Nelson’s health care problem


Ben Nelson is facing some bad news back home in Nebraska after he switched his vote to support the Senate’s health care bill. A Rasmussen survey shows 55 percent of Nebraska voters now hold an unfavorable view of Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2012, while 40 percent view him favorably. So Nelson took to the airwaves during the University of Nebraska’s Holiday Bowl on Wednesday to defend his position, but some reporters seem to forget what started it all: abortion.

Some of the Nebraskan stories that led up to Nelson’s ad buried or glossed over why he was a key player to begin with. Remember how Nelson said he would filibuster if the bill did not have Stupak-like language (barring federal funds to be used for abortion)?

Nebraskans are probably unhappy with Nelson after the health care vote for a variety of reasons. Maybe they simply don’t like that he voted for the bill (the Rasmussen poll suggests that 64 percent oppose the legislation while just 17 percent approve it). Or perhaps they didn’t like the negative publicity when Senate leaders decided to exempt Nebraska from paying for the state’s share of an expansion to Medicaid.

Though since abortion played such a key role in why Nelson was in the spotlight to begin with, shouldn’t reporters keep the abortion discussion in context as they write about his poll woes? In the Rasmussen poll, 65 percent of Nebraskans say that coverage of abortion should be prohibited in any plan that receives government subsidies.

In an interview with the McCook Daily Gazette, Nelson seems to suggest abortion funding could play a part in the backlash.

Other deal-breakers could result if they “start fooling with taxes and come up with a new tax scheme or the House scheme” or the bill comes back without suitable language prohibiting federal funding of abortion.

Unfortunately, he said too many pro-life forces suffer from “pride of authorship” and are unwilling to support measures with language they didn’t write but which achieves the same goal, banning federal funding for abortion.

“If they (the conference committee) try to weaken it in any way, I’m not going to be able to support the conference bill.”

I wish the newspaper had printed the full interview instead of chopping up his quotes and asked a follow-up question about what he considers unsuitable language for funding abortion.

National coverage of Nelson’s defense did include brief mentions that abortion played a role in his spotlight. Monica Davey of The New York Times offers a little context with quotes from Nebraska’s Right to Life leader.

“Nebraska is in a huge revolt over this,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, whose group has repeatedly endorsed Mr. Nelson for his anti-abortion views. “My personal feeling is that he completely underestimated the level of opposition to the overall bill among Nebraskans, and it just whacked him on the side of the head.”

Among the critics, some, like Ms. Schmit-Albin, say they are dissatisfied with the Senate bill’s provisions related to abortion–an effort to segregate federal dollars from private ones and let states set still tighter restrictions–and feel Mr. Nelson betrayed them on the matter. (This might surprise Senate liberals, many of whom were angry that Mr. Nelson insisted on the abortion rules.)

Still, this is where the Times could flesh out the difference between the Senate and the House versions of the abortion funding language in the bill and explain what would satisfy pro-life groups.

Susan Davis writes a short explanation of the provision for The Wall Street Journal.

He also pushed for more stringent language on abortion, but ended up with less restrictive language than the House version of the bill. The Senate version allows women to buy plans covering an abortion if they get a tax credit to buy insurance, but they must use their own money for coverage and write a separate check.

This section could have been expanded to include comparisons of the bill, but it’s a nice, simple way of giving important context for readers.

Earlier, Mollie pointed out two articles by the Washington Post about Nelson’s key role in discussions on how to handle abortion in the health care bill. The first article, she noted, did not mention Nelson’s Methodist faith. Then she suggested an examination of why pro-life Catholics seem more firm than pro-life Protestants. Perhaps Omaha World-Herald and the Journal-Star could shed some light on Nelson’s pro-life background. Would it simply be politically impossible for a state-wide candidate to support abortion, or does Nelson’s Methodist faith have anything to do with it?

As reporters consider Nelson’s poll numbers, it’s not inconceivable that abortion could have something to do with it.

On a North Korean mission

NorthKoreanflagEarlier this year, former President Clinton helped negotiate the release of two American journalists who were held in North Korea for five months after crossing the border illegally.

Now an American missionary has crossed into North Korea’s borders calling on Kim Jong Il to shut down the country’s political prison camps.

I’m pleasantly surprised to see coverage early on and interested to see if it keeps up. Here’s coverage from South Korea by The New York Times:

“I am an American citizen,” Robert Park, 28, said as he crossed the frozen river separating China from North Korea on Friday, according to Jo Sung-rae, head of Pax Koreana, a conservative civic group based in Seoul. “I am coming here to deliver God’s love. God loves you.”

