Harry Reid is giving lessons on Mormonism

It is never news when a Huffington Post blogger says that Mitt Romney, or any other Republican candidate, is beyond the pale. One of the times that happened last week, it involved a Democrat Mormon saying that he was upset with Romney. Unlike most criticism of Romney emanating from the illustrious pixels of the HuffPost, though, this article went after Romney as a Mormon.

Even that isn’t surprising.

But then one of the highest-ranking Democrats in the country — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — said he agreed with the Romney critic. Now, I have absolutely no doubt that if John Boehner or some other prominent Republican such as Sen. Mitch McConnell said he agreed that Barack Obama had “sullied” the Christian religion, we’d hear quite a bit of outrage in the media about it. Will the same happen in this instance?

While there are a few more mainstream accounts now, at first the story was only in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he agrees with a fellow Mormon who wrote recently that Mitt Romney has “sullied” the LDS faith and that the GOP presidential candidate is “not the face of Mormonism.”

Reid, a Mormon Democrat from Nevada, blasted Romney in a conference call for reporters over a litany of things the Republican nominee has said recently. And Reid added that Latter-day Saints aren’t buying Romney’s rhetoric.

“He’s coming to a state where there are a lot of members of the LDS Church,” Reid said in advance of Romney’s Friday visit to Nevada. “They understand that he is not the face of Mormonism.”

In contrast, other prominent Mormons have thanked Romney for presenting a positive image of the church.

The story, which is a pretty straight account of the conference call, is fine. It quotes other Mormons who say that Romney’s presidential run has been good for Mormonism and that Mitt Romney has brought honor to the church. The HuffPo piece was by Gregory A. Prince, co-author of “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.” We learn:

“Judge Mitt Romney as you will, and vote for or against him as you will; but do not judge Mormonism on the basis of the Mitt Romney that was unveiled to the public this week,” Prince wrote. “He is not the face of Mormonism.”

Reid, on the conference call, said, “I agree with him.”

“He said that Romney has sullied the religion that he, Prince and Romney share,” Reid said. “And he’s so disappointed that in his words, ‘It’s a good religion and he’s hiding from it.’ “

Prince was actually quoting a documentary film producer so those weren’t his words, but you get the idea. The article does a great job of getting a wide variety of views, both political and theological to weigh in on Reid’s attack on Romney.

But when the article mentions that Reid had claimed, based on nothing, apparently, that Romney hadn’t paid income taxes in some years, it got me thinking. Do we see anything approaching a proportionate level of scrutiny of Reid’s Mormonism? Do these statements and actions of his — incorrectly but repeatedly suggesting that Romney hasn’t paid any taxes based on the claim of an anonymous source, supporting the view that George W. Bush’s mother was a [very bad name] and involvement with the Nevada gaming commission and all the other things that go along with his decades-long career in politics   — comport with Mormon teaching? If so, how? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon who is one of the most powerful men in the country. Do we see a proportionate level of scrutiny about how he lives his faith as we do about Mitt Romney? Should we?

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Missing ghost in this Crystal Cathedral story?

The Orange County Register has a story headlined “Former Crystal Cathedral pastor defaults on home.” It’s all about how the Rev. Robert A. Schuller, former senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral and the son of its founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, is part of the housing crash:

With a foreclosure sale looming in November, Schuller is seeking bank approval to sell his Laguna Beach house “short” – that is for less than the $1.66 million he owes on two mortgages on the home…

“I’m short-selling my house. I have more loans than I can sell the house for,” Schuller said in a phone interview. “The house will not go into foreclosure. It will be a short sale.”

The article is thorough as it relates to this short sale. We learn about short sales in Orange County and we learn about how the Schullers have tried and failed to sell their home at various prices. The reporter even got an interview with Pastor Schuller. But do we have any ghosts here? This is not the Robert Schuller who authored such works as The Be-Happy Attitudes, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation,  Eliminating The National Debt is… America’s Declaration of Financial IndependenceTurning Hurts Into Halos and Scars Into Stars, You Can Become the Person You Want to Be and If It’s Going to Be, It’s up to Me: The Eight Proven Principles of Possibility Thinking, among others.

