The Guardian does not get Tim Scott

Amongst your GetReligion correspondents I was the last to board the twitter train. Now I knew about this micro-blogging tool and had heard of tumblr and instagram — and I even had a Facebook page. But I was slow to utilize these communication tools in my reporting. I cannot explain this reticence, for since I was a child I have been fascinated by these tools.

One of my memories of childhood was accompanying my father to his club in the city. I would wait for him in the smoking room where amidst the smell of strong cigars I would sit by the stock ticker and teletype machine and read the news as it came over the wire. I still remember the thrill of hearing the bell ring three times and the machine begin to chatter as it printed a breaking story.

Half a life time has passed since those days. Stock tickers, teletype and Telex machines are gone and I expect fax machines will soon pass away. Yet the thrill they gave me of instant access to a wider world I find in Twitter. This item from Byron York of National Review caught my eye.

York was tweeting the press conference where South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced that she was appointing Rep. Tim Scott to serve out the term of Sen. Jim DeMint. Approximately 45 minutes earlier I had read a breaking story from the Guardian on the news of the appointment.

Printed on the Guardian‘s website at 11:26 AM, the article entitled “Tim Scott appointed to fill Jim DeMint’s Senate seat for South Carolina” was a introduction of the new senator to Britain — the first African American Republican Senator in 30 years and the first from the old Confederacy since Reconstruction. The 700-word story was thorough. It reviewed his political career in Charleston and Congress, support from the Tea Party movement and speculated on his future prospects.

The Guardian also spoke to Scott’s personal story.

Some in the Republican party have drawn parallels between Scott and Barack Obama; his rise has been nurtured in recent years by the Republican party’s leadership, impressed by the carefully spoken and deeply conservative Charleston native, raised, like Obama, by a single mother. … Born in Charleston, Scott’s parents divorced when he was seven, and he attributes his belief in conservative values to his mother, a nurse.

“By the time I entered high school, I was completely off track. My mother was working hard, trying to help me to realize that there was a brighter future, but I really couldn’t see it,” Scott wrote in 2010 at the launch of his congressional campaign.

Then, he says, he had the good fortune to meet the owner of a Chick-fil-A fast food franchise next door to the movie theatre where he worked. “He taught me that if you want to receive, you have to first give. Embedded in that conversation, I came to realize, was the concept that my mother was teaching me about individual responsibility.”

The article closes with Scott’s decision not to join the Congressional Black Caucus.

Thanking the Democratic-dominated caucus for its invitation, Scott said: “My campaign was never about race.”

All in all this was nicely done, up to a point. It gives British readers some flavor of the newest American Senator and rising star of the Republican Party. Yet, the story is only half told of Tim Scott.

What role has faith played in Scott’s life? What were the values taught to him by his conservative mother? Should not the mention of Chick-fil-A have rung some bells in the Guardian reporter’s head? Taken in conjunction with Scott’s avowal of his Christian faith at the press conference, the absence of faith from the Guardian story about Tim Scott leaves the story half finished.

Now the article is not faith free. It mentions Scott’s work as a county commissioner in having the Ten Commandments publicly displayed outside the council chambers. But the Guardian describes this action as being a regional political affectation. And curiously it describes his appointment to the Senate seat in the lede of the article as a “remarkable turnaround”. Yet it also notes:

In 2012 he was elected unopposed, winning 99% of the vote, with policies mirroring those of his party in the South: deep opposition to tax increases, Obamacare, unions, abortion and immigration reform.

In what way was Scott’s appointment a turnaround? Winning reelection with 99 per cent of the vote speaks not to political misfortune. The bottom line with this article is that although it has most of the facts, it misses the story. The Guardian does not understand American politics as seen by its discussion of the Republican Party of the South and in the role faith plays in the life of Tim Scott (and for many Americans for that matter.) Not the best outing from the Guardian, I’m afraid.

Spies of the Balkans

The 98-year old leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has died.

I guess you weren’t prepared for that bit of excitement from GetReligion the morning after the election. As many of our readers are going through news withdrawal at this moment, I thought I would help ween them from their addiction with something nice, safe and far away: a drawing room media mystery to settle their minds and hearts.

Patriarch Maxim did have the good sense to die on 6 Nov 2012 when the world was watching the American presidential election. And to be fair, I suppose that if he had passed during the dog days of August — the silly season when news is so short on the ground that just about anything can become a major story (remember Chik-fil-A?) — his story still would not have set the hearts of journalists a flutter.

De mortius nil nisi bonum is the line being taken by the Bulgarian press. Reuters and the Associated Press have also decided that it is more fitting to say of the dead nothing but good. The Reuters man in Sophia (sounds like that is from a spy novel doesn’t it) begins his report with:

Patriarch Maxim, a conservative who led Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church for 41 years in times of Communist rule and democracy, died, the church said yesterday.

Followed by the text of the official announcement, the story gives a very brief biography and offers this as context:

Patriarch Maxim has kept a low public profile but was an influential figure with a controversial past. He oversaw a major religious revival in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communist rule. Dozens of new churches were built across the country and monasteries reopened.

And what was this controversial past? Reuters does not say. Maybe the AP can help. It reports the same basic facts but offers a bit more background:

After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.

So Maxim was “a Communist-appointed figurehead”, the AP reports. Yes, Maxim’s appointment was engineered by the Communist regime and following the fall of the “Evil Empire” anti-Communists sought to get rid of him. And even though Bulgarians are not Episcopalians, the ensuing battle led to a schism and lawsuits over church property.

The AP is mistaken when it reports the schism has been healed, though in 2010 Metropolitan Innokenty, the head of the rival synod which held the allegiance of a third of the country’s clergy was received by Maxim back into the “official” church. However the submission of Innokenty did not end the split. Here is a reference to a post-2010 article on the accidental death of one of the leading clergy of the Alternative Synod. If there are still rebel clergy in control of church property that is a clue the rupture has not been healed.

I am confident that at this point in our tale I have hooked the Bulgarian aficionados in our audience — the good people at Patheos have not yet told us how large a demographic this is for Get Religion though. Others might ask, “So what?”  But bear with me, all of this does play its part in solving the mystery.

The clue that has been left out — though broadly hinted at in the AP story — is the allegation that not only was Maxim a Communist-appointed figurehead, he was also considered by some of having been a spy. Twenty-two years after the fall of the Communist regime, the Bulgarian government opened the books from the Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS. What it found was that 11 of the 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were informers or agents of the 6th Directorate of the DS, which was tasked with combating political dissent.

The English-language Sofia Echo has written extensively about this scandal: the