Praying away Uganda’s anti-gay bill

I attended my seventh National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, so it’s been fun to read journalists’ interpretation of the snake handling going on there.

Just kidding. Most of the coverage I’ve seen seems focused on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address, including their expressed concern over Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill. Here is a section of a Washington Post‘s report about that:

The prayer breakfast has been held in Washington for more than half a century, and every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has taken part. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had written a letter asking Obama to boycott the event, saying its sponsor, the Fellowship Foundation, is a “shadowy religious association” that preaches “an unconventional brand of Christianity.” It also said the group is linked to efforts by Uganda’s political leadership to pass anti-gay legislation, including the death penalty for HIV-infected people convicted of having sex with someone of the same gender.

And just like that, a reporter can quote allegations that have been made by an advocacy group and call it journalism. Why doesn’t Michael A. Fletcher do his own reporting to find out whether The Fellowship, which hosts the breakfast, is linked to the bill? I guess that would take more work than simply linking to the Huffington Post.

I’ve harped on this before, but The New York Times also seems adamant in their efforts to connect The Fellowship to the Ugandan legislation. The latest report from the usually excellent reporter Laurie Goodstein appears to indicate that she did not attempt to contact anyone in Uganda. Here are the sections of her report that try to make the connection between The Fellowship and the Ugandan legislation.

The objections are focused on the sponsor of the breakfast, a secretive evangelical Christian network called The Fellowship, also known as The Family, and accusations that it has ties to legislation in Uganda that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals. …

More recently, it became public that the Family also has close ties to the Ugandan politician who has sponsored the proposed anti-gay legislation. … Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a gay rights group, said he initiated the prayer-hour idea because many religious Americans who attend the breakfasts have no idea about the connection to the Family and the anti-gay legislation.

It seems odd that an international newspaper would not try to go to the source of the conflict. Has anyone attempted to talk to someone in Uganda about the alleged connection between the Ugandan legislation and The Fellowship?

Meanwhile, back to the prayer breakfast itself. There has been a little kerfuffle over Obama’s mispronunciation of corpsman. The bigger mistake, I think, was Obama’s mispronunciation of the name of Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I thought I was mishearing things, but I watched the C-SPAN video again and then listened to an NPR clip. Yep, DuBois’s name is pronounced Du-bwa. I don’t think journalists should play gotcha journalism, but he mispronounced someone’s name in his own administration.

As I was reading reports, I stumbled on the correction to The Caucus blog post at The New York Times. I don’t like to take glee in reporter’s mistakes, but GetReligion readers might find it particularly interesting.

An earlier version of this post quoted incorrectly from comments by President Obama, who referred to the Tower of Babel, not the “tower of babble.”

It’s an honest mistake, but perhaps it could be attributed to some biblical illiteracy at the Times.

Finally, aside from a brief mention, few of the reports noted that former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow gave the closing prayer. I’ve been getting e-mails about how CNN decided not to air Tebow’s prayer (subsequently not aired on C-SPAN), so maybe that has something to do with it. He didn’t give a pro-life plea, so sure, maybe it’s not that newsworthy. But why is the shoddy video I took on my cell phone getting more than 9,000 hits already?

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  • http://tsoab.blogspot.com Ariston

    Are you sure about the DuBois thing? I have never seen a reference for how Joshua DuBois prefers his name to be pronounced, but I can think of one famous DuBois who pronounced his name “Doo-Boyss”.

  • mishi

    I know it’s the purpose of your blog to nit-pick, but let’s get real. The Family is indeed “shadowy,” secretive, and self-protective, have a theocratic agenda, and have not had a good year. And-whatever the actual links with the legislation- they clearly are connected to the conversion of the President of Uganda. (Not to mention the connections between other U.S. evangelicals and the anti-gay mood in Uganda.) Up till now, most of us had no idea the Prayer Breakfast was not some quasi-governmental event, but was put together by a bunch of undercover theocrats whose adulterous doings are more reminiscent of the TV show Dynasty than of the kingdom of heaven.

    That’s the real story here, not the “biblical illiteracy” (hardy-har-har) of the Times.

  • Peter

    Is it true that your employer, Christianity Today, was the only media that was actually invited into the event–besides CSPAN–and that everyone else had to report from pool reports?

    The connection to the Family isn’t exactly some shadowy conspiracy theory. Jeff Sharlet has been talking about the connection for months and months, noting that the sponsor of the legislation is a member of the Family.

    You’ve talked to people in Uganda. Have you asked them about the connection with the Fellowship?

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    If anyone wants to actually hear from the Family/Fellowship they can hear the interview by Terry Gross. First hand. In their own words.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121755993

  • Peter

    I don’t think journalists should play gotcha journalism, but he mispronounced someone’s name in his own administration.

    Well, at least you aren’t playing gotcha journalism and focusing on things like how he pronounced words.

  • str

    But even if there is a link between that group and the Ugandan bill, the paper is wrong to misreport the latter with the words:

    “and accusations that it has ties to legislation in Uganda that calls for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals.”

    You yourself gave a summary of some problematic aspects of the bill (though I doubt there would be uproar if HIV-carriers were punished for hetereosexual intercourse) and in this context the NYT sentence can either mean:

    1. homosexuals are imprisoned and put to death for being homosexuals

    2. homosexuals are imprisoned and put to death when committing a crime punishable that way under the law

    Now, the first interpretation would be flat out wrong, as no “let’s lock up or kill all homosexuals” bill exists in Uganda (correct me if I am wrong), while the second would be a no-brainer: of course homosexuals are not exempt from laws (no matter how hard the NYT wants that).

