Networks' Inauguration Coverage: Traditional Pastor a Big Story; Gay Cleric a Yawn

Back in December, when president-elect Barack Obama announced that Rev. Rick Warren would be delivering the invocation at his inaugural ceremony networks couldn't wait to showcase the opposition to Obama's choice from gay-rights groups. Jump ahead to the Jan.12 announcement that an openly gay bishop – whose elevation caused a schism in a major Christian denomination – was invited to offer a prayer at an inaugural concert. Silence from the networks.

ABC, CBS and NBC all devoted air time to the “controversial” Warren during the Dec. 18 nightly news broadcasts, none of which featured any supporters of Warren.

But after Obama asked V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop, to deliver a prayer at a separate inaugural event, the networks' silence is astounding.

NBC's Ann Curry noted the controversy during a Dec. 19 preview of her “Dateline” interview with Warren which was filmed prior to Obama's invitation to the pastor.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos addressed the “controversy” during the Dec. 21 edition of “This Week.” Democratic strategist Donna Brazille said during the show's roundtable discussion that “if the Obama team would have given the gay and lesbian community and the progressive community a heads up, the could have perhaps digested this better, but many of them thought this just a kick in the gut coming after the, you know, the support of Proposition 8 and Mr. Pastor Warren played a large role in that.” Conservative commentator George Will was the only guest to point out that the gay and lesbian community is “mad at Obama for inviting Warren who endorsed a proposition that codifies what Obama said to Warren.” As Will reminded, Obama told Warren during the Saddleback Forum last August that he believes “marriage is the union between a man and woman.”  

CBS' “Early Show” even allocated airtime on Dec. 24 to cover Warren's visit to Out of the Closet, a thrift store owned and operated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and labeled by CBS as “a West Hollywood store that supports gay causes.” The segment featured gay activist and celebrity publicist Howard Bragman questioning the timing of Warren's visit, “Am I suspicious he just happens to show up at a thrift store in West Hollywood that benefits the HIV and gay and lesbian community?” Again, no supporters of Warren were featured.

Robinson is not without his own controversy. His election as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 helped widen the divide between conservatives and liberals in the Episcopal denomination and culminated in Dec. 2008 when conservatives announced “that they were founding their own rival denomination,” according to The New York Times.

Causing believers to form a new denomination isn't controversial enough for networks to cover?

Then, the inaugural committee is dodging questions about the selection of Robinson as a response to the opposition of Warren. The Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor reported in a Jan. 11 article, “When asked whether Robinson was included to calm the Warren complaints, [committee spokesman Clark] Stevens repeated himself. '(Robinson's) an important figure in the religious community,' he said. “We are excited that he will be involved.”  

So Obama gets a free pass for his motives but Warren doesn't.

Even more so, Robinson told the “Concord Monitor” “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation.” How is it not newsworthy when a Christian bishop claims his prayer will not reflect the very beliefs to which he supposedly subscribes?

Also, according to the Monitor, Robinson said he supported Obama early in the campaign because “he liked Obama's commitment to uniting people different viewpoints and lifestyles.” Yet, Robinson told The New York Times following the Warren announcement that he's “all for Rick Warren being at the table but we're not talking about a discussion, we're talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that's [Warren's] praying to is not the God that [he] know[s].”

The networks, usually so keen to spot hypocrisy in religious figures, aren't covering Robinson talking the talk of tolerance without walking the walk.

Maybe that's because it's really what the networks themselves are doing. Invitations to speak at inaugural festivities are controversial only as long as the invites are extended to those who subscribe to conservative beliefs values. Hard believe that anyone who agrees with liberal journalists could be considered controversial.