The time Jimmy Carter was interviewed by Playboy about lust

This article originally was published in the Atlanta Constitution Sept. 22, 1976, less than two months before Jimmy Carter faced incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election.

Carter Playboy talk starts 'em buzzing

By Robert Lamb and Fay S. Joyce

Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 22, 1976, 1A

Jimmy Carter was finding out Tuesday that the electorate is less forgiving than he believes God is.

While his campaign workers tried to play down the controversy unleashed by Carter's comments in an interview with Playboy magazine, Marge Thurmond, chairman of the state Democratic Party, described the public's reaction as "bad, bad, bad."

"I've been everywhere today, and the reaction is uniformly negative," said Mrs. Thurmond. "I've heard it until I'm up to my ears in it."

In the Playboy interview, excerpts of which were published early Tuesday, Carter admitted to having "looked upon a lot of women with lust."

The quote continued: "I've committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something God recognizes I will do -- and I have done it -- and God forgives me for it."

Elsewhere in the interview, the Democratic presidential nominee used expressions termed mildly earthy in explaining his religious views toward sex and sin.

Betty Rainwater, Carter's deputy press secretary in Atlanta, said her office had received "a few calls."

Some, she said, were "from our own staffers and volunteers in the field, trying to get a little more detail on the situation."

Others, she said, came from citizens who had misinterpreted what Carter said and meant.

"It was a religious interview," she said. "It wasn't a discussion about sex."

No caller, she said, had expressed outrage, though some had taken exception to Carter's use of "words that don't sound presidential."

"Playboy has high journalistic standards," Miss Rainwater said. "They've done interviews with all types of people. They also have one of the largest readerships, so you can't deny that there's a constituency there."

Credit: Drew Angerer

Credit: Drew Angerer

Asked about her own assessment of the controversy, she said, "I don't think outrage is the word. I think a bit of surprise is the more appropriate way to put it."

Mrs. Dot Padgett, Georgia coordinator of the Carter campaign, said, "Initially, I think the people were a bit shocked. But some of the Georgia people I've talked to feel that if you read the article, he's just being candid."

She conceded, however, that many were "surprised at some of the language."

She said her office had received no calls from outraged citizens. "As a matter of fact," she said, "I was beginning to think people were not reading the paper."

Asked her own reaction to the controversy, Mrs. Padgett said, "I read it pretty carefully. I understood that he was really being quite honest. I'm a little turned off by some of the words, however."

Jerry Rafshoon, Carter's advertising campaign director, said the interview did not offend him. "And I'm pretty easily offended," he added.

Asked about some of the language in the interview, Rafshoon said," Jimmy said that?" He added, however, that he did not think there was any comparison between Carter's language and former President Nixon's language as revealed in the Watergate tapes.

Asked to assess effects of the controversy, Rafshoon said, "I think it'll be all right. It shows he's not sanctimonious. He's human about his religious beliefs. He forgives sinners like you."

Mrs. Mark King, national chairman of Carter's 51.3% Committee, said Carter was "simply saying that his standards would not affect the way he sees others."

She said she did not criticize Carter for granting an interview to Playboy. "I think he ought to be accessible to all publications," she said.

She referred to Carter's controversial language in the interview as "contemporary colloquialisms."

Carter Press Secretary Jody Powell, asked about the language used in the article, said, "We have had a president who expressed himself in much more earthy terms."

He would not say to which president he was referring.

Asked about public reaction to the interview, Powell said the reactions "are much better expressed by an official member of the campaign family than a staffer."

He said the Carter camp plans no polls to determine possible damage to Carter's candidacy, nor are state campaign chairmen being asked about possible damage. Powell said of the interview, "It does lay forward quite candidly an expression of his views, particularly of the problem of pride."

Powell added, "I don't believe he (Carter) is sorry" that he said it.

Told that Carter campaigners reported no public outrage and no apparent damage to the candidacy, Mrs. Thurmond said, "You're talking to people who are going to say what Jimmy wants to hear. What I've heard today runs the gamut. Jimmy's lost some brownie points this time."

Asked her own assessment, Mrs. Thurmond said, "I thought it was disastrous. I don't know why in the hell he did it. That's the only way I can give it you, baby."

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Andrew Young of Atlanta said in Washington that he did not believe the Playboy quotes had done any serious damage to Carter's campaign.

"Somebody asked me about that today," Young said, "and all I can say is he (Carter) has taken care of his religion problem once and for all."

The Associated Press and United Press International reported that reaction elsewhere to the controversy was critical. Southern Democrats in Congress lamented Carter's comments and described the interview as a distasteful, possibly damaging campaign gaffe.

Acting Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd said Carter never should have granted the interview, and Senate Republican leader Hugh Scott said, "The trouble with Jimmy Carter is that when he says what he really thinks, it comes out pretty scary."

Byrd said, "One's religion is a private matter and better left undiscussed in publications. I wish it had not occurred."

The West Virginian added however, that he did not think Carter's remarks would have any "terminal" effect on his campaign "by any stretch of the imagination"

Scott added, "He has chosen a rather exotic springboard for his candid views of morality which will probably gain him some sympathy among ultra-tolerant and shock the generality of the good people of this country."

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., said, "I don't think the deepest, most intimate thoughts in a fellow's heart -- that ought not to be a part of a person's campaign. Let's hope that when he becomes president, he quits talking about adultery."

The Associated Press reported that a Southern Baptist authority on social ethics said in Nashville, Tenn., that Carter's statements on morality and his Baptist faith accurately reflect Southern Baptist teachings.

But Dr. Henry N. Hollis Jr. said he "wouldn't have used the same language."

Hollis, a staff member of the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Conference, was interviewed Tuesday along with several others at the headquarters of the conference's executive committee here. Hollis characterized his commission as a "social ethics agency" and said he has written several books on the moral aspects of sex.

"What he (Carter) says about lust and forgiveness reflects deep insight and knowledge of the teachings of his religion," Hollis said.

"I think it reflects an open man, an honest man who knows a great deal about reality and the teachings of his religion," he continued.

Hollis and Stan Hasley, a Baptist Press representative, both emphasized that individual Baptists cannot speak for the denomination as a whole or attempt to impose their views on other Baptists.

Hasley said it is a basic tenet of the faith that all Baptists are entitled to their individual beliefs and are judged separately by God.

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