A NewsBusters reader sent us an MP3 clip of an ABC News radio report from the afternoon of May 15 by "Nightline" host Terry Moran. In it, Moran boils down the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's clerical career and political activism to one extreme soundbite from shortly after 9/11.
Moran left unmentioned that Falwell later clarified his statements to reflect more accurately his belief that God lifted the "curtain" of His protection to allow 9/11 to happen, and closed his report emphasizing Falwell as a marginalized political actor:
MORAN: In 2001, just two days after the 9/11 attacks, Falwell infamously and appallingly blamed the mass murder not on terrorists...
FALWELL sound bite: The pagans and the abortionists...
MORAN: ...but on his liberal enemies in an appearance on the Rev. Pat Robertson's TV program.
FALWELL: ...alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen.
MORAN: Falwell later apologized for those comments, but they shocked many Americans and helped to push him further to the margins of the political world he once dominated.
Yet hours later on "Nightline," Moran managed to show a more complex picture, including airing an interview with Fallwell apologizing for his 9/11 comments and explaining his theology in light of Scripture. Moran also noted that Falwell thought his greatest and lasting legacy was Liberty University, a school he founded eight years before the Moral Majority:
MORAN: ...And then, in 2001, just two days after the 9/11 attacks, Falwell infamously and appallingly blamed the mass murder not on terrorists...
FALWELL sound bite: That the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen.
MORAN in an interview with Falwell: Falwell later apologized for those comments, and he told me he was simply trying to express what for him is a Gospel truth. God judges sinners.
FALWELL to Moran: That key verse is Proverbs 14:33. "Righteousness exalteth a nation. Sin is a reproach to any people." That is what I was referring to. I didn't say it the way I meant it. And it did anger some people and the press gave great, I left myself open.
MORAN: Do you regret it?
FALWELL: Oh, sure. I don't like to ever say something that doesn't totally reflect what I believe.
MORAN: And after all the controversy, it was Liberty University that Falwell poured his heart into in his final years. A hundred and eighteen thousand people have graduated from Liberty so far in a school made in Jerry Falwell's image.
FALWELL: We've got 23,000 students at Liberty University and no alcohol, no drugs, no tobacco. No co-ed dorms. We catch a boy in a girl's dorm, we shoot him. Or make him wish we had.
MORAN: Pastor, political titan, educator, controversialist. He was hated by many. Admired by many. Along with all the fire and brimstone, all the words that seared and divided, Jerry Falwell kept on smiling. Maybe that was his secret...
A brief radio obituary has obvious time constraints that a full story on "Nightline" does not, but that doesn't excuse Moran's biased radio item when the ABC veteran could have given radio listeners a more balanced thumbnail sketch.