Mitt Romney’s two Ms

Sridhar Pappu is a masterful writer of profiles — just a few issues back in The Atlantic, he wrote an article on Geraldo Rivera that was both respectful and critical. In the September Atlantic he writes eight pages on Mitt Romney, the Latter-day Saint who serves as the governor of Massachusetts.

Romney’s LDS faith is not a central focus of the story, but when it does come up toward the end of the essay, it’s a doozy. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was surprised by the strength of Romney’s run against him in 1994, brings the fireworks:

I was winding down our conversation when Senator Kennedy interrupted me. “The one question you didn’t ask,” he said, “was about Mormonism — whether it would hurt him in a national campaign.”

“I was about to,” I said.

“The answer is no,” Kennedy said. “We’ve moved on. That died with my brother Jack.”

Romeny himself says he serves the people, not the Book of Mormon. But though the matter should have died with the election of Jack Kennedy (who himself spoke on religious freedom at the Mormon Tabernacle in 1960), Romney’s religion remains — as a prominent Republican strategist who worked on both George W. Campaigns told me — “the other M.”

“There are two Ms — Massachusetts and Mormonism — and they’re the elephants in the room,” this strategist said. “And the question is whether they step on him or ride him to victory. I think that’s a challenge for him to overcome in conservative Christian circles. Romney’s people have to have a strategy to beat it, to win on that point.”

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Silence on that hot Vatican scoop?

Every now and then, a story comes out in a niche magazine or alternative form of media that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me say, “Wow! What a scoop! What will the MSM do with that?”

Since this is a blog about the major media and religion news, I tend to wait until someone else picks up the story before I write about it. Recently we had one of those “Wow!” stories and I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and . . .

So I guess I better let GetReligion readers help me figure out what happened to the hot story that the one and only John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter broke not that long ago. You knew it was a big story, because Andrew Sullivan blasted away from the progressive side of the church aisle and Catholic World News was encouraged on the traditional end of the kneeler. The story?

Sources indicate that the long-awaited Vatican document on the admission of homosexuals to seminaries is now in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI. The document, which has been condensed from earlier versions, reasserts the response given by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002, in response to a dubium submitted by a bishop on whether a homosexual could be ordained: “A homosexual person, or one with a homosexual tendency, is not fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

That reply was published in the November-December 2002 issue of Notitiae, the official publication of the congregation.

It is up to Benedict XVI to decide whether to issue the new document as it stands, to send it back for revision, or to shelve it on the basis that for now such a document is “inopportune.”

So did I miss the story somewhere else? Or did Allen nail it with a piece of enformed speculation lower in his report? You see, people tend to forget that sexuality issues in the Catholic world are not strictly a left vs. right affair. It is also a matter of public vs. private.

Privately, some hope Benedict will decide to put the document in a desk drawer for the time being, on the grounds that it will generate controversy and negative press without changing anything in terms of existing discipline.

As one bishop put it to me, the policy against ordaining homosexuals is already clear — the only interesting question is, what do you mean by a “homosexual”? At one end of the continuum, it could refer to anyone who once had a fleeting same-sex attraction; at another, it could be restricted to someone who is sexually active and openly part of a “gay pride” movement. Most people would exclude those extremes, but where is the line drawn in between?

Watch Allen for the updates. He is the insiders’ insider. It is hard to overemphasize how important this story is among Catholic politicos. I cannot believe that the MSM did not chase the work of a reporter as plugged in as Allen.

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Easy journalistic game in these Times

Here is a very easy journalistic game. What we have here are two Boy Scout Jamboree leads. Both are from White House beat stories in newspapers called the Times.

Without clicking the hyperlinks, just yet, name the newspapers.

Lead No. 1 is:

President Bush drew cheers on Sunday from a crowd of tens of thousands of Boy Scouts and their parents with talk about patriotism, morals and the role of their organization in creating leaders.

And here is lead No. 2:

President Bush yesterday told more than 30,000 Boy Scouts of America gathered at their annual jamboree not to waver from their moral conviction or their duty to God and country, telling the boys that “there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference.”

OK, name that Times newspaper.

Easy, isn’t it?

The news here is that New York Times reporter Matthew Wald did include the crucial “right and wrong” quote — attention Dr. James Davison Hunter — later in his story, at least in an early version that was on the website. Here is the context:

Mr. Bush praised the virtues of scouting and listed all those included in the Boy Scout law, including trustworthiness and loyalty. He said that some people might “question the values you learn in scouting.”

