'Fanning the Flames': NBC Claims Santorum's Mention of Jeremiah Wright A 'New Shot' at Obama's Faith

At the top of Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry admonished Rick Santorum for accurately describing President Obama's religious history: "Fanning the flames. Rick Santorum takes a new shot at President Obama's faith by mentioning his controversial former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright."

In a later report, correspondent Peter Alexander announced: "Rick Santorum isn't backing down from what some viewed as a shot this weekend at the President's faith....On Fox News, Santorum may have fanned the flames, when he again insisted he was not questioning the President's Christianity."

A clip of Santorum's supposed "shot" followed: "[Obama] went to Reverend Wright's church for 20 years. I mean, now, you can question what kind of theology Reverend Wright has, but it's a Christian church. He says he's a Christian. He goes to a Christian church now."

A sound bite was included of Wright shouting "God damn America!" in a sermon and Alexander noted: "Reverend Wright, of course, is the Chicago pastor forced to resign from his church after some of his controversial sermons were made public during the 2008 campaign."

In reality, Wright retired in 2008 and was rewarded with a luxurious $1.6 million home paid for by the Trinity United Church.

Alexander skeptically concluded: "Santorum maintains his original comments about the President's so-called 'phony theology' were aimed at what he calls Mr. Obama's 'radical environmentalism.'"            


Here is a full transcript of Alexander's February 21 report:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

ANN CURRY: Fanning the flames. Rick Santorum takes a new shot at President Obama's faith by mentioning his controversial former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. As Donald Trump comes to Mitt Romney's defense with just one week to go before the primary races in Michigan and Arizona.

7:07AM ET SEGMENT:

DAVID GREGORY: The Republican primary races in Michigan and Arizona are just one week away now and the contests could not be any tighter between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. NBC's Peter Alexander is on the campaign trail again, this time in Shelby Township, Michigan. Peter, good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Wright or Wrong?; Santorum Links President's Religion to Ousted Pastor]

PETER ALEXANDER: David, good morning to you. Many political insiders agree the next seven days may be the most critical week in Mitt Romney's political career. He is back here in Michigan again today, trying to secure votes in this state where he was born and raised. Meanwhile, his rival Rick Santorum is already en route to Arizona. And for Santorum, these stronger poll numbers lately means more money, but also more scrutiny.

RICK SANTORUM: Wow. This is a – it's a big week coming up.

ALEXANDER: Just one week until the next crucial show down in Michigan, Rick Santorum isn't backing down from what some viewed as a shot this weekend at the President's faith.

SANTORUM: It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology.

ALEXANDER: On Fox News, Santorum may have fanned the flames, when he again insisted he was not questioning the President's Christianity.

SANTORUM: He went to Reverend Wright's church for 20 years. I mean, now, you can question what kind of theology Reverend Wright has, but it's a Christian church. He says he's a Christian. He goes to a Christian church now.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT: No, no, no! Not God bless America! God damn America!

ALEXANDER: Reverend Wright, of course, is the Chicago pastor forced to resign from his church after some of his controversial sermons were made public during the 2008 campaign. Santorum maintains his original comments about the President's so-called "phony theology" were aimed at what he calls Mr. Obama's "radical environmentalism."

SANTORUM: I am going to question what he's doing in this country to drive up the cost of energy, destroy this economy, and do so at the behest of a bunch of radical environmentalists who do, in fact, want to drive up the cost of energy.

ALEXANDER: On the campaign trail, Santorum also repeated his sharp critique of the President's health care overhaul. The father of a 3-year-old child with a genetic disorder, he argued prenatal testing promotes abortion including, he says, more than 90% of babies with the same disorder as his daughter.

SANTORUM: We need to have a health care system in this country that respects the dignity of every human life in America.

ALEXANDER: Facing a must-win in Michigan, Mitt Romney who's shied away from engaging on those hot-button social issues, instead deriding the former Pennsylvania senator as a consummate politician.

MITT ROMNEY: Senator Santorum goes to Washington, calls himself a budget hawk. Then after he's been there a while he says he's no longer a budget hawk. Well, I am a budget hawk. I don't want to spend more money than we take in.

ALEXANDER: And during a radio show in Michigan Monday, Donald Trump, perhaps Romney's most recognizable advocate, argued nominating Santorum could cost Republicans the race this fall.

DONALD TRUMP: There's no gift, no Christmas gift, that could be given better than Rick Santorum for the Democrats. They are just salivating at that. And, you know, I don't think they believe it is going to happen, but boy, would they like it to happen because that would be an easy election.

ALEXANDER: And by law, the campaigns are now required to reveal how much money they have raised each month. Mitt Romney leading the pack again in January, David. The campaign raising $6.5 million, but spending nearly three times that much, almost $19 million. Again showing just how critical the Romney campaign views wins in these early contests leading up to Super Tuesday next month.

GREGORY: Yeah, Michigan's going to be important. Peter Alexander, thank you very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC