Dawn Eden writes again

trump firedFor those interested in a GetReligion flashback, today’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page includes a review of the new book Fired! by actress Annabelle Gurwitch. The book sounds interesting, especially its list of 21 synonymns that people in power use in this sensitive age in place of the blunt words “You’re fired.”

However, what jumped out at me was the update — right in the middle of the review — on the backstory about the faith-based firing not that long ago of the review’s author. That would be Dawn Eden, the former superstar headline writer of the New York Post. If you want to catch up, click here for GetReligion material on the firing.

Here is Dawn’s account of her own journey into the white light of unemployment, which is a cautionary tale about all kinds of things — from not-so-tolerant libertarian editors (I speculate freely here) to the dangers of expressing one’s faith in the blogosphere.

On the day I got the ax as a copy editor, Col Allan, the editor in chief, called me into his office and told me that he was “very concerned” about my blog, where I discuss my beliefs as a Christian conservative. He then lowered the boom (those “fired” synonyms just keep coming). But the first intimation that something was up had come days earlier.

It was then that I got in trouble with my boss, and a Post reporter, by making changes in an article about in-vitro fertilization. I was merely trying to add factual balance. (When three embryos are implanted and two “take,” the third one — it seemed worth mentioning — “dies.”) The newspaper, however, thought that the changes reflected “rabid anti-abortion views,” as a Post gossip column would later put it. When my boss refused to fire me over the incident, the unsatisfied reporter found my blog, printed out certain passages and took them to the top brass.

The word then came down from on high: “When you give an interview, if you talk about being Christian, don’t mention that you work for the New York Post.” I agreed. But I had agreed to the same thing four months before, after I gave an interview to a media-gossip Web site and my comments had stirred concern at the paper. When Mr. Allan finally fired me, then, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the reason was my blog, my beliefs or my editing.

dawneden 01We have already had some lively discussions on this blog about the copy-desk issues involved in this firing. I should also mention that this is not the only story I have heard through the years in which talented journalists were shoved out the door in disputes about a newspaper’s lack of accuracy and balance in abortion coverage. Is there anyone else out there with tales that can be told without getting anyone, well, dismissed?

It’s the blog angle that struck me this time, because Dawn is, in fact, one really blunt blogger. I would imagine that she has very few fans at Planned Parenthood. As we would say in Texas, Dawn is a pistol. She also has, as we say here inside the Beltway, “fallen up” and is working as a copyeditor and columnist at the New York Daily News. Her love of a punchy headline also shows up in the title of her upcoming book on sex and singles, The Thrill of the Chaste.

So this leaves us with an old question: Do journalists have a right to talk about their faith, or their unbelief, for that matter, in the safety of cyberspace? How about in public speeches? Does it matter if this particular reporter is on the Godbeat or the political beat? Sadly, I would assume that the answer to this has more to do with the beliefs of the managing editor than of the framers of the Bill of Rights. Anyone want to talk about that? The topic comes up every few years at national gatherings of the Religion Newswriters Association.

Oh, and at the end of Eden’s WSJ review, check out her quip about Bill Maher’s venture into unintentional quotations from the Bible. Fun stuff.

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National Crunchy Cons day

1400050642 01 LZZZZZZZThere’s no way around it.

This does seem to be national Crunchy Cons day among conservatives of a certain ilk and, yes, I was planning on mentioning the long-awaited release of Rod “Friend of this Blog” Dreher’s book. After all, a major theme of this blog is the complexity of some of the “liberal” and “conservative” labels that journalists toss around all the time.

If readers wish to do so, click here to flash back to a crucial GetReligion post on themes that are very close to the heart of Dreher’s hilarious and serious book.