    Now, sure one can think the quoted paragraph from that bill wrong, bad, evil, misguided, unjust or even “anti-gay”. But the wording used above doesn’t cut it.

  • str

    Ariston,

    That some or even many DuBois family members cannot pronounce their name properly, doesn’t allow the president to mispronounce it.

    Even if any DuBois had the right to decide how his family name is pronounced (and of course, the only proper way would be the French way), the presient (or anyone else) would still either have to ask that person beforehand or go with the commonly used proununciation.

  • str

    Some even think of the NYT as “shadowy”, “secretive”, “self-protective” and endowed with a certain “agenda”.

    I never knew that all these things were crimes in the U.S. (and then you complain about Uganda).

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I think Sarah may be caught in the Great Blizzardapocalypse2010 so I thought I’d respond to a few of the queries.

    1) Ariston, Sarah knows Josh, as do I, and we can both confirm that he pronounces his name as she indicated.

    2) Mishi, Whether or not people believe that “The Family” wrote or helped write that bill, they have vehemently and publicly denied it. Even the bill’s author admits that, although he doesn’t exactly like the way The Family has denounced him. Jeff Sharlet discusses his own take on the issue here: http://wthrockmorton.com/2010/02/05/ugandan-reaction-mixed-to-comments-from-obama-clinton/ Anyway, the bottom line is that you have to report the whole story, not take an advocate’s side.

    3) Peter, the breakfast — and the events surrounding the breakfast — are crawling with media. For reasons completely beyond my ability to understand, the breakfast is a very hot ticket in town. Still, it’s open to media.

  • Peter

    Sarah Posner disputes that, says only presidential pool is allowed in.

    http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=in_bad_faith

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I’m puzzled at C-Span cutting out Tebow’s closing prayer. My impression was that C-Span covers things from the first instance to the last gasp. And, after all, this was a prayer breakfast–so they censored out the closing prayer???? And said by someone currently controversial in the news makes it sdeem even stranger. I’m not surprised that CNN cut out prayer–isn’t their founder-Ted Turner–always berating religion.

  • Peter

    CSPAN appears to have stopped coverage once the president and vice president left, which makes sense.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    If the President mispronounced Joshua DuBois’ name, that seems like a big deal to me, considering Mark’s “Chicken soup” post and how DuBois has been portrayed as “Obama’s pastor-in-chief”, “Obama’s man of faith,” and, most recently, someone who writes daily devotionals for the President. I hope it was just a slip.

  • Suzanne

    str:

    Maybe you missed the discussion the last two times it’s come up on this blog, but the legislation proposes the death penalty for a number of crimes, including being a “serial offender” — i.e., being convicted multiple times of homosexual behavior.

    To many people, that is in fact sentencing people to death for being homosexual.

  • str

    Suzanne, I indeed missed out the previous two discussions and I am now reading up.

    However, the issue that you conveniently forget to adress is what crimes are punished that way. “Being a serial offender” is not a crime anywhere in the world, it is a condition leading to more severe punishment.

    You allege it’s “homosexual behaviour”, however back then GR stated that

    “The bill does not impose a death sentence for just any homosexual behavior; it is for those who have homosexual sex with minors, the disabled or while being HIV-positive”

    I don’t really approve of this but IF that is accurate, I can only comment that many people (those that you pointed to) have lost all proportion, rights and laws.

  • str

    Peter,

    why does it make sense to stop coverage once the president left.

    Is CSPAN now solely meant to aid the Obama groupies?

  • Jeff Sharlet

    I’ve talked with people in Uganda. Extensively. David Bahati, the MP who introduced the bill, describes himself as a “member of the Fellowship,” and secretary of its Ugandan parliamentary group. This is true, according to Bob Hunter, a longtime associate of the Family, and, according to Warren Throckmorton, empowered by Family leader Doug Coe to speak for the Family on Uganda issues (Bob has discussed his role in building that very deep relationship on Fresh Air, The Rachel Maddow Show — two appearances I helped arrange — and, with me, on Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa. He also gave me a three hour interview on the subject, which he and both recorded and have transcripts of.) Bahati is joined in the parliamentary group by one of the bill’s most prominent backers, Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo. Buturo spoke to my research assistant once to confirm that he was coming to the National Prayer Breakfast; but he didn’t. He is, however, chairman of the Ugandan Breakfast. The Family — or Fellowship, if you prefer, though their latest brochure calls them “The Family” — emphasizes that they are not an American group but an international fellowship. So when their international brothers take action, they’re linked to it. Many — not all — of the Americans have taken steps in opposition to the bill. I think that’s terrific and have said so in numerous interviews. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the links.

    As for the press pool, I can’t say beyond my own experience way back in 2003, when I had to go through the White House press office to attend. I was reporting for the Jewish Forward. I was denied. So I asked who else from the Jewish press would be at this great ecumenical event. Uh-oh! Call back in a few minutes — could I PLEASE come. I showed up the next day to find a reporter from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. So there was other Jewish press? Not exactly: he’d gotten a call from the White House that morning requesting his presence. He didn’t know what this was. Fortunately, he and I, alone amongst the herd of reporters, had a Prayer Breakfast handler assigned to us, to explained who Jesus is. We were shuffled along with the rest of the press pool, cordoned off from the event, not allowed to talk to anybody, and shuffled out. Perhaps Sarah, from Christianity Today, had a better experience?

