CNN Reporter on McCain: Senator Fending Off Fire From ‘Far Right’

On Tuesday’s "American Morning," Miles O’Brien reported on the statement by evangelical leader James Dobson that he could never support Arizona Senator John McCain’s bid for the White House. O’Brien twice referred to the comments as attacks from "the far right." Political correspondent Bob Franken went on to characterize the remarks by Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, as "lashing out at Senator John McCain." Franken followed by recounting McCain’s sometimes rocky relationship with Christian conservatives. In the process, the CNN reporter simplified and omitted some important facts about the Senator’s record. But first, Miles O’Brien led with classic labeling bias:

7:26 (story tease)

Miles O'Brien: "Plus, Senator John McCain takes not-so friendly fire from the far right. Why he is fending off criticism from an evangelical leader."

7:38

O'Brien: "Senator John McCain is fending off fire from the far right flank this morning. A leading evangelical minister says there's no way he could support McCain for president. 'American Morning's' Bob Franken joining us live from Washington with more. Good morning, Bob."

Illinois Senator Barack Obama announced on January 16 that he would be launching a presidential exploratory committee for 2008. What do you think the chances are that CNN will label Obama, who has a lifetime American Conservative Union score of 8, as a member of the "far left?"

After being introduced by O’Brien, Franken started the segment by recounting McCain’s history with Christian conservatives.

Bob Franken: "Good morning, Miles. Well, he's been trying to enter stage right, but he has certainly not been altogether successful. One of the nation's most influential Christian conservatives is lashing out at Senator John McCain.

James Dobson: "He's not in favor of traditional marriage, and I pray that we won't get stuck with him."

Franken: "James Dobson, founder of the evangelical powerhouse Focus on the Family, was speaking on a Christian radio program last week. Dobson said there's no way he'll get behind McCain's bid for the White House."

Dobson: "I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances."

Franken: "Those comments highlight a major political problem for the Arizona senator. He remains estranged from his party's core voters, conservative evangelicals, major players in Republican primaries."

Mark Preston (CNN Political Editor): "I don't think that they think that John McCain is a true believer, that John McCain is with them on all the issues, that John McCain, if he were to become president, would push a social agenda as hard and fast as they would like."

Franken: "McCain does oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, but he refuses to get behind a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. And he's generally had an arm's length relationship with evangelical leaders. Back in the 2000 presidential campaign, McCain called his then opponent George W. Bush a 'Pat Robertson Republican,' who panders to Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell. That was then. Now, of course, McCain is struggling to win over those same religious leaders. He recently spent some political quality time with Falwell, delivering the commencement address at the reverend's fundamentalist Liberty University."

Franken is guilty of some serious simplifications and omissions of McCain’s record. He highlighted McCain’s "Pat Robertson Republican" remark, but failed to mention other, harsher comments from the same speech, such as this one by the Senator in the February 28, 2000 event:

John McCain: "The political tactics of division and slander are not our values. They are– They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party, and our country. Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right."

And, as the MRC’s Tim Graham noted in a February 19, 2000 editorial for "World" magazine, as the media coverage on McCain grew more flowery, his positions seemed to become more liberal:

"As Mr. McCain's crusade drew strength from national media coverage, he grew more liberal, such as denouncing George W. Bush's tax cut proposal for giving too much money back to the rich. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen reported in December: ‘McCain's people whisper, Don't worry. He's not really so anti-abortion. He'll come around on gay rights, gun control, and almost anything else you can name.’"

Perhaps this is something to remember the next time the media starts attacking "far right" critics of John McCain.

A transcript of the January 16 segment, which aired at 7:38am, follows:

7:26 (story tease)

Miles O'Brien: "Plus, Senator John McCain takes not so friendly fire from the far right. Why he is fending off criticism from an evangelical leader."

7:38

O'Brien: "Senator John McCain is fending off fire from the far right flank this morning. A leading evangelical minister says there's no way he could support McCain for president. 'American Morning's' Bob Franken joining us live from Washington with more. Good morning, Bob."

Bob Franken: "Good morning, Miles. Well, he's been trying to enter stage right, but he has certainly not been altogether successful. One of the nation's most influential Christian conservatives is lashing out at Senator John McCain.

James Dobson: "He's not in favor of traditional marriage, and I pray that we won't get stuck with him."

Franken: "James Dobson, founder of the evangelical powerhouse Focus on the Family, was speaking on a Christian radio program last week. Dobson said there's no way he'll get behind McCain's bid for the White House."

Dobson: "I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances."

Franken: "Those comments highlight a major political problem for the Arizona senator. He remains estranged from his party's core voters, conservative evangelicals, major players in Republican primaries."

Mark Preston: "I don't think that they think that John McCain is a true believer, that John McCain is with them on all the issues, that John McCain, if he were to become president, would push a social agenda as hard and fast as they would like."

Franken: "McCain does oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, but he refuses to get behind a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. And he's generally had an arm's length relationship with evangelical leaders. Back in the 2000 presidential campaign, McCain called his then opponent George W. Bush a "Pat Robertson Republican," who panders to Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell. That was then. Now, of course, McCain is struggling to win over those same religious leaders. He recently spent some political quality time with Falwell, delivering the commencement address at the reverend's fundamentalist Liberty University."

John McCain: "We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions."

Franken: "But Dobson's comments show that McCain's still got some fences to mend. The senator's spokesman says the record speaks for itself. So here we have Senator John McCain trying to reconcile with Christian conservatives, and, Miles, if Dobson is right, he doesn't stand a prayer."

O'Brien: "It's interesting. Nice turn of phrase, by the way, Bob. Dobson took great pains to say he was speaking as an individual, not on behalf of Focus on the Family."

Franken: "Well. But he, of course, represents a large organization with a large following, and certainly, put it this way, McCain would rather have him in his corner as opposed to not."

O'Brien: "But why would he try to separate himself from his organization in this case?"

Franken: "First of all, it's early. Second of all, there could be an awful lot of discussion, an awful lot of movement. John McCain could perhaps come up with some sort of way to make Dobson happy, at least happier than he is now. At some point Dobson could dramatically say, you know what, I'm going to support John McCain."

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