It all about individual sin

sinDavid Kirkpatrick of The New York Times has one of the better articles out there dealing with the religious right’s reaction to the Foley scandal. While Kirkpatrick follows the style of the Washington Post‘s Alan Cooperman by talking to people he finds to be average evangelical voters, he comes to a completely different conclusion: the Foley Scandal will not affect the evangelical turnout come November.

He also notes that while a Pew Research Center poll showed a significant drop in GOP support from conservative Christians, the Democrats failed to pick up any of that support. (As a side note, that confusing polling data Cooperman included in his article did in fact come from Pew. It just was not in the actual report. Pew picked it out for him.)

But where the article shines most brightly is in identifying a theological reason behind the failure of the Foley Scandal to affect the vote of conservative Christians. Agree or disagree with the findings, but you have to admit that this is an excellent detail that some reporters might think is too much into the weeds of the issue.

Charles W. Dunn, dean of the school of government at Regent University, founded here by the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, said that so many conservative Christians were already in a funk about the party that “the Foley issue just opens up the potential floodgate for losses.” The tawdry accusations, Mr. Dunn said, “give life” to the charges of Republican corruption that had been merely “latent” in the minds of many voters.

But as far as culpability in the Foley case, Mr. Dunn said, House Republicans may benefit from the evangelical conception of sin. Where liberals tend to think of collective responsibility, conservative Christians focus on personal morality. “The conservative Christian audience or base has this acute moral lens through which they look at this, and it is very personal,” Mr. Dunn said. “This is Foley’s personal sin.”

To a person, those interviewed said that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois should resign if he knew of the most serious claims against Mr. Foley and failed to stop him. They said the degree of Mr. Hastert’s responsibility remained to be seen. Many said the issue had not changed their view of Congress because, in their opinion, it could not sink any lower.

Kirkpatrick also includes a summary of the ideas proposed by conservative Christian “thought leaders” which is great, but I like it when reporters tell me something I don’t already know. I can get the views of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity easily on my own.

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New York Times takes on First Amendment

church state 01Some newspapers win Pulitzers through tenacious reporting, excellent prose and productive teamwork. The New York Times, which truly is one of my favorite papers, sometimes wins its Pulitzers by wielding its institutional clout, pulverizing readers with story after story about some expansive issue — seemingly dictated by editorial fiat rather than reader interest.

Who else suffered through that laughably bad Augusta National Golf Club bombardment? Apparently then-editor Howell Raines decided that the greatest problem facing America in 2002 was the failure of Augusta National to admit women as members. Never mind that Augusta National is a private club in a free country and that women could and did play the course as much as they liked. Yep, we needed to be treated to 40-plus news stories, columns and editorials about the horrors facing wealthy folks in Georgia.

And then there was that cloying Race in America series in 2000. And yes, it won a Pulitzer. I kind of imagine the Pulitzer committee decided on the award as a means to get the Times to just stop with all the stories already.

Compared to those sanctimonious series, the four-parter that ran this week isn’t so bad. Sure, it’s a guns-blazing attack on the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, but what do you expect from the Times?

I kid, I kid. I kid because I love.

The breathlessly titled In God’s Name series examines how churches benefit from a historically liberal interpretation of the First Amendment. The first story, weighing in at almost 5,000 words, focuses on regulatory exemptions for religious organizations that run social services. Day two focused on rights of employees at religious organizations. The third installment was about revenue bond financing for religious groups. Part four is about the tax-exemption bounty that awaits members of the clergy. Part four made me want to ask my dad — a pastor — why we were so poor growing up. Seriously, if The New York Times is to be believed, my parents need to explain the powdered milk and hand-me-downs. While I talk to them, you can peruse all the articles, graphics and supporting multimedia here.

Business reporter Diana Henriques covers an incredibly interesting topic. It’s safe to say that the understanding of how the government treats religious entities has varied over time. I’m on record as someone concerned about government financing or support of any and all religious entities. We’ll look at the series in a few posts to see how well Henriques handled the weighty and complex questions. Here’s how she sets up her central thesis on day one:

In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide “war on religion” that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations — from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples — enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.