I’m actually unsure how much Robert A. Schuller subscribes to his father’s and Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking. His book titles — When You Are Down to Nothing, God Is Up to Something: Discovering Divine Purpose and Provision When Life Hurts and Leaning into God When Life Is Pushing You Away — don’t necessarily clarify it. But don’t these titles kind of make you curious? If you were a reporter on this story, wouldn’t the famous family’s theological approach of positive thinking force a couple of questions on the topic?

We get this angle on the story:

The finances of the Schuller family came under scrutiny after Crystal Cathdral declared bankruptcy and was sold to satisfy a debt of about $48 million. Creditors complained that ministry founder Robert H. Schuller and his relatives received lavish compensation during the time the church had stopped paying its bills.

At one point, Robert A. Schuller had an insider claim of $1.4 million in the church’s bankruptcy case.

And we get much more information about the value of their home, their refinancing strategy and how much they were in arrears when their Bank filed notice of default and what not.

But mostly what I want to know is about anything related to the pastor’s ministry. Particularly when I got to this point:

Schuller said he’s not having financial problems, but doesn’t have any cash flow because all his assets are tied up in two television networks, Youtoo and FamilyNet. He also lost a housing allowance tax deduction available to clergy when he left his position as Crystal Cathedral’s senior pastor in 2007.

“I can’t afford the house as I once could,” said Schuller, adding that he’s wealthier today because of the increasing value of his television network investments. “It’s not a reversal of fortune. … I’ve made decisions on what’s best for my family and personal resources.”

Schuller said he stopped making payments on the house because he believed that lenders won’t discuss a short sale unless the borrower is delinquent. Several agents who specialize in short sales said that isn’t true, although a borrower must show some kind of hardship – such as unemployment or illness – before lenders will agree to a short sale.

So he’s not having any financial problems, he’s wealthier today than ever, but he couldn’t afford the house he once could and stopped making payments on it. OK. And does the Crystal Cathedral theology come into play? If so, how? Is this related to power of positive thinking? Did this create any sort of religious crisis in the Schuller home? If not, why not?

Idea via Strange Herring. Image via Wikipedia.

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Americans underestimate Protestant population

A few months ago we looked at a survey that showed that the vast majority of Americans have no idea whatsoever what percentage of the population is gay.

Mainstream studies indicate that percentage is somewhere in the low single digits, but Americans believed — on average — that 25 percent of the population is gay. Yes, 25 percent. This includes data showing that 35 percent of Americans think that more than 25 percent of the population is gay.

I’ve long wondered why it is that Americans are so wrong on this, but I can’t help but think that the mainstream media plays a significant role.

I was reminded of that study when I read this Religion News Service report showing that Americans are way off when estimating the percentage of Americans who belong to various religious groups:

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group.

The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.

Respondents were correct on Catholics — 24 percent of the country is Catholic. But according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 51 percent are Protestant, 12 percent are unaffiliated, 2 percent are Jewish, 4 percent are Atheist/Agnostic, less than 1 percent are Muslim, 2 percent are Mormon and 4 percent identify with all other religious groups.

The article quotes Ron Sellers, the president of the research firm, theorizing that the word “Protestant” might have thrown people off. But this was the part that got me interested:

Sellers also mentioned that with Mitt Romney running for president as a Mormon and the current emphasis on Islamic-American relations, “smaller faith groups also may be getting disproportionate media coverage.”

This is undoubtedly true. But do we take this to an extreme? No one would claim that Mormonism and Islam or various tiny religious groups shouldn’t get disproportionate coverage at times — but I am sometimes surprised at the lack of good reporting on the majority of religious adherents in the coverage. If the coverage is disproportionate to the point that it is negatively affecting people’s understanding of the real world, that might be an argument for a bit more evenly distributed religious news coverage. Particularly since there are gobs of stories that go under-reported as it is.

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The Boy They Couldn’t Kill

Go read Sports Illustrated’s “The Boy They Couldn’t Kill.” It is far and away the best magazine story I’ve read all year and I’m pleased that we get to talk about it here at GetReligion. It’s long and I can’t begin to excerpt it in any way that gives it justice but the subhed to the piece is “Thirteen years ago, NFL receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn son. The child has not only survived but thrived—thanks to the unwavering love of his grandmother.”

