The press goes around

corky2Hundreds of reporters have written about Bristol Palin’s unborn child. Yet few have examined the other unusual child in the Family Palin: Trig, the 4-month-old boy who has Down syndrome.

Yesterday the New York Times and Los Angeles Times wrote about the child and the issues he raises. So how did the papers cover the story in terms of religion?

Well, the two papers did not do much. They avoided one obvious storyline: why exactly the Palins decided not to abort the pregnancy given that so many couples in their situation make the opposite choice. As Andrea Useem points out, this narrative is filled with religious possibility. Certainly New York Times editor Bill Keller and his wife struggled with the issue of religion when they decided to have doctors terminate their unborn son Charlie, who was likely to be a special-needs child.

This post won’t fault the reporters for avoiding the religious angle; I mean only to point out this fact. In any event, Keller’s paper published an otherwise well-done story about Trig. Reporters Jodie Kantor, Katie Zernike, and Catrin Einhorn presented subjective reality well, giving readers the religious point of view of the Palin’s:

Later that day, Ms. Palin sent an e-mail message to her relatives and close friends about her new son, Ms. Bruce said. She signed it, “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”

“Many people will express sympathy, but you don’t want or need that, because Trig will be a joy,” Ms. Palin wrote. She added, “Children are the most precious and promising ingredient in this mixed-up world you live in down there on Earth. Trig is no different, except he has one extra chromosome.”

The only other reference to religion in the stories was incomplete. Dan Morain of The Los Angeles Times wrote about the politics and policy of special-needs children as they relate to the Palin’s. His only reference to religion was in the following paragraph:

Palin was aware her child would be born with Down syndrome but did not abort the pregnancy. That decision has endeared her to evangelicals who oppose abortion,


It is true that
most Americans support legal abortion in cases of fetal abnormality, a crude term which likely covers Down Syndrome children. Yet it is also true that evangelicals are not the only religious folks, or secular folks for that matter, who cheered Palin’s decision. For example, Catholic leaders too embraced Palin’s choice.

I can’t say that the three stories did not get religion; only that they avoided the possibility of doing so or did so in glancing fashion.

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  • Brian Walden

    Palin was aware her child would be born with Down syndrome but did not abort the pregnancy.

    This is more about language than strictly reporting. I find it sad that in our culture the two phrases in the above sentence are separated by “but” rather than “and.”

  • Brian

    I actually assumed that she was Catholic when the stories of her son first broke several months ago, because it’s always been my impression that the overwhelming majority of Downs syndrome children are born to Catholic parents. Perhaps I’m wrong? I also recall reading that couples who have extreme “special needs” children have MUCH higher divorce rates than average, with the major exception of Downs syndrome parents. FWIW.

  • DJY

    Brian,

    Your final comment, if it is indeed as you recall, would make for a very interesting study. In a chicken/egg sort of fashion, I would be very interested to know if having a Downs baby is less likely to lead to divorce or if those who would make the decision to not abort a Downs baby were less likely to divorce. Of course, the role of religion in such a story would likely be prominent.

  • Margaret

    I really like this statement from Mrs. Palin cited in Keller’s article:

    She assured them she would not take much time off: she had returned to work the day after giving birth to Piper. “To any critics who say a woman can’t think and work and carry a baby at the same time,” she said, “I’d just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave.”
    End quote.
    This is so true! Americans know this in their hearts and I think we’re ready to vote this mentality into office. I was also really happy to read that she has her children around her while doing business, I’m sure she can make the call of whether a meeting needs to be had sans young people.

  • Margaret

    Sorry, that’s not Keller’s article, it is the recent article published by the NY Times Reporters Jodie Kantor, Katie Zernike, and Catrin Einhorn

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    This thread is going in the wrong direction. Confine your comments to my post, please. Future posts off topic will be deleted.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I’m glad you mentioned Catholic leaders also embraced Palin’s decision in your post. The MSM seems to be almost totally ignoring the passionate pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church and those Catholics who strongly believe in and uphold those teachings as the issue swirls about.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Thank you, Deacon Bresnahan.

  • Dave

    I can’t say that the three stories did not get religion; only that they avoided the possibility of doing so or did so in glancing fashion.

    Let me encourage you (and Mollie) to hew to this modest standard for not getting religion.

  • Carl

    She signed it, “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”

    Am I the only one who noticed that that is, technically speaking, blasphemy? I’m surprised that hasn’t gotten any media attention.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Julana and Jerry,

    I needed to spike your comments. Please see my comment above (#6).

