Tape unto others, as you would want them…

Dson2581During my days at the Charlotte Observer, I had quite a few tense interviews with Southern Baptists. This in not surprising in a major New South city in the early years of the great Southern Baptist Civil War.

While in Denver, I had many tense interviews with United Methodists, Presbyterians and other oldline Protestants. This is not surprising in a progressive Western city during the era of oldline Protestant decline, in terms of numbers and social clout.

I learned a lesson in both settings. When facing hostile sources, urge them to tape the interview for themselves. That way, you have a tape and they have a tape. Everyone knows that everyone else knows what everyone said during the interview. In effect, you are saying: I am doing everything I can to be accurate and fair. If you feel I have misquoted you, then you can play this tape to my editor. Now can we talk?

The bottom line: Tape unto others as you would want them to tape unto you.

Obviously, the World Wide Web adds another potential scene to this little drama between a source and a reporter — as demonstrated this week by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver. It has published a full transcript of the recent showdown between the conservative Archbishop Charles Chaput and the “issues that divide conservatives” specialist at the New York Times.

Currently, the transcript can be found on the front page of the archdiocesan website. In the future, it may end up on the archbishop’s own site, along with his newspaper columns and other media materials. Here is the transcript introduction, complete with its blogger-style link urging Catholics to read the New York Times report for themselves. Nice touch.

The motto of The New York Times is, “All the news that’s fit to print.” On October 6, 2004, David Kirkpatrick, a reporter for The Times, conducted an extensive interview with Denver’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., on issues surrounding this year’s national elections. In the interests of accuracy, archdiocesan staff recorded the interview. A heavily truncated and framed version of the archbishop’s views appeared in an October 12 New York Times story. Read story here.

A transcript of the full interview appears below. Readers are invited to compare the published New York Times story and the actual interview transcript, and then decide for themselves whether the October 12 Times story is slanted or fair; complete or misleading.

Odds are, the archbishop believes that the Times turned him into a narrow, right-wing fundamentalist talking head.

The Times cannot, of course, run the whole interview. Sources are always going to wish that reporters had used 10 quotes instead of one. That’s journalism. But the whole interview does show the degree to which there were multiple dogmas involved in this Times report. Read it for yourself.

Meanwhile, here is the context of the most controversial Chaput quotation that the Times saw fit to print. Let’s go to the tape.

NYT: Archbishop Burke in St. Louis caught my attention again on Friday [October 1]. He issued a statement basically stating that it’s a sin if you vote for a pro-choice politician[.] I believe he was saying even if that wasn’t the reason you voted for him, that you voted for a pro-abortion politician that is still something that you ought confess. Is that ?

AB: I don’t believe that’s where you should start. The place to start would be, does our voting for someone make us responsible for what that person does as a legislator or as a judge? And the answer is yes, because we are in some ways materially — we use the word “materially” — cooperating in that person’s activity because we’ve given [him or her] the platform to be elected. Now, if the person does something wrong, are we responsible for that? Well, if we didn’t know they were going to something wrong, our participation is remote, but if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we approved of it, our responsibility would be really be close, even if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we voted for them for another reason, we would still be responsible in some ways.

The standing is that if you know someone is going to do evil and you participate in that in some way, you are responsible. So it’s not “if you vote this way, should you go to confession?” The question is, “if you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?” Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes. There’s a more sophisticated thing here it’s not so crude. The reason I want to stress that is because it is not like bishops are issuing edicts about who should vote for whom. It’s issuing statements about how a Catholic forms her conscience, or his conscience and remote material cooperation or proximate material cooperation is cooperation, and it’s important for Catholics to know that, to be sophisticated in their judgments.

Is healing possible (other than through Kerry)?

HealingAdvocates of improved religion-beat coverage often run into the following argument.

Newspapers are supposed to be skeptical (true) and that means we should only be covering stories based on facts. Religion is all about private beliefs, not verifiable public facts, so we shouldn’t be covering that emotional gobbledegook in the first place. Whenever you cover those stories people call in all upset and they don’t want to talk about the facts.

On one level, this makes sense.

On another, it’s totally bogus. Newspapers cover facts. OK, it is a fact that millions of people say that their beliefs affect how they live their lives, earn their living, raise their children and, heaven forbid, cast their ballots. The fact of these activities then affects issues of time and money. The last time I checked, sportswriters tried to cover the not-so-logical side of their beat and, increasingly, the same is true of political reporters. Are the arts based totally on “facts”?