Some of the exceptions have existed for much of the nation’s history, originally devised for Christian churches but expanded to other faiths as the nation has become more religiously diverse. But many have been granted in just the last 15 years — sometimes added to legislation, anonymously and with little attention, much as are the widely criticized “earmarks” benefiting other special interests.

Now, maybe it’s just my economics background, but is the story here the expansion of the First Amendment or the overwhelming expansion of regulation? It means nothing at all that there is an increase in exemptions for religious organizations without knowing how many additional regulatory burdens there are overall! In other words, if there are 2,000 additional regulations facing all nonprofit organizations and 200 additional exemptions for churches written into legislation (anonymously! gasp! and with little attention! gasp!), then that’s a net of 1,800 additional regulations on churches. I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but all I could think of while reading the piece was how regulatory burdens have increased exponentially in the last 50 years.

Because of the increase in regulations, I would be surprised if the government did not write a significant number of exemptions for religious organizations — if only to keep on the right side of the law. And Henriques’ shady comparison of earmarks — directly funneling money to specific people — with the lifting of regulatory burdens is choice, if I may borrow a word from my childhood.

I find it incredibly funny that the solution the Times envisions for a disparity between regulatory burden for churches and other groups is to jack up regulations on nonprofits. I don’t think Henriques talked to a single person — even though there are many who would have loved to make this point — who said that they believe American businesses, nonprofits and individuals are drowning in a flood of regulations.

establishment clauseEither way, when dealing with a contentious topic, reporters should be careful to source everything:

The changes reflect, in part, the growing political influence of religious groups and the growing presence of conservatives in the courts and regulatory agencies. But these tax and regulatory breaks have been endorsed by politicians of both major political parties, by judges around the country, and at all levels of government.

That’s the paper of record, folks. How come my editors never let me write broad and unsubstantiated statements such as these? I feel like the standards should be lower for me than for flashy Times reporters.

She hammers the idea that religious exemptions cost society. While churches don’t pay property taxes, for instance, they are served by police departments. (Let’s not hold our breath for Henriques’ next series on why the poor should not have their fires extinguished.) But readers would be better served by her mentioning that congregations are full of taxpaying members. She might also have mentioned that some people don’t believe in double taxation at all.

I love the idea that a business reporter would look into these issues. But I think the series would have benefited from more economic balance. It definitely would have helped to have Laurie Goodstein or another religion reporter on board. Heck, Linda “I am the Alpha and Omega of all things Factual” Greenhouse would have been helpful! Knowing, for instance, that different religions have different views on female pastors, homosexuality, debt, usury and insurance could help explain why the federal government would be violating the Establishment Clause if it mandated that religious entities follow regulations on same.

Stay tuned for more coverage on the series.

Photo via Riles3821 on Flickr.

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Digging for facts on dog-whistle politics

dog whistleA few weeks ago, I stumbled across this post at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire that cited a CNN interview in which President Bush said that history would judge the Iraq war as “just a comma.” He subsequently repeated the statement elsewhere and the good folks at Political Wire suggested that it was code meant for the religious right:

While it seems an odd thing to say, a Political Wire reader suggests it’s designed to speak to the religious right while not unnecessarily alarming others. In other words, it’s a classic example of “dog whistle politics” used to energize his base.

The Christian proverb Bush was evidently referring to is “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” In essence, trust in God to make a bad situation better.

Puzzled by these comments, I put out a feeler and Doug informed me that the only reference he had seen to this “Christian proverb” is a public relations campaign of the United Church of Christ, which used it to reference the idea of continuous revelation.

silent dog whistleThen came Peter Baker’s coverage and analysis in The Washington Post. This would not be the first case of the president’s dropping code words. But the comma proverb provided an interesting twist, and Baker was spot on:

The comma remark, though, offers an especially intriguing case study in how a few words can trigger many interpretations. Bush used it in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer aired on Sept. 24 in talking about Iraq. He noted the bloodshed shown on television but hailed the resiliency of the Iraqi people and cited the election last December in which 12 million came to the polls despite the violence.

