Reporter Oppel Misleads on Santorum's "Phony Theology" Quote, Gets Aggrieved Attacking Obama Skeptics

New York Times reporter Richard Oppel Jr. got emotional in defense of Obama while trailing GOP candidate Rick Santorum through the Midwest: “Santorum Questions Education And Obama.”

Oppel pounced on a Santorum comment on Obama’s “phony theology,” and falsely conflated the remark with rumors that Obama was a Muslim or not American, saying that such talk “got so bad at one point” during the 2008 campaign that John McCain had to correct one of his supporters. (Never mind that the “Birther” myth started among Hillary Clinton supporters in April 2008).

Wouldn’t aggrieved lines like “it got so bad at one point” (even when inserted into the mouth of Republican John McCain) be more suitable coming from a liberal columnist, rather than a campaign beat reporter whose mission is to report the facts, not provide moral judgment?

At another stop in Ohio on Saturday, Mr. Santorum waded into what he called the “phony theology” of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

“It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology,” he said. “But no less a theology.”

Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters has a transcript showing Santorum had just accused Obama of using "political science," not "climate science," when it came to energy policy. Conservatives have long referred to environmentalism as a religion, making Santorum’s remarks completely mainstream. Santorum's “theology based no the Bible” quote comes off as something of a throwaway line. Yet Oppel bore down on it:

In later comments to reporters, Mr. Santorum said while there are “a lot of different stripes” of Christianity, he believes that “if the president says he’s a Christian, he’s a Christian.”

“I’m just saying he’s imposing his values on the church, and I think that’s wrong,” he said, adding that he did not believe Mr. Obama was less of a Christian for doing so.

But the Obama campaign called the comments “the latest low in a Republican primary campaign that has been fueled by distortions, ugliness and searing pessimism and negativity.”

Assertions that Mr. Obama is not a Christian, or that he is not an American, were rampant in the 2008 campaign. It got so bad at one point -- in the opinion of the Republican nominee, John McCain -- that Mr. McCain took back the microphone from a woman at one of his rallies who asserted that Mr. Obama was “an Arab.” Mr. McCain then corrected the woman.

In typical Times fashion, Oppel made a Republican candidate responsible for comments made by questioners at his campaign rallies.

This year, Mr. Santorum has passed up similar opportunities to correct misstatements about the president’s background.

Last month, a woman at one of Mr. Santorum’s campaign stops in Florida declared during a question-and-answer session that Mr. Obama was Muslim. According to an account by CNN, Mr. Santorum did not correct the woman’s statement, and he later said it was not his job to correct such statements.