Search Results for: Bill Keller Catholic

The Boston Globe veers into the doctrines of ‘Kellerism’

Just the other day, I heard a long-time GetReligion reader use a very interesting new journalism term — “Kellerism.”

Wait for it, faithful readers. Let’s walk through this with newcomers to the site. What, pray tell, are the key beliefs in the journalistic philosophy that is “Kellerism”?

Yes, this is another reference to the pronouncements of former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 remarks (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. Here, once again, is a chunk of an “On Religion” column I wrote about that event, when the newly retired Keller was asked if — that old question — the Times is a “liberal newspaper.”

“We’re liberal in the sense that … liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. … “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” …

Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”

Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

So here is first core “Kellerism” doctrine: There is no need for balance and fairness and related old-fashioned journalism values when one is dealing with news linked to morality, culture, religion, yada, yada. Newspapers should resist the urge to slip into advocacy journalism when covering politics, but not when covering — uh — moral, cultural and religious issues such as sex, salvation, abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, cloning and a few other sensitive matters. You know, non-political issues. Things like Roe v. Wade and Romer v. Evans.

The second “Kellerism” doctrine is related to that and can be glimpsed near the end of Keller’s response (.pdf here) to the famous “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust” self-study of the Times, during troubled ethical times in 2005. The key is that Keller insisted that he was committed to diversity in the newsroom on matters of gender, race, etc. However, he was silent or gently critical when addressing the study’s calls for improved cultural and intellectual diversity. The Times was diverse enough, it appears, on those counts.

Yes, criticism of the newspaper’s coverage of traditional religious believers was raised as a concern by the committee that wrote the report.

So why bring up this new term in a post topped with a photo of The Boston Globe building?

[Read more...]

Key ‘moderate’ Catholic, hailed by choir on left

So The Washington Post ran a story the other day that made me feel very strange, for strictly journalistic and, yes, political reasons.

The story focused on the retirement of John Carr, for 25 years a key public policy adviser to the U.S. Catholic bishops. The whole point of the story is that the bishops are now being led by people — I assumed that meant Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York — who are, shall we say, immoderate. They are too conservative, you see, because they are rather obsessed with issues such as abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

Carr, on the other hand, is a moderate’s moderate. From all indications, he appears to be a pro-life Democrat (that’s an accurate label for me, as well) who has been a crucial leader among liberal evangelicals, progressive Catholics and other folks of that ilk. Most of all, the story wants readers to understand that Carr’s departure could mean hard times for true Catholic moderates who care about church teachings on issues of justice and peace.

This made me think of that famous “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust” (.pdf) study of The New York Times issued back in 2005, following several scandals linked to the world’s most powerful newsroom. In response, editor Bill Keller, yes that Bill Keller, wrote a response entitled “Assuring Our Credibility” (.pdf) that included these words about the challenges journalists face when covering political and religious issues:

We must … be more alert to nuances of language when writing about contentious issues. The committee picked a few examples — the way the word “moderate” conveys a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme, the misuse of “religious fundamentalists” to describe religious conservatives — but there are many pitfalls involved when we try to convey complex ideas as simply as possible, on deadline.

Thus, I would like GetReligion readers to read the Post story about Carr with that passage in mind.

What’s my point? Well, I think that Carr almost certainly can be called a “moderate” Catholic in that his life’s work falls somewhere in between the church’s truly liberal branch and the whole world of doctrinally conservative Catholics. However, to establish his “moderate” credentials, it would be good to hear Carr’s work evaluated by his critics on both sides of this divide. Correct?

Instead, this is what we get:

The mixing of religion and politics engenders powerful passions, but insiders know that faith advocates typically aren’t players in Washington. Carr is one of the few exceptions. But his influence is only part of the reason Carr’s exit … is being mourned. Some are also concerned about who will come after him.

At a time when Catholics are watching their community become increasingly polarized along political lines,

Carr is considered a dying breed: a Catholic moderate with a foot firmly in both camps. He worked for the White House Conference on Families under President Jimmy Carter and was a Democratic candidate. He has also zealously slammed the Obama White House for its mandate that employers provide contraception coverage to employees. At a good-bye event this week at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters, Carr’s voice sounded angriest when he bemoaned the Bush-led Iraq War.

