Slicing up that old pizza guy

t 350 x 350 210OK, football fans, is everyone else as tired of the horrid Domino’s Brooklyn Style Pizza ads as I am? If I hear “Fold it like a man!” one more time I think I am going to give up pizza for Nativity Lent or something radical like that.

Still, I have to admit that the little New York Times story on this ad campaign — “‘Brooklyn Style Pizza’ Meets the Real Deal” — left me feeling a stab of sympathy for the giant corporation.

As you would imagine, reporter Kim Severson didn’t find too many people in Brooklyn who were happy or excited about this mass-marketing of a pseudo-New York tradition. Nevertheless, there is a passage near the end that is jarring, to say the least. There are people who believe that the Times can find a way to spin almost any story in a way that sticks needles into the sensitive skins of conservative Christians, especially Roman Catholics.

But did we really need the pizza-culture wars? In the ads, Severson writes,

An older Italian woman yells out of a brownstone window. A man with the look of an extra from “The Sopranos” pumps iron on the roof. A Rosie O’Donnell lookalike berates a taxi driver for not folding his slice like a man. And there’s an African-American guy. You can’t hear what he’s saying because the rap music pouring from his car speakers is too loud.

That kind of imagery just grinds at Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president.

“It’s a multinational right-wing company, mass marketing the Brooklyn attitude with obsolete ethnic stereotypes, not to mention flimsy crusts,” he said through a spokesman.

. . . The right-wing reference is to Domino’s founder, Thomas S. Monaghan, who sold the company in 1998. He has supported the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue and earlier this year announced his intention to build a town called Ave Maria in Florida based on strict Roman Catholic principles.

What a plot twist. Not only is this fake Brooklyn pizza, it’s dangerous Brooklyn pizza. It is Brooklyn pizza with bad political and theological DNA.

You have been warned.

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On hypocrisy

hypocrisyWhen Mike Jones went to the media with claims that New Life megachurch pastor Ted Haggard had paid him for sex and meth, he said he did so because of Haggard’s hypocrisy. Jones said he felt that Haggard was a hypocrite because he preached against homosexual behavior while also engaging in it.

The hypocrisy slur has been lodged against Haggard far and wide.

Two recent essays in First Things question the hypocrisy claim. While First Things is a religious journal, reporters on the Haggard beat — or any subsequent scandal story — should read them. Robert Miller argues that people aren’t hypocrites because they violate a moral norm in which they profess to believe:

Hypocrisy is a much worse form of moral wrongdoing. It’s a certain kind of lying, and so can be done only consciously and intentionally.

. . . Ted Haggard, I am sure, always believed that homosexual conduct was wrong, always wanted to avoid such conduct, and always regretted engaging in it after he did so. He found himself experiencing very powerful desires contrary to the values he sincerely believed in, desires he wished with all his heart he could have escaped from, desires he refers to as a “repulsive and dark” part of his life against which he has been warring for a long time. Sometimes, contrary to his wish, he gave in to those desires. This makes him weak, not a hypocrite.

Richard John Neuhaus added to the comments by providing a modern example of hypocrisy. German novelist Günter Grass loudly proclaimed for years that any of his countrymen who was affiliated with Nazis should be ostracized, more or less. And yet he had willingly served in the Waffen-SS and had hidden that fact. Neuhaus says false accusations of hypocrisy show a “naive indifference to the reality of the conflicted self.”

Kevin Simpson and Eric Gorski’s piece for The Denver Post uses the Haggard scandal as a jumping-off point to discuss homosexual behavior and its causes:

Although the nature versus nurture debate — biology versus psycho-social factors — has simmered for years, most recent research has pointed toward sexual orientation being hard-wired into humans, at least to some degree, said Anthony Bogaert, a psychology professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, who studies sexual orientation development.

What’s so interesting about this story and so many others that deal with the “root causes of homosexuality” is the underlying assumption that an individual who engages in both heterosexual and homosexual behavior is, well, obviously and unequivocally gay. Take Ted Haggard. Here is a man who has been married to a woman for decades and has five children. He also, allegedly, paid a man for sex for three years. Isn’t it interesting that so many people assume that combination means he’s gay? You bake one loaf of bread, it doesn’t mean you’re considered a baker, but for some reason we think differently about sexuality. But only in one direction — men in homosexual relationships who’ve slept with — or even been married to — women aren’t considered straight.