    It’s worth noting, too, that the Breakfast is only the culmination of a week of events. No press invited to the African Breakfast, the International Luncheon, the suite meetings, etc. UNTIL THIS YEAR! Bob Hunter told me that in a step toward transparency, they invited evangelical blogger and activist Warren Throckmorton. I think highly of Warren — that’s a great choice, and a step toward transparency is a great thing. But I hope the press folks here at GR will be able to acknowledge that there’s a long way to go.

    As for my response on Warren’s sight, cited above by Mollie; if one cares about these things, you’ll want to hear my subsequent response to Bob Hunter’s MSNBC appearance, in which he made some inaccurate statements:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34783946

    And before you cry culture war, you should know that in the interest of absolute transparency, I broke custom and cleared both of these statements with Hunter before publishing them, and made changes he requested to insure factual accuracy.

  • Suzanne

    The fact remains that the bill could be interpreted to call for capital punishment for someone whose only crime was to to be caught having consensual, adult homosexual sex on more than one occasion.

    How you parse it — calling it a condition rather than an actual crime — doesn’t change that. And yes, I believe the mainstream of readers (those the “MSM” writes for) would consider that punishing someone for being homosexual.

    When GR has asserted that it only applied to sex with minors, disabled or HIV positive, that statement has been corrected by readers. Repeatedly.

    Beyond continuing to try to correct misinformation on that point, I do have a question for religion writers. It seems to me that at some point in this debate, it would be helpful to ask some of the main U.S. religious organizations that take a public stance against homosexual behavior if they believe that behavior should be criminalized.

    After all, it was only in 2003 that Lawrence vs. Texas overturned state laws criminalizing consensual homosexual acts. And at the time, some religious based groups such as the Family Research Council backed Texas in its argument that it should be able to prosecute such behavior.

    I think religious groups that seek to make or change laws regarding the rights of gays and lesbians should go on the record to say whether they believe consensual adult homosexual acts should be illegal, and if so, what penalty they should bring.

    Back to the Ugandan sitaution, asking this question certainly would help clear up confusion in the case of the three evangelicals at the heart of the Ugandan debate (at least one says he discussed the legislation with Ugandan officials while he was there). If they believe the death penalty “went too far,” what did they believe is far enough? Imprisonment?

  • Suzanne

    Just to clarify:

    I think GR and posters who defend the evangelicals make a good case when they say, “Nobody has proven that these guys bear responsibility for this legislation.”

    However, when they say: “It isn’t such a severe bill anyway and the MSM is wrong to report that it is,” I think they’re on pretty shaky ground.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks for the discussion. I’m a bit stuck under some snow without great wifi, so I’m catching up.

    Ariston, I wrote a profile of DuBois and then listened to NPR clips of interviewers talking to him so I’m 99% sure, unless he changed it recently.

    mishi, if you’re going to engage in this conversation, please provide links and such instead of things you think are going on.

    Peter, I went to the breakfast with a ticket, as did someone from World magazine. Politico has done the same thing when Sarah Palin doesn’t invite media to her events. In my experience, the group is not very transparent or responsive to media, so journalists have to work a little bit harder than just find a convenient spokesperson. I did talk to people in Uganda, but my angle was about how Ugandan Christians were viewing the bill and then how they reacted to American Christians like Rick Warren. Most of them didn’t know about Rick Warren’s statement or didn’t know who The Fellowship was, but I was talking to pastors and theologians.

    Jeff, it looks like you went to lengths to connect the two groups, so what do you think about mainstream coverage? Do the NYT and Washington Post do a good job of doing their own homework? Do you know if The Fellowship had any influence on the bill up for discussion (before they began condemning it and such)? Just because Obama is connected to a group that also might support same-sex marriage, it doesn’t mean he supports same-sex marriage, right?

    Suzanne, good questions, but I’m sort of wondering if they are relevant. In some cases, it is (Rick Warren, for example, offered that in his statement). But why do we care so much about Americans’ view of this whole situation? Why aren’t reporters talking to the Ugandans?

  • Peter

    But why do we care so much about Americans’ view of this whole situation? hy aren’t reporters talking to the Ugandans?

    Because U.S. churches, organizations, and government have spent hundreds of millions of dollar influencing policy and programs in Uganda so we know there is significant interest by the U.S. in that country. Therefore, when a country is about to implement a law that violates international human rights low–and that some people say could lead to genocide–its worth talking to people in your own country who have influence in tht country.

    If U.S. Evangelicals are improting culture war thinking in a country tht is about to consider executing gays, do you not know think that’s something the U.S. press should be asking other Americans about?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Peter,
    Where’s the evidence? Where’s your proof? Offer some links or something to show what you’re saying is happening. Otherwise, please discuss the coverage at hand.

  • Peter

    Assuming tickets cost money, should journalists be paying for admission to an event where the President is speaking and members of Congress are the hosts of the event?

  • Peter

    Sarah, you ask why people are interested in what Amricans think and do. I gave you an answer. That’s related to the coverage at hand, since you dismiss any coverage of the U.S.-angle to the Uganda crisis.