Catholics are becoming more divided over whether they focus on church teachings against war and poverty or the ones against abortion and gay marriage. Catholic progressives are particularly worried about Carr leaving as Church officialdom in recent years has put greater and greater emphasis on defending the unborn.

“If John Carr hadn’t been there for the past 20 years, who knows what would have happened?” said John Gehring, who focuses on Catholic issues for the left-leaning advocacy group Faith in Public Life and often clashes with the bishops.

GetReligion readers will be stunned to know that the next quote comes from Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and so forth and so on. Later on, we hear from Carr’s brother — New York Times media columnist David Carr.

So here is my question: Read this story and name, for me, the key voice evaluating Carr’s work and career from the conservative side of the Catholic establishment, whether that is in politics, higher education or even the church hierarchy.

Read the story, twice if need be. Look for the conservative voices, amid all of the high-profile voices on the left and on the center-left that are featured in this news — not editorial page — report. There should be informed, articulate conservatives who help readers evaluate Carr’s work. Right? I mean, this is journalism, after all, not a work of advocacy writing.

So who is your favorite Catholic conservative featured in this news story?

Good luck with that.

That Gray Lady Catholic same-sex unions scoop 2.0

It’s time for a Catholic culture wars flashback.

Let’s set the way-back machine for last summer, when the Womenpriests movement held one of its ordination rites in Baltimore. As one would expect, this event was glowingly covered — sort of — by The Baltimore Sun. I focused, in posts at the time, on this particular passage:

Andrea Johnson, presiding as bishop, ordained two women from Maryland, Ann Penick and Marellen Mayers, one from Pennsylvania and one from New York in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ. The church was filled with family members — including husbands of three of the ordinands — and friends, including some who are employed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore but who support the ordination of women. Photography was limited to protect the privacy of those attending the ceremony.

I noted, with two clicks in Google, that one of the ordinands was a former faculty member/campus minister at one of most powerful Catholic schools in our region — Archbishop Spalding High School. This fact was not included in the news story. And what about the fact that the Sun agreed to abide by the instructions not to photograph the audience. In mean, who would be present who needed the safety of anonymity? I wrote at that time:

… (I)t sounds like the Sun agreed not to photograph the congregation in order to protect the privacy of Catholics — Catholic educational leaders or diocesan staff, perhaps — who could not afford to make public their support of the Womenpriests movement. I don’t know about you, but that seems strange — unless editors had decided to protect those individuals as sources for the story. If that’s the case, perhaps that should be stated?

I bring this up because of some of the reactions I have heard — in or comments pages and through private emails — to my post that ran with the headline, “New York Times scoop! Catholic same-sex unions!” The post focused on a story that included lots of clearly attributed quotes and information from religious leaders in quite a few churches that are being rocked or even divided by conflicts over homosexuality and the definition of marriage.

That’s good. Journalists like clearly attributed information.

But then there was this passage in the Times report:

The dividing lines are often unpredictable. There are black churches that welcome openly gay couples, and white churches that do not. Some Presbyterian churches hire openly gay clergy members, while others will not. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions.

The story offers no attribution for the final claim, which is an A1 story in the making if I have ever seen one. The story also, and this is the key, does not offer any context for this claim or information about its source, including why the source of needs to remain anonymous — or in this case, not even mentioned. The information simply shows up.

Does this matter? Well, I noted that this would appear to violate a New York Times editorial policy document that states, in part:

Readers of The New York Times demand to know as much as possible about where we obtain our information and why it merits their trust. For that reason, we have long observed the principle of identifying our sources by name and title or, when that is not possible, explaining why we consider them authoritative, why they are speaking to us and why they have demanded confidentiality. Guidance on limiting the use of unidentified sources, and on informative description of those we do use, has appeared in several editions of our stylebook, including the current one, and in our Integrity Statement, dating from 1999.

As you would imagine, conservative Catholics were not amused by this episode.

Over at the website, Phil Lawler made the following observations:

It is, regrettably, easy to believe that some Catholic priests are giving their blessing to homosexual unions. But if that is the case, these priests are clearly acting in defiance of the Church: the institution they claim to serve. That defiance would constitute a major news story, not merely an observation to be made in passing. … The Times appears to be protecting dissenting priests from ecclesiastical discipline.

