Jerry Falwell: An Extremist Punching Bag for Liberal Media

The sudden death of Rev. Jerry Falwell on Tuesday marked not just the passing of a television evangelist, but of a historic conservative leader and regular cable TV pundit. The mainstream media developed a strong distaste for him because he entered the political arena and helped establish a stronger conservative movement. For reporters, he was the definition of the far right, someone whose support made a Republican unacceptable, and any Republican who attacked him (like John McCain in 2000) quickly became a media hero. The Washington Post infamously described him as leading a flock that was "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command." Here's a selection of "Notable Quotables" capturing their attitudes:2006"In 2000, John McCain ran for President as a different kind of politician....Straight talk included taking on powerful Christian conservatives like Jerry Falwell, whom he called an ‘agent of intolerance.’....McCain is [now] trying to repair relations with the religious right.... For McCain, doing so could jeopardize his reputation for being a different kind of politician." — Reporter Dan Harris on ABC’s World News Tonight, April 14.2001"Any decision that leaves Jerry Falwell feeling pleased and happy is a decision that you need to be skeptical about, and he was very happy with this decision." -- Time magazine national correspondent Jack White discussing President Bush’s compromise position on federal embryonic stem-cell research on Inside Washington, August 11. 2000"George W. is one thing, but as long as the Republican Party -- you noted some of them -- is populated by the Pat Buchanans, the Jesse Helmses, the Jerry Falwells, the Bob Barrs, don't blacks have a right to be suspicious?" -- CBS's Bryant Gumbel to a panel of black men, August 2 The Early Show. Dan Rather: "One issue that is sure to come up in the fall campaign that has already surfaced is Bush cozying up to the self-described religious right, including the Reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell."Richard Schlesinger: "....Pollsters and pundits and politicians like to describe the primary season as a search for the soul of a party. Now the question is: Did George Bush sell his soul to the wrong group?" -- March 13 CBS Evening News. 1998"Goldwater was always honest, even when honesty didn't pay. My appreciation of Goldwater came in his and my later years when he called on Nixon to resign and when he said that Reagan was either a liar or incompetent for not knowing about Iran-Contra. He told the party to let abortion alone and to quote 'boot Jerry Falwell in the ass,' closed quote. He summed up gays in the military brilliantly. 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight.' You don't get more honest than that."-- Time's Margaret Carlson, May 30 CNN Capital Gang. "Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, an astringent and abstemious conservative, lambasted his fellow Republicans for their ‘sin by silence,’ and others started talking as well. The White House loves the exposure — for the other side: Starr, televangelist Jerry Falwell, Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge and assorted Republicans, among them Jesse Helms, Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott. To Clintonites, it seemed a usefully geeky crowd. ‘They resemble a crew out of The Addams Family,’ one White House spin doctor said, happily, ‘with names by Charles Dickens.’" — Washington reporter Howard Fineman in Newsweek, February 9.1997NBC's Tom Brokaw: "The Promise Keepers and their charismatic leader have drawn plenty of attention over the years -- not all of it positive. In fact, some women's groups feel that Promise Keepers, their warm and fuzzy ideology, is a mask for something more sinister..."Jim Avila: "...and as their fundamentalist doctrines become better known, donations are dropping and rally attendance falling....Critics say there is more dangerous doctrine in the Promise Keepers agenda that to some looks more right wing than religious. Bill McCartney spoke at anti-abortion rallies, calls homosexuality a sin, and his group has received money and support from Jerry Falwell, the Christian Coalition, and Pat Robertson....As the Promise Keepers face their biggest weekend ever, they're finding that returning to a world where man has the final word will take more than a promise and a prayer." -- Nightly News, September 30.1994"Preachers often mix religion and politics. In recent years, this temptation has arisen most prominently on the right, you know -- Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and those guys with celestial phones to God's ear. Back in 1992, after the hard-shell Republican convention in Houston, and humiliating defeat of President Bush, it looked like the religious right's influence might be waning. Not so...These righteous rightists are sure to be a major force in the fall election...Voters are blessed with common sense and free will. They customarily reject extremes of either the left, or the right." -- Former ABC Washington Bureau Chief George Watson in a commentary on the overnight newscast World News Now, June 23.1993"Corporations pay public relations firms millions of dollars to contrive the kind of grass-roots response that Falwell or Pat Robertson can galvanize in a televised sermon. Their followers are largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command."-- Washington Post reporter Michael Weisskopf, February 1."An article yesterday characterized followers of television evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as `largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command.' There is no factual basis for that statement." -- Post corrections box, next day.1988"Do you think it's a cosmetic change, what the Republicans are trying to do down here in New Orleans, forget about the evangelical look, the extremists, the Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, but change the whole cosmetics of the conservative right?" -- Question from CBS This Morning co-host Kathleen Sullivan to Dukakis campaign chairman Paul Brountas, August 17. John McLaughlin: "What do you think of [Nicaraguan communist dictator Daniel] Ortega's implicit endorsement of Michael Dukakis this week?"Jack Germond: "George Bush has the endorsement of Jerry Falwell. I think it's a trade-off."-- exchange on The McLaughlin Group, August 13.MRC President Brent Bozell honored Falwell’s memory in a press release Tuesday: "Rev. Jerry Falwell gave his heart and soul to his family, his faith and his country. This is obvious when one looks at the decades of work he completed to grow his ministry, nurture his university, and advance the conservative movement throughout the culture and in politics."Rev. Falwell was a great leader who helped organize grassroots conservatives across America, and who was instrumental in the presidential election of Ronald Reagan. His inspiring presence and moral insight will be greatly missed."

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