From the chair

So you’re the manager of a PBS station. It’s pledge drive time. You want to a) rake in the dough and b) get viewers to encourage Congress not to pull the plug on federal funding. Who do you turn to?

Click here for the answer.

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Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha — not

Ugh, not a good morning. Suffice it to say that the casa de Lott has woodpecker problems and I’m not laughing. Readers, how do you tell a woodpecker to get lost? Bear in mind that I can’t get a clean shot at him and I’ve already tried the “Hey, let’s try some knocking too to see how you like it!” trick. I think he thought he’d found a mate.

But I digress. The upside of the little guy tormenting me is that it gives me no excuse to sleep in and delay mention of the fourth decent recent Weekly Standard cover story (previous Standard mentions here, here, and here). This one, by Matthew Continetti, is about Ralph Reed’s run for lieutenant governor of Georgia. My favorite observation in the piece:

He has stage presence. Reed’s speech contains no malapropisms, and his rhetoric is polished. Also, he must have taken Stage Movement 101 at the George Dubya School of Public Speaking, because he has all the physicality that the president brings to the stump, and he uses it to his advantage. His shoulders are thrust back, his head juts forward, his finger point is practiced, his hand-chop steady like a knife. It makes for a riveting performance. Every now and then, someone who is decidedly not a member of the Gwinnett County Republicans — a busboy in an apron, a glassy-eyed college student in Abercrombie & Fitch-wear — would walk over from the dessert trough to watch Reed, captivated by the show.

Of course, Continetti points out that Reed’s timing is awful and the candidate knows it. He refuses to give any on-the-record interviews to reporters while the Jack Abramoff investigation winds its way through D.C.

The Standard reporter looks into Reed’s connection with Abramoff and argues that it’s the Georgia candidate’s

misfortune that he happens to have worked with Abramoff on several Indian gambling campaigns. And yet it’s also striking that the $4.2 million his firm collected from Abramoff and Scanlon over four years may damage his national political ambitions. Because when you look at Reed’s private-sector career as a whole, such a sum seems hardly worth getting worked up over. It’s pocket change.

From Reed’s activity in college Republicans to his almost businesslike conversion experience to his stint at the academy as a doctoral student to his founding of the Christian Coalition, the piece serves as a pretty good primer on one of the men who helped to reorder American politics. It distances itself from a lot of the shallow coverage of the Georgia tactician by actually understanding the tradeoffs that Reed made to “bring social and religious conservatives into the mainstream of the Republican party, and thus, in turn, into the mainstream of American politics.”

Reed accomplished this feat, reports Continetti, “by draining the Christian Coalition of much of its explicitly Christian, or even religious, content.”

And then Reed cashed in. His Century Strategies — technically not a lobbying firm — has had its finger in an awful lot of pie charts, from Enron to the recent Indian money fiasco. It was likely instrumental in engineering a “yes” vote in the House on Puerto Rican statehood. It helped to lobby for normal trade relations with China and worked to keep kids fastened to their seats to watch “Channel One,” a daily 12-minute news broadcast that can demand lucrative advertising fees.

And now, as Continetti tells it, “Reed’s candidacy collapses whatever distinction remained between private interest and public office.”

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“You have wasted your saliva”

The Times of London’s Ruth Gledhill is ecstatic at the appointment of John Sentamu, the Uganda-born Bishop of Birmingham, as the next Archbishop of York:

So the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church of England after all. No other conclusion can be drawn from the inspired appointment of Dr John Sentamu to be Archbishop of York.

The last few years have been witness to an inexorable decline in both the strength and reputation of the Anglican church in the West, a decline hastened by shameful squabbles over sexuality. It has seemed that nothing could lift the church out of the quagmire of internal dispute.

But through this one appointment, the Church already has a whole new feel. A new direction seems possible, and a recovered sense of mission.

Gledhill speaks for many, and certainly for religion writers who have seen Sentamu in action. I’ve seen him on two occasions: at a mid-decade review of Anglicans’ progress on the Decade of Evangelism (1995), while he was still a priest, and at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, after he had become a bishop.

At the former, Sentamu poked fun at the Church of England’s stuffiness and played exhilarating music with a small rock band from Uganda. At the latter, he rebuked another bishop, who was moderating a plenary session, for shutting down an African bishop’s remarks in mid-sentence. (The bishop’s allotted time had run out.)

As a few different profiles make clear, Sentamu speaks his mind sharply.

From Alex Kirby of BBC News:

During his six years as bishop of Stepney in east London he was stopped and searched eight times by the police.

What upset him most was the sudden change in the officers’ behaviour when they realised his identity.

He said: “When they discovered who I was, the way I was then treated was very different. They should treat everybody with respect, with dignity.”

Another time, he recalls, four young white men spat at him and said: “Nigger, go back.”

He replied: “You have wasted your saliva.”

From Vicar Robbie Low of the conservative New Directions magazine, introducing a Q&A in 1996:

John Sentamu and I first met twenty years ago in the Rank Room of Wesley Hall, Cambridge. He was in his final year at Ridley and I had just started at Westcott. The “induction” course of co-counselling and psycho-babble was in its second day. The pair of social inadequates contracted as “enablers” were already well into the kind of brainwashing and manipulative techniques that only twelve months previously I had been investigating and exposing in major cults, and I was beginning to wonder if this could possibly be the church of God.