Any Times reporter who actually witnessed a Catholic priest blessing a homosexual union, or heard a credible first-hand report of such an event, should have written a news story about it, and that story should have appeared on the front page. That didn’t happen. Why not? I can think of only three possible explanations:

The Times reported something as fact when it had no solid evidence. Terry Mattingly and I agree that’s unlikely.

The Times had solid evidence of priests blessing gay unions, but withheld that evidence because the priests demanded anonymity. That’s possible. But as Mattingly points out, the Times ordinarily informs readers when a report is based on information from someone who requests anonymity.

The Times knows of priests who have blessed same-sex unions, and those priests have not requested anonymity, but the Times has decided not to identify them anyway. This seems to me the most likely explanation.

My assumption is that the second option is closest to the mark, in a scenario that resembles the Sun Womenpriests story mentioned earlier. In other words, the newspaper is actively participating in the story and shaping information in a way that protects one side of the debate from retaliation by the other.

Yes, I know that this happens in political stories all the time. My office is on Capitol Hill. However, this is precisely the scenario that the Times ethics policy addresses — which is why, in order to build and retain trust — the policy requires reporters and editors to give readers as much information about confidential sources as possible (short of a clear, named attribution). Yet that did not happen in this case.

GetReligion readers have, in comments or privately, offered another interesting explanation.

The Times report clearly implies that the Catholic priests performing these same-sex union blessings are, in fact, Catholic priests in good standing. However, perhaps this is not accurate, and the priests in question are either ex-Catholic priests or members of movements (think Womenpriests) that claim to be Catholic, yet the final doctrinal authorities on this issue (as in Catholic bishops) disagree. Yet, why wouldn’t the newspaper simply state that this is the case. Why not give credit to, so to speak, this Rebel Alliance?

I want to propose another scenario, one based on my own experiences in newsrooms and past conversations with liberal Catholics, including journalists. What if the source or sources for this information are, in reality, liberal Catholics and ex-Catholics IN THE TIMES NEWSROOM? They know about these rites or have participated in them, yet they do not want to betray their own liberal priests? Thus, the reference is simply stated as fact, because the people in the know are actually involved in the news process.

Surely the Times staff includes more than its share of ex-Catholics and liberal Catholics. What was the label that former editor Bill Keller pinned on himself in his infamous post-Sept. 11 column (the one that compared the Vatican with Al Qaeda) that ran under the headline, “Is the Pope Catholic?” He said, “I am what a friend calls a ‘collapsed Catholic’ — well beyond lapsed.” I would be shocked if Keller was alone in his own newsroom.

How would a reporter include that information in a story, in an attempt to honor the Times policy?

New York Times scoop! Catholic same-sex unions!

Talk about burying the lede.

The mainstream press has been on a tear ever since President Barack Obama announced that his liberal Christian faith had inspired him to change his beliefs on the definition of marriage. One of the most common stories, produced by news outlet after news outlet, has focused on the ways that this doctrinal issue has divided various groups of believers.

This is a totally valid story to be covering, since believers on both sides of this issue are separated by centuries of doctrine and tradition. Here are the pivotal paragraphs in a typical New York Times report. However, when reading this passage, prepare yourself for the stealth blockbuster:

Mr. Obama’s declaration last week that he supports same-sex marriage prompted ministers around the country to take to their pulpits on Sunday and preach on the issue. But in the clash over homosexuality, the battle lines do not simply pit ministers against secular advocates for gay rights. Religion is on both sides in this conflict. The battle is actually church versus church, minister versus minister, and Scripture versus Scripture.

The dividing lines are often unpredictable. There are black churches that welcome openly gay couples, and white churches that do not. Some Presbyterian churches hire openly gay clergy members, while others will not. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions.

Did you catch that last reference? If, in fact, the Times has factual material about Catholic priests blessing same-sex relationships and unions then this is clearly the most important news angle in this piece. This is a major news story, buried deep in a related news report.

However, note that this claim (which I do not doubt, by the way) appears with absolutely no context, no attribution, no clue as to the source of this information. The Times does not even claim to be printing this information based on anonymous sources who requested protection from the Vatican. This is most strange.

I don’t know about you, but this passage immediately made me think of the following quotation:

Readers of The New York Times demand to know as much as possible about where we obtain our information and why it merits their trust. For that reason, we have long observed the principle of identifying our sources by name and title or, when that is not possible, explaining why we consider them authoritative, why they are speaking to us and why they have demanded confidentiality. Guidance on limiting the use of unidentified sources, and on informative description of those we do use, has appeared in several editions of our stylebook, including the current one, and in our Integrity Statement, dating from 1999.

