We've got an economy that's a mess, people who have been unemployed forever that need jobs, massive flooding in Pakistan, millions of gallons of oil and dispersants still floating in the water in the Gulf of Mexico and what is the media spending hours upon hours covering? That ginned up non-controversy over the Islamic center near ground zero and now a new poll that shows about one in five Americans think that President Obama is a Muslim. I wonder where they got that idea?
I hate that they're spending this much time on this nonsense that most people don't care about but if they're going to do it, we need to be pushing back against the lies and point out who's helping to spread them and hold the corporate media accountable when they help to push the latest right wing meme of the day and give it legitimacy.
During John King's show on CNN, Paul Begala says it's not CNN that is attributing to those poll numbers.
BEGALA: Mostly, no. You're right to just observe that as contrasted with Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter for that matter or certainly George W. Bush, this Christian president talks about his Christianity less. That perhaps makes him more like say George Bush's father, a devout Christian, a fine man who just didn't like to wear it on his sleeve as much as maybe some others.
No, in that survey, the Pew poll, most, the vast majority of people who think he's a Muslim. When you ask them why do you think that they say because of the media. And not to put too fine a point on it, they don't mean CNN, John. They mean the kook right wing media that has been attacking this president. It's fine to attack him on issues. But they're trying to attack him with any kind of crazy conspiracy theory they can.
I'd beg to differ.
A little later in the show John King brings on evangelical leader Franklin Graham who suggests that the "confusion" is being caused because President Obama was "born a Muslim" and of course if he says he's a Christian now (wink... wink) we'll just have to take him at his word that he is (but he might really be a dirty Kenyan Muslim usurper... you never know).
There are plenty of places where these rumors are being spread such as email chains, on right wing talk radio and on Fox News, but interviews like this aren't helping matters any. We got zero push back from John King against Graham's nonsense. He's really good at the false equivalency "you decide" game where he lets his viewers figure out for themselves who's telling the truth and who's spouting nonsense that should have been stopped in their tracks for telling lies but wasn't. Heaven forbid that might not make for a polite interview and we couldn't have that sort of incivility now could we?
Does anyone think John King didn't know exactly what he was going to get from Franklin Graham before he came on the air? Here's some of what happened during his encounter with then presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama back in 2008.
News accounts about the meeting stated that Obama impressed his audience with his sincerity, depth of theological knowledge and communication skills. But according to those present, he did little to assuage the hostility that many of the assembled--particularly the conservative white evangelicals--harbor toward him and his liberal positions on social issues. As I reported this week for The Nation, those differences reached a crescendo when the Rev. Franklin Graham directly confronted Obama about his supposedly Muslim background and Christian authenticity.
Franklin Graham, son of the evangelical icon Billy Graham and head of the international Christian aid organization Samaritan's Purse, was seated next to Obama at the meeting. He peppered Obama with pointed questions, repeatedly demanding to know if the senator believed that "Jesus was the way to God or merely a way." Graham, who once incited an international controversy by calling Islam a "very evil and wicked religion," proceeded to inquire about the Muslim faith of Obama's father, suggesting that Obama himself may be a Muslim.
Graham's spokesman, Mark DeMoss, denies that Graham asked Obama about his father's Muslim faith. DeMoss did, however, confirm that Graham questioned whether the candidate believed Jesus was the only way to Heaven. "Jesus is the only way for me. I'm not in a position to judge other people," Obama responded, according to Rivers.
"They focused on abortion, gay marriage, and then Franklin Graham tried to get Senator Obama saved," said Rev. Eugene Rivers, an African-American pastor from Boston who attended the meeting. Rivers told the Religion News Service that Graham pointedly questioned Obama's "father's connections to Islam." Obama reportedly said of his father, "The least of things he was was Islamic."
You know Graham's got to still be holding a grudge for this as well. Linda Kellen Biegel at The Mudflats transcribed Graham's reaction after being turned down to speak at the National Day of Prayer and gave some of her reaction to the interview. There's a lot more there so go read the whole thing.
