G3 Dean heats up DC press

Well, there is a certain logic to the question — even if Fox’s Brian Wilson was tossing raw meat to his cable-TV base demographic. I am referring to reporter Mark Leibovich’s chatty piece in The Washington Post‘s Style section — that lively dwelling place of the old New Journalism — about Howard “God, gays and guns” Dean coming to a major U.S. Capitol photo op.

Here is the mean, but logical, question reported from the scene:

The press chorus then devolved into a cacophony of competing screams. (And Dean knows screams!) After several seconds, a booming voice cut through the noise. It belonged to Brian Wilson, a Fox News correspondent who was standing in the middle of the crowd. He asked Dean “if people are focused on the other things that you’ve said about hating Republicans, about Republicans being dishonest and then this latest comment about the Republican Party is full of white Christians. You say you hate Republicans — does that mean you also” hate white Christians?

Dean is, of course, a white liberal Christian. It does no good to claim that he is a secularist of some kind. He is not.

This serves as yet another reminder that the blue-red zip code divide is not about “secular” vs. “religious.” It is, in large part, about two radically different versions of faith, with divisions among progressive and traditional Christians, Jews and others. Yes, this does return us to James Davison Hunter territory. And, of course, ditto for the work of those New York University guys, Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce.

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What if Dean were a GOP God guy?

There he goes again.

You may have noticed that Democratic Party Chairman Howard “God, gays and guns” Dean has shown up again on the Godbeat.

I swear, this man’s press aide must have the patience of Job (cue: rim shot).

This time around, Dean made headlines with his statement that Republicans have become “a pretty monolithic party. They all behave the same. They all look the same. It’s pretty much a white Christian party.” There were more fireworks where that came from.

“The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people,” Dean said . . . responding to a question about diversity during a forum with minority leaders and journalists. “We’re more welcoming to different folks, because that’s the type of people we are. But that’s not enough. We do have to deliver on things: jobs and housing and business opportunities.”

This statement — no surprise — ticked off some conservative religious and political leaders. They wondered how mainstream journalists and politicians would have reacted to similar brash statements involving other social and religious groups.

Dean, meanwhile, bravely marched on and defended his turf. Here is a sample, drawn from an Associated Press report carried by The Washington Post. I find it interesting that the Beltway Bible did not assign one of its own reporters to this story.

Dean noted that he, too, is a white Christian. But he said the GOP is too narrow in its scope and the Democratic Party is far more diverse.

While even prominent Democrats in recent days have distanced themselves from some of his comments, the outspoken Dean, appearing on NBC”s “Today” show, said criticism of him is meant by Republicans to divert attention from the country’s problems and make him the issue instead.

The AP quoted Dean, when challenged, as saying that “unfortunately, by and large it is. And they have the agenda of the conservative Christians.” In response, GOP Party Chairman Ken Mehlman quipped that “a lot of folks who attended my Bar Mitzvah would be surprised” that he leads an all-Christian party.

According to Peggy “friend of this blog” Noonan, this whole episode raises darker questions about political discourse.

In a Wall Street Journal column called “Seeing Red,” the superstar speechwriter asked what would happen if President Bush delivered a speech in the heartland that included this language:

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I want to speak this evening about how I see the political landscape. Let me jump right in. The struggle between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is a struggle between good and evil — and we’re the good. I hate Democrats. Let’s face it, they have never made an honest living in their lives. Who are they, really, but people who are intent on abusing power, destroying the United States Senate and undermining our Constitution? They have no shame.

But why would they? They have never been acquainted with the truth. You ever been to a Democratic fundraiser? They all look the same. They all behave the same. They have a dictatorship, and suffer from zeal so extreme they think they have a direct line to heaven. But what would you expect when you have a far left extremist base? We cannot afford more of their leadership. I call on you to help me defeat them!”

Imagine the explosion of negative MSM coverage — all of it deserved — that would follow this address.

The problem is that those two paragraphs consist of phrases from remarks by Dean and by Sen. Hillary Clinton. You need to see Noonan’s color-coded version of the column to know which Democrat spoke which words. Again, you will find it here.

