On CBS’s Early Show Friday morning, political correspondent Gloria Borger declared the usual disdain for political ads: "They started out innocently enough, but political ads this season quickly turned brutal. And in some cases, downright nasty." The only clip shown to illustrate: the "Call me, Harold" GOP ad in Tennessee. But "call me" jokes are nothing compared to what the three network morning shows did with the brutal and nasty news stories the networks aired on Rev. Ted Haggard this morning, rushing to air with allegations from a gay male prostitute and drug dealer that the Reverend paid him for sex and methamphetamines.
Whatever happened to the networks trying to develop a story and answer investigative questions for themselves before running allegations? It’s four days before the election, and apparently there are conservative Christian voters to demoralize. When female accusers suggested that President Clinton was guilty of sexual harassment or rape – certainly a case of hypocrisy by liberal feminist strictures – the networks and national print media waited, and waited, and waited...
Most famously, in 1999, Juanita Broaddrick taped an interview with NBC reporter Lisa Myers laying out her story that in 1978, then-Attorney General Bill Clinton sexually assaulted her in a Little Rock hotel room. Myers taped it January 20. It aired on "Dateline" 35 days later – on February 24. When Paula Jones accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment on February 11, 1994, ABC noted the scoop for 16 seconds, and the others passed. It didn’t get a full story until May 5, 83 days later.
But Reverend Haggard is a rip-and-read sensation.
ABC won some sort of prize for transparency by doing a Haggard story, and then underlining their hopes by adding a Claire Shipman piece on how evangelical voters may stay home or even vote Democrat. The show began with Diane Sawyer: "This morning, a politically powerful head of the nation's evangelical movement steps down. The allegation? Sex with a male prostitute. And overnight, a stunning new statement. Hear what Ted Haggard and his accuser say..."
After the opening theme music, Sawyer underlined the story again:
"Well, there's just no more explosive story in the evangelical world. Overnight, famous pastor, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, now admitting to, quote, 'some indiscretions' in a sex scandal."
Robin Roberts: "In fact, a statement just released by the church says, quote, 'It is important for you to know that he,' of course, referring to Pastor Haggard, 'he confessed. And that some of the accusations against him are true.'"
Sawyer: "And, in fact this morning, GMA has obtained some voicemails, and you're going to hear them in a little bit. They are voicemails the accuser claims are the voice of Pastor Haggard calling. Also, this potential bombshell comes at a time, of course, we're facing an election in this country, and the evangelical community could always figure prominently, and always has, in the equation on Election Day. And this morning, in the past, evangelicals have delivered big victories for the Republicans. Will they again? We have some new polls to tell you about."
Then, two minutes into the show, the stories breathlessly began pouring out:
Robin Roberts: "But we begin with those explosive allegations about one of the nation's most powerful and influential pastors. Ted Haggard has stepped down as president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals after accusations surfaced that he had a three year long affair with a gay prostitute, charges Haggard categorically denied until now. And ABC's Dan Harris has the latest on this developing story and it's changing by the moment."
Dan Harris: "It is changing, quickly, Robin, thank you. Good morning. The Reverend Ted Haggard admitted to some indiscretions, according to the acting pastor of Haggard's church. Now, while Ted Haggard may not be a household name, he is a major figure in evangelicalism in this country. And he is now, as he himself admits, under a cloud. The Reverend Ted Haggard pastors a 14,000 member mega-church, has a direct line to the White House and was named by Time magazine as one of the nation's most influential evangelicals. His prominence is now threatened, however, by this man, Mike Jones, a self-described former gay prostitute."
Mike Jones, former gay prostitute: "I will tell you, it was not emotional."
Unidentified male interviewer: "It was physical?"
Jones: "Just strictly physical."
Harris: "In this interview with a Denver radio station, Jones said Pastor Haggard had paid him for sex over a three year period."
Jones: "He goes, a fantasy of mine is to have an orgy with about six young college guys ranging from 18 to 22 in age."
Harris: "Jones also alleged that Haggard did drugs."
Jones: "And he had told me he loved snorting meth before he has sex with his wife."
Harris: "Jones said he's coming forward now because of Haggard's support for an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot in Colorado."
Jones: "I just couldn't sit back and, and not say anything. I felt like this, this needed to come out, you know, exposing hypocrisy."
Harris: "In an interview with local NBC affiliate KUSA late Wednesday, Pastor Haggard denied ever doing drugs and denied ever having sex with Jones."
[Unidentified female interviewer]: "Have you had a relationship with--"
Pastor Ted Haggard: "I have not."
[Interviewer]: "Any kind of gay relationship at all?"
Haggard: "I, I have never had a gay relationship with anybody."
