Paranoid much? (updated)

criticismThe Newsweek feedback blog notes the Human Rights Campaign has launched an email campaign to thank editor John Meacham for his overall coverage of the same-sex marriage issue:

Yet another deluge . . .

And this time, it’s from the other side! I’ve been yakking on about how many e-mails and letters NEWSWEEK has received in response to our cover story this week. Many came from the American Family Association, which started an e-mail campaign directed at our CEO.

Now, after hearing about the landslide from Lisa Miller herself, the Human Rights Campaign has organized their own stock e-mail that you can send along to our Editor, Jon Meacham (though, trust me, I know he’s well aware of the situation). Anyway, check out this page to read about their campaign in response to our cover (oh, how meta!) and if you want to hear the author of the story talking about the feedback we’ve received, there’s a short audio file they’ve included with Lisa Miller.

Newsweek has got to be happy that, well, people are talking about Newsweek again! It’s interesting to note that Newsweek links to the Human Rights Campaign e-mail campaign but didn’t link to the American Family Association e-mail campaign in either this post or a previous one that mentioned it.

For that matter, as Terry noted yesterday, blogs are unable to link directly to the “Readback” post dealing with the flood of critical emails (to find it you can go here and then scroll down to the post “Readers, Religion & Gay Marriage”) but you can link directly to the post dealing with the Human Rights Campaign campaign.

Why is it easy to link to one and not the other? Why is the HRC campaign linked to but not the American Family Association? I have absolutely no idea what provoked the inconsistency in these editorial decisions.

But I was intrigued that Lisa Miller spoke with the Human Rights Campaign. She is certainly welcome to talk to us here at GetReligion about her journalistic choices and I extend that invitation now.

You can listen to the brief interview here. She basically says that the outcome of Proposition 8 took everyone by surprise, that the aftermath was volatile and vocal, that Newsweek did series of stories before and after and wanted to stay on this important issue. The interviewer notes that editor Jon Meacham basically said to let the emails of opposition come. Miller says:

Oh they’ve come. We have gotten bombarded with critical emails.There was an e-mail campaign launched earlier this week. Our publisher got something like 20,000 emails the first day. It’s been really crazy.

You’ve seen the blogs. You’ve seen . . . the religious right is very organized. There is not an outlet on the Christian right that hasn’t blogged against me, Newsweek, the editors of the magazine.

Um, the idea that you would have to organize to notice the cover story of a major national news magazine that misrepresents the political and religious views of a majority of Americans is odd, no? And why the name-calling?

It is tremendously difficult to operate in the public square and anyone who writes receives criticism time to time. Certainly the profound disappointment expressed toward Miller is unique but when criticism comes, it’s always a good idea to reflect on whether you should have done something differently. Maybe you end up deciding that you did everything correctly. Maybe you learn how to handle things better in the future. But to respond to such a clear outcry from a wide variety of religious believers, secular proponents of traditional marriage, and journalism advocates by labeling it an organized campaign of the “Christian Right” shows a sad lack of introspection that is unbecoming in a religion editor. An emotive defensiveness is not called for in a situation like this.

I’ve written extensively on this topic and I was alerted to this article by precisely one person: a fellow journalist. I told precisely one person: my husband. Perhaps it would make Miller feel better to think some conspiratorial commission handed out assignments to attack her work, but such a view is paranoid.

I’m sure Miller had the best of intentions with her piece. Unfortunately, those intentions didn’t translate to quality journalism. Hopefully in a few weeks time she will be able to reflect on her mistakes and how she can improve for the future.

UPDATE: I asked Newsweek Readback administrator Kurt Soller about the discrepancy in linking to the various e-mail campaigns. While it is true that Newsweek didn’t link to the American Family Association’s e-mail campaign in either the post mentioned above or a previous one related to religious objections to the cover, he did link to the campaign when he first mentioned it. I’m sorry I didn’t notice that.

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  • Martha

    Sorry, did I get that right?

    “Newsweek” is giving a link to a form letter that you can send to “Newsweek”, telling them how brave and wonderful they are?

    Ah, heck, guys: why not just write those letters and e-mails yourselves?

  • Bethany

    wow, this blog criticized Miller for having a mean tone, but this post has nothing on her rhetorical questions. Give her a break. I wish this blog would be a bit less defensive about the gay marriage issue. There are a lot of religious people who are pro-gay rights, and who make similar arguments to Millers, and you don’t seem to “get” them either.