It is also true that millions of people believe that prayer can change things and even heal. This is a belief that transcends denominational differences. These days, one might even run into a healing service at a Unitarian Universalist sanctuary.

Thus, it is interesting to read a very traditional journalistic report on the phenomenon of scientists doing research into the power of prayer. Reporter Benedict Carey of the New York Times sticks close to the basics, and pretty quickly runs into the “fact” wall:

Critics express outrage that the federal government, which has contributed $2.3 million in financing over the last four years for prayer research, would spend taxpayer money to study something they say has nothing to do with science.

“Intercessory prayer presupposes some supernatural intervention that is by definition beyond the reach of science,” said Dr. Richard J. McNally, a psychologist at Harvard. “It is just a nonstarter, in my opinion, a total waste of time and money.”

To understand the nature of the research, read the story. The scientists involved are trying to find ways to do neutral tests. They are trying to research the facts, even if they cannot provide explanations for why the facts exist.

And this is not a fringe activity. Clearly, this is news. Even if it causes sweaty palms.

Since 2000, at least 10 studies of intercessory prayer have been carried out by researchers at institutions including the Mind/Body Medical Institute, a nonprofit clinic near Boston run by a Harvard-trained cardiologist, as well as Duke University and the University of Washington. Government financing of intercessory prayer research began in the mid-1990′s and has continued under the Bush administration. …

Two large trials of the effects of prayer on coronary health are currently under review at prominent medical journals. Even those who defend prayer research concede that such studies are difficult. For one thing, no one knows what constitutes a “dose”: some studies have tested a few prayers a day by individual healers, while others have had entire congregations pray together. Some have involved evangelical Christians; others have engaged rabbis, Buddhist and New Age healers, or some combination.

Maybe the fact is that this is a mystery. Can newspapers cover this, quoting intelligent voices on both sides of the debate? This approach might even work in other controversial science issues. You think?

Another clash of dogmas in the New York Times

Focuschaput_2There they go again.

Once again, the New York Times is shocked, shocked to discover that a few of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops believe that there should be a connection between abortion (an issue treated with singular seriousness by the Vatican) and the ballot box (the final holy of holies for newspaper elites).

Thus, the newspaper of record has signaled that it is getting closer to the day when Catholics will have to make a choice — are you nuanced or are you simplistic? Are you with The Newspaper or with those Catholic fundamentalists? David D. Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein get right down to business in their story entitled “Group of Bishops Using Influence to Oppose Kerry.”

Galvanized by battles against same-sex marriage and stem cell research and alarmed at the prospect of a President Kerry — who is Catholic but supports abortion rights — these bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are blanketing churches with guides identifying abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among a handful of “non-negotiable issues.”

To the dismay of liberal Catholics and some other bishops, traditional church concerns about the death penalty or war are often not mentioned.

It’s all in the quote marks. “Non-negotiable issues” earns them, while “traditional church concerns” does not. In reality, the Vatican itself has ranked abortion as a non-negotiable issue, along with a small number of others, while making serious, but not clearly dogmatic, statements on issues such as just war and the death penalty.

So the grammar of the Vatican is different than the grammar of the Times. This is not shocking. It is hard to write a balanced story about this issue, once the matter of the quote marks is settled.

There needs to be a rebellious leader in this story and that label is assigned to the outspoken, young (in terms of Catholic prelates) leader of the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput (pictured). He has been speaking his mind early and often, especially in his newspaper editorial columns. Here is a sample:

Next month, October, is Respect Life month. It’s a good time to reflect on the meaning of the Kennedy-Cuomo legacy. In brief, it’s OK to be Catholic in public service as long as you’re willing to jettison what’s inconveniently `Catholic.` That’s not a compromise. That’s a deal with the devil, and it has a balloon payment no nation, no public servant and no voter can afford.

Well now, that is certainly an easy quote to interpret. Chaput did not mince words in a face-to-face meeting with the Times.

In an interview in his residence here, Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion.

“If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?” he asked. “And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes.”

Much is at stake for the bishops, such as the seriousness of certain sacraments, dogma related to mortal sin and a few other non-trivial matters. Much is at stake for the New York Times, as well. The reporters note that 76 percent of Catholics, in a Time poll, said the church’s position on abortion made no difference in their decisions about voting. Then again, in a summer Times poll, 71 percent favored some restrictions on abortion. And GOP politicos note that — pew-gap alert — Catholics and others who attend religious services at least once a week tend to be more conservative. Fifty-three percent of those Catholics supported Mr. Bush in 2000 compared with 47 percent of all Catholics.