Harris: "One day later, Haggard resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and voluntarily and temporarily stepped down as the head of his own church, saying he wanted to allow for an independent investigation. But, hours ago, the man who has taken over as acting senior pastor of Haggard's church, told local station KKTV that Haggard is making what appears to be a reversal."
[Unidentified man, associate pastor]: "I just know that there has been some admission of indiscretion. Not admission to all of the material that has been discussed, but there is an admission of some guilt."
Harris: "Now, we did our own interview with Mike Jones and during it he repeated his allegations against Haggard. He also presented us with what he says is proof of their relationship. Two voicemails, he says, are from Haggard, in which he says Haggard refers to himself as Art, a pseudonym. In these messages, Jones says Haggard is soliciting him to obtain methamphetamine. Jones says he never helped Haggard get the drugs. Now here's a bit of one of those voicemails."
[Male voice]: "Hi Mike, this is Art. Hey, I was just calling to see if we can get any more. Either a $100 or $200 supply, and I can pick it up really anytime. I can get it tomorrow or, we can wait until next week sometime. And so, I also wanted to get your address so I can send you some money for inventory."
Harris: "Now, one thing that's very important to note here is in that neither of these voicemails that he played for us is there an explicit mention of either drugs or sex. We tried to play the voicemails for Haggard's spokesperson who, Robin, would not listen to them."
Roberts: "You have interviewed Haggard many times in recent years."
Roberts: "What has been the reaction from the evangelical community?"
Harris: "I've known him for about five years, talked to him many times. I e-mail with him quite regularly. The reaction from people I know in the evangelical community can be narrowed down to one word, and that is shock."
From there, ABC began asking how badly this emerging set of allegations would hurt the Republicans, and hitting that typical theme that evangelicals just might be trending toward liberalism:
Sawyer: "We're turning now to another part of the evangelical story in America because, as we know, so close to the elections, four days now until Americans head to the polls, there have been ongoing questions about whether the evangelicals will come out in force for Republicans, tipping the balance as they have in the past. In a recent Pew poll of evangelicals, only about half said that their opinion of Republicans is favorable. That's down 20 points in the last two years, and GMA's senior national correspondent, Claire Shipman, with us in Washington again this morning with more. Claire?"
Shipman: "Good morning, Diane. There is no doubt that this Ted Haggard story will have major repercussions in the evangelical community, and this group is critical to Republicans. Even today, Vice President Dick Cheney is in Colorado campaigning for a candidate who draws big support from the religious right. It's going to add to an already roiling debate in the evangelical community about its relationship with the Republican Party and its agenda. He may not be on the ballot, but the word of God could influence millions of voters Tuesday. Some 20 million of them, in fact, a critical Republican base."
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council, President: "All of us need to vote our values, especially in those states that have marriage amendments on the ballot."
Shipman: "But listen carefully."
Jim Wallis, Sojourners, founder: "Our faith should be fiercely independent and be a thorn in the side for all the politicians."
Shipman: "Evangelical moderates are igniting a new debate about faith and politics, urging their flocks not to vote any party line."
Monique El-Faizy, God and Country: "They feel the Republican Party isn't addressing those concerns that increasingly they see as important, moral issues."
Shipman: "Lisa Baker, an evangelical Christian from a devoutly evangelical Republican family works to help her Sunday school students understand the teachings of Christ, something she thinks Republicans are forgetting about these days."
Lisa Baker, evangelical voter: "Not only on the issue of Iraq, but particularly because in our country, now, more and more there's, there's a deeper dichotomy between the rich and the poor."
Shipman: "At Wheaton College in Illinois, a top evangelical university, Professor Lindy Scott surprised many when he ran for Congress as a Democrat earlier this year."
Professor Lindy Scott, Wheaton College: "Well, I think there are some students, faculty who would definitely vote Democratic this time, for the first time."
Shipman: "And many young evangelicals, like Ben Lowe, are starting to see the environment, as part of God's creation, is just as important as abortion as a litmus test."
Ben Lowe, Wheaton College, student: "The environment would be one of those areas where you could say, almost we've had, generally speaking, a blind spot in the evangelical church."
Shipman: "Lisa Baker is taking a stand, planning to vote for the Democrats, and even accusing the Republican right of fear-mongering."
Baker: "Such a threatening kind of stance. If you don't get on board with us about anti-gays or gay marriage, then the family will be ruined."
Shipman: "Still, Baker may be the exception."
El-Faizy: "Being disillusioned with the party and walking into a booth on Election Day and pulling a lever with a 'D' next to it are very different things."
Shipman: "So, they may not be ready to embrace the Democrats in big numbers, but the real question, given the dissatisfaction some pollsters are measuring, will any of them stay home? Even a small sliver of a critical group sitting out this election, when it's so tight, could make a difference. Robin, Diane?"
Sawyer: "A lot for the evangelical community to deal with this morning."