By early Sunday, there was no word of his fate from North Korea.

Before heading to China last week to make the journey, Mr. Park said he was determined to become a “martyr” for the tens of thousands of people said to be incarcerated in North Korea’s infamous concentration camps, Mr. Jo said.

In a videotaped message he made before the trip, Mr. Park said he wanted to be arrested and had no intention of leaving North Korea voluntarily until it shuts down its camps. He also said he did not want President Obama to “buy his freedom.”

Of course, the Times considers the impact on Washington’s diplomatic relations with North Korea, but I’m also curious how South Korean churches might respond, since they send out a lot of missionaries. I’m guessing there will be mixed reactions as some might consider him brave while others might consider him foolish. The Times‘s article is worth a read because it does a nice job of giving readers some context of North Korea’s situation and offering some background of the missionary.

The Associated Press has more background from the missionary’s parents who heard from their son December 23 in an e-mail.

“Know that I am the happiest in all my life,” his e-mail said. “Incredible miracles are happening in the liberation of North Koreans right now … We are going to see a big and beautiful change in Korea and in the World this year!”

A Tuscan-based television station also reports on how Park’s background as a missionary.

“We call him a modern-day John the Baptist. That’s literally what we call him,” said Pastor John Benson.

Benson said that he ordained Park as a missionary in late 2007, and said that Park’s capacity for prayer surprised even him.

“We were kind of a place told him, ‘hey, Robert, it’s okay man, let’s go eat. Let’s go sleep. We would pray and then Robert would pray after the prayer meeting, on the way home,” Pastor Benson said.

We saw a lot of coverage of the journalists detained in the same country earlier this year, as journalists love covering other journalists. It will be interesting to see whether they continue to cover this development in the same way.

Prayers on a plane


I spent most of Christmas in airports and in airplanes, so forgive me for dwelling on travel as of late. While we were waiting for our third flight on Friday, I read on my new phone (thank you, husband) about the attempted attack on a jetliner arriving in Detroit. There’s nothing like a terrorist scare to get you excited about flying again.

I’m guessing the airport chaplain whom the Washington Post recently profiled kept pretty busy this weekend. Reporter Paul Farhi offered a pretty nice Christmas-day feature on the chaplain at Dulles airport who might pray with people, offer directions to a gate or give counsel to employees.

Indeed, nearly 7,000 people this year have sought pastoral counseling at Dulles and Reagan National Airport, according to Metropolitan Washington Airports Interfaith Chapels, the nonprofit organization that runs chapels at both facilities. Chaplains at the airports have met with 28,000 employees over the years, as well, to talk with them about all manner of problems — family issues, money issues, drug and alcohol abuse.

I suppose there are chaplains everywhere–in the military, sports, hospitals, politics–but it never occurred to me that airports would have chaplains running around.

There are some sections of the article that could have used editing, however. Take the second half of this sentence, for example.

Which in this case includes about 36,000 airport employees and tens of thousands of travelers, many of whom seemed more in need of gate information than spiritual guidance.

Thanks for your opinion? The biggest problem, though, is that the reporter buries the chaplain’s religion down to the 14th paragraph. That’s sort of like writing about an athlete but not describing the sport or a musician without explaining the instrument.

By tradition, airport chaplains are interfaith (Benson happens to be a Presbyterian minister) and do not proselytize. They are most visible in emergencies, such as the aftermath of a plane crash, but most of the time they counsel airport employees and conduct worship services and Bible study sessions. Benson and his 10 assistant chaplains, all of whom are Christian and most of whom are former military chaplains, receive a small stipend for their work from MWAIC, which itself survives on donations. (A Muslim cleric conducts services on Fridays.)

Benson happens to be a Presbyterian minister? What if he were a religious leader in another tradition–would he happen to be a priest or an imam? We need more information here; for example, is he ordained?

The interfaith issues could easily be developed more. He’s not Catholic, he’s not Jewish, he’s not Muslim, so how can he be both interfaith and Presbyterian? What happens if, say, someone who’s Hindu wants to talk to a guru instead of a Presbyterian? I’m guessing some people would find it uncomfortable to pray to someone else’s God–Does Benson ever get someone who just doesn’t want to pray with him?

I’m also curious how one “gets” to be a airport chaplain. Do you have to have certain qualifications to become one? Does it require any formal education or training? Do you audition or something? Who do they “report” to? Those are some pretty basic questions I would find important for a story like this.