. . . Then Ian Welsh, on his Agonist blog, postulated a theory about the hidden meaning of the comment, citing the “never put a period” saying and calling it a “dog whistle” comment that only some would understand: “He is constantly littering his speeches with code words and phrases meant for the religious right. Other people don’t hear them, but they do, and most of the time it allows Bush both to say what those who aren’t evangelical or born again want to hear, while still reassuring the religious right [what it] wants to hear.”

But it turns out that the phrase “never put a period” originated not with a Christian conservative figure or biblical passage but with Gracie Allen, the comedienne wife of George Burns. And the phrase is a favorite not of the religious right but of the religious left. The United Church of Christ, which is devoted to fighting for what it calls social justice and opposes the war, adopted the phrase in January 2002.

“I needed something short and succinct,” said Ron Buford, the marketing director who came up with it. “When I saw the Gracie Allen quote, I was up all night thinking about it — God is still speaking, there’s more for us to know.”

When he heard about Bush’s comment, Buford was stunned. “It’s ironic that, as savvy as they are about using these quotes to strengthen their base, that he would use a quote that we’ve been using lately,” Buford said.

I doubt that President Bush’s speechwriters are intentionally using a slogan from the theological left in an attempt to connect with his base. But it was a fair enough question to ask. Congrats to Baker for rooting out the back story of the allegation and putting the speculation to rest.

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Modern Russia does have its ghosts

moscow theater 007Dang it, that’s what I get for waiting an extra day or two before writing about that sprawling Los Angeles Times series, “The Vanishing Russians.” I was waiting until the last day to see if reporter Kim Murphy elected to dig into the religious questions raised all the way through this fascinating and depressing set of four articles.

This is a textbook “project” in a great mainstream newspaper, complete with loads of statistics and personal stories to back them up. This clip will give you the flavor of the thing:

Russia is rapidly losing population. Its people are succumbing to one of the world’s fastest-growing AIDS epidemics, resurgent tuberculosis, rampant cardiovascular disease, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, suicide and the lethal effects of unchecked industrial pollution.

In addition, abortions outpaced births last year by more than 100,000. An estimated 10 million Russians of reproductive age are sterile because of botched abortions or poor health. The public healthcare system is collapsing. And many parents in more prosperous urban areas say they can’t afford homes large enough for the number of children they’d like to have.

Let’s see. We have suicide, AIDS, substance abuse, rampant abortion and a loss of hope in the future. All of this in a nation that, in the past century, saw the rise of an atheistic regime that tried to stamp out the practice of faith. Still, the city skylines are dominated by crosses and onion domes.

Let’s see. Do you think there might be a religion element in here somewhere?

But I waited too long. My friend Roberto Rivera, a brilliant Catholic thinker who now writes for The Point blog linked to Prison Fellowship, beat me to it. However, we offer him thanks for using, with credit, a term from GetReligion in his analysis. Rivera says that the opening story in the series is:

… such an important piece that I feel bad about pointing out that it’s haunted by what the folks at GetReligion call a “religion ghost.” (That’s their term for an unacknowledged religious element in a story.) How do you write a story about declining populations, especially declines fueled by substance abuse, abortion and suicide, without mentioning religion? For that matter, how do you write a story about the Russian people without mentioning the role of religion? But, apart from quoting an Orthodox priest on the effects of the Soviet system, Murphy’s story is a religion-free zone.

Reading it, I thought of the scene in War and Peace in which Napoleon asks the Tsar’s emissary, Balashov, if it’s true that Moscow has hundreds of churches and monasteries. When told it is, Napoleon says that this many churches and monasteries are a “sign of the backwardness of the people.” The joke, of course, is on Napoleon: it is “very religious” and “backward” Russia that shatters both his army and the myth of his invincibility. You can’t tell a good, much less complete, story about Russia without talking about her religion or, in this case, the lack thereof. And you especially can’t do it here — the correlations between what is killing Russia and religious observance is just too great.

