Can the MSM handle abortion compromise?

Mushroom10 1As we prepare to get into our bunkers before the next nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, I urge you to jump back into last week’s waves of coverage and read a fine Los Angeles Times piece by David G. Savage about the roots of all this controversy, which is, of course, about abortion, abortion and abortion.

The Savage piece was titled “Roe Ruling: More Than Its Author Intended.” The big idea of this story is that, as a new justice on the court, Harry A. Blackmun’s goal was to produce a ruling that would allow compromise on the subject of abortion.

Note — his goal was to allow compromise, through what he claimed would be a reform of laws affecting this issue. But this was not what he would produce. Thus, Roe v. Wade would turn into a story with a completely different ending. Here is Savage:

It is the story of a rookie justice, unsure of himself and his abilities, who set out to write a narrow ruling that would reform abortion laws, not repeal them. It is also the story of a sometimes rudderless court led by Chief Justice Warren Burger. On the day the ruling was announced, Burger said, “Plainly, the court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.”

Blackmun proposed to issue a news release to accompany the decision, issued Jan. 22, 1973. “I fear what the headlines may be,” he wrote in a memo. His statement, never issued, emphasized that the court was not giving women “an absolute right to abortion,” nor was it saying that the “Constitution compels abortion on demand.”

In reality, the court did just that.

Instead, Roe became a legal earthquake that, in addition to warping both major political parties, effectively vetoed any attempts by any legislature anywhere to produce any political compromise that would forbid any abortions. Today, the small percentage of Americans who want abortion on demand claim that even a ban on late third-trimester abortions would be a complete loss of the rights protected by Roe.

So this raises a question, one that I have raised before here at GetReligion. Will Roe have to fall in order for a bipartisan coalition to produce compromise legislation on abortion that would actually represent the viewpoints of most Americans? Let me repeat what I have written before, because the MSM will determine how this is debated:

If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?

I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse — that would be the MSM — have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.

Savage’s piece is a rare example of mainstream journalism that actually gets the facts right on this.

Roe made compromise impossible. What the majority of Americans want is compromise. Thus, Roe must fall in order for compromise to take place. Roe must fall for the moderate center to get its muddled and inconsistent way. That’s America.

Will the left be happy about that? Will the right be happy about that? Savage has the numbers straight.

Today, as in the early 1970s, the American public appears to have decidedly mixed views on abortion. In a Gallup poll in May, for instance, only 23% of those surveyed said abortion should be “legal under any circumstances,” the rule set by Roe vs. Wade. Only 22% said abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances,” the rule that could take effect in many states if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The largest group — 53% — said abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances.”

Think about those numbers as the nuclear explosions begin (let a thousand fundraising letters bloom) next week inside the Beltway.

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Journalists and “cafeteria” Catholics

totebag 270Talk about rigging the debate. While nothing may be higher on the Catholic agenda than abortion (even more, it appears at time, than war and poverty), it doesn’t mean the death penalty is some minor issue unrelated to Catholic teaching. A Catholic who supports the death penalty is a cafeteria Catholic. The church is not neutral on the death penalty and it is clearly in opposition to church teachings even if abortion is the only litmus test . . .

Posted by Michael at 2:20 pm on September 27, 2005

This is a very important issue and the kind of factual question that journalists wrestle with all of the time. I wish I had the time (it’s column day) to dig out all of the links you need on this, right now.

Amy Welborn! If you are out there, please leave us a comment or two.

The Vatican has certainly expressed strong doubts about whether the death penalty can be used in a just way in a society torn up by racism, poverty, etc. But the death penalty itself has not been completely written off. Also, this is not an issue on which the church has been united for, oh, 2,000 years or so — such as abortion (where the condemnation is from the highest levels of the pre-schism universal church).

Just war theory is also ancient, but people within the church often wrestle with application. John Paul II condemned the war in Iraq, but this was not raised to a level of doctrinal certainty. Abortion has been at that level for centuries and centuries.

Economic justice is a perfect example of a topic where the goal is sure, but the means are not. What has caused more poverty in the U.S. in the past few generations — lack of commitment to economic justice or the fragmentation of the modern family?

Rome (and Eastern Orthodoxy, too) would say the best answer is both-and.

But there is the rub. Which modern American political party is on the correct side of both of those issues?

Michael wrote: “A Catholic who supports the death penalty is a cafeteria Catholic.”