It is natural to leap from this New York Times discussion to another, centering on a recent column by public editor Daniel Okrent entitled “How Would Jackson Pollock Cover This Campaign?” In it, he notes that he is receiving his usual flood of letters claiming the newspaper is, to one degree or another, biased. His bottom line:

(There) are plenty of press critics in print and on the Web, so I’ll cede the general criticism to them. Here’s the question for a public editor: Is The Times systematically biased toward either candidate?

No.

If there’s a commissariat at The Times ordering up coverage to help or hurt a specific candidate, it’s doing a lousy job; close reading shows bruises administered to each (and free passes handed out) in a pattern adapted from Jackson Pollock.

But here is the crucial question, one that links Okrent’s column to the actions of Chaput and other conservative Catholic prelates. Chaput would say that he is not trying to support a REPUBLICAN candidate. He would gladly support a pro-life Democrat, if it were possible to find one at the national level. Can we say the same of the Times and its editors? Probably. They would almost certainly be glad to support pro-abortion-rights REPUBLICANS, when offered the chance to do so.

It’s all a matter of dogma, you see. Different flocks have different abortion dogmas, often transcending matters of mere political affiliation. In that spirit, I wrote Okrent this letter.

Thank you for the candor and relative calmness of the Oct. 10 column. By way of introduction, I am a journalism professor and a veteran Scripps Howard reporter and columnist. In light of what I will say next, you also need to know that I am an active Eastern Orthodox Christian and a life-long Democrat, of the rare and endangered pro-life species.

You say that you do not believe that coverage in the New York Times has been systematically slanted for or against any particular candidate. Would you say the same thing about coverage of major moral and social issues? Would you, over a decade after the stunning Los Angeles Times series on bias in abortion coverage in American media, say that the New York Times has offered balanced and accurate coverage on that issue? How about on the issue of same-sex marriage? Of free-speech issues involving traditional religious believers?

In other words, might the newspaper see events through a lens, through a worldview, that favors moral progressives over the orthodox?

Missing Da Vinci vote

We don’t blog on opinion columns much, but there is a source and some factual material in this recent George Will column that points in the direction of hard news and that dreaded pew gap angle. So some Brits discover that the very essence of American conservatism is rooted in “anomalous religiosity” and the institutions that grow out of it in politics. So what is the answer to that? The development of a true religious left that is a winner, as opposed to the fading numbers of the old mainline. Once again — where is the Da Vinci Vote?

How enthusiastic are folks in those pews?

In most mainstream news reports, President Bush’s campaign is built on a foundation of right-wing religious zealots who want to lock homosexuals in closets, trample women’s rights and, what the heck, flirt with a Left-Behind nuclear showdown by building a Messianic Jewish megachurch on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The reality is a tad more complex. Some of that complexity has been making it into the New York Times, via its trailblazing beat dedicated to issues that divide the political, cultural and religious right. That isn’t the whole story, but it’s one window into a larger story.

More information can be found in the mass mailings that circulate on the right, especially those from the James Dobson camp in Colorado Springs. There are interesting sub-texts and criticisms in some of the commentaries and writings produced by the researchers and staff of Charles Colson. People who speak fluent Baptist can also turn to the waves of news and commentary produced by Baptist Press, on the right, and the Associated Baptist Press, a few ticks to the left of center on the way to mainline Protestant status.

Earlier this week, Baptist Press put out a report on the debate between the vice presidential candidates. Early next week, the second presidential debate will undoubtedly be parsed in a similar manner.

While Dick Cheney draws a chorus of cheers from some conservative choirs, this report was released with A stark headline: “Cheney’s defense of marriage proposal lukewarm in VP debate.” Here’s a chunk of the story by the veteran BP Washington, D.C, correspondent Tom Strode:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s tepid defense of a constitutional amendment protecting marriage during his Oct. 5 debate with Democrat John Edwards was certain to make supporters of such a measure glad George W. Bush, not Cheney, is president. …

When asked by moderator Gwen Ifill of the Public Broadcasting System about the marriage amendment issue, Cheney reiterated a view expressed four years ago that people should be free “to choose any arrangement they want” but states should be the level of government at which relationships are authorized or not. “States have regulated marriage, if you will,” he said. “That would be my preference.”

Recently, however, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has directed the state legislature “to allow gay marriage,” Cheney said. “And the fact is that the president felt that it was important to make it clear that that’s the wrong way to go, as far as he’s concerned. Now, he sets policy for this administration, and I support the president.”