Anyway, what’s missing from the whole Denver Post article is the view of some Christians that homosexuality — whether or not it is genetically influenced or some product of cultural influences — is not the best expression of God’s plan for sexual desire. The absence of that information or perspective makes the rest of the article — which more or less condemns evangelical efforts to assist homosexuals in modifying their behavior — ring hollow.

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Gasp! There are pro-life moderates?

409px Glass of waterThe mainstream press is still working its way through the “what it all means” stage. Here is The New York Times trying out different ways of saying that the new Democrats who gave their party the Hill majority are not “bright blue.”

In other words, they too are moderates.

What amazes me is that the Times seems to think this is new. The Democratic Party ran off all kinds of centrist voters in the Reagan era and more in the post-Clinton era. This is no great secret. So who were these voters and what made them bite their lips and pull a GOP lever? Once again, we are wrestling with what words like “centrist,” “reform” and “moderate” mean.

Well, the new Democrats are not crusaders. They realize that there were Republicans who voted for them, in part due to the war and GOP corruption.

But what else is going on here? The Times even uses — without blushing — the word “liberal” to describe the current Democratic leadership that has been put in power by this small collection of centrists. Conflict could be ahead. But conflict on what? Here is a long slice of the article:

Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois Democrat who recruited many of these candidates as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, described the group as “moderate in temperament and reformers in spirit.” Conservatives tend to highlight the conservatism in the new class as a sign that Democrats are essentially ceding ground to the right on issues like gun control and abortion.

But many of these freshmen Democrats are hard to pigeonhole ideologically. Even among the most socially conservative, there is a strong streak of economic populism that is a unifying force. Heath Shuler, for example, the former professional football player and newly elected House Democrat from North Carolina, is anti-abortion and pro-gun, but sounds like an old-style Democrat on economic issues.

“I was taught at a very, very young age about faith and personal responsibility, and through that, that responsibility was about helping those who cannot help themselves,” Mr. Shuler said. “If you look at what the Democratic Party stands for, it is about helping others who can’t help themselves.”

Once again, as always, abortion — the great stalking horse for the Sexual Revolution in general — is right up front. And so is the issue of religious faith.

But isn’t it amazing that the Times story expresses mild surprise that there are people who are moral conservatives and political progressives? I mean, hasn’t anyone read that “Tribal Relations” piece in The Atlantic that GetReligion keeps pushing? Didn’t they read the Pew Forum materials showing that a solid majority of Democrats wants significant changes in our abortion laws?

Once again, there are centrists who are liberal on economics and conservative on cultural issues. Then there are centrists who are liberal on cultural issues and conservative on economics. Do we need a new vocabulary to describe these two very different groups?

And, yes, what about the ultimate decision? How does this affect the courts? Will the party leadership compromise there?

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California is “moderate,” so there

1004 GOne of the most important words in American political speech is “moderate.” The same thing, of course, is true in the world of religion.

“Moderates” are nice. They are smart, constructive and nuanced.

Extreme people are mean and extreme, and that often means dangerous. “Extreme” conservatives or even “radical” conservatives are even worse than regular conservatives. I guess that the same thing would be true of “extreme” liberals, only that there are almost none on the American political scene. There are “moderates” and, out on the edge, “progressives” and others who want progress (as opposed to those who want to stay put or even regress).

There are candid journalists who realize that “moderate” is a loaded word. For example, take that statement by New York Times editor Bill Keller that we have discussed here in the past, from one of his documents linked to an internal committee asking how his newspaper can do a better job of relating to its readers:

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

I thought about this issue while reading George Skelton’s Capitol Journal report in the Los Angeles Times arguing that this election proved that California isn’t a blue state at all out on the left coast. No, California is a pastel state or, at most, a light-blue state.

In other words, California is a “moderate” state. Offer California a “moderate” GOP candidate like Rudy Giuliani or, of course, the Governator and this becomes perfectly obvious.

This is not a deep blue state, regardless of recent presidential elections. Color us light blue, if you must.