That may be true in your church, but not in the Vatican’s church. A Catholic may also argue that the death penalty can be just, but that it is racist in this culture. There are lines people draw in different places on that issue. On abortion, the church’s teachings are ancient and universal. Catholics in modern America will argue about this (and they do and the press must cover that), but the doctrinal issue is quite clear.

Meanwhile, back to the original issue that started this discussion (keep those comments coming).

The New York Times also has a report out about the frightening rhetoric of that Cheryl F. Halpern woman, the new chairperson at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Once again, we are told — note the sneer quotes — that she is committed to “objectivity and balance” in public television and radio. There’s more:

Ms. Halpern’s commitment raised concerns among some broadcast executives who said her predecessor, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, used “balance” to justify providing the financing for at least one conservative program, featuring the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, and for monitoring programs that have been critical of the Bush administration.

Oh my gosh! Someone attempted to justify starting one — that number does appear to be one — conservative commentary program in a nation that is as strongly divided on political and cultural issues as this one? In the age of conservative talk shows and, yes, even the dreaded Fox News? What were they thinking? Ratings? Looking for bipartisan support?

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Another dangerous appeal for balance

coppermug250x250 1 And now we return once again (cue: swirl of soapy organ music) to As Public Broadcasting Turns. That’s kind of what I hear inside my head whenever I read news reports about the ongoing tensions in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting linked to the work of chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who, reporters always remind us, had this strange idea that PBS and NPR lean to the left.

This, of course, is a ghost. While public broadcasting has its share of critics who are mere GOP politicos, NPR and PBS have also been criticized through the years for “liberal bias” on cultural and religious issues.

To make matters more complex, there is a solid and loyal progressive choir of listeners and viewers out there who sincerely like this progressive slant and feel quite possessive. So when NPR, for example, decides to reach out to a new demographic with an increased emphasis on religion news, these loyal listeners in the platinum-coffee-mug set tend to feel very uncomfortable.

Now, Tomlinson has stepped out of the line of fire and turned things over to yet another chairman, or chairperson, with conservative credentials — Cheryl F. Halpern. And, according to a report by Matea Gold and Johanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times, she is already saying dangerous things. For example:

“Our goal, whether it’s in our support of educational children’s television, insightful features and documentaries, or entertainment that sparkles, is to make public broadcasting a haven for the mind and for the spirit,” Halpern said. “We have a duty to provide the public an explanation for the kind of work we do — and we must honor the principles clearly stated in our charter: to encourage objective and balanced programming.”

Uh-oh. Here we have another one of those appeals to “balance” and even “objectivity” in news reporting. (Note to those about to click “comment.” I like the word “balance,” but much prefer “fairness” instead of the word “objectivity,” a term that tends to lead into philosophical minefields.) Clearly, this is pro-conservative code language that could skew news reports toward the middle.

We can tell that this is dangerous code language, because the same point shows up again a few paragraphs later. Is Halpern some kind of fanatic?

“There has to be recognition that an objective, balanced code of journalistic ethics has got to prevail across the board, and there needs to be accountability,” she told the Senate Commerce Committee at her confirmation hearing in 2003, according to Current, a public broadcasting trade publication.

After the board meeting Monday, Halpern was pressed by reporters on whether she shared Tomlinson’s view of bias in the system. Halpern demurred, saying that two recently hired ombudsmen were now responsible for fielding such complaints. “We will not be intervening within programming,” she said.

I find it interesting that these references to “balance,” “bias” and “accountability” lead directly to the assumption that she might try to “intervene” in programming. Is the implication that she might seek new voices, new shows and more diversity? Or are the reporters suggesting that she might remove voices she considers “liberal”?

Horrors! Might she even offer new programs that take a balanced look at religious and cultural issues? Might we hear PBS- and NPR-worthy voices from the conservative side of religious sanctuaries?

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I don’t mean to bug ya

BonoAndBushI should have highlighted this article a week ago, but I’ve confirmed that it’s still available online (and, thanks to a tip from Avram, we now have a non-expiring link). In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub wrote about Bono, debt, economics and political lobbying, and he kept it all interesting for more than 9,000 words. Then again, it’s hard to be dull when Bono is part of the story.

