At Religion Newswriters Meeting, Obama Campaign Bans TV Cameras [UPDATED]

This post has been updated.

Kim Lawton of the PBS program Religion and Ethics News Weekly just reported on Twitter that the Obama campaign would not allow filming of the panel on both presidential campaigns’ religious outreach, featuring Obama campaign national faith vote coordinator Michael Wear and senior advisor Broderick Johnson.

Lawton just tweeted:

The Obama campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but let’s examine the optics and ramifications of this for a moment. It’s a conference of reporters. Does the campaign think (a) this is a good idea in the first place and (b) it would go over well with a roomful of reporters (and anyone watching the C-Span live feed, which was also cut off)? Why would the campaign want to look like it was trying to hide something?

When Wear, a former staffer in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, was hired several months ago, insiders were critical of the choice because of his youth and inexperience. Perhaps the campaign lacks confidence in what he has to say. If that’s the case, banning video sent that message loud and clear.

Or perhaps the campaign lacks confidence in the entire faith outreach effort. Earlier today, Wear tweeted a story from the Columbus Dispatch, published two days after his visit to the Ohio State campus. The piece reports:

The Obama campaign has dispatched two campaign members to hold People of Faith gatherings at Ohio sites focused on being “our brother’s keeper” and highlighting the president’s efforts to promote economic security, fair immigration laws, health care and education, said Joshua Dickson of Obama’s faith-outreach campaign.

Ohio State University sophomore Chad Ellwood, a nondenominational Christian from Worthington, said he’s voting for Obama as “a matter of basic moral principle” and because of the president’s stance on economic issues and protecting the middle class.

“Faith has been a huge part of my life — I’m a Christian, a very solid Christian,” said Ellwood, 19, who also is on the executive board of College Democrats at OSU and attends the h2o church on campus.

“They’re two big parts of my life. It’s intertwined, being a Democrat and being a Christian.”

Why would the campaign want to highlight how gosh darn remarkable it is that being a Christian and being a Democrat are so compatible with one another? Wouldn’t a better strategy be to have a straightforward message of justice and equality, and make the case that anyone who cared about those values, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, would want to be a Democrat? When you have to make a special case that “people of faith” can be Democrats, too, it gives credence to the (bogus) argument that Democrats are hostile to religion: that values aren’t an integral part of the party’s message, and that they have to make a strenuous, separate appeal to “people of faith.”

The campaign’s ban on televising a discussion of its faith outreach efforts only serves to demonstrate its lack of confidence in it. If it doesn’t believe in it, the campaign shouldn’t do it at all. Hollow “faith” talk is worse than none at all. And in fact none at all would be just fine.

UPDATE: I’m now told by a campaign staffer that it was a “misunderstanding.”

A reporter at the conference tells me the Obama campaign claimed it was a “casual preference” not to allow filming, although I’m not really sure what that means:

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email