Watch that potty mouth

toiletAn interesting story has been brewing out of the John Edwards campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. He hired a couple of bloggers to run outreach to the liberal blogosphere. And their credentials were so good that it kind of backfired on him.

Let’s sample the blogging delicacy of new hire Amanda Marcotte, who writes at Pandagon:

Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit? A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.

BlasphemousClassy, eh? Or how about this one?

Marcotte has a special passion against the Roman Catholic Church, and you can read more of her comments on Nightline co-anchor Terry Moran’s blog (which is definitely worth checking out). So, needless to say, Roman Catholics and other Christians questioned Edwards’ hiring abilities. Here’s how the Associated Press wrote up the brewing storm:

Two bloggers hired recently by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards were criticized Tuesday by a Catholic group for posts they had written elsewhere on the Internet.

. . . [Catholic League President Bill] Donohue cited posts that the women made on blogs in the past several months in which they criticized the pope and the church for its opposition to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, sometimes using profanity.

The AP report then quoted a remarkably mild blog post from Marcotte. I understand that family papers can’t print more than a few successive words from Marcotte’s questionable posts due to her vocabulary, but the whole reason that Roman Catholics are commenting on her hire is because of how dramatically offensive they deem the language.

Of course, the AP report is excellent compared to the one from The New York Times‘ John M. Broder. Here’s how Broder begins:

Two bloggers hired by John Edwards to reach out to liberals in the online world have landed his presidential campaign in hot water for doing what bloggers do — expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language.

Oh, is that what bloggers do? And Edwards is in hot water solely because he hired bloggers? Way to spin the story! Edwards should hire Broder over the bloggers! Of course, I don’t accept the contention that Marcotte is just a humble average blogger. But even among bloggers who use crude language, they’re more at home on MySpace than a presidential campaign.

There are myriad respectable liberal bloggers out there, folks who don’t have a personal vendetta against Christians. I know the mainstream media like to dismiss all bloggers as lunatics, but isn’t it inappropriate to describe Marcotte as an average blogger?

Edwards is being criticized by conservatives and religious adherents and his hire is being defended by liberals, so it will be interesting to see how that affects what he chooses to do. Presumably he hired them because of their provocative blogging, so it would seem unfortunate if they were fired for the same reason. Salon has an unconfirmed report that the bloggers in question have been fired.

I’m sure that at the very least we can agree that this is a good lesson in support of cleaning up one’s potty-mouth when hurling verbal assaults. And remembering that what happens on the Internet does not stay in Vegas.

Update: The women are keeping their jobs. We’ll look at coverage of same if it’s warranted.

Print Friendly

Hypocrisy exposed!

gavinbridesSo imagine that a prominent advocate of traditional marriage was exposed for having sex with someone he was not married to. Let’s say he had an affair with the wife of one of his employees. Let’s say he was married at the time but was divorcing his wife.

Can you imagine what the media coverage of such a story might look like?

It’s just an interesting thing to consider in light of the Gavin Newsom scandal. Here’s the story the San Francisco Chronicle broke:

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s re-election campaign manager resigned Wednesday after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor’s office, City Hall sources said.

Alex Tourk, 39, who served as Newsom’s deputy chief of staff before becoming his campaign manager in September, confronted the mayor after his wife, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, told him of the affair as part of a rehabilitation program she had been undergoing for substance abuse, said the sources, who had direct knowledge of Wednesday’s meeting.

Like all salacious political scandals, the story ran on Drudge and in numerous papers. But reader Diane Fitzsimmons noticed something interesting about the coverage. The vast majority of stories didn’t mention that Newsom wreaked havoc across the country by instituting same sex marriage in his city. Reuters had the notable exception.

Newsom’s importance to the gay marriage movement cannot be understated. He was the The Advocate‘s person of the year in 2004. Salon ran a story asking if Newsom cost the Democrats the 2004 election. Fitzsimmons writes:

Mr. Newsom was making a statement of belief on the way he thinks marriage should be handled when he opened the door for same-sex marriage in his city. He was telling the world the way marriage should be.

