ABC Frets “Maverick” McCain Making a “Right Turn” in Reconciling with Falwell

Demonstrating that for the press corps “maverick” means going to the left -- or at least that you're a conservative-basher -- ABC's World News Tonight on Friday aired a story fretting about how the media's favorite Republican has agreed to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. “During his 2000 campaign, McCain gathered support as a straight-talking maverick by attacking some members of his party's base,” anchor Elizabeth Vargas recalled while viewers saw "Right Turn?" beneath a picture of McCain. She then warned: “Now it appears he's on a very different course.” Reporter Dan Harris fondly remembered how in 2000 “straight talk included taking on powerful Christian conservatives like Jerry Falwell, whom he called an 'agent of intolerance.'" Harris then repeatedly pushed McCain to denounce Falwell: "Let me just press you on this. Do you think he's still an 'agent of intolerance'?...So do you take back your statement about him being an 'agent of intolerance'?"

Harris helpfully reminded viewers that "since 2000, Falwell has said Jews can't go to heaven unless they accept Christ, and on The 700 Club, that gays and feminists bore responsibility for 9/11." Noting how analysts say McCain is trying to “repair relations with the religious right” before he launches another presidential bid, Harris cautioned McCain: “Politicians often try to appeal to the party's base, but for McCain, doing so could jeopardize his reputation for being a different kind of politician.” Of course, given the disrepute the media and many Republicans hold for Falwell, you could argue that reaching out to him is a “maverick” move for McCain. But you're only a “maverick” to journalists when you undermine a conservative or boost a liberal position. (Transcript follows.)

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the April 14 World News Tonight panic over McCain:
Anchor Elizabeth Vargas: "Now to politics. Arizona Senator John McCain spent the week on a six-state tour, and it looked an awful lot like a presidential campaign swing. He visited New Hampshire, Florida, Arkansas, Ohio, Minnesota and Iowa. During his 2000 campaign, McCain gathered support as a straight-talking maverick by attacking some members of his party's base. Now it appears he's on a very different course. ABC's Dan Harris reports tonight from Minnesota."

Dan Harris: "In 2000, John McCain ran for President as a different kind of politician."

John McCain in 2000: "We're on a bus called the Straight Talk Express. I got to give you the straight talk."

Harris: "Straight talk included taking on powerful Christian conservatives like Jerry Falwell, whom he called an 'agent of intolerance.'"

McCain, February 29, 2000: "I reject individuals such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who take our party in the wrong direction."

Harris: "Six years later, just try to get a straight answer from McCain about his decision to speak at Falwell's Liberty University. Do you think he has changed?"

McCain: "Reverend Falwell came to my office and said that he wanted to put our differences behind us."

Harris: "Let me just press you on this. Do you think he's still an 'agent of intolerance'?"

McCain: "I believe that we will continue to have disagreements."

Harris: "So do you take back your statement about him being an 'agent of intolerance'?"

McCain: "I will continue to have disagreements with Reverend Falwell, and I will hope that there are many areas in which we can agree."

Harris: "Since 2000, Falwell has said Jews can't go to heaven unless they accept Christ, and on The 700 Club, that gays and feminists bore responsibility for 9/11."

Jerry Falwell, on The 700 Club: "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

Harris: "McCain says speaking at Liberty University does not mean he endorses Falwell's views. He says he's also speaking at several liberal universities, despite disagreeing with their policies barring military recruiters."

McCain: "I'm not trying to make up to anyone, either liberal, conservative or anyone else. I'm trying to do what I think is best for America."

Harris: "But political watchers, and even Jerry Falwell, say McCain is trying to repair relations with the religious right."

Falwell: "I do think, like any wise politician moving towards a presidential election, he is trying to build alliances."

Harris concluded: "Politicians often try to appeal to the party's base, but for McCain, doing so could jeopardize his reputation for being a different kind of politician. Dan Harris, ABC News, St. Cloud, Minnesota."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center