Calling out GetReligion

sarahandtrigThank you to the GetReligion readers who let us know that we had been called out, so to speak, over at the Spiritual Politics weblog at the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College.

Now, that last reference is a mouthful, but all you really need to know is that this election 2008 project is linked to the work of scholar and journalist Mark Silk and the team that produces the Religion in the News journal. Click here see what I’m talking about. Trust me. It pays to pay attention to what they’re up to (and I’ve been meaning to comment on an essay in their most recent issue for some time now and I will do so sooner rather than later).

Silk has a piece up right now that makes a very valid point. It seems, at the moment, that the details about Gov. Sarah Palin’s faith are getting muddier rather than clearer as the press continues to throw lots of ink in that direction. Palin has gone from Assemblies of God (kind of) to nondenominational evangelical to, well, what?

Fast forward to now. Palin tells Katie Couric she’s not a member of any church, a position she reiterates in the following exchange on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show yesterday:

HH: Do you think the mainstream media and the left understands your religious faith, Governor Palin?

SP: I think that there’s a lot of mocking of my personal faith, and my personal faith is very, very simple. I don’t belong to any church. I do have a strong belief in God, and I believe that I’m a heck of a lot better off putting my life in God’s hands, and saying hey, you know, guide me. What else do we have but guidance that we would seek from a Creator? That’s about as simple as it gets with my faith, and I think that there is a lot of mocking of that. And you know, so bet it, though I do have respect for those who have differing views than I do on faith, on religion. I’m not going to mock them, and I would hope that they would kind of I guess give me the same courtesy through this of not mocking a person’s faith, but maybe perhaps even trying to understand a little bit of it.

Clearly, the key word in all of that is “mock.”

Personally, I read that Palin passage and I hear her saying that she is not a member of any particular denomination. That’s a very ordinary thing for post-denominational evangelical-charismatic-whatever people to say. The facts, right now, suggest that the Palin family is attending several churches of vague denominational identify. They are church-hopping in two cities.

Silk also has doubts about all that “mocking” language.

… (It’s) nonsense to claim that she has been mocked for “putting my life in God’s hands.” Mockery there’s been, some of it based on ignorance and anti-evangelical prejudice, but it has had to do with specific beliefs and practices that Palin is now disavowing, such as … making a place for teaching creationism in the public schools. Simple avowals of trust in God do not elicit mockery in American culture, beyond the small world of Christopher Hitchens and company. Personally, I’d like to see Palin bearing true witness to her faith, and to see some of her blogospheric defenders — yo, Getreligionistas! — acknowledge that she isn’t.

So Silk says there has been a bit of mockery (Can I hear an “Amen”), but thinks that some of that edgy coverage is linked to issues that deserve strong coverage. Amen.

Meanwhile, let me say that your GetReligionistas have not been defending Palin as much as we have been challenging the accuracy of some of the coverage of her faith, especially the nasty editing of that God’s will in Iraq quote by the AP, ABC News, Howard Kurtz, et al. I didn’t need to underline that again, did I?

June6 2005MMMWe also have argued that Palin’s public actions are more important than what some people have said about her personal beliefs, information often delivered in second- and third-hand quotes that would draw howls if the same journalistic standards were applied to Sen. Barack Obama by right-wing media (and the howls would be valid). We have also called — with echoes of the AP Stylebook and that New York Times self study — for more careful and accurate use of words like “fundamentalist,” “evangelical,” “Pentecostal,” etc.

So I wrote Silk:

I do not believe that calling for accurate coverage of her beliefs and quotations represents any strange stance on journalism. As for the material you quote from these interviews, and how she is wording her current church status, it all looks like valid material to cover. Now do the same for Biden and for another politician who currently, after attacks, has no church home — Obama.

What a year.

He replied:

I don’t believe so either, Terry. Obama has said he’ll church shop after the election. Biden has one, although some of his co-religionists might wish he didn’t. What a year indeed.

So there you go. Journalism problems require journalism solutions. No mocking. Careful reporting. A careful use of loaded labels.

Be careful out there, folks.

Print Friendly

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.

  • Dave

    I have a theory as to why Palin drives feminists nutz. It’s not her conservatism or her pro-life posture. It the affectation she sometimes uses of seeming a bit simple in order to make a point or get under her listeners’ defenses.

    “Aw, shucks, I’m just a simple country boy” is a posture with a long pedigree among male politicians from non-urban venues. But feminists hate to see a woman, particularly a powerful woman, shading her intelligence. That has an entirely different and unfortunate pedigree among women.

    MSM journalists, being influenced by feminism, pick up on this without thinking it through.

  • tmatt

    My take: For a majority of people in major newsrooms, especially women, Palin is a heretic. And don’t forget those five children. She is, in New York City sidewalk slang, a “breeder.”

  • Mike Perry

    I suspect Sarah Palin drives feminist crazy because:

    * She’s been enormously successful without playing the victim, meaning she’s not a whiner like Hillary. Nothing irritates professional victim-mongers like genuine talent.

    * She’s got a large and still growing family that adores her.