I view his advocacy the same as I would that of James Dobson or Ted Haggard, who are known for their statements regarding marriage and the way they believe it should be.

If a religious figure such as Mr. Dobson or Mr. Haggard were caught in such an action as Mr. Newsom, I believe the newspapers would bring up their statements/advocacy regarding marriage.

Fitzsimmons wonders if the media didn’t mention Newsom’s advocacy of same-sex marriage because he’s not a religious leader. I’m not surprised, but I think it’s an interesting question. For my part, I just think it’s newsworthy to note why Newsom is different from your average mayor.

Print Friendly

Father, forgive them

sevendeadlysinsThe relationship between the public and the press is important. The public relies on the media to give vital information about governments, medical breakthroughs, environmental threats and public safety. The media rely on the public to consume the news and keep the industry going. The relationship isn’t perfect, as evidenced by regular polls showing the cynicism that Americans feel toward the mainstream media.

Let’s just say the relationship is not improved by stunts such as the one pulled by Riccardo Bocca, an investigative reporter for the Italian newspaper L’Espresso. Bocca visited confessionals at 24 Catholic churches in Rome, Turin, Naples, Milan and Palermo. He lied to each priest he encountered and claimed to make confession for various sins.

He said he wanted to show the disparity between what the church teaches and what priests do. Here’s a FOXNews write-up:

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, denounced Riccardo Bocca’s Jan. 29 story in L’Espresso magazine, in which the reporter visited 24 confessionals — posing as an HIV-positive man who wanted to use condoms with his partner, a doctor with a cocaine habit and a divorcee finding love anew — to see how much the priests’ advice varied from Roman Catholic teachings.

“Shame! There is no other word to express our distress toward an operation that was disgusting, worthless, disrespectful and particularly offensive,” the Vatican’s paper said in an editorial headlined “Fake confessions in search of a shameful scoop.”

If you know Italian, you can read the full article here, though I feel dirty even linking to it.

Absolution in the Christian Church was instituted by Jesus Christ. Through it, a penitent receives forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. In the Catholic Church, one of the elements of the sacrament of penance is that the penitent presents himself to a priest and accuses himself of sins. In Catholic teaching, it is necessary that penitents be truly sorrowful for their sins.

For Catholics, it’s not just about “telling of one’s sins.” Without sincere sorrow and a resolve to make amends, confession avails nothing, the absolution has no effect and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before.

So Bocca will have a lot to talk about with a priest should he ever desire to make an honest confession.

What’s frustrating is how irresponsibly Bocca and his paper used their power. They hoped to incite and inflame rather than edify and inform. The premise for the article was interesting and valid. The means by which the reporter researched the story were unethical and unnecessary.

Update: A reader has notified us where the image accompanying this post is from. Check out Jessica Hagy’s Indexed blog for more fun drawings.

Print Friendly

A Baptist preacher runs for president

gov mike huckabeeArkansas Governor Mike Huckabee today officially launched his bid to be the 2008 Republican nominee for president (or, as some would say, his candidacy to be someone’s vice president). Thanks to some diligent reading and good questions from Meet the Press host Tim Russert on Sunday, we have a pretty good idea of how the former Baptist preacher understands the role of his faith in his public duties.

Huckabee joins a set of genuine conservative Republican candidates who match or exceed President Bush’s rhetoric in the gay marriage-abortion debate that so excites conservative Christians. In other words, Huckabee will be competing with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the endorsements of James Dobson and Co.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Huckabee is seen in a distant third place to Romney and Brownback in terms of national support from conservative Christians. Romney has the resume, organization/fundraising prowess and the great hair, while Brownback has experience in Washington and his story is embraced by the Michael Gerson types because of his advocacy for the less fortunate in the world. So what does it say about the conservative Christian movement to see a Mormon and a Catholic drawing far more support than the Baptist Preacher? Just asking.

