On the Passion pressures in Chicagoland

trueorfalse“Truth is, I’ve been following this movie very closely for professional and personal reasons. My wife is an Presbyterian minister, a hospital chaplain (and, I might add, among the numbers who will not see this movie, though not for the reasons I write about. I have seen the film and will likely see it again.)

“I believe Jesus speaks very forcefully throughout scripture in defense of those who otherwise would not have a voice. That, Douglas, is quite the opposite of a ‘trend’ story.”

– from comment by Lou Carlozo, reporter at the Chicago Tribune

Hello. It’s time for another episode of Revenge of the Passion Posts.

I have shipped my column to Scripps Howard (prayers on the religious left) and given my last two final exams. So now let me pause to offer my two cents on the unfolding debates in the comments section on the Chicagoland Passion controversy.

First of all, I should note that I had a tiny bit of contact with this story. I was contacted by Chicago Tribune reporter Geneive Abdo, who was looking for national contacts to back up the story that was already on its way to print. It seemed to me that she had a local story or two and was trying to make this a national headline.

I have to admit that I was, personally, a bit put off by the fact that there seemed to be little interest at all in other points of view on the matter, even a diversity of viewpoints that were critical of the movie.

I mention this for one reason: As the comment offered by Prof. John Granger notes, I actually suggested that the Tribune research some people who had made decisions not to see the movie on their own, for theological reasons.

Some felt conflicted about wanting to see it, but then deciding not to — primarily due to concerns about the highly literal images of violence. I am the only member of my family to have seen the film, for example, and do not plan to see it again. (Studying parts of it in classes I teach would be another matter.) I also know what kinds of email one receives after writing a column that is in any way critical of this movie.

Now, I have no doubts that there were some pressures — church to church, perhaps — to get involved in the early screenings. But the whole tone of the Chicago Trib article stuck me, well, rather as it did Doug. Perhaps I felt that way because of my earlier contacts with Abdo.

I don’t know — maybe there was loads of national information, stories and facts that did not make it into the final draft of the story. Maybe there was this Passion pressure wave from coast to coast. But I did not see it in the Trib story and, having made a ton of calls and emails on Passion topics, I have not run into it anywhere else. I told Abdo that, as we played phone and email tag.

Finally, has anyone else in this circle watched the actual Mel Gibson interviews on EWTN? I guess I am with him on this matter. He told the viewers: This is going to be very, very graphic. If you have any concerns about that, do not go. (Or words to that effect.)

Sounds like good advice.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Chris Bugbee

    Terry, Terry, Terry — There you go again.

    Get Religion pillories a Chicago Trib piece on Passion peer pressure as yet another example of the shabby treatment religionists (particularly conservadox religionists) receive at the hands of liberal media. Lou Carlozo, one of the Tribune reporters, takes issue with Get Religion’s treatment of his piece (by-line shared with Genevieve Abdo).

    `What I take exception to, Douglas, is your off-key tone and off-putting analysis, which–aside from the fact that there’s no reporting to back it up–got it all wrong.`

    To which Doug offers a non-apology apology, referencing only his `cheap shot` about the authors’ `having another 1,300 words to write.`

    Now Terry weighs in with a post that offers the blogger’s equivalent of `whatever,` and again evades Lou’s criticism of both the tone and content of Get Religion’s original post.

    Get Religion’s tone-deafness is nothing new.

    Much the same thing happened in early April, after Terry had cited a paragraph from a five year-old NYT article by David Samuels as evidence of the anti-religious bias of the media.

    `Now am I reading that right?` Terry asked. ` Is the point that Samuels is making this: For normal people, like New York Times reporters and our friends, the only objective truth is that there are no objective truths? Thus, anyone who believes otherwise — be they academics, artists, clerics, journalists or even holders of high office — is, well, “crazy.” They are probably dangerous.`

    Well – as it turns out, Terry wasn’t reading it right – as the journalist in question took pains to point out in an April 6th posting, in which David Samuels responded:

    `I am writing because I’m sick and tired of seeing a paragraph plucked from my five year old story for the Times Magazine on James Kopp being passed around on message boards like this one as an example of insidious liberal rationalist bias in the media. Read in context [snip] I was quite clearly mocking the “shared but unspoken premise” that you seem to take for some kind of in-group wink-wink among journalists.