The extremely talented Thomas Lake begins his story:

The English language has a million words, but only one for the two kinds of forgiveness. This is a major failure. The two kinds may be similar at the molecular level but they are far removed in magnitude. Like a candle flame and a volcano, an April shower and a hurricane, a soft tremor beneath your feet and the great San Francisco earthquake.

The first kind of forgiveness is the easy kind. Someone wounds you, and in time this offender comes to see what he has done. He returns to lay the crime at your feet. And when you reach down to pull him up a sort of charge passes between you, a cleansing force that refreshes both souls.

Candle flame and volcano. The second kind of forgiveness is a rare occurrence that becomes rarer as the crime grows more severe. In this case the offender gives nothing. He never comes to you. And when you go to him, he turns you away. This leaves you alone with your open wound and a solitary choice. No one will blame you either way. But the wound is yours to keep, or let go, and that choice may plot the course for the rest of your life.

We meet Saundra Adams, the grandmother. We learn her story, about her character, about the baby she got pregnant with when she was just a teenager. She made sacrifices to provide for that girl, Cherica Adams. She got a psychology degree from UNC-Charlotte, a job at IBM. She raised Cherica in Charlotte. Cherica grew up fast and lived fast, we’re told. She met Rae Carruth and got pregnant with his child.

There’s a lot to dig through here. And you really need to read it yourself for the full effect.

We get a sordid, horrifying and compelling account of how Cherica was murdered. And how her son survived. It’s riveting. The 9-1-1 call Cherica made after being mortally wounded is just amazing. Seventy minutes after she was shot, Chancellor Lee Adams was born via emergency C-section. Needless to say, he came very close to dying himself.

Carruth, somewhat inexplicably, engages in a legal battle for his son. I’m making a very long story short by putting it that way. Many tears, many dollars, many years were spent fighting for this boy.

Let me give just an example of how religion is seamlessly woven into this story:

Saundra prayed for Chancellor’s safety. She had a King James Bible, a gift from her mother more than 20 years earlier, cover held together with tape, and it told her that the shield of faith would quench the fiery darts of the wicked. She prayed some more. And she found peace.

Other reporters take note. We learn a lot about Chancellor’s condition and his struggles with cerebral palsy. We’re told that the reporter gets to meet him and his grandmother at a TGIFriday’s. We learn how delicately the grandmother explains the circumstances of his birth to the young man. She puts the best possible construction on everything. It’s amazing.

The framework for the story is, obviously, forgiveness. And that theme is revisited time and time again. It’s worth reading. We learn that Chancellor’s father declined to be interviewed for this story but we also hear from him and his version of events, so to speak. We learn about Chancellor’s relationships with other people, from his godmother to his physical therapist.

We learn that Chancellor has inherited some athletic ability or will from his father.  Another snippet:

She could have filled him with hate, for his father and his Carruth blood; or anger, for the loss of his mother; or bitterness, for the loss of who he could have been. She filled him with something more powerful. He hardly ever cried as a baby, so quick was she to feed him and hold him and change his diapers, and as time went on he seemed to cry only for others. He would cry if one child hit another child, or at the suffering of a movie character, or when his godmother had a nosebleed. When G-Mom had food poisoning, so severe she had to crawl along the floor, there he was, crawling beside her.

She taught him that the rain was a shower of God’s blessing, and he believed her, so that when his schoolmates ran inside to stay dry he just stood there and let it fall on him. She taught him that he could do anything, that he had no limits, even though a neurologist told her he would never walk or talk, and now of course he can do both. He can ride horses. He started sixth grade at the end of August. He makes his bed and cleans his room without being told. He wakes up smiling and goes to sleep smiling and in between he looks like the happiest person in the world.

And then it all builds up to this. The reporter is trying to see a bit of the family home. The grandmother declines. She says:

“I’m not gonna have anything negative to say about him,” she says. “I thank him for my grandson. I thank him for my grandson.”

here is a long silence.

“After what you’ve lost,” you say.