One of her main questions is this: Where is the MSM outrage at these Dean and Clinton sermons which, in part, single out a certain brand of religious believer for such harsh criticism?

Now, I know some wackos on the Religious Right can sling some similar acid around. But we are talking about the top leaders of the Democratic Party. I don’t think this is going to help them in the blue zip codes across the Bible Belt.

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Could it be . . .

Can the prince of darkness thrive in Giulianified New York?

That question is repeatedly posed by Jim Knipfel in his cover story in the current issue of the New York Press. The question sets up an interview with Peter Gilmore, a mover in the Church of Satan who was involved in relocating the organization’s headquarters from San Francisco to New York in 2001.

My favorite bit is when Knipfel catches Gilmore out in a bit of Evil nostalgia:

“Times Square used to be the most potent vista for viewing this entire spectrum in one glance,” he said. “If one stood on Broadway and 42nd, simply by looking around you could see human passions embodied: base sexuality in the venues for all facets of pornography, the restless mind hungry for information in the endless electronic crawl of headlines and in the publications cramming the newsstands. Our need for fantasy was served by the many theaters showing every level of film being produced and a similar range of live performance from the splendid to the sordid. There were shops which sold exotic weaponry and tacky souvenirs. The cuisine ranged from street vendors of dubious cleanliness and the quintessentially American Howard Johnson’s to the second-floor exotica of the Chinese Republic.” . . .

As we all know, that symbolic, iconic Times Square is long gone, replaced with “retail boxes” catering, as he puts it, “to the bland needs of tasteless drones.” The supposed revitalization of the area, he further notes, “has slapped a sanitized mask on the true face of our Babylon.”

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Anglican West to Anglican South: Drop dead

Don’t be deceived by the so-what-else-is-new headline on our friend Julia Duin’s report in The Washington Times. “African bishops reject aid,” as the Times’ headline puts it, has been a story since the latter months of 2003, when many African bishops announced their intentions to protest the Episcopal Church’s decision to consecrate Gene Robinson as an openly gay bishop.

What sets Duin’s story apart is how much she reveals about the horrible cost being paid by these bishops’ people as conservative Episcopalians fail to make up for what the bishops have rejected.

Here are some of the distressing facts Duin reports:

Africa, which has 12 Anglican provinces each containing numerous dioceses, is the fastest-growing portion of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, which includes the U.S. Episcopal Church. The 2003 election of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is divorced and living in a homosexual relationship, split the Anglican Communion.

Since then, the archbishops of Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, overseeing 30.5 million Anglicans, announced they will not accept grants from the Episcopal Church. Some Rwandan and Tanzanian bishops are following suit.

Edwina Thomas, national director of Sharing of Ministries Abroad, a Virginia-based international Anglican group, said African prelates debated the matter in Nigeria last year.

“The archbishop of Congo stood in front of the bishops and said, ‘My people are starving. They are having as little as one meal every other day,’” she said. “I remember the archbishop of Nigeria saying, ‘We need to help you.’”

So do more Americans, [the Rev. Canon Bill] Atwood [general secretary of the conservative Ekklesia Society] said.

“Say there are 1,000 conservative Episcopal churches that spend $1,000 a month for air-conditioning,” he said. “That’s $12 million a year. The amount of money they are spending on air-conditioning each year is what is being sent to run all the Anglican provinces in Africa.”

I think I’ll remember those details the next time I read about fellow conservative Episcopalians calling themselves persecuted and oppressed.

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Christian niche news bad for The Nation?

I thought some GetReligion readers might find the following Dallas Morning News report interesting (even though I show up in it as a source).

In some ways, this feature by reporter Colleen McCain Nelson is old news. Conservative Christians have been turned off by mainstream news for a long time, which helped fuel the rise of the televangelists long ago and clearly sparked some of the talk-radio blitz, too. Now we are seeing another rise in the power of niche market cable television and web news on the right. Here is Nelson’s summary:

(Many) Christians are seeking out alternative sources of news, and not just for information on religious topics. With the number of Christian television networks, radio stations, Web sites and magazines on the upswing, they have plenty to choose from.

