CNN reporters falsely suggested Democrats are only now talking about religious beliefs and values

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On June 4 and 5, several CNN correspondents suggested that, until recently, Democrats have largely been silent on their religious beliefs and "values," ignoring the fact that presidential candidates, including John Edwards, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, among other Democrats, have talked about their religious faith and values for years. Several of the Democratic candidates referred explicitly to "values" or "morals" during the June 3 presidential debate, which aired on CNN.

On the June 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, previewing the Presidential Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty that aired later that day on CNN, congressional correspondent Dana Bash said to host Wolf Blitzer: "[W]e are going to hear from Democratic presidential candidates talking about something, as you said, we usually hear about -- at least in the last couple of elections -- from Republicans, and that is, they are going to talk about their faith, their religion, and their values." But, contrary to the suggestion that up to now Democrats have talked little about religion and values, as Media Matters for America has documented, many Democratic presidential hopefuls -- current and former -- have discussed their faith publicly and have made frequent references to "values," a concept that CNN reporters have all too often attached to conservative voters, ignoring the centrality of "values" in political and policy statements on such issues as human rights, equal justice, and anti-poverty.

CNN special correspondent Soledad O'Brien -- as well as Faith and Values correspondent Delia Gallagher on the June 5 edition of CNN Newsroom -- also suggested that Democrats have only recently begun talking about faith. During the June 4 Situation Room, O'Brien stated that the participation of former Sen. John Edwards (NC), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (IL) in the forum "signifies just how far some of these Democrats have come, because they've gotten a lot of flak for not talking about their faith. And now we've seen certainly these three embrace their faith." The next day on CNN Newsroom, anchor Tony Harris asked Gallagher why "Democrats [are] coming out now, speaking of faith." Gallagher replied, "[S]ince 2004, they learned the lesson" about the existence of "value[s] voters," which Gallagher appeared to define exclusively as "conservative evangelicals." Harris responded that "many" would say in response that Democrats talking about faith is "cynical" because "Democrats believe they can win votes if they start talking about faith." Gallagher suggested it might not work because "abortion and gay marriage are still those galvanizing issues for the traditional value voter," again assuming that "traditional value[s]" -- presumably not respect for human rights or concern for the poor -- are the sole province of religious conservatives.

But contrary to the suggestion that, until recently, Democrats have largely been silent on their religious beliefs and "values," Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, among other Democrats, have talked about their religious faith and values for years, as Media Matters documented. Moreover, several of the Democratic candidates referred explicitly to "values" or "morals" during the previous day's presidential debate, which aired on CNN:

  • Gov. Bill Richardson (NM) said he supports "an earned legalization program" "that is based on learning English, paying back taxes, passing a background check, getting behind those that are trying to get here legally, obeying laws, embracing American values."
  • Sen. Chris Dodd (CT) said that "getting better control of our fiscal policies ... ought to reflect our moral values."
  • Edwards stated that "the single greatest responsibility of the next president is to travel the world, speak to the world about what real American values are -- equality, diversity -- and to lead an effort by America to re-establish our alliances around the world, which is going to require time and focus."
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH) said: "I think that an America which has a strong stand morally in the world is an America that shows a way to get to peace."
  • Obama said that "our legitimacy is reduced when we've got a Guantanamo that is open, when we suspend habeas corpus. Those kinds of things erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles, and that's one of the reasons why those kinds of issues are so important."
  • Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (DE) said about Sudan: "By the time all these guys talk, 50,000 more people are going to be dead. They're going to be dead. And I tell you, I guarantee you, we have the capacity by setting up a no-fly zone to shut down the Janjaweed. That's our moral authority. Exercise it."

Clinton has also recently spoken explicitly about the importance of values. On May 29, Clinton gave an economic policy speech in which she said: "Now, there is no greater force for economic growth than free markets, but markets work best with rules that promote our values, protect our workers and give all people a chance to succeed. ... The way I see it, allowing CEOs to escape with golden parachutes while their companies abandon workers' pensions does not honor our values."

Edwards on faith and on values

During his 1998 U.S. Senate race, Edwards said: "People are going to evaluate me and judge me on my own merits and say thumbs up or thumbs down. ... I grew up in rural North Carolina. I grew up in the Baptist church." On the February 20, 2005, edition of ABC's This Week, Edwards said: "My relationship with the Lord and my relationship with my family is everything to me. ... [My faith] informs everything I do, not just my politics."

After winning election to the Senate in 1998, Edwards said: "I think the fact that I grew up in North Carolina and share their values resonated with them." Accepting the vice-presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Edwards said of his parents: "You taught me the values that I carry in my heart: faith, family, responsibility, opportunity for everyone. You taught me that there's dignity and honor in a hard day's work. You taught me to always look out for our neighbors, to never look down on anybody, and treat everybody with respect." On the February 20, 2005, This Week, Edwards also said: "People here have to know you understand their lives and you embrace the same kind of values, the very values we talked about at the very beginning of this discussion, hard work and responsibility, of everybody getting an equal chance. People have to know you get them."


