Dueling Christian coverage, or Ira Glass vs. National Journal

YouTube Preview Image
Above is a nice little snippet of an Ira Glass interview. Interview of Ira Glass, I should say. The popular host of public radio’s This American Life reflects on why the show does so much good coverage of Christians. It’s because the media do such a bad job of covering them otherwise, he says. He says the Christians he knows and works with — including the “fundamentalists” — are nothing like how Christians are portrayed in the media.

I knew GetReligion readers would want to see the interview.

It’s also a great introduction to a piece that ran on National Journal, yesterday. Many reporters passed it along to us, including one who added the note:

Those crazy Christians are at it again!

Praying!

About major decisions!

You get a feeling for the reportorial prowess on display, the nuance, the journalistic integrity, with the headline alone:

The Things That God Tells Politicians
Mostly, it’s to run for president. But every now and then, the almighty may intervene in a leadership coup.

Do you want to read on? Neither do I! But, this being part of the job and all, I guess we will. Here’s the top of the piece:

In early January, House Speaker John Boehner was in crisis. After a brutal fiscal-cliff slog, Boehner’s speakership was in serious doubt, and a group of conservative House Republicans were preparing to drive in the knife. But that’s when, according to a new Washington Post story, God intervened.

Barely 36 hours after the caustic [fiscal cliff] New Year’s Day vote, Boehner faced a coup attempt from a clutch of renegade conservatives. The cabal quickly fell apart when several Republicans, after a night of prayer, said God told them to spare the speaker.

This, of course, is not the first time that God has been said to have stepped into U.S. politics. Here’s a brief look at some of the almighty’s supposed prior forays.

I’ll spare you the rest, on account of it being too early for this much juvenile snark, but it goes on to make fun of other Republicans praying.

What’s your favorite part of this story? Is it how it perpetuates the stereotype that Democrats are all godless and Republicans are all fundamentalists? Is it the drive-by, Buzzfeed-worthy substance of the post? Is it the complete missed opportunity?

See, I’d love nothing more than a critical and thoughtful look at how politicians use religion — a story that broached whether they use religion to manipulate or advance objectives. I’d love to see one that didn’t assume prayer was just a ploy. I’d love one that didn’t sound like it was written by a former Talking Points Memo staffer (which, in this case, would be difficult since National Journal apparently hired this reporter after stints at … Talking Points Memo, Salon, etc.). Just about anything would have been better than this drivel.

There are good stories to be written about politicians and prayer — with good, bad and ugly anecdotes. Stories that traffic in bigotry to mock politicians for seeking to do God’s will are not those stories.

Better luck next time, National Journal!

  • Jerry

    Thanks for the Ira Glass interview segment. You’re right, it was worth the time to listen to it. It helped satisfy my hunger for positive stories.

  • David D

    Both Glass and Henderson are so charmingly empathetic and kind. I loved Glass’ interview of Henderson on TAL years ago, too: “All bait and no switch.”

    I guess you could be upset at the National Review piece, but it is kind of funny to see such a wide variety of people claiming divine inspiration for running for President. It’s like the line from that Dire Straits song, “Two men say they’re Jesus/One of them must be wrong.” We’re so cynical about politicians generally, I don’t think it’s completely out of line to think their stated religious inspirations are as fake as when someone resigns “to spend more time with family.” We all know it’s bull most of the time; maybe sometime it’s true, but who can tell?

  • Christopher Bugbee

    The Glass interview was conducted as a substantive conversation and presented as such. The National Journal interview was written as a piece of snarky, opportunistic observation.

    You might have done better using the latter as a gloss on the former. The National Journal skewers behaviors that help explain the origins of the cultural attitudes assigned to the media being criticized in the Ira Glass interview.

    But that would have meant evaluating each of the pieces on its own terms, a common practice of criticism.

    And without your own snark, you wouldn’t have had much to say about the National Journal piece at all except to criticize it for what it wasn’t. And slip in the b word to clinch the deal. For someone whose own media criticism frequently comes swathed in snark, your complaint that the National Journal article employs too much of it seems inconsistent with your own practice.

    Skewering the human propensity to claim God’s hand for their own purposes, nowhere more visible than among our political leaders past and present, has long been a feature of American public discourse. Mark Twain’s War Prayer, the monologues of Will Rogers, and Bob Dylan’s song about a country that believes it “has God on its side” are just three that quickly come to mind. They suggest that suspicion of politicians’ love of public sanctimony has been widely and commonly experienced over the life of our own country.

    Perhaps this is why Jesus had such distrust of praying in public, and wouldn’t truck with hypocrisy.

    Your journalistic point here seems to be that you liked what Ira Glass had to say and the way he said it. The National Journal ? Not so much.

    And the journalism quotient in that point? Not so much either. Just personal preference.

    • MollieZHemingway

      I’m having a very hard time believing you read my piece, which focused on media coverage and included lines such as this:

      “See, I’d love nothing more than a critical and thoughtful look at how
      politicians use religion — a story that broached whether they use
      religion to manipulate or advance objectives. I’d love to see one that
      didn’t assume prayer was just a ploy.”

      and this

      “There are good stories to be written about politicians and prayer —
      with good, bad and ugly anecdotes. Stories that traffic in bigotry to
      mock politicians for seeking to do God’s will are not those stories.”

      • Christopher Bugbee

        Yes — you’ve highlighted precisely the boilerplate window dressing that allows you to pass off snarky point scoring as journalism criticism. Just sayin’

        • MollieZHemingway

          Uh, OK.

  • Sari

    “What’s your favorite part of this story? Is it how it perpetuates the
    stereotype that Democrats are all godless and Republicans are all
    fundamentalists?”

    A snarkfest for sure, but is it possible that at a good percentage of Republican politicians wear their religion on their sleeves and a similar percentage of Democrats don’t? Every action has a reaction, and this article is the logical consequence of politicians using religious language to court a particular constituency.

    The stereotype I came away with was one of hypocrisy, not imputed ir/religiousity ascribed to either party.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X