Report the political wildfire

speaker hastertApparently GetReligion’s post on the Foley scandal was featured on the front page of Yahoo on Thursday morning, which drew responses from across the political spectrum. For those of you who are new to the blog, note that we are not here to debate faith but to discuss the media’s coverage of faith. Hence our name: GetReligion.

While your well-reasoned, and some not-so-well-reasoned, thoughts are great, there are millions of other blogs out there that serve that purpose. Allow GetReligion to be a place to discuss the media’s coverage of the religious issues in our society. Comments outside the realm of media analysis will be considered for deletion.

As a short follow-up to Thursday’s post on Foley and the subsequent media firestorm and Drudge-induced crazy twists and turns, I want to note George Will’s Washington Post column that says this scandal has revealed the fault lines in the GOP. Much of it explains the quiet, and some not-so-quiet, GOP calls for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Wheaton College graduate:

Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism — Western and Southern.

The former is largely libertarian, holding that pruning big government will allow civil society — and virtues nourished by it and by the responsibilities of freedom — to flourish. The Southern, essentially religious, strand of conservatism is explained by Ryan Sager in his new book, “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party”:

“Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush’s faith-based initiatives program.”

To a Republican Party increasingly defined by the ascendancy of the religious right, the Foley episode is doubly deadly. His behavior was disgusting, and some Republican reactions seem more calculating than indignant.

firestormGetReligion would like to throw in another fault line: Reagan Democrats-conservative Catholics.

While it’s clear that some Republicans will back Hastert, others are outraged and want heads to roll. Identifying the source of that outrage will speak volumes about the Republican Party and its commitment to values voters.

The media would do us all a real favor if they spent less time with talking heads, cut back on the commentary and devote more time to talking with everyday members of Congress, or even your average loyal Republican. Reporters’ inboxes were bombarded Thursday with news releases from the House majority citing the number of Republicans who are supporting Hastert. I have a feeling that those news releases instigated this Washington Post article describing House Republicans closing ranks around their leader.

Reporters don’t have to bring these people onto radio or television shows, or quote them in newspapers, but they should talk to everyday members of the GOP and get a feel for how they are reacting to the scandal. When they’re on the record, politicos, even values-focused politicos, will be more likely to follow marching orders, but how they feel in their hearts and souls could be an entirely different matter.

To highlight a great example of this type of reporting, check out this Morning Edition report in which a handful of rural values voters are asked about how the Foley scandal will affect their vote. Their answer? Not at all. Issues such as Iraq and their values matter more. While admitting that its own small-sample poll is not scientific, NPR also cites this very scientific poll from the Pew Research Center to support its conclusion.

Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post came to a more wishy-washy conclusion using different numbers from what seems to be the same Pew poll. Cooperman’s story contends that the GOP hold on the evangelical vote is weakening, but does not tie that weakening to the Foley scandal. There are other issues at stake, such as Iraq. But there’s a problem. I cannot find any of the statistics cited in Cooperman’s article in the Pew poll. Is there another poll out there that Pew has not released on its website?

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  • http://conblogeration.blogspot.com Pastor Jeff

    Interesting reporting on “unresolved tensions” between various Republicans. But better reporting would recognize there’s a third player involved: Democrats with an anti-religious bias.

    “Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children.Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush’s faith-based initiatives program.”

    Ah, but why do social conservatives want these things? Because they’re power-mad?

    I suggest better reporting might provide the key insight that social conservatives would be happy to have schools go back to not teaching about sex. But if they’re going to, conservatives feel abstinence should at least be mentioned (if not favored). Conservative pleas for abstinence are a defensive response, not an assualt.

    Similarly, pleas for teaching ID are again a response — not even to the teaching of evolution, but of scientific materialism. If you’re going to teach a worldview in science class, give opportunity for rebuttal.

    And I may be out of it, but I’m not aware of a groundswell of conservative demands for faith-based money. If there is such a thing, I would again imagine it’s out of concern over a perceived anti-religion bias in traditional social services. I doubt that new ministries are springing up just to get government money. It’s more likely that existing groups realize they can now get extra funding to help their work.

    I don’t think disagreements within the Republican Party can be fully understood isolated from the larger political and cultural environment. I think it’s another case of not getting religion.

  • Michael

    Daniel, the numbers dealing with the current Pew study are in the larger results, not the executive summary.

  • dpulliam

    Thanks Michael for the clarification. Is the full study available online? In poking around on the site before posting, I found this PDF document, but couldn’t find the numbers in there either.

