More on politics, sin and Louisiana’s kissing congressman

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For anyone unfamiliar with Rep. Vance McAllister, he’s a Louisiana congressman who ran on a Christian family values platform. But now he’s in trouble with some voters — and presumably his wife — after he got videotaped kissing a staff member (not a peck on the cheek, by the way).

Last week, I praised the serious, respectful nature of the New York Times’ reporting on McAllister’s predicament, his request for forgiveness and the various reactions of folks in his northeast Louisiana district.

It’s no surprise that a 1,700-word Washington Post Style section treatment of the same story contains more snark — and innuendo — on McAllister’s relationship with Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock:

The McAllisters and Peacocks were close friends. Two friends — speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation — said they thought it was unusual that McAllister seemed to openly flirt with Peacock in public, even sometimes when his wife was present.

Sorry, that’s not journalism. That’s gossip. But I digress.

Way up high, the Post portrays its piece as a story about politics and passion, God and sin, and yes, ducks (think the bearded, camouflaged Robertsons of “Duck Dynasty” fame, as the family supported McAllister’s candidacy).

Since this is GetReligion, we’ll focus on the “God and sin” part.

You have to read quite a bit about politics and passion before you get to the story’s religious content, but 1,000-plus words in, the Post presents this important background:

But, more than anything, he presented himself as a deeply religious family man.

In an ad that featured his wife and five children around a kitchen island, McAllister talked about their Sunday morning routine before going to church and urged voters to send him to Washington to “defend our Christian way of life.” In another ad, he said, “I need your prayers.”

Hey, apparently, he wasn’t lying when he said he needed prayers. But I digress. Again.

Later, there’s this:

McAllister’s emphasis on his Baptist faith has intensified the reaction to his indiscretion. He represents an area that many here call the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” a heavily Protestant zone that is closer — geographically and in temperament — to Jackson, Miss., and Little Rock, Ark., than to New Orleans.

“It’s just another one of those tremendous disappointments,” Paul Hurd, a Monroe-area attorney, said. “You think you’re electing a good man. You don’t expect him to be kissin’ on the help.”

Since I live in Oklahoma City, I should interject here that I thought we were the “buckle of the Bible Belt.” That’s how The Associated Press described us earlier this year. And, as much as it pains me to admit it, I may have referred to Nashville, Tennessee (in keeping with a strange new AP style, I reluctantly spelled out that state name) as “the buckle of Bible Belt” in my own AP days.

More from the story:

After the video went viral, McAllister spoke in spiritual terms. “There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness,” he said in a statement, “asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents.”

But the impression McAllister seemed so intent on imprinting was tempered by the pained reaction of the friend he’d betrayed. On CNN, Heath Peacock, who said he was “headed for divorce,” asserted that McAllister “broke out the religious card” during the campaign “and he’s about the most non-religious person I know.”

That’s it — the entirety of the religion angle in this story purportedly about “God and sin.” There’s no attempt to interview McAllister’s pastor. There’s no attempt to reach the Robertsons, who travel the country touting “faith, family and ducks.” There’s no real digging into McAllister’s Christian background at all. That’s a shame.

It’s like visiting Willie’s Duck Diner and getting a few spoonfuls of gumbo when you were counting on a full platter of frog legs, catfish fillets and fried oysters.

As a result, the Post story is simply not very filling. But for some reason, I’m suddenly feeling hungry.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Opinionated Catholic

    To be fair McAllister’s pastor might be laying low. One interesting sideline of this story was there was a good many eyebrows raided about the pastor’s conduct in this matter.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      If I were his pastor, I might be avoiding the media too! But if I were the reporter, I would point out that fact. :-)

  • Daniel F. Crawford

    I would appreciate knowing precisely what you want to know. Is the issue the failure to acknowledge that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and so we should give the guy a break even though he ran a campaign touting “family values”? There does seem to be a double standard here – a “conservative” guy who commits adultery and evokes “snarky” comments from the media is somehow treated unfairly. But the media was and is just as snarky about folks like Anthony Weiner – any protest there? A politician, Mr. McAllsiter has been caught with his lips locked passionately on the lips of a woman not his wife – and we need to hear from theologians and a pastor? And what will we learn? And how should we react? Please let us know.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      The point is that if religion is a key angle of the story — and it certainly appears to be, given the focus up high on “God and sin” — then the media should fully explore that angle.

      I don’t think I accused the media of treating him unfairly. I did point out that quoting anonymous sources on someone allegedly flirting in public is gossip, not journalism. That would be true if the story were about Weiner, too.

      For all I know, the theologians and/or pastor will say that McAllister dug his own grave and should resign if he really wants to show remorse.

      The issue here is journalism, not how one feels personally about McAllister or the sincerity of his apology.

  • Darren Blair

    My part of Central Texas is also sometimes referred to as the “buckle” of the Bible Belt.

    That’s one area where the the article should have had an actual citation.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Yep.

  • Opinionated Catholic

    ON the article itself I have some mixed feeling on how the press and indeed this article might be rewriting history a tad. I think no doubt the TV ads that are mentioned are fair play. However I think the Post as we see here , and others are playing up what was not a huge issue and downplaying what was the big issue.

    I don’t recall McAllister campaign being a tent revival and I don’t think it was really based on Faith and Values .

    The issues that were abuzz in the district was a sense of dirty play how this election happened and that the fix was in for a replacement . Also there was a issue of what political tone the next Congressman should have.

    While this is a conservative district it has been mainly represented by blue dog democrats and before McAllister a blue dog democrat turned Republican. In such an area with a high concentration of black voters , in an area with poverty such as this , and in a district where issues such as the Farm Bill are always in play they demand a an often pragmatic approach .

    McAllister exploited that. I recall much more media coverage of that and indeed that seemed to be much more the message of campaign than Faith and values issues. That is partly because you really couldn’t knock any one he was running against on those issues. Everyone runs these generic I am for God and Prayer ads down here.

    Again I am conflicted. No doubt the Ads he ran can be seen as vaccinating him against certain attacks I suppose as to who the real conservative was in the race as they say.

    However I really contest how much what we think as ” Faith ” type themes played a role in this race. I know Faith and the rural political populism of this district are intermixed of course , but I just did not see him playing the ” God ” card as big as to his winning

    I do think the observation on the absence of what his Church and Faith life was before he was elected is valid.

    It should be noted that after his one day explosion in the media the the injured husband has been quiet. In fact he expressed some remorse on going public the way he did. Were these statements of his correct , or is in the case of hurt and humiliated spouse were some things exaggerated ? I don’t know but It does seem the Post could have spent some time digging into that aspect of McAllister’s prior life .

    However overall I thought it was a half decent article


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