… Currently, and over the long haul, we’re centrists. Sure, we’ve voted for the Democratic candidate in the last four presidential races. But in the previous 10 elections, we voted nine times for the Republican. Each of those contests had its own dynamic, but party label was the least of it. This state never has been and is not now solidly Democratic.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s overwhelming reelection victory is Exhibit A of California centrism. The governor ran as a typical state voter: anti-tax, fiscally prudent, pro-environment and left-leaning on social issues like abortion. He was supported by 57% of moderates, a Times exit poll found. That pretty much mirrored his overall vote, about 56%. This state is not consistently liberal and, except on certain issues, definitely isn’t conservative.

The best hope for the GOP, writes Skelton, is that there is “a Ronald Reagan out there somewhere.”

tbrc map 3What in the world does that mean?

As a rule, it seems that the newspaper’s definition of “moderate” is conservative on economic and business issues, and perhaps on military issues, yet liberal on social issues.

If that is what “moderate” means, what do you do with the folks who march with the Rev. Jim Wallis, the new old Democrats and others of that ilk? Can someone be a “moderate” if they are liberal on economic issues and conservative on moral issues? What would the Los Angeles Times call that kind of voter or candidate?

Actually, there is a clue later in the article:

We’re sometimes liberal, rejecting — for the second straight year — an initiative to require parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion. But we’re conservative on law and order, placing residency restrictions and GPS tracking devices on paroled sexual predators.

“This is not a liberal state, it is a libertarian state,” says Democratic consultant Darry Sragow. “Basically, its about Western American values.”

Ah, that makes more sense. “Moderate” equals liberalism on social issues.

So, once again, let me ask: What would editors at the Los Angeles Times say that “liberalism” looks like on moral, social and cultural issues? Is liberalism even possible on these issues? So Hollywood is full of “moderates”?

Second image is from Take Back Red California.

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Pardon the interruption

grammyDylanSoyBombWhen I wrote about Linda Greenhouse’s problematic story anticipating the Supreme Court arguments over a federal ban on partial-birth abortions, reader Mattk wondered why we would cover it here at GetReligion:

Is it because most of the people who oppose abortion are religious? Is it because there are so many Roman Catholics on the court? Is it because over the years Justice Scalia has put on some pounds and maybe he is a practicing glutton? What’s the tie-in?

While abortion is not necessarily a religious issue, the coverage of the larger issue is riddled with religious ghosts. Many of the most ardent opponents of the practice are practicing Christians or religious adherents of another stripe. The questions surrounding abortion — such as when life begins, when life begins to have value, how our legal system defines personhood, how society feels about sexuality apart from procreation — all have a religious angle. That’s why we discuss abortion coverage here. And, you’ll note, many religion reporters include hot-button issues such as abortion on their beat.

The most interesting aspects of recent coverage include descriptions of the lack of exercise of judicial faculties and how the justices determined medical and health impacts. But there was also a law-breaking protester! Here’s how Charles Lane of The Washington Post reported it:

The most dramatic moment of the morning came moments later, at about 10:40 a.m., when a loud voice cried out from the back of the courtroom.

“Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood!” shouted a man later identified by the court as Rives Miller Grogan, 40, of Los Angeles. He was immediately tackled and dragged out by Supreme Court police, who charged him with violating a federal law against disrupting court sessions, as well as with offenses related to resisting arrest.

Lane’s article did a good job of characterizing the arguments, using neutral language and plenty of color. Linda Greenhouse’s wrap-up for The New York Times was also very good, although she somehow didn’t notice the protester. Maybe in her world abortion opponents aren’t factual realities. Still, ignoring the protester was better than what Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick did. She somehow heard the protester utter words that no one else heard and seemed a bit foggy about the whole event. Good reporting! Oh, did I mention her piece is headlined “Doctor, there’s a lawyer in my womb“? and that Slate is owned by The Washington Post? Anyway, here’s Lithwick:

For the first time in my eight years at the court, I watch as a spectator begins to shout, “Have you ever been a parent?” and something about Jesus and perishing, before he is tackled by court security and dragged out of the chambers. His screams can be heard for some time after he’s been removed. It’s quite distracting. I think from now on the court security guards should maybe carry Tasers.

Still, Lithwick reported a religious angle that no one else did. Apparently Planned Parenthood’s Eve Gartner told the justices that how a woman “wants her fetus to undergo demise” is a “very personal moral/religious decision.” Chief Justice John Roberts asked why decisions about the impact on the fetus were beyond the scope of things Congress can take into account. Interesting exchange.

