Media Letting McCain Off Easy Over Endorsement Flap

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET
  • Chris Korzen Co-founder and Executive Director, Catholics United

John McCain's refusal to distance himself from a controversial endorsement by Catholic-bashing pastor John Hagee received widespread coverage last week. But despite the GOP frontrunner's astounding decision not to rescind his acceptance of the endorsement, the media is letting the story drop.

This story highlights a double standard of epic proportions: While the press gave scant Sunday coverage to McCain's latest folly, John Edwards faced a week-long media firestorm in 2007 after word surfaced that two of his campaign's new hires had posted blog comments many Catholics found offensive. The Edwards story ended only when the bloggers were pressured to quit. But McCain now appears to be getting off with a slap on the wrist.

The bizarre nature of media's silence is compounded by the fact that McCain faces a quandary of far greater magnitude. Edwards' bloggers were junior staff members with relatively little power in the campaign. Hagee, on the other hand, is an influential megachurch pastor who promises to bring along a key conservative constituency. And McCain didn't just accept the pastor's endorsement, he turned it into a campaign event when he embraced Hagee on stage in San Antonio.

What should be causing equal outrage is Catholic League president Bill Donohue's blind acquiescence to McCain. Last year, Donohue hit the roof when Edwards initially retained his bloggers, even though Edwards sufficiently distanced himself from the postings in questions, saying he was "personally offended." In response to Edwards' statement, Donohue issued this threat:

"We will launch a nationwide public relations blitz that will be conducted on the pages of the New York Times, as well as in Catholic newspapers and periodicals. It will be on-going, breaking like a wave, starting next week and continuing through 2007. It will be an education campaign, informing the public of what [Edwards] did today. We will also reach out to our allies in the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities. They worked with us before on many issues, and are sure to do so again. What Edwards did today will not be forgotten."

True to his word, Donohue kept Edwards in the headlines for the next week. But Friday he characterized McCain's pathetic attempt to explain how endorsements only run one way, as "helpful."

As Media Matters noted, the New York Times has given imbalanced coverage of the endorsement flap compared to its handling of the Edwards controversy. And let's not forget that while Meet the Press host Tim Russert hounded Barack Obama at last Tuesday's Democratic debate over an endorsement from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan -- an endorsement, remember, that Sen. Obama never solicited, and distanced himself from in no uncertain terms - Russert decided to give the issue a pass on Sunday's show.

In an effort to keep this story alive, Catholics United is launching a grassroots effort calling on Sen. McCain to reject the Hagee endorsement and unequivocally condemn the pastor's anti-Catholic remarks.