Huckabee the Baptist preacher is going to have to answer questions that have been asked of Romney the Mormon and our country’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy — and Brownback the Catholic is likely to face some questions too. Russert got us off to a good start Sunday morning:

MR. RUSSERT: I want to ask you a couple things that you said earlier in your political career. “Huckabee … explained why he left pastoring for politics. ‘I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.’” And then this: “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” Would you, as president, consider America a Christian nation and try to lead it as — into a situation as being a more Christian nation?

GOV. HUCKABEE: I think it’s dangerous to say that we are a nation that ought to be pushed into a Christian faith by its leaders. However, I make no apology for my faith. My faith explains me. It means that I believe that we’re all frail, it means that we’re all fragile, that all of us have faults, none of us are perfect, that all of us need redemption. We are a nation of faith. It doesn’t necessarily have to be mine. But we are a nation that believes that faith is an important part of describing who we are, and our generosity, and our sense of optimism and hope. That does describe me.

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say …

GOV. HUCKABEE: I’m appalled, Tim, when someone says, “Tell me about your faith,” and they say, “Oh, my faith doesn’t influence my public policy.” Because when someone says that, it’s as if they’re saying, “My faith isn’t significant, it’s not authentic, it’s not so consequential that it affects me.” Well, truthfully my faith does affect me. But it doesn’t make me think I’m better than someone, it makes me know that I’m not as good as I really need to be.

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say “take this nation back for Christ,” what does that say to Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists? What …

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, I think I — I’d probably phrase it a little differently today. But I don’t want to make people think that I’m going to replace the Capitol dome with a steeple or change the legislative sessions for prayer meetings. What it does mean is that people of faith do need to exercise their sense of responsibility toward education, toward health, toward the environment. All of those issues, for me, are driven by my sense that this is a wonderful world that God’s made, we’re responsible for taking care of it. We’re responsible for being responsible managers and stewards of it. I think that’s what faith ought to do in our lives if we’re in public service.

capitol domeNote how immediately after this set of questions and answers, the interview led directly into questions on gays and abortion. But more on that another time.

Writing on the Huckabee announcement, which was actually made on Meet the Press, The Washington Post‘s Lois Romano highlights the section on Huckabee’s faith:

He also publicly supported creationism, a philosophy advocated by fervent Christians, arguing that students should be exposed to the study of the doctrine as well as evolution.

When moderator Tim Russert pressed Huckabee on whether he would lead the United States to be a more Christian nation, he replied: “We are a nation of faith. It doesn’t necessarily have to be mine.”

“I make no apology for my faith,” he said. “My faith explains me.”

Huckabee’s candidacy has several compelling stories lines. The most prominent is his similarities with President Clinton (both born in the same small town of Hope, Ark., both governor of Arkansas) and his ability to lose a lot of weight in a short time. But the deeper, more significant story is going to be this faith thing and how it explains him.

Print Friendly

Separation of church and crown

queenmirrenAs the reigning (three-time) champion of my newsroom’s Oscar pool, I’ve been preparing for the coming battle by watching as many Oscar-contending films as possible. The Queen was definitely one of the best movies of the year. Helen Mirren is amazing. Unfortunately Peter Morgan’s Oscar-nominated screenplay was tampered with a bit by some censors. The Associated Press’ Giovanna Dell’Orto reports:

So much for God and country, at least during some in-flight showings of the Oscar-nominated movie “The Queen.” That’s because all mentions of God are bleeped out of a version of the film given to some commercial airlines.

Even in these politically correct times, censoring references to God in the film wasn’t a statement of some kind. Rather, it was the mistake of an overzealous and inexperienced employee for a California company that edits movies selected for onboard entertainment.

. . . So the new censor mistakenly bleeped out each time a character said “God,” instead of just when used as part of a profanity, said Jeff Klein, president of Jaguar Distribution, the company that distributed the movie to airlines this month.

“A reference to God is not taboo in any culture that I know of,” Klein said. “We excise foul language, excessive violence and nudity.”

It’s not the hardest-hitting story, but I appreciate how well the reporter captured the religious angles. It’s also really funny. Read the whole thing.

In much more serious news, the British government has passed a law that requires all adoption agencies to provide their services to gay couples, whether or not they have a religious objection to doing so. The law goes into effect across Britain in April.

