Graham and Trump? Charlotte Observer’s Coverage Shows Fixation

Decent story idea: Cover Franklin Graham’s 50th and last God-and-country rally. Did it somehow mutate? Because more than half of the Charlotte Observer’s article was about Graham’s purported relationship with Donald Trump.

Yes, the story dealt with other things. Prayers for victims of Hurricane Matthew. Fallout from HB2, the law in North Carolina that bans all cities from making gender-identity bathroom ordinances. Graham denouncing Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts for her tight relationship with the LGBT community. The wrap-up of Graham’s 50-state Decision America tour (although, for some reason, that title doesn’t appear in the article).

But the lion’s share of the 1,100 words probes every possible link between the evangelist and the politician. It even insinuates that he all but endorses Trump:

Addressing the presidential race, Graham said many Christians have told him they don’t like either Republican Donald Trump, who has lately come under fire for lewd comments about women, or Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has been widely criticized for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Graham’s recommendation: “Hold your nose and go vote” for the would-be president who will appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who will protect “religious liberty” and stand against abortion.

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“This election is not about (Trump’s) vulgar language. And it’s not about (Clinton’s) emails that are missing,” Graham told his flock. “It’s about the Supreme Court.”

Since Trump has pledged to nominate justices approved by conservatives – he even released a list of possibilities – Graham’s comments sound to many like a tacit endorsement of Trump.

Ummm, yeah. Two devices that roll our eyes here at GetReligion.

First, those sarcasm quotes around “religious liberty.” As if the phrase isn’t worth respectful reporting. As I’ve said other times, imagine similar quotes for phrases like gay “rights” or gender “identity” or abortion “providers.” As long as the Observer was paraphrasing, why didn’t it choose a less-pejorative expression like “what Graham termed religious liberty”?

The other gaffe in the above excerpt: “Graham’s comments sound to many like a tacit endorsement of Trump.” This is, of course, the device we call “Sources Say.” Without an attributed source, it looks like either (1) “I heard it somewhere, but I can’t find anyone who actually said it,” or (2) “I can’t put my opinions in a news article, so I’ll pretend someone said it.”

The Trump-Graham connections are explored not at the Decision America rally, but in two interviews: one with the Observer, the other with WBTV. Those interviews are valuable for the chance to raise issues that don’t come up elsewhere. Also for giving Graham a chance to reply in something better than an email or a Facebook post…

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The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis writes for, scrutinizing religion coverage in mainstream media. He also runs the Faith and Values page on Facebook, and freelances as a writer and photographer with The Florida Catholic newspaper. He worked for more than three decades as the religion editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, covering national as well as local events and issues. His other projects have included copy editing and writing for a Christian web designer, editing educational white papers for the University of Florida, and publicizing Jewish studies at Florida International University.

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