CBS Touts “Saint Jack” Danforth's Conservative-Bashing, Rues “Cost” of GOP Control

Saturday's CBS Evening News devoted its “Weekend Journal” segment to, as anchor Russ Mitchell explained, “the Senate veteran who is known far and wide as 'Saint Jack.'" Bill Whitaker proceeded to relay, without any competing voices, the anti-Christian Right enmity of former moderate, at best, Missouri Republican Senator Jack Danforth who is on a crusade to rid the Republican Party of the influence of Christian conservatives. Whitaker began with a clip of Danforth declaring: "I am concerned about the Republican Party becoming, in essence, the party of the Christian conservatives." Whitaker then bucked-up Danforth's authority: "This is no Republican-basher speaking. It's party stalwart John Danforth, a lifelong Republican with rock solid conservative credentials.” To support the ludicrous claim that Danforth holds “solid conservative credentials,” Whitaker cited how he “led the bitter partisan battle to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court” -- when that just reflected personal loyalty to Thomas who had worked on Danforth's staff when he was Missouri's Attorney General -- and how as “an episcopal priest, he presided over the funeral of Ronald Reagan," as if all those involved in the service were right-wingers.

The Los Angeles-based Whitaker, who traveled to La Quinta, California to interview Danforth, trumpeted how “this faithful Republican is worried about the direction his party is taking." After relating Danforth's contention that the involvement of religious conservatives “makes the party seem exclusive, and I think it makes American politics meaner” as well as his complaint that Republicans “pander” in “the conscious development of wedge issues in order to excite religious passion,” Whitaker sighed: "But even he admits it works. The GOP now controls the White House, the Senate, the House. But at what cost?" Danforth alleged: "If by winning an election we've caused such divisions in the country that we are unable to address the really big issues before us, then we've done more harm than good." (Transcript follows.)

A NewsBusters posting last week by Tim Graham examined an admiring February 2 Washington Post “Style” section look at Danforth's rants against the Christian Right, "'St. Jack' and the Bullies in the Pulpit."

The CBSNews.com “Politics” page now features video of the Whitaker story.

The transcript of the February 11 CBS Evening News story, as provided by the MRC's weekend warrior, Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:
Anchor Russ Mitchell: "It appears sometimes that issues of faith and politics are dividing Americans more frequently than ever. And one senior figure with a foot in both camps believes it's no accident. For tonight's 'Weekend Journal,' Bill Whitaker talks to the Senate veteran who is known far and wide as 'St. Jack.'"

Former Senator John Danforth (R-MO), to Whitaker as the two sat in what appeared to be an office: "I am concerned about the Republican Party becoming, in essence, the party of the Christian conservatives."

Bill Whitaker: "This is no Republican-basher speaking. It's party stalwart John Danforth, a lifelong Republican with rock solid conservative credentials. The former three-term Missouri Senator led the bitter partisan battle to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. An episcopal priest, he presided over the funeral of Ronald Reagan."

Danforth, at Washington Cathedral service for Reagan: "Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant, Ronald."

Whitaker: "Now this faithful Republican is worried about the direction his party is taking."

Danforth: "It makes the party seem exclusive, and I think it makes American politics meaner."

Whitaker: "How did he come to this?"

Danforth: "I was appalled by the Terri Schiavo case."

Whitaker: "Seeing Republicans who traditionally had stood for keeping government off citizens' backs in this case pushing the federal government into such a personal affair."

Danforth: "Most of the people who were trying to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube were Republicans. And to me it indicated an effort to placate or even appease the Christian right."

Whitaker: "Pandering?"

Danforth: "Pandering."

Whitaker: "That's a strong word."

Danforth: "I mean, how else do you explain it?"

Whitaker: "Or other incendiary issues like gay marriage, the Ten Commandments, embryonic stem cell research."

Danforth: "The conscious development of wedge issues in order to excite religious passion makes it much more difficult."

Whitaker: "Poisoning the political atmosphere, he says."

Danforth: "In a politician's view this as God's side versus the heathen, I mean that doesn't leave much room for trying to work things out politically."

Whitaker: "Danforth's brother died of Lou Gehrig's disease, one of the many scientists believe stem cell research might cure. He's campaigning to convince Missouri to allow the research."

Danforth in ad: "I want cures to be found."

Danforth to Whitaker: "They would say that cells in a petri dish are morally equivalent to an 11-year-old child. It is a statement based solely on a religious point-of-view."

Whitaker: "But even he admits it works. The GOP now controls the White House, the Senate, the House. But at what cost?"

Danforth: "Because if by winning an election we've caused such divisions in the country that we are unable to address the really big issues before us, then we've done more harm than good."

Whitaker: "He says he believes the GOP must and will change to survive."

Danforth: "But I think that beyond the politics of all of this, the question is: Do we move forward as a country?"

Whitaker: "And moving forward will be difficult, Danforth says, if the nation is divided along religious lines. Bill Whitaker, CBS News, La Quinta, California."

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