But let’s start with this from a reader:

TMATT, did you see today’s OpinionJournal article on Rod Dreher? The author states that “… consumerism and conservatism are, for him [Dreher], incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp.” I think Dreher is the one with the “grasping” problem. He is obviously not an economic conservative — I may not like strip malls and such, either, but I believe in free choice. According to the article, only Rod Dreher’s “countercultural” priorities are truly conservative. Wow. Welcome to the communalistic world where you must share Rod’s vision to be a conservative. May I suggest that Rod use his talents to come up with a new name (other than the modifier “crunchy”) to describe his movement, instead of stealing the term “conservative.” And please quit describing him as a social or economic conservative when he is obviously neither.

Posted by Scott Allen at 2:24 pm on February 21, 2006

Actually, the Wall Street Journal article stresses that Dreher — a columnist and editorial-page scribe at the Dallas Morning News — is a conservative in a very old-fashioned tradition, a conservative who is more interested in preserving old values than building new shopping malls. Forced to choose between the church and the mall, or the home and the corporate tower, Dreher is going for the home and the church every time.

This is, of course, the battle at the heart (or the soul) of the modern Republican Party, as described by President Bush’s scribe Michael Gerson and others.

I will not try to sum the book up, in large part because the essay by conservative historian George H. Nash does such a good job of doing so. He is right that Dreher is trying to find a path between (or away from) two competing brands of Libertarianism, a way between the political “Party of Lust” and the political “Party of Greed.” Here is a crucial part of his essay on Rod’s work, a statement that points toward the Godbeat story hidden in this book:

In Mr. Dreher’s view, consumer-crazed capitalism makes a fetish of individual choice and, if left unchecked, “tends to pull families and communities apart.” Thus consumerism and conservatism are, for him, incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp. He warns that capitalism must be reined in by “the moral and spiritual energies of the people.” It is not politics and economics that will save us, he declares. It is adherence to the “eternal moral norms” known as the Permanent Things.

And the most permanent thing of all is God. At the heart of Mr. Dreher’s family-centered crunchy conservatism is an unwavering commitment to religious faith. And not just any religious faith but rigorous, old-fashioned orthodoxy. Only a firm grounding in religious commitment, he believes, can sustain crunchy conservatives in their struggle against the radical individualism and materialism he decries. Nearly all the crunchy cons he interviews are devoutly Christian or orthodox Jewish believers who are deliberately ordering their lives toward the ultimate end of “serving God, not the self” — often at considerable financial sacrifice.

If this sounds more like Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind, than Rush Limbaugh, then there is a reason for that. Which is the higher social good, freedom or virtue?

03 06 2005 ned 06roddreherNEW GV21IKO0C 1We will not argue about that here. I am more interested in knowing if GetReligion readers see any interesting feature stories in the weeks ahead that explore any of these themes. I may write about it for Scripps Howard News Service in a few weeks, with the obvious confession right out front that Dreher is a friend (and, besides, I own more pairs of Birkenstocks than the whole Dreher clan put together, including a pair purchased in 1979).

Besides, if you want to argue with Dreher, then by all means do so. Folks are blogging about his Crunchy Cons manifesto over at the Dallas Morning News opinion page. Also, you can read one of his original National Review essays from 2002 and then weigh in at the new Crunchy Cons blog at NRO.

And Rod has already started responding to those who want to toss him off the ship of conservatism. But the bottom line is easy to see: He is a moral and cultural conservative, more than a political and economic conservative. Or, as he just posted on NRO:

Where the Right Went Wrong
[Rod Dreher 02/21 11:38 AM]

… (The) book has its intellectual roots in the traditionalist camp of postwar conservatism, as distinct from the libertarian camp. Both were united in opposing the behemoth state, but whereas libertarians were more concerned with economic liberty, traditionalists were more focused on virtue. It seems to me that modern conservatism, in the main, pays lip service to virtue, but is really more wrapped up with economics and libertarian concerns. Do you agree? If so, where, and why, did the Right lose touch with traditionalism?

Here’s a line from the first chapter that speaks to this concern: “Both mainstream liberalism and conservatism are essentially materialist ideologies, and we should not be surprised that both shape a society dedicated to the multiplication of wants and the intensification of desire, not the improvement of character.”

