Nets Tout Warren's Wider Agenda; CBS: Conservatives 'Went Nuts'

John McCain finally received some positive coverage Friday night from the broadcast networks as Barack Obama's vacation ended -- a couple of sentences on ABC and CBS about how he raised $27 million in July, the most ever. Then those newscasts, and NBC's, ran full stories trumpeting evangelist Rick Warren's Saturday “Civil Forum on the Presidency” featuring McCain and Obama, with CBS and NBC stressing his rejection of past narrow conservative interests as both pegged their stories to conservative push back against the fear McCain will pick a “pro-choice” VP. Taking up McCain's consideration of Tom Ridge, CBS's Bob Schieffer asserted “religious conservatives...just went nuts.” NBC's Andrea Mitchell contrasted McCain's “rocky relationship with the religious right” with how Obama is “reaching out by softening the party's platform on abortion.”

On Warren, CBS reporter Ben Tracy trumpeted “Warren's attempt to redefine evangelicals by breaking with the politics of the past” and how Warren “doesn't want to talk about just abortion and gay marriage, but also poverty and disease.” NBC's Mitchell recalled that in 2004, 80 percent of evangelicals “voted for George Bush over John Kerry,” but “this year they could be less predictably Republican” and “that's because Rick Warren says many younger evangelicals define social issues broadly -- to include global warming, human rights, poverty, not just abortion.” She then featured a soundbite from Warren:
I call myself whole life, which means I don't just believe in that little girl before she's born but I believe that it's important to care about after she's born, whether she's poor, whether she's educated.
As evidence of how Obama is “reaching out by softening the party's platform on abortion,” Mitchell provided rare media mention of a 1992 Democratic litmus test:
He's invited anti-abortion Senator Bob Casey to speak in Denver. Bill Clinton kept Casey's father, then Pennsylvania Governor, from speaking at the 1992 convention for his anti-abortion views.
“Liberal” uttered just once. In all of the Friday night campaign coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC, the “conservative” and “religious right” labels were applied repeatedly, but only ABC's Jake Tapper, on ABC's World News, issued a “liberal” tag: “But false rumors Obama's a Muslim, his controversial former pastor, and his liberal views on abortion and other issues, complicate Obama's efforts to win over evangelical voters.”

(CNN, FNC and MSNBC will all provide live coverage from 5 to 7 PM PDT Saturday of the “Civil Forum on the Presidency” from the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. That's 8 -10 PM EDT. MSNBC will even interrupt incessant re-runs of “Women Behind Bars” type “documentaries” to air a fresh Hardball at 2 PM PDT/5 PM EDT, Race for the White House at 3 PM PDT/6 PM EDT and another Hardball at 4 PM PDT/7 PM EDT.)

My earlier NB posts detailing ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscast coverage this week:
For Monday night: “Obama on Vacation, Yet Earns More and Better Coverage than McCain

For Tuesday night: “Weekday #2: No Media Benefit for McCain from Obama's Vacation

For Wednesday night: “CBS Scolds McCain: 'Respect Takes a Backseat to Ridicule'”

For Thursday night: “CBS's Expert: Obama's Site 'Clean,' McCain's 'Cluttered' w/ 'Chaos'”
From Friday night, August 15:

ABC's World News:
ANCHOR KATE SNOW: John McCain's campaign says he has had his best fundraising month since locking up the Republican nomination. McCain took in $27 million in July, the fifth-straight month his contributions have grown. The Obama campaign hasn't released its July fundraising numbers just yet...

....

JAKE TAPPER: McCain has also had a rocky relationship in the past with some conservative Christian leaders. And he's not doing as well in the polls with evangelicals as he would like.
Barack Obama seems more comfortable talking about religion.

OBAMA: I came to see my faith both as being a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community.

TAPPER: But false rumors Obama's a Muslim, his controversial former pastor, and his liberal views on abortion and other issues, complicate Obama's efforts to win over evangelical voters....Popular pastor Rick Warren says Saturday's forum will give both candidates an opportunity to open their hearts.
CBS Evening News:
ANCHOR HARRY SMITH: In the presidential race, Republican John McCain continues to rake in donations. Today he reported raising more than $27 million in July, his best month yet.

But the real news from the McCain campaign this week comes from a comment he made to The Weekly Standard. Speaking about potential running mates, Senator McCain said former Homeland Security Secretary and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge is “one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro choice and I don't think that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out.” Bob Schieffer is our chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation. He joins with us some perspective. Bob, religious conservatives I can't imagine are very happy about that.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, if John McCain, Harry, was trying to run this out to sort of market test it to see how it sat with religious conservatives, I think he found today there was not much of a market out there for this. Basically they just went nuts. Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said if McCain put a pro-choice person on the ticket with him, he thought that a lot of conservatives, especially evangelicals, will simply stay home. You also got to remember evangelicals kind of suspect John McCain. He's never been all that popular, that's not where his strength is. Remember the run in he had with Jerry Falwell in 2000. So I think if McCain was trying to see how this played, he found out today it does not play very well with a very large part of the Republican base.

....

BEN TRACY: His 23,000-member Saddleback Church sprawls over 120 acres in California's Orange County. It's ground zero in Warren's attempt to redefine evangelicals by breaking with the politics of the past....Warren says he doesn't want to talk about just abortion and gay marriage, but also poverty and disease.
NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS, IN BEIJING: And now we turn to politics back home and the issue specifically of faith. Both Barack Obama and John McCain will appear this weekend at a forum hosted by one of the most high-profile evangelicals in America. But today, even before that event, one contentious issue was front and center. That report from NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Campaign sources say both former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and Senator Joe Lieberman, a nominal Democrat, are on John McCain's short list for Vice President. Both support abortion rights. Conservative leaders say McCain could be tempting political fate.

MIKE HUCKABEE: I hope that Senator McCain selects a pro-life running mate.

MITCHELL: McCain has tried to reassure conservatives.

JOHN McCAIN: I have a long record of advocacy for and voting for the rights of the unborn.

MITCHELL: But he's had a rocky relationship with the religious right, giving Barack Obama an opening. So tomorrow night McCain and Obama will both speak at Pastor Rick Warren's California mega church.

RICK WARREN: My goal is to say, look at these leaders, not just for their values, look at their vision.

MITCHELL: Obama is also reaching out by softening the party's platform on abortion.

BARACK OBAMA: Those who have opposed abortion get a sense that I'm listening to them and respect their positions.

MITCHELL: And he's invited anti-abortion Senator Bob Casey to speak in Denver. Bill Clinton kept Casey's father, then Pennsylvania Governor, from speaking at the 1992 convention for his anti-abortion views. Why are faith voters important? They comprise one-fifth of all registered voters. In 2004, eight out of ten voted for George Bush over John Kerry. This year they could be less predictably Republican. That's because Rick Warren says many younger evangelicals define social issues broadly -- to include global warming, human rights, poverty, not just abortion.

WARREN: I call myself whole life, which means I don't just believe in that little girl before she's born but I believe that it's important to care about after she's born, whether she's poor, whether she's educated.

MITCHELL: For the candidates, not just a matter of faith but votes. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center