  • Michael

    If you look at the bottom starting near page 13, they have historical data as they explain their data set; I think that’s where Cooperman gets his numbers. I agree that Cooperman mixed a lot of data and a number of studies, so it’s hard to keep track of it all.

  • Larry Rasczak

    I’d like to bring up a question that I tried to raise on the last post on this subject.

    Harris asked (Tmatt?) “As to the accusation of a “hit job” — does not the term imply that the charges are thin, or warrantless?”

    I’ll take a page from Al Gore and answer that question as if it was directed to me.

    I don’t think anybody has said the charges are without warrantless. This is a little unusual in the land of “innocent till proven guilty”, but it may have to do with Foely’s sudden flight to the sanctuary of the 21st century, rehab… presumably in 28 days the news cycle will have moved on.

    But Harris is right. The accusation of hit job comes from the fact that this has been going on for quite a while (years I think) and apparently quite a few people knew about it. (It looks like the Speaker of the House and the Catholic Bishops have something new in common.)

    That being said, the timing is suspiciously partisan in nature. The charges are true, but the timing is suspiciously partisan. I had said “obviously” partisan, but I’ll give ABC the benifit of the doubt.

    Hasert apparenlty tried to keep it quiet for political reasons, but it looks as if the Dems did exactly the same thing; sitting on the story for weeks or months until such time as it would do them the most good politically.

    Which raises an interesting journalisim ethics issue, and I’d like to hear what people have to say on it.

    Purely hypothetically, (and I emphasise hypothetically), let us pretend that the DNC and ABC news knew about this conduct in say. . . August. And let us pretend that they decided to sit on the story till now, for political reasons. Now let us pretend (emphaise PRETEND) that in mid-September this guy got a 15 year old page drunk, and sodomized him. . . what would the ethical responsibility of ABC and the DNC be? What if the page was so distraught he jumped off a building and died? Again what would the ethical responsibility of ABC and the DNC be?

    Sitting on a story for national defense reasons is one thing. (Not that the NYT does THAT anymore). Then you are killing a story to protect people; soliders, sailors, the public safety.

    This however is different. Rather than protecting people by sitting on the story, one could make a case that the press was putting people ( at least the pages) at risk by sitting on the story so it could be used as an “October Suprise”. What are the ethics there?

    An analogy might be if a paper had a story that would expose a drug ring, but the DEA asked the paper to kill it. I would support the NYT if they decided to kill a story about a known drug ring if the DEA said “Hey, we are on this guy. In six months we will be able to take him down and half the Columbians on the East Coast as well.” Yes the guy will no doubt do a lot of harm in those six months, perhaps even kill some people, but I’d defer to the DEA’s judgment in that case.

    But this isn’t the DEA, it’s the DNC who gained by the timing of this release. If you decide to delay exposing a susptected child molester for partisan political reasons. . . what is your journalistic responsibility for the actions the guy takes in the mean time?

  • http://carelesshand.net Jinzang

    A more religious and less cynical person might see the hand of God in the timing of the release of this news. Which, as I understand, originally came from a Republican congressional aide and not from a Democrat.

  • VoxDilecti

    Sorry to make you do all the work Dpulliam, but Larry raises and interesting point and Jinzang an equally intriguing counter-point.

    I believe that the hand of God is in all things, but today I read a report in which speaker Hastert blamed the Democrats of sitting on the story, which begs the question, who realised it and how did it get out?

    Do we have another “plamegate”? on our hands? I hope not because that would be slimey as hell and make me actually glad that I cant vote yet…

    So yeah, if anyone can find out how this story got realesed without any deepthroats having to be found out, t’would be wonderful.

  • Chuck

    I believe Pew picked out the evangelical #’s for Cooperman. No use trying to find them yourself.

  • dpulliam

    VoxDilecti, here is one of the best summaries of how the story was released:

    While Harper’s decided not to publish the story, we weren’t entirely comfortable with the decision. A few weeks later I passed along the emails and related materials to several people who were in a position to share them with other media outlets. I subsequently learned that other people had the same information and were also contacting reporters. (By this point, my original source apparently had given up on getting the media to cover the story.)

    Among those who received information about the story but declined to pursue it were liberal outlets such as Talkingpointsmemo.com, Americablog.com, and The New Republic (The Hill, Roll Call, and Time magazine also had the Foley story, though I’m not certain when it came to their attention.) Ironically, it was ABC—which just weeks ago was being defended by Republicans and attacked by Democrats for airing The Path to 9/11—that finally ran the story. The network obtained the emails from a person who is scrupulously non-partisan.


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