Leaders of the Church of England are helping the Roman Catholic Church in its bid to exempt its adoption agencies from having to choose between following their religious beliefs and complying with the law.

You can go here or here for explanations of the story.

You may also want to check out this Reuters piece by Paul Majendie, which questions whether the conflict means the Church of England should lose its special status as the state religion:

[Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan] Williams, spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, argued: “The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well-meaning.”

So who then does he owe allegiance to?

Williams said: “What’s at stake ultimately is whether the church is answerable finally to the state as the only court of appeal or whether the church can rightly appeal to other sources for its moral compass.”

Long gone are the days when Britain had an empire and its missionaries helped colonise vast areas of the world.

But Anglican vicars still swear allegiance to the Crown. They are paid by the state for working in prisons, hospitals and the armed forces.

I feel like someone should tease out some Sir Thomas More parallels.

Print Friendly

A Roman Catholic is a Catholic is a catholic?

RelegEd3bIt’s an old question: Is the pope Catholic?

OK, here is the modern question that seems to come up every few months in a major newspaper or wire service: If the pope says you are no longer a Catholic, are you still a Catholic?

I raise this question because of the interesting Religion News Service story by Jeff Diamant that ran the other day in The Washington Post, the one under the headline “Some Dissenters Quit the Church But Don’t Stop Being Catholic.”

The story is about the small “Catholic” churches that exist in many American cities, rebel congregations that are often led by “priests” who left the church to get married. Some also include women who have been ordained, to one degree or another. These churches clash with Rome on all of the usual “doctrinal” issues linked to the Sexual Revolution.

Yes, please note the presence of scare quotes around some of the key words in the previous sentences, words like “Catholic” and “ordained.” If you add scare quotes of this kind you offend one group of readers. If you do not use them, you offend another. There is no way around this reality.

As you would expect, Diamant’s story includes all kinds of material that will tick off faithful Roman Catholics who remain members of traditional Roman Catholic parishes. Then again, the new alternative Catholics or catholics believe that their version of the faith is just as faithful as the faith demanded by the Vatican.

Is the pope Catholic? Who knows? What is a “Catholic worldview” anyway? If you join something called the “Inclusive Community,” are you still a “Catholic”?

The Inclusive Community meets in a small chapel of a Congregational church, has a $16,000 budget, and draws maybe 15 people most Sundays. In those ways, it is similar to most “underground” churches, said Kathleen Kautzer, a professor at Regis College in Weston, Mass.

It’s unclear how many “underground” Catholic churches are in the United States. Most are small, many unstable. They lack networks and are often unpublicized, so no one knows whether they are increasing or decreasing in number. Kautzer estimated that there are 200 and that they probably attract much less than 1 percent of the 67 million American Catholics. That is a small number, considering that polls show significant opposition to church teachings on contraception, abortion, divorce and priestly celibacy.

Still, in the aftermath of the clergy sex abuse scandal, these churches offer a different path from the one taken by most Catholic reformers, who have sought — unsuccessfully, so far — to change church rules and hierarchy. Most members of underground churches are “really liberal people who are divorced, gays and feminists,” Kautzer said.

Yes, yes, note the loaded use of the word “reformers.” You could also call them “protesters.” In fact as Diamant reports — too far into the story for my taste — you could also accurately call them Protestants. You see, this Inclusive Community has actually (the story says “technically”) joined the liberal-and-proud-of-it United Church of Christ. That means the members are Protestants. Of course, they could say they are Catholics and Protestants at the same time. But, wait, that would make them Episcopalians?

The point is that this story does nail down the key fact: At least some of the alternative Catholic flocks are now legally Protestant. I think that would make Pope Benedict XVI happy and sad at the same time.

P.S. The story did leave me with two major unanswered questions. Do these churches have bishops? How do you claim to be Catholic — big C — without a bishop? Also, what is the Vatican’s legal or technical view of the sacraments offered by the men who were once ordained? I mean, a priest is always a priest, even if he is an inactive priest. Right? That might have been interesting to explore in a sidebar.

