When I saw the transcripts of the Rev. Ted Haggard’s phone message, my first thought was that it sounded more like a call to his dealer. That would have still been a big story but more of a local affair. You know, “Pastor of Megachurch Bought Meth from Sketchy Guy.”
Without the allegations by gay prostitute Michael Jones that he had turned tricks for Haggard about once a month over a three-year period, it’s fair to say that it wouldn’t have got very far. Or at least I think that’s fair to say. (If you disagree, feel free to make the case in comments.)
In other words, this story traveled as far as it did because of our attitudes about hypocrisy and especially hypocrisy about sex. Type “Haggard” into Google News. You’ll get no fewer than 2,000 results, including dozens of foreign news outlets.
Regardless of the result of Jones’ second polygraph test, the story has now been downgraded. Given his personal history, Jones never had much credibility, and he was pretty frank that he was doing this to damage Haggard and hurt the efforts to ban gay marriage and save the Republicans from certain doom.
Journalists aren’t going to want to get burned again and risk the attendant charges of bias for taking sides in the midterms.
Now an independent board of overseers (note to reporters: they’re not from Haggard’s megachurch) will decide if buying Meth and massages from a gay prostitute and lying about it are cause to fire him. My guess: the board will at least decide that Haggard can’t be head pastor anymore, and they’ll probably fire his ass.
As for the larger implications for this story, well, it’s probably worth looking at what the National Association of Evangelicals will be like without Haggard as its president.
In its earlier form, the scandal could have helped to depress the evangelical vote or get out what Terry Mattingly has written about in the past — the growing “anti-evangelical vote.” But the way the news cycle has sped up has made that less likely. A political consultant friend told me that he would have released a bombshell like this on Friday rather than Wednesday.
And hey, working journalists, the next time you have a story that’s all about hypocrisy, it might not be bad to get a quote from the guy who wrote the book on the subject.