  • NW Ohio former Anglican

    Bethany, it’s largely because “lots of religious people” make the same arrogant assumptions that Miller did.

    I’ve done a line-by-line analysis of “To Set Our Hope on Christ,” the risibly shallow defense of gay marriage published by the Episcopal Church. My conclusion is the same as Mollie’s: ridiculous distortions of the opposing viewpoint and a failure to have the courage to follow one’s premises to their logical conclusion.

  • tmatt


    You are missing the point.

    What we are seeking is a journalistic presentation — accurate — of the views and beliefs of people on both sides. That’s the goal.

    It’s called JOURNALISM.

  • Stephen A.

    Let me get this, um, straight. The author of the piece – supposedly a “reporter” – gives a friendly, gushing interview to an advocacy organization, and works for a mag which (as noted above) posts a link to that group’s helpful email blast form, so it can boost the editorial view of that magazine’s articles via gushing emails? Wha?

    I know that when conservatives in the media give lectures to conservative groups, they’re “outed” on left-wing blogs, and in mags like Newsweek, “exposing” their “hidden agendas.”

    But nothing’s hidden here, folks. She and her editor are engaged in plain old advocacy journalism, masquerading as “news.”

    Bottom line here: The question really isn’t whether her interpretation of scripture is wrong or right, the question is what the heck kind of journalist is she – or is she simply a commentator, who should be labeled as such in the magazine?

    I find the magazine and the commentator both ethically challenged in that respect.

    I like how Miller, in the audio sample, calls the Christian Right’s email campaign “crazy.” On the other hand, the gay group has every right to create an email campaign, too. They just don’t have to have “inside help” from the very magazine they’re targeting to do it. That’s what’s “crazy.”

  • Mollie

    I don’t quite know what Bethany is saying in that first sentence but all of my posts about Ms. Miller have been about her journalism. While I have been analyzing the shoddy way in which opponents of same-sex marriage have been covered, I don’t care what her personal or political views are. I just don’t want them presented as mainstream journalism when they’re not.

    Many people from a wide variety of perspectives have criticized her journalism. She may not like the criticism, but she should not discount it as some conspiracy.

    It’s about the journalism.

  • Stoo

    So, honestly, how much of the outcry isn’t coming from the christian right? (Not that such a thing would in of itself mean the outcry is unjustified)

  • tmatt


    Read this please:

  • Mollie

    I don’t know if it’s even possible to quantify which groups are most upset since different people choose different outlets to express the outcry. Is it sermons or bulletins or blogs or canceled subscriptions or what?

    I have read a ton of criticism, but none from what Newsweek is derisively calling the “Christian Right.” Mostly Catholic but also Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. I’ve also read things written by supporters of same-sex marriage who thought her piece was bad. I have read a lot on journalism sites about the journalism of the piece.

    I am not terribly hip to “Christian Right” (?) outlets but I learned of the AFA’s opposition through Newsweek.

    I’m absolutely positive it makes the folks at Newsweek feel better about their little stunt if they discount the criticism as the work of one particular group that they think is unworthy of taking seriously. I worry that such a posture means they are not open to learning or seeking to improve.

  • Martha

    Stoo, are we here part of the “organised Christian right”?

    I’m not even living in America, and I thought both the original “Newsweek” piece and the editorial follow-up were dreadful examples of what journalism should be.

    Certainly, I was not asked by anyone to write in to “Newsweek” and criticise them; I came to that conclusion all on my ownsome.

    I have seen on another blog that Lisa Miller was on the Laura Ingraham show (whoever Laura Ingraham might be, I have no idea) and that “At one point when asked by Laura Ingraham about St. Paul’s references to homosexuality, Lisa Miller replied that the same scripture also condemned drunkenness, adultery, and divorce.”

    I don’t know if that’s correct or not; could someone who heard the interview enlighten me as to whether Lisa Miller did indeed say making a habit of drinking the rent money, being on first-name terms with the managers of every hot-sheets motel in a five mile radius and being on your fifth marriage were all examples of normal human behaviour that only spoilsports like St. Paul could possibly disapprove of?

  • Martha

    And yes, before anyone feels constrained to point out that Lisa Miller probably never said anything that I suggested (though with this lady, you never know…) – it was exaggeration, all right?