Photo: Spiritus Christi Church

Print Friendly

A must-get gig at Mother Jones

regretIn preparation for the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, The New York Times Sunday Magazine had a lengthy feature on how post-abortion syndrome doesn’t exist. I’m sure you are as shocked as I am that the paper would come down quickly and easily on this side of the debate.

Emily Bazelon of Slate penned the piece. She has written for Mother Jones, too! Just like Jack Hitt, who wrote a previous (problematic) abortion story for the magazine. One of Bazelon’s stories for that magazine was — wait for it — against a feminist pro-life group. Seriously, if anyone wants to write for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, bolster your leftist credentials. Mother Jones seems to be the surest fire stop on your path.

Also, Emily Bazelon is Betty Friedan‘s cousin. I love it. A sample of the evenhanded perspective of the author:

Abortion-recovery counselors like [Rhonda] Arias could focus on why women don’t have the material or social support they need to continue pregnancies they might not want to end. They could call for improving the circumstances of women’s lives in order to reduce the number of abortions. Instead they are working to change laws to restrict and ban abortion.

See, pro-lifers don’t really care about women.

Anyway, the piece is long but not terribly illuminating. What pro-lifers are going to read such lines and feel their perspective is being given the benefit of the doubt? What pro-choicers will read the same without feeling a sense of self-satisfaction? What has been gained by that little swipe that is, in my experience, completely inaccurate in any case?

Bazelon tracks precisely one woman — Rhonda Arias — who says abortion was bad for her — and only very lightly, in the context of how the same woman now is an evangelical minister who counsels and ministers to other post-abortive women in prison. She gives lots of details about the woman — her past abortions, her preaching style, her emotional religiosity, her messed up childhood, etc. — and yet because the perspective of the author is so clear, it makes it hard to trust that her descriptions are in good faith. Rather, I kept wondering why this was the woman Bazelon chose as her lead/only anecdote. Bazelon also mentions the religious affiliations, mostly Roman Catholic, of many of those working to counsel women after their abortions.

What annoys me more than anything in abortion coverage is how the stories are always so political. This story is entirely political — about the politics of the abortion movement and (without realizing it, it seems) about the politics of the science surrounding whether post-abortion syndrome exists. And the reporter takes precisely the angle you would expect from The New York Times Sunday Magazine. I’ll note that it’s not the same angle I’d expect from the daily Times.

Like most people (statistically speaking) I have many friends who have had abortions. And while the vast majority of these friends remain pro-choice, they would be the first to tell you that the procedure’s effects are profound and long-reaching. Not so long ago, I was privy to a conversation with four pro-choice women who had their first or only abortions over a decade ago. They all spoke of effects that remained with them: Abortion-related nightmares, frequent thoughts of how old their child would be, etc. None of these women are pro-life. But because of the politics surrounding abortion, their situation — shared by millions of American women — receives no balanced coverage. Such after-effects are picked up on as proof of abortion’s evils by pro-lifers and ignored for the same reason by pro-choicers.

Bazelon does mention this in her piece, for which she should be commended:

While it seems that some anti-abortion advocates exaggerate the mental-health risks of abortion, some abortion advocates play down the emotional aftereffects. Materials distributed at abortion clinics and on abortion-rights Web sites stress that most women feel relief after an abortion, and that the minority who don’t tend to have pre-existing problems. Both claims are supported by research. But the idea that “abortion is a distraction from underlying dynamics,” as Nancy Russo put it to me, can discourage the airing of sadness and grief. “The last thing pro-choice people, myself included, want to do is to give people who want to make abortions harder to get or illegal one iota of help,” says Ava Torre-Bueno, a social worker who was the head of counseling for 10 years at Planned Parenthood in San Diego. “But then what you hear in the movement is ‘Let’s not make noise about this’ and ‘Most women are fine, I’m sure you will be too.’ And that is unfair.”

