Pod people: Looking back at 2012, one more time

I don’t know about you folks, but to me is seems like the 2012 news cycle has been ending for the past three or four weeks. Everyone was already publishing their top stories of the year lists and then the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre turned everything upside down.

Nevertheless, the year’s first Crossroads podcast here at GetReligion (click here to cue that up) takes another look at the recent Religion Newswriters Association list of the Top 10 stories on the religion-news beat. GetReligion readers already know what I think of that list — click here for a refresher on the list — but host Todd Wilkin walked me all the way through the list and posed some interesting questions along the way.

Take this one for example: Is anyone surprised that the Episcopal Church approved trial rites to bless same-sex relationships? Really? And is the “nones” trend really all that new (hello, Sheila) or is the clever, and somewhat inaccurate, label the real news hook?

Religion-beat pros, help me out here. Hasn’t there been a liberal mainline Protestant story linked to the gay-rights era — almost always involving Episcopalians — in the RNA Top 10 lists about 15 of the past 20 years or thereabouts? It sure seems that way, sometimes.

Meanwhile, in the podcast I took another shot at explaining why I thought — looking ahead to 2013, with health care and gay marriage cases looming — that the U.S. Supreme Court’s stunning 9-0 decision on the Hosanna-Tabor “ministerial exception” case was one of the most important stories of 2012, even though it wasn’t voted into the RNA Top 10 (it was, however, included on the longer RNA ballot).

I thought that case, when combined with the fine print in the high court’s first decision linked to Obamacare, offered a hint what some members of the court might — repeat MIGHT — be thinking on matters of religious liberty. It’s clear that the court’s left wing tried to send the U.S. Justice Department a signal with that 9-0 verdict.

Then there is the quote that I keep mentioning from Justice Ruth Ginsburg, which made it into an online Washington Post essay, but was MIA in the overwhelming majority of mainstream news reports.

OK, one more time:

Mark Rienzi, another Becket [Fund] attorney, said in a phone conference call that the ruling today only spoke to whether Congress had the right to pass the act – not on the details of how it’s implemented.

“It seems to me the administration has won one legal challenge and there are 23 others waiting in the wings,” he said.

The attorneys honed in on two parts of Thursday’s ruling. One, from the majority opinion, said: “Even if the taxing power enables Congress to impose a tax on not obtaining health insurance, any tax must still comply with other requirements in the Constitution.”

The second, from Justice Ruth Ginsburg, said “A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”

I have always thought that one way reporters can spot hot stories is to pay attention to interviews or speeches in which liberals say things that please conservatives or conservatives say things that please liberals. In this case, the Ginsburg quote is an example of a liberal saying something that pleases old-fashioned First Amendment liberals, but today this point of view is losing support on what, for lack of a better term, could be called the postmodern left.

So enjoy the podcast, then let me know why you think the Ginsburg’s quote received so little mainstream press attention, even in this time of intense strife about religious liberty. Also, do you think the Hosanna-Tabor case should have been in the RNA Top 10? What 2012 story made the list, but probably didn’t deserve to?

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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