All kinds of questions leap to mind. Where to begin?

teremFor starters, I wanted to know if officials or researchers have seen any differences between the Russians who are secular and the Russians who are believers in the major faiths of that culture. Are religious believers more likely to have children? This is, after all, a pattern seen in other cultures.

Sure enough, by the time we make it to the fourth installment in the series we discover that Muslim believers are on the rise for multiple reasons, including birthrate. It appears that trends in Russia resemble those in post-Christian Europe.

Which raises another point. Russia is not Europe. Is it impossible for Russia to fit into the Western world on the terms of the modern Western world? The Communists tried to tear an ancient form of Christianity out of the heart of Russia. Is the modern world attempting the same thing, only in the name of — what? — the glories of the shopping mall? Globalization?

The ghosts actually break into song when Murphy has to deal with the issue of suicide:

Russians fling themselves from balconies, slash their wrists or simply walk out in the snow on a bitter night. Russia’s suicide rate, at about 36 per 100,000 people, is second only to that of Lithuania, according to the Serbsky National Research Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry. In some remote areas of Russia, the rate exceeds 100 per 100,000.

Nikolai Zavada, a 21-year-old musician who goes by the name Serial Self-Killer, posted a song on http://www.mysuicide.ru, a well-known website that was later shut down because of public pressure:

I’m going out.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s up or down.
Or who’s holding your hand, an angel or otherwise.
The cold has worn me out.

“People have a lack of hope,” Zavada said in an interview. “That all their efforts are in vain. And also, they have a feeling of eternal emptiness.”

So here is the obvious questions: When it comes to “eternal emptiness,” are all Russians created equal? Are some spiritually emptier than others? Do those who practice a faith face the same sense of emptiness as those who have flung the faith of Mother Russia aside? This is a gripping series, full of crucial questions. I am simply saying that it needed to explore one more big question about this dark night in the Russian soul.

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Fact, not opinion

Up YoursThe New York Times‘ public editor, Byron Calame, devoted his last column to the case of Linda Greenhouse. She’s the Supreme Court reporter who in a June speech at Harvard revealed her liberal opinions about various policy issues:

The government, Ms. Greenhouse said on the NPR audio version of her speech, “had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, other places around the world, the U.S. Congress, whatever. And let’s not forget the sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism.” She later added, “I feel a growing obligation to reach out across the ridiculous actual barrier that we seem about to build on the Mexican border. …”

Calame’s analysis is great. He asks how Greenhouse’s speech conflicts with the paper’s guidelines governing public expression of personal views by news writers. He also asks about the value of the guideline, considering the reality that reporters have personal opinions. He says Greenhouse clearly stepped across the line with her political remarks.

Times editors did nothing about Greenhouse’s speech, though. That’s interesting, but not nearly so interesting as Greenhouse’s arrogant and disappointing response to the public editor:

Ms. Greenhouse told me she considers her remarks at Harvard to be “statements of fact” — not opinion — that would be allowed to appear in a Times news article. She said The Times has not suggested that she avoid writing stories on any of the topics on which she commented in June. “Any such limits would be completely preposterous,” she said.

Ms. Greenhouse is bitter, unethical and untrustworthy. That’s not my opinion. It’s just a statement of fact.

The copy chief at my paper told me that everyone has biases and opinions and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. What she doesn’t like, though, is when reporters say their clear biases and opinions are statements of fact. That’s where personal opinions are dangerous.

Let’s consider what Greenhouse is saying. She believes that her views in support of abortion are not debatable. And yet she expects us to trust her when she writes up the next Supreme Court decision on abortion. And she’s so confident that she’s right and anyone who disagrees with her is irrational that taking her off the story would be “completely preposterous.”