    Mark

  • Brian Walden

    Carl, I don’t see how it’s blasphemy? What are you using as your definition of blasphemy?

    It seems to me that she wasn’t attempting to fool her relatives into thinking that they were literally receiving an email from God or that she was trying to mock God. My interpretation was that she used an email in the form of a letter from God as a figurative device. Unless there’s more evidence I don’t see anything that suggests she intended to commit blasphemy.

  • Jerry

    Mark,

    I think you were really REALLY off base to delete our comments because your post is specifically about how Trig and special needs children are being handled in the media. Our posts were about one exemplary way one person in the media handled this issue. So I don’t understand why you thought our comments specifically to that point were not appropriate.

  • Julana

    I don’t understand the deletion, either.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Jerry,

    You are the last person whose reply I want to delete. I thought that your comment with Sullivan’s response a) did not address my post and b) would ignite a debate in the thread about treating special-needs kids rather than the coverage of special-needs kids.

    Julana,

    My concern is that your reply did not address my post.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Is the entire e-mail from Mrs. Palin around somewhere? I have a hunch it is very evangelical.

  • Jerry

    Mark, thanks for the kind reply. I probably did not make my point well enough. Specifically, what I had in mind was this:

    Yet it is also true that evangelicals are not the only religious folks, or secular folks for that matter, who cheered Palin’s decision. For example, Catholic leaders too embraced Palin’s choice.

    Sullivan was one example of those who cheered Palin’s decision and the approving way he did it was I think worth noting. I really wish more people could say, in effect, “I admire your integrity and commitment to your ideals (religious ones in this case) even though I disagree with you politically”. His piece was a breath of fresh air in the current political miasma.

    (Did I do a better job this time?:-)

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    You are one of the pros — perhaps the pro — of the comments section, so you hardly need my approval. But yes, comment #17 makes sense to me.

  • Julana

    I thought Jerry’s explication was implicit in the reference.

  • Grupetti

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:
    “I’m glad you mentioned Catholic leaders…The MSM seems to be almost totally ignoring the passionate pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church and those Catholics…”

    Mark Stricherz says:
    “Thank you, Deacon Bresnahan.”

    Palin is not Catholic, in case you hadn’t noticed. Are you going to ask why the Hindu or Islamic view is ignored? Once again, the GetReligion bias is terribly obvious. It’s obvious that you approve of Deacon John’s comment because you agree with him, not because it’s a valid critique of journalism.

    I’m guessing whatever conservative interests it is that funds GetReligion is getting their money’s worth.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Grupetti,

    But isn’t the Catholic vote — statistically speaking — the real story in this election? Hindu and Muslim voters, as a group, just aren’t as electorally important.

    It makes sense to focus on a group that comprises so much of the population and electorate — particularly when, as John Green of the Pew Forum keeps saying, they are a significant group up for grabs in this election.

  • Grupetti

    Oh, come on! The story is about Palin. After extensive research, I’ve concluded that about 87.3% of the electorate belongs to a critical swing vote group. Catholics should be included – along with everybody else.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mark Stricherz

    Grupetti writes,

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:
    “I’m glad you mentioned Catholic leaders. . .The MSM seems to be almost totally ignoring the passionate pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church and those Catholics. . .”

    Mark Stricherz says:
    “Thank you, Deacon Bresnahan.”

    Palin is not Catholic, in case you hadn’t noticed. Are you going to ask why the Hindu or Islamic view is ignored? Once again, the GetReligion bias is terribly obvious. It’s obvious that you approve of Deacon John’s comment because you agree with him, not because it’s a valid critique of journalism.

    I’m guessing whatever conservative interests it is that funds GetReligion is getting their money’s worth.

    I thanked Deacon John partly because I had spiked one of his comments last week and partly because he is one of our most faithful correspondents. Your statement that I thanked him for ideological or religious reasons is invalid.

  • Grupetti

    Mark Stricherz says:
    “I thanked Deacon John partly because I had spiked one of his comments last week…”

    Do you understand how silly this sounds? Are you afraid of hurting his feelings? It sounds like you’re dealing with a disobedient child.

    Sorry Mark, I’ll believe you when more of his comments are spiked. He is a faithful partisan. Your answer is unsatisfactory but not unexpected. I’m getting really tired of this, and I’m not giving up any time soon. GetReligion continues to be very, very biased. I hope others like Jerry and Julana speak out more boldly.


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