One angle the reporter could have explored is how Benson would compare his role as a hospital chaplain to his former role in the military. I assume military and sports chaplains hang out with their platoon or team for the deployment or season, while airport and hospital chaplains probably see people come and go all the time.

I would also be interested in hearing from airport authorities about why they have chaplains. Is it just one more way to keep people from mentally exploding after waiting in line after line after line? What role can a chaplain play that, say, an airport employee can’t?

More and more flying customers will be on edge as tighter security measures will likely be put in place. Plus, people love talking about their latest horror airport experience (after two days, I still don’t have my bag), so airport chaplains are potential profiles to pursue.

Ghosts in the Graveyard


I’m a little bit bitter at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport right now. On my latest flight, I had 10 minutes to find my way on the opposite side of the enormous airport, and my luggage was delayed by a day because it didn’t transfer in time.

The point of my minor sob story is that the second busiest airport in the world is expanding yet again, and it’s demolishing a church’s cemetery in the process. Did city officials get the memo that Chicago didn’t get the Olympics?

The story could provide Chicago-land reporters a religion angle, but most of them merely provide the bare-bones report on the judge’s decision. The Chicago Tribune‘s story offered a perspective from the church, which has fought the removal.

Judge Hollis Webster ruled that the city had the right to proceed with an eminent domain lawsuit to acquire the site and then proceed with the orderly transfer of the 900 known graves.

Attorneys for St. John’s United Church of Christ, which owns the cemetery that dates to the 19th century, had said during a hearing Tuesday that they didn’t want the cemetery to be disturbed. In legal filings, they contended that the religious beliefs of those buried at the site call for them to “remain undisturbed until the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Attorneys for Chicago argued that numerous previous rulings on the issue by several other state and federal court actions allowed them to obtain the cemetery.

“We realize this is a very sensitive matter and we are committed to working closely with the families, as well as the officials from St. John’s United Church of Christ,” said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino. “We will continue to proceed with respect and dignity in dealing with the relatives of those interred at St. Johannes Cemetery.”

For background on the court case, the invaluable Howard Freidman offered a summary of a 2006 decision by the D.C. Circuit to reject a challenged based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Think about the angles you could develop here with death, burial, courts, and church-hosted cemeteries. GetReligion has explored these burial issues before (such as the green issue or the business angle). For this one particular church in Chicago, moving a cemetery would likely cause a great headache dealing with the families. But are there theological reasons why the church leaders think it should remain (if, as the lawyer suggests, they think that they should “remain undisturbed until the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ.”)? It would take a little bit of digging (no pun intended), but the reporters could follow up with the church’s leaders and church members who have family members buried there.

The example from Chicago could provide fodder for other story ideas as well. Perhaps it’s a long-time trend, but it seems like fewer churches are hosting their own cemeteries. There may be simple explanations like it takes up space and costs money. But, for example, I’m guessing it’s impossible for megachurches like Willow Creek and Saddleback to host their own cemeteries. Do churches feel like they have a role to play after the funeral?

Also, there’s a little debate among evangelicals over whether you should be buried or if cremation is acceptable. I’d be curious to see whether society is moving towards one or the other and how religious leaders are responding. What do they teach when it comes to issues of the body? Cemeteries hold special meaning for many people, and there are religion stories to be explored.

Photo of Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Ala., courtesy Flickr Creative Commons. Also, not only is “Ghosts in the Graveyard” a reference to religion ghosts, but it’s a terrific game to play with kids.

Christmas wars vs. consumption wars

christmasChristmas gift giving puts our little household in a quandary. I spend hours figuring out what to get my husband for Christmas to show him the careful thought and energy I put in to finding him something he wants. He, in turn, will wait until Christmas Eve and then complain about the traffic he has to fight to get me a video game. After a long trip to the mall, I gush about finding the perfect gift for family members. He wails about the mass consumption that reeks during Christmas. Ah yes, the time of year when people give out of love and give out of necessity.

I want to commend Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan for finding a pretty fresh Christmas story on how Christians are fighting consumerism. The story begins, though, about Christmas wars–or conservatives defending “Merry Christmas” as opposed to “Happy Holidays.” Sullivan juxtaposes the two issues as though one is admirable while one is not.

[T]he Colorado-based nonprofit Focus on the Family is continuing its Stand for Christmas campaign to highlight the offenses of Christmas-denying retailers. The campaign was launched, according to its website, because “citizens across the nation were growing dissatisfied with the tendency of corporations to omit references to Christmas from holiday promotions.”