Edwards took the now familiar Democratic Party stance that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that any amendment is “unnecessary” and is simply being used by the right “to divide this country. … It’s nothing but a political tool.”

But the soundbite here was the Edwards attempt to damn Cheney with praise for the relationship that Cheney and his wife, Lynne, have maintained with their daughter, Mary, who is a lesbian. In response, noted Strode, Cheney thanked Edwards “for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.”

“That’s it?” Ifill asked Cheney

“That’s it,” he answered.

The Southern Baptist expert on these maters is Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He tried to be kind to Cheney, who was stuck between a rock and a hard place. So this was another chance to cheer for Bush, and remind the administration of the importance of this issue to the leaders of the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock. Land was blunt:

“Fortunately for such supporters, George W. Bush is the president, not Dick Cheney, and there’s no question where George W. Bush stands on the issue.”

So what is this story really about? It’s about the quest for evangelical enthusiasm.

This is news. The Washington Post recently published a strange article about what it called the “Enthusiasm Gap” between the base voters in each party. Reporters Richard Morin and Christopher Muste said that many of the “gaps” studied in recent elections — such as the gender gap — are not as important this year.

However, Morin and Muste also discuss a “grad-school” gap between brilliant Kerry voters and, well, all those Bush voters who are less educated. Then they found a veterans gap, which favors Bush, and a generations gap, which gives the youth vote to Kerry.

But the key, according to the Post, is a simple “enthusiasm gap” that will affect turnout. The left, supposedly, is not all that enthusiastic about John “Call me JFK” Kerry and Edwards. The right is supposed to be fired up like crazy about Bush and Kerry.

So Kerry is really not a liberal. Check. Bush is really, really conservative. Check.

What interested me was that the Post elected not to discuss one of the most controversial divides in American politics — the pew gap. Clearly, the gap between religious conservatives and secular and liberal religious believers is also linked to the “enthusiasm gap” in this report. And I would argue that another place to research the “enthusiasm gap” is in the pages of alternative news sources such as the Baptist news services. Pay them a visit. There’s news in those sites.

UPDATED: Sure enough, the Baptist Press gang dissected the No. 2 presidential debate precisely as I expected. Check out the “feelings” section of the Kerry quote about stem cells. It’s all about feelings, not science. I think the person asking the question wanted to discuss factual material. Sometimes, if you want the full unedited quotes on the religion issues, you need to turn to the religious press. Sad.

What this White House race needs is more God talk?

Kerry_ashes_1We don’t go out of our way, here at GetReligion, to write about articles featured in religion publications and we certainly don’t throw a lot of digital ink at the materials sent out by denominational press offices and public-relations companies.

But I’m going to make an exception right now and I may do so again in the next week or two. Why? Because religion has played a major role in the election this year (which has become normal, post Roe v. Wade), and there is no sign that this is going to let up. It is also obvious that both parties are pretty nervous about this. Right now, some of the religious groups — left and right — are being more candid than the two political parties.

Palms are sweating, at the moment. The Republicans, to court the nervous suburban middle, have to play down the God talk. They have the megachurches, now they need the malls. The Democrats, meanwhile, have to find a way to talk about faith without turning off their base — the secular elites and the newly empowered anti-Evangelical voters. So John Kerry is not anxious to answer detailed faith questions right now, either.

So I was, as a religion-beat guy, interested when a new press release arrived that started like this:

Today, the Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, leader of the progressive interfaith movement, and Paul Weyrich, father of the religious right, joined their progressive and conservative forces to call on Charles Gibson and Bob Schieffer to raise questions in the Presidential Debates about the influence of the candidates’ religion and personal faith in making public policy.

Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance (http://www.interfaithalliance.org), the national political voice of the interfaith movement, and Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (http://www.freecongress.org), the national think tank for political and cultural conservatism, signed joint letters to Gibson of ABC News and Schieffer of CBS News, moderators of the second and third joint appearances of President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry.

Now you can look at this two ways. You can assume that Gaddy wants Kerry to say something smart, or he wants Bush to say something dumb (or frightening). You can then assume that Weyrich wants Bush to say something poignant, and Kerry to say something hostile (or simply tone-deaf). Whatever. I find it interesting that one or the other thought to put out this joint release. I think we can assume that they both sincerely think the faith issues are close to the moral issues, which are joined at the hip with the cultural issues and all that leads straight to the U.S. Supreme Court (if not the Middle East). Here’s a chunk of the letter:

… (We) believe it is imperative that the Commission on Presidential Debates engages the candidates for President of the United States on the subject of religion and personal faith. We believe that it is imperative for the candidates — unscripted and before a national television audience — to profess to the nation how religion and their personal faith impacts them both as a human being and as a candidate for the nation’s highest public office.

