Holy BlackBerry? ABC Sticks to Obama Staffers and Friends on Church Avoidance in Year One

The Obama family's continued lack of church-going in Washington was spun by ABCNews.com into something cute and positive, at least from the sound of the headline: "Holy BlackBerry! Obama Finds Ways to Keep the Faith During First Year in Office."

ABC’s Devin Dwyer recycled the tidbit from Terry Moran’s Nightline interview with Obama last July where Obama said he keeps the faith by getting daily devotions on his BlackBerry.

No one in the ABC piece is allowed to question if Obama now has a phobia about church attendance due to his 20-year membership in the church of radical-left Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Dwyer can’t even bring himself to mention Wright’s name, only that Obama quit "Chicago’s embattled Trinity United Church of Christ." He couldn’t get any more specific than that.

Dwyer’s first sentence sounded more negative than the story as a whole: "If church attendance is one measure of a man's faith, then President Obama may appear to have lost some of his." He’s only publicly attended services three times in the past year, "even bypassing the pews on Christmas Day."

Dwyer’s sources are all Obama staffers and friends:

But sources familiar with the president's personal life say Obama remains a faithful Christian while in the White House, practicing his beliefs regularly in private with family and the aid of his BlackBerry.

"Barack Obama is a Christian. He's always been clear and unapologetic about that, and he's comfortable with his own faith," Rev. Jim Wallis, an Obama friend and spiritual adviser, said. "But I think the president, particularly a president, needs the kind of pastoral care or spiritual counsel with people who don't have a political agenda. And it's hard for a president to get that."

Here’s what’s odd about that sentence. Obama needs spiritual care without a political agenda. So he gets his spiritual care from his own political staff?

"My Faith and Neighborhood Initiatives director, Joshua DuBois, he has a devotional that he sends to me on my BlackBerry every day," Obama said. "That's how I start my morning. You know, he's got a passage, Scripture, in some cases quotes from other faiths to reflect on."

It’s possible DuBois finds all the reflections on his own. But it’s also possible that he’s cribbing from their friend and adviser Jim Wallis. His magazine, Sojourners, sends out a free daily e-mail to Sojo.net subscribers called "Verse and Voice." It typically has a Bible verse and a quote from a spiritual leader or writer.

Dwyer concluded: "Keeping the faith in quiet moments of worship may be the best Obama can do given the realities of the presidency that make it nearly impossible to join a church without inflicting a heavy burden on taxpayers, fellow churchgoers and his own spiritual life, sources say."

Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion summed it up nicely:

The story is actually quite charitable toward the president, citing the heavy burden on taxpayers and fellow churchgoers due to security concerns. One of the readers who sent in this story thought the reporters could have done a better job of exploring why the Obamas continue to engage in social outings (such as attending basketball games, going golfing or having dinner at local restaurants) while not attending church. There were a few points in the story where such a comparison should have been noted. However, the story hinted at what I believe is the biggest burden for presidents....

Sure, security is a problem. But it's a problem wherever the president goes. I rarely think media navel-gazing is a worthwhile task, but in this case I wish the media would be a bit more reflective about how they have contributed to the problem of presidential worship life. We hear all the time about how the media used to let politicos chase skirts with immunity. I hope that permitting politicians to worship in peace isn't also a relic of the past.

It's certainly true that other presidents haven't attended a church on 52 Sundays a year. But Obama's long relationship with the poisonous Rev. Wright makes him a unique case -- and the media are still trying to perform damage control all around that with "Holy BlackBerry!" stories.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis