Rod Parsley’s Free Pass

Jeremiah Wright gets torched, while McCain’s “spiritual adviser” offends with impunity

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have religious allies who have made controversial, and sometimes flat-out offensive, public statements. But the media have treated them very differently.

First, Obama. Yesterday evening, CNN aired a report on a recent sermon given by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who has long been Obama’s pastor, and who the candidate has referred to in the past as his “spiritual adviser.” The sermon, CNN correspondent Susan Roesgen told viewers, “may come back to haunt” Obama.

In the YouTube clip that CNN aired, Wright says the following:

It just came to me with … within the past few weeks, you all, why so many folk are hating on Barack Obama. He doesn’t fit the model. He isn’t white. He isn’t rich. And he isn’t privileged. Hillary fits the mold.


Hillary was not a black boy raised in a single parent home. Barack was. Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary isn’t never been called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Hillary has never had her people defined as a non-persons.

The LA Times, the Baltimore Sun, CBS, and, unsurprisingly, Fox News, also got into the act, drawing attention to Wright’s controversial remarks, and in some cases to his history of similarly inflammatory rhetoric.

Meanwhile, John McCain has a Christian ally of his own. At a rally in late February, McCain appeared with Rod Parsley, the pastor of an Ohio mega-church, and called him a “spiritual guide.”

Parsley has his own history of controversial statements. As David Corn reported this week for Mother Jones, Parsley has called for Christians to wage war against the “false religion” of Islam, in order to destroy it. He does not distinguish between Islamic extremists and ordinary Muslims. “What some call ‘extremists’ are instead mainstream believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam,” he has written.

And it’s not just Muslims he’s got it in for. Last year, Parsley’s organization called for people who commit adultery to be prosecuted, and in January he compared Planned Parenthood to the Nazis.

But the press has largely shrugged off the Parsley story. I couldn’t find one mainstream American news outlet that has so much as mentioned Parsley’s extremist views since McCain appeared publicly with him in late February.

To be clear: I think it’s more than appropriate for the media to be scrutinizing Wright. But given that Parsley has a record of making equally offensive public statements (more offensive, I’d argue, but never mind), there’s clearly a double standard here.

Could it be that white, Christian conservatives are now such a familiar part of the landscape of American politics, that reporters often fail to look closely at the beliefs of some of their leaders. (Last week, I noted that the press had dropped the issue of McCain’s support from another controversial Christian conservative, Pastor John Hagee, after McCain assured reporters he didn’t agree with Hagee on everything.) Liberal African-American preachers with roots, like Wright, in the 1960’s black-nationalist movement, don’t enjoy the same kind of mainstream respect—even though Wright’s views are no more objectionable than Parsley’s.

Still, at the end of her report on Wright, CNNs Roesgen hinted at a different reason for the double standard in this case. She told Wolf Blitzer:

The spokesman that I spoke to today for the Barack Obama campaign is challenging us reporters to look into what other pastors for other candidates are saying in their pulpits. And I told him, well, if those sermons appear on YouTube, as well, then we just might.

Because, as we all know, finding stuff that’s not on YouTube is kind of a hassle.

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.