Christine O'Donnell Shames ABC Into Airing Democrat's First Amendment Gaffe

Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell appeared on Thursday's Good Morning America and attacked the media's reaction to her comments about the First Amendment, pointing out that journalists ignored a gaffe by her opponent, Chris Coons. Her complaints apparently got results: The network played the Democrat's blunder.

Asked by reporter Jon Karl about her (correct) assertion that the words "separation of church and state" aren't anywhere in the Constitution, O'Donnell complained that "First, let me point out about that, it's really funny the way that the media reports things." She recounted the debate exchange: "I followed up with, 'Can you name the five freedoms that are guaranteed to us, that are protected by the First Amendment?' And [Coons] could not." [MP3 audio here. For video, click on article.]

ABC then, for the first time, played the clip of Coons being unable to list freedom of religion, speech, the press, the right to assembly and the right to petition the government. On Wednesday, GMA played the clip of O'Donnell's questioning of separation of church and state, but not of Coons' embarrassing moment. CBS's Early Show and NBC's Today have still yet to highlight the moment.

On Thursday, co-host George Stephanopoulos interviewed Coons, but didn't ask him about the exchange. However, at the top of the show, he did tease the Karl segment, seriously wondering, "Who is right about the First Amendment?" (Once again, this isn't in dispute: The phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution.)

A transcript of the October 21 segment, which aired at 7:05am EDT, follows:

 7am tease

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Midterm madness. 12 days to go. The candidates head-to-head here in Pennsylvania. And we talk exclusively to Tea Party favorite, Christine O'Donnell and her opponent. Who is right about the First Amendment? That debate ahead.

7:05

ROBIN ROBERTS: And, George, as you know, next door, the Senate race in Delaware, also, attracting a lot of attention. And Jonathan Karl sat down with Republican candidate, Tea Party favorite, Christine O'Donnell for a rare one-on-one chance to talk with her.

JON KARL: Yeah. And she is absolutely determined that she will surprise everybody on November 2nd. Just like she did when she won the Republican primary last month. And she had some surprising comments, Robin, to say about that "I am not a witch ad." But I started off by asking her why Republican leaders in Washington have all but abandoned her campaign.

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: The thing about my candidacy is that, you know, I'm busting up the back room deals. We're shining a spotlight on what's going on in Washington. And both parties are guilty of catering to special interest groups. And that's why my support extends way beyond the Tea Party.

KARL: If the national party were to be in here, helping you out, the way you would like them to be, would it make a difference?

O'DONNELL: It absolutely would make a difference. The Democratic Senatorial Committee is running ads. On cable television, you're limited to how many commercials each campaign can buy. So, we get one a minute. If we had other groups, you know, buying commercials, exposing my opponent's tax and spend record, then, it would be a lot easier to educate the voters about what they get when they vote for my opponent. Because, one thing I try to often say on the campaign trail is that my opponent has promised not to raise taxes. But he broke that promise, raised them three times. Raised them over 54 percent.

KARL: Have you spoken to party leaders in Washington? To Republican leaders and said, hey, come up here? Help me out. We need your help.

O'DONNELL: Yes, I have. And they said if we close the gap and, you know, that's a shame.

KARL: So, they're not coming?

O'DONNELL: Who knows? Who knows whether they will. This is a call out to them. But, you know what? I'm confident we can win with or without them.

KARL: So, Sarah Palin says she's ready to come up and knock on doors with you here in Delaware. When do we plan to see Sarah Palin here?

O'DONNELL: We tried to schedule it. We're going back and forth, exchanging dates. And I don't know if we'll get it in in the next two weeks. We're trying very hard.

KARL: But, we may not see Sarah Palin here before November 2nd?

O'DONNELL: I don't know. Time is getting short.

KARL: There's been this back and forth between you and your opponent, over the separation of church and state. You pointed out that that phrase is not in the Constitution.

O'DONNELL: Right.

KARL: But, of course, the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishing of religion.

O'DONNELL: Nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. And that's what he forgot to say.

KARL: But, what does that phrase mean to you? If not, the separation of church and state?

O'DONNELL: First, let me point out about that, it's really funny the way that the media reports things. Because, after that debate, my team and I, we were literally high-fiving each other. Because, after that question, where I asked him where in the Constitution is the phrase separation of church and state, he said the First Amendment. He said the First Amendment. I followed up with, can you name the five freedoms that are guaranteed to us, that are protected by the First Amendment? And he could not. [cut to a clip of the debate.] Can I ask you a question, Chris? Can you name the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment?

COONS: I think the very first provision of the First Amendment, is that the government shall make no establishment of religion. And before we get into a further debate about exactly which of us knows the Constitution better-

O'DONNELL: No, I'm just asking, can you name the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment?

COONS: How about we get the panel is answering our questions today?

O'DONNELL: I guess he can't. [Clip ends.] So, we were high-fiving each other, both thinking he had exposed he doesn't know the First Amendment. And then we read the reports that said the opposite, we were like what?

KARL: So, you think you got the better of him in that exchange?

O'DONNELL: I do think I got the better of him. Today, on another debate, he charged me with, Christine wants the federal government's power to be limited to that what's [sic] in the Constitution. And I thought, that's absolutely right. The federal government's power should be in what the Constitution says.

KARL: But, do you believe in the phrase, do you believe in the principle that there's a separation of church and state?

O'DONNELL: Well, I think it says exactly what it says. That the government will not create, will not dictate, that every American has to believe a certain way. But it won't do anything to prevent the free exercise thereof. And that's what people, like my opponent, in that debate, so carelessly choose to leave out.

KARL: All right. We've done the whole interview without talking about witchcraft. But I do want to ask you one last question. Halloween is coming up. How does Christine O'Donnell celebrate Halloween? What are you gonna be for Halloween? That's what I want to know.

O'DONNELL: Everybody wants to know what I'm going to be for Halloween. I have some thoughts. I'm certainly not going to be a witch.

KARL: You're not. With that, we thought the interview was going to be over. But she decided to come back and tell us about Halloween plans. And made some news about the "I am not a witch" ad.

O'DONNELL: I was just thinking about going as Dorothy.

KARL: That's perfect!

O'DONNELL: I killed the witch. There you go.

KARL: There it is. There it is. Any regrets in doing the ad? That really did raise it again.

O'DONNELL: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I haven't publicly stated this. And I don't know if I'll get in trouble for saying that. But our intention was to kill it. And that's not what happened.

KARL: So, there you have it. She says that "I am not a witch" ad, which was her first ad, probably the most memorable ad of the entire first midterm election, was a mistake.

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