While much has been written in the press concerning religion, many of the stories have focused on using religion as a campaign strategy rather than how the candidates rely on their personal faith as a guiding light to their service in public office to the nation.

Below are suggested questions that we feel might elicit some response that may be helpful to the voters.

* What role should and does your religious faith and values play in creating public policy?

* What active steps have you taken and will you continue to take to show respect for the variety of religious beliefs among your constituents?

* Should a president’s use of religious language reflect their own religious tradition, or be more broadly inclusive

And so forth. For sure, I think the veteran CBS reporter should act on this idea — once he has confirmed that the letter is authentic.

Pick a religious label and prepare for angry telephone calls

Messianics_1997Journalists cannot always predict which stories will cause a ruckus, but reporter Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News knew that his report about a local “Bus 19″ exhibit was going to raise eyebrows. The bus had been attacked by terrorists, with 11 people dead. Now it was being used as part of a tour to promote the cause of Israel. It was being displayed in North Dallas as part of the Yom Kippur holy day.

The congregation doing this? Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue, which is linked to the movement that calls itself “Messianic Judaism,” with Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. (The photo is from the massive 1997 Promise Keepers rally on the National Mall.) Weiss notes:

Here’s the problem: “Messianic Jews” say they can both be Jewish and believe that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in Jewish Scripture. Every other group on earth that calls itself Jewish says that’s impossible.

That dispute was at the heart of my story: Some local Jewish leaders who consider Baruch HaShem deceitful objected to its use of a symbol of Jewish martyrdom on a day sacred to Jews. Baruch HaShem leaders said they were acting in accord with their values — Jewish values — and offending no one.

So should the newspaper describe them as Messianic Jews? Christians? Religious frauds? True believers? How can we be fair and accurate and not confuse our readers?

This is part of a hot debate within journalism. Should newsrooms allow controversial groups to define themselves?

For years, these debates centered on abortion coverage. Journalists called one side pro-choice, its label of choice, and the other side anti-abortion, a term it hated. It was a classic example of slanted language. Some let the groups self-identify, then put the terms inside of quotation marks — “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life.” Eventually, most newspapers dropped the slanted pro-choice term and substituted something literal, such as pro-abortion rights.

These word games are incredibly important on the religion beat, perhaps even more so than in political coverage. Weiss noted ongoing controversies about what to call members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons? Mormon Christians? Christians? It’s even hard to work with a group as vanilla and, in Dallas almost all-powerful, as the Southern Baptist convention. A few claim they are not Protestants, because the try to trace their roots back to John the Baptist.

The battle over the Messianic Jews is especially hot, because of the bitter debates over who is and who is not “Jewish.” Hardly anyone knows how to define that term. I discovered this once again last year writing about the long-delayed National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001, which is based on interviews with 4,500 Jews. Sponsors at the United Jewish Communities called it the most detailed statistical portrait of American Jews ever assembled. Critics had less flattering things to say.

That survey defined a Jew as someone whose “religion is Jewish, OR, whose religion is Jewish and something else, OR, who has no religion and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing, OR, who has a non-monotheistic religion, and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing.” Say what?

… (All) definitions include some and exclude others, said research director Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz. This survey, for example, was clear to include Jewish Buddhists. But its “non-monotheistic religion” clause excluded two people who had converted from Judaism to Islam. The “whose religion is Jewish and something else” clause created another problem.

“We included people who said they were both Jewish and Catholic or Jewish and something else,” he said. “But if they identified themselves as Jewish Christians or we found some evidence that they were Messianic Jews, then we excluded them from the study. We had to draw that line.”

I was confused. So a person could be Jewish and Christian? That depends, I was told. A person could be Jewish and Catholic, in light of the teachings of Vatican II. Say what? And a person could be Jewish and an Episcopalian, but not an Episcopal evangelical. Or Jewish and Unitarian. But not Jewish and Southern Baptist or Jewish and Eastern Orthodox. Jewish and United Methodist? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps in New York, but not in Texas. Jewish and Lutheran? Not Missouri-Synod Lutheran.

The key was that the person could be a Christian and a Jew, in this survey, as long as the researchers did not sense that the person was part of a Christian movement that insisted that belief in Jesus was directly linked to salvation. Put that in your newsroom stylebook.

Clearly, this is dangerous territory. Anyone who has worked on the religion beat for a month knows that.

