ABC's Brian Ross Adopts Left-Wing Attack on McCain

"Good Morning America" on Thursday picked up an attack on John McCain that has grown popular in left-wing media outlets and turned it into a Brian Ross investigation of the senator's "pastor problem." In a preview, co-host Diane Sawyer solemnly intoned, "This morning, John McCain's pastor problem. Is the preacher McCain calls a spiritual guide fueling the fire of Muslim hatred in America?" Investigative reporter Ross then preceded to warn how the Arizona senator's appearance with a pastor who loudly attacked Islam has "badly complicated" McCain's attempts to reach out to the Muslim world. [audio available here]

Where did Ross find the various clips of the Reverend Rod Parsley condemning Islam and standing on a podium with John McCain? The story has already been touted in liberal outlets such as Mother Jones magazine and heavily featured on the website Brave New Films, a creation of Robert Greenwald, best known for documentaries bashing Fox News and Wal Mart. (Despite this, Sawyer touted the "exclusive" nature of the investigation.) Additionally, the web version of Ross's story featured a misleading attempt to more closely associate McCain and Parsley. The ABC News headline asserted: "McCain Pastor: Islam Is a 'Conspiracy of Spiritual Evil.'" McCain's pastor? The Republican presidential candidate sought the reverend's support in February 2008. McCain is not a member of Parsley's World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio.

Although the parallels between McCain, Parsley and Senator Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright weren't specifically mentioned, the subtext was clear. In an intro for the segment, Sawyer proclaimed that the story was "about the new pastor problems plaguing another presidential hopeful." Of course, the obvious difference is that McCain's associations with Parsley are rather slight, despite the misleading "McCain's pastor" headline. However, Obama went to Wright's church for 20 years.

Brian Ross is the man who, on March 13, 2008, filed one of the first investigations into Obama and Wright. However, in that piece, Ross did not feature several back to back clips of the candidate and the preacher, strung together in such a way as to make Obama look like a hypocrite. That's exactly what Ross did with McCain in order to show "contrast:"

ROSS: McCain has done nothing to reject Parsley's endorsement, even though his comments seem in stark contrast.

MCCAIN: Our goal must be to win the hearts and minds of the vast majority of moderate Muslims who do not want their future controlled by a minority of violent extremists.

PARSLEY: I will counter respectfully that what some call extremists are instead mainstream Muslim believers who are drawing who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.

MCCAIN: We must remember that our freedoms are not only depended by our diplomacy and military power, but very importantly, by the decency and respect with which we treat one another.

PARSLEY: I will rail against the idea that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are the same being. I will sound the alarm about the pernicious agendas of the enemies of my country and cross of my Christ. And I will proclaim the truth at every opportunity.

Ross also slammed McCain for being "apparently unconcerned about what Parsley stands for." In contrast, during the March segment, although Ross featured Wright's more extreme statements, he wasn't as harsh on the Democratic candidate. Instead, he rather weakly observed, "With a powerful voice and his strong words, Reverend Wright can be a mesmerizing presence."

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:02am on May 22, follows:

7am tease

DIANE SAWYER: This morning, John McCain's pastor problem. Is the preacher McCain calls a spiritual guide fueling the fire of Muslim hatred in America? An exclusive Brian Ross investigation.

7:02am

SAWYER: But let's begin now with an exclusive Brian Ross investigation. It is about the new pastor problems plaguing another presidential hopeful. This time, John McCain facing questions about his ties to a preacher who has made controversial, fiercely anti-Islamic comments. Brian Ross is here with us right now. Brian? .

ABC GRAPHIC: McCain's Pastor Problem: Fueling Anti-Muslim Hatred?

BRIAN ROSS: Good morning, Diane. In dealing with what he calls the central threat of the time, Senator McCain says the U.S. has failed to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. But, if that is McCain's plan if elected, he seems to have already badly complicated it by recruiting the support of an evangelical minister now known in the Arab world as a hate monger. It was at a critical moment in his campaign. Trying to win support from the Christian right that John McCain sought and received a big endorsement in the evangelical world.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: And I'm very honored today to have one of the truly great spiritual leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide, Pastor Rod Parsley, who is here. Thank you for your-- for your leadership and your guidance. I'm very grateful you're here, sir.

ROSS: Campaign aides later positioned Parsley right behind McCain for photographers, apparently unconcerned about what Parsley stands for. As the senior pastor of the World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, Parsley has made no secret of his feelings that Islam is the enemy.

REVEREND ROD PARSLEY (World Harvest Church): Islam is an anti-Christ religion that intends through violence to conquer the world.

ROSS: In sermons sold on DVD since 2005 and in a book "Silent No More," Parsley has warned about Islam.

PARSLEY: America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed. And I believe, September 11, 2001 was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

ROSS: Parsley's words, his connection to McCain are now showing up on Arab websites and newspapers. The headline here [Photo of Arab newspaper]: "McCain's spiritual adviser calls for the destruction of Islam." A huge handicap for McCain, according to a former CIA intelligence officer.

JOHN KIRIAKOU (Former CIA officer): The handicap is that it's already assumed that the Muslims are not gonna' get a fair shake from a McCain's administration.

ROSS: McCain has done nothing to reject Parsley's endorsement, even though his comments seem in stark contrast.

MCCAIN: Our goal must be to win the hearts and minds of the vast majority of moderate Muslims who do not want their future controlled by a minority of violent extremists.

PARSLEY: I will counter respectfully that what some call extremists are instead mainstream Muslim believers who are drawing who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.

MCCAIN: We must remember that our freedoms are not only depended by our diplomacy and military power, but very importantly, by the decency and respect with which we treat one another.

PARSLEY: I will rail against the idea that the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are the same being. I will sound the alarm about the pernicious agendas of the enemies of my country and cross of my Christ. And I will proclaim the truth at every opportunity.

ROSS: In a statement, the McCain spokesman said the senator obviously strongly rejects such statements but the spokesman would not answer the question of whether the senator or the campaign knew of Parsley's widely publicized views before seeking his endorsement or before Senator McCain called Parsley one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide.

SAWYER: Yes, we head it there on stage. Spiritual guide and leader. Chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross. Thank you, Brian.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org