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Adventures in Jeremy land

sjlottFor those of you out there interested in the fate of a GetReligion graduate, click here for a column on the life and times of Jeremy Lott. It seems that, while working on his upcoming book for Nelson Current — which will have that title mentioned long ago, In Defense of Hypocrisy — the still young master Jeremy has become yet another journalistic victim of the cartoon crisis.

It’s rather complicated. As the update at 4pundits.com says:

My colleague Radley Balko wrote on Friday that “of course the real tragedy of the cartoon riots is that it put my friend Jeremy Lott out of a job writing columns for the New York Press. Won’t someone please think of the pundits?!?”

That was then. This is now, although there has not been much of a change. Consider this an update to the update:

The New York Press column is dead. After quite a bit of trying, I tracked down the interim editor Steve Weinstein and asked, by e-mail, if he still expected me to file. He called me up on my cell and asked, “You mean the low life column?”

“It’s called ‘Guns and Butter,’” I said. “It’s a national affairs column.”

The rest of the conversation went about that well. He said that I could pitch ideas at him but the weekly slot is now toast. Good to know. Also, another potential job fell through tonight, so I am going to sign off and try to drown my sorrows with all the Yuengling in the fridge.

Sorry about the photo. I could not find the classic one in the fur hat.

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Reader comments on “stupid reporters”

scribeatcomputerFor quite some time now, young master Daniel Pulliam has been suggesting that each of us should select a “comment of the week” to pull out here on page one. I agree, in part because I fear that many of our readers miss some of the excellent questions, opinions and pot shots that are hidden deep inside this massive site.

Thus, here is a comment from the Rev. Andy Chamberlain, diving into the sometimes emotional whirlpool that I stirred up with my post titled “Are reporters too stupid to get religion?” It begins with Chamberlain quoting an earlier comment by another reader:

“Since when is religion anything like rocket science? I thought religion was supposed to be a part of people’s everyday lives.”

And you are right, what we believe is part of everyday life; but whilst faith can be a simple thing (thank God) religion is fiendishly complicated; and this matters with news coverage because no one wants to read a story where the reporter doesn’t know their stuff. It is distracting and stops the reader from engaging with the material.

For good or ill, religion is complicated; for example, you could look at the differences in Trinitarian theology between the Catholic and Orthodox church. These things don’t matter at all to many people, but for others they are critical; and importantly, if you were going to write about them, you would need to know your stuff.

Or if you don’t want to stray from the Get Religion website, I suggest you look at the discussion on the ‘American Pastor’ post about Rick Warren; there are a number of complex and subtle issues being discussed there by the different contributors. I think most reporters would be hard pressed to give a very informed contribution to those debates.

I think my rocket science observation stands, maybe that is a shame, but there you go. …

Posted by andy chamberlain at 3:46 pm on January 29, 2006

I am passing along this comment for two reasons.

First, anyone who has ever tried to walk the Godbeat knows that it is stunningly complicated. When I left full-time work on the religion beat in Denver, after six-plus years at the Rocky Mountain News, my files packed two or three giant file drawers and included materials on — I estimate — at least 300 different religious organizations, movements, denominations or sects in that region. Try briefing a general-assignment reporter on that.

I know it is an unfair comparison, but the political beat includes two major parties and a few closely related major movements. In religion, there are at least 30 or more major “parties” in any major city, each with its own unique form of doctrine, language, culture and government (local, regional, national and often global).

One church’s bishop is not the same as another’s — whether you are talking Anglican, Pentecostal, African Methodist Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or whatever. An Eastern Rite Catholic is not the same as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, even if their vestments look alike. A Western Rite Orthodox priest is not the same thing as an Anglican Rite Catholic priest, even if they both went to the same Episcopal seminary a decade or two ago.

