Once again, CNN took offense at a Republican attack against President Obama and rushed to the President's defense, even without complete confirmation of the details. Fill-in host Soledad O'Brien dismissed GOP candidate Rick Santorum's attack on Obama as untrue, even though she couldn't even verify his true source of information.
O'Brien aired Santorum's two swipes at Obama on his wanting every American child to attend college to be remade "in his image" and that the majority of those who attend college abandon their "faith commitment." O'Brien insisted these claims "simply aren't true."
However, CNN is again keeping a Republican candidate "honest" when there is no proof of complete dishonesty. O'Brien dismissed Santorum's claim of 62 percent of college students losing their faith commitment, because of a study he may have cited saying 64 percent of current college students have "curbed" their attendance habits. "Curbed," the CNN host argued, is not the same as "abandoned."
Nonetheless O'Brien missed the point of Santorum's claim. In the Catholic Church, for instance, deliberately missing Sunday mass is a serious sin, so a Catholic student "curbing" his overall Sunday mass attendance would be a serious breach of faith.
However, one point O'Brien did not refute was Santorum claiming Obama wants students remade "in his image," presumably their gaining a liberal mindset in college. Here a study by Dr. Neil Gross supports Santorum's basic point, that college professors overwhelmingly vote Democrat over Republican. But even here O'Brien saw the opportunity for some snarky commentary on Santorum's "remade in his image" remark.
"Now, taken one way, that is kind of flattering. President Obama wants kids to become president just like him," she chirped, before adding that "It is hard, though, to imagine that that's exactly what Senator Santorum meant."
A transcript of the segment, which aired on February 27 on Anderson Cooper 360 at 8:26 p.m. EST, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight on the campaign trail with tomorrow's two races in Arizona and Michigan, as tight as they come. We're going to be looking at how one of these four men – Rick Santorum – is trying to gain the edge with blue-collar Republicans. Simply speaking, he's making claims about college and President Obama's position on kids going to college that simply aren't true, and they also don't stand up to a basic fact check.
RICK SANTORUM, Republican presidential candidate: President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.
SANTORUM: There are good decent men and women go out and work hard every day and put their skills to task that aren't taught by some liberal college professor, and trying to indoctrinate them.
(Cheers and applause)
SANTORUM: Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Now, taken one way, that is kind of flattering. President Obama wants kids to become president just like him. It is hard, though, to imagine that that's exactly what Senator Santorum meant. A day later on ABC's This Week, the senator went further saying that going to college turns people of faith into non-believers.
SANTORUM: You know the statistic that at least I was familiar with from a few years ago, I don't know if it still holds true, but I suspect it may even be worse, that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Okay. So two factual statements. President Obama wants everyone to go to college, where they will be remade by their liberal professors in his own image. And then also going to college obliterates your faith in God. "Keeping Them Honest," neither one of those things stands up. Here's what the President actually said three years ago about higher education.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be a community college or four-year school. Vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country, and this country needs and values the talents of every American.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Okay. So that was President Obama calling on young Americans to keep learning but not saying, as Senator Santorum was suggesting, that college is for everyone. As for his other claim that 62 percent of students who enter college with some kind of faith commitment leave without it, he didn't specify the study. We got no answers from the campaign today. However, we found others, found two studies that he might have been referring to here.
One comes from the Social Science Research Council, it's called "How Corrosive Is College to Religious Faith and Practice." And it concludes this. Sixty-four percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits. Now, curbed, church or mosques or synagogue attendance, not eliminated their faith commitment as Senator Santorum claims. In addition, the authors found that the decline was even steeper in young adults who didn't go to college.
Now the senator may have instead or in addition to been referring to a Harvard University survey. That one does have a 62 percent figure in it, but it's 62 percent of college Republicans saying, quote, "Religion is losing its influence on American life." No one is saying either that their faith or anybody's faith is being destroyed by college. The survey also found that one in four students said they actually have become more spiritual since entering college, compared to only 7 percent who said the opposite.
But as they say, there's more. Rick Santorum appears to be mocking higher education when he's on the stump, appealing to non-college educated voters. But listen to what he said this weekend about what's right for his own children.
DAVID GREGORY, host, NBC's Meet the Press: Do you encourage your kids to go to college?
SANTORUM: I encourage my kids to get higher education, absolutely. And in fact, if college is the best place for them, absolutely.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: Okay. So Senator Santorum went on to say trade school is okay, too, which as you just heard yourself a minute ago is exactly what President Obama said three years ago. But any way you slice it a four year college degree is an even better key to success especially in a shaky economy. The jobless rate for college graduates age 25 and older is less than 5 percent.
And it's not like Rick Santorum hasn't championed higher education or even federal aid to higher education in the past. His 2006 web page boasts of his quote, "commitment to higher education." And he takes credit for getting 47 percent more funding for the Federal Pell Grant program, which helps make college more affordable.
O'BRIEN: But he's moved off that message a little bit, right? Over the weekend he was saying this, President Obama once said he wants everyone in America to go to college, what a snob. And then he goes on to say, I understand why he wants you to go to college, he wants to remake you in his image. Some people are saying that kind of message at a time when high unemployment numbers are actually lower for people of college degrees is kind of a wrong message.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN chief political analyst: I think – look, I think it's cost him a lot of trouble because I think he's trying to be the populist in this race. But in trying to do that, he's turning off a lot of fiscal conservatives who say you know what, going to college is a pretty good idea.
He also, by the way, with the anti anti-JFK message, the separation between church and state, I mean, that could work with the Evangelicals. I think Ralph is right on that. But there are a lot of Catholic voters who actually believe that that speech was completely appropriate, and who idolize JFK, and that could hurt him with Catholic voters and by the way, Santorum's a Catholic.