The profile shows Bono as a pragmatic lobbyist, a rock star willing to work, despite the advice and the disapproval of many around him, with the Bush administration. Traub doesn’t take long to deliver the sort of condescension toward Bushies that seems de rigueur in the Times:

When I went to meet Bono at the bar of his hotel, I saw Richard Gere seated at a table with a gorgeous woman in a little fur jacket and a leather cap. Bono, on the other hand, had removed himself to a quiet back room, where he was keeping company with a plump, middle-aged white guy in a suit and tie. (Bono was wearing a T-shirt and a fuzzy sweater whose sleeve needed mending.) This was Randall Tobias, head of the Bush administration’s AIDS program. The administration had just announced that the program was providing antiretroviral drugs to 155,000 Africans with AIDS. Another kind of activist might have said, “That leaves 25 million more to go.” But not Bono: he looked his cornfed interlocutor in the eye and said, “You should know what an incredible difference your work is going to make in their lives.” Tobias looked embarrassed. Bono said various wonderful things about President Bush. Tobias beamed.

Traub does not write at length about Bono’s faith, but he does mention in passing that Bono’s children attend the Church of Ireland. (Interpreting the world through an excessively American lens, Traub calls that church “Episcopalian.” It’s the other way around: The Church of Ireland is, like the Episcopal Church, Anglican.)

He also delivers the most tender description I’ve ever read of Bono’s first visit with Sen. Jesse Helms, one of his several surprising allies in the ONE Campaign:

In mid-2000, Bono received an audience with Senator Jesse Helms, viewed by Bono’s fellow lefties, including members of the band, as the archfiend himself. Bono quickly realized that his usual spiel about debt service and so on wasn’t making a dent. So, he recalls: “I started talking about Scripture. I talked about AIDS as the leprosy of our age.” Married women and children were dying of AIDS, he told the senator, and governments burdened by debt couldn’t do a thing about it. Helms listened, and his eyes began to well up. Finally the flinty old Southerner rose to his feet, grabbed for his cane and said, “I want to give you a blessing.” He embraced the singer, saying, “I want to do anything I can to help you.” [Former Congressman John] Kasich, who was watching from a couch, says, “I thought somebody had spiked my coffee.”

Finally there is this wonderful image of how Bono mixes stubborn negotiation skills and evangelical piety as he works with the Bush administration:

Bono told [Condoleezza] Rice that he would appear with Bush at an event promoting the president’s development-assistance program if Bush would also commit to “a historic AIDS initiative.” The day before the planned appearance, in March, Bono learned that the president would not do so. He was now playing for dizzyingly high stakes. Virtually everyone around Bono despised Bush; and now some of his most trusted advisers urged him to deny the administration his precious gift of legitimacy. And Bono, in an uncharacteristic act of confrontation, called Rice and said he was pulling out of the joint appearance.

Rice was very unhappy. She recalls telling him, “Bono, this president cares about AIDS, too, and let me tell you that he is going to figure out something dramatic to do about AIDS.” But, she added, “You’re going to have to trust us.” Bono accepted her pledge. According to Scott Hatch, a former aide to the Republican House leadership whom Bono hired to help him gain access to conservatives, “Bono really took it on the chin from the left for dealing with a Republican president.” But Bono says he felt that the administration deserved praise for the aid package; and he trusted the Bush White House, though his friends thought him ludicrously naïve. He says that he has not regretted his trust. “I have found personally that I have never been overpromised,” he says. “In fact, the opposite — they tell me they won’t do something, and finally they do it.”

As he was being taken to meet Bush, Bono recalls, he told the driver to circle the block a few times while he sat with a Bible in his lap, hunting frantically for a verse about shepherds and the poor. He was getting later and later. Finally he found a passage to his liking, and he went into the Oval Office. There he recited the passage he had chosen from the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in. . . .” Bono then presented Bush with an edition of the Psalms for which he had written the foreword.

The Bono of this profile is not as politically pure as the rock star who once hectored his audience in the film Rattle & Hum (Traub recounts Bono’s famous “Am I bugging you?” moment.) He’s a whole lot more interesting, open-hearted, creative — and effective.

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Hollywood conservatism unleashed?

E Hollywood signOne of the Big Ideas of this blog is that it is almost impossible to talk about the news business in terms of a pure “left” vs. “right” content, at least if you are going to use the old-fashioned definitions of words such as “conservative” and “liberal.” Most of our political conflicts today — other than issues of war and peace — are rooted in social, moral, cultural and even religious issues, not issues of economics.

Was Bill Clinton a “liberal,” except on moral and cultural issues? No way. Ask the labor unions that question.

What are the issues that cause warfare inside the GOP’s big tent? Economics? Environment? Sort of, but not really. The flash points are all linked to lifestyle issues and culture. Click here for one example — as the tension over Judge Janice Rogers Brown increases. Is this a classic left-right fight? No way.