Many consider Greenhouse a good reporter, and she has her Pulitzer and other awards. But this story just keeps getting worse. When I addressed it previously, I thought it pointed to the simple need for newsrooms to try to hire reporters with a variety of perspectives.

But Greenhouse’s comments are unacceptable. All people, but particularly journalists, should humbly acknowledge that there are multiple views about contentious issues. It doesn’t make your opinions any less valid to acknowledge legitimate differences of opinion. Quite the opposite.

Greenhouse doesn’t know the difference between personal opinions and statements of fact. And that means she’s not a good reporter.

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Imagine this church-state scenario

542401b Woman Praying W Rosary Beads PostersOK, here’s the plan.

Clearly, there is ugly anti-Catholic prejudice left in American life, especially in terms of bias against the most devout and traditional forms of the faith. So what would happen if public educators floated a plan to have all students learn more about this important world religion by practicing this faith during their school days?

The teacher could stand at the front of the classroom and, all together, as part of a taxpayer-funded class activity, with the teacher grading students on their participation, everyone present would learn how to say the following:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death.

All of the students — Protestants, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, Hindus, you name it — could learn about fasting, memorizing Bible passages, making the sign of the Cross and saying confession (maybe they could do that on a field trip). Wouldn’t this be great for promoting interfaith understanding in this tense age? I’m sure there wouldn’t be protests about this from strict church-state separationists, secularists, fundamentalist Protestants and others. Right? It would be an educational exercise. That’s the ticket.

Well, maybe a few people would be upset. But it seems that this kind of interfaith education is kosher these days. After all, click here and read this story from the San Francisco Chronicle about a U.S. Supreme Court non-decision:

The court, without comment, left intact a ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last November in favor of the Byron Union School District in eastern Contra Costa. The suit challenged the content of a seventh-grade history course at Excelsior Middle School in Byron in the fall of 2001. The teacher, using an instructional guide, told students they would adopt roles as Muslims for three weeks to help them learn what Muslims believe.

She encouraged them to use Muslim names, recited prayers in class, had them memorize and recite a passage from the Quran and made them give up something for a day, such as television or candy, to simulate fasting during the month of Ramadan.

What’s my point? We really don’t need to debate the ruling itself or the wisdom of the program.

What I found interesting is that the newspaper editors didn’t seem to realize what would have happened, say in Northern California, if anyone had attempted to mandate a similar program for Orthodox Judaism, Evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, etc.

Would the newspaper have considered that a threatening violation of the DMZ between church and state? Or what if a charismatic, Pentecostal Christian educator worked up some taxpayer-funded class activities based on learning how to speak in tongues, evangelism, the laying on of hands for healing, watching Pat Robertson videos, handling snakes …

What would the ACLU think of that? What would the editors think of that? Just asking.

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Report the political wildfire

speaker hastertApparently GetReligion’s post on the Foley scandal was featured on the front page of Yahoo on Thursday morning, which drew responses from across the political spectrum. For those of you who are new to the blog, note that we are not here to debate faith but to discuss the media’s coverage of faith. Hence our name: GetReligion.

While your well-reasoned, and some not-so-well-reasoned, thoughts are great, there are millions of other blogs out there that serve that purpose. Allow GetReligion to be a place to discuss the media’s coverage of the religious issues in our society. Comments outside the realm of media analysis will be considered for deletion.

As a short follow-up to Thursday’s post on Foley and the subsequent media firestorm and Drudge-induced crazy twists and turns, I want to note George Will’s Washington Post column that says this scandal has revealed the fault lines in the GOP. Much of it explains the quiet, and some not-so-quiet, GOP calls for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Wheaton College graduate:

Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism — Western and Southern.

The former is largely libertarian, holding that pruning big government will allow civil society — and virtues nourished by it and by the responsibilities of freedom — to flourish. The Southern, essentially religious, strand of conservatism is explained by Ryan Sager in his new book, “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party”:

“Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush’s faith-based initiatives program.”

