An Evangelical Journalist Finds His Calling at the White House
Posted May 14, 2018 7:01 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — It was the morning after another breathtaking revelation about President Donald Trump and a $130,000 payment to a pornographic film actress, and dozens of reporters crowded into the White House Rose Garden, seeking answers. When one of them shouted a question about the payment, the president simply walked away.
Standing nearby, on a ceremonial balcony overlooking the West Wing, was another reporter, David Brody, waiting for a private interview with Vice President Mike Pence.
Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, was not there to inquire about porn stars. It was the National Day of Prayer, and Brody asked the vice president whether he was tired of defending his anti-abortion views amid “potshots” from comedians, and whether prayer was “alive and well in the White House.” He inquired whether Pence would attend the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem Monday.
Pence smiled and answered each question. Then he invited Brody to get coffee.
“The access has been phenomenal,” Brody said later in an interview. “I’m very appreciative to God for allowing it.”
While Trump attacks major news organizations and suggests revoking media credentials for outlets he deems “Fake News,” Brody and his network enjoy a closeness to the White House that is foreign to most reporters. In return, Trump gets a direct line to his most supportive voters, the conservative evangelicals who make up CBN’s core audience. Their allegiance is critical to his success; more than 80 percent of white evangelicals who went to the polls in 2016 voted for Trump.
The Christian Broadcasting Network has become an important outlet for the president. Brody interviewed Trump eight times during the campaign. A week after the inauguration, he scored a landmark interview in which Trump called the media “the opposition party.” White House surrogates routinely appear on Brody’s program, and Brody himself has been a guest both on Fox News and on programs on other networks like “Meet the Press.”
“What you are seeing in the White House is base-tending,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, co-founder of FactCheck.org and a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Viewers of Christian media, she added, are often presented with more favorable information about Trump than they would find in the mainstream media. “It is agenda control,” Jamieson said.
That criticism frustrates Brody. He points to interviews he has done with Democrats, including Barack Obama. “I never personally make the case for Donald Trump,” he said. “If anything, I will say, ‘this is why evangelicals love him.'”
But Brody, an evangelical himself, acknowledges that his network has achieved a loftier status under Trump. Last year, network executives erupted in cheers when Sean Spicer, the president’s former press secretary, called on their correspondent in his first news conference. Brody is now at the White House several times a week. And he was invited to an exclusive annual luncheon with the president, along with anchors from major news outlets, for the first time last year.
For the White House, this strategy has been intentional.
“It is a great platform,” Spicer said in an interview. “CBN in particular has a very large audience that was very active in the election. A lot of those issues are not represented by Washington elite media folks.” Brody’s role as a conduit between Trump and his evangelical base is growing as the midterm elections approach. His new book, “The Faith of Donald J. Trump,” written with Scott Lamb, a vice-president of Liberty University, outlines what he calls the president’s spiritual biography in more than 300 pages.
Brody and his co-host Jenna Browder plan to act as moderators for parts of the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference, which brings together politicians and leaders of the religious right in early June. The two have also met with Ivanka Trump to talk about following her on the road as part of their midterm coverage, Browder said.
Brody’s position and his audience make him an unusual voice in Washington and a counter to what he calls the “liberal mainstream media.'’
“The media’s version of tough questions and my version of tough questions are different, based on the audience we serve,” he said. “Our audience isn’t going to want me to really ask about Russia or Stormy Daniels. They are just not going to want me to ask.”
— ‘Megaphone for God’s Truth’
Most Washington newsrooms are pressure cookers. But inside the Christian Broadcast Network’s news bureau, a short walk from the White House, the atmosphere is more relaxed, even familial. Brody, 53, is clearly the star, but it is impossible to imagine him ever barking an order.
Instead, he is more like the newsroom dad, ready with advice or a cheesy aside. Younger reporters recite some of his mantras, like “You get more with honey than vinegar.” On the National Day of Prayer, staff members were joking that the day was their Super Bowl.
Brody grew more serious as he sat down on his set to talk about his job. His calling, he said, is to be “a megaphone for God’s truth.”
“I report the news and I analyze the news based on what evangelicals are saying and thinking out there in the heartland,” he said. “It is a hybrid, for sure, but it is definitely more analysis.”
CBN News devotes itself to “news through a biblical worldview,” he explained, and his top three areas of coverage are Israel, abortion and religious freedom. These days, he said, he is praying more than ever. Compared to giants like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, CBN’s news division is tiny. It has an annual budget of only $10 million, a staff of 70 and a website that gets just 1.5 million unique visitors a month. The network would not provide television audience numbers, and Nielsen does not track them.
Its power derives from the spiritual capital the network has built for more than half a century in evangelical homes across America. Just 15 percent of white evangelicals say they have a lot of trust in national news organizations, according to the Pew Research Center, but they are nearly twice as likely to trust news they hear from friends and family.
Brody and Browder started a weekly program last year — primarily airing on Facebook — called “Faith Nation,” which tries to engage a younger evangelical audience.
For the National Day of Prayer this month, CBN News interviewed several of Trump’s leading evangelical supporters for a “Faith Nation” special.
One of the guests, Penny Nance, president of the Concerned Women of America, welled up with tears as she told Brody how long she had been waiting for the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
In the makeup room before her appearance, she spoke of how valuable the network was for reaching her socially conservative supporters. Last year, Nance was scheduled for an on-camera appearance at CBN’s headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia; when her flight was canceled, she drove through the night to arrive in time.
“Often, people think you need to get on Fox and CNN,” she said, “but if I’m being more strategic, I should want to do CBN, specifically David’s show.”
— An Unlikely Conversion
Brody might seem an unlikely messenger for evangelicalism. He grew up in a Reform Jewish family on New York’s Upper West Side and attended Temple Emanu-El on 65th Street and Fifth Avenue.
In high school, Brody dreamed of being a radio announcer for the New York Mets, a forlorn underdog team at the time. On game days, he and a friend would record their own play-by-play.
When his college girlfriend converted to evangelicalism, Brody adamantly resisted. “'I will never believe in Jesus,'” he recalled, smiling. “I said those words to her.”
Gradually, though, he grew more curious. The couple married under a huppah at her family’s home in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York, loaded up a U-Haul and their dog, Mookie (named after Mookie Wilson, a hero of the Mets’ 1986 World Series champion team), and moved to Colorado Springs.
Brody had no idea then that he was moving to the epicenter of American evangelicalism. They bought a house a mile from Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian organization James Dobson had founded not long earlier. Within weeks, he was at a backyard potluck supper that he called “one of those prayer Bible study evenings,” and that night, he said, he knew God was speaking to him. Brody decided to follow Jesus.
“I don’t think I really felt joyful until I came to Christ in 1988,” he said. Brody worked his way up through Colorado television production, taking video feeds and eventually becoming a news director, winning an Emmy award along the way. A job in sports production brought him to Washington, but downsizing at his new employer forced a change in plans. Focus on the Family offered him a job as a radio reporter.
When CBN had an opening for a Capitol Hill correspondent, he jumped at the prospect of getting back into television, this time in front of the camera. That was 15 years ago.
As he spoke of his career path, he paused and grew emotional. “God has orchestrated too many things for this to not be my calling,” he said. “I don’t want to blow it.”
Brody said he saw a striking similarity between his story and Trump’s. Both are New Yorkers who found their way in an evangelical world, he noted, and both rose to power they did not expect. Perhaps when he sees the president next, Brody said, they can talk about it.
“Maybe in Dr. Phil-subliminal-psychological world, there is something there,” he said.