WASHINGTON – In response to John Edwards' refusal to fire two staffers for "intolerant" Web postings, the president of the nation's largest Catholic civil rights group said he will launch a campaign next week to point out "the double-standard that [Edwards] is the kingmaker of."
Bill Donohue, president of the conservative-leaning Catholic League and the first to call on the Democratic presidential candidate to fire the bloggers, told FOXNews.com that he is not satisfied with Edwards' decision to scold — but not can — the staffers.
By not firing Andrea Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, Donohue said, Edwards is promoting anti-Catholicism. He said the 2008 Democratic contender's actions should be viewed in the same way it would be seen if Edwards had not fired a staffer who had used the 'n'-word.
"He's nothing more than David Duke with a blow-dried haircut," Donohue said of Edwards.
Despite saying the postings "personally offended me," Edwards decided not to fire Marcotte, who writes for the Pandagon blog, and McEwan, who runs the Shakespeare's Sister blog, for comments they made on those sites.
"The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwan's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people," Edwards said in a statement released Thursday.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor or anything else," Edwards added, saying he believed of Marcotte and McEwan that "it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith."
The announcement came after a report on Salon.com that the two had been fired. The Edwards' campaign release did not directly address the piece, but did not indicate any change in status for Marcotte or McEwan. A spokeswoman for the campaign said no staffers would be available for interviews on the story.
Donohue described the bloggers as "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots." Among the postings he cited for complaint was one by Marcotte that reads: "The Catholic church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics."
Another posting by McEwan is headlined to address religious conservatives: "What don't you lousy motherf——ers understand about keeping your noses out of our britches, our beds and our families?"
In the statement released by the Edwards campaign, Marcotte said her "intention is never to offend anyone for his or her personal beliefs, and I am sorry if anyone was personally offended by writings meant only as criticisms of public politics."
McEwan said "Shakespeare's Sister is my personal blog, and I certainly don't expect Senator Edwards to agree with everything I've posted. We do, however, share many views — including an unwavering support of religious freedom and a deep respect for diverse beliefs. It has never been my intention to disparage people's individual faith, and I'm sorry if my words were taken in that way."
McEwan also defended herself on her blog earlier in the week, referencing her vote for 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry.
"I'm not going to say a lot about this right now, but suffice it to say that the fact I cast a vote, without hesitation, for a Catholic during the last presidential election might suggest I'm not anti-Catholic," she wrote. "My degree from Loyola University might also suggest the same."
Another Catholic group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, issued a statement saying it was satisfied with Edwards' actions following the "religiously intolerant remarks."
"We accept Senator Edwards' assurances that he too was offended by comments made by recently hired staffers and that religious intolerance has no place in his campaign," said the group's executive director, Alexia Kelley, who added that since roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population is Catholic, Edwards can't take the religion's members for granted.
"We hope this unfortunate incident will initiate a deeper conversation on the part of all presidential candidates regarding the broad range of issues and values of primary importance to the Catholic community, including the Iraq War, a concern for the poor, human life and dignity, the availability of health care, and a commitment to the common good," Kelley said.
Ripples Through the Blogosphere
Reports that Marcotte and McEwan had been fired, although incorrect, sparked movement across liberal-leaning blogs to begin targeting Patrick Hynes, a Republican strategist and consultant to John McCain's presidential exploratory committee.
In a July interview cited by opponents, Hynes is quoted saying: "Is America a Christian nation? Of course it is. Don't be ridiculous. What a stupid question." His comments are more fully developed over 32 pages in his book, "In Defense of the Religious Right."
In reaction, one contributor on the liberal DailyKos blog wrote: "Hynes' public writing is devoted to pure religious divisiveness — he focuses almost exclusively on the claim that Christianity is superior and that those who attend church live better lives."
The DailyKos writer then adds: "Ah, the civility of the far right. Why aren't intrepid New York Times reporters dogging Patrick Hynes?"
While the blogger declined to be interviewed, Hynes said criticism of him is fair play, but what someone does for a campaign and what they do in their free time should be considered separately. He said his own blog, Anklebitingpundits, has never criticized Edwards, Marcotte or McEwan and he thinks it should cut both ways.
"Generally speaking, when someone is a consultant to a campaign, things that they say out of the context of the campaign are not fair game for the critics," he said.
He said bloggers like himself and his peers "do not operate within the same set of rules that the mainstream media does." The jargon, pace and style of communication are different and "you need to have an understanding of that level of conversation that's going on on the 'Net."
He said he did not believe criticism aimed at him was coming from the Edwards camp, but rather "energetic, progressive enthusiasts." The tone of it was relatively mild, he said.
"It's a healthy and civil debate," he said.
Asked if he thought bloggers had become too enmeshed in political retaliation, he said it's only something time will tell.
"I am an enthusiast for more people to engage in the democratic process, whether it's actual, physical activity or if it's online activities. ... I don't know where it's going to go, and I guess we're just going to have to see," Hynes said.
A McCain campaign staffer who asked not to be identified because the campaign did not want to comment officially on the matter said any attacks on Hynes or similar situations probably won't make a difference in the end.
"We just aren't very concerned. We'd rather talk about the issues than the mudslinging. When you stick to the issues, we feel that our guy is going to win," the staffer said.