gives you evidence that as a member of the public service that he was out of touch with real Americans or is out of touch with real Americans?
From the April 25 edition of CBS' The Early Show:
RODRIGUEZ: But first, this morning, one of the most controversial figures of the 2008 presidential campaign has been Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former minister. His fiery words hurt Obama's campaign and may do so again in North Carolina. But Wright is now slamming those who he claims misrepresented him. We'll have more on that in a moment.
The controversy over Reverend Wright came up in my interview with Senator John McCain, who campaigned yesterday in New Orleans, courting voters in a largely Democratic region.
[begin video clip]
McCAIN: Well, I'm here to talk to the people, with their great governor, who happens to be a Republican, by the way, and I want to assure them that this will never happen again. Never.
RODRIGUEZ: When you say “this,” are you referring to how the government handled Hurricane Katrina?
McCAIN: Yes. The mismanagement of this disaster will never happen again, whether it's natural or man-made. It will never happen again.
RODRIGUEZ: Senator, I know that you plan to have Mike Huckabee along for part of your trip. Are you considering him, or anyone for that matter, as your running mate?
RODRIGUEZ: The Republican Party of North Carolina is planning to run an ad bashing Senator Obama. I know that you oppose that ad, but they're running it anyway. So, what does that say about you? That you haven't opposed it strongly enough or that your own party is blatantly disregarding your wishes?
McCAIN: It means that the Republican Party of the state of North Carolina is dead wrong. They are an independent organization. I'll do everything in my power to make sure not only they stop it, but that kind of leadership is rejected. And the overwhelming majority of Republicans in North Carolina share my view.
RODRIGUEZ: But as the Republican nominee for president, couldn't you pick up the phone and call the head of the North Carolina GOP and say, don't run it?
McCAIN: I have communicated that in every possible way, and I will continue to communicate that.
RODRIGUEZ: Senator, you have criticized Senator Obama and continue to do so, calling him out of touch and elitist. Someone on the outside looking in might read into that -- might think maybe he would prefer to go up against Senator Clinton in the election.
[end video clip]
SMITH: More now on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, speaking out on the controversy that hurt the Obama campaign and may cause it new headaches. CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.
AXELROD: Obviously, this will revive a story that the Obama campaign badly wanted to see die, especially as Obama begins his next push in North Carolina and in Indiana. And we are not done hearing from Wright. He will appear at the National Press Club, here in Washington, next Monday to speak with reporters.