But to a growing group of Christians, the focus on the commercial aspect of Christmas is the greatest threat to one of Christianity’s holiest days.

I’m not sure it has to be either/or: Either you support corporations using “Merry Christmas” or you can oppose the mass consumerism during Christmas. I’m not saying I’m in either of these camps, but can’t someone be in both?

Nevertheless, this is what the story is really about:

[Portland, Ore., pastor Rick] McKinley is one of the leaders of an effort to do away with the frenzied activity and extravagant gift-giving of a commercial Christmas. Through a savvy viral video and marketing effort, the so-called Advent Conspiracy movement has exploded. Hundreds of churches on four continents and in at least 17 countries have signed up to participate. The Advent Conspiracy video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube, and the movement boasts nearly 45,000 fans on Facebook.

I flipped through Advent Conspiracy after it came out in October and watched the video, and opposing Christmas wars just didn’t feel like the thrust of the movement. They ask people to consider buying one less gift. So it isn’t as though they have given up shopping altogether. Here’s more from the story:

In many ways, Advent Conspiracy has appropriated some of the traditional arguments of the conservative Christians who see themselves as defenders of Christmas. A popular rallying cry of the foot soldiers in the war on Christmas is “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Often, however, it seems that being able to score a half-price Nintendo DSi and a “Merry Christmas” from the checkout clerk is the real prize. The Religious Right has spent decades casting secular culture as the enemy. And yet instead of critiquing the values of the consumer marketplace, many conservative Christians have embraced it as the battleground they seek to reclaim.

This reads like a jab to Focus on the Family and friends. Don’t get me wrong. I would be delighted to read about an end to Christmas wars in the appropriate context (a column, perhaps), but the angle feels a bit forced. It also appears that she just spoke with McKinley and one anonymous youth pastor. Why not call the defenders of “Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” and get their take, if that’s going to be the angle?

The story appropriately shows how Christians are changing a longstanding Christmas tradition in order to fight consumeristic impulses. Why can’t it explore that idea and leave it at that? I guess, then, there would be no political implication.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post this picture I took while getting our Christmas tree in Green Bay this year. It amused me that a typo could have a religious twist.

Tulsa’s man of faith

oralroberts3If you want a play-by-play of Oral Roberts’s life, look no further than Bill Sherman of the Tulsa World. Sherman’s piece was one of the first posted when news first broke that Roberts had died and is jam packed with Roberts’s chronology. For example, I didn’t know this piece of info: “The O.W. Coburn School of Law opened in 1979, and in 1985 regents voted to give the school to CBN University–now Regent University–in Virginia Beach, Va.”

It’s a pretty detailed list of the attempts and achievements Roberts made. What the piece might be missing, however, is a look at the impact Roberts made on the religious climate in Tulsa. Was he divisive in Tulsa’s religious community or otherwise? The stories are at the top of the newspaper’s “most viewed” and “most e-mailed,” so it’s clear that this was not just any Tulsa story (though the Tulsa story about a giraffe with a broken neck might steal some thunder).

Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News looks at his impact on northern Texas.

Based in nearby Oklahoma, Roberts had connections and influence that easily spilled over into Texas.

He preached here-a six-day tent crusade near Irving in 1962 drew about 60,000 people-and he was close to Gordon and Freda Lindsay, founders of Christ for the Nations, a Bible school in Oak Cliff.

“I have always admired Brother Roberts for his strong faith and believing in the supernatural gifting of healing and deliverance for the body of Christ,” said Dennis Lindsay, current president of Christ for the Nations, where about 1,200 students pursue a charismatic, Holy Spirit-filled approach to education.

The Tulsa World editorial writers take a stab at his influence, saying that Roberts’s lasting legacy for the city will be Oral Roberts University.

For some ill but a great deal more good, his ministry of miracles and a personal God changed Tulsa and the world.

We salute his life’s accomplishments and wish his family and his followers comfort in this time of sorrow.

We know that they will hold fast to Roberts’ often-repeated message that the final healing miracle would not be achieved in this world but in the next.

This conclusion seems a bit odd, as if they are sort of patting Roberts’s fans on the back for believing Roberts’s message. Nevertheless, they recognize his footprint on the city.

Reading several obituaries, it’s interesting to see whether writers are noting how Roberts’s son Richard Roberts left his post as head of the university in 2007 after he was accused of misusing university funds. (The Tulsa World‘s obituary does not mention it). You could probably make a few arguments for or against: It happened so recently, it set the university back for a time, or it has nothing to do with Oral Roberts himself.

