Do you remember back in December when all hell broke loose because Mike Huckabee put out a television ad wishing Iowans "Merry Christmas" while seated in front of a bookcase that looked like a white cross? There were dozens of broadcast reports and newspaper stories analyzing whether it was proper to evoke a cross in a political ad. Well, apparently crosses are fine in political ads now. And you don't even have to use the subliminal ones. Barack Obama has been using fliers in southern states that really pound home his Christian bonafides, touting himself as a "committed Christian" who has been "called to Christ." Kentucky has a primary on Tuesday and the fliers have been sent out far and wide to evangelical voters. The media are covering this Christian outreach aspect of the campaign but they're not asking the hard questions they asked of Huckabee when he announced he was a "Christian leader." Here's Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post:
The pamphlet has circulated in other primary states and is striking for its overt appeal on religion. The words across the top read "Faith. Hope. Change." Obama is pictured at a church pulpit, with a large illuminated cross in the background. A quote at the bottom reads: "My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work."
On the flip side is a photo of Obama in front of a stained-glass window. A few paragraphs describe his work as a community organizer in Chicago and tell of how some people he met encouraged him to attend church one Sunday: "That day Obama felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life." The words along the side proclaim "Committed Christian."
The article goes on to say that "one aim of the flier" is to counteract the belief that Obama is Muslim. Another aim is to compete for evangelical voters in the general election. Which, presumably, Huckabee was doing too. The Washington Times mentions these points in its brief article on the ads:
"He is making a direct appeal to evangelicals with fliers that mention his conversion experience, and they highlight a big old cross. Remember Mike Huckabee's supposed subliminal cross in his Christmas campaign ad? Well, the Obama campaign ditches the subliminal and goes for the in-your-face cross," said Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent David Brody yesterday.
"The Obama campaign has consistently believed that their candidate can compete for the 'religious vote.' A lot has been made about how Obama hasn't done as well with Catholics compared to Clinton. But let's remember one thing: Obama has a story to tell about how Jesus came into his life. You can bet we will be hearing more details about it on the stump in the fall."
FOX News ran an analysis piece that also suggests the fliers are more about the general election than the Kentucky race:
"They believe they can compete with McCain and the Republicans on the faith vote," said David Brody, a senior correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, the channel launched by televangelist Pat Robertson.
"McCain doesn't want to talk about his faith all that much," he told FOXNews.com. "Barack Obama is comfortable talking about that. . . . He's speaking evangelical talk, so to speak, and that resonates."
I excerpted that just so you could see that David Brody is, in fact, the mainstream media's go-to person for insight into how to appeal to evangelicals. The Washington Post quoted him, too.
Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier-Journal had a lengthy piece on the religion campaign, which is broader than the handbill. There are also television and radio ads that hammer home Obama's Christianity. Here's the hardest Gerth hits:
Scott Jennings, a Louisville-based political consultant, said Obama's campaign may be reacting to concerns about so-called faith voters.
Jennings said he suspects that the campaign was forced to focus on religion by the controversy over comments made by Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; e-mail chains that claim erroneously that Obama is a Muslim; and comments made by Obama that "bitter" people in Pennsylvania were clinging "to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them â€¦ as a way to explain their frustrations.
"He's clearly got polling that shows something is running through the Democratic voters in West Virginia and Kentucky that they are losing control of, and unless they can fix it, they can't compete here," Jennings said.
But Stevens said Obama is just trying to tell voters about himself, and he noted that the television and radio ads also talk about how he was raised by his mother and grandmother in Kansas and give other details about his life and platform.
So polling shows "something" is bothering voters that will be remedied by elevating his Christian credentials. Perhaps the next story can explain what that "something" is. What's more, not a single one of these non-analysis stories has any quotes from people critical of the religiosity of the ads. They describe the ads as "startling" but they don't back it up with a discussion of why. They mention that pundits and bloggers are critical but they don't talk to any of them. It seems that conflict might be a good thing to include in a story.