They then go to a live phone interview with Graham himself. Rather than summarize and analyze Franklin Graham’s words, I believe they speak for themselves. I transcribed this interview directly from the recording–Graham’s response to Mikey Weinstein’s statement above. (In the spirit of disclosure, I have cleaned up a number of the “ands” and “uhs.”) There are two NPR reporters asking the questions– a man and a woman:
Male reporter: “Strong language from Mikey Weinstein. What’s your response to his group’s angry reaction to your invitation to the Pentagon?”
Graham: “Well, first of all, the United States, about 89% of the American people would profess to have some Christian background, connection or faith. Right now the US military is engaged in a war…in two wars…and I believe that our Nation and the men in the military need our prayer. Of course by coming to the Pentagon we’re not talking about Islam or Hindus or Buddhists. We’re just talking about men and women to pray for our Nation during this time of war. I have a son who is in Afghanistan–this is his fourth tour. He’s a graduate of West Point. I know many people in the military and we certainly want to support them with our prayers. The majority of the United States are Christians, they are not Muslims. We’re Christians and we don’t want to attack the Muslims. We don’t want to say anything bad about them. We love them and we want them to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose from the grave and, if they are willing to repent of their sins and receive Christ by faith, that God will hear from heaven and heal their hearts. I want them to know the truth: that Jesus Christ is the son of the living God…”
Female reporter: “Let me interrupt you for just a moment. Mikey Weinstein’s claim is not whether or not there is a majority Christian population in this country. It’s that the US Military represents people of all faiths and that by having made anti-Islamic comments, the concern is there are people there…there are Islams in the US military who are offended by what you have said.”
Graham: “Well, you know, I’m offended by what Islam’s done, what Islam’s said. You have to understand, I know Islam very well and I work all over the world. I love the Muslim people but I disagree with the religion of Islam. I do not believe it is the truth. I don’t believe that Muhammed is a prophet of God. Now, I know they believe it and that’s fine and they can believe it. But I’m a Christian and I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of the living God…and we care for Muslim people and we love them and we want them to know the truth. So, coming to the Pentagon, we’re not attacking the Muslims, we’re praying for our Nation. So, you have a couple of people that have a fax machine and a letterhead and they’ll fax a letter to someone, making a complaint. I think it would be a slap at Christians all across this country if the Pentagon listened to these people. It would be a slap in the face of millions of American Christians, hundreds of thousands of Christian families in the military…”
Male reporter: “But you can understand why people of the Muslim faith would be insulted if you called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion,” even if only a handful of people of the Muslim faith actually carried out evil deeds. I mean, you might disagree religiously on the concept of God, but they feel insulted. How do you assuage that fear of “them” (I think he meant “theirs”) and do you agree that pehaps your son and other American troops would be in danger if you made an appearance?”
Graham: “No, let me tell you something, my son is in danger every day from Muslims that are wanting to take the lives of American troops. So, it’s not going to have anything to do with what I say or don’t say. We’re at war with Islamic Fundamentalists–that’s what we are doing and we can’t ignore that. We certainly can’t allow a few Muslims in this country to deny Christians the right to pray for its leaders and to pray for its nation. I love the Muslim people, I really do. I care for them and I work in many Muslim countries and I’ve spent tens of millions of dollars helping Muslim people…”
Female reporter: “Briefly, before we go…”
Graham: “…I care for them and love them.”
Female reporter: “You do seem to be saying, though, there’s a place for prostelytizing at the Pentagon.”
Graham: “Well this isn’t proselytizing…we’re not prostelytizing. And the Muslims, they go to the Pentagon they have Ramadan and they have Islamic prayers at the Pentagon. But here’s a handful of Muslims saying that we cannot pray at the Pentagon like they do? We can’t have the same rights in our own country? This is ridiculous! I just think it would be a slap in the face of millions…tens of millions of Christians if the Pentagon did this…and the Christian families in the US military. It would just be a real offense and I just hope that the Pentagon doesn’t even consider this. This would be a great mistake.”
Male reporter: “OK, Reverend Graham, thanks so much for joining us to present your side of the story. We appreciate it.”
Graham: “Well thank you and God bless.”
Many things struck me about this interview but several of them are worth noting:
1) I was horrified by his blatant attempts to encourage his followers to unleash their anger on the Pentagon and/or the folks doing the complaining: “It would be a slap at Christians…” “I just think it would be a slap in the face…” “It would be a real offense…” “It would be a great mistake…” Clearly, Mr. Graham has benefited from his association with Sarah Palin at least in how to generate hate AND how to play the victim card.
