Blog: HBO blames Inaugural Committee for omitting gay bishop's prayer
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Monday January 19, 2009

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Update at bottom: President-elect Obama's Inaugural Committee admits HBO had nothing to do with the broadcast exclusion.

The mishandling of an opening prayer by Bishop Gene Robinson during Sunday's pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial is re-igniting a controversy that had seemed to be dying down.

Not only was the openly gay Episcopal bishop's invocation omitted from the televised presentation of the concert offered on cable and satellite systems by HBO, but a malfunctioning speaker meant Robinson was almost impossible to hear even for many of those watching live on the Mall.

According to one blogger, HBO insisted in an email on Sunday night that it was not their decision to omit Robinson's invocation, saying, "The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show."

The Inaugural Committee has not yet commented.

The announcement last week that Robinson would be delivering a prayer before the concert had been seen as a way of balancing the selection of the anti-gay marriage Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation on Inauguration Day, a choice which was taken as an insult by many in the GLBT community.

Now the sense of insult is not only back but redoubled. Blogger Pam Spaulding writes, "Remember, this was the supposed salve on the wound to the LGBT community for the upcoming high-profile appearance of Rick Warren at the actual inauguration on Tuesday, which will be seen by millions and will float out there on YouTube in perpetuity. I had no illusions that Robinson's appearance would reach the same level of exposure as Warren's, but damn -- no broadcast of it at all? That's just freaking rich."

Another blogger, David Hart, puts it even more strongly: "Nothing ever happens in Obama World that isn’t planned down to the most excruciatingly small detail. This sure looks deliberate. To add insult to injury, this was orchestrated so that the benediction would occur before Obama entered. Obama avoided the 'embarrassment' of having the queer minister address him directly. Disgraceful."

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog offers a partial explanation, noting that "Bishop Robinson gave the invocation, then they took about a ten minute break, THEN the HBO production started with the introduction of Obama and the rest of the show. So, big surprise that Gene Robinson wasn't shown on HBO - who in their right minds thought HBO would start broadcasting live for Robinson's invocation, then just sit there with ten minutes dead air time until the 'real' show began."

In his invocation, Robinson asked God to "Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants; women, people of color; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Bless us with discomfort at the easy simplistic answers we prefer to hear from our politicians instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future. Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed any time soon and the understanding that our next president is a human being, not a messiah." has a complete transcript here.

President-elect Obama's Inaugural Committee alludes that its HBO's fault

The controversy doesn't show any signs of dying, as late afternoon Monday, the day before Obama's swearing-in, his Presidential Inauguration Committee appears to be deflecting blame back at HBO for not showing Robinson.

AMERICAblog's John Aravosis reports that "Obama throws it back at HBO in this statement I just received."

"We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson's invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday’s program," PIC communications director Josh Earnest wrote. "We regret the error in executing this plan – but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event."

Aravosis adds, "At least the Obama people think it important enough to weigh in, and that's a good thing. A lot of good people were disappointed by this."

So far, neither is taking the blame or pointing fingers for the microphone mishap. Perhaps a new scapegoat will be found before the night is over.


"PIC's statement doesn't exactly come out and say the whole thing is their fault, but it does seem to verify HBO's comments yesterday that they had nothing to do with Robinson's exclusion from the broadcast," reported the AfterElton blog. "The network was in touch with us today and again reiterated this by saying, 'It was not an HBO omission. We merely televised the show beginning at 2:30pm. Had the PIC told us upfront that this was to be part of the telecast, it would have been.'

"HBO has also given PIC permission to post Rev. Robinson's prayer on their website, but we're waiting for word when that will happen."

This video is from Christianity Today, broadcast Jan. 19, 2009.

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John Aravosis' name was spelled incorrectly in a previous version of this article.