An article for the May 23, 1993, edition of the Los Angeles Times Magazine reported that Clinton said during an interview: "Faith is a wonderful gift of grace ... It gives you a sense of being rooted in meaning and love that goes far beyond your own life. It gives you a base of assurance as to what is really important and stands the test of time day after day, minute after minute, so that many of the pressures that come to bear from the outside world are not seen as that significant." In her 2000 senatorial debate, Clinton said that "[t]he choices that I've made in my life" were "rooted in my religious faith, in my strong sense of family, and in what I believe is right and important." Clinton's website says that "[f]aith was central to her family. Her mother taught Sunday school, and Hillary was a regular in her church youth group."

Clinton has also talked about values for years. In April 6, 1993, remarks, Clinton said, "When does life start? ... When does life end? Who makes those decisions? How do we dare to infringe upon these areas of such delicate, difficult questions? And yet every day, in hospitals and homes and hospices all over this country, people are struggling with those very profound issues. These are not issues that we have guidebooks about ... [t]hey are issues that we have to summon up what we believe is morally and ethically and spiritually correct and do the best that we can with God's guidance." In the May 23, 1993, Los Angeles Times Magazine article, Clinton said of her relationship with her husband: "We've talked about matters and values for a very long time, so I have maybe more of a context than some people who have only known him for a year or two would have or could have. We know how each other thinks, and can sometimes shortcut discussions because of that." In an October 8, 2000, Associated Press article, Clinton was quoted as saying: "Just as I could not support a nominee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, I wouldn't support someone who would vote to overturn Brown versus Board of Education. I believe that the Constitution reflects our fundamental values of equality and justice and should grow with our country. And I would work to ensure any Supreme Court nominee respects those values."


Obama gave a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention where he said: "The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states." He added that "a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead" is "God's greatest gift to us." In June 2006, Obama gave a speech on religion and politics that Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne touted as "the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy's Houston speech in 1960." Obama's campaign website says that Obama "is a committed Christian and his faith informs his values."

On the October 28, 1994, edition of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Obama said: "Too many of us use white racism as an excuse for self-defeating behavior. Too many of our young people think education is a white thing and that the values of hard work and discipline and self-respect are somehow outdated." In a May 14, 2003, article in The Hill, Obama was quoted as saying: "Voters want political leaders who are willing to talk about values and the importance of values in our communities and in our families." In a May 9, 2003, article in The Forward, Obama was also quoted as saying: "Blacks and Jews ... share a set of core values about the need for government to address injustice. ... It's a natural coalition that reflects the best of the Democratic Party, particularly now when the Republican Party is unconcerned with social justice issues and seems less interested in promoting the value of tolerance." The AP reported that at a campaign rally on June 1, Obama said "that 'there is nothing more noble' than working toward a government that reflects America's values and ideals." On May 22, Obama said, "[W]e want to close Guantanamo and we want to restore habeas corpus ... because that's who we are. We want to lead not just with our military but with our values and with our ideals."

CNN reporters have frequently linked "values" and religious faith with conservative voters:

  • On the May 15 edition of The Situation Room, CNN chief national correspondent John King said that the state of South Carolina "has a history of mixing God and politics" and, therefore, would be a "critical testing ground" to gauge whether "a former big city mayor who supports abortion rights" can win the Republican presidential nomination, suggesting that belief in God and opposition to abortion rights go hand-in-hand.
  • On the October 19, 2006, edition of The Situation Room, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley asserted without evidence that Democrats have been "on the losing side of the values debate, the defense debate and, oh yes, the guns debate," even though multiple public opinion polls indicate that the majority of the public currently prefers Democrats to handle the issues of "moral values," the "war on terror," and Iraq.
  • On the October 5, 2006, edition of CNN's American Morning, congressional correspondent Joe Johns uncritically aired a video of conservative activist Manuel Miranda asserting that "[t]here's no doubt that Republicans are associated with moral values and legislation that reflects moral values."
  • As Media Matters has documented, on the October 3, 2006, edition of The Situation Room, King twice equated "pro-family voters" with "conservatives." During the previous day's Situation Room, King had prefaced a question to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), by stating that "pro-family voters" looked to the conservative FRC "for guidance and advice" during political controversies.
  • On the September 5, 2006, edition of The Situation Room, CNN Internet reporter Abbi Tatton said that "polling shows that faithful and Democrat did not go hand-in-hand in recent elections. In 2004, white evangelicals made up nearly a quarter of the electorate and voted overwhelmingly for President Bush." Tatton's statement rested on the assumption that the demographic of the "faithful" was composed entirely of white evangelicals.
  • On the June 28, 2006, edition of The Situation Room, CNN senior national correspondent (now anchor) John Roberts asserted that "[f]or years, Democrats, unlike Republicans, have been afraid to wear religion on their sleeve." Roberts then added that it is now "to the point" that Democrats are "perceived as a party of secular snobs," which has "turned off a large slice of America."
  • On the April 8, 2005, edition of CNN's Inside Politics, while introducing a segment on Pope John Paul II's funeral, Blitzer said: "I'm sure [conservative columnist] Bob [Novak] is a good Catholic, I'm not so sure about [then-CNN host] Paul Begala."
  • Following the 2004 presidential election, CNN hosted numerous conservative religious leaders who were either unopposed by a progressive leader or any progressive at all to discuss exit poll reports that more people (22 percent of voters) selected "moral values" as their primary issue of concern than any other issue.