“But remember, lives of purpose are constructed on conviction that there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference,” he said.

What I found interesting was that the MSM did not mention why this quote was in the speech in the first place and why the Boy Scouts are, in these times, such a controversial organization. Freedom of association is another one of those controversial issues, these days.

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Room to grow

USA WashingtonDCThis morning’s Washington Post had a story that, believe it or not, I finished. Rarely is there anything in the morning paper, unrelated to my day job, that is interesting enough for me to finish (another example was this story on China).

Here’s the nut graph of the story. Muslims are moving to the suburbs like many other Americans on their way up the economic ladder and they are building mosques and, like many other religious groups, they are struggling financially.

The boom in exurban mosques has resulted from the migration of Muslims to the outer suburbs, as followers of Islam — just like other suburban emigrants — seek less-expensive housing and good schools.

The story deals with some of the tensions in a Muslim community in the suburbs of Washington. Some harassment, some bigotry, but for the most part, the author paints a pleasant portrait of a group of outsiders, trying to establish themselves as insiders. There is also the issue of radical Islamic terrorism, but the Muslims settling in Northern Virginia and Maryland have denounced the radicals behind the recent terrorist attacks. Underlying the whole story are the incidents in London and whether they could happen in the United States. A fascinating angle of the story is that, in building their mosque, these Muslims could not go into debt and used local fundraisers to bring in money.

The story represents a very similar experience I dealt with growing up in a conservative denomination, which did not believe in going into debt for church-related funding. When a new addition was needed, several years went by as we raised funds. Then, to defray costs, we choose to use people from within the congregation to finish the interior, once the frame was up, much like these Muslims in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

While some would see this Mosque as a threat to their community, I would try to see it in a different light. Residents in a community are attempting to construct a center they can be proud of and, with this center, something they can base their community life on. As more Muslims in America live in communities like this, where they can come together to construct a building, it will be less likely that their youths will turn to extremism as we have seen recently in London.

Area mosques have tried to educate non-Muslims that extremist views are not a part of the religion of Islam. After the recent bombings in London and Egypt, the Woodbridge mosque and a mosque in Manassas jointly issued a statement condemning the incidents. “These actions are not sanctioned, nor justified, in Islam,” the statement read. Both mosques promised to nurture “interfaith understanding and diversity” in Prince William.

Yet connections between mosques and more militant elements of Islam have been unsettling for some members of the public. The FBI found that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers worshiped at Dar Al Hijrah in Falls Church for a short time. And Ali Al-Timimi, a popular lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education in Falls Church, was recently sentenced to life in prison for inciting a group of followers to train for a violent jihad against the United States. The executive committee at Dar Al Hijrah supported him and called the federal prosecution overzealous.

In all, it’s a well-written, balanced story that favors a positive outlook, rather than a fear-mongering-future-terrorists-could-be-your-next-door-neighbors story that so easily could have been written. Favorite quote, involving a minor issue that keeps mosques in the area from sounding the traditional Adhan, or call to prayer:

“I’m laughing now,” he said, speaking from a coffee shop near his office in Falls Church as noontime chimes began ringing at a nearby church. “I can hear the church bells coming from Columbia Pike. . . . One day we will hear bells and the call for prayers. I believe that day is coming.”

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Ch-ch-ch-changes at GetReligion

printingpressI have been missing in action today, but for a reason. It was my first day working at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities on the project now called the Washington Journalism Center. It’s a full-semester journalism education program growing out of the decade-long Summer Institute of Journalism (some info here).This is the teaching post that recently brought me and my family back to Beltway land.

But, as Jeremy noted yesterday, August 1 is a day for some other changes here at GetReligion. Young master Lott is taking a solid three months away from Washington media life to write his book, which is currently titled In Defense of Hypocrisy. Before he vanishes, I do hope he will offer us an epistle giving us a hint what this book will be about. The young man does have some edge.

The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc is also poised to move into a new media post in the Anglican world and I will let him explain that himself. Suffice it to say that he will be spending much of his time on the other side of a reporter’s notebook, working with reporters rather than merely as a report. Let me go on the record that I do hope he gets to keep his column at Episcopal Life. Diversity is a good thing.

As a result, Doug is moving into a managing editor role here at GR. He will still be our go-to tech guy, continuing the work he has done since day one. He will focus his writing on religion coverage in mainstream news magazines, which will give him more flexibility with when and what he writes. Any ideas on what magazines he should stress, other than the obvious newsweeklies?

