CNN: McCain Trying to Make Voters Think Obama Is Biblical Antichrist

[Update, 2:25 pm EDT, 8/15: A MRC CyberAlert item from March 18, 1997 reported that Waldman had worked in the Clinton administration promoting AmeriCorps before joining U.S. News and World Report.]

Correspondent David Mattingly’s report on Friday’s Newsroom program on CNN promoted the accusation by Barack Obama supporters that a popular McCain Internet advertisement, known as "The One" ad, drops hints that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee might be the Antichrist. Mattingly used two sound bites from proponents of this idea, and none from people who are opposed to it.

Mattingly introduced his report with two clips from the ad and stated, "When you listen to this John McCain ad, it might sound like Barack Obama has a messiah complex." He then explained that while "[t]he McCain campaign says it's all in good fun... not everyone's laughing. Some Democrats say the ad, which appears only on the Internet, is infused with hidden messages to evangelical Christians -- messages that Barack Obama isn't the messiah at all." [audio clip available here]

The report’s first sound bite featured Steven Waldman, the CEO of Beliefnet.com, who made the following accusation about the ad: "It reenforces things that they've been hearing around the Internet, that maybe Barack Obama is, in fact, the Antichrist." Before Waldman co-founded Beliefnet, he was the National Editor for U.S. News and World Report and was a national correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He is also an occasional blogger on The Huffington Post.

Earlier this month, Waldman posted on his blog about the McCain ad’s supposed hint about Obama, and posted a memo from a Democratic consulting agency called the Eleison Group, whose website he linked to in the post. One of the four consultants for the Eleison Group is Eric Sapp, whom Mattingly featured in the second sound bite. Sapp accused the McCain campaign of using the politics of fear:

ERIC SAPP: Going back to the classic Republican playbook of playing to these people's fears, trying to, you know, send a message to these folks that you really need to be careful. You really need to worry about this guy. He literally could be a cosmic anti-Christ figure, and for a lot of people, that may sound strange to believe, but there is a significant part of the community that will take this stuff very seriously.

ScreenCap of McCain 'The One' ad | NewsBusters.orgMattingly then described how Sapp "argues the McCain ad borrows ideas and visual imagery from the blockbuster 'Left Behind' series. The books weave a tale of a modern-day anti-Christ, a young political leader who rises to power with a message of peace and unity, and leads a world religion that proclaims we are God." The correspondent then played Obama’s infamous "We are the ones we've been waiting for" line, stating that it "sounds a lot like" the story in the "Left Behind" books.

The only other sound bite in Mattingly’s report was from Jerry Jenkins, the co-author of the "Left Behind" series, who denied Obama is the Antichrist. One might guess that might have been an attempt at balance in the report.

CNN wasn’t the first mainstream media outlet to forward this accusation about the McCain ad. ABC’s Kate Snow did a segment about it which featured Sapp on the August 13 edition of Good Morning America, and Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan wrote about it earlier this month as well.

The full transcript of David Mattingly’s report, which aired 46 minutes into the 9 am Eastern hour of Friday’s Newsroom program:

HEIDI COLLINS: Just a joke or playing into fear? A campaign ad is causing a buzz on the Internet. CNN's David Mattingly with the story.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER (from McCain Internet ad): Can you see the light?

David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgDAVE MATTINGLY (voice-over): When you listen to this John McCain ad, it might sound like Barack Obama has a messiah complex.

BARACK OBAMA (from McCain ad): You will experience an epiphany, and you will say to yourself, I have to vote for Barack.

MATTINGLY: The McCain campaign says it's all in good fun.

CHARLTON HESTON (as Moses from 'The Ten Commandments'): Behold his mighty hand.

MATTINGLY: But not everyone's laughing. Some Democrats say the ad, which appears only on the Internet, is infused with hidden messages to evangelical Christians -- messages that Barack Obama isn't the messiah at all.

STEVEN WALDMAN, CEO, BELIEFNET.COM: It reenforces things that they've been hearing around the Internet, that maybe Barack Obama is, in fact, the Antichrist.

MATTINGLY: The ad has been viewed 1.2 million times on YouTube. A Google search for Obama and Anti-Christ returns an incredible 900,000 hits. One website is completely dedicated to the question, is Obama the Antichrist? 73% in the site's online polls say either yes or maybe. Could the McCain ad be saying the same thing?

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER (from McCain ad): That in 2008, the world will be blessed. They will call him 'The One.'

MATTINGLY: Critics accused [the] McCain campaign of trying to tap into biblical prophesy, to stir evangelical voters, a group McCain has had difficulty reaching.

ERIC SAPP, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Going back to the classic Republican playbook of playing to these people's fears, trying to, you know, send a message to these folks that you really need to be careful. You really need to worry about this guy. He literally could be a cosmic anti-Christ figure, and for a lot of people, that may sound strange to believe, but there is a significant part of the community that will take this stuff very seriously.

MATTINGLY: Democratic faith issues consultant Eric Sapp argues the McCain ad borrows ideas and visual imagery from the blockbuster 'Left Behind' series. The books weave a tale of a modern-day anti-Christ, a young political leader who rises to power with a message of peace and unity, and leads a world religion that proclaims we are God. That sounds a lot like this Obama clip used in the ad.

OBAMA: We are the ones we've been waiting for.

MATTINGLY (on-camera): The McCain campaign says it's just having some fun, with what it calls Obama's tendency to get carried away with audacious statements. But since the release of the ad, Obama anti-Christ Internet traffic is up. Even the authors of the 'Left Behind' books felt they had to speak out because they're seeing that question more and more often. Do they think Obama is the Antichrist? And each time they say the answer is no way.

JERRY JENKINS, CO-AUTHOR, 'LEFT BEHIND': The Antichrist will not be somebody who is suspected of being the Anti-Christ by anybody. If half the country thinks that one of the candidates is the Antichrist, he's not the Antichrist.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): A spokesman for the McCain campaign calls the ad 'light-hearted.' One website takes the joke a little further, selling T-shirts and mugs showing the Obama symbol with a pair of horns. We're not sure how the candidate feels about that. We received no reply from the Obama campaign. David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center