Gaseousness in GQ

After making headlines last week with its excitable coverage of Bible verses decorating intelligence briefing cover sheets, GQ has published another story that mentions religion. This time, an 8,700-word profile of CNN’s Larry King touches only briefly, and with minimal understanding, on King’s marriage to Shawn Southwick, an actress, singer — and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Slate’s Jack Schaffer linked to the article as an example of King’s “twisted relationship with his personal history.”

Writer Chris Heath quickly runs into a common hazard in journalism: The repackaged anecdote, in which a person attributes direct quotations, of dubious worth, to somebody else:

King has yet to become one of those who belatedly embrace faith before the final tally is taken. “In fact,” he says, “the more I interviewed religious leaders, the less religious I became. Because they don’t have the answers I need. I don’t get the answer to why. Why is there a Holocaust? And the answer I get is: We do not question the ways of the Lord. A lot of it — I tend to agree with Bill Maher — is superstitious. It’s a nice thing to have. There are times I wish I had it. Like, I wish I were going somewhere when I die. Billy Graham used to tell me, ‘You’re very spiritual, and you are going somewhere — don’t question that.’ So I hope he’s right.”

Graham, for one, has wrestled with the problem of evil in his book Hope for the Troubled Heart and in a sermon at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance after the terror strikes of 9/11. His answers may not satisfy, but they surpass “We do not question the ways of the Lord.”

Heath has some fun depicting King’s lack of enthusiasm about Provo, Utah, which he has visited with his wife:

“It’d still be better than being dead,” King answers, but then he pauses, as though this is one reply he has carelessly blurted out loud without giving it the full consideration it requires. He now rocks his hand in equivocation, reweighing the delicately balanced alternatives before him: eternal nothingness … Provo … eternal nothingness … Provo … eternal nothingness … Provo … eternal nothingness … Provo.

Tough call. Eventually, he concludes that his first answer was probably the correct one — “I’d rather be in Provo” — though he leaves the impression that Utah may only have prevailed by the slenderest of margins. And that a recount is never out of the question.

Take note, though, of Heath’s facile summary of the Latter-day Saints’ teaching about the afterlife, which he reduces to “he will come back”:

His wife, who is a country singer, hates this idea. As a Mormon, she devoutly believes he will come back, and he knows that as an unbeliever he will be retroactively baptized by her church in death. “Strange to me,” he says. “I’ll die, and at my funeral they’ll baptize me. And I’m Jewish.”

One thing certainly can be said about the Saints’ theology of the afterlife: It is detailed. Reducing it to “he will come back” might be understandable in a 750-word story, but in a piece that goes on at length about whether King has a problem with flatulence, LDS thinking deserves more than this.

And hey, Pope Benedict XVI, King the philosopher is calling you out:

He and his wife used to argue about such things, but he says he has now learned to stay away from it. “You can’t argue religion,” he says. “It’s impossible. And I know I’m a good interviewer, so I could take anyone in that family. I could take the pope. Put him in a corner and he has no answer. He has no answer. But he has something I don’t have — belief.”

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  • Dan Crawford

    It’s always a delight to see such media attention paid to the world’s most famous suspendered philosopher. I wait with bated breath for Larry’s interview with the former Cardinal Ratizinger. We may learn more about the Pope’s favorite beer and alpine hiking trails.

  • Martha

    Dan, on the gripping question of “What is the Pope’s favourite beer?”, the heavy journalistic lifting may already have been done:

    “From the New York Times April 24, 2005:

    The new pope is not, however, a teetotaler: Cardinal Bertone said he occasionally allows himself a glass of “excellent” wine from Piedmont. Manuela Macher, co-owner of the Cantina Tirolese, a Bavarian restaurant near the Vatican where he is a regular, said he also liked an occasional German beer, Franziskaner Weissbier. Which raises a question: Does he order the large size or the small?”

    Of course, that was when he was still a Cardinal, so Larry may indeed have a potential scoop on his hands – has the Pope changed his tipple? (Rumour says that these days, he’s sticking to the Fanta).

  • Mike Hickerson

    Regarding Billy Graham, has transcripts of Larry King’s 24 interviews with Billy Graham – here’s the last one, from 2005. King and Graham discuss dying, heaven, and hell fairly extensively, but nothing at all like King’s anecdote above. I would think it wouldn’t have taken too much research to find out if Graham ever really did say anything like that to King.

  • Stephen A.

    I, too, am curious about this quote about Graham, and frankly, King’s quote about religion, but I wouldn’t be shocked by it if either are completely true, even though I question how they are cited.

    If it’s true that he said, “the more I interviewed religious leaders, the less religious I became,” I wonder what that does to his credibility as an interviewer? I mean, if I’m a religious figure, do I want to put myself in the hands of an interviewer who’s that biased against religion (I know, I know – “how RARE that is in media!”)

    I suspect the next religious person to be interviewed (not the “The Secret” crowd or Joel Osteen but a Graham or a true fundie) will mention it outright, and see it as a challenge.

    The personal expressions of bias from reporters, expressed off camera or “off the record” can, of course, come back to bite them, and does impact credibility. When did it become vogue for reporters to take sides on all things?

  • Mike Hickerson

    Stephen A.,
    King’s comment also reveals a common problem, not just in media coverage of religion but in the approach of many Americans: referring to “religion” as if it were one big monolith. If I were being interviewed by King, any bias would not concern me (everyone is biased in some direction) so much as his apparent inability to hear distinctions between different ideas. His coarse summary of responses to the Holocaust is another example. Oh, how I miss Tim Russert!

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    Larry, I think it’s about time you interviewed your wife! How can a man who is married to a faithful Latter-day Saint be so astonishingly ignorant about the LDS practice of baptism for the dead?

    To begin with, there is no way she can “baptize you” at your funeral. In fact, she can *never* “baptize you.” The most she can do, as your closest surviving relative, will be to ask a male relative to be baptized in the Temple for and in your behalf, and she can do this no sooner than one year after your death.

    If death happens to extinguish the spirit and there is no resurrection, then you have nothing to fear. But if the Latter-day Saint view of the afterlife is correct, you will always retain your moral agency: neither your wife nor God can ever force baptism on you.

    It’s like your wife writing you a check: you have to endorse it to cash it. The check will not expire until the judgment day, and until you endorse it, it’s just a piece of paper.


  • Pingback: Larry King resigned to being baptized after he’s dead and on Provo | A Soft Answer

  • john dahl

    is he, does he, do any of you really consider LK a good interviewer? BW has “improved” but neither are really good at it. soft soap. silly stuff.
    i must be wrong, since no one else mentioned the elephant in the living room – he is not a good interviewer.

  • John Mark

    John Dahl,
    I think this was mentioned all over the place in the above comments.