Did Billy Graham Really Tell Romney He’d ‘Help’?

Every news agency in the U.S. is reporting more or less the same thing on Romney’s Thursday evening visit with the Rev. Billy Graham (and son Franklin) where the celebrated evangelist is reported to have said to Romney: “I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that.” Them’s pretty strong words, so why question this de facto endorsement? 

For one, it doesn’t look as though anyone heard Graham say it.

The bulk of the meeting was closed to reporters before cameras were allowed in to take the evening’s iconic photo. Following that, as Washington Post blogger Ed O’Keefe puts it:

Graham, Franklin Graham and Romney then prayed and as the meeting ended, campaign aides said that Graham told Romney: “I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that.”

Got that? Romney’s campaign aides are the source of the quote. Yahoo News’ Holly Bailey attributes the quote to Romney’s senior adviser Mark DeMoss, while RNS’s excellent Adelle Banks attributes it to the Romney campaign’s Rick Gorka, with confirmation from Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross.

Others, like HuffPo blogger Sabrina Siddiqui and Wall St. Journal blogger Sara Murray dispensed with attribution altogether and just reported it as though it were actually overheard: 

“I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that,” said Billy Graham, who also led a prayer for the Romneys.

The “statement” issued “by Graham” after the meeting, a near-perfect ad for Romney’s campaign, is cause for more skepticism:

It was an honor to meet and host Governor Romney in my home today, especially since I knew his late father former Michigan Governor George Romney, whom I considered a friend. I have followed Mitt Romney’s career in business, the Olympic Games, as governor of Massachusetts and, of course, as a candidate for president of the United States.

What impresses me even more than Governor Romney’s successful career are his values and strong moral convictions. I appreciate his faithful commitment to his impressive family, particularly his wife Ann of 43 years and his five married sons.

It was a privilege to pray with Governor Romney—for his family and our country. I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms.

But why the skepticism? 

For one, this wouldn’t be the first time suspicions were raised by statements attributed to Billy Graham that sounded a whole lot more like Franklin, whose anti-Islam, anti-Obama statements have piled up over the past decade. (The most entertaining Franklinism may be his terribly clever 2010 dig at Hinduism: “No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me.” Ostensibly Graham is referring to Ganesha who, among other things, represents intellect, wisdom, and education. So yes, it does indeed look as though this elephant has done nothing for him.) Steve Knight, who worked with Billy Graham for six years, hypothesizes that: 

Franklin drives out to Little Piney Cove (Billy’s cabin home outside of Asheville, N.C.) and holds [statements drafted to Franklin’s specifications] in front of Billy and asks, “Daddy, can we publish this?” And Billy nods (or whatever he’s capable of doing at this point in his life), and Franklin goes back and publishes this stuff with his good father’s name all over it.

He notes too, that “Billy Graham is 93 years old, in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease (among a host of other age-related ailments) [and] he’s been having fluid drained from his brain on a regular basis for over a decade.

So there’s that.

And then there’s the fact that this quasi-endorsement and follow-up statement comes at just the right time. To have “America’s Pastor” and uber-popular evangelical Billy Graham seemingly endorse your campaign just as reports are emerging that Romney’s evangelical support has topped out and that religious right leaders are worried that evangelicals may stay home on Election Day, well, that’s just wonderful timing.

Evan Derkacz, editor of Religion Dispatches, was previously an editor and writer at the award-winning web magazine AlterNet.org from 2003-2007. Before that, he worked for Tikkun magazine. His writing has appeared in McSweeney's, AlterNet, The Huffington Post and Start Making Sense (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004). He has been interviewed on Air America and Pacifica Radio.