NBC's Todd Frets Obama's Effort to 'Tackle' Nation's Problems Allowed Enemies to Defame Him as Muslim

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams cited a “stunning number” from “a reputable pollster” (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press) – which discovered “just under 20 percent of the American people believe the President is a Muslim” when “he is not” – to justify a full explanation from Chuck Todd on the mischaracterization of Barack Obama. “Look, let's be clear,” NBC's chief White House correspondent declared, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States and he is a Christian.”

Without pointing out how confusion and ignorance about Obama's religious affiliation extends beyond just Republicans and conservatives (41 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of liberals “don't know” Obama's religion), Todd fretted: “Ever since Mr. Obama became a national political figure, some of his political enemies have fanned the flames of religious prejudice by trying to make people believe the President is a Muslim.” Todd despaired that Obama's focus on his job had left him vulnerable to abuse:
During the campaign, Team Obama repeatedly refuted these charges with a special Web site they created called FightTheSmears. Well, when he took office, the anti-Obama campaign continued, but the White House tackled a slew of other issues, and efforts to refute those other attacks took a backseat.
Completing his delivery of White House talking points, Todd asserted: “Ironically, Brian, during the campaign, some of the President's political enemies attacked him for the way he practiced Christianity in Chicago where his minister – the Reverend Jeremiah Wright – was a controversial figure.”

Over on FNC, however, Major Garrett noted that “while Mr. Obama's political opponents are more likely to believe he's a Muslim, uncertainty has seeped in the President's political base.” In his piece for Special Report with Bret Baier, Garrett featured a soundbite from Alan Cooperman, the Associate Director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, who also appeared in Todd's story. In the clip run on FNC, Cooperman observed:
Less than half of Democrats say the President is a Christian [46%]. Less than half of African-Americans say the President is a Christian [43%]. Less than half of people who give Obama positive job approval ratings say he's a Christian.
Indeed, Pew's report, “Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim” (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life version; Pew Research Center for the People & the Press version) found:
A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama's religion is....

Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009)....

But even among Democrats, fewer than half (46%) now identify his religion as Christian, down from 55% last year.
On Thursday night, ABC's World News skipped the poll numbers, but the CBS Evening News squeezed in a short item from Harry Smith in a newscast devoted almost entirely to Katie Couric in Afghanistan:
The White House said today President Obama is a Christian and prays every day. A spokesman felt is necessary to make that clear after a poll came out showing a significant number of Americans believe the President is Muslim. 18 percent think so. That's up from 11 percent last year.
From the Thursday, August 19 NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: A new opinion poll from a reputable pollster in this country just out today is getting a lot of attention tonight because it contains a stunning number. Just under 20 percent of the American people believe the President is a Muslim – he is not – on top of a growing number of people who believe he's foreign-born – and he is not. We go behind these numbers tonight with our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd who's in our Washington newsroom. Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD: Good evening, Brian. Look, let's be clear. President Barack Obama was born in the United States and he is a Christian. But ever since Mr. Obama became a national political figure, some of his political enemies have fanned the flames of religious prejudice by trying to make people believe the President is a Muslim. In fact, with some of these same political enemies who helped ignite another phony claim that the President wasn't born in the United States.

Well, during the campaign, Team Obama repeatedly refuted these charges with a special Web site they created called FightTheSmears. Well, when he took office, the anti-Obama campaign continued, but the White House tackled a slew of other issues, and efforts to refute those other attacks took a backseat.

In March 2009, according to Pew Research, about half the country – 48 percent – correctly identified the President as a Christian, 11 percent believed he was a Muslim, and about a third – 34 percent – had no idea of his faith. Now these results are even more striking. Only 34 percent correctly told Pew pollsters that Mr. Obama is a Christian, while a whopping 18 percent – or nearly one in five Americans – say he is a Muslim, and 43 percent have no idea of his faith at all.

Well, earlier today, I asked Alan Cooperman at Pew Research to explain why, in the face of clear evidence that the President is not a Muslim, that a growing number of Americans believe he is.

ALAN COOPERMAN, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE: In the absence of information from the White House and from the President himself about his faith, about his faith life, about him going to church, messages from others – innuendo and rumor included – are able to maybe gain currency.

TODD: Ironically, Brian, during the campaign, some of the President's political enemies attacked him for the way he practiced Christianity in Chicago where his minister – the Reverend Jeremiah Wright – was a controversial figure. Now, today the White House said the President is a, quote,  "committed Christian," and prays every day. But aides said they were not surprised by the poll findings because, as one put it, quote, "The President doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve," Brian.
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