  • http://www.ratio-magazine.com Andrea Bohnstedt

    On the law:
    Homosexuality in Uganda is illegal already, although this was not consistently enforced. The new bill is problematic for several reasons:
    - Homosexuals will continue to be punished (arrested, prosecuted and locked up) for having homosexual relations with consenting adults.
    - I doubt that anyone would dispute the need to punish offenders like rapists or pedophiles, but laws for these offences already exist and can therefore be applied. The new regulations introduces heavier punishment (including the death penalty, although I understand that was withdrawn) for anyone gay committing certain offences.
    - In addition, the new bill requires anyone, including people like doctors and parents, to report anyone gay to the police.

    Dr Sylvia Tamale has written a very detailed analysis of the implications of the bill:
    http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/61423

    Like Jeff said, Bahati himself has talked about his connections to US Evangelicals.

  • str

    Suzanne,

    “The fact remains that the bill could be interpreted to call for capital punishment for someone whose only crime was to to be caught having consensual, adult homosexual sex on more than one occasion.”

    But that is “could be interpreted” – what is meant and how it works out is unclear because of the way the law is written.

    “How you parse it — calling it a condition rather than an actual crime”

    I never parse anything. And it’s not a matter of terminology – “repeat offender” exists for any crime.

    Whether your “mainstream” is indeed the mainstream or just a bunch of worked up advocates really depends on that item of the law.

    “When GR has asserted that it only applied to sex with minors, disabled or HIV positive, that statement has been corrected by readers. Repeatedly.”

    Yes, by you. But that doesn’t make the correction right. The law lists among various cases of abusive or dangerous sexual behaviour the strange item of “repeat offender”.

    Let me state again that I would be opposed to this bill, if I were in the position to, i.e. if I were an Ugandan citizen. Others really don’t have a say in the matter, least of all Americans.

    “After all, it was only in 2003 that Lawrence vs. Texas overturned state laws criminalizing consensual homosexual acts. And at the time, some religious based groups such as the Family Research Council backed Texas in its argument that it should be able to prosecute such behavior.”

    And why not? Opposition against the so-called overturn (another bending of its comeptences by the Supreme Court) does not equal agreement with the content of the law.

    “I think religious groups that seek to make or change laws regarding the rights of gays and lesbians should go on the record to say whether they believe consensual adult homosexual acts should be illegal, and if so, what penalty they should bring.”

    Sure, if they would they should. But if they wouldn’t they shouldn’t. And opposition to various items of the homosexual agenda is not the same as advocating making the act illegal again.

    And here we have, IMHO, the aim of the NYT reporting. Not to prevent the Ugandan bill of becoming law, not to inform anyone, but to vilify certain U.S. evangelicals that dare to oppose homosexual marriage. The means is guilt by association on some very shoddy basis.

    “I think GR and posters who defend the evangelicals make a good case when they say, “Nobody has proven that these guys bear responsibility for this legislation.””

    But shouldn’t we presume the “innocence” of those now standing accused?

    “However, when they say: “It isn’t such a severe bill anyway and the MSM is wrong to report that it is,” I think they’re on pretty shaky ground.”

    Because the bill is shaky ground. It is not only a bad bill but also a badly written bill (which in turn will certainly be dangerous, I agree with you on that). I appreciate your concern – but make your fear and the NYT’s claim an incontrovertible fact.

    And certainly the NYT is wrong to just talk about the potential danger that homosexuals could be executed for being caught in the act twice but remain silent about the all the other things the bill refers to. By their general characterisation they in a way condone all the other things or subsume them under “normal homosexual behaviour” (which is one of the cases that would really constitute homophobia). A more appropriate target (especially if you ask “what would be enough”) would be the already existing laws against homosexual acts (the “non-aggravated” ones).

  • str

    Peter,

    the U.S. should first remove the log from their eyes, especially the NYT that already supports a genocidal legal situation in the U.S.

  • str

    Peter,

    “Assuming tickets cost money, should journalists be paying for admission to an event where the President is speaking and members of Congress are the hosts of the event?”

    Of course they should! Why should they be treated differently than others? Why should they have privileges?

  • Peter

    Str

    Reporters aren’t supposed to pay admission in get news. It’s one thing to pay for a dinner if you are a movie critic or hotel room if you are a travel writer because that’s to avoid a conflict of interest. But they shouldn’t be expected to pay to attend events in order to cover public figures.

  • str

    Peter,

    “Reporters aren’t supposed to pay admission in get news. It’s one thing to pay for a dinner if you are a movie critic or hotel room if you are a travel writer because that’s to avoid a conflict of interest. But they shouldn’t be expected to pay to attend events in order to cover public figures.”

    I disagree. They should pay just as anybody else. Or at least, the event organiser should be free to grant free access or not.

    Why should this certain business be privileged to have free access anywhere? And if access can be denied, one can also charge for it.

    Events really occuring in the public space, were anyone can attend, i.e. a demonstration on a square is something else.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    str and Peter, thanks for weighing in, but let’s move the discussion to something else. How can reporters do a better job covering this in future reports? What questions still need to be answered?

  • Peter

    Sarah, don’t you think the fact that Foundation makes it difficult to cover them and their involvement in Uganda is an interesting angle of this story? You say journaists need to do a better job, you acknowledge they aren’t transparant. That seems to be a significant issue worth talking about because it does have an impact on the issue is covered.

    Those are questions that still need to be answered, don’t you agree? Why don’t you think the U.S. Evangelical angle is a significant story?

