CNN Joins the Choir Touting Obama Outreach to Evangelicals

CNN's American Morning was out bright and early this morning to promote a speech on faith that Barack Obama was due to deliver later in the day.  As early as the 6:00 hour on July 1, CNN joined the choir which ABC started two weeks ago touting Obama's attempts to “connect with evangelicals and mobilize what some are calling the Christian left.” (Click here and here for similarly themed ABC stories.)

CNN correspondent Jim Acosta used far-left former pastor Brian McLaren to sell the message that “between a third and half” of evangelicals are “very open to somebody with a new vision.”  Acosta reported that McLaren believes significant numbers of evangelicals are more concerned about global warming and the war in Iraq than abortion or gay 'marriage.'

McLaren added, “We've watched the evangelical community be led – be misled – by the Republican party to support things they really shouldn't have supported.” 

In his story Acosta never referred to McLaren as a liberal nor as controversial. McLaren is one of the leading voices of the Emerging Church movement.  Many orthodox evangelicals believe the movement has abandoned Biblical doctrine and the traditional gospel message.

In contrast Acosta labeled James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, a “Christian conservative” who accused Obama of “twisting the Bible.” Acosta used a still photo with a poor-quality audio recording of one line of Dobson's comments on Obama's theology. Acosta then highlighted a new Web site, James Dobson Doesn't Speak for, which Obama's “evangelical supporters” created because they took “umbrage” at Dobson's comments.  Acosta made no attempt to place Dobson's comments in context or mention that those comments were a response to a speech Obama made criticizing Dobson.

Also quoted in the story was Georgetown professor Jacques Berlinblau, who said, “The evangelical community seems to be sitting on the fence to a certain degree.”  He added that if Obama could get 30 to 33 percent of those evangelical fence-sitters “he's absolutely golden.”

Acosta did not identify Berlinblau's liberal leanings.  Berlinblau, a self-described non-believer and professor of Jewish civilization, recently wrote on the blog On Faith:

    I prefer to see a maturation process under way.  After all, religious movements in democratic societies grow and prosper not because of ideological homogeneity and doctrinal rigidity, but as a result of intellectual diversity and theological open-mindedness.  The Senator from Illinois is the greatest beneficiary of the aforementioned maturation.  He is also the politician who can best cultivate its continued development.  The Obama/Evangelical synergy of the past few months suggests a variety of forthcoming storylines.  For starters, Progressives will not only vote but get out the vote for him.  Their electoral good works should raise the overall percentage of Evangelicals who go Democrat from the anemic 22% of John Kerry to numbers like 30, 35 and possibly even 40%.

 Besides the poor-quality clip of Dobson, Acosta also played a Web video clip of Family Research Council President Tony Perkins asking the question “When does life begin?”  Acosta set up the quote by acknowledging that not all evangelicals are in agreement with McLaren's or Berlinblau's pulse-taking of their constituency.  Despite the importance of this point, Acosta did not give the conservative side of the argument nearly the time or quality of interviews that he afforded the liberals.

Like ABC's Dan Harris, Acosta pounded home the theme that Obama may not win a majority of evangelical votes, but he could grab enough to secure the White House in November.

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