Maybe I’ve been beaten down by decades of horrific abortion reporting, particularly with stories about partial-birth abortion laws, but these stories were not the worst I’ve seen.

The image, by the way, is of Dylan and his dancing protester of commercialism from a few Grammys ago.

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On story selection and privacy

privacy is not a crimeI’m not sure if non-journalists understand how much of a news outlet’s work depends on the selection of stories. Here at GetReligion, we tend to focus on problems with the way a given story is treated. Whether it is treated at all is a bigger issue.

Reader Paul Strickert sent along a sad story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen wrote about a sweeps story for a local news station that took a tragic turn. A pastor committed suicide after a local television station planned to air an expose of his trips to adult bookstores.

Owen wrote that the possibility of harm that unnecessary reports can cause to the person under investigation — as well as family members and communities — needs to be considered by news outlets.

Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple wrote a note to readers explaining how his paper decided whether to run an article about the Ted Haggard story when it broke. He found out about the story from The Denver Post, which ran a small item on the second page of the local news section.

I wondered how a bombshell like that could have been buried on Page 2 of the second section. If true, what was it doing there? It should have been the banner. If not, what was the story doing in the paper?

As Rocky staffers carried through their day, they debated whether to cover the story and how to avoid pitfalls:

Even if we could talk to the escort, would we publish his claims? The cynics out there might say, come on, there was never any doubt you’d publish them. But they’re wrong. We know how easy it is to make false allegations.

When Haggard resigned from the National Association of Evangelicals, the decision was made for them. Temple’s account — which discusses which headlines were considered — is a fascinating look inside the newsroom. One editor ends up suggesting the word revelations in the headline:

Would evangelicals view the use of a word with New Testament echoes as unfair, even mean-spirited? Did it imply that the claims against Haggard were true? Many voices were heard. Staff members who openly identified as Christian spoke their minds, with some on both sides. Our religion editor was called at home. Family members were consulted, as were dictionaries.

I think it’s very interesting that he considered how Christians would respond to a headline on a story about the megachurch pastor.

Temple has written about other Haggard issues on his blog, such as why he permitted an article about odds for various outcomes in the scandal. He also answered a question about a photograph of Haggard speaking with reporters while his wife and children were with him:

I will not quarrel about the public’s right to know, nor will I debate the (First) Amendment as related to the media’s right to do their thing. I will, however, violently object to the logic behind publishing a photo that shows two of the Haggard children. Those kids don’t deserve to be a public part of the mess their father made of his life.

Reporters have every right to cover the goings-on of pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and shamen. But when they do, they should consider the ramifications of their coverage on families and reputations. That goes for all targets of stories, not just religious ones. But I think non-journalists should know that these discussions do take place in newsrooms, for better or worse.

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When faith matters on the battlefield

soldiers prayingThe flurry of election-related news this past week has kept me from noting an excellent piece in The New York Times last week that is absolutely superb and touching in its handling of a sniper situation in Iraq. Reporter C.J. Chivers, with the help of producer Eric Owles, supplemented the article with an equally poignant photo gallery and voiceover.

The article helps readers feel as though they’re at the scene of the incident. I especially appreciated the article’s final paragraphs for their unflinching portrayal of spirituality in a time of war:

Inside the wire, First Lt. Scott R. Burlison, the company commander, gathered the group and told them that Lance Corporal Smith was alive and in surgery. He was critical, but stable. They hoped to fly him to Germany.

Doc had scrubbed himself clean. A big marine stepped forward with a small Bible, and the platoon huddled. He began with Psalm 91, verses 5 and 11.

“Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day,” said the big marine, Lance Cpl. Daniel B. Nicholson. “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

Then he asked for the Lord to look after Lance Corporal Smith and whatever was ahead, and to take care of everyone who was still in the platoon.

praying soldiers“Help us Lord,” he said. “We need your help. It’s the only way we’re going to get through this.”

Doc stood in the corner, his arm looped over a marine. “Amen,” he said. There were some hugs, and then the marines and their Doc went back to their bunks and their guns.

I encourage you to read the entire piece. As the headline of the article says, the story is about taking care of a fallen Marine “with skill, prayer and fury.” It is an example of reporting a scene with honesty, accuracy and precise care for details. If only more reporting could be like this.