2) The way Graham kept repeating his ”love for the Muslim people” reminded me of someone who claims not to be racist because they have “black friends.”
3) I don’t believe I’ve EVER heard an public radio reporter actually lose their cool during an interview…however, the female reporter sure seemed to with the comment: “You do seem to be saying, though, there’s a place for proselytizing at the Pentagon.” I can’t blame her…the first time I heard this interview, I was so outraged I started making phone calls.
I decided I wanted to make it easier for you to do the same thing
Here's the transcript from the CNN interview.
ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".
KING: Joining us now is Franklin Graham who together with his father the Reverend Billy Graham have advised presidents dating back to Harry Truman, but there's been some controversial comments about Muslims along the way. Franklin Graham joins us tonight from Calgary (ph). Good evening, sir. I want to begin with this new poll people across America woke up to today. A Pew Research poll saying that two in 10 Americans, 18 percent think their president is a Muslim and 43 percent of Americans don't know what faith Barack Obama practices. The president came, I believe it was back in April, he came to see your father. You joined that meeting. He came to see you as well. And my understanding is that you prayed with the president at that meeting back in April.
REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: Yes.
KING: Do you, sir, have any doubts about this president's Christian faith?
GRAHAM: Well, first of all, I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim. His father gave him an Islamic name. Now it's obvious that the president has renounced the Prophet Muhammad and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That's what he says he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't.
So I just have to believe the president is what he has said. But he -- the confusion is, is because his father was a Muslim, he was born a Muslim. The Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs. That's why Qaddafi calls him "my son".
They see him as a Muslim but of course the president says he is a Christian and we just have to accept it as that.
KING: Well, how do you see him as someone who has shared a room with him in an intimate setting with your father and exchanged prayer with him? Do you see him -- do you believe him? I guess, I'm not sure I should be even asking that question, but do you believe him?
GRAHAM: Well, you know, you can be born a Muslim. You can be born a Jew. But you can't be born a Christian. The only way you can become a Christian is by confessing your sins to God, asking his forgiveness and by receiving Jesus Christ by faith into your heart.
That Christ died for our sins. Shed his blood on Calvary's cross and that God raised him to life. If you're willing to accept that and believe that, and let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life, God will forgive your sins, he'll heal your heart. And that's the only way you can become a Christian.
And so if the president has done that, then I would say he's a Christian if that's what he has done.
KING: In the statement the White House released saying, in response to this poll -- this is one of the things the White House said. "The president's strong Christian faith is what guides him through these challenges. But he doesn't wear it on his sleeve."
That is a personal choice. Every individual across the world makes a personal choice about whether they practice any faith.
KING: And then whether they demonstrate that they practice their faith in public. In your experience and in your experience around your father, who has obviously advised presidents back many decades, do you think that a president should be more demonstrable, more open about his faith?
GRAHAM: Well, that -- that's the president's personal choice. And I certainly wouldn't want to try to advise the president on how he should wear his faith.
For many people it's a very personal issue like it was with President Reagan. And I'm sure this is a very personal issue with the president.
I wish the president over the years have had a chance to be involved in a real strong bible-teaching church. I don't think Reverend Jeremiah's church was a place where he got all grounded in God's word.
It would have been better for him to -- you know, get into a good evangelical church. But I appreciate the president's sincerity. And -- that he's made it very clear. He's come out against it, saying he's a Christian. So I would just have to -- to let him speak for himself.
KING: You just mentioned that point about the president's church. Again, the family made a choice, and this is any family's choice, not to select a church here in Washington, D.C.
They do make a point and I'm told this by people who are around this president that when he goes to Camp David to the chapel he enjoys and prays frequently in the chapel there.
But you made that point -- you made the point about President Reagan. We judge our presidents often by their predecessors. George W. Bush was very open about his Christianity.
Compare the two, I guess, in terms of their public dealing in your view with faith.
If you've got the stomach for reading the transcript of his interview with King he went on to do some proselytizing right there on King's show. Pitiful. Obama has been reaching out to these people for years and all he's ever going to get in return is attacks. You cannot negotiate with people who's only goal is to destroy you. You play nice and you get a slap in the face in return.