WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Thursday publicly rebuked, but refused to fire two staffers for postings on their personal Web blogs that Edwards said contained "intolerant language" that "personally offended me."
“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.
The controversy was sparked after Bill Donohue, president of the conservative-leaning Catholic League, called on Edwards to fire Marcotte and McEwan. He described the two as "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots" and cited recent blogs on their respective sites.
Among the postings cited by Donohue, Marcotte wrote: "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."
Donohue pointed to a posting by McEwan, in which she headlined a piece addressing religious conservatives: "What don't you lousy motherf----ers understand about keeping your noses out of our britches, our beds and our families?"
Donohue, reached by phone Thursday, said Edwards' statement does not satisfy him, and he will launch a campaign next week to point out what Donohue calls "the double-standard that he is the kingmaker of."
Donohue said the writers also made vulgar remarks about Catholic symbols, and that by Edwards not firing the staffers, he is promoting anti-Catholicism. He also said Edwards' actions should be viewed in the same way that 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.
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, adding that with roughly one-fourth of the U.S. population being 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.
In the statement released by the Edwards campaign, Marcotte said that 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 that "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."
Ripples Through the Blogosphere
Reports that Marcotte and McEwan had been fired, though incorrect, sparked movement across liberal-leaning blogs to begin targeting Patrick Hynes, a Republican strategist and consultant to John McCain's presidential exploratory committee.
One contributor on the popular 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?"
The DailyKos writer declined to be interviewed, but Hynes doesn't back down from the July interview that was cited in which he said, "Is America a Christian nation? Of Course it is. Don't be ridiculous. What a stupid question." Hynes said he expands on the comments over 32 pages in his book, "In Defense of the Religious Right."
He also said the criticism is fair game, but also said that what someone does for a campaign and what they do on their free time should be considered separately — and he added that it should cut both ways. He said his own blog, Anklebitingpundits, has never criticized Edwards, Marcotte or McEwan.
"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 that bloggers like himself and his peers "do not operate within the same set of rules that the mainstream media does" — there's different jargon, pace, and style of communication — 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," and he believed that the tone of the criticism was relatively mild.
"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.