“Take a partner and sit staring into each other’s eyes. Now stop pretending you like each other and acknowledge the deep anger and hatred you feel for each other” etc, etc.

. . . Suddenly from the other side of the hall came a loud and outraged African voice:

“How dare you tell me I hate my brother . . . lies . . . dishonesty . . . manipulation etc.”

Sentamu hit them all round the boundary. During the awkward silence that followed I crossed the hall, shook his hand, introduced myself and said I was glad there was at least one other sane man in the building.

We left the room together as the dominant partner in the enabling team wrestled with the ultimate liberal nightmare . . . how to tell an angry black man that he is wrong.

“We’re glad you felt you could share that with us. . . .” So was I.

And from Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda comes clear rejoicing that the Church of England’s hierarchy has made an important appointment that honors the testimony of Global South Anglicans:

We are jubilant at the news of our fellow countryman’s appointment as the next Archbishop of York, and are grateful to the Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Church of England for recognizing the emerging force of the Christian Church in the Global South.

John Sentamu, a fellow Ugandan, was originally a judge in the High Court of Uganda. In 1974 when he refused to bow to pressure to deliver a ‘not guilty’ verdict to one of Idi Amin’s cousins, he was forced to go into exile. Like the Biblical Patriarch Joseph, what was meant for evil, God has now used for good.

One thing is certain: This Archbishop of York will not be boring.

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The Times they are . . .

It looks like the first casualty in D.C.’s newspaper wars (started when the Examiner moved into town) is the ugly, hard-to-navigate design of the old Washington Times website. Good riddance, I say.

The new design has some flaws (not a fan of the breaking articles down into multiple pages), but it’s a better, more stripped-down look with a superior color scheme. Take a look. One can only hope that a massive renovation is underway for the print edition.

While you’re there, it might be educational to give this story, by GetReligion FOB Julia Duin, a read.

The facts: On the night of May 7, one Susan Torres effectively died of a massive brain hemorrhage. Her mind is no more but she was with child at the time of her brain death, and husband Jason Torres and doctors have decided to try to save the child. Dr. Chris McManus explains that “with technology, we can keep the body alive. How long, we cannot say.”

One more complication: Susan has cancer; specifically metastatic melanoma. It’s what caused her death and it is causing all kinds of complications for doctors. Duin explains:

If the cancer does not spread rapidly, there’s hope. But if it becomes especially virulent, it can shut down Mrs. Torres’ body or enter the womb. Or cause a spontaneous abortion. The cancer cannot be treated with radiation because the treatment would kill the child. The earliest doctors think the child can survive outside the womb is 25 weeks, which is mid-July.

Here’s the scene from the hospital room:

In a room right by the ICU nurses’ station, Mrs. Torres lies silent, hooked up to food and oxygen tubes. Her blond hair is spread out on a pillow, and pink and green blankets cover her. A rosary is wrapped around her left hand. A scapular — a religious badge worn by devout Catholics — is tied around her right wrist. . . .

Religious paintings and icons are scattered about the room. Next to the window are two reclining chairs on which Mr. Torres spends the night. He spends about 12 hours at his wife’s side, then goes home for a few hours to see the couple’s 2-year-old son, Peter.

“He knows she’s not around,” Mr. Torres says. “He’s too young to come into the room. Either he wouldn’t recognize her, or he’d recognize her, and that’d be worse. It’d upset him terribly.”

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Lord have mercy (literally)

Want to read the hellish Godbeat story of the day? It’s in The Washington Post, with the headline “Mississippi Turning.” Yes, it’s rather old New Journalism in its approach. Lots of one word sentences. Many. A lack of verbs. Reporter Neely Tucker hovers everywhere in that analysis way that the Post favors in its edgy Style pages.

The story is a flashback to the racist murders of the Civil Rights era and the alleged sins of one “Preacher Killen.” You could not make that name up.

The story is both inspiring and horrific and religion shows up in its best and worst forms. You’ve got to read it. Here is a sample of the latest courtroom drama, which is unfolding four decades after the bloodshed.

Up in front, Killen talks with one of his lawyers, Mitch Moran. Also, and elsewhere, talks to God, delivers words from same. Still says the deity wants black kept separate from white. Has said he wanted to shake the hand of Martin Luther King Jr.’s killer. Espouses theories that black men want to rape white women. Fond of toting shotguns. Fonder still of threatening to shoot reporters with them, particularly those who show up at his ranch-style house out in the county, way out from town. It’s out there on the old Rock Cut road, less than two miles from the murder site, lost among the red clay and pine trees.

Preacher has not changed his views. “I’m as much for separation as I ever was,” he says at one point.

Lord have mercy.