We will also be gaining the talents of a young writer named Daniel Pulliam who works at Government Executive, which is linked to the National Journal family. Daniel will stress foreign news and Internet publications. I will let him offer some biographical information. However, I will note that there are apples that do not fall far from journalistic trees.

As for me, there is much to do before the Washington Journalism Center opens its doors in the fall of 2006. Meanwhile, I will continue to be senior editor here at GetReligion, with an emphasis on domestic issues and rock music (same as always). I certainly expect to be more involved in media life in Washington, as the religion columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service and in projects linked to the world of blogging.

As always, please let us know about those MSM ghosts that you see and about publications and networks that you think we need to cover. We welcome your help.

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About Daniel Pulliam

DanielP 04Greetings to the readers of GetReligion.

As some of you may already know, Terry Mattingly and Doug LeBlanc have asked me to join this blog as one of its writers. I want to thank them for this opportunity and have been asked to say a few words about myself.

I am a 2004 graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis with a degree in journalism. From August 2004 to July 2007 I was a reporter in Washington, D.C., covering the administration of our nation’s government for Government Executive. Past jobs/internships include stints at The Indianapolis Star, States News Service and The Roanoke Times.

In April 2007 I married my wife, Noelle.

As of August 2007 I started studying law at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. I was raised in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and I am currently attending a Presbyterian Church of America congregation in downtown Indianapolis. I do not know exactly where a law degree will take me, but I plan to continue in some form or another in journalism.

My career has been heavily focused on hard news and I have shied away from commentary, though I did stray into the Star‘s editorial department for a semester internship and wrote a weekly column for my school’s student newspaper.

For GetReligion, Terry has asked me to help him write commentary about the nation’s newspaper coverage of religion and foreign coverage of religion. You should be hearing from me about once a day. I use the Web heavily for my news needs (though I do subscribe to The Washington Post), and once I’m online, it’s all just news to me, whether it’s U.S.-based or foreign.

Since my day job no longer involves covering the Bush administration (quite a broad range of issues, from the Pentagon to technology), I will be avidly looking out for stories that deal with the U.S. government. For instance, stories dealing with the Air Force Academy’s religious controversy will be areas in which I hope to provide extra insight.

I adhere to general journalistic principles, including full disclosure, thorough reporting, fair treatment of all subjects involved, the nature of the press as that of a fierce watchdog, utter care for the accuracy of facts and information and the eternal struggle for impartiality.

I hope to use this space, as it has been used so well in the past, to examine the work of journalists who write about religion, to see if it strives for the journalistic creed by which we work and attempt to hold people accountable when they make mistakes. In the tradition of this blog, I hope to praise as much as condemn. I also hope to find some way of deviating from the usual right versus left and traditional versus modern debates, which tend to permeate most religious discussions, by highlighting stories of individuals and how their personal religious experience has affected their lives.

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That’s all folks (for now)

With this post I take my leave of GetReligion. Terry Mattingly should be along either later today or early tomorrow to announce further changes. I’m skedaddling to devote time to a book-in-progress about hypocrisy, which should land in finer retail outlets next year. Don’t know if I’ll be back to these cyber pages, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It has been fun.

Before I go, let me say a few things about my co-bloggers.

I bumped into Doug LeBlanc when he was the book review editor for Christianity Today and found him to be a remarkably understanding editor. He let me write about things that caught my interest, insisted on changes when I went off the rails, didn’t meddle needlessly, and helped to negotiate my work through what can become an editorial buzz saw. So when he sent an e-mail asking if I’d like to work with him on this site he was associated with called GetReligion, I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t have to.

At GetReligion, Doug has saved me from numerous embarrassing mistakes and some truly traumatic typos. He has also been a great friend, and I’ll miss some of our bull session-like and “Hey can you please fix this?”-oriented phone calls. No doubt he’ll now have exponentially more free time.

And what does one say about Terry Mattingly? The guy is so tireless he’s almost a force of nature. The passion he brings to teaching and analyzing journalism makes Howie Kurtz look like a lazy part-timer. “On deadline” should be the epitaph they carve on his tombstone. He’s also sweet and quirky and funny and he evinces a remarkable ability to crash any computer program known to man.

Terry cared enough to give a down-on-his-luck freelancer a regular gig and a lot of rope. For that I will always be grateful.

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