    Though I did think drunkeness and adultery were generally agreed to be not-so-good behaviours, even if you didn’t accept the religious prohibitions? Wow, that St. Paul didn’t want anyone to have any fun, did he?

  • FW Ken

    Frankly, until the past few days, I haven’t thought about Newsweek in my entire adult life, except when I encounter a copy at the doctor, dentist, or vet.

    When I was a kid, we had a piece of furniture (a “magazine rack”) specifically to hold Life, Look, Time and so on. I don’t remember Newsweek, but it might have been there, as well. Except for the photo essays, which don’t play as well on the internet, I don’t miss those journals. I take First Things and that’s it. There’s a special joy in laying on the couch reading political and theology commentary that’s challenging and, honestly, a bit over my head. The pablum in Time I can get online if I want it.

    As a rule, I get the headlines on television and occasionally the local paper, then research things I consider important online for depth. You can argue that the 24 hour cable news channels go for depth, but CNN and Fox are slanted and often just a cacophony of partisans screaming the talking points du jour.

    I do acknowledge Prof. Mattingly’s concerns about real journalism that’s needed to produce the basic reporting, but expect the arrogance of mags like Newsweek (and the 24 hours news channels as well) will finally sort out what lives and dies according to the mores of our culture. Journalism is a profession enabled by business processes. As I said on another thread: arrogance kills a business, even when it does reflect the society. Lisa Miller’s article served the political purposes of a certain faction, so they are rallying to her defense. But that’s about politics, not journalism.

    At least we haven’t heard about “death threats”. Anyone want to start a pool on when that allegation will be made?

  • Chris Bolinger

    I’m sure Miller had the best of intentions with her piece.

    That’s being generous, considering the confrontational stance that she and her editor have taken with respect to people whose viewpoints she chose to belittle, oversimplify, and misrepresent.

    Hopefully in a few weeks time she will be able to reflect on her mistakes and how she can improve for the future.

    Yes, and hopefully in a few weeks time I’ll win the lottery, even though I don’t play.

  • The Ironic Catholic

    Miller: “You’ve seen . . . the religious right is very organized.”

    Hmmm. It’s called organized religion for a reason, you know.

  • Stoo

    Martha, lots of commenters here seem christian right to me, yes. And getreligion itself appears skewed that way too. (okay tmatt says he once voted democrat, but from where i’m sat that’s not mutually exclusive with right wing.) How organised you are, i dunno. :p

  • Dale

    Martha, lots of commenters here seem christian right to me, yes.

    So what qualifies someone as “christian right”, Stoo?

  • hoosier

    “So what qualifies someone as “christian right””

    Oh, I don’t know, opposition to gay marriage, for starters. Hows that? And please, what secular opposition is there to gay marriage? Honestly, I’d like to know, I’ve never heard any. Though Mollie, I’m glad you keep the tone at least a little civil, refering to the magazine as Newsweek, not nonNewsweek, as your pal tmatt did. And you refrained from calling anyone stupid. Keep up the good work.

  • Chris

    “Christian Right” and “Christian Left” seem to be political designations, based on a given stance on the particular political issue of the moment. I suspect that the groups are not as monolithic as they are portrayed, and that any individual Christian can move between the two political positions depending on the issue in question. Such movement would be based on the doctrine of his/her individual denomination and conscience. (Capital punishment and abortion would be examples where assigning a believer to one or the other group, based on his/her position on only one of the issues would probably be inaccurate.)

    From a practical point of view, trying to convince such a Christian to change his/her mind on a particular issue would require insight into doctrine. The article in Newsweek fails to acknowledge that Christians have orderly doctrines about marriage within their denominations, and those denominations are not “Right” and “Left”.

  • Arne


    There is a way to keep nudging Newsweek to remember the very core issue here: their flawed journalism. Having been a journalist and editor for more than 35 years in mainstream, large print media I have used the last half hour to write back on the site with slightly different comments to stories under politics, health, news, etc – but all with a very similar core (journalistic) question:
    How can I know for sure that Newsweek this time has presented an accurate, honest and balanced work of journalism and not just an ‘article’ filled with one-sided, very disputable ‘opinions’ a la staff writer Lisa Miller’s cover story in Newsweek?

  • Stoo

    So what qualifies someone as “christian right”, Stoo?

    Being christian and conservative right, i think. :p

    I agree it’s not always a homgenous monolothic block, as chris says. But reading around the web people seem to fall into categories pretty easily.

    to echo hoosier, I’d love to know about this secular opposition to gay marriage.