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Just want to answer Sarah’s q, because it’s her post: As I’ve reported on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and “Andrea Mitchell Show,” CNN’s “Rick’s List,” MSNBC.com, and Warren Throckmorton’s blog: YES, the Family/Fellowship has a connection to the bill. Its two biggest political backers in Uganda are secretary and chairman of the Fellowship’s Ugandan Parliament group. The dictator, Yoweri Museveni — the only person, besides the bill’s backer, with the power to stop it — has been a member of the movement since he took power by coup in 1986. He’s played a delicate game with this, denouncing the death penalty, describing homosexuality as a European disease, tacking one way then the other. NO, American members of the Fellowship did not have input in the bill. Why is it so hard to understand that Ugandans are also members of this movement? The issue, as my new pal Bob Hunter of the Fellowship puts it, is the tension between access to power and accountability. The Fellowship has, in the words of admirer and former Bush official David Kuo, a “reach into governments around the world [that] is almost impossible to overstate or even grasp.” That’s nowhere more true than Uganda, for which the Fellowship has budgeted nearly twice as much in support for Senator Jim Inhofe’s ministry than any other of the 11 African nations to which Inhofe represents what he calls the “political philosophy of Jesus,” which, he adds, he learned from Fellowship leader Doug Coe.

    So the question becomes, What are the Americans going to do about it? I’ve applauded Bob Hunter for being vocal in his public condemnations of the bill. I applaud the Fellowship for giving Hillary Clinton and Obama the platform from which to denounce it. But yes, there needs to be more. The Fellowship bears some responsibility for Museveni’s regime, the longest running dictatorship in East Africa — as Hunter points out, he facilitated the beginning of U.S. support for the regime, and Fellowship contact Jim Inhofe has been Museveni’s biggest backer. (Sam Brownback, another Fellowship member — by his own profession — hasn’t been a slouch on that front, either.) Hunter has expressed what I take to be sincere disappointment in the fact that Museveni has abused the country’s constitution to stay in power. I’m glad he did.

    But the fact is, they’ve empowered these men. The Ugandan Fellowship members took this action on their own. The Americans say they expressed disapproval from the first private meeting at which Bahati brought it up with them. Bahati says, emphatically, that they did not. Hunter is now angry with me for refusing to say he’s right, Bahati’s wrong; but instead of attacking Bahati, he’s attacking me. All I know is one guy says one thing, the other says another, and they both do so DESPITE incentives not to talk at all. So they both sound like they’re telling the truth, even though only one of them can be — unless they’re misunderstanding each other. When I proposed that as a possibility — that they misunderstood one another — Hunter cut off communication with me. Bahati, to his credit, did not, although he obviously thinks HE’S right.

    Meanwhile, the bill barrels toward passage. The Prayer Breakfast denunciations were great — but too little, too late. They may, perhaps, dissuade Rwanda and Burundi, also drifting in that direction, from going there. Great. But to stop the bill now will take a miracle or a Museveni. Pray for the former, work for the latter. (Yes, Sarah, I’m biased against the bill.) The latter will require the Family to expend some of its enormous cultural capital. It’ll require it to abandon its stated commitment to secrecy. It’ll mean losing some friends, losing some access. But it could work. And, to my mind, the Family would gain a tremendous amount of goodwill if it did so. I’d be the first to sing its praises.

    As for WaPo and NYT — first, don’t you owe it to your readers to clarify that you didn’t attend as a journalist but as a guest? I noticed your tweet about the food! Press doesn’t get breakfast. Nothing wrong with being a guest, but GR values transparency, right? As for the rest of the press: didn’t read WaPo, NYT was what it was. I didn’t like the word “infiltrate” as applied to me — ABC.com did that too, and corrected it when I pointed it out — and, if anything, the NYT played it safe on the connections, gave Hunter plenty of room to make his point. Hunter told me he thought it was passable. I thought so, too.

    Sarah, I’m afraid this really isn’t one of those culture war clashes Get Religion specializes in unraveling. This is a potentially deadly bill, opposed not just by gay rights groups but by conservative Christians. Exodus, incorrectly blamed by some for instigating it, has not only taken a stand against it but worked against it.

    So: If you support the criminalization of homosexuality, put your cards on the table and have an honest conversation. That’s what Bahati and I have been having. If you don’t, stop messing around and trying to find a conflict that isn’t there.

    The issue isn’t the Family, it’s not Obama, it’s not the NYT: it’s life or death in Uganda.

  • Sarah

    Peter, I don’t think I said it was insignificant. My point has always been that reporters have done a poor job of connection the two and they should talk to people in Ugandan as well. Any angle is up for grabs, but it takes work to prove the links. It also should be focused on the bill at hand. What does it mean if there’s a connection? That the group supports the bill even though they have condemned it?

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Sarah, you’re ignoring the facts. I am a reporter. I have talked to people in Uganda and people in the Fellowship. I have done the work to prove the links, which are uncontroversial, and agreed to by both the Ugandan and American Fellowship participants. Those links are organizational; not dependent on input by Americans. Bahati says he is influenced by the Family Research Council, Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, and the Fellowship — but that nobody told him what to put in this bill.

    The Ugandans in questions are the ones who have proposed and promoted the bill. That is focused on the bill at hand. No, it does not mean that the group supports the bill even though THE AMERICANS — under pressure — have condemned it. And I haven’t said so. So you’re swinging at straw men.