I don’t know if there are other examples of war correspondents drawing out the faith angle of the soldiers they cover, but I’ll greatly appreciate if any of you dig up some links to the pieces and post them in the comments section.

Prayer, faith and God are real parts of our world, and war and conflict seem especially suited to bring this out in journalism, but are there other areas where prayer plays a real part of the events on the ground? A recent example could be the account in The Atlantic of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s prayer group, but are there others?

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Henriques fires back at DiIulio

564px United states bill of rights 1 630x670Pardon me as I do a bit of housecleaning on this rainy day after the election here inside the Beltway.

GetReligion received an email the other day from reporter Diana B. Henriques, the primary author of that sprawling “In God’s Name” series about the various loopholes that editors at The New York Times believe need to be patched up in American church-state law. She wanted to let us know that The Weekly Standard has published a tough letter from her in response to the magazine’s piece by Democrat John J. DiIulio that fiercely criticized her series.

Since the letter is hidden behind a subscriber firewall at the Standard, and since GetReligion ran a post about DiIulio’s article, Henriques asked if we would post her letter. We’re glad to do so:

John J. DiIulio Jr.’s “The New York Times versus Religion” (Oct. 23) contained some significant factual errors in its descriptions of my four-part series, “In God’s Name,” published in the New York Times beginning October 8.

DiIulio’s essay focused largely on his complaint that I did not accurately or fairly address the issues surrounding federal funding for religious groups that provide social services under the federal Faith-Based and Community Initiative. But the series was not even remotely about that initiative, or federal faith-based funding in general. Out of almost 18,000 words, only three paragraphs, totaling 139 words, mentioned those topics at all. Most of those were incidental references; the rest were in a quotation from Dr. Derek Davis in a companion piece to the final story on October 11.

So none of the series dealt with federal funding issues, which DiIulio identified as half of my “story line.”

And the second article in the series, “Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights,” did not focus at all on “13 ‘workplace’ provisions” adopted by Congress, as DiIulio reported. Those legislative actions were mentioned only in thumbnail fashion in a graphic that ran the previous day. Instead, the second article focused on just two topics: the “ministerial exception” and a landmark federal appeals court opinion in 2002 that expanded a religious exemption under federal labor laws. Both are judicial doctrines, not legislation.

DiIulio also mistakenly described the ministerial exception. It was not established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as he reported. As I explained in my second article, it is a longstanding judicial doctrine that dates back at least 100 years. And the religious exemption in the 1964 act simply allowed religious employers to practice faith-based discrimination in hiring, as I also explained. Neither it nor the more expansive exemption adopted in 1972 had anything at all to say about “private funds and worship services” or about “public funds and social services,” as DiIulio reported.

Nor did the presidential executive orders he mentioned expand, or even affect, the ministerial exception, as he stated. Court doctrine can be modified only by judicial action, not by executive order.

But perhaps DiIulio and your readers will be heartened to know that his concern that venerable houses of worship “must go begging” for historic preservation funds is also incorrect. While not mentioned in my series, previous rulings by the U.S. attorney general’s office have been reversed to allow such funding. And FEMA, too, will now pay to rebuild religious schools damaged by natural disasters. These developments, of course, are just two more examples of the trend toward greater governmental accommodation of religious groups — which was, in fact, the “story line” of my series.

Senior Writer
New York Times
New York, N.Y.

That’s her take. I hope that DiIulio responds at some point.

Meanwhile, her letter really doesn’t change the GetReligion take on the series very much. I still worry that the Times does not seem to realize that, in church-state law, it’s hard to close some loopholes without crushing basic religious liberties, especially linked to freedom of speech and freedom of association. And I remain convinced that Henriques need to talk to more church-state veterans, especially on the left. Here is a snippet of what I said:

… (It) is clear that Henriques is aware that the same laws that protect conservative groups protect liberal religious groups. She even knows that some of our most important recent laws protecting religious liberty were passed with the help of the Clinton White House and super-broad coalitions of religious leaders that ranged from the Eagle Forum to the ACLU, from the National Council of Churches to the National Association of Evangelicals, from the Southern Baptists to the Episcopalians. On these issues, Pat Robertson was dancing with Bill Clinton (although it isn’t nice to dwell on that image).

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