Gregory Repeatedly Pesters Boehner to 'Stand Up to Ignorance' on Birthers, Obama Religion Critics

The Los Angeles Times rushed to report yesterday that the "hot news" from NBC's Meet the Press was that Speaker John Boehner wasn't angry enough to denounce the "birthers" in the conservative movement, and the people who think Barack Obama's a Muslim (or at least, not a Christian). But, wait: what's news about that? NBC anchor Brian Williams pressed Boehner to denounce birthers when Congress came in, on January 6. Apparently, what's newsworthy is that the Obama apple-polishers at NBC are still hopping mad about Boehner's failure to satisfy in his January answer.

Meet the Press host David Gregory used footage of a Fox News focus group with Frank Luntz where a chunk of the group raised their hands when asked if they thought Obama was a Muslim. If NBC were fair and balanced, surely four years ago, Tim Russert pressed the Democrats to tell their own liberal base to stop spreading lies about George W. Bush on the Internet -- that he was a fascist, that he was a theocrat, that his family was tight with the bin Ladens (thanks, Michael Moore), or that his grandfather helped finance Hitler's rise to power. Well, no: Russert pressed Boehner to denounce conservatives who were mocking Nancy Pelosi's demands for a bigger cross-country plane. Here was Gregory's outrage yesterday:

GREGORY: Mr.  Speaker, I want to pick up on something that my colleague Brian Williams asked you about last--this January, last month.  He asked if you were willing to take on some members of your caucus who don't believe that the president was actually born in the United States.  And this was a portion of your answer, I want to play it.

BOEHNER [January 6]:  We're nothing more than a slice of America.  And then people come with, regardless of party labels, they come with all kinds of beliefs and ideas.  It's, it's the, the melting pot of America.  It's not up to me to tell them what to think.

GREGORY:  And, indeed, members of Congress speak publicly and are outspoken and will say what their views are.  And sometimes they have an effect on what people believe around the country.  And there was a--something that caught my eye this week that was on Fox News on the Hannity program, a focus group with voters in Iowa led by Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist, and he had this exchange with them.  I want to show it to you.

WOMAN IN FOCUS GROUP:  I believe that Barack Obama's religious beliefs do govern his foreign policy.

MR. FRANK LUNTZ:  And what are his religious beliefs?

WOMAN:  I believe that he is a Muslim.

Luntz asked his group how many thought Obama was a Muslim, and about eight hands went up, which clearly angered Gregory:

GREGORY:  As the speaker of the House, as a leader, do you not think it's your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?

BOEHNER:  David, it's not my job to tell the American people what to think.  Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.  Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there.  That's good enough for me.  The president says he's a Christian.  I accept him at his word.

GREGORY:  But isn't that a little bit fast and loose?  I mean, you are the leader in Congress and you're not standing up to obvious facts and saying, "These are facts.  If you don't believe that, it's nonsense."

BOEHNER:  I just outlined the facts as I understand them.  I believe that the president is a citizen.  I believe the president is a Christian. I'll take him at his word.  But, but...

GREGORY:  But that kind of ignorance about whether he's a Muslim doesn't concern you?

BOEHNER:  Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think.  I can't--it's not my job to tell them.

GREGORY:  Why isn't it your job to stand up and say, "No, the facts are these"?

BOEHNER:  I am...

GREGORY:  Didn't John McCain do that...

BOEHNER:  I, I, I just did.

Gregory, in his sputtering outrage, doesn't consider that it's quite polite to take Obama "at his word" that he is a Christian, since he goes to church about twice a year. (Liberals were just as angry at Hillary "taking his word for it.") It's not as simple as saying "the facts are these" when it comes to Obama's Christianity. He has publicly declared he was not a religious believer until Rev. Jeremiah Wright converted him...which is not a fact Gregory would like to dwell on. It continued:

GREGORY:  What you're saying, "It's good enough for me," is that really standing up and saying, for those who believe that or who would talk about that--you had a member of Congress, you had a new tea party freshman who was out just yesterday speaking to conservatives, and he said, "I'm fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I do have a birth certificate to prove it." That was Raul Labrador, a new--a congressman from Idaho.  Is that an appropriate way for your members to speak?

Gregory didn't seem to have any room for context: Labrador was born in Puerto Rico, so he was making a joke about being born in U.S. territory. He was doing self-deprecating "birther" humor. But nothing is funny to NBC when Obama is being discussed:

BOEHNER:  The gentleman was, was trying to be funny, I would imagine. But remember something, it's not--it really is not our job to tell the American people what to believe and what to think.  There's a lot of information out there, people read a lot of things...

GREGORY:  You shouldn't stand up to misinformation or stereotypes?

BOEHNER:  ...but, but, but, but, but I've made clear what I believe the facts are.

GREGORY:  But is, is it, is it because it weakens the president politically, it seeks to delegitimize him that you sort of want to let it stay out there?

BOEHNER:  No.  What I'm trying to do is to do my job.  Our job is to focus on spending.  We're spending too much money here in Washington.  The president's going to outline this new budget tomorrow, that I outlined earlier, spends too much, borrows too much, and taxes too much.  And the president wants to talk about winning the future.  This isn't winning the future, it's spending the future.

Notice how Gregory is upset about "stereotypes" that "delegitimize" Obama, because they "weaken the president politically." Doesn't that describe how the "objective" media has covered Reagan and Bush and Bush? One wishes Boehner would have just said: "How is that NBC can be outraged about spreading rumors, and then do three-part interviews with Kitty Kelley about the Bushes, when Kelley claimed George W. Bush did cocaine at Camp David, and Laura Bush was a drug dealer in college?" NBC also gave her major time to trash Nancy Reagan in 1991.

Four years ago, on February 11, 2007, Boehner and new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer appeared on Meet the Press. Russert wasn't pressing Hoyer to denounce Bush-hating liberals. He was pressing Boehner to denounce his fellow Republicans on the Air Pelosi story:

RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole issue of Speaker Pelosi. When she became speaker, she was given access to an airplane because, after September 11th--president, vice president, speaker of the House, in terms of succession to the presidency--Speaker Dennis Hastert, her predecessor, was given a plane to fly back and forth to his district in Illinois. Speaker Pelosi  lives in California, so it'd take a different kind of airplane to make that flight nonstop. The Republican National Committee put out this: "Pelosi's  Power Trip: `Non-Stop' Nancy Seeks Flight of Fancy." And your colleagues in the House, Mr. Boehner, "Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida said Mrs. Pelosi's  request represents `an arrogance of office that just defies common sense,' and called it `a major deviation from the previous speaker.' Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri called it a `flying Lincoln bedroom.'" What's, what's that all about?

BOEHNER: There's no question that the speaker, third in line to the president, ought to have the security of having a plane. The plane that was used for Mr., Mr. Hastert has a 4,000 nautical mile range. So the same plane could've been used by Ms. Pelosi. Where the concerns were elevated is when she started to talk about taking family, staff, the supporters, and other members on her trip with her. And I think the taxpayers ought to provide a plane for her and her close staff. But when you start talking about supporters and other members and friends, I don't think the taxpayers ought to be held accountable for that.

RUSSERT: Now, the White House weighed in, and they're not usually willing to jump in on behalf of Nancy Pelosi's side, but this is what Tony Snow, the White House press secretary said: "This is a silly story and I think it's been unfair to the speaker." You agree?

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