When a Mormon talks about “heaven,” the meaning is not the same as when a Baptist does. When a Catholic says she is a “charismatic,” it probably does not mean precisely the same thing as when a Pentecostal believer uses the same term. Then again, it might, depending on the zip code. Don’t get me started on all the differences — legal and doctrinal — between, let’s say, a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The list goes on and on. And the emerging world of the neopagans makes the Baptist world (with thousands of different conventions and networks) look downright simple, plain and ordinary.

This leads me to my second comment. I still find it amazing that one trend you see in American newspapers today is editors assigning the religion beat to people with zero training or experience or commitment to staying on the beat for a significant period of time. It is supposed to give the newspaper a fresh and open view of the topic.

Forget rocket science for a minute. Try to imagine newsroom executives in major newsrooms taking the same approach with sports, law, science or the arts. Yes, I know that journalists can study and get up to speed on a complicated beat. But are we supposed to say that, once they have learned what they need to learn, they are now less qualified to handle the same beat at a larger news organization? I think not.

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Are reporters too stupid to get religion?

IDDONchurchteresamikeWhen Mother Teresa comes to town for an ecumenical prayer service, all kinds of people are going to show up. That’s what happened in Denver back in 1989, when the tiny nun came to town to pray for peace and for the poor in that city.

The list of local clergy taking part was very long, drawing a Judeo-Christian all-star team that included rabbis, Eastern Orthodox priests, Anglicans and Protestant clergy of every kind, from nationally known evangelicals to the mainline left. Of course, Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford — now a cardinal at the Vatican — was at her side to preside.

Before the event, Mother Teresa and some of the top clergy held a press conference. It was, for me, a memorable event because I asked her if she was considering opening a Missionaries of Charity convent in Denver. When I talked with her again an hour later she reminded me of that question and, in the prayer service itself, she stunned the archbishop and the crowd by announcing that she would do precisely that — creating an AIDS hospice in urban Denver.

However, there is another reason I remember that press conference. The throng of reporters who attended included a number of local television reporters, several of whom seemed to have been assigned to the story at the last minute. One asked a simple question: Would this prayer rite include a Mass?

Mother Teresa was confused for a minute. How could they celebrate a Roman Catholic Mass with an ecumenical flock, one that included Protestants, Jews and others who were, obviously, not in communion with Rome? For starters, I thought, had the reporter not heard of the Protestant Reformation?

I thought of this story this week when several GetReligion readers posted comments about Father Richard John Neuhaus’ bitting remarks at the First Things blog about the stupidity of journalists. He was inspired to write by early coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, “God Is Love.”

Here is how his post opens:

As you might imagine, I spend a good deal of time talking with reporters. I usually don’t mind it. It comes with the territory. With notable exceptions, reporters are people of good will working hard to write a story that will please their editors. It is true that they are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer. These days most of them have gone to journalism school, or j-school, as it is called. In intellectual rankings at universities, journalism is just a notch above education, which is, unfortunately, at the bottom.

An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. “Is this something new?” she asked. “No,” I said, “it’s been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden.” There was a long pause and then she asked, “What garden was that?” It was touching.

And so it goes. I will pass by his undocumented claim that student journalists are, as a rule, stupid. I have found, in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, that my journalism students are almost always drawn from the honor rolls. Frankly, I have no idea what Father Neuhaus is talking about and I wish he had added a hyperlink to the source of his opinion. But I will move on.

Father Neuhaus is a very witty man and you can read his remarks for yourself, if you have not already. It is interesting that he ends up, in a strange way, affirming the stance of thinkers — most in the news industry or on the left — who argue that bias is not at the root of the news media’s struggles to “get religion.” Instead of bias, he argues that journalists are simply ignorant. (I argue that clashing “worldviews” are the key.)

Neuhaus concludes:

… (Over) the years of dealing with reporters — and, again, there are notable exceptions — I have been led to embrace something like an Occam’s razor with respect to journalistic distortions: Do not multiply explanations when ignorance will suffice.