This is, of course, the top of a report on The New York Times Company’s policy on the use of confidential sources. The key is that, when editors approve the use of a confidential source, reporters are still supposed to provide readers with as much information as possible in order to explain why they should trust this news story.

But wait, since we are dealing with a story that is about religion, linked to a “social values” issue on which all urbane, intelligent citizens would be in agreement, this may be one of those cases in which — under the Bill Keller revelation — that the Times no longer needs to play by conventional journalism rules about bias and fairness. That’s the ticket.

You remember the Keller doctrine, right? Here’s a reminder, with the recently retired editor discussing (video source here) whether his newspaper now openly plays an advocacy role on behalf of liberal policies and beliefs:

“We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”

Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

Now, there are other passages in this recent Times story that merit discussion. For example, pro-gay rights scholars compare scriptural references to sexuality with those describing slavery, yet the story offers no material describing traditional Jewish, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant viewpoints on that issue.

You know, the usual stuff. Once again, however, one must ask it — post Keller confession — the leaders of the Times believe they have any responsibility to accurately report the views of those who dissent from the newspaper’s approved religious doctrines.

Still, this story does appear to include a major innovation, one that appears to violate the newspaper’s policies. So let me ask: “What is the source of the information reflected in the following statement? I refer to this sentence: ‘The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions.’ ”

Is this statement based on anonymous sources? If so, how can they best be described, so that readers have a chance to evaluate the validity of this claim?

The Times, the White House & “Catholic colleges”

As faithful readers of this weblog will know, your GetReligionistas are convinced that it is stunningly simplistic for journalists to talk about the “Catholic vote,” as if there was one mass of Catholics who agree on how they should apply centuries of Catholic doctrine to their actions in voting booths.

About a decade ago, an elderly priest here in Washington, D.C., told me that he is convinced that — at the very least — there are four competing camps of “Catholic voters” here in postmodern America. As a reminder, here is the typology as I have shared it in the past:

* Ex-Catholics. Solid for Democrats. Cultural conservatives have no chance.

* Cultural Catholics who may go to church a few times a year. This may be one of those all-important “undecided voters” depending on what’s happening with the economy, foreign policy, etc. Leans to Democrats.

* Sunday-morning American Catholics. This voter is a regular in the pew and may even play some leadership role in the parish. This is the Catholic voter that is really up for grabs, the true swing voter that the candidates are after.

* “Sweat the details” Catholics who go to confession. They are active in the full sacramental life of their parishes and almost always back the Vatican, when it comes to matters of faith and practice.

As noted, the final camp — the depressing world of confession statistics are the key — represents a very small piece of the American Catholic pie.

Now, on to the current headlines. You see, it helps to keep that “Catholic voters” typology in mind while reading mainstream media coverage of the escalating conflict between the Obama administration and the world of religious education and non-profit ministries. Since clashes with the Catholic hierarchy have received the most ink, it helps to remember that not all “Catholic colleges” are “Catholic colleges” in the same sense of the word. The same statement is true of “Catholic hospitals.”

Thus, one would expect various kinds of Catholic institutions to have different policies when it comes to defending church doctrines on controversial issues — such as birth control.

This brings us to the following headline in The New York Times: “Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges.”

The only appropriate response? Well, DUH. Of course this fight is drawing battles between the White House and Catholic institutions, as well as spotlighting preexisting fractures in the world of Catholic higher education. Simply stated: These schools are not preaching or practicing the same faith. Why shouldn’t they clash when it comes time to react to a government action affecting religious liberty?

Here’s the summary language in this story:

Many Catholic colleges decline to prescribe or cover birth control, citing religious reasons. Now they are under pressure to change. This month the Obama administration, citing the medical case for birth control, made a politically charged decision that the new health care law requires insurance plans at Catholic institutions to cover birth control without co-payments for employees, and that may be extended to students. But Catholic organizations are resisting the rule, saying it would force them to violate their beliefs and finance behavior that betrays Catholic teachings.

“We can’t just lie down and die and let religious freedom go,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Now hold your breath. Here’s the payoff punch:

In an election season that features Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who have stressed their Catholic faith, scientific thinking on the medical benefits of birth control has clashed with deeply held religious and cultural beliefs.