In general, Bazelon’s treatment of how pro-choicers deal — or don’t deal — with post-abortion problems is infinitely better than her emotionally distant and lengthier treatment of the same on the pro-life side. She’s able to look at some of the pitfalls of ignoring emotional problems resulting from abortion with a gentleness and sympathy that is illuminating. While that’s a wonderful benefit for readers in learning one side of the story, the problems are only emphasized for readers wanting to learn more about the other side. I think it may be yet another argument for ensuring that Mother Jones isn’t on the resume of all your abortion reporters.

Ultimately, though, the problem is with this story’s emphasis on politics. A story like this has to include actual women. How many tens of millions of women have undergone abortions in the last 34 years since abortion was legalized? How many of them could share the true effects — subtle or profound — of their abortions years after the fact?

This is why I still think so fondly of Stephanie Simon’s twin stories about women who undergo abortions and women who complete crisis pregnancies. Very little politics at all — just stories about the decisions women face and the choices they make.

How much more interesting would this story have been if Bazelon — a talented and smart writer for sure — had talked to women who had abortions and told their stories?

Print Friendly

The pro-life Democrat and the archbishop

BillRitterThe 2006 elections were marked in part by the successes of more than a few pro-life Democrats. Some have wondered how their rhetoric will match up with their voting records. When the House passed a recent bill to expand federal funding of stem-cell research that destroys embryos, 16 pro-life Democrats, including the newly elected Heath Shuler, joined 158 Republicans in voting against it.

Bill Ritter, the new governor of my home state of Colorado, also ran as a pro-life Democrat. But in his State of the State address, he announced plans to restore state funds to clinics that perform abortions, without funding the abortions themselves. The Denver Post‘s religion reporter Eric Gorski wrote about how Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput feels about the plan (he’s not a fan) and Ritter’s defense of same. It’s easy in a story like this to demonize Chaput or Ritter, but Gorski gives both camps their say and refrains from weighing one side over the other:

Only family-planning groups that show they can segregate state funds from money spent on abortions would be eligible, [Ritter spokesman Evan] Dreyer said. An amendment to the state’s constitution forbids the use of state dollars to subsidize abortion directly or indirectly.

“The archbishop and the governor agree on certain aspects of this issue,” Dreyer said. “The governor believes strongly it is good public policy to attempt to reduce unintended pregnancies, and that is his goal.”

Calling out Ritter is in keeping with Chaput’s belief that Catholic politicians must adhere to church teachings in their public life in order to remain true to the faith. The Denver prelate has gained a national reputation for his willingness to speak out.

Chaput wrote his thoughts out in a column for the Denver Catholic Register. Rather than quoting only from the parts critical of Ritter — as many reporters would do — Gorski mentions that Chaput praised Ritter’s desire to improve health care and education and that he lauded the “good will, good sense and hope” contained in the State of the State speech. He also mentions that Chaput noted Ritter’s “engaged and active” Catholic faith and Chaput didn’t question Ritter’s pro-life credentials during the campaign.

Still, Chaput wonders whether it will be possible to segregate state funds from abortion services under the new plan:

“What his words do actually mean will become clear in the demands he places on Planned Parenthood for proof that state funds truly are segregated from abortion services and don’t materially support the killing of unborn children,” Chaput wrote.

But Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains may not seize the opportunity if the restrictions are lifted, given the high costs of restructuring to meet the state’s demands and other factors, said spokeswoman Kate Horle.

She said Planned Parenthood also would be reluctant to take resources from smaller clinics statewide that currently receive state money for family planning.

“While I recognize it’s Bishop Chaput’s religious prerogative to want to believe Planned Parenthood somehow wants to increase the abortion rate in Colorado — which is what he implies — what we have always done is try to make sure every child is a wanted and a loved child,” Horle said.

I’m not sure I excerpted the best parts — so I encourage you to read the whole story. Gorski got good quotes from all concerned parties and enlightened readers about a complex topic. There are politicians of all stripes and religious leaders of all stripes. Reporters should make sure they don’t just rely on politicians’ self-descriptions or religious leaders’ analysis when covering religion in public life.

Photo via Bouldair on Flickr.

Print Friendly