CNN Omits 'Watchdog' Group Leader's Anti-Christian Attacks

Chris Lawrence, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgOn Friday's Situation Room, CNN highlighted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's concerns over a planned concert at Fort Bragg, North Carolina organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Foundation, but omitted the MRFF president Michael Weinstein's past invective against Christianity. Anchor Wolf Blitzer referred to the MRFF as merely a "watchdog group."

Blitzer introduced correspondent Chris Lawrence's report by summarizing the controversy over the "Rock the Fort" concert and used his "watchdog" label for the MRFF: "A concert scheduled at Fort Bragg in North Carolina tomorrow may sound like a good way for soldiers to kick back, but a watchdog group is objecting to the message behind the music: an attempt to recruit the troops to 'God's army.'"

Lawrence picked up where the anchor left off: "Well, on one hand, you've got thousands of soldiers and their families who want to praise God and to hear this Christian music at the concert tomorrow. On the other hand, you've got people saying, why is the U.S. Army helping an evangelical organization recruit new members?"

After playing footage from past "Rock the Fort" events, the CNN correspondent stated that the "Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is bringing Christian rock bands and worship to Fort Bragg, and some say, crossing a line." He then played his first sound bite from Weinstein, who outlined that apparently, "the expressed purpose of this event is to evangelize and spread the Gospel to all those who are lost. Soldiers are being given pieces of paper with seven blank names on it- to bring seven more people, so they will come to Christ." Lawrence continued by noting that "Fort Bragg advertised the concert on its website, and Mikey Weinstein says more than a hundred soldiers there have complained to his group...sending e-mails like, 'Please help us, MRFF. This is wrong.'"

The correspondent later played a clip from an unidentified member of Billy Graham's ministry, who expressed his prayer intentions for the concert: "We pray that not only they become soldiers here in boot camp, but we- that we pray that they'll come into God's army, in the sense of giving their life over Jesus Christ." Lawrence added that "critics say that's a dangerous message for the military to bring right into basic training," and played his second clip from Weinstein, who stated that "we're not supposed to be using the U.S. Army to develop and engender and- you know, new soldiers for Christ."

Lawrence did play two sound bites from Fort Bragg's chaplain, who defended the concert. But the CNN correspondent, like his former colleague Campbell Brown back in May 2010, didn't bring up Weinstein's past lawsuits against the military. Earlier in 2010, he demanded that "Bible codes" imprinted on rifle scopes used in Afghanistan be removed, and asked the Army to change the emblem of Evans Army Community Hospital in Colorado, whose motto invokes God in Latin, and bears a cross.

Michael Weinstein, President, Military Religious Freedom Foundation | NewsBusters.orgThe MRFF president is also on the record as using anti-Christian language. During a February 2008 interview, Weinstein referred to Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" as the "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre," and blasted two military-oriented Christian organizations as "variances of this Christian Taliban and the Christian al-Qaeda." He even compared this apparent "Christian Taliban" inside the military to Nazis, or communists who aided Stalin. None of this background came up during the report.

Besides the MRFF, CNN correspondent cited one other organization notoriously critical of the religious right near the end of the segment: "Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote the secretary of the Army, urging him to stop the military's endorsement of the event. They argue proselytizing is prohibited, and the Army is breaking the law by endorsing religion."

The full transcript of Chris Lawrence's report, which aired 51 minutes into the 5 pm Eastern hour of Friday's Situation Room:

WOLF BLITZER: A concert scheduled at Fort Bragg in North Carolina tomorrow may sound like a good way for soldiers to kick back, but a watchdog group is objecting to the message behind the music: an attempt to recruit the troops to 'God's army.'

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence- he's working the story here. What is the controversy, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE: Yeah, Wolf. Well, on one hand, you've got thousands of soldiers and their families who want to praise God and to hear this Christian music at the concert tomorrow. On the other hand, you've got people saying, why is the U.S. Army helping an evangelical organization recruit new members?

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Christian concert is called 'Rock the Fort,' and it's living up to the name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: We're going to have a little fun today.

LAWRENCE: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is bringing Christian rock bands and worship to Fort Bragg, and some say, crossing a line.

MIKEY WEINSTEIN, MILITARY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOUNDATION: The expressed purpose of this event is to evangelize and spread the Gospel to all those who are lost. Soldiers are being given pieces of paper with seven blank names on it- to bring seven more people, so they will come to Christ.

LAWRENCE: Fort Bragg advertised the concert on its website, and Mikey Weinstein says more than a hundred soldiers there have complained to his group, Military Religious Freedom [Foundation], sending e-mails like, 'Please help us, MRFF. This is wrong.'

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: In a few minutes, I'm going to give you a chance to make a decision. It's your choice.

LAWRENCE: 'Rock the Fort' has been to several other bases, including recruit training at Fort Jackson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: And we pray that not only they become soldiers here in boot camp, but we- that we pray that they'll come into God's army, in the sense of giving their life over Jesus Christ.

LAWRENCE: Critics say that's a dangerous message for the military to bring right into basic training.

WEINSTEIN: We're not supposed to be using the U.S. Army to develop and engender and- you know, new soldiers for Christ.

COL. DAVID HILLIS, U.S. ARMY CHAPLAIN [misidentified as "David Dreier"]: And our goal is- again, not to proselytize anyone- you know, from either their particular faith that they're a part of- and our goal is not to coerce anyone.

LAWRENCE: Fort Bragg's chaplain says the event on his base is open to the public. No one has to come, except the thousands of soldiers and their families who are excited to do so.

COL. HILLIS: It really is up to the individual, and people, like any message or any faith, can choose to accept or reject.

LAWRENCE: The chaplain wrote to North Carolina churches on Fort Bragg letterhead promoting the event, and Billy Graham's website states right up front, 'The Rock the Fort outreach is designed to channel new believers into your church.'

Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote the secretary of the Army, urging him to stop the military's endorsement of the event. They argue proselytizing is prohibited, and the Army is breaking the law by endorsing religion. The chaplain says the base is merely a host for anyone who wants to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: God bless America!

LAWRENCE (live): And Fort Bragg's chaplain also told me that- you know, sharing the faith is part of a Christian tradition, and he's not only obligated, but happy to support any other faith on base that would want to put on a similar event. Now, critics say, when it comes to religion, all the Army is supposed to do is officiate religious services and give soldiers some place to worship, and these concerts go way beyond that. Wolf?

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much for that report.

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