Once again, science on one side vs. blind religion on the other. That’s the magic formula, it seems. Right Bill Keller?

Also, note that this entire matter is simply political, not theological. There are no real doctrinal issues to debate. The folks who see a religious-liberty crisis in all of this — often liberal Catholics, as well as conservative — are only doing so because of a political agenda. You know, like the right-wingers at the liberal National Catholic Reporter (and the editorial board of The Washington Post, while we are at it).

But enough about the predictable political framing in this story. Back to the Catholic colleges in the headline.

Some Catholic colleges are likely to ask for a yearlong delay in implementing the rule on birth control coverage, said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. In the longer run, he predicted in a statement that either Congress or the Supreme Court would invalidate the rule. Belmont Abbey College, which is Catholic, and the interdenominational Colorado Christian University have already sued the Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that the birth control requirement violates the right to freedom of religion.

Birth control is considered a “preventive service” under the new health care law, but Mr. Galligan-Stierle said such services should be limited to preventing disease, not pregnancy.

“We do not happen to think pregnancy is disease,” he said. “We think it’s a gift of love of two people and our creator.”

The most important word comes right at the beginning of that passage — “some.”

In other words, there are Catholic schools that defend Catholic teachings and strive to recruit students, faculty and staff who join in that effort — or at the very least seek to recruit those who will not oppose these teachings. Then again, many Catholic schools openly reject the teachings of their church.

Thus, we read:

At Catholic universities, some students support the right of the schools to uphold religious doctrine. But others, particularly professional and graduate students, have found the restrictions on birth control coverage onerous. …

One recent Georgetown law graduate, who asked not to be identified for reasons of medical privacy, said she had polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition for which her doctor prescribed birth control pills. She is gay and had no other reason to take the pills. Georgetown does not cover birth control for students, so she made sure her doctor noted the diagnosis on her prescription. Even so, coverage was denied several times. She finally gave up and paid out of pocket, more than $100 a month. After a few months she could no longer afford the pills. Within months she developed a large ovarian cyst that had to be removed surgically — along with her ovary.

“If I want children, I’ll need a fertility specialist because I have only one working ovary,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Georgetown, Stacy Kerr, said that problems like this were rare and that doctors at the health service knew how to help students get coverage for contraceptives needed for medical reasons. Asked if Georgetown would begin covering birth control under the new rule, she said, “We will be reviewing and evaluating the new regulations, ever mindful of our Catholic and Jesuit identity and mission.”

I kept waiting to see if this story would recognize the wide diversity that is found Catholic education. I was expecting, frankly, to hear from qualified, experienced Catholic educators who want to defend their faith on this matter — which would mean resisting government actions to force them to financially support actions they believe are sinful. Instead, we get this accurate, yet rather bombastic quote:

Senior Catholic officials said that students at Catholic universities should know what to expect, and that those who disagree with the policies can choose to go elsewhere. “No one would go to a Jewish barbecue and expect pork chops to be served,” Mr. Galligan-Stierle said.

That’s a valid quote and it’s valid for the Times to use it.

My question is simple: Is this one of those urban, sophisticated Times stories in which the editors (if they agree with their newly retired editor) believe that they do not need to cover both sides of an issue? Is it enough now that they quote the valid, powerful anecdotes and arguments on one side and then reduce the other side’s convictions to rumblings about politics and a punchy soundbite?

Just asking.

The key to future coverage is to find out if the government will find ways to honor the convictions of Catholic schools that want to defend Catholic doctrines and will openly and legally state that in all contacts and legal covenants with students, faculty and staff. In other words, can the government find ways to treat these religious private schools — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, etc. — like the religious institutions that they are.

And the rest of the Catholic schools? The leaders of those schools are free to kneel to the state on this matter. They have ever right to do that, if the Vatican decides to let them do it — while remaining “Catholic colleges.” Then again, there is this.

Bill Keller’s modest proposal

When I read Bill Keller’s bizarre piece in the New York Times yesterday morning, where he proposes a loaded religious quiz for potential candidates, I actually gasped. Considering I’ve been reading dozens of religion stories a day for years, it’s hard to surprise me. I’m not saying I haven’t heard these types of comments uttered against religious believers, be they Pagan or Mormon or Catholic. And there’s even a counter-Jihad movement that says similar things to what Keller has said, only about Muslims.