The number of religious radio stations grew by 14 percent in the last five years, from 1,769 to 2,014, according to Arbitron. And a recent report by The Barna Group found that more people use Christian media than attend church. Technological advances, a polarized electorate and the increasing prominence of evangelicals have spurred the growth in Christian news.

On one level, more media is always a good thing. But at some point you have to wonder if anyone in the culture is going to be coming into contact with points of view other than their own. As a journalism educator, I really worry about things like that. What comes after that? Googlezon?

Take, for example, this recent irony.

This same basic topic — alternative forms of Christian news — got grilled big time recently in the Columbia Journalism Review in a lengthy cover article titled “Stations of the Cross: How evangelical Christians are creating an alternative universe of faith-based news.”

As you might expect, reporter Mariah Blake had lots of bad things to say about this trend, many of them valid. However, I did find it kind of ironic to read such a long attack on highly partisan, ideologically defined, agenda-driven, biased niche news in the hallowed pages of CJR — especially one that ended with the following credit line:

Mariah Blake is an assistant editor at CJR. The magazine gratefully acknowledges support for her research from the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund.

Say what? This strong warning about the dangers of advocacy journalism was funded by The Nation? Isn’t that sort of like Focus on the Family funding a documentary on the life of Elton John? Or a Rush Limbaugh newsletter expose on Hillary Clinton?

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Goodbye Quakers, hello Frappuccino

Peter Slevin of The Washington Post has written such a moving profile of two Quakers’ long-term work in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing development that you may end up wishing this once notoriously violent community would stay together forever.

Slevin reports that Steve Pedigo was an innocent seminary student when he began working among the children of Cabrini-Green, and that Pedigo and his wife, Marlene, never left. (They will, however, move away to take positions in what Slevin calls “the Quaker hierarchy in Indiana”).

The article lacks the richer detail that a religion writer might have brought to the assignment — basic things like what seminary Pedigo attended, whether he completed his studies and why he and his wife joined the Society of Friends.

Here are some of the more informative paragraphs:

“We weren’t here to build the church. We were here to help in the community. The church was a tool to facilitate it,” Steve Pedigo said. “A lot of times people measure success by whether the program is getting bigger. I measured it by the progress we were making.”

Sam Boens, now 31, attended the Pedigos’ program, which recruited college students and paid local high schoolers to help the younger ones. When things became especially grim in Boens’s home in Cabrini, he moved in with the Pedigos for several months — one of about a dozen kids to do so.

“Marlene and Steve practically raised me. They’re like a mama and daddy. Back in the days, I used to hang out and do things I wasn’t supposed to do. Thanks to them, I stopped doing it,” Boens said. Steve is “just like an ordinary person. You could talk to him and he’d listen. He’d never say he had no time.”

Three of Boens’s own children were in the Pedigos’ program when it closed late last month. Randy, 7, won school honors each of his three quarters this year “thanks to that man right there,” Boens said, nodding toward Pedigo.

Vanessa Dosie, whose son Israel has been in the program for three years, calls the Pedigos “inspirational, truly godly believers. Their rep is that everybody loves them. If you need something, if you need prayer, you can come and ask them.”

“They’re black. They’ve been here so long, they’re part of us. Because they’re Caucasian doesn’t mean anything,” Dosie said. “We do have people who came into the community to do it for tax purposes; it’s not genuine. For them, it’s genuine.”

. . . Pedigo believes many Cabrini youths suffer what amounts to post-traumatic stress syndrome from gunfire, violence, frustration, anger. “Terrorism has been going on in this community for a long time,” he said.

Cabrini-Green is entering a new phase. As Zoneike Boens, Sam’s wife, put it, “Cabrini is fading away.”

Today, 495 apartments are occupied, down from a peak of 3,152 in the 1960s. A portion of the property will be redeveloped with public housing or a mixture that includes affordable and market-rate dwellings. Starbucks has taken root nearby along with a large supermarket.