Back to the Tulsa World‘s coverage, it offers an impressive section of archived stories, videos, slide shows and a timeline. From a technical standpoint, it’s pretty easy to navigate, though it would be convenient if they had set a hyperlink for each page. The section also offers an timeline of events, and apart from the irritating bubble that pops up, it’s interesting to see when the Tulsa World and formerly the Tulsa Tribune covered an event and when it did not (more often than not). The newspaper continues to cover his death by getting reaction from university students and reporting on the public memorial.

Overall, kudos to Sherman, who is probably working overtime this week.

Bullying Rick Warren

The roles of Newsweek and its religion reporter Lisa Miller’s as reporter (conveyor of information) and pundit (advocacy) have been blurred for a while now. One minute, Miller is reporting on a story, the next, she’s offering her personal opinion on it.

This week’s target is California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who is being connected to the proposed legislation in Uganda that would, among other things if it were passed in its original version, execute homosexuals who are infected with HIV. On Thursday, Warren condemned the legislation. Miller responds in a column titled, “What Took You So Long? Rick Warren does the right thing.”

Excellent. Righteous, even. But I can’t help wondering: what took him so long?

Since when is Miller setting the standards for righteousness?

Also, it boggles my mind how Miller and others were connecting Warren to this legislation before he made his statement. NPR and Foreign Policy wrote that he was under fire by critics, but by whom? Andrew Sullivan counts as “critics”? NPR and FP seem to be taking Miller’s cue that Warren should have reacted long ago, but let’s reexamine whether Warren should be connected to this legislation. Warren has worked with a pastor on HIV/AIDS in the past who happens to now support legislation against homosexuality. I’ve been trying to think of an American equivalent: Say President Obama works with a pastor in Chicago to promote responsible fatherhood; on a separate occasion the pastor also happens to oppose same-sex civil unions; therefore, Obama opposes same-sex civil unions. No one would make that stretch, so why are reporters doing the same to Warren? Perhaps there is a reason why Warren is relevant. We know that he has been active in Africa for a while now, but my understanding is that he’s only been there to fight HIV/AIDS. Instead of following Miller’s example, perhaps reporters should dig a little bit more to find correlation or causation because I’m not seeing it.

Should reporters expect a statement from pastors like Warren on every single outrageous piece of proposed legislation in another country? That seems like media bullying to me. Lots of ridiculous ideas are proposed and never passed, right? Also, I’m guessing Lisa Miller would not have written the same column, if, for example, Warren had condemned Spain for proposing that 16-year-old girls can have an abortion without parental consent.

Let’s take a look at some of her logic, and I’ll give a few quick reactions:

But what did Warren–who believes that homosexual acts are unbiblical and yet has devoted himself to solving the problem of HIV/AIDS–think about the law?

Does she really think that it’s incompatible to oppose homosexuality and work against HIV/AIDS?

“It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”

…Moreover, it simply wasn’t true. Warren has spoken out on politics, most recently on Meet the Press over Thanksgiving weekend, when he called abortion “a holocaust.”

Miller did not read his statement. He says he doesn’t want to comment on the political process of other nations. She gives an example of him commenting on abortion, which is hotly debated within the political process in America. He didn’t attack a specific piece of legislation in another country.

The generous interpretation here is that Warren is working within the mainstream evangelical tradition. Following the model of Billy Graham, Warren has long proclaimed himself “a pastor, not a politician.”

Memo to Miller: Graham does not necessarily represent “mainstream evangelical tradition.” That’s a fairly sweeping generalization for a pretty fragmented movement. Also, reporters’ comparison of Billy Graham and Rick Warren always make me a little uncomfortable because while Graham was a global evangelist, Warren is a local church pastor. Also, Graham may have condemned proposed laws in other countries, but Miller doesn’t provide any specific examples besides slavery more broadly. Did Graham ever condemn another nation’s law that allowed slavery?

The problem for Warren is this: his positions on homosexuality are controversial. Articulating them too clearly might alienate his allies who disagree with him, as I do.

Uh oh. To alienate Lisa Miller is like alienating…the world? I think the problem for Warren was articulated in his earlier statement: he does not want to dictate policy for other nations. For example, there’s this reoccurring debate among Christians over whether missionaries should speak against a country’s culture or whether they should work within it. What if the roles were reversed? How would Americans respond if an African pastor spoke against same-sex marriage legislation? Did Miller stop to think that maybe a statement from him or other American pastors would push the legislation closer to being passed? It’s not always well received when Americans (in some people’s eyes, the epitome of unchristian values) try to dictate international law. I’d be curious, for example, what she would write if Uganda were an Islamic country.