    * She’s got a good-looking, supportive, and very masculine husband, one who has won one of the most grueling snow machine races in the world four times. Such men are virtually non-existent among liberals. Can you imagine Obama, Kerry, Gore, or Bill Clinton on a snow machine moving at 80 MPH down a primitive mountain trail? …

    And I wouldn’t downplay the abortion angle. The very weakness of feminist arguments for abortion, so weak it wasn’t even mentioned in geminal book of modern feminism, The Feminine Mystique, means it must be defended all the more shrilly. (“Argument weak, shout louder.”)

    There is a my Seattle neighborhood some sidewalk graffiti that shows Palin with green lipstick and the word “Abort” above it. That’s just how furious feminists are about her pro-life beliefs. They want her aborted by any means necessary. And the mainstream press is aiding and abetting their efforts.

  • Stan

    Interesting article:

    Amidst Her Dodging, Palin Contradicts the Republican Platform on Abortion

    October 1, 2008

  • AJ

    Simply, the predominately liberal leaning media does not like Sarah Palin’s religion. Her beliefs, which are her own, and do not fit the media’s social agenda. While I do not agree with her theology, that’s her business. At least that’s what the media told us about what Mr. Obama believes or doesn’t believe, when it came to his own faith discipline. Ms. Palin’s fault here is that she let the media bully her into trying to fit her beliefs into a popular mold. I can assure you that if Sarah Palin was a mainstream Epsicopalian the media would be singing her praises.

  • Brian Walden

    I have to go along with Tmatt’s “breeder” comment.

    She’s successful and powerful and at the same time the mother of a large family, which she sees as a blessing rather than a curse. Modern feminism has sold out to the idea that women must be like men to be equal. By embracing motherhood as the source of her feminity and still being able to run with the big boys in what’s arguably the manliest state in the nation, Palin is a threat to the past half century of the feminist movement.

    Religiously, Palin has tried to be as private about her beliefs as McCain – so private that the media would rather give National Geographic styled reports on the Church she was a member of 6 years ago than put the work in to find out what she actually believes. On abortion, Palin’s policies are no more pro-life than the GOP’s stated platform. Politically, I also don’t think she’s extremely conservative, she’s probably somewhere around the middle of her party in that regard. So the the only thing I see left is that she’s both a successful mother of a large family and a powerful politician. For some reason it drives feminists nuts – maybe because some of them regret being fooled into thinking they had to choose between motherhood and a career.

  • Dave

    Terry, if feminists hated Palin because she’s a “breeder” they’d hate Nancy Pelosi, too. They don’t. Pelosi has never shaded her intelligence. I stand by my theory.

  • Curious Presbyterian

    “let me say that your GetReligionistas have not been defending Palin”

    LOL. Yes you have.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Interesting that the MSM never found Nancy Pelosi’s family the hindrance to her coast-to-coast all-consuming representative career on her way to becoming the Speaker of the House. In fact, I never saw it mentioned anywhere that there might be a career-family conflict as she climbed the
    political ladder.
    Guess she just fit in with the good ol’ girls and boys on political issues (like abortion) so they didn’t need to go after her–and her children- with a hatchet.

  • Brian Walden

    Dave you make a very good point. On the other hand, if I remember correctly Palin started drawing flak as soon as she was announced as the VP candidate, before she even started making public speeches. I think you’re right that her speaking style has only fueled the fire. Pelosi is a little bit different from Palin in that she’s personally in favor of “breeding” but…

    Maybe it really is the combination of everything with Palin and there’s not one single issue to point to that puts her in the cross hairs.

  • tmatt


    I think our remarks are linked to journalism. Are you saying you do not see journalism errors in the post we have done on Palin?


    So you would say that the key issue is, in fact, abortion rights?

  • Will

    And if, as liberal columnists have claimed repeatedly, conservatives criticized HRC because they “hate and fear a strong woman”, why don’t they hate and fear Lady Thatcher? Or Jean Kirkpatrick? Or Condoleeza Rice?

  • Dave2

    Will wrote:

    And if, as liberal columnists have claimed repeatedly, conservatives criticized HRC because they “hate and fear a strong woman”, why don’t they hate and fear Lady Thatcher? Or Jean Kirkpatrick? Or Condoleeza Rice?

    Ha, I’ve used two of the same three examples in making the point that the hatred of Palin cannot be chalked up to indiscriminate hatred of any conservative woman in power.

  • tmatt


    And you are saying that media and cultural elites here would not scream bloody murder if Thatcher were running? Rice (even though she seems to be a liberal on cultural issues)?

    But, as you know, I think her moral and cultural views are the heart of most of the anger. She is not European.

  • Dave

    Terry asked:


    So you would say that the key issue is, in fact, abortion rights?

    Terry, I really have no idea how you got that out of my comments as to why feminists and feminist-influenced journalists can’t stand Palin.

    I think abortion rights are an important issue and, overarching that, I think the key issue in this campaign is what kind of Supreme Court appointments the next administration makes. Since the liberal Justices are also the oldest, a McCain administration — pursuant to promises McCain has already made — would give us a kind of Supreme Court lineup we haven’t seen since the 1930s. We could get a Robert Borkoid court that rolled back not only abortion rights but contraception rights.

    But that’s my personal political opinion. *None* of that leaked into my comments on Palin and journalists.