ABC's McFadden Goads Rick Warren Over 'Sham Operation,' GOP Views

"Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden interviewed Pastor Rick Warren on Monday about the presidential forum he held with Senators Barack Obama and John McCain and pestered him to just admit that he's a Republican. At one point, she goaded, "You know, there are some people who feel that this is kind of a sham operation. That really, we know you, as an evangelical, are a Republican, a John McCain supporter."

Warren responded by asserting he's a registered independent, but the ABC correspondent kept trying to pin the pastor and author down as a GOP supporter. Speaking of Warren's parishioners and his own preference, she queried, "But do you feel like at some point, Rick, you owe the people who look to you for guidance more than that? I mean at some point before this election are you going to get up--" After Warren interrupted and replied that he wouldn't be telling anyone who to vote for, McFadden followed-up: "So if someone were to come to you and say, you know what, forget character, I'm going to vote for the guy who is opposed to abortion, would you say they need to go back and think a little harder?"

The Saddleback Church pastor retorted, "No. I would say you made your hierarchy of values and for you the value of preserving life is the top value. Great. Good decision." Trying yet again to definitively pin Warren as a Republican, McFadden queried, "Could you vote for either one of them? That's a different question than saying who would you vote for."

The "Purpose Driven Life" author responded by saying simply that he didn't know and then offered a wink. McFadden closed the segment by opining, "The wink seems to say McCain, but Rick Warren is too savvy to speak the name, determined to keep the public dialogue going with his two very powerful friends."

The "Nightline" co-anchor's questions seemed to demonstrate an incredible naivete. Warren just last week completed an event hosting the two major presidential candidates in a conversation about morality, faith and leadership. Why would he compromise that by endorsing a candidate on national television? And as for Warren's wink, it could also be interpreted as a way of telling the reporter that, no matter how many times she asks that particular question, there would be no answer forthcoming.

McFadden should be given credit, however, for challenging the pastor about Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Warren, who did not broach the subject during his conversation with the Illinois senator, bluntly stated:

RICK WARREN: Well, I totally disavow liberation theology and black liberation theology. I think they're both wrong. I think they are radical. I think they're Marxism in Christian terms and I think they're dead wrong.

McFadden then asked the logical follow-up: "So what does it say about Barack Obama that that was his church for so many years?" Warren offered a middle ground and asserted "there's a difference between a personal connection and a political connection." He added that only if Wright had been Obama's political advisor on all matters, "I'd say then Barack, you're a lot more liberal than you're letting us on to be. You're a lot more radical than you're letting us on to be."

A partial transcript of the August 18 segment, which aired at 11:35pm, follows:

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Let's talk for just a moment about Reverend Wright.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Barack knows what it means to be a black man, living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich, white people!

WARREN: Well, I totally disavow liberation theology and black liberation theology. I think they're both wrong. I think they are radical. I think they're Marxism in Christian terms and I think they're dead wrong.

MCFADDEN: So what does it say about Barack Obama that that was his church for so many years?

WARREN: Because there's a difference between a personal connection and a political connection. If that pastor had been his adviser in every political thing, I'd say then Barack, you're a lot more liberal than you're letting us on to be. You're a lot more radical than you're letting us on to be.

...

MCFADDEN: While the crowd gave both candidates standing ovations, John McCain's answers clearly played better in the room. On Sunday, an NBC reporter claims people associated with Obama's campaign suggested that McCain may have had unfair access to Warren's questions, a charge both Warren and McCain deny. You know, there are some people who feel that this is kind of a sham operation. That really, we know you, as an evangelical, are a Republican, a John McCain supporter. The numbers seem to support that, that most evangelicals overwhelmingly already are registered as Republicans and support John McCain.

WARREN: Well this is the first time I'll mention it on the air I'm not a Republican and I'm not a Democrat. I'm actually registered as an independent. So that may be the big surprise to America. The truth is, I think there's a significant number of people out there who are disillusioned and disenfranchised by both sides. I'm somewhere here in the middle and I would like to find and create a common ground for the common good.

MCFADDEN: But ultimately you've got to vote for one of them.

WARREN: Of course you do. And that's gonna have to be a personal choice. And I'm a pastor, not a prophet. So I'd never predict who anybody else is going to vote for.

MCFADDEN: But he's more than willing to offer advice about how he hopes his parishioners will go about making their decisions. Yesterday's church service was entitled, "the Kind of Leadership America Needs."

WARREN: Satan does not have any new ideas. The three basic traps that every leader falls into, money, sex and power.

MCFADDEN: The antidote to such sins, Warren believes, can be found in the teachings of the Bible about integrity, generosity and humility and go to a candidate's character. He leaves it up to those in the pews to decide which candidate comes closest to sharing their views. At will come in the surprise to some as issues like abortion have been seen as a litmus test for evangelical voters. Sunday afternoon, we talked to Rick Warren one last time about how he felt the session went.

WARREN: I was very surprised and pleased by how it came off, the fact that both of these men were able to totally explain their different views without attacking each other.

MCFADDEN: So on balance, how do you feel? I mean could you now go into the voting booth and cast your ballot for either one of them or not?

WARREN: I never take sides, and I will tell you this. I'm for my friends and they both happen to be my friends.

MCFADDEN: But do you feel like at some point, Rick, you owe the people who look to you for guidance more than that? I mean at some point before this election are you going to get up--

WARREN: No. And the reason why is, I think they're smart enough on their own. I don't think anybody needs anybody else telling them who to vote for.

MCFADDEN: So if someone were to come to you and say, you know what, forget character, I'm going to vote for the guy who is opposed to abortion, would you say they need to go back and think a little harder?

WARREN: No. I would say you made your hierarchy of values and for you the value of preserving life is the top value. Great. Good decision.

MCFADDEN: I just want to go back to the final thing. I'm hung up on this.

WARREN: Okay.

MCFADDEN: Could you vote for either one of them? That's a different question than saying who would you vote for.

WARREN: Could I vote for either one of them? I don't know. I don't know if that's a good question to ask.[Warren winks.]

MCFADDEN: The wink seems to say McCain, but Rick Warren is too savvy to speak the name, determined to keep the public dialogue going with his two very powerful friends.

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