Billy Graham With Devil's Horns?

Is Billy Graham the devil incarnate?  That's how he is portrayed by the appalling cover of the August 20 edition of TIME, which shows the distinguished evangelist with horns. 

The cover superimposes Graham, arguably America's most well-known preacher, over the TIME logo, and positioned so that the peaks of the “M” appear as horns coming out of his head. (H/T to Mark Finkelstein of NewsBusters.)  The sophomoric design stunt appears to be the editor's mea culpa for running a generally positive portrayal of Graham inside the magazine.

TIME's cover story on Graham is a promotion for the book The Preacher and the Presidents, written by TIME reporters Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy.  The book and Graham were also the subjects of an hour-long 20/20 broadcast hosted by ABC anchor Charles Gibson on August 10. 

While 20/20 didn't paint horns on Graham's head, Gibson made it clear he's skeptical about allowing religious values to influence politics, using a couple of experts to do the dirty work. 

Discussing Graham's access to the presidents, Gibson said: “But will history judge that necessarily a good thing? It will be debated.” Then come the clips from experts who buttress Gibson's opinion.

Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith: “It's just one more thing that is utterly unique about Billy Graham I don't think will ever be repeated, and I'm not sure it should be.”

Anti-religious right author Randall Balmer, a professor of religious history at Columbia, adds: “My sense of religion in America is that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power.”

Do these men seriously believe America would be better off if our presidents are not influenced by our greatest spiritual leaders?  Do they really want to relegate religious values to “the margins of society?”

Critiquing these stories is difficult because, on the whole, they weren't that bad.  The mainstream media so rarely treat issues of Christian faith with respect that one almost wants to excuse the bias in the stories out of appreciation that they didn't ridicule the gospel and the name of Jesus Christ.  Even though both stories treated Graham with kid gloves, however, they couldn't resist introducing liberal fears about mixing religion and politics.

TIME's offenses aren't limited to the appalling cover art.  The leftist slant also appears near the end of the story, when the writers quote Graham in 1981 saying, “Evangelicals can't be closely identified with any particular party or person.  We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left.  I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past.  I will in the future.”  In the next paragraph, reporting on Graham's support of President Bush, Gibbs and Duffy can't resist themselves:  “But Graham stood by them all, including his old charge George W. Bush, whom he publicly embraced on the final Sunday before the 2000 election – in Florida, of all places.”

Gibson's 20/20 piece ends with both President Bush and former President Clinton talking about the comfort Graham brought to them.  The weight of these sentiments offsets the liberal bias of the academics.  

Given that the current president and every former president interviewed for these stories spoke of the importance of faith in executing their responsibilities as President of the United States, it is sad to consider, as Charlie Gibson speculated, that we “will never see the likes of Billy Graham again.”  Sadder still that TIME and 20/20's reporting on this remarkable preacher's legacy couldn't have been accomplished without the injection of liberal bias.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.