Also, what if Warren was trying to change the legislation quietly behind the scenes? A tweet from Warren suggests he had been working to kill the bill. “DThanks Bob! It seem our quiet effort helped kill part of the Uganda b so it was worth being misjudged, but our job isnt done yet.” This seems pretty relevant if this is indeed the case.

Here’s how Miller concludes:

Warren arrived on the world stage through his authenticity. So to him I make this plea: Your Uganda statement was a good, brave start. Continue to say what’s on your heart, and earn back the trust of your opponents.

Does she really think that Warren’s goal is to “earn back the trust of your opponents”? What if what’s on his heart is something she happens to disagree with, like on homosexuality? Perhaps Lisa Miller should do the right thing and stick to reporting.

The NYT’s Jewspotting


I wish Brad Greenberg would rise from the depths of law school finals because I would love to read his take on a recent New York Times piece “Yes, Miky, There Are Rabbis in Montana.”

The author tells a story about how a Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog. How cute, right? People love animal stories, I guess, and what better way to combine it than with religion?

Here’s some background on the Jewish population in Montana.

Though there are few Jews in Montana today, there once were many. In the late 19th century, there were thriving Jewish populations in the mining towns, where Jews emigrated to work as butchers, clothiers, jewelers, tailors and the like.

The city of Butte had kosher markets, a Jewish mayor, a B’nai B’rith lodge and three synagogues. Helena, the capital city, had Temple Emanu-El, built in 1891 with a seating capacity of 500. The elegant original facade still stands, but the building was sold and converted to offices in the 1930s, when the congregation had dwindled to almost nothing, the Jewish population having mostly assimilated or moved on to bigger cities.

… Hanukkah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped.

The writer says that in a minor revival, Montana now has three rabbis. That seems like an itty bitty revival to me, so I’m a little bit confused why this is newsworthy.

Without Greenberg, I turn to Slate‘s Jack Shafer, who takes it on in his piece “Jewspotting: In which the New York Times expresses astonishment at members of the tribe living in out-of-the-way places.” Shafer gives links to several previous Times articles that suggest this is a larger trend for the newspaper. “Pseudo-exotic Jewspotting has become so common in the Times that the paper might as well turn the genre into a standing feature,” he writes.

Jewspotting stories appear to be about something when they’re really about nothing. Then why such enthusiasm for them at the Times? Because journalists love to write about holdouts–the guy who refuses to sell his home, the Papua New Guinea tribe that won’t become “civilized,” the last blacksmith in town, the last survivor of World War I, even the last Oldsmobile. Rarity stories are easy to write, and their sappiness makes them even easier to read.

In a blog post for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ben Harris replies, “Why We Love Jewspotting.”

Every time I’d tell someone I was going to write about Jews in Arkansas, I got the same response: There are Jews in Arkansas?!?

Yes, I’d tell them, but only a handful. Clearly, this was news and I was reporting it.

We might ask, of course, why that seems so surprising. Jews are a pretty well dispersed people (although considerably less so as time goes on). And ultimately my standard for news is different than the Times’. I write for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, so what’s happening with the Jews of Arkansas, or Montana, or wherever, is intrinsically newsworthy to us.

But if Shafer is really in need of a news flash, he might try this one: The New York Times really likes writing about Jew-y stuff.

The rest of the Times article is devoted to the dog story.

So all is well in the Jewish community here because the Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog. It is good news all around. The officer keeps the Capitol safe, and the Hebrew pooch is feeling more at home hearing his native tongue.

But the big winner is the rabbi, a recent arrival from Brooklyn who is working hard (against tough odds) to bring his Lubavitch movement to Montana. He has been scouring the state for anyone who can speak Hebrew, and is elated to have found a German shepherd he can talk to.

I’m not heartless. I love dogs. I love that apparently, all is well in the Jewish community in Montana. But I’m with Shafer on this one: the story seems lacking. I’d be much more interested in hearing from the Rabbis on what it means to be in a community in Montana rather than in New York City or another place where there are more Jews. What are the challenges? Are there any benefits? This is where I’d love Greenberg’s take because I don’t want to dismiss the story entirely. But is there a way to give the story more umph? Weigh in, my friends.