Imagine if controversial, conservative radio host Michael Savage also ran a charity supporting poor, urban youths. Would ABC ignore the inflammatory things he has said and only focus on the positive? Not likely. Yet, World News guest anchor Byron Pitts on Sunday lauded hard-left Catholic Priest Father Pfleger as a "Chicago hope" who is in a "league of his own."
This is the same Father Pfleger who, during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, defended Barack Obama by excoriating, "America has been raping people of color and America has to pay the price for the rape!" This is the same Pfleger who threatened to "snuff" out a Chicago gun owner. World News journalists mentioned none of this. Instead, Pitts introduced, "Finally tonight, a story that reminds us all about the power of hope."
He lauded Pfleger as "a priest bringing new hope to one of Chicago's neighborhoods."
Alex Perez explained to viewers how the priest is attempting to combat gun violence: "Father Michael Pfleger started this ongoing weekly basketball league last fall in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods and violence is dramatically down in this community."
The segment featured testimonials from young men who have abandoned violence and turned their lives around. Certainly the goals and progress in this particular program are commendable.
But how can these network journalists possibly justifying ignoring Pfleger's incendiary comments?
On June 26, 2008, ABC's Good Morning America did the same thing, touting the "maverick priest" and avoiding his radicalism.
A transcript of the August 4 segment, which aired at 6:26pm ET, follows:
BYRON PITTS: And Chicago hope. The basketball league helping gang members get off the street and how little Ralph escaped his fortress of locks and barricades.
PITTS: Still ahead on World News, a priest bringing new hope to one of Chicago's neighborhoods. Encouraging gang members to face off on a basketball court. A league of his own in our hidden America report.
PITTS: Finally tonight, a story that reminds us all about the power of hope. You may recall our Diane Sawyer's groundbreaking report last year about the plague of violence in Chicago. There's some good news. The murder rate is now the lowest since 1965. Still, though, 235 people have been murdered this year. Tonight, in our ongoing series "Hidden America," the story of one priest, in one Chicago neighborhood, helping to turn things around. Here's ABC's Alex Perez.
ALEX PEREZ: Rival gang members battling on the court instead of the street. The prize at this championship game is not a trophy, but lives saved.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Nobody wins in a shootout. We are trying to create an atmosphere that when something comes up, talk it out rather than shoot it out.
PEREZ: Father Michael Pfleger started this ongoing weekly basketball league last fall in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods and violence is dramatically down in this community. Before this tournament, if you were walking down the street, what could have happened?
JABRIL MUHAMMAD (Peacemaker basketball player): I could have been jumped or shot to death. Murdered, basically.
PEREZ: Pfleger says among his players, there hasn't been a single shooting. And he has gotten calls from four other gangs who want to become part of the tournament and encourage peace.
CHRISTIAN AUSTIN (Peacemaker basketball player): It brought a lot of people together. People that you wouldn't even imagine.
PEREZ: The players promise to give up their violent ways and, in exchange, Pfleger helps them get a GED, job training, and even job placement at one of 100 companies that have partnered with the tournament.
PFLEGER: We say to them, you go back to shooting, the job is gone.
PEREZ: We first told you about the violence crippling this city during the peak of the epidemic last summer, when Diane hosted this Chicago violence summit with gang members, past and present.
UNIDENTIFIED: You're going to be the prey or you the predator. Which one you going to be?
PEREZ: That was also when we first met that irrepressible seven-year-old, Ralph, who lost his grandmother to gang violence last year, who showed us the fortress of locks and barricades he and his mother, Delia, lived behind just to feel safe.
RALPH: It'll be gang bangers running and shooting.
PEREZ: Ralph and his mother thought their prayers were answered when they moved to a new apartment to escape the violence, but it was even worse. Now, drug deals were happening right in their apartment building, exchanging cash for drugs through this tiny hole.
RALPH: These drug dealers and gang bangers make it hard on me and hard on kids.
PEREZ: Father Pfleger stepped. Ralph and Delia move to his neighborhood.
RALPH [On the phone]: Hey, Father Pfleger!
RALPH'S MOM: Fresh start. New friends. New school.
PEREZ: Father Pfleger giving a tired little boy a chance to dream and an entire community reason to hope.
PEREZ: Alex Perez, ABC News, Chicago.
PITTS: Cause for hope. Thanks to Alex Perez. And for more information on how to help Father Pfleger and Ralph and his family, go to our website, ABCNews.com.