To a Republican Party increasingly defined by the ascendancy of the religious right, the Foley episode is doubly deadly. His behavior was disgusting, and some Republican reactions seem more calculating than indignant.

firestormGetReligion would like to throw in another fault line: Reagan Democrats-conservative Catholics.

While it’s clear that some Republicans will back Hastert, others are outraged and want heads to roll. Identifying the source of that outrage will speak volumes about the Republican Party and its commitment to values voters.

The media would do us all a real favor if they spent less time with talking heads, cut back on the commentary and devote more time to talking with everyday members of Congress, or even your average loyal Republican. Reporters’ inboxes were bombarded Thursday with news releases from the House majority citing the number of Republicans who are supporting Hastert. I have a feeling that those news releases instigated this Washington Post article describing House Republicans closing ranks around their leader.

Reporters don’t have to bring these people onto radio or television shows, or quote them in newspapers, but they should talk to everyday members of the GOP and get a feel for how they are reacting to the scandal. When they’re on the record, politicos, even values-focused politicos, will be more likely to follow marching orders, but how they feel in their hearts and souls could be an entirely different matter.

To highlight a great example of this type of reporting, check out this Morning Edition report in which a handful of rural values voters are asked about how the Foley scandal will affect their vote. Their answer? Not at all. Issues such as Iraq and their values matter more. While admitting that its own small-sample poll is not scientific, NPR also cites this very scientific poll from the Pew Research Center to support its conclusion.

Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post came to a more wishy-washy conclusion using different numbers from what seems to be the same Pew poll. Cooperman’s story contends that the GOP hold on the evangelical vote is weakening, but does not tie that weakening to the Foley scandal. There are other issues at stake, such as Iraq. But there’s a problem. I cannot find any of the statistics cited in Cooperman’s article in the Pew poll. Is there another poll out there that Pew has not released on its website?

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Couric courts Red America?

download phpBless her heart, I think Katie Couric — in an attempt to tweak her image in Middle America — tried to engineer herself a Sister Souljah moment the other night. There are reports that some of her staff producers and reporters freaked out.

The question is whether CBS News should have allowed the father of one of the victims of the Columbine High School massacre to voice his beliefs about America’s “culture of death,” to use that now familiar Pope John Paul II phrase, during the new gosh-we-hope-this-is-controversial “freeSpeech” segment on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Here is the crucial segment of the script for Brian Rohrbough’s short commentary, delivered in the wake of the Amish school killings:

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children. Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

Couric said the obvious in one of her online commentaries, after quoting strong emails from the cultural left and right:

When we approached Brian Rohrbough and asked him his thoughts about this latest school shooting, this essay was the result. We understood that people may disagree with what he said, and with what he believes. But censoring or attempting to re-shape his opinion would be antithetical to the very idea of free speech.

This is a nation built on dialogue and debate. And, most importantly, on freedom of speech. As George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

The key phrase — “when we approached” — must have jumped out at many readers on the cultural left.

There is, of course, no right to free speech on the CBS Evening News.

CBS sought out this controversy and can either be praised or jeered for doing so. Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said. Like I keep saying, the polls consistently suggest that about 20 percent of the population is made up of strong cultural conservatives, about 20 percent strong cultural liberals and in between is OprahAmerica, where people slide all over the place depending on how poll questions are worded.

So CBS gave someone on the cultural right a brief moment of air time. It is interesting that some people on the left reacted by saying that it was wrong for CBS to have done so. Not “dumb” or “bad strategy,” but “wrong.” “Evil,” perhaps?

As Howard Kurtz reported in The Washington Post, it is also important that some of the protests came from inside the CBS newsroom. Will the same thing happen when filmmaker Michael Moore gets a 90-second spot? Or has he already done his thing?

The crucial issue, of course, is not whether Americans on the cultural right (and candid voices on the cultural left) are allowed to do commentary pieces. The key is whether their views are accurately represented in news stories about abortion, marriage, public education, speech codes, etc. That’s what matters.

Commentary is easy. Journalism is hard.

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