But it’s not like Pamela Geller is given space in the New York Times to share her views about creeping Sharia. Far from it. She’s attacked for her views — in the news pages. I couldn’t quite process this piece. It just seemed too hard to believe that Bill Keller, whatever his well-known bias against Catholics, would do this.

So here’s my theory: I think that Keller didn’t do this. I mean, he did, but only to make a point. I’m not entirely sure what that point is, but he’s clearly pulling everyone’s leg. Hear me out.

The whole piece is about the need to ask more questions of presidential candidates. He has general questions and then specific questions. But he doesn’t have any for President Barack Obama. As in, no questions (one writer offers 20, should Keller be having trouble developing them for some odd reason). Certainly the case can’t be made that questions for Obama aren’t newsworthy. I mean, “people” may have “questions” about the religious views of Michele Bachmann. Sure. But are you really going to pretend that “people” don’t have “questions” about the religious views of President Obama? Are you joking? So why the disparity?

Is it because his paper, under his direction, thoroughly vetted the religious views of President Obama? Heh. Um, no. One data point: Back in 2008, it took six months for readers of the paper to even learn of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s infamous “God Damn America!” words by seeing them in a news story. The news broke in March and first appeared in the paper literally six months later.

If the piece isn’t satire, why would Keller say that Rick Santorum is part of a “fervid subset of evangelical Christianity”? He’s Roman Catholic.

If the piece isn’t satire, why would the lede mention space aliens, much less compare belief in an alien invasion to Christianity?

If the piece isn’t satire, why would he claim that “many Americans” view Catholicism, Protestant Christianity and Mormonism as “mysterious or suspect”? Does he have any concept of what percentage of Americans fall into one of those three categories? Of course he does. It’s clearly satire.

Why would he traffic in the type of crude stereotypes about Mormons that result in condemnation from liberals?

If this weren’t satire, why would he mis-state what Catholics believe about Communion? What’s more, would he really call that sacrament “baggage” and “bizarre” unless he was trying to make a point about bigotry? I can’t imagine he would.

If this weren’t satire, would he really say that the Christian relationship to the Bible is one of lord and servant? Would he really pretend that in order to be a good candidate for office you have to believe that the Constitution is a higher authority than the Bible? Would he really pretend that the laws of this country are inerrant?

Would he come up with laugh lines such as this?:

I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

If this weren’t satire, would he really confuse inerrancy with literalism?

If this weren’t satire, would a respected news man really be pushing the threat of Dominionism? Would he call someone a Dominionist who explained just two weeks ago that she had to literally Google the term to learn what it meant? Someone who explained quite clearly why the slur is inaccurate when used against her? I mean, I know he’s biased, but he’s not a hack.

If this weren’t satire, would he pretend that his loaded gotcha questions were “respectful”? He knows readers aren’t stupid.

If this weren’t satire, would he believe no one notices that there sure seems to be a lot of emphasis on religion for a race that’s largely about an unemployment rate of 9.1%?

If this weren’t satire, would he really raise a question about whether the candidates have fealty to something above the Constitution, but then criticize squeamishness about appointing Muslim judges because of questions raised about some Muslims placing Islamic law above the constitution?

If this weren’t satire, would he really suggest that it’s only problematic if Republicans are endorsed by people Keller doesn’t like — and not mention, I don’t know, that Hamas officials endorsed President Obama? No!

There’s got to be more to this. There’s just no way that Keller would be blowing up his paper’s relationship with religious people on his way out from leading the paper. There’s no way. Not the man who wrote that famous call for improved, accurate, fair coverage of religious believers.

New York Times religion reporters have enough trouble of their own building up rapport and relationships with religious adherents. I can’t help but imagine they’ve been working hard to restore trust with some of the leaders who have given up even talking to them. That’s what reporters do. Something like this would make it so easy for religious people to dismiss the Times in perpetuity. There’s no way that an executive editor would do something like that to the pros in his newsroom.

Now, I did fall for the Krugman hoax earlier this week, to my shame, so perhaps I’m overreacting. But I am not going to be had twice.

There must be some deeper meaning here. There’s no way that the Times would openly display such bigotry or destroy its credibility so thoroughly. Is this a point about how campaign coverage should focus on the economy or role of government? Is this a point about counter-jihadists? Is this a point about how we should handle bigotry in the public square? What’s the point of it? I know it’s been done to prove a point, but I’m just not sure what.

