... And failing to do real reporting. The political firestorm over former White House official David Kuo's Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction is as much about religion as it is about government bureaucracy and election-oriented politics. Is it a seminal work exposing the Bush administration as a bunch of frauds and political opportunists? No, journalists have already told that story, but it could prove to be a tipping point in prompting some evangelical leaders to reconsider their GOP allegiance.
If you want more information on the political firestorm, check out this Los Angeles Times piece by Peter Wallsten, or this Newsweek "exclusive" by Richard Wolffe, the MSNBC-scooped 60 Minutes piece, or even this surprisingly balanced WorldNetDaily article. It's important to note that Kuo has spoken out before. So has John DiIulio, a former chief of Kuo's office.
The accusations are fairly shocking for a former Bush administration official, who are not known to say anything but wonderful things about their former employer and have legendary message discipline, but fairly routine when it comes to historical Washington standards. The LAT's Wallsten summarizes the allegations nicely:
WASHINGTON -- A new book by a former White House official says that President Bush's top political advisors privately ridiculed evangelical supporters as "nuts" and "goofy" while embracing them in public and using their votes to help win elections.
The former official also writes that the White House office of faith-based initiatives, which Bush promoted as a nonpolitical effort to support religious social-service organizations, was told to host pre-election events designed to mobilize religious voters who would most likely favor Republican candidates.
Not surprisingly, the very same evangelical supporters denounced the book's claims. Check out The Washington Post's Alan Cooperman:
James Dobson, Charles W. Colson and other stalwarts of the conservative Christian movement defended the Bush administration and questioned the timing of the book's publication, a month before the midterm elections. Some suggested that Kuo had betrayed the White House.
"I feel sorry for him, because once you do something like this, you get your 15 minutes in the spotlight, but then after that nobody will touch you," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group in Washington. "These kiss-and-tell books do more damage to the author than to the people they attack."
Kuo, who was deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in Bush's first term, alleges in the book, "Tempting Faith," that the Bush administration used its funding of religious charities to court evangelical voters in Machiavellian fashion.
It's important to note that no one has specifically countered Kuo's claims, or proven them inaccurate. I think Colson's response is most interesting, particularly considering that Kuo uses Colson's past writings to build his argument that Christian leaders are particularly awestruck at being brought into the White House.
Check out this book excerpt at Time.com:
This White House is certainly not the first Administration to milk religious groups for votes and then boot them unceremoniously back out to pasture. In his days as a notorious "hatchet man" for President Richard M. Nixon, before he had allowed Jesus to transform his life, Chuck Colson used to oversee outreach to the religious community. "I arranged special briefings in the Roosevelt Room for religious leaders, ushered wide-eyed denominational leaders into the Oval Office for private sessions with the President," Colson later wrote. "Of all the groups I dealt with, I found religious leaders the most naive about politics. Maybe that is because so many come from sheltered backgrounds, or perhaps it is the result of a mistaken perception of the demands of Christian charity ... Or, most worrisome of all, they may simply like to be around power."
This book makes for great political theatre, particularly three weeks before the mid-term elections. It's tough to say whether it will have a specific affect on the voter turnout of evangelical Christians. The key will be whether the pastors and the leaders Christian organizations believe Kuo's claims. Will a book like this disaffect them from the GOP? As we've said before, reporters should hit the streets and go find some evangelical preachers or even attend a sermon or two.
While I have no issue with reporters basing their articles on the claims of another person's book, particularly a book by a former government official with quality access, I don't understand why everyone goes crazy over a book release. This type of story can be told without the help of disaffected employees. Was there any interest by a reporter somewhere to find out whether Bush would follow through on his promise to inject $8 billion in new money to help the needy through religious groups? Kuo main premise is that the Bush Administration has done little, and reporters are repeating that. But these claims can be verified through Freedom of Information Act requests and budget documents.
The second major claim of Kuo's, and this is one being picked up a lot by the press, is that the White House political operatives used the initiative to score political points with evangelical conservatives. That's a great claim, but so what? Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal won him votes (and continues to win the Democrats votes to this day), but it also changed the whole discussion.
Before Bush, no one in Washington talked about changing society and helping the needy through faith-based groups. A few municipalities were trying it, but by just talking about it, Bush changed the whole discussion.
That's the story that journalists should be chasing. How much did Bush change the situation on the ground with regards to faith-based charity? Are more dollars being funded through religious groups? Or is it about the same?