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William Bennett: I committed a sin but am ‘not a hypocrite’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Giving his first interviews since promising to quit gambling, cultural commentator William Bennett says that he’s not a hypocrite, that gambling for him was a sin and that he regrets his behavior “given who I am and what I do.”

Appearing on CNBC’s “Tim Russert” July 26, Bennett reiterated what he told Newsweek and The Washington Monthly in May — that his religion, Catholicism, permits gambling. But he also told WORLD magazine in its Aug. 9 issue that while he does not consider all gambling a sin, for him, it is one.

“It was a sin because it was a bad use of time and resources,” he told WORLD. “Mortal sin? Venial sin? Something in the middle? I have no idea. But excess, for sure.”

Bennett said on CNBC that he “way overdid it. I gambled too much, and I think I gambled too much given who I am and what I do.”

The revelation about Bennett underscored a split between the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations. Many Protestant denominations — both liberal and conservative — agree that gambling is a sin.

In fact, WORLD reports that Bennett granted the evangelical news magazine an interview because its readers were disappointed in his behavior.

“I let people down,” he told WORLD. “I let people down who were looking to me, whether I wanted to be looked to or not, who were taking me and my counsel seriously, and who just felt disappointed in me. Let down — maybe worse.

“The message is the same. The validity of the message doesn’t depend on the messenger. But, the better the messenger, the more plausible the message can be to the listener — not the more accurate or more correct, but more plausible. In that sense, I made my own message less plausible.”

Bennett said on CNBC that he is “not a hypocrite” because he “never said gambling is a terrible thing [or that] people should stop gambling.”

“… I don’t consider it as wrong in itself,” he said. “But when you do too much of something, as I was doing at that high level amount, then you should stop.”

But Bennett did say he fell “short” of his “standards by doing too much” and he hopes he has not lost credibility as a cultural commentator.

“I hope it hasn’t hurt my ability to have a conversation with the American people,” he told Russert. “I don’t want it to. What I did was excessive, was wrong, it was a mistake. That’s over. I’ve got to move on to other things.”

Bennett said he was puzzled when the story first surfaced because several years ago Time magazine and The Washington Post reported his involvement in gambling.

The Newsweek and Washington Monthly stories, though, had an additional element — casino documents showing he had gambled several million dollars over a decade. Bennett told Russert that he is “considering” legal action against the casinos for releasing the information.

“I was pretty public about it…” he said of his history of gambling. “This is not something I was hiding.”

Bennett said reports that he lost $8 million are wrong.

“I don’t really think the amounts are anybody’s business but the family’s and the IRS,” he said on CNBC, adding that all of his earnings were reported to the government.

Bennett also addressed those who took delight in seeing “me getting whacked.” He called it a “perverse kind of reaction.”

“That’s horrible, that’s creepy, that’s really bad,” he said. “… You don’t take pleasure in other people’s suffering — especially in the political realm.”

He told Russert that he has remained positive throughout the ordeal.

“I’m up, and I’m back, and nobody’s going to drive me out of public life,” he said.

In other topics:

— Bennett said he has not taken a position on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would add language to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex “marriage.”

An amendment is “a hard thing to get, but many feel that’s the way to go,” he said on CNBC. “I’ve been wrestling with this and debating it and sending memos back and forth and talking to people on the phone.”

“[But] I am certainly of the view that marriage needs to be preserved as a relationship between one man and one woman,” he said.

“Almost all” religions and societies have agreed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, Bennett noted.

“Marriage is not in great shape right now in the United States and many of the western democracies,” he said. “Should we take another step to weaken it?”

Once same-sex “marriage” is allowed, he said, arguments against polygamy and incest are weakened.

“It’s a big gap between saying, ‘You have the right to be left alone’ and saying, ‘I bless what it is you’re doing.’ That’s the step I’m not prepared to take,” he said.

WORLD reported that Bennett is “eager” to engage in the debate over same-sex “marriage.

— Bennett said his view of America has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Asked by Russert what he thought was America’s biggest problem, Bennett said that before 9/11, he would have said it was the decline of morality.

“Since 9/11 I can’t say that,” he said. “Since seeing these kids go off to places like Iraq, I can’t say that.”

Bennett said that the strength of America’s military personnel has influenced his beliefs.

“I have re-evaluated my own position on American culture and come to the conclusion that we’re not ready to go down the tubes at all,” he said on CNBC. “This is one great, strong country, and we produce these fabulous people.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WILLIAM BENNETT.

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  • Michael Foust