On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story on page 3 from the Associated Press about the August 16 forum hosted by Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of the mega-church Saddleback. The evangelical minister invited the two major party presidential candidates to have a 1-hour conversation to discuss issues in the campaign.
The AP story reported that the candidates addressed issues such as abortion, gay marriage, Supreme Court Justices, wealth, and who each of the candidates considers role models. However, The Grand Rapids Press version of the AP story only provided readers with the candidates’ views on abortion and one sentence on marriage.
More glaringly, the story provided virtually no information on the host of the event, Rev. Rick Warren. Warren has become an influential voice in the Christian community by making visits to the White House and endorsing President Bush in his re-election bid in 2004. In addition, the media never examined the newsworthiness of the forum. Questions such as “Why did the candidates agree to such a forum” or “why was this event with a Christian minister only one of four times the candidates have agreed to appear together before the election?” went unasked. The Rev. Barry Lynn responded to the last question with this comment, “Why should one of these important events be orchestrated entirely by only one pastor who comes out of one narrow segment of our diverse country?”
Lynn is the executive Director of the Watchdog group American United for Separation of Church and State, which issued a media release critical of the forum with the evangelical pastor. The media release stated:
“Candidates should appeal to the voters based on their qualifications for office and their stands on the issues, not their religious beliefs. This event continues the campaign spiral into religious matters. Americans want to hear the candidates’ views on important issues such as constitutional rights, public education, the Iraq War and the economy.”