The NYT as religion

Much will be discussed today about the future of the New York Times and women in journalism as Jill Abramson is set to become the new executive editor of the Times. We would not usually pick up on this type of transition unless we see direct impact on religion coverage, but two particular quotes caught our eyes.

Ms. Abramson, 57, said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like “ascending to Valhalla.”

“In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion,” she said. “If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

Valhalla is the hall of the chosen dead in Norse mythology. The second quote about religion is definitely interesting, one of those where you might think, “We’re not surprised that the editor of the New York Times would think such a pronouncement, but did she really just confirm it?” I wish we could read more of the context of that interview, but that is all we get in the announcement article.

What does it mean for the future of religion coverage at the Times? Maybe nothing, but it seems to suggest a particular understanding about the world, religion and truth from the paper’s throne. A reporter or editor certainly does not need to be personally religious to be able to produce quality religion reporting, but I wonder if Abramson will lean towards or away from devoting the paper’s resources to covering religion.

For old times’ sake, let’s pull up this amusing blog post from Frank Lockwood, the religion editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on “Enjoying a Pentecostal exorcism with NYT’s Jill Abramson.” When Lockwood was traveling to Argentina on a fellowship with journalists like Abramson, they attended a Pentecostal church where they were anointed with oil and watched an exorcism.

“There were only a handful of people there, for a service that included no piano, no organ, no scripture reading and no altar call,” Lockwood wrote. “There was, however, an offering. ‘I was ready for this,’ Jill said, reaching into her pocket to retrieve a low-denomination piece of Argentinian currency. In return for Jill’s gift, church workers gave her a piece of Spanish-language church literature, which she kindly passed onto me.”

Abramson would ask Lockwood what was going on in the service.

“He’s going to exorcise a demon now,” I whispered to the managing editor of the New York Times, adding, “This is somewhat unusual.”

She didn’t say a word. Together, we watched as the preacher screamed “Fuera” — Out! Out! — he yelled. But the devil refused to budge. So the preacher yelled some more and manhandled the poor woman.

It was an ugly bit of domestic battery — closer to a Jerry Springer melee than a World Wrestling Federation brawl — but horrible to watch. The show was all the more evil because the woman’s pre-teen boy was on hand to witness it all. [Afterwards, when I questioned the appropriateness of manhandling a young woman in front of her child, I received a cryptic reply: Don't worry. He's seen it all before.]

My mind wandered as the farce continued. “There are good Pentecostal churches in this city with good music and good people with good hearts”, I said to myself. “But this is the face of Pentecostalism that you’ve revealed to the managing editor of the New York Times.”

At least, it hasn’t been boring.

It really is a fun story, but we hope this is not Abramson’s only experience in a religious institution–that is, if you don’t count the Times.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Bram

    Abramson must that think that she is God now — or Odin at least.

    A very scary thought, very scary indeed.

  • Jerry

    Patting myself on the back, I did find one item that gives a perhaps small clue: a book review of hers called “The Tribe of Joel” which is a review of a book, “The Believers”

    As a meditation on radicalism and its impact on families, this is no “American Pastoral,” and the Litvinoffs are no tribe of Levov. But their struggles to find their beliefs — in themselves, in their ill father, in politics and religion ­— are absorbing.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jerry, thanks for the link – good catch!

  • Sibyl

    This is nothing new. A while back, NYT television commercials stated outright: ‘Sundays were made for the NYT.’ They publish a Sunday edition that would take a whole day to ingest…and there is the subtle insinuation that what is contained therein is authoritative, reliable and preferable to what is being offered in church or synagogue. Truth is, it’s really not a matter of either/or, but neither/nor.

  • Sibyl

    Oops – let me clarify. What I meant to say is that often, what is offered by both the NYT and the apostate churches and synagogues is not truthful (in the sense of being aligned to God’s commandments/precepts/law) or reliable.

  • Maureen

    To be fair, even Virginia believed that “If it’s in the Sun it’s so.” It may be traditional for all New Yorkers to have a creepy relationship with their birdcage liner of choice. :)

    But I bet she’d have talked out of the other side of her mouth if she’d been reporting on a BDSM club on Saturday night, instead of a physical exorcism on Sunday morning.

  • Chas

    Apparently the “religion” quote has been scrubbed from the NYT website.

    It gave away too much?

  • Suzanne

    The commenters going to town on this quote (here and in the comments section accompanying the NYT story) reveal more about their own biases than Abramson’s. “How dare she not be as religious as we are!” (or more accurately, how dare she not come from as religious an upbringing)

    To put out a large paper on Sunday and advertise it is to insinuate that its contents are preferable to church or synagogue? Seriously?

    I took hethe quote to mean that her family was very respectful of the institution of the NYT — and yes, that they weren’t strongly religious. So what? Does that really mean that she can’t lead an organization that covers religion well?

    Sounds like what many religious readers really want is a paper that holds their own worldview and parrots it back to them.

  • Mollie

    I wonder why the quote was scrubbed. Not just because that’s weird to scrub such a quote but also because I thought it was a really good quote — wonder what the news sense is there.

  • Bram


    “Sounds like what many religious readers really want is a paper that holds their own worldview and parrots it back to them.”

    What, unlike NYT-worshipping secular liberals, who want a paper that constantly challenges their worldview from religious and/or a politically conservative vantage points?

    Seriously, people are taking note of Abramson’s quote mostly just because it makes her sound like an absolute nut.

  • Lazrry “the grump” Rasczak

    I recall well the “Sunday was made for the New York Times” ads. It wasn’t the size of the paper that “insinuated” that sitting in bed with the NYT was superior to spending Sunday morning visiting the house of God, it was the NYT’s own T.V. commercials, Suzanne.

    Also, I don’t see any of the comments saying “How dare she not be as religious as we are!”. The news value of this quote lies not in its truth but in the fact it was actually said and printed. For several decades the fine folks at 815 Second Ave. amongst others, have been looking to 620 8th Ave for guidance, rather than to the Heavens above. The fact that Liberalism is a religion and the NYT its “Bible” is nothing new.

    Personally I don’t see outrage here, but sadness. It is sad to see someone, anyone, that devoid of religious understanding. Religion is not a personality quirk or a hobby, akin to disliking peas or watching far to much Star Trek. Religion isn’t even a life changing and enlightening experience. It is, in fact, the central experience of human existence. (Yes, believe it or not, it’s religion, not sex.) Without religion a human is no better able to grasp the realities of life, the Universe,and their place in it, than your average Labrador Retriever is…. in fact the Labrador Retriever is most likely a good bit better off on that score than the average NYT/NPR “moral equivalence” loving secularist. At least the dog won’t give their heart and sell their soul to the latest “-sim” that rolls down the pike; only to find out several decades (and several million bodies) later that their “-ism” of choice really was as morally, intellectually, and spiritually bankrupt as its opponents had been saying all along.

    Does that mean she can’t lead the NYT? Well I can’t speculate on Ms. Abramson’s personal leadership or managerial abilities, I know her not. I can however point out that her quote reveals that she shares the firmly entrenched religious, political, and philosophical biases that the NYT has become famous for, and those don’t appear to have worked out quite as well for the paper as its owners had planned.

  • Franklin Jennings

    My initial objection wasn’t to what an nonreligious upbringing she had, but what a gullible and close-minded one.