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A media-friendly media spanking

williams portrait.jpgRuth Gledhill of the Times of London has done a fine job of condensing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 4,500-word lecture on journalists into a news story of one-ninth that length. As journalists often do — and I make no claim to escaping this habit — Gledhill focused on the most pointed language in the archbishop’s text, in which he said this about web-based journalism:

Unwelcome truth and necessary and prompt rebuttal are characteristic of the web-based media. So are paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry. The atmosphere is close to that of unpoliced conversation — which tends to suggest that the very idea of an appropriate professionalism for journalists begins to dissolve.

The bulk of Rowan Williams’ critique focused on classical media, and he began on the playful note of citing Evelyn Waugh’s journalism satire, Scoop: “Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it.”

Williams spends considerable time on the idea that withholding information is not inherently malicious and may indeed be necessary:

[As] some recent studies have emphasised (I’m thinking especially of John Lloyd’s What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics), there is a difference between exposing deceptions that sustain injustice and attacking confidentialities or privacies that in some sense protect the vulnerable. If we begin by assuming that the question to ask almost anyone — not just politicians — is the immortal ‘Why is this bastard lying to me?’ the effect is to treat every kind of reticence as malign, designed to deny other people some sort of power.

Williams surely has felt this tension as the primates of the Anglican Communion have twice met privately to discuss ethical and moral tensions between the largely conservative Global South and the more liberal churches of North America, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Williams was one of the more media-friendly bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, which was one of the most media-hostile environments I’ve ever worked in. The media handlers at that global conference of Anglican bishops instructed the bishops not to grant any interviews that had not been arranged through the conference’s media office, and gave special warnings about reporters wearing pink badges. (The media handlers, and those who worked for the conference’s house organ, wore gold badges.)

Although many bishops were willing to grant interviews without the approval of the media center, Williams was one of the few bishops who made himself available for impromptu interviews at the media center. He thus worked within the system and challenged its control needs.

Finally, Williams offers this helpful take on why, to cite the subtitle of our weblog, some reporters fail to get religion:

We learn significant things in varieties of overlapping communities; and we learn them at different paces. Some things can be mastered quickly, almost instantaneously, some take significant time. And I suspect that the difficulty most of the modern media finds in handling religion is not simply some sort of hostile bias to belief as such, but the extreme difficulty of representing in an ‘urgent’ medium experience or awareness that is apprehended in common practice over time. Which is why, incidentally, the recent BBC series, ‘The Monastery’, succeeded in such a remarkable way; it was about what can be known only by taking time, in company. Perhaps observers of religious broadcasting should concentrate not on the time or space given to simple and static representations of religious views and activities but on how this method of following the ‘real time’ of religious knowing and experiencing can be fostered.

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Another religious freedom case?

Want to see the difference between the MSM and the new “niche” news sites? Then take a look at these stories about Krishna Rajanna and the closing of his Affordable Medical and Surgical Services business in Kansas City, Kan.

Reports about abortion are almost always full of controversial details. But click here to read a mainstream story about this case, then click here to read a report posted at one of the alternative Christian news sites. Note the crucial missing detail.

Now, before you decide that folks at the the “niche” news site have lost their minds, note this piece (PDF) of documentation from a witness in the case. And one more question: Is Planned Parenthood v. Casey relevant to this case?

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Billy Graham in exile

When addressing members of the Evangelical Press Association in April, Anne Graham Lotz cited her father as a Christian who has remained focused on evangelism, even at age 86. Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times provides the details on what a toll Graham’s age has taken on his health, and the result is far more interesting than a snapshot of a plaster saint:

The evangelist shuffles with a walker down a small ramp into his living room. He has prostate cancer, hydrocephalus and the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and last year broke a hip and his pelvis. He says he leaves the mountain only three or four times a year, and cannot even remember his last time down.

. . . Although Mr. Graham moved and spoke slowly, his blue eyes were sharp. He wore a bright blue blazer that matched his eyes, and pressed blue jeans. He said that every day from about 11 a.m. on, he goes numb over most of his body and especially in his face. “I don’t feel normal. It’s a neurological thing,” he said. “If I tell my hand to reach up it’s a delayed action between my brain and what happens.”

Goodstein interviewed Graham for an hour on the porch of his mountainside home in Montreat, N.C., as he prepared for a new crusade at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. She acts on the rare opportunity to ask Graham about his embarrassing remarks on Jews (in a private but taped conversation with Richard Nixon in 1972) and his son Franklin’s remarks about Islam: “We had an understanding a long time ago, he speaks for himself.” Pressed further, he responded, “Let’s say, I didn’t say it.”

She ends with the clear parallels between Graham’s suffering and that of Pope John Paul II:

Mortality is on his mind. Of the pope’s funeral, he said, “I watched every bit of it.” Asked why, he said: “He was teaching us how to suffer, and he taught us how to die. I didn’t agree with him on everything theologically, but as a person and as a man, he set a great example and he was a wonderful personal friend to me.”

Mr. Graham said that with each health setback, “I’ve rejoiced in all of it.” The Lord, he said, was making it possible for him to relate to other suffering people.

The other night he said he caught an old clip of himself being interviewed on “Larry King Live.” “I looked at myself, it was only six or seven years ago, but I looked so vigorous,” he said. “And I thought to myself, how different things were to me then than they are now.”

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