  • Stephen A.

    Stoo, here’s one example -

    Good luck finding a lot of mainstream coverage of any such opposition by gays. 1) I’m sure few would speak out, 2) it’s not “PC” to do so, and 3) would likely (based on the post-Prop 8 anger) be met with violence and retribution by the extremist gay movement.

  • Dave2

    Stephen A.,

    I’m pretty sure your proposed example is not actually an example:

    Don’t get me wrong. I completely support giving gay men and lesbians the right to partake of civil marriage, and the basic economic benefits that come with it, simply as a matter of equality under the law. Within a generation most states will likely follow Massachusetts’ bold lead and insure marriage equality for all couples. It’s a no-brainer: states that don’t allow gay men and lesbians access to the legal status given to heterosexuals blatantly discriminate.

    This guy isn’t against legally recognized same-sex marriage. He just thinks marriage is overrated.

  • Dave2

    Regarding drunkenness, adultery, and divorce, we might all agree that these are bad things (though lots of divorces are no doubt very good things, and lots of drunks do just fine). But, on these topics, I certainly don’t want the government saying anything pro or con, like that monogamous teetotaling is superior to drunken debauchery, because it’s not the government’s business to rank the peaceful ways of life of its citizens. Not unrelatedly, of course, even if I thought that heterosexual relationships were superior to homosexual relationships, I certainly wouldn’t want the government saying that.

    It’s the old perilous journey starting with “X is immoral” and somehow ending up with “we’ve got to make sure the government officially says that X is immoral, by prohibiting X or stigmatizing X as inferior”. To me, this big gap is of absolutely undeniable importance, perhaps it’s what’s behind Miller’s response on drunkenness, etc., and yet I almost never see it mentioned, much less discussed.

  • Will

    After over 20 years of involvement in ecclesiastical affairs, I keep wondering where to find this “organized religion” I keep hearing about.

    Next you’ll start talking about “organized government”.

    And anyone who opposes the issue-of-the-week is by definition “the Christian right” (like the “rightists” who complained about AMFAR’s “PRAYER WON’T CURE AIDS” posters), because there is obviously no other reason than religious bigotry for disagreeing with the Enlightened.

  • C. Wingate

    THose gluttons for punishment at Post-Newsweek decided they hadn’t gotten enough abuse over this, and put Miller’s essay in the Wash. Post Saturday religion pages, along with the four bits from the theologians.

  • Daniel

    The current cover story in Time is a journalistic essay that concludes that the taxpayers need to help out the Big Three auto manufacturers.

    The story is a little better reported than Lisa Miller’s. But the Time reporter didn’t talk with very many, if any, critics of the bailout plan(s).

    Bill Saporito, the Time reporter, concludes: “So the citizens and the pols are irked to have to throw the same companies a lifeline, even though they probably should do it for the good of the economy.”

    Though this article is outside the blog’s purview, I wonder if Mollie and Tmatt would object to the journalistic quality of Time’s piece? Should it have been more balanced? Should reporters at newsweeklies avoid reaching conclusions? Is this form of journalism illegitimate?

    It does make me wonder if the standards at the Big Three newsweeklies have changed all that much in the past few years, pace Waldman.

  • Mollie

    Because my background is in economics and not journalism — or religion — I sometimes dream of starting a blog called GetEconomics.

    But beyond the specific topic, I’m just not that interested in what journalists personally think, believe or hope on any given topic.

    The TIME reporter is probably the last person I would take instruction from on whether taxpayers “need to help out” auto manufacturers.

    If I want advocacy pieces, I prefer to go to places where advocacy pieces are better composed and argued. I prefer partisan or opinion media for that. TIME and NEWSWEEK, et. al., not so much.

    Also, I just have to say that I’m a huge fan of American-style reporting. I really think it’s a great art to call people up and pound the pavement and dig for details and search for answers. The revelation of information is a powerful thing. I love opinions, too, but journalists have a comparative advantage that is really wonderful. I am not opposed to mixing reportage with other feature stories or styles of writing or multi-media presentations and what not. But I feel like we have this crisis of confidence about that thing that we really do best — reporting.

    People really do value reportage. The blogosphere is actually proof of that, not a repudiation, in my view. Much of the blogosphere would be nothing and have no value if not for the original reporting provided by the mainstream media.