By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Scott Walker insists it’s the media, and only the media, raising the subject of President Barack Obama’s patriotism and religion.
All “gotcha” questions about things no one cares about, the Republican Wisconsin governor says, invented by the liberal media to hurt his likely campaign for president and help Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But the media are not the ones raising the issue. It’s Walker’s fellow conservatives, who for years have been the most vocal voices spreading the notion that Obama isn’t a Christian and doesn’t love his country.
“There’s a Muslim Living in the White House,” says a recent music video from conservative entertainer Victoria Jackson.
“Mr. Obama insanely continues to claim America is a Muslim nation,” Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation said in a column in The Washington Times.
“He despises America,” radio talk-show host Mark Levin said this week.
It all landed in Walker’s lap when former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told a New York dinner last month for Walker’s possible bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, “I do not believe that the president loves America.”
Asked about Giuliani’s comment the next day, Walker said, “The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on whether — what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well.”
Asked by a reporter several days later about the president’s religion, Walker said he didn’t know whether Obama was a Christian.
“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How (could) I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
Under fire for refusing to disavow the two story lines, Walker blamed the media.
“We’re going to talk about the things that matter,” he told reporters at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. He said he’d be “pushing back on some of the national media out there to say the things they were asking about weren’t things that everyday Americans were concerned about.”
“I am not going to take a manufactured media crisis and take and follow that path,” he told Fox News.
His backers also have tried to use the controversy for political and financial gain.
Friends of Scott Walker sent out a fundraising appeal. “Your support will show the clueless and mindless journalistic herd that you know what matters most,” the missive said, “and that is not the pointless minutiae that they are pushing.”
But conservatives have questioned Obama’s faith for years.
“Barack Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Christian and I am not sure he needs to continue the charade,” wrote Erick Erickson, editor of the website RedState.
Pastor Franklin Graham told Fox News that “our government, especially in Washington, has been infiltrated by Muslims who are advising the White House.”
Levin told his radio audience, “I just don’t think he’s much of a Christian.”
A 2012 Gallup Poll found that just 24 percent of Republicans believed that Obama is a Christian, compared with 29 percent of independents and 52 percent of Democrats. Eighteen percent of Republicans believed that Obama is a Muslim, compared with 12 percent of independents and 3 percent of Democrats.
Conservatives also have frequently questioned whether Obama loves America.
“I’m the guy who has been saying for six-plus years now that it’s apparent to me Obama does not like this country,” radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said recently. “Barack Obama has had as good friends terrorists and people who have tried to commit terrorist acts against this country. It’s not a mystery.”
“How could this president love America?” asked conservative Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. Speaking on American Family Radio, Gaffney said Obama had spent his “formative years in Chicago hanging with revolutionaries … and what all those people have in common is a deep hatred for our country.”
“Of course he hates America,” Jackson said on Newsmax TV. “He’s not even American.”
Some conservatives still maintain it’s the mainstream media that’s keeping those dual stories alive.
“Scott Walker is right that the media are keeping this story alive to pave the way for another Democratic presidency, in this case Hillary Clinton’s,” said Roger Aronoff, editor of Accuracy in Media, a conservative media-watchdog group.
“The media consistently apply a double standard and play a gotcha game with the Republican Party, asking its members to answer questions for which there is no politically acceptable answer.”
Walker himself suggested that the media question only Republicans.
“There has been much discussion about a media double standard where Republicans are covered differently than Democrats, asked to weigh in on issues the Democrats don’t face,” he said last week in a column for USA Today headlined “I refuse to take the media’s bait.”
However, the media asked Clinton about Obama’s religion in her 2008 campaign against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, and then wrote more when she appeared to equivocate.
In March 2008, Steve Kroft of CBS’s 60 Minutes asked Clinton whether she thought Obama was a Muslim. First she said, “Of course not.” Then Kroft asked, “You said you’d take Senator Obama at his word that he’s not a Muslim. You don’t believe that he’s a Muslim?”
“No, no,” Clinton said. “There is nothing to base that on. As far as I know.”
Media critics challenged Clinton then, in much the way the media have questioned Walker today.
“Clinton is pressed to say that Obama is not a Muslim. She does — but then she pulls it back,” wrote The Atlantic.com’s The Daily Dish.
Said New York Times columnist Bob Herbert: “One of the sleaziest moments of the campaign to date.”
Photo: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)