Interview with Bill Donohue: Catholic League denounces McCain

"McCain's not going to get away with this with the Catholic community.. . . We're going to get this out to the Catholic community and Catholic press around the country."

Published February 28, 2008 11:46PM (EST)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

As I wrote about earlier today, John McCain yesterday happily received an endorsement from, and then expressed lavish gratitude towards, one of the most hateful and radical evangelical ministers in the country, Pastor John Hagee. As documented in that post, Hagee has a history of making some of the most extreme and twisted statements of any religious figure in the country towards multiple groups of Americans.

Among the many groups which McCain's new associate has targeted for hateful bigotry are Catholics. As a result, The Catholic League today issued a statement -- entitled "McCain Embraces Bigot" -- which pointed out that Hagee:

has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church. For example, he likes calling it "The Great Whore," an "apostate church," the "anti-Christ," and a "false cult system."

The Catholic League demanded that McCain repudiate Hagee and his endorsement, just as Barack Obama did earlier this week with Louis Farrakhan (despite the fact that Obama, unlike McCain with Hagee, never sought out or accepted Farrakhan's endorsement).

Earlier today, I interviewed the Catholic League's President, Bill Donohue, regarding the profound anti-Catholic bigotry routinely displayed by Hagee and what John McCain's embrace of such a bigoted figure says about the presidential candidate. The entire podcast interview, which lasted roughly 15 minutes, can be heard here.

In the interview, Donohue made some extraordinary statements. He compared Hagee both to Louis Farrakhan and Bob Jones, but noted: "Hagee is far more powerful than Farrakhan is today. . . . Hagee is a major player. There's no end to his money. He has an empire down there." Regarding the intense 2000 media controversy when then-Gov. George Bush spoke at Bob Jones University, Donohue said:

Why were they so exercised about Bob Jones? This is worse. . . . If someone said to me: who is the biggest anti-Catholic bigot in the evangelical community, I would say: hands down, John Hagee.

According to Donohue, Hagee has "made a lot of money off bashing the Catholic Church and blames Catholics for the Holocaust." What does it say about McCain that he would embrace such a figure? "This doesn't speak well for him. He's tolerating an endorsement by an inveterate bigot, and it's been brought to his attention."

Donohue was particularly insistent that McCain's behavior would severely harm his standing with Catholic voters -- the group of voters which Karl Rove maintains is the key group for enabling the GOP to win: "This thing seems to be to be blowing up in his face. McCain has stepped in it big time." And Donohue further vowed:

He's not going to get away with this with the Catholic community. . . . We're going to get this out to the Catholic community and Catholic press around the country. . . . We're going to ride this out and see how far he wants to talk about this.

For Catholics, McCain's association with someone like Hagee is simply intolerable: "At that point, Catholics cannot join with evangelicals. To the extent you're going to insult my religion, all bets are off."

Donohue contrasted McCain's embrace of such a hateful and radical figure with Obama's denunciation earlier this week of Louis Farrakhan: "Obama did the right thing. You've got to throw overboard the people who are the bigots even if they've done good work here and there. This is the problem I have with McCain." And he added that Hagee's bigotry is hardly confined to Catholics, noting that a "prominent rabbi" had contacted him earlier today to ask that they issue a joint denunciation of Hagee/McCain, as the rabbi was deeply concerned that "too many Jews have also been mislead by Hagee."

Asked whether he expected McCain to repudiate Hagee's support, Donohue seemed pessimistic: "McCain seems to be digging his heels in." But he pledged that McCain's association with such an extreme bigot would be an ongoing, paramount cause for the Catholic League: "if McCain doesn't do a 180 on this -- ask Edwards about this -- I'm relentless. We're not going to walk away with this."

Donohue, who typically receives massive media attention when he launches such campaigns against Democratic politicians and the entertainment industry, hasn't yet received that level of press interest. But he said that he is starting now to receive more interview requests to talk about McCain's association with such an extreme hatemonger. This is certainly a story which merits far more attention than it has thus far received.

UPDATE: In addition to the pro-Hagee comments from McCain that I noted in the prior post -- "very honored" to receive this endorsement and, when asked about some of Hagee's more twisted views, responded: "all I can tell you is that I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee's support" -- here is video of McCain today going out of his way -- unsolicited -- to mention Hagee's endorsement and describe how "pleased" he is to "have received the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee yesterday."

It's difficult to recall a more transparent media double standard than their intense, melodramatic amplification this week of the Obama/Farrakhan matter (even though those two have no connection whatsoever), contrasted with their virtual silence about McCain's affirmative, repeated embrace of a true extremist like John Hagee.

UPDATE II: Oliver Willis has a photograph of the new political duo here. If there were even a fraction of these connections linking Obama and Farrakhan that link McCain to Hagee -- pictures together, praiseworthy statements, joint appearances at a campaign event -- how quickly would Obama's candidacy be killed? Death would come within a matter of hours.

Anyone who doubts that Hagee is at least as pernicious and extreme as Farrakhan should simply consult the various Hagee quotes and actions documented in the prior post. The anti-Catholic animus detailed here is just a tiny fraction of it, by no means the worst or most significant.

UPDATE III: Continuing with today's "politics/strange-bedfellows" theme, Ann Althouse called McCain's appearance with Hagee "disgusting" and posted the following You Tube in which Hagee shares some of his views on the Catholic Church. This clip -- immediately following video of McCain's praise for Hagee and pictures of their joint appearances -- ought to be broadcast on an endless loop on television stations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other heavily Catholic states from now until November:

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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