Photo credit: Copyright 2005 by Ronit Bezalel Productions and republished, with permission, from the Voices of Cabrini website.

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Colson and Howie mull Deep questions

It isn’t every day that one gets to read Howie Kurtz and Chuck Colson and mull over moral issues linked to journalism and politics and the politics of journalism. Still, it’s clear that people are a long, long way from being done talking about the Deep Throat case. To get back the original post by the Rt. Rev. LeBlanc, please click here.

So, to get the mood right, just light up a cigaratte and keep reading. Let’s start with the key section of a new Colson BreakPoint radio commentary, in which he once again argues that Felt — a close associate of Colson’s in those days — was not being heroic.

You will not be surprised that this conservative Christian apologist believes this case offers us another insight into the moral conflicts — are there absolutes? — of our day. It also helps to remember that Colson went to jail for doing precisely what Felt did. Here’s the key part of the text:

Today, I’m not concerned about how Mark Felt, or those of us involved in Watergate, or the press is judged by history. All of us have to be responsible for what we did ourselves. What I am concerned about is how, in the eyes of many people, Mark Felt’s end justified his means.

I’ve watched some of the classroom discussions on TV, and, almost to a person, students say he did the right thing because his end was good. This is terribly wrong. I know we live in an era of moral relativism — everybody chooses what is “right” for them. But this is a path to chaos and a lawless, ungovernable nation.

That’s the religious and moral side of this drama.

It is also possible to ask questions about how this case impacted the ethics and morality of journalism. That’s the larger question that has been bothering me and it also seems to have been bothering the nation’s top news-media-beat reporter, over at The Washington Post, of all places.

Here is how Kurtz starts off:

Was Watergate bad for journalism? On its face, the question seems absurd. The drama of two young metro reporters for The Washington Post helping to topple a corrupt president cast a golden glow over the news business in the mid-1970s.

Newspapermen became cinematic heroes, determined diggers who advanced the cause of truth by meeting shadowy sources in parking garages, and journalism schools were flooded with aspiring sleuths and crusaders. But the media’s reputation since then has sunk like a stone, and one reason is that some in the next generation of reporters pumped up many modest flaps into scandals ending in “gate,” sometimes using anonymous sources who turned out to be less than reliable.

We are just getting started with this, methinks. So keep reading, and don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.

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The rain in Spain

“Police and intelligence were working under the mental framework that Islamists would never attack Spain.”

That, to my mind, is the most damning quote to emerge from this Christian Science Monitor report on the controversy that kicked up last week when it was revealed that Spanish law enforcement had a huge amount of advance knowledge on the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004.

The strength of the piece, like much Monitor reporting, lies not only in recounting the controversy so that readers care but in stepping back to help us make sense of it all:

They had the names. They knew when and where the men met and how they raised money. They even had the cell-phone numbers of the group’s leaders. But with all that information, police were still unable to prevent the bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid on March 11, 2004.

Spaniards have known for months that, long before the bombings occurred, police and intelligence forces here were monitoring the individuals who would carry out the attacks. But last week, El Mundo newspaper published 12 notes written by Abdelkader el-Farssaoui, imam of a mosque outside Madrid and informer to the intelligence unit of the national police, that describe with chilling specificity the members and activities of the suspected cell. Since the report, the debate over whether the police could have prevented the bombings has intensified, with the opposition Popular Party voicing demands for more hearings on the attacks.

El Farssaoui, who went by the code name “Cartagena,” began providing Spanish police with information in October 2002. He identified Serhane Abdelmajid, who would later kill himself and six associates by setting off explosives when police converged on their apartment, as the leader. In February 2003, he observed that Jamal Zougam, currently awaiting trial as a presumed author of the attacks, had joined the cell. And he recounted how Mohammed Larbi Ben Sellam, suspected of a role in the 2003 Casablanca bombings, had told him that “he didn’t understand why most were so obsessed with going to . . . Afghanistan to make jihad when the same kind of operation was possible in other countries, like Morocco and Spain.”

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