It is hard to tell if his “notable exceptions” are reporters who are biased or reporters who are not stupid.

Anyway, my story about the Mother Teresa press conference would slip nicely into the First Things commentary. Believe me, I have heard waves of similar stories through the years, and some of them will make you laugh to keep from crying. Click here to read some classics.

042803neuhausrichardjohnIf Father Neuhaus had been at the 1989 press conference, I am sure he would have rolled his eyes at the ecumenical Mass question and tucked it away in his mental humor files for future use (as I did).

However, there is a problem. That press conference included a number of reporters who were rolling their eyes, reporters who had years and years of experience on the beat and had, in a few cases, even done graduate degrees in various types of religious studies to be able to do a professional job covering complicated religion-news stories. Where do these reporters fit into Father Neuhaus’ rather snarky scenario?

You see, I have met some brilliant journalists in my day. I have also met some journalists who are so dedicated that they can keep working and working on a topic until they get most of the questions answered and they get the key facts right. I have also met plenty of journalists who fit all of the good father’s stereotypes. But what is his solution to this problem? Ignore reporters? Just write off the press?

I think it would help if the people who run newsrooms had the option — as they seek intellectual diversity — of hiring more reporters from excellent reporting and writing programs in religious colleges and universities.

Might Father Neuhaus lobby for at least a few Catholic schools in this nation to stress journalism? He could offer his praise and support for postgraduate projects — such as those at the Poynter Instituteand the Pew Forum — that help journalists learn more about religion and improve their reporting skills.

Does Father Neuhaus think this line of work is too shallow or too gritty for serious study and even theological reflection? And speaking of that “garden,” is this conservative Catholic theologian arguing that some parts of God’s creation are simply too fallen to be taken seriously? Is his theology putting a newsy twist on Orwell? All of God’s creation is both glorious and fallen, but some parts of it — newsrooms — are more fallen than others? I assume not, since that would be, well, heresy.

But it is so, so easy to blast away at the press — especially in a week in which the Western world’s newspaper of record serves up headlines such as this one: “Benedict’s First Encyclical Shuns Strictures of Orthodoxy.”

Say what? Wait, there was more. Here is the opening of reporter Ian Fisher’s New York Times story on the new papal encyclical:

Pope Benedict XVI issued an erudite meditation on love and charity on Wednesday in a long-awaited first encyclical that presented Roman Catholicism’s potential for good rather than imposing firm, potentially divisive rules for orthodoxy.

The encyclical, titled “God Is Love,” did not mention abortion, homosexuality, contraception or divorce, issues that often divide Catholics. But in gentle, often poetic language, Benedict nonetheless portrayed a tough-minded church that is “duty bound,” he wrote, to intervene at times in secular politics for “the attainment for what is just.”

You could spend a week in the Catholic blogosphere reading about reactions to “God Is Love” and the news coverage of its contents. I will not linger on this, since this post is long enough already. Suffice it to say, many of the reports would have put a smile on the face of Father Neuhaus, for all of the usual reasons. I will end with one comment from an email by my friend, the Catholic pop-culture scribe Roberto Rivera y Carlo:

Talk about your ideological slip showing! The lede draws not one, but, two, idiotic juxtapositions: “erudite” versus “firm” and “love and charity” versus “orthodoxy.” These people really don’t and can’t get it, can they?

Actually, I believe that most reporters are smart enough to get it and it would be good if they tried to do so. I also think if would help if more religious leaders — especially brilliant people like Father Neuhaus — helped promote education and diversity in journalism, rather than merely firing shots from the sidelines.

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Noonan cheers for ships headed right

ttall5Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has, in an indirect way, jumped into our discussion of media bias. Her latest column has much to say about the impact — journalistic and financial — of that yawning culture gap that exists between most mainstream journalists and a rather large chunk of readers, especially out there in flyover America and the deadly red zip codes. Click here to get to “Not a Bad Time to Take Stock: Thoughts on the decline of the liberal media monopoly and the future of the GOP.”