    [snip] Now that may not be saying all that much, but it might be interesting to go back and read what I actually wrote instead of waving my ancient paragraph around as a token of how sinned-against religious believers are in the media.`

    In both cases Get Religion got it wrong. And in both cases, Get Religion bloggers LeBlanc and Mattingly manage to eat their cake and have it too with responses to their fellow journalists’ complaints that stop well sort of acknowledging the deficiency of Get Religion’s reporting and the attendant errors of interpretation, analysis and presentation.

    This is more than unseemly. In a blog by two reporters about religion coverage in the media, it is unprofessional.

    Get Religion’s premise (and it is a good one) is that mainstream secular media treatment of religion falls short of accepted journalistic standards, hence the need for correctives like Get Religion and The Revealer. But if Get Religion is to be credible as a corrective, then it must be willing to accept correction itself. So far, there is little sign of that.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    You simple want us to say that we believe our view of these articles is wrong. Correct?

    You are, in effect, asking us to repent.

    So let me state the question directly: Do you see solid evidence of a national Passion pressure trend in the Chicago Tribune story? Do you think they nailed that point?

    If we get facts wrong, by all means we want to correct them. But I see no need too offer corrections when we simply do not agree with you. I certainly have not written The Revealer and asked them to change their interpretations of the articles they dissect.

    But you are free to argue with us and thanks for doing so. Let’s see what others have to say.

  • Chris Bugbee

    Hi Terry:

    I think the issue here is Get Religion’s USE of these two pieces as evidence of a point of view that the authors of both pieces vigorously contest–i.e. evidence of the media’s anti-religion bias.

    In both cases, the authors have written in to contest that use. In so doing, each has made the same two points, noting that they are avowedly religious in their own lives, and that the citation of their writing as evidence of an anti-religious bias is unfair both to their own personal locations and to their intentions for the pieces in question. Both authors have written to suggest that Get Religion has presented a misreading of their work and have offered a corrective to the tone and content of Get Religion’s treatment.

    It’s pretty hard to read Carlozo’s carefully written reproach and not come away thinking that Doug’s original posting got it very wrong — at least in so far as he was suggesting that the piece in question was yet another example of uncritical, uninformed, anti-religionist media bias.

    Same thing with the Samuels piece. You are welcome to your view of these two pieces in this proverbially free country. But it should count for something that the authors of these pieces so strenuously object to the use to which you have put them. That’s what you have failed to respond to In your eagerness to assert the correctness of your views.

    “What we have here,” as Strother Martin said so memorably to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, “is a failure to communicate.”

    In this case, the revelation that both authors are among the faithful in this nation of believers and not die-hard secularists suggests that Get Religion’s gotcha preoccupation with media antipathy to religion falls short of being the kind of all-purpose filter that justifies cherry picking examples at will.

    Get Religion has a lot to offer, but its tone sometimes obscures the clarity of vision it seeks to bring.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc


    I asked Lou Carlozo’s forgiveness for what I agreed was rhetorical overstatement. I offered it as a genuine expression of remorse.

    I assumed nothing about what Geneive Abdo or Lou Carlozo believe regarding God or Christianity.

    My post questioned an assertion that an unspecified Baptist church in Kansas City was “absolutely compelling” its members to see The Passion. My post questioned a Baptist pastor’s remark that made plans to evangelize in a theater sound scandalous. In both cases, the story did not indicate whether the church and pastor being criticized had any response to these remarks.

    I believe those are points open to media criticism. I would be a hypocrite to apologize for raising them.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    I don’t think I have accused the Chicago Tribune of anti-evangelical or anti-conservative Catholic bias. I said that I didn’t think they had nailed the story that they said they had nailed. I also said that it appeared they were not interested in some of the complex views held by critics and supporters of the film. There seemed to be a template for the story.

    As for the Samuels piece, I quoted his observation about the climate in elite media about people who believe in a concept of absolute truth. I actually agreed with most of the points he made and said so.

    I also encouraged people to actually read his article and I hope they did so. And I hope that people read what Doug and I have written and make their own minds, as well.