campaign desk

Parsing Parsley

ABC’s Brian Ross delivers on McCain’s “spiritual guide”
May 22, 2008

Good for ABC News and Brian Ross, who are finally giving Pastor Rod Parsley, an important Christian conservative ally of John McCain, the kind of scrutiny he deserves.

As Ross detailed in a report that aired this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, Parsley—whose endorsement McCain solicited, and who the senator has called “one of the truly great leaders in America”—has views on Christianity and Islam that many would consider no less troubling than Jeremiah Wright’s anti-American screeds.

Here at CJR, we’ve noted (along with many others) Parsley’s history of “controversial” comments before. He has called Islam a “false religion” and “an anti-Christ religion,” and warned of a “war between Islam and Christian civilization.” He sees no difference between violent Islamic jihadists and ordinary Muslims, declaring, “What some call ‘extremists’ are instead mainstream believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.”

So, let’s consider how Parsley stacks up next to Wright as a reflection on the candidates’ abilities to govern effectively, and therefore as an issue for the campaign press. On the one hand, Wright was Obama’s long-time pastor and spiritual mentor who officiated at the candidate’s wedding and helped bring him to God. Parsley, by contrast, is not personally close with McCain. Aside from appearing with McCain at an event in February to announce his endorsement, Parsley has had little direct contact with the candidate before or since. It’s true that McCain referred to Parsley as a “spiritual guide,” but there’s no reason to think that McCain’s religious or spiritual views have been meaningfully shaped by Parsley.

But on the other hand, Ross’s report showed that a number of Middle Eastern news outlets have picked up on Parsley’s comments, along with his relationship with McCain. As a result, many in the Muslim world are, rationally or not, beginning to fear a President McCain—which could significantly complicate the crucial task of improving America’s image in the region, were McCain to win in November. So in that sense, Parsley arguably deserves more scrutiny than Wright, whose demagoguery, however offensive, probably wouldn’t hobble an Obama presidency in the same way.

We can understand the press concluding that Wright deserves more attention than Parsley, thanks to his closer relationship to the candidate. But given the weeks of coverage that the cable news outlets, which do so much to shape perceptions, lavished on that story, a few skeptical reports about McCain and Parsley don’t seem like too much to ask. But so far, those same outlets have been remarkably uninterested. We hope the ABC News report starts a trend.

Sign up for CJR's daily email
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.