Media Take Notice of Hillary's Jesus Slam on GOP, But Go Soft On Criticism

When Hillary Clinton charged that the House Republican immigration bill would "criminalize...Jesus himself," there was national-media notice – if not criticism. Even Hillary’s "hometown" newspaper The New York Times reported on March 23 that Senator Clinton intensified her criticism of Republican immigration proposals, albeit on page B-5. But no one in the story criticized Hillary for her harsh attack. Instead, reporter Nina Bernstein noted only critics to Hillary’s left: "Mrs. Clinton had been criticized by some immigrant activists for saying little about the issue until March 8, and then speaking at an Irish-only rally, rather than at a forum more representative of immigrants. But yesterday all seemed forgiven." Bernstein’s story, headlined, "Mrs. Clinton Says GOP Immigration Plan Is At Odds With The Bible," began:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton invoked the Bible yesterday to criticize a stringent border security measure that, among other things, would make it a federal crime to offer aid to illegal immigrants.

"It is hard to believe that a Republican leadership that is constantly talking about values and about faith would put forth such a mean-spirited piece of legislation,'' she said of the measure, which was passed by the House of Representatives in December and mirrored a companion Senate bill introduced last week by Senator Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and the majority leader.

''It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scripture because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself,'' she said. ''We need to sound the alarm about what is being done in the Congress.''

Mrs. Clinton, who is running for re-election this year and is leading in polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke at a news conference in Manhattan with more than 30 immigrant leaders after meeting with them privately.

The cable news networks picked it up. On Fox, John Gibson had Bob Beckel wheeling backward on "The Big Story." On "The O’Reilly Factor," Democratic operative Kirsten Powers said Hillary is a "deeply religious person," and "Bill Clinton's very religious. So I don't think it's fair to sit in judgment and say, you know, Hillary Clinton's a bad person because this person doesn't agree with something that she did." On "Hannity & Colmes," Sean Hannity denounced her, Newt Gingrich actually applauded her for having the courage in liberal circles to make Bible references, and Alan Colmes claimed "we know that Jesus would be a liberal, were he alive today. And if you look at the Beatitudes, he talked about, as you treat the least of us is how you treat me."

On CNN, "The Situation Room" picked it up on March 22, with reporter Mary Snow stating: "Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is using a dose of religion to blast what she calls mean-spirited legislation...What's striking about the choice of words, say political observers, is that it is unusual for any Democrat, let alone Senator Clinton, to use religion in political debate."

The next day on "American Morning," there was again no criticism. Anchor Carol Costello announced, "let's start in the world of politics, shall we, because Senator Hillary Clinton wants to know what would Jesus do? She says the Republicans' new immigration bill would probably lead to his arrest or any other good samaritan for that matter. She's referring to a provision in one bill that calls for penalties for anyone who help illegal immigrants in any way, even if they are already here in the United States. She says if that bill flies through the Senate, Jesus would probably be under arrest. That's what she says. So it's going to be a very interesting Senate race and, perhaps, presidential race in 2008."

Substitute anchor John Roberts added: "Interesting way to describe it... An interesting metaphor." (On the next morning, he raised the reference uncritically again with a liberal guest: "This is the bill that Senator Hillary Clinton was talking about that said that under this bill, Jesus Christ probably would have been determined a felon.")

On the afternoon of the 23rd, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider aired the Hillary quote with this anodyne introduction: "Enforcement? In December, House Republicans passed a bill that adds guards and fencing along the border and makes it a crime to employ or assist illegal aliens. A similar bill may come before the Senate. A leading Democrat's response?"

According to Nexis, MSNBC was odd. Tucker Carlson took it up on the late night beat on March 22 with leftist Air America host Rachel Maddow. Tucker pushed: "Who is she, Jerry Falwell? What is this? How dare she lecture me about the gospels?" Maddow replied: "This is what the Bush Republican politics have brought us. Everybody`s got to talk God all the time, or it doesn`t sound like you`re talking about values. We`re not allowed to talk right and wrong any more without talking Jesus talk. That`s the way it goes now."

Keith Olbermann waited five days to note Hillary’s remarks and then changed the subject as he began his Monday, March 27 interview with Newsweek’s Howard Fineman: "Just leave the Democrats out of this for a second. How big a fight is this merely among Republicans? How many sub-Republican Parties have different vested interest in this, and how could they possibly reach a compromise?"

The Washington Post waited a day to notice, and threw in briefly in a story the Jesus attack, and no real opposition to it:

And after weeks of sitting on the sidelines, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) jumped into the immigration debate Wednesday. She declared that Republican efforts to criminalize undocumented workers and their support networks "would literally criminalize the good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."

Presidential politics "makes it that much more difficult, of course," said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), a strong Bush ally on the issue. "You would hope three years out that we could tamp that out and focus on the policy questions at stake, but maybe that's not possible."

The Los Angeles disposed of its single mention that day in passing in a quote from a spokesman for anti-immigration Rep. Tom Tancredo. Remember that NPR, USA Today, CBS and NBC aired nothing.

ABC arrived on the story on Sunday, March 26. On "This Week," George Stephanopoulos said to Tancredo, "Congressman Tancredo, she's basically saying your approach is un-Christian." Tancredo replied: "I'm not really surprised that Hillary Clinton doesn't know the first thing about the Bible."

On the March 27 "Good Morning America," reporter Liz Marlantes contrasted Sen. Clinton and Rep. Tancredo, summarizing: "With emotions running high across the country, the immigration debate in Congress is getting ugly, too."

It came up on "Nightline" that evening, with anchor Terry Moran saying the bill raised Hillary’s "ire," and matched her quote with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner rebutting: "Well, Jesus would not be a criminal under this bill. And I didn't know that Hillary Clinton was an expert in theology, as well as all of the things that she claims to be an expert in." Moran then turned to how "dozens of members of the clergies of various faiths marched symbolically handcuffed in protest of what they believe is an immoral bill."

Finally, a review of the Monday news magazines: Newsweek and U.S. News both placed the Jesus quote in their notable-quote boxes, without comment. Newsweek also had this sentence in an immigration story: "Last week Sen. Hillary Clinton whacked the GOP with the Bible, implying anti-immigration proposals were not only hardhearted, but un-Christian."

In Time, Perry Bacon noted it was Hillary versus the "hard-liners":

In December, the House sided with the hard-liners, passing a bill with no such guest-worker program and with provisions that would make it a federal crime to offer assistance to illegal immigrants. New York Senator Hillary Clinton, a possible 2008 contender on the other side of the aisle, slammed the bill, saying it "would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself." In rallies from Milwaukee, Wis., to Los Angeles, thousands of people marched last week to protest the proposed crackdown on illegal immigrants.

It's funny that suggesting that Republicans would criminalize Jesus doesn't seem to make Hillary a "hardliner."

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