Puff piece on Office of Faith-based Partnerships

The New York Times has published a letter of reference for the Rev. Joshua DuBois, President Barack Obama’s director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Unless I am much mistaken, the theme of  “White House Director of Faith-Based Office Is Leaving His Post” is to help the 30-year old Pentecostal minister launch his private sector career following his resignation from his White House post this week.

I would be hard pressed to describe the story on  page A17 of the 8 Feb 2013 New York edition as a news article. There is no balance, no curiosity, no context here. While political allies of DuBois sing his praises in the article, there is no voice questioning the wisdom of the transformation of the office to an adjunct to President Obama’s perpetual political campaign.

Let me say out the outset that I offer no criticism of DuBois’ tenure at the White House. My concern is with the Times‘ coverage. The article opens with high praise, noting:

Mr. DuBois played a central role when Mr. Obama was making his first run for the presidency, cultivating relationships on his behalf with religious leaders of many faiths. Mr. DuBois, 30, has also served as an unofficial in-house pastor to Mr. Obama, sending the president an e-mail each morning with Bible passages intended to prompt reflection or prayer. At the prayer breakfast, the president called Mr. DuBois a “close friend of mine and yours” who “has been at my side — in work and in prayer — for years now.”

The article states that when President George W. Bush created the post in 2000, it “proved contentious because many critics said the office and its actions often violated the constitutional separation of church and state. But Obama preserved the office and appointed advisory councils that represented a broad range of religious leaders, including conservative evangelicals and openly gay ministers.”

The Times reports DuBois changed the focus of the Office from a White House-based agency that would help provide a level-playing field for religious groups in seeking federal social service grants to what Josh Good in the National Review called a community organizing focus.

Mr. DuBois, a black Pentecostal minister, steered the office toward engaging religious leaders to address broad social goals like reducing unwanted pregnancies, helping people cope with the economic downturn, encouraging fathers to take responsibility for their children and improving child and maternal health.

Two voices appear in the story: the omnipresent Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State who objects to the idea of a White House faith office and the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland:

a network of churches based in Longwood, Fla., [who] said that he observed significant changes in the faith-based office after Mr. Obama inherited it from Mr. Bush. “Before it was basically about which organizations got funded,” said Mr. Hunter, who served on the first faith-based advisory council appointed by Mr. Obama. He said that Mr. DuBois focused on connecting religious leaders with policy makers, adding, “What has resulted is this accessibility to policy conversations by faith communities that really wasn’t there before.”

An example of this change in orientation was DuBois’s bid to mobilize support amongst religious groups for the DREAM Act.

“This is a critical moment for the government, for our educational and military institutions, for the faith community, and most importantly for the young people all across our great nation,” says Joshua Dubois, director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Through the DREAM Act we are on the verge of bringing a greater degree of rationality and compassion to our nation’s immigration system and at the same time improving our economy as well.”

Among those participating in the DREAM Act conference call were the above mentioned Hunter, who told Charisma Magazine:

In terms of the larger immigration reform picture, Hunter says helping youth by passing the DREAM Act is the easiest and most sensible part of the challenge to address. As he sees it, it’s morally wrong to punish kids for something their parents did. The voice of any religion, he says, is to transfer people from the wrong path to the right one.

No voice is heard in this story that criticizes the transformation of the office into a political appendage of the administration to get out the vote, build coalitions and consensus among religious groups in support of its agenda. The National Review wrote about DuBois’ tenure:

The most marked departure from the Bush years is that the office has consistently tried to drum up overt support for the administration’s legislative priorities. It has done so in a way that I believe the press, and certainly Democrats, would have harshly criticized if the Bush administration had done it.

Tell me GetReligion readers, is this an example of cheer leading by the Times? Or do you see this as a fair account? Am I looking at this through partisan glasses, or are my criticisms that the story is a soft news puff piece correct? What say you?

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  • joe carson

    yes it’s a nice goodbye, but maybe he merits it. He works for WH and he can seem as an instrument to help advance the president’s agenda – that’s news? That news on religious news reporting?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    What National Review said is what I was thinking as I read the posting. If President Bush had done the same with that office, the din and outcry in the media would have been deafening.

  • It would have seemed to me that the NYT might have dug deeper into how the transformation of the office might reflect different views of religion and its role in public life. How does Mr. DuBois’ predecessor look at the role the Office plays now? It’s good to see some response from folks who wish for less connection between government and religion, but what about people who might wish more connection, albeit of a different kind? How about some of those who propose that the Founders would have insisted on a Christian-based society and country — you don’t have to accept their view of national origins to get comment from them. Here is a place in which the government has given a voice to religious concerns or ideas; is it what they seek or not, and why or why not?

    The NYT item shows little curiosity about the implications of an office of faith-based initiatives operating in a nation that officially skips the idea of a state religion but with a culture steeped in religious understandings and ideas. Ms. Goodstein has not really done her job here.

  • Daniel

    I’m a libertarian or a Constitutionalist, not a Republican, but I don’t see the transformation of the office as fair. I feel my voice was dramatically left out of the story. But, of course, I’m used to being ignored. But if there’s a swing back the other way, i.e. transforming the office into what it used to be, I’m sure there will be a hue and cry. That’s one-sided reporting. It surely is an example of cheer leading.

  • Bern

    Yeah, it’s a puff piece. It’s also poorly edited with redundant mention of Mr. Dubois’ daily e-mail to the President (to be the basis of a forthcoming book). But also yeah, you are looking at it through partisan glasses. I fail to see why–NR and the Baptist Press back in 2010 notwithstanding–it’s any more objectionable to have an office that “levels the playing fiel” for the awarding of federal grants (and who says that’s what it was or did, no politics involved at all?) than one is, according to you, an “adjunct to President Obama’s perpetual political campaign.