“Like I say,” she says, “you can focus on what you’ve lost or what you have left. So I didn’t lose. I have my grandson. I have my daughter with me in my heart, always. I have her with me through Lee. So I don’t focus on loss. I mean, I think she’s in Heaven, with God, so that’s definitely not a loss. So I’ve got a lot left, and a lot of hope left, and a lot to live for, and to be able to help my grandson to become the wonderful man he’s meant to be. I haven’t lost anything.

“Really, I’ve gained. I’ve been pushed into my role and destiny.”

And this is the point at which I was just sobbing uncontrollably. There’s more, including a powerful ending, but I had never seen a reporter show Christian forgiveness quite like this before. It was so beautifully told. Such a great magazine-length piece. Have you read it? You really need to read it.

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‘Wife of Jesus’ reality checks, doubts and debunkings

We’ve all had our fun with the bride of Christ stories. While the mainstream media is not going to win any awards for doing a good job covering this story, I did want to highlight a few stories that stood out for not being ridiculous. A reader suggested this Huffington Post article be highlighted, commenting:

It’s far from perfect but at least the crucial word “Gnosticism” makes it into the article at all. The NYT article is very Indiana Jones.

… but so far I haven’t seen any article which touches upon the fact of a separate Gnostic tradition in which this sort of thing is common. The fact that it’s in Coptic tends to point to it being Gnostic, and I’ll bet if Dr. King were actually asked she would state right out that she believes that it is so.

And do they HAVE to bring up Dan Brown???

I don’t know. The word “Gnosticism” does make it into the article but not in any substantive way. And to answer the question, “Yes, ‘they’ do have to bring up Dan Brown.” It’s in the Journalist Code Of Conduct we all sign annually. Sorry.

Readers also sent in this piece that ran on an NBC News blog. Unlike many other stories about this explosive fragment that will undermine everything we know about Christianity (or whatever), the headline gives you a sense of where the piece is going: “Reality check on Jesus and his ‘wife’.” It does just that, explaining Gnostic thinking in some detail and showing how any significance that might be attached to the fragment isn’t to Jesus so much as to, well, Gnosticism. I was particularly impressed considering that the piece’s author is NBCNews.com’s science editor. He even called different scholars for some well balanced feedback and such.

And then the Associated Press took a radically different approach with its story on the explosive findings that will rock Christianity and particularly the Roman Catholic Church. Headlined “Doubts over Harvard claim of ‘Jesus’ Wife’ papyrus.” The piece basically catalogues the many questions posed by scholars and experts in the illicit antiquities trade:

Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying “my wife.” But he questioned whether the document was authentic.

“There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt.

“I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic” when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said...

Wolf-Peter Funk, a noted Coptic linguist, said there was no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context. It’s a partial text and tiny, measuring 4 centimeters by 8 centimeters (1.5 inches by 3 inches), about the size of a small cellphone.

“There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things,” said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. “It can be anything.”

He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was “suspicious.”

We get some responses from the Harvard scholar and some background on the shady antiquities trade.

We learn that some archaeologists think that Harvard acted unethically, given how the fragment has no known provenance or history of where it’s been.

“There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,” said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Looting Matters blog, which closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities. “This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it.”

He cited the ongoing debate in academia over publishing articles about possibly dubiously obtained antiquities, thus potentially fueling the illicit market.

The whole article is full of information that was not in those front page stories the day prior that were praising the find. For instance, the Archaeological Institute of America won’t publish articles about antiquities whose provenance is unknown. And it’s not just about not wanting to fuel the illicit trade but also because looting antiquities without benefit of their historical context also robs scholars of a wealth of information.

The article ends with the director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo saying that the fragment was never heard of before this week and that, as a researcher, he doesn’t think it’s authentic since there would have been some mention of it. I’m sure we can squeeze a few more stories out of this before we all move on to whatever the next story that will destroy Christianity is.

And I’m sure — absolutely sure — that all of those media outlets that talked about Jesus’ wife will be explaining all of this with equal prominence.

Photo of a guy who doesn’t quite buy the latest sensationalist attack on the foundations of Christianity via Shutterstock.

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Oh, for a follow-up question to Justice Thomas

Anyone who has ever tried to do media criticism knows that it is so, so easy to complain about the work of others, especially when you do not know all of the factors that led to a particular story being reported, written and edited in a particular way.