But it is possible to do solid, careful work that lets voices on both sides of these issues define their own views and speak their peace. This approach may make lots of people mad, but it’s the path that journalists have to walk if they want to be fair. Want to hear an example of what I mean? Click here to hear Barbara Bradley Hagerty negotiate this journalistic minefield.

Surprise! Gallup wants to probe faith, public life

Gallup_book_1Months before the 1996 election, some of the politicos behind President Bill Clinton’s campaign tried to find out which poll questions best predicted a voter’s Election Day choice. On which questions were the lines most starkly drawn between a Clinton voter and a voter determined to pull the GOP lever in the voting booth?

They found out that these five worked best: Is religion very important in your life? Is sex before marriage morally wrong? Is homosexuality morally wrong? Do you every look at pornography? Would you look down on a married person who had an affair?

Some of you will be glad to hear that this is not another GetReligion item about the whole red pews vs. blue pews phenomenon (although it could have been).

This is a belated post about Moveon.org’s attack on George Gallup Jr. and his controversial interest in the role that faith plays in American public life. Gallup is an Episcopalian, but one of very old-fashioned beliefs on faith and morals. The problem, as described in the New York Times and elsewhere, is that he has on occasion described himself as an “evangelical.” Salon.com warned its readers that this influential American has even spoken words such as these, in an interview with the “moderate” Baptist Standard in Texas:

“‘The most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,’ George Gallup Jr. said after giving the spring commencement speech at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. ‘When I ask a question on these subjects, what I’m always trying to find out is, Are we doing the will of God?’”

The Baptist Standard also reported that while Gallup recently stepped aside as the company’s leader, his vision remains intact.

“Questions on religion and spirituality are sure to continue, Gallup said, under leadership that shares a keen interest in the topic. Frank Newport is editor in chief of the Gallup Poll and vice president of the Gallup organization in Princeton, N.J. His father, John Newport, served more than 40 years as a philosophy of religion professor and administrator at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And because George Gallup Jr. still carries his pocket-sized notebook, for scribbling down survey questions that might come to him at any hour of day or night, his ideas might even find their way into a questionnaire now and then.”

And there you have it. Gallup’s beliefs might be dangerous to Democratic candidates in some way, since his Christian conservatism might somehow favor the theocrats at the Republican Party. This is profoundly disturbing to the folks at Moveon.org, who seem as anxious to punch hot religious buttons in the current campaign as, let’s say, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

“Why hasn’t he pushed for an update of the company’s likely voter modeling, which his own father pioneered in the 1950s?” the MoveOn.org ad asked. The political group then appeared to answer its own question.

“Gallup, who is a devout evangelical Christian, has been quoted as calling his polling ‘a kind of ministry.’ And a few months ago, he said ‘the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,’” MoveOn said. “We thought the purpose is to faithfully and factually report public opinion.”

GwgallupjrThis slap at Gallup was a bit much for all kinds of people and anyone seeking a selection of reaction quotes can turn to the New York Sun or, as always, the omnipresent folks at the Christianity Today blog.

All the usual suspects speak out. What is especially interesting is that others cross the politics-as-usual lines and raise questions about Moveon.org’s real motives. Here is Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization rarely aligned with the religious right:

“It’s irrelevant, extraneous, and borders on being offensive to evangelical Christians,” Mr. Foxman told The New York Sun. “It’s one thing to challenge methodology and credibility. It’s another thing to say that the methodology and credibility are motivated by faith. … What if the poll was headed by a devout Jew? How would we have felt?”

And reporter Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times noted that the strategists behind the Moveon.org campaign seem, in their rush to shoot an offending pollster, to have forgotten to ask very, very, very basic questions.

What the advertisement did not say was that Mr. Gallup, who retired in May, is not involved in the company’s political polling and made those comments in reference to his specialty and main interest — polling people on their religious beliefs.

So let’s replay that scene. Gallup is retired and he is not involved in the political polls that have so angered the WWW attack dog that speaks for the “anti-evangelical voter” wing of the Democratic Party establishment. And on top of that, Gallup’s comments were yanked out of context. He was describing the motives that served as a foundation for his organization’s decades of research into American attitudes about religious faith in public and private life, a subject on which his trailblazing work as inspired work at a host of foundations, think tanks and top-notch academic centers.

But let’s end where we began. Bill Clinton’s own pollsters discovered that, to cut to the political heart in 1996, they had to ask blunt questions about religious and moral issues. Should it be surprising that the Gallup organization and other top pollsters need to do the same?


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