Before you read it, please let me make a personal comment or two.

First of all, I really don’t care much about the future of GOP, seeing as how I am a conservative Democrat. However, I guess it pays to pay attention to the GOP issues, since those of us on the pro-life side of things end up facing the terrible voting-booth choice of selecting between pro-business Republicans who say they are pro-life and almost as fiercely pro-business Democrats who, unless you live in a dozen or so congressional districts, are pro-abortion rights. Please, in the comments, don’t get pulled off into arguments about Noonan’s politics. Let’s talk about journalism.

Also, I know that technology — like this blog — is leading us into an era of niche media. I accept that and I know that much of what Noonan says is accurate about how this will open up news-media options on the right. But I still cannot celebrate this trend. I cannot find a way to slap a smile on my face and dance on the grave of the American Model of the Press. As I just said in a comment on the “Ships sail on” post:

When an industry is sliding the way the MSM is right now, it is a good thing to listen to customers and respond as best you can, without compromising your ethics. In this case, seeking a diversity of voices on the hottest issues in our culture sounds like good business, to me. I care about the future of the newspaper industry. A lot. I want it to be harder for conservatives to attack it. …

You see, I really believe that it is possible to have a newsroom that cares about intellectual and cultural diversity and, thus, contains reporters who have a gut instinct about when a newspaper’s coverage is simply shallow, inaccurate, unbalanced, twisted or all of the above when it comes time to deal with the morally conservative side of American life. I believe that newsrooms don’t have to lean 90 percent in one direction on the hottest controversies of our day and that it would be good for journalism the craft, and journalism the business, if that were not the case.

I am pro-diversity. Period. Real diversity. But, you see, I think that is possible in mainstream newsrooms — not just in the cable TV, talk radio and WWW world that is dominated by the European Model of the Press. I like newspapers and wire services, thank you very much. I am an American journalist.

Thus, it is painful to read something like this from Noonan:

We are in a time when the very diminution of the importance of network news leaves some old news hands to drop their guard and announce what they are: liberal Democrats. Nothing wrong with that, but they might have told us when they were in power. The very existence of conservative media — of Rush Limbaugh, of Fox, of the Internet sites — has become an excuse by previously “I call ’em as I see ’em/I try to be impartial” journalists to advance their biases. Actually, it’s more Fox than anything. The existence of a respected cable network that is nonliberal and non-Democratic (or that is conservative, or Republican, or neoconservative — people on the right have polite disagreements about this) is more and more freeing news outlets, encouraging them actually, as a potential business model, to be more and more what they are. Is this good? Well, it’s clearer. Then again Time magazine this week illustrated a story about Republicans in Congress with a drawing of a merry circus elephant surrounded by the Republican leadership. They were covered, I’m not kidding, in the elephant’s fecal matter. (It’s on page 23. Time will no doubt call it chocolate.)

No, I can’t find the illustration on the Time site. If you can, send us the link.

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Truth? What is truth?

cost3Before I launch into the morning cyber-papers, let me share a glimpse of what I will be looking for on this holiday.

The writing team that works with Chuck Colson has some interesting quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the BreakPoint radio script that came out today. The quotes come from the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” text, the part in which a circle of ministers challenged the civil rights leader to explain his belief that Christians have a right to disobey some civil laws.

King went further and said that Christians had a moral duty to disobey unjust laws. This leads to the logical question: How does one know when a law is unjust?

A just law, King wrote, “squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law … is out of harmony with the moral law.” Then King quoted Saint Augustine: “An unjust law is no law at all.” He quoted Thomas Aquinas: “An unjust law is a human law not rooted in eternal or natural law.”

This is the great issue today in the public square: Is the law rooted in truth? Is it transcendent, immutable, and morally binding? Or is it, as liberal interpreters argue, simply whatever courts say it is? Do we discover the law, or do we create it?

