In his speech Friday at the Values Voter Summit (VVS), a meeting of conservative evangelicals in Washington, Ben Carson came forth with a crowd-pleasing gripe. “You know, the interesting thing is the media is the only business in America protected by the United States Constitution,” said Carson at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. “And there was a reason that they were protected. It was because they were supposed to be on the side of the people. They weren’t supposed to pick and choose which side they were on, because that distorts the entire system.”
Why the media slam? One, because it works. Two, because it was fresh. A week ago, Carson made news in a “Meet the Press” appearance with moderator Chuck Todd. Here’s what happened:
TODD: Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?CARSON: I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America. … But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the constitution, no problem.TODD: So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?CARSON: No, I don’t, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.TODD: And would you ever consider voting for a Muslim for Congress?CARSON: Congress is a different story. But it depends on who that Muslim is and what their policies are, just depends on what anybody else says, you know. And, you know, if there’s somebody who’s of any faith but they say things and their life has been consistent with things that will elevate the nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed and bring peace and harmony, then I’m with them.TODD: And I take it you believe that the president … was born in the United States and is a Christian?CARSON: I believe that he is. I have no reason to doubt what he says.
That’s a straightforward clash, one that doesn’t require a great deal of interpretation. Sure — Carson made some qualifying statements, but he went ahead and affirmed that he wouldn’t advocate that “we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” So the media made a big deal of it. By Friday at VVS, Carson had had enough. He railed against an unnamed “commentator” who’d allegedly misinterpreted his exchange with Todd. “Well, you know, I said, will you go back and read the whole transcript? I said, before that I said anybody from any faith, from any belief system who comes to America, becomes an American citizen, embraces our American values and principles and is willing to subjugate their beliefs to our Constitution is somebody I have no problem with,” said Carson at the event.
Such words were scarcely enough to take the issue of Carson’s approach to Islam off the agendas of this week’s Sunday shows. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” anchor Jake Tapper decided to weigh in on the Carson-Muslim controversy. A look at the transcript reveals a good 13 or 14 back-and-forths between Tapper and Carson on it. After getting pressed on the matter, Carson advised that folks look at the transcript; CNN played the entire relevant portion of the Todd-Carson interview.
TAPPER: He had asked you about Islam. If you thought Islam was conducive to the Constitution. And you said, Muslims. That you would have a problem with Muslims, with a Muslim being president.CARSON: I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam. If they are not willing to reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran. If they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would. I would ask you, would you be willing to do that? Would you be willing to advocate for somebody who would not do that? Probably not.TAPPER: I don’t assume that because somebody is Muslim that they would put their religion ahead of the U.S. Constitution. And in fact, the U.S. Constitution says itself that no religious test …CARSON: Except that I have already said before that anybody from any religion, from any background, if, I told you what the criteria were for that. I told Chuck Todd what the criteria. So he is asking this out of that context.TAPPER: You don’t think that in any way, you said anything that could have been said more clearly about Muslims?CARSON: I made it very clear.
On and on they continued, with Carson insisting he was being reasonable and Tapper noting that his comments carried the assumption that a Muslim president would put religion before the Constitution. Then an off-camera voice declared, “This interview is over.” And so it was. Yet amid the debate, Carson did manage to rip Tapper’s profession: “Is it possible that maybe the media thinks it’s a bigger deal than the American people do? Because American people, the majority of them, agree and they understand exactly what I am saying,” said the top-tier presidential candidate.
Oh, of course it’s possible that the media thinks it’s a bigger deal than the American people do. Check that: It’s actually quite clear that the media thinks it’s a bigger deal than the American people do. Nothing wrong with that, either. Media organizations cannot and should not be driven my majoritarian impulses. Polling has shown that Americans in general view Muslims more negatively than other groups. Who’ll stick up for them if the media doesn’t?
Over at ABC News’s “This Week,” Martha Raddatz pushed Carson on the same point. Again, he cited the transcript factor. “I’m reading the transcript, Dr. Carson, that’s exactly what you said.”