Well, now we are seeing signs that Hollywood is growing more complex — as studios, in an era of declining box-office statistics — realize that it may not be wise to ignore or to constantly offend about half the U.S. population. So some journalists are beginning to talk about a surge of “Hollywood conservatism.” I wrote about this a few days ago, in connection with the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But this is only the latest in a series of recent films to cause a spike in MSM paranoia.

Remember The Incredibles? A.O. Scott of The New York Times does. Some of themes are woven into his feature titled “Now, from Hollywood, visions of conservatism.” He thinks it’s crazy to say Hollywood was ever “monolithically liberal.”

The notion that the American film industry is a hotbed of leftist propaganda is a venerable one, and some determined demagogues will cling to it no matter what the studios do. But the studios themselves, especially after the stunning success of Mel Gibson’s independently financed “The Passion of the Christ,” have tried to strengthen their connection with religious and social conservatives, who represent not only a political constituency but a large and powerful segment of the market. . . .

Last autumn, “The Incredibles” celebrated Ayn Randian libertarian individualism and the suburban nuclear family, while the naughty puppets of “Team America” satirized leftist celebrity activism and defended American global power even as they mocked its excesses. More recently we have learned that flightless Antarctic birds, according to some fans of “March of the Penguins,” can be seen as big-screen embodiments of the kind of traditional domestic values that back-sliding humans have all but abandoned, as well as proof that divine intention, rather than blind chance, is the engine of creation.

Yes, he thinks Intelligent Design shows up in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the Terri Schiavo case looms in the background throughout Just Like Heaven. Did Team America really strike a chord with the Religious Right?

Once again, however, journalists should ask this question: What does “conservatism” mean in this context? What does “liberal” mean? If Hollywood is basically pro-profits and sold out to radical individualism and sexual freedom, isn’t this closer to Libertarianism (on moral issues, at least) rather than “liberalism”? Can anyone imagine Hollywood swinging right on, oh, sex and salvation?

Still, read Scott’s essay — just to see what the elites are thinking.

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MoveOn’s lost opportunity?

SarahWestIn an interview with Noel Murray of The Onion‘s A.V. Club, the masterful documentary filmmaker Errol Morris vents that he could not interest MoveOn PAC in some of his anti-Bush ads. More specifically, he says MoveOn took a pass on commercials featuring pro-Kerry evangelical Christians:

I wish the ads could’ve been used. I kept thinking that the only way ads like this could be effective was to just blanket the markets with them. You don’t show one person, you show 50 people. Make it seem as though there’s a bandwagon. And one thing that really interested me is, I shot evangelical Christians, and MoveOn didn’t even put those in the mix! For reasons that, you know . . . I’m speechless. It was assumed that you can’t touch evangelical Christians. “Oh, they’re the Republican Right. Stay away from those people. Don’t even try to talk to them.” Well, what’s interesting is that there were evangelical Christians who were voting for Kerry. There were right-to-lifers who were voting for Kerry. And it’s interesting to listen to the reasons why. To ignore that segment of the electorate is moronic. Particularly if you don’t know who those people are, or what their concerns are.

Morris mentions that he has posted some of those commercials on his website. In the commercials posted under the category of Religion, only two people (Doug West and Sarah West) say they speak as evangelical Christians. Only one (Sarah West) mentions abortion:

I voted for President Bush in 2000, but you can’t just blindly follow someone because they say they are a Christian. You still have to use you mind and look at the evidence. I just don’t see integrity. I don’t see truthfulness. I just don’t see much evidence of a life devoted to Christ. I’m a Christian. I am against abortion, but I’m voting for John Kerry.

Deborah Wood, identified as a lifelong Republican, objects to Bush’s claim that God is on the side of freedom, which Wood reduces to “God is on our side.”

Bob Scott, also identified as a lifelong Republican, takes umbrage at the idea that Bush would ask God for guidance on any policy, which Scott believes means that “[Bush] thinks he is speaking for God.”

It’s too bad MoveOn chose not to air Morris’ commercials. Free speech, especially about politics, is an inherent good, and political nonconformists certainly are more interesting than people who remain undecided until election day. And it would have been entertaining to figure out whether those commercials changed the minds of more than a few hundred people.

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Hey, soldier, grunt if you love God

armsandman2The Wall Street Journal ran a book review today that raised way more questions than it answered, including a possble hard-news hook to the ongoing tensions among the chaplains who serve the various branches of the U.S. military. Click here for a flashback on those stories.