From the June 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Some top Democrats don't want to cede the issue of faith or values to Republicans. The three leading presidential contenders are set to take on questions of religion and morals during a unique forum later tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Our Dana Bash is over at George Washington University in Washington. What's this forum, Dana, all about?

BASH: Well, Wolf, here on this stage, we are going to hear from Democratic presidential candidates talking about something, as you said, we usually hear about -- at least in the last couple of elections -- from Republicans, and that is, they are going to talk about their faith, their religion, and their values.

Now, this is where it's going to happen. The three top-tier candidates, if you will, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, are going to be questioned by our Soledad O'Brien, but they were invited by the Sojourners Forum. And the person who started that is Reverend Jim Wallis. And he is a self-described progressive evangelical.

And he has really been encouraging Democrats not to cede this territory of values and faith to Republicans anymore, and to really press -- press the issue, because it has been a political mistake the Democrats have been making.

And we have some numbers to actually show you exactly what they're talking about. In 1992, George Bush -- George H.W. Bush -- got 48 percent of the vote from people who say that they go to religious services weekly.

In 2004, George W. Bush got 60 percent of that vote. So, he got a lot more. And the Democrats pretty much stayed about the same. So, that is proof Democrats understand of why they really need to talk more about religion as they talk about their policy issues.

So, you're going to hear it tonight, and, really, you hear on the stump, when Democrats, more and more, are talking about things like human rights, about poverty, even things like the environment, they do it through the prism of faith, values, and religion -- Wolf.


O'BRIEN: Our host of course is Sojourners Foundation. The Sojourners magazine you might be familiar with. They've been calling this a conversation about the compassion issues, and some of the things that we actually have not heard a lot about before.

For example, in the debate yesterday, not one mention of poverty. You heard Senator Edwards talk a little bit about that.

We're going to talk about those things, not mention necessarily in other -- in other debates this evening with those candidates. And we're expecting a very good and lively conversation.

And Wolf, really, as you well know, it signifies just how far some of these Democrats have come, because they've gotten a lot of flak for not talking about their faith. And now we've seen certainly these three embrace their faith. And tonight, we're going to hear them talk very specifically about their personal faith and what kind of role it might play if they were to be elected president of the United States -- Wolf.

From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the June 5 edition of CNN Newsroom:

TONY HARRIS (anchor): Delia, this is interesting. Why are Democrats coming out now, speaking of faith?

GALLAGHER: Well, because it's campaign time. I mean, you know, they -- since 2004, they learned the lesson. There's a huge chunk of voters out there. They call them "value voters" and they said, "Well, what do these people want?" And they -- they are the evangelical, conservative evangelicals. I mean, evangelicals sponsored this event last night, but they're the more liberal evangelicals and they want to say, "Hey, we've got values, too. The values of abortion and gay marriage are not the only values on the agenda." And this is what this whole thing is about --


GALLAGHER: -- trying to say that poverty is a value, too. Hunger is a value. And global warming is a value.

HARRIS: But you know what? You know what, Delia? It'll lead many to say, "You know what? This is cynical. It is all about -- you -- you're right. It's about election season and -- you know what? This is all about votes and Democrats believe they can win votes if they start talking about faith."

GALLAGHER: Well, listen, you know, I -- far be it for me to say that any of these people are not very good, holy, faith-filled people, but there are two issues. One is your personal faith and the other is what are you going to vote on the issues.


GALLAGHER: And this is where they're going to have a problem because they want to try and convince some of these value voters that, "Hey, we're values people, too," but the question is: What are the important values to those values voters? And I think that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are still those galvanizing issues for the traditional value voter and he may not find -- he or she -- may not find themselves agreeing --


GALLAGHER -- with some of these candidates.

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