Of Smears, Deaf Ears, and Pulpit Sneers


By Ciro Scotti A few thoughts as the 2004 Presidential campaign enters the home stretch: On the day after the third Presidential debate, John Kerry attempted to soften the reaction to his offhand boorishness about the sexual preference of Dick Cheney's youngest daughter. His defense: Just trying to say something about how strong families deal with these situations, the senator said.

Cheap shot by a bad man, said Lynne Cheney, mother of Mary, the lesbian daughter who had no business being brought up in any context, save as a member of her dad's campaign.

THE OH-SO-OPEN PARTY? Then Elizabeth Edwards weighed in, telling ABC Radio that Lynne Cheney "overreacted to this and treated it as if it's shameful to have this discussion.... I think it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences." Mrs. Edwards could have gone all day without getting involved, but maybe WalMart's (WMT) richest clothes shopper was making a preemptive strike before pundits recalled that in his debate with Vice-President Cheney, John Edwards, too, had mentioned the Sapphic Mary.

These instances aren't the only times that the Democrats, who profess to be the oh-so-open party of alternative lifestyles, have played the Gay Card this election year. Brad Woodhouse, the incessant spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (Jon Corzine, prop.), sent out a recent e-mail that questioned the family values of Pete Coors, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Colorado. Why? Because Coors Brewing (RKY) is a co-sponsor of an annual gay S&M festival in Montreal.

Makes you wonder just how inadvertent or well-meaning Kerry's comment was.

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By ordering its 62 stations to broadcast an anti-Kerry "documentary" -- and then firing its Washington bureau chief when he protested -- Sinclair Broadcast Group in one dramatic swoop managed to realize every fear ever voiced about Big Media consolidation. According to The Washington Post, the film, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, takes a critical look at Kerry the antiwar protester and how his testimony before Congress in 1971 affected POWs in Vietnam.

On Oct. 19, Wall Street punished the right-wing Smith Brothers, who run Sinclair, for playing politics with a public company: Sinclair (SBGI) hit a 52-week low of $6.12. Late that day, the company had second thoughts and said it never intended to run the "documentary" in its entirety. It will include only portions in a more wide-reaching program, A P.O.W. Story: Politics, Pressure, and the Media, to be aired Friday night on 40 of its stations.

FAILED DOGMA.Throughout the whole brouhaha, the messiah of media consolidation, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell (ideological son of Colin), remained mum. He should have stepped in fast and put Sinclair on notice that blatant political abuse of prime-time TV won't be tolerated. Instead, he let public pressure and the Street do his job -- enforcing the old Fairness Doctrine.

Now that the Sinclair Affair seems to be subsiding, Chairman Powell should find a nice, quiet spot and rethink his failed dogma about the magic of the marketplace.

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"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's," spoke Jesus. In other words, the secular and spiritual worlds exist in separate spheres. So what in God's name are all these priests and preachers doing sticking their well-tithed noses into the political life of the nation?

The Southern Baptist Convention has mounted a voter-registration drive, a Catholic bishop has warned the faithful about voting for Kerry because of his pro-choice stance on abortion, and untold numbers of evangelical Christian ministers are attempting to influence the way their flocks vote on Nov. 2. And that's just the tip of the cross poking into politics.

UNQUIET GRAVE. With a President who can barely choke down his corn flakes in the morning without invoking the name of the Almighty; with Attorney General John Ashcroft covering up statues like some latter-day Puritan and holding prayer sessions at the Justice Dept.; with judges tacking up the Ten Commandments in their courtrooms; with candidates politicking from the pulpit, it's no wonder that religion has breached Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state" so skillfully set down in the First Amendment.

Bad enough that James Madison, the Amendment's author, is probably twisting beneath the soil where he lies -- but what would Jesus think? Scotti is a senior editor for BusinessWeek.


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