And before you say, “Come on, Mollie! Keller’s anti-Catholic writing has such a long history from his questioning the Pope’s Catholicity to his more recent ‘collapsed Catholic‘ ax-grinding phase,” I’ll remind you — yet again — that he also wrote this.

Perhaps that’s our answer. Maybe he’s trying to show his reporters the difference between just giving lip service to diversity and actually living it. And maybe even the anti-Catholic stuff was one long piece of performance art. It would certainly make much more sense than the idea that Keller actually believes these things about Protestants, Catholics and Mormons, right? Like all good satire, it works because it’s almost believable that the New York Times would promote such thinking in its pages. But it was over-the-top in a way that reveals it’s really a brilliant piece of satire by outgoing executive editor Bill Keller. Good work, sir. Good work.

To Bill Keller (c/o The New York Times)

NYTimesTowerDear Mr. Bill Keller:

Each semester, in the very first class session at the Washington Journalism Center, I have my students read the New York Times self-study document from 2005 entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust (.pdf).” Then I require them to carefully read your response, “Assuring Our Credibility (.pdf).”

The passage that always hits home for me, as a professor who works with young journalists from a wide variety of Christian campuses, is this one:

First and foremost we hire the best reporters, editors, photographers and artists in the business. But we will make an extra effort to focus on diversity of religious upbringing and military experience, of region and class.

Of course, diversifying the range of viewpoints reported — and understood — in our pages is not mainly a matter of hiring a more diverse work force. It calls for a concerted effort by all of us to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. …

I also endorse the committee’s recommendation that we cover religion more extensively, but I think the key to that is not to add more reporters who will write about religion as a beat. I think the key is to be more alert to the role religion plays in many stories we cover, stories of politics and policy, national and local, stories of social trends and family life, stories of how we live. This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.

My students find this commitment encouraging, coming from the leader of the most powerful newsroom in America. It helps them understand that if they achieve journalistic excellence, they can help provide intellectual and cultural diversity in a news industry that seriously needs to convince readers — on the left and right — that it is committed to accuracy, fairness and balance.

This commitment is especially important if, during the current crisis in American journalism, the Times seeks to find more readers by reaching a broader, more diverse, national audience — even in, dare I say, pews in the American heartland.

It is in that spirit that I want to point you toward a recent story in your newspaper that, frankly, doesn’t even grasp the role that religion plays in the lives of many people in the state of New York and, perhaps, in some shadowy corners of New York City. The story focuses on that 38-to-24 vote in the New York State Senate rejecting a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

The defeat shocked supporters, of course, because many legislators clearly were afraid to confess beforehand that they supported a traditional definition of marriage. What was going on? What happened during the debate? We are told this:

The state’s Roman Catholic bishops had consistently lobbied for its defeat, however, and after the vote released a statement applauding the move.

“Advocates for same-sex marriage have attempted to portray their cause as inevitable,” Richard E. Barnes, the executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said in the statement. “However, it has become clear that Americans continue to understand marriage the way it has always been understood, and New York is not different in that regard. This is a victory for the basic building block of our society.”

Several supporters said they felt they had been betrayed by senators who promised to vote yes but then, reluctant to support an issue as politically freighted as same-sex marriage if they could avoid it, switched their votes on the floor when it became evident the bill would lose.

When I read this report, I thought to myself: I wonder if the religious issues that surround this issue surfaced in any meaningful way during the debate in the legislature? It’s obvious that Catholic Church would have been involved, behind the scenes. But what about other groups?

As it turns out, 17 senators rose to speak in favor of the legislation — with only one speaking against it. That’s an amazing ratio.

custom_1245221323585_Bill_KellerThen again, that one rebel voice turned out to represent the winning side. It was a Democrat from the Bronx, a Pentecostal minister named Ruben Diaz Sr. He was the subject of a recent Times mini-profile, so I know that his viewpoints are well known to some of your editors.

As it turns out, a Baptist Press report on the debate in the New York Senate contained some interesting material about the debate. I realize that this is a conservative news service for a niche market. However, it certainly appears that religion played a major role in the debate.