And apparently a lot of reasons to run a gay prostitute's allegations within hours of them emerging.
CBS also quickly dashed to cover the "harsh and incriminating" allegations on the Early Show:
Co-host Hannah Storm: "First, though, we want to get right to our top story this morning and that's the alleged gay sex scandal that is rocking the conservative Christian community. As we said in the headlines, the Reverend Ted Haggard who had taken a lead in the crusade against gay marriage has stepped down as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after allegations that he cheated on his wife with a gay prostitute. Karlyn Tilley of our Denver station KCNC-V reports."
Karlyn Tilley: "The accusations were harsh and incriminating."
Mike Jones: "He had a relationship with me. We had gay sex."
Karlyn Tilley: "Self-proclaimed gay prostitute, Mike Jones, is causing a firestorm of controversy."
Mike Jones: "I just couldn't sit back and not say anything. I felt like this just needed to come out, you know, exposing hypocrisy."
Ted Haggard: "I never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife. And, so I don't know if this is election year politics, or if this has to do with the marriage amendment."
Karlyn Tilley: "Jones' comments on the radio forced Reverend Ted Haggard to take drastic action. As pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, he said in a statement, 'I am voluntrily stepping aside from leadership.' He also said, 'I hope to be able to discuss this matter in more detail at a later date. In the interim, I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance."
Mike Jones: "So, I felt it was my responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters that I had to take a stand."
Karlyn Tilley: "Mike Jones admits his motivation for coming forward now is political. The question is, are his accusations true?"
Ross Parsley, Senior Acting Pastor, New Life Church: "There has been some admission of indiscretion not admission to all of the material that has been discussed but there is an admission of some guilt."
Karlyn Tilley: Church members stand behind their pastor.
Mona Williams, Parishoner: "Truth will prevail. The truth would be known. The truth will come out and that our pastor will be back on the pulpit sooner than later."
Karlyn Tilley: "Mike Jones says he has proof in the form of a taped voice mail and also a letter which he so far has not shared with the media. The pastor is on administrative leave as the church conducts an investigation. In Colorado Springs, I'm Karlyn Tilley for CBS News."
NBC's Today rounded out the trio.
Meredith Vieira: "Now to a real shocker. One of the nation's top evangeical leaders, a prominent opponent of gay rights, is accused of having sex with a male prostitute for the past three years. The Reverend Ted Haggard has stepped down as head of the 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals, even though he says the allegations aren't true. But, his accuser claims he's got some pretty damning evidence on his side. More now from NBC's Keith Morrison."
Keith Morrison: "Quite frankly, the whole thing is almost beyond belief."
Ted Haggard: "So we're going to just have a perusal through the scriptures on Hell as we tip toe through the tulips of life."
Morrison: "Ted Haggard paid for sex with a male prostitute for three years? Late Thursday Haggard resigned from his Colorado New Life Church and from his position as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, while a church investigation looks into the charges. In a written statement Haggard said: 'I will seek both spiritual advice and guidance.' And then he agreed to an impromptu TV interview and said he never knew this guy."
Haggard: "I've never had a gay relationship with anybody and I, I’m steady with my wife. I'm faithful to my wife. And, so I don't know if this is election year politics or if this has to do with the marriage amendment or, or what it is."
Morrison: "Here he was just months ago telling me how much importance he puts on personal openness, on integrity, on Bible truths."
Haggard: "And that's why it's important for people just to open the Bible and read what it says. And it will speak perfectly clear to them."
Morrison: "And yet here was the self-described male escort himself. A man named Mike Jones making the shocking allegation on Denver television station KUSA."
Mike Jones: "People may look at what I have done as immoral. But I think I had to do the moral thing in my mind and that is expose someone who is preaching one thing but doing the opposite behind everybody's backs."
Morrison: "Jones claims Haggard came to him sex once a month or so. The last time this past August and that Haggard bought from him and used methamphetamines. He claimed Haggard called himself ‘Art,’ which happens to be Haggard's middle name and that he mailed his payments in cash. There are saved voice mail messages from Haggard too said Jones. Pretty damning stuff, he said, especially when you consider this: There is an election coming up. Haggard has been preaching vigorously for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Has been for years a regular in weekly White House conference calls and a friend and advisor to President George W. Bush. A married father of five who teaches that homosexuality is sin. Mike Jones, meanwhile, has given those phone message tapes, which he claims record Haggard arranging for Jones services, to a voice analyst."
Haggard: "Every human being makes a few fundamental decisions in life: Make a few decisions about marriage, make a few decisions about career."
Vieira: "Whew, does not look good for him."
Lauer: "You have to wonder whether he stepped down because where there is smoke there is or fire, or whether he stepped down simply to not become a distraction at this particular stage."
Vieira: "Exactly. Well, we will find out I'm sure."