This is why you will rarely see your GetReligionistas criticize reporters — repeat, reporters — by name. We prefer to attribute whatever is published or broadcast to the news organization as a whole. Thus, I will talk about a story produced by the “Washington Post team” instead of pinning that story on the reporter whose byline is at the top.

People who have never worked in mainstream newsrooms often question why we do this.

Why? Well, any experienced reporter knows what its like to turn in a perfectly balanced, fair-minded story and then have the copy desk — perhaps because the amount of space in that day’s paper changed — cut off the final third of your piece, leaving it shamefully unbalanced.

Also, there is no way to know if a reporter begged editors for additional time to conduct interviews that would provided needed balance in a piece, or perhaps to run down needed background material, and was denied the opportunity to do so. There’s no way to know if a reporter made a particular error or if that error was edited into the piece by someone else. There’s no way to know if a reporter had fantastic material that she or he wanted to include in a story, but editors simply said, “No way.” Perhaps the reporter asked fantastic follow-up questions, but was denied the chance to put the results into digital ink.

I thought about these realities when reading the recent New York Times piece about a rare public appearance by Justice Clarence Thomas in which he consented to answer some rather probing questions about the law, race and, yes, his faith.

At least twice in this piece I found myself wanting to scream, “A follow-up question, a follow-up question, my cyber-kingdom for a follow-up question!” Let’s see if GetReligion readers have similar responses.

First, a word of background: People who have followed his career may or may not know that the young Thomas was a Catholic, then for a decade or so was active as a conservative Episcopalian — the church affiliation of this wife, Ginni Thomas. However, in the late 1990s he returned to Communion with the Church of Rome, although there have been reports that he frequently attends Anglican services with his wife, as well.

Early on in this particular interview, Thomas noted that when he was young he found himself part of a minority inside a minority in a strange land. He was an African-American Catholic living in the Deep South. That information preceded this fascinating passage:

The occasion for the interview was the Constitution’s 225th anniversary and the publication of a new book called “America’s Unwritten Constitution.” Its author, Akhil Reed Amar, a law professor at Yale, questioned Justice Thomas for more than an hour.

When Professor Amar mentioned that there are, for the first time in history, no Protestants on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas changed the subject.

“We’re all from the Ivy League,” he said. “That seems to be more relevant than what faith we are.” (Justice Thomas is one of six Catholics on the court. The other three justices are Jewish.)

Oh, if only Amar had asked if — from Thomas’ point of view — this remark actually represented a change in the subject.

Might the justice have meant exactly what he said? In other words, when describing the true religious affiliations of those on the court, perhaps it is more accurate to note that they are all from the Ivy League, as opposed to saying that they are either Catholics or Jews. Are all of the Catholics on the court, for example, practicing members of the same church, when push comes to shove?

That passage led directly into the following:

(Thomas) did say that religion played an important role in the nation’s founding and in his own life.

“I grew up in a religious environment, and I’m proud of it,” he said. “I was going to be a priest; I’m proud of it. And I thank God I believe in God, or I would probably be enormously angry right now.”

Oh, for another follow-up question — which may or may not have been an option for the Times team. I mean, I think there is a good chance that Justice Thomas is not interested in being interviewed by anyone from the Times, a stance that is common among many traditional Catholics these days.

This Times story, of course, connects Thomas’ anger with the the sexual-harassment storm that surrounded his confirmation to the court. That may be true, but that is a matter of interpretation, not basic reporting. One thing is clear: It would have been very interesting to know (a) the sources of anger that trouble this justice and (b) how his faith helps him cope with them.

The result is a fascinating story, yet one that remains thoroughly haunted by questions that were not asked and, thus, were not answered.

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Christmas comes early with ‘Jesus’ wife’ story

Readers of GetReligion are familiar with that mainstream media holiday tradition of releasing news stories that are supposed to shake the foundations of Christianity. Easters over the last few years have explained to all those gullible believers that Jesus walked on an ice floe (not water), that he wasn’t crucified in the manner in which people think, that Jesus’ father was — of course — a Roman soldier named Pantera and that Jesus didn’t die on the cross so much as pass out after being doped up.

