It is time for another mirror-image journalism case study here at GetReligion. The URL for this one came from a friend of this blog who is a church-state issues professional in DC Beltway land. Let's just leave it at that.
Let me stress that the following is not a commentary on the Hillary Clinton campaign.
It is also not intended as a commentary on the tricky issue of religious LEADERS, as opposed to non-profit religious ministries, endorsing political candidates (as opposed to religious leaders and institutions making statements on moral and religious issues that may be linked to political campaigns). To tell you the truth, I am not sure where I would draw the free-speech line on this issue of endorsements by religious leaders, especially in the context of worship rites in their own sanctuaries. Yes, think Donald Trump at Liberty University, if you wish.
My goal is to discuss a journalism issue. So here is the top of the recent Associated Press report to which our friend pointed us. Read carefully:
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Hillary Clinton is making a big final push in Kentucky, where rival Bernie Sanders hopes to extend his winning streak and further delay her clinching the Democratic presidential nomination.
Big-name surrogates have been sent, television ads are playing and Clinton is touring the state in advance of Tuesday’s voting. On Sunday, the former secretary of state dropped in at Louisville churches and held rallies in Louisville and Fort Mitchell. Sanders on Sunday made a swing through Kentucky as well.
“We need a president who will work every single day to make life better for American families,” Clinton said at a union training center in Louisville. “We want somebody who can protect us and work with the rest of the world. Not talk about building walls, but building bridges.”
Ah, yes. But what happened on Sunday morning during the services in those churches? The DC pro who sent us the URL noted:
Did I miss the big stories asking how it can be that HRC can campaign on Sunday morning at churches without the Reverend Barry Lynn calling her out for violating the separation of church and state and the LBJ-protection 501(c)(3) non-electioneering regulation?
Yes, that is an interesting point. And there is the mirror-image point. Try to imagine the VALID journalistic skepticism that would greet appearances, these days, by the Donald in the pulpits of some massive evangelical Protestant sanctuaries in, oh, Southern California where he needs to win the support of evangelical leaders.
Then again, the candidate could just stand up during the time when visitors are welcomed and wave to the congregation. That's pretty safe.
Or the candidate might simply say something like, "Thank you for letting me visit your lovely sanctuary for worship. I do hope that I can talk to some of your afterwards, or see you at my rally downtown tomorrow. This isn't a place for campaign talk."
So the key is the silence in that AP report.
Did the AP editors staff these church events? Were there reporters from other news organizations present who filed stories from which Associated Press editors could have drawn material for this wire story? Do you think AP leaders would have -- mirror image question -- sought detailed material about what happened in Trump appearances in evangelical megachurches under identical circumstances?
Luckily, The Louisville Courier-Journal did publish material about what happened on that Sunday morning. Here is the key material, near the top of the story:
The Democratic presidential front-runner attended church services at two African-American churches where she said she would attack "discrimination and systemic racism" and then rallied her supporters at a South Louisville union hall where she promised to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure. ...
In the churches, she got endorsements.
At St. Stephen Church in the West End, the Rev. Kevin Cosby called her "she who shall be the next president." And at Canaan Christian Church on Hikes Lane, Sandra Malone, the church's "first lady" and wife of Pastor Walter Malone, asked the congregation to "join Pastor Malone and I by standing on your feet to receive who we pray will be the next president."
Now, calling her the "next president" is not exactly the same thing as a direct endorsement and a call for the faithful in the pews to pull a voting-booth lever for the Clinton cause. However, it is pretty close.
So far, no uproars in the mainstream press. This is interesting, since the support of black church leaders is crucial to the Clinton cause.
Just speaking in terms of journalism: Why the AP silence on this church-state story? Would similar appearances by a Republican candidate, complete with what functions as political endorsements, have received greater scrutiny from journalists? Will the church-state left pursue this case and, if Lynn and others did so, would that draw press attention?
IMAGE: Hillary Clinton on a recent campaign stop in a Memphis church.