The book by Robert Kaplan is called Imperial Grunts and the headline on Daniel Ford’s essay has a kicker phrase that will certainly catch the eye of anyone interested in religion news: “God-Fearing Spartans: A look at America’s ‘imperial grunts.’”

So you are reading along and then you crash into this summary paragraph:

One of the more surprising of Mr. Kaplan’s findings is that evangelical Christianity helped to transform the military in the 1980s, rescuing the Vietnam-era Army from drugs, alcohol and alienation. That reformation, together with the character-building demands of Balkans deployments of the 1990s (more important, in his judgment, than the frontal wars against Saddam Hussein), created our “imperial grunts.”

Whoa. What in the world does all of that mean?

And later we meet a soldier who takes the whole “God, country, honor, duty” equation up to a whole different level. Who are the new “grunts”? We are told that they are the heart of America’s military and are dug in deep out in the overseas battlefields that they call “Injun Country,” an environment in which the grunts say that moral absolutes are easy to see and defend (according to those interviewed for this book).

“We’re the damn Spartans,” explains Maj. Kevin Holiday of Tampa, “physical warriors with college degrees.” A civil engineer with three kids, he is a National Guardsman with an attitude. “God has put me here,” he tells Mr. Kaplan. “I’m a Christian. . . . You see this all around you” — the dust, deprivation and anxiety of Injun Country — “well, it’s the high point of my life and of everyone else here.”

And believe it or not, that is about where things stop. Hey, folks, can you tell us more?

It is my hope that, somewhere at the WSJ news desk, some editor who works with the newsroom’s celebrated column-one feature team read these paragraphs this morning, spit out her or his coffee, and said: “What? Can somebody get me some hard numbers on this thing about ‘evangelical Christianity helped to transform the military in the 1980s’ and all of that?”

There’s a story here. I hope that the talented people on the news side at the WSJ report it, find out if this editorial claim is true and then print the results. Just do it.

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Do black Christians need to be angry?

image003It’s a challenge, in the print context of GetReligion, to do much reporting about the content of broadcast media. We can, of course, look forward to the day of expanded websites in which networks offer interactive print versions of the features that they broadcast in audio and video forms. We are seeing this happen more and more.

Nevertheless, religion-beat reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty at National Public Radio just served up a report that offered a totally new (at least to me) take on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. To hear it, click here and fire up the RealAudio player. Here is the brief description of the report from the NPR homepage:

All Things Considered, September 19, 2005 — For African Americans watching Hurricane Katrina unfold on TV, the need to help was especially pressing. But anger has often accompanied that desire to help, and many black churches are struggling to both provide immediate aid and to help black Americans confront the bigger issues the storm raises.

That’s one way to put it, and the key word is “anger,” because the MSM’s storyline post-Katrina has been built on that emotion. But Hagerty’s reporting digs into a not-so-subtle split within the African-American church.

She starts in a logical place — the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church here in Washington, D.C., which calls itself “The Cathedral of African Methodism.” The church responded to the TV coverage of Katrina by quickly rounding up $20,000 in donations and 45,000 pounds of goods and shipping them off to Mississippi in an 18-wheeler.

This is not a big surprise, notes Haggerty, because studies show that black believers regularly give 25 percent more of their discretionary income to charities — especially church causes — than whites. The church aid flowed straight to needy people, while many other agencies were briefly stalled by forms and interview procedures.

This is where the anger comes in.

Many of the church people making these donations were, of course, moved by the images of black people suffering in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. They got mad and this motivated them. As the Rev. Ronald E. Braxton said of the storm’s fallout: “I hope that it keeps us angry, that it keeps us on alert against forces that dismantle people.”Bishop T D  Jakes and the Potters House Mass Choir   A Wing and a Prayer

But is prophetic — even political — anger the best, or the most constructive, stance for the black church to take today?

The word “today” is key, because right now that anger would be focused on President George W. Bush. Thus, the issue looming in Haggerty’s report is black church anger at other black church leaders who focus on a more positive, conciliatory approach to working with, and correcting, this White House. The big, and I mean big, example of this is Bishop T.D. Jakes at The Potter’s House in Dallas. He recently drew a big spotlight speaking at the National Cathedral service to remember those lost in Katrina. This meant he shared a spotlight, by default, with Bush.

As Haggerty notes, all of this raises a big question: “Who speaks for the black church and what kind of message will it have?”

Oh, and will those voters stay angry and solidly Democratic?

P.S. There might be a link between this story and another lurking just over the horizon (and I don’t mean Hurricane Rita). Click here and let me know what you think.

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