Many think of King as a liberal firebrand, waging war on traditional values. Nothing could be further from the truth. King was a great conservative on this central issue, and he stood on the shoulders of Augustine and Aquinas, striving to restore our heritage of justice rooted in the law of God.

This is, of course, a variation on the “Culture Wars” thesis of sociologist James Davison Hunter at the University of Virginia, who stated that our culture is divided into two groups: The “progressives” who believe that truth is personal, experiential and evolving and the “orthodox” who believe there is such a thing as eternal, absolute truth. Click here for more info on that.

All of this, on a personal note, reminds me of that famous issue of Sojourners in November of 1980 that made a progressive case for opposition to abortion. It was the Jesse Jackson essay that really hit home for me at the time, arguing that abortion could be used as a form of institutionalized racism. Jackson even wrote an article that was published by National Right to Life that ended with this statement:

What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of person, and what kind of society, will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?

Colson and his team are convinced that King, if he had lived, would have asked similar questions about abortion and would have kept asking them — right up through last week’s U.S. Senate hearings for Judge Samuel Alito.

Perhaps. However, I am sure of one thing. I have trouble seeing MLK having much to do with the pseudo-libertarians — moral on one side, economic on the other — who dominate our political life today.

Now it is time to go see if any of this makes it into the newspapers today, of all days. Help me look for those quotes from Birmingham. It’s the kind of language that, today, will make people sweat on the left and the right. If you find anything interesting, let us know.

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Shameless self-promotion: back to work

PopGoesCover2I am back home from 10 days of travel near and far (I passed on buying the George W. Bush bobblehead doll in Crawford, Texas), which was hard since I enjoyed (or endured) varying degrees of Internet access. I don’t know how we are supposed to handle travel in the age of DSL, when things work great at home and zippo on the road. How do you folks handle it?

Anyway, some folks during the trip told me that I should be more pushy about my book. So, OK, here is a spot of shameless self-promotion, only I will still try to hook it to a few religion-news related topics we have been talking about here at GetReligion. Then, tomorrow, I will go back to work. Honest. Thanks so much to Mollie and Daniel for hanging in there during the break!

First of all, Dallas Morning News contributor Michael Darling hooked up for a long talk about faith and popular culture. This led to a shorter Q&A piece, that did open with a good question that kind of took me off guard. Thus, I will share it with you guys, too.

How did your time at Baylor influence your career choices?

It was during my junior year that my career interests sort of got switched. I was a writer for Baylor’s campus newspaper, and there was a huge mission festival in town. I went to cover it, and almost nobody showed up.

I thought I had a great story — why didn’t anyone show? But all the other students went, you know, “Grumble-grumble, if nobody shows up it isn’t a story.”

A famous professor, David McHam, one of the deans of journalism education in Texas, told me, “They didn’t get it from me, but they’ve already picked up on the notion that the media doesn’t consider religion all that important. … Religion’s the worst-covered subject in all of the media.”

It was at that moment that I became fascinated with why the media have trouble covering religion.

I still believe that to be true, even though there are signs of progress all over the place. Much has changed in 30 years or so, but now we are at the stage where religion news has become so important that it is getting harder and harder to know what is religion news and what is not.

You think I am joking? Check out the Associated Press list of the top 10 news events — news events, period — in 2005. See any events with religious overtones? What about Katrina? What about the politics of oil? Any faith themes in there?

I know, I know. This keeps coming up — with good reason. This is what this blog is all about, after all. Thus, here is what I said when the good people at Poynter.org, in an end-of-the-year feature called “Journalism’s Highlights and Lowlights,” asked me, “What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in journalism in 2006?” Naturally, I replied:

Like to see? That’s easy: Religion news being treated as a normal, complicated, serious hard-news beat, with skilled specialists. More people asking the question: What Would Dick Ostling Do?

Well, back to work.

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