Easter 2006 featured an unrelenting public relations offensive (emphasis on offensive) by the National Geographic Society and its National Geographic magazine that argued that Judas was unfairly maligned by Christians. The story was covered far and wide by all the major media outlets. (A later story showing that the “lost 3rd-century religious text” had been improperly translated? Not covered so much, shockingly.)

Usually we have to wait until Christmas or Easter for this annual rite. But this year those stories are coming early.

So we were treated to front-page headlines yesterday in the New York Times about Jesus’ wife (“A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife“), based on a very tiny fragment of what one scholar says is a 4th-century writing about Jesus Christ. If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that mysterious stories about 4th-century Coptic fragments of questionable provenance are probably more authoritative (in the media’s eyes) about Jesus’ life than the extensive writings of his contemporaries. Now, considering how these annual “shake the foundations of Christianity” stories always tend to be about the sensationalizing of scholarship or archeological claims, yesterday’s could have been worse.

After the juicy headlines (“Suggestion of a married Jesus,” “The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus,” “Harvard scholar’s discovery suggests Jesus had a wife,” “Did Jesus have a wife? New historical discovery raises old question,” “Was Jesus Married? Ancient Papyrus Mentions His ‘Wife’,” and “Newly revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to ‘my wife’“) and prominent placement and sexy ledes, we usually get stories conceding that, well, this doesn’t really mean much that we can nail down.

But the point of the stories was put well — and up high in the story — by the New York Times:

Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. These debates date to the early centuries of Christianity, scholars say. But they are relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.

The discussion is particularly animated in the Roman Catholic Church, where despite calls for change, the Vatican has reiterated the teaching that the priesthood cannot be opened to women and married men because of the model set by Jesus.

The discovery of this lost fragment, if interpreted in just the right way, matches the views of the New York Times editorial page! It’s another early Christmas miracle!

Christmas miracle image via Shutterstock.

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Sacrificing journalism on altar of gay advocacy

A few weeks ago, departing New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane said something everybody already knows:

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

What happens when you cover something like a cause rather than a news subject is that the journalism suffers. We saw the eleventy billionth example of that with a puffier than puffy one-sided hagiography of a gay Christian activist named Matthew Vines. Headlined “Turned Away, He Turned to the Bible” with the url “matthew-vines-wont-rest-in-defending-gay-christians.”

It seemed, from the piece that ran in — of all things — the “Fashion & Style” section of the paper that an interesting story could have been written about the man and his advocacy work in favor of changing traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality. But because it read like a press release rather than a news story, we didn’t get the chance to have an interesting story that really engaged the work.

The reader who sent in the piece asked a set of questions that explain the problem with the story so well that I don’t even need to quote anything from the Times report (so GetReligion readers should read that text for themselves):

People who disagree with Mr Vines are ‘belittling’, ‘blistering’ and lumped together with people who call him Satan? Really?

Why is it that Mr. Vines’s arguments which ‘are based in solid religious scholarship’ ‘have been argued before, and rarely to much effect’? Any reason for that?

Why are Vines’s arguments ‘unlikely to change many minds, especially among the leadership in the conservative Christian communities to which they are addressed’ ? Could the author elaborate on that?

Boom. Exactly. In other words, let’s try journalism!

The bottom line: It’s boring to read another cheerleading piece about how awesome all gay activists are and how evil their opponents are. But how about we take this story out of the Fashion & Style section, which suggests that homosexuality is just a lifestyle issue and go ahead and edit the piece to remove some of the silliness and add in some meat from people who don’t agree with every word printed by the New York Times, no matter how many times they’re printed over and over and over again. Wouldn’t that be nice? Just for a change of pace, even?

Meanwhile, we once again need to ask — in the wake of those infamous words from former editor Bill Keller — whether the Times is truly willing to take a balanced, accurate approach to the viewpoints on both sides of this issue. After all, remember his words that night at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin? Of his newspaper, he said:

“We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”

Asked by the moderator if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” the recently retired editor confessed:

“Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

The key words, of course, are “aside” and “from.”

A visual interpretation of the puff piece in question via Shutterstock.

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