Does anyone in your newsroom get Baptist Press? Just asking. It’s free, so it wouldn’t stretch the budget in these tight times. Here’s a piece of that report:

A Pentecostal minister from the Bronx, Diaz has been the most vocal opponent from the start. When he learned … the vote was set to take place, he went to his office to pray. …

Diaz, the second speaker during the debate, set the tone early for the discussion about religion. “Gay marriage,” he said, “is not only opposed by us evangelicals.

“All the major religions in the world also oppose it,” Diaz, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said. “The Jewish religion opposes it. The Muslim religion opposes it. The Catholic religion opposes it.”

No one else, though, defended a traditional view of the Bible. Senate President Malcolm Smith said “the Bible does not say same-sex marriage is wrong.” Sen. Velmanette Montgomery told her colleagues that because her faith tradition believes that living together before marriage is sin, the chamber should legalize relationships for homosexuals because “we do not want them to live in sin.” Sen. Eric Adams said religion was important to him but that “when I enter these [Senate] doors, my Bible stays out.” Smith, Montgomery and Adams are all Democrats.

Diaz got in the last word on religion, telling Adams, “The Bible should never be left out. You should carry your Bible all the time.”

That sounds like a rather tense and important exchange, especially since it appears that Diaz had more support in the chamber than anyone expected. What role did religion, ethnicity and culture play in some of those votes?

Here’s my point: I know that it’s important for journalists to wrestle with realities far from from their own neighborhood. However, in this case, may I suggest that the Times try exploring some corners of its own city?

You see, there are Pentecostal Democrats from Puerto Rico who live in the Bronx. There are booming evangelical and charismatic churches in Brooklyn. The Korean Presbyterians are interesting people, too. There are Latino and African-American Catholics, as well. I suggest visiting a Haitian parish.

I could go on. My point is that I think the Times must continue to wrestle with the cultural and intellectual diversity in its city, its state and, yes, its nation, if it is going to reach a broad, strong, growing audience. You will find that there are new readers out there and faith plays a major role in their lives, even if the ancient details of this faith clash with the editorial policies of your newspaper.

I read your newspaper and sincerely wish you well. I urge you to read your own words again and then carry on. To understand how the world really works, journalists must try to understand the often messy details of religion. Please keep trying. Don’t settle for producing journalism catering to the views of readers who share — as you said — your own “predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation.”


NASCAR, Cabela's — and Catholicism?

BrianWilliams.jpgThe 80th anniversary issue of The New Yorker includes a report by Nicholas Lemann on how some editors of the nation’s most prestigious daily newspapers are feeling beleaguered by criticisms by both liberals and conservatives — but especially by conservatives. The essay opens with Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, talking at length about how President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove “pounded on us for two cocktails’ worth of conversation.” (Keller had made the mistake of asking Rove what he thought of the Times‘ political coverage.)

At the Chicago Tribune, editor in chief Ann Marie Lipinski deals with a reader who sees anti-Bush hostility in a photo from President Reagan’s funeral at the National Cathedral, and another who believes the Tribune is preaching socialism because it published a woman’s memories of not qualifying for health insurance.

The article touches on themes explored regularly on this blog, and with pleasant surprises. Here is a passage about Keller’s involvement in writing about presidential candidate John Kerry’s religion gap:

“The first event I went to was a stem-cell event in New Hampshire,” Keller said. “I thought back on Bush’s agonizing over that issue — soliciting the advice of clergy — but at this Kerry event the words ‘faith,’ ‘morality,’ ‘God’ never came up. There was not even the implicit suggestion that it was a moral dilemma for many Americans. So I was focussed on this issue of why Kerry didn’t talk more about faith. The second stop was a meeting in Philadelphia with black ministers, mostly from Pennsylvania and Ohio, about turnout. He left them cold. He didn’t even try to connect, or to suggest that they had some kind of bond based on faith.” (Rove had complained to Keller and Taubman that the Times didn’t understand the American who regularly attended church.)

“So, when we finally got some time with Kerry, I wanted to ask him about religion,” Keller went on. “Hell, I’m the executive editor, I get to decide on at least the first couple of questions. He was a little nonplussed. He was pretty elusive. A little defensive. He ended up saying, ‘I really do believe. I need to talk more about that.’” (After the interview, the Times ran a story, with Keller’s as the second byline, about Kerry’s “visible discomfort in discussing religion.”)

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