    What the connections, such as they are, mean is what I said above: That the Fellowship inadvertently empowered those who would use their reputation for piety to promote a plainly murderous piece of legislation. That the Fellowship, given the opportunity to act against the bill, took only very modest steps to do so until international publicity drew it to the attention of those within the Fellowship, such as Bob Hunter, who felt more strongly about the issue than those within the Fellowship, such as Senator Inhofe. Unfortunately, it’s Inhofe who has more sway in Uganda — a fact attested to by the sponsor of the bill. After precious weeks, before the bill had moved into serious consideration, during which he pointedly refused to take a stand, he has responded to pressure from Christian conservative constituents of conscience and quietly denounced the bill. No more. And Uganda needs more from him. He has provided it when the issue was condoms; but when it’s blood, he’s quiet, too quiet.

    I understand that your sympathies are with the Fellowship — you make that clear by letting us know that this is your seventh Prayer Breakfast — but this isn’t a game of football, Sarah, nor an American press spat. Responsible people within the Fellowship recognize that. That’s why I helped arrange for Bob Hunter of the Fellowship to appear on both Fresh Air and Rachel Maddow, knowing full well that he might use the opportunity to attack me more than the bill — as he did on Maddow. It was worth it, because he also denounced the bill.

    I didn’t say you said it was “insignificant.” I don’t think culture war conflicts are insignificant. As a charter supporter of GR and a former editor of Revealer, I don’t think press spats are insignificant, either. But this is neither. It’s not a time to run defense for your theological or ideological fellow travelers, regardless of who they are. It’s a time when people such as Bob Hunter, Warren Throckmorton, and me — that is, people from the establishmentarian center, the evangelical right, the secular left — can agree that the priority is speaking clearly against a bill that all responsible observers realize could spark genocide in a region that has experienced it before.

    We here in the U.S. ought to be able to meet at least the democratic standard set by the bill’s sponsor, David Bahati. Bahati, knowing that as a journalist I’ve taken a stand against the bill, has nonetheless engaged in a conversation with me. He’d like to persuade me that the bill isn’t as egregious as it seems to be when one reads it. But whether or not he can do that, he’s learned that he can count on me to report accurately what he tells me. He’s not trying to dodge the disageeement. Let’s show the same candor in our discussions.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jeff,
    Thanks for your response. Allow me to address some of your comments. I was not attending on behalf of GR or reporting for them. I was merely critiquing the coverage that I saw as someone who attended the event, which I said up front.
    So you’ve read the coverage – what’s next? What should reporters be focused on? Americans? Shouldn’t they be talking to Bahati like you have? GR’s job isn’t to critique or condemn bills; it’s to focus on media coverage. From the end of your comment, I think we agree that journalists are doing a poor job when they continue to focus on the Fellowship and Obama and not on Uganda, where this bill is being considered.

  • Peter

    I was not attending on behalf of GR or reporting for them

    He asked whether you were there as a journaist or as a guest of the Foundation? Did Chritianity Today pay for the tickets? Did you report for Christianity Today?

  • Peter

    From the end of your comment, I think we agree that journalists are doing a poor job when they continue to focus on the Fellowship and Obama and not on Uganda, where this bill is being considered.

    That’s not how I interpreted it. I interpreted it that he thinks this is a major issue and that there are questions to be asked about the role of U.S. Evanegelicals and the suggesting that we talk to Ugandans really misses the entire point. What role did Americans play in Uganda and why have they been so circumspect in talking about their role. Changing the subject isn’t good journalism when there are questions to be asked about American interests and Americans aren’t being frank about their influence in Uganda.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jeff,
    Thanks again for weighing in. I apologize – I think you were responding to comment #34, which was intended for Peter, so I updated it to reflect that. So my earlier comments don’t apply to you. I wasn’t critiquing your coverage in this post. I was focused on the NYT and WaPo specifically.

    I have no sympathies for The Fellowship nor do I dislike them. I’ve had a little contact with them as a journalist, but have only gone to the prayer breakfast with a family member because lots of people (like the president) speak, and we meet interesting people. While I’m there, I try to tweet and blog for Christianity Today. Again, I’m trying to focus our discussion on the mainstream coverage that’s already out there and talk about how it could be better.

    In general, commenters, if we’re going to continue this thread (It’s getting a bit tiring) I’d like us to focus on furthering ideas now, what questions still need to be answered by journalists. I think that would be the best use of our time now. Thanks.

  • http://www.ratio-magazine.com Andrea Bohnstedt

    Sarah, to be honest, I’m a bit at a loss what you’re getting at. There are plenty of sources (outlined by Jeff, quotes from Mr Bahati himself, etc) that show this connection. Do you suggest that the NYT reference, say, at least four of them in every article on the subject?

    I think it is important that this subject is covered from all angles, i.e. what is happening in Uganda, and also what US American influences are – because there are powerful US American influences, and not just on this subject. The US government is one of Uganda’s largest donors, so it’d be naive to discount these outside influences. It’s not an either-or question.

  • str

    Jeff,

    “YES, the Family/Fellowship has a connection to the bill. Its two biggest political backers in Uganda are secretary and chairman of the Fellowship’s Ugandan Parliament group. … NO, American members of the Fellowship did not have input in the bill. Why is it so hard to understand that Ugandans are also members of this movement?”

    But that is not how the reports critiqued here framed it. To the NYT the Fellowship is simply American, Ugandans simply benighted people influenced by evil U.S. evangelicals.

    “What are the Americans going to do about it?”

    (In regard to Obama/Clinton) How about minding their own business!

    “The Fellowship bears some responsibility for Museveni’s regime”

    Strange, a regime that not so long ago was praised for its anti-AIDS effort, suddenly is suddenly something that one can be blamed for.

    “But the fact is, they’ve empowered these men.”

    What is it now? You can’t make the Ugandans responsible (sure they are) and then shift the responsibility to Americans because they “empowered” them – wasn’t the trend of post-colonialism about empowerment? And was it the Fellowship that brought Musseveni into power?

    “I’m afraid this really isn’t one of those culture war clashes Get Religion specializes in unraveling. This is a potentially deadly bill, opposed not just by gay rights groups but by conservative Christians.”

    It is a potentially (but not conclusively) deadly bill but it is also a case of scapegoating, IMHO not with the objective of preventing the law but of painting opponents of other things as black as possible in order to silence them in the U.S. Why was Exodus mischaracterised? Why was Rick Warren referred to?

    Issuing ultimatums to and allegations against the author of this blog, Jeff, is uncalled for. What the issue is is not just for you to decide.

  • str

    Sarah: “I was not attending on behalf of GR or reporting for them.”
    Peter: “He asked whether you were there as a journaist or as a guest of the Foundation? Did Chritianity Today pay for the tickets? Did you report for Christianity Today?”

    A.k.a. “Have you ever been a member of the communist party?”

    Stop harrassing the author, please!

    Journalists do not suddenly become “unobjective” when they attend something as a guest, they certainly do not become “objective” when in a working capacity.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    str, I’m afraid I can’t even make sense of your comments. I don’t mean, “I don’t agree, so I’ll say I don’t understand”; I mean, as I re-read them, I realized I don’t know what this person is trying to say. So apologies for my failure to respond.

    Sarah, thanks for your clarification. You write:

    I think we agree that journalists are doing a poor job when they continue to focus on the Fellowship and Obama and not on Uganda, where this bill is being considered.

    I suppose we agree that, as usual, it’d be good for papers with big resources to report on foreign affairs from, you know, foreign countries. But we don’t agree that they have, particularly, focused on the Fellowship — they’ve been stunningly blind to it, especially in comparison to local reporters all over the country, the coverage of which isn’t as shaped by concerns over access. Obama should remain part of the story, too; that’s the thing with being the world’s only superpower. You’re involved whether or not you want to be. The O admin’s first response was, “we don’t have a dog in this fight.” Now they’ve moved on to “it’s odious.” Whether you think that’s politically appropriate or not, it’s part of the story. Aa are these points:

    Uganda is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in Africa.

    Its dictator, Museveni, has been held up by the U.S. for decades as an example.

    The law, as it was originally written, explicitly stated that it was meant as a model for other countries. Rwanda has moved in that direction.

    The bill’s sponsor cites an American organization and the American membership of an international organization as part of his worldview.

    The American membership of that international organization has taken steps to block the bill. They think they have some responsibility to confront it — why shouldn’t the press pay attention?

    That international organization broke its custom of secrecy to denounce the bill. That, alone, justifies the story. Here’s an organization about which David Kuo, no critic, says “its reach into governments around the world can’t be overstated or even grasped.” And yet they’ve kept quiet — until now. So let’s pay attention. So far, the press hasn’t, much. Maybe that’s where we agree: I think they should report much more thoroughly on the responses of the Fellowship and Obama, as well as from Uganda.

    The idea that this is a Ugandan internal affair and thus should be understood only with reference to Ugandan makes about as much sense as saying the same about the Rwandan genocide. Forget the French, the U.N., Congo — let’s start with Uganda, where rebel Tutsi leader Paul Kagame was a general in Museveni’s army. Borders are legal fictions, good for determining national songs and flags, not so useful for demarcating the parameters of a story.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jeff, I don’t mean to suggest the Fellowship or Obama are irrelevant. It is noteworthy that they’ve come out against this bill (or perhaps could have been stronger). My concern is that these major papers like the NYT that do have resources in Uganda (their first story on the bill had a Uganda dateline) don’t seem to get to the heart of the matter. Again, I’m not saying reporters should only focus on people in Uganda, but you’d think they would at least try.

  • http://www.ratio-magazine.com Andrea Bohnstedt

    Jeff, I think Rwanda’s government has recently stated that they have no intention to propose a similar bill: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/24/africa-media-rwanda-homosexuality. This commentary has a link to a New Times article that cites the Rwandan justice minister.

    I assume it would be less useful there – too much aggravation with donors, and no need to rally people around one issue.

    Agree with the rest.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    Let’s take Jeff and Sarah’s comments and integrate them. Let’s talk to the Ugandans who make up the Fellowship there. Let’s ask them why they disagree with Doug Coe and Bob Hunter.

    Further, let’s ask American groups who are now in the second wave of support for the bill why they are supporting it (e.g., Accuracy in Media). And let’s note that American groups are discussing criminalization all of a sudden. For instance, Family Research Council and the American Family Association have made these statements lately. There is a schism over this among social conservatives. Seems like a lot there to keep journalists busy…

  • str

    Jeff. then I can only marvel at your inabiliy!

    Even though I was quite comprehensible I will try again.

    You stated that the Fellowship has a link to the bill because its two biggest backers are chief officials of the Ugandan Fellowship group, but that Americans members had no input into the bill.

    Sure the Fellowship is not purely American and has a Ugandan wing. But the reports critiqued here, did not state the Ugandan Fellowship which ties to the American Fellowship backed the bill, it suggested that certain U.S. evangelicals had influenced the bill.

    Ugadans indeed can take care of their matters (for better or for worse) but it is the NYT that suggests that are just being steared by Americans.

    As for the rest, Ugandas take care of their affairs, and hence no former community organiser from Chicago should be telling them otherwise. Or is he ready to invade the next one? And I have no clue what you can’t understand in:

    “Strange, a regime that not so long ago was praised for its anti-AIDS effort, suddenly is suddenly something that one can be blamed for.”

    or

    “What is it now? You can’t make the Ugandans responsible (sure they are) and then shift the responsibility to Americans because they “empowered” them – wasn’t the trend of post-colonialism about empowerment? And was it the Fellowship that brought Musseveni into power?”

    And since the NYT and her fanbase actually don’t care much about whether Africans live or die, my suspicion is that this article is not so much about the Ugadan bill but about smearing certain Americans that oppose things like “homosexual marriage” – why else was opposition by conservative Christian (as you pointed to) not mentioned? Why did Rick Warren come into play at all?

  • Peter

    Bottom line, str. When Ugandans wanted lessons in fighting the “homosexual agenda,” they invited U.S. Evangelical activists to teach them. No one invited to that seminar dispute what was said. That months after the conference a law was proposed that could result in executions of gays is a reason to be concerned about the influence of U.S. Evangelicals who are teaching seminars about the “homosexual agenda” to people who now want executions.

    That’s why U.S. journalists are concerned about the connection and are asking questions of U.S. Evangelicals.

    In the NYT package from Uganda GR criticized, they did talk to Ugandans. They included interviews of those supporting the law, those who feared for the lives, and an average Ugandan.

  • str

    Bottom line is that some people cannot take Ugandas as real, self-determined people and must blame it all on evil U.S. evangelicals even when they distanced themselved from the bill.

    And again that strange, ambiguous wording “a law … that could result in executions of gays” – the U.S. is full of such laws too.

    They talked to an average Ugandan? One average Ugandan? Great! But that doesn’t make their “let’s blame U.S. evangelical” aproach any more tenable.

  • SdS

    Str’s final comments (#49) were the best stated in this entire set comments.

    And, yes, I’ve spoken to many Ugandans. I live in Kampala.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Warren raises an interesting point about American groups now calling for criminalization. Do we perceive these recent comments as three random statements from individuals? Or indicative of a trend? That, of course, is a question for GR and every other press critic, not to mention every reporter wrestling with an editor: What is a trend? If there is a trend, what’s causing it? Time for some reporting: Let’s have some Christian reporters like Sarah talk to Spriggs and get the story behind his statement.

    STR: I don’t work for the NYT. As the GR folks can tell you, I’ve a long history of criticizing the paper. Your statement about AIDS makes little sense to me — a government’s success in one instance doesn’t make it immune from criticism in another. And your second statement — well, I’m still confused. I don’t intend that as an insult, and I won’t hold it against you if you choose, again, to insult me. I’m just not sure what your point is.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    All commenters, I’m doing the best I can to moderate these comments, but in general, it’s starting to get off topic. Please focus on journalism, articles, ideas, further questions to be explored. Thanks.

  • str

    I am puzzled by the responses of both SdS and Jeff.

    I replied to a posting by Jeff but I referred to the journalists in question in the original posting and THEIR journalism. I was respinding to your comments, Jeff, but I was not talking about YOU.

    My comment about AIDS is quite clear: sure a government can succeed on one issue and go astray on another. But one would expect that the some people (the NYT) would not then ravingly praise it the one time and then condemn it without reserve the other time. In one case, it is a enlightened government, in the other a “regime” of a “dictator”.

    I won’t repeat my second statement again, since it is quite clear to anyone who can read. It has nothing to do with insults!

  • Barbara

    I had watched the Prayer Breakfast Live Online and was shocked to see President Obama leave before the final prayer. The broadcast did not show the final closing prayer by Tim Tebow. Below is my research:

    I called C-Span and I found out why they did not show Tim Tebow giving the closing prayer at the Breakfast, the broadcast ended right before the prayer. I was told that there is a pool and one news organization is picked to film the event and C-Span then broadcasts it and other news organzations use clips. After much research, the gentleman I talked to kept going back and forth trying to get an answer, I found out who it was. Do you want to take a guess who the news organization was? You guessed it – CNN.

    I then called CNN and I asked why, if the program said that there was a Closing Prayer, would they shut down their camera. He couldn’t really give me a valid reason. I then explained that the American public is very smart and I believe that this was purposefully not included in the broadcast. I also said that this was very sad because I am sure Tim would have liked to have kept the video clip as a special memory. Fortunately, Sarah, from Christianity Today, did film it on her cell phone. That is the only video available of the Closing Prayer. If you go into the C-Span archives and watch the end – the President leaves right before the prayer and the screen then goes black. I am sure it was listed on the printed program that Tim Tebow was having the Closing Prayer and I know many people were watching just to see Tim.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Barbara — I suspect CNN’s decision had a lot more to do with the tradition the NPB’s organizers have cultivated — this is an event very closed off from the press — than anything Tebow.

    Sarah’s video isn’t the only video available. I watched it on PPV. I believe you can still get it there.

    Str — I suppose maybe you don’t mean implying that I can’t read as an insult. But “anyone who can read,” as you put it, probably would detect an insult there.

  • str

    Jeff,

    the thing is that I really cannot see how my words are anyhow obscure. So, take it as an insult or not, I don’t believe you when you say you don’t.

    Having said that, I really don’t waste any thought on whether you have insulted me or could be feeling insulted by me. I have better things to do than to worry about vanities.


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