TIME's Campaign Coverage in Question

The editor overseeing TIME magazine's coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign, Amy Sullivan, is a leading voice urging Democrats to target evangelical Christian and traditional Catholic voters. 

Sullivan, TIME's Nation editor, published a book in February calling on Democrats to compete seriously for religious voters, but without compromising on liberal positions on social issues like homosexuality and abortion. In her book, Sullivan is not trying to persuade Democrats to follow God, but to persuade followers of God to vote for Democrats.

Sullivan, a former Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill and a Harvard Divinity School graduate, describes herself as an evangelical Christian.  She has written about religion and politics for numerous publications.

In The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap, Sullivan relates how Democrats have found creative ways to package their liberal beliefs in language that appeals to evangelical and Catholic voters.  Sullivan praises Bill Clinton in particular for developing the phrase “safe, legal and rare,” which allowed the emphatically pro-choice Clinton to make some voters think he opposed abortion. 

Writes Sullivan, “This created an opening for Catholics and evangelicals who supported Democratic policies on the economy or education or health care, but who weren't comfortable with a party they saw as aggressively pro-choice.”

Sullivan also credits Democratic operative Mara Vanderslice for delivering Michigan to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004, by revising the language the Kerry campaign used to address Catholics.   Rather than defend Kerry's pro-choice stance, Vanderslice instructed phone bank workers to emphasize Kerry's desire to reduce the number of abortions.  She also framed Kerry's leftist economic agenda as an effort to “improve the 'common good,' a resonant phrase from Catholic social teaching.” 

Progressive evangelical Ron Sider told Sullivan of his effort to bring evangelicals into the Democratic fold in the late 1970s, which was resisted by the National Council of Churches:  “We wanted to garb the progressive social agenda in orthodox biblical language, and they weren't interested in that.”

CMI's new Eye on Culture report, “TIME's Religious Democratic Crusader,” analyzes how Sullivan's political agenda and partisan loyalty have shaped her news reporting.

The report finds that Sullivan adopts a generous tone toward Democrats and a critical tone toward Republicans, reflecting her partisan background and political philosophy. 

Sullivan consistently emphasizes the spirituality of the Democratic presidential candidates and declares them to be more comfortable talking about religion than the Republicans.  At the same time, she pokes fun at Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, for delivering a “fire and brimstone” speech that hit “all the red-meat conservative issues.”

Sullivan criticizes Republican candidate Mitt Romney's speech about his Mormon religion, “…the candidate left no buzzword untouched, name-checking nativities in public squares, strict constructionist judges, and the phrase 'Under God.' All are much ballyhooed causes of religious conservatives…” 

In contrast, she heaps praise on Democratic candidate Barack Obama's speech attempting to deal with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, “The speech he delivered at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia was an artfully reasoned treatise on race and rancor in America, the most memorable speech delivered by any candidate in this campaign and one that has earned Obama comparisons to Lincoln, Kennedy and King.”

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.