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Sunday, May 04, 2008

When will the media finally focus on McCain's pastor problem?

...and you think Rev. Wright is bad? Here's a glimpse into John Hagee, the person John McCain actively reached out towards for his support.

BORED by those endless replays of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? If so, go directly to YouTube, search for “John Hagee Roman Church Hitler,” and be recharged by a fresh jolt of clerical jive.

What you’ll find is a white televangelist, the Rev. John Hagee, lecturing in front of an enormous diorama. Wielding a pointer, he pokes at the image of a woman with Pamela Anderson-sized breasts, her hand raising a golden chalice. The woman is “the Great Whore,” Mr. Hagee explains, and she is drinking “the blood of the Jewish people.” That’s because the Great Whore represents “the Roman Church,” which, in his view, has thirsted for Jewish blood throughout history, from the Crusades to the Holocaust.

Mr. Hagee is not a fringe kook but the pastor of a Texas megachurch. On Feb. 27, he stood with John McCain and endorsed him over the religious conservatives’ favorite, Mike Huckabee, who was then still in the race.

Are we really to believe that neither Mr. McCain nor his camp knew anything then about Mr. Hagee’s views? This particular YouTube video — far from the only one — was posted on Jan. 1, nearly two months before the Hagee-McCain press conference. Mr. Hagee appears on multiple religious networks, including twice daily on the largest, Trinity Broadcasting, which reaches 75 million homes. Any 12-year-old with a laptop could have vetted this preacher in 30 seconds, tops.

Since then, Mr. McCain has been shocked to learn that his clerical ally has made many other outrageous statements. Mr. Hagee, it’s true, did not blame the American government for concocting AIDS. But he did say that God created Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for its sins, particularly a scheduled “homosexual parade there on the Monday that Katrina came.”

Mr. Hagee didn’t make that claim in obscure circumstances, either. He broadcast it on one of America’s most widely heard radio programs, “Fresh Air” on NPR, back in September 2006. He reaffirmed it in a radio interview less than two weeks ago. Only after a reporter asked Mr. McCain about this Katrina homily on April 24 did the candidate brand it as “nonsense” and the preacher retract it.

Mr. McCain says he does not endorse any of Mr. Hagee’s calumnies, any more than Barack Obama endorses Mr. Wright’s. But those who try to give Mr. McCain a pass for his embrace of a problematic preacher have a thin case. It boils down to this: Mr. McCain was not a parishioner for 20 years at Mr. Hagee’s church.

That defense implies, incorrectly, that Mr. McCain was a passive recipient of this bigot’s endorsement. In fact, by his own account, Mr. McCain sought out Mr. Hagee, who is perhaps best known for trying to drum up a pre-emptive “holy war” with Iran. (This preacher’s rantings may tell us more about Mr. McCain’s policy views than Mr. Wright’s tell us about Mr. Obama’s.) Even after Mr. Hagee’s Catholic bashing bubbled up in the mainstream media, Mr. McCain still did not reject and denounce him, as Mr. Obama did an unsolicited endorser, Louis Farrakhan, at the urging of Tim Russert and Hillary Clinton. Mr. McCain instead told George Stephanopoulos two Sundays ago that while he condemns any “anti-anything” remarks by Mr. Hagee, he is still “glad to have his endorsement.”

I wonder if Mr. McCain would have given the same answer had Mr. Stephanopoulos confronted him with the graphic video of the pastor in full “Great Whore” glory. But Mr. McCain didn’t have to fear so rude a transgression. Mr. Hagee’s videos have never had the same circulation on television as Mr. Wright’s. A sonorous white preacher spouting venom just doesn’t have the telegenic zing of a theatrical black man.

Perhaps that’s why virtually no one has rebroadcast the highly relevant prototype for Mr. Wright’s fiery claim that 9/11 was America’s chickens “coming home to roost.” That would be the Sept. 13, 2001, televised exchange between Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the attacks on America’s abortionists, feminists, gays and A.C.L.U. lawyers. (Mr. Wright blamed the attacks on America’s foreign policy.) Had that video re-emerged in the frenzied cable-news rotation, Mr. McCain might have been asked to explain why he no longer calls these preachers “agents of intolerance” and chose to cozy up to Mr. Falwell by speaking at his Liberty University in 2006.

Obama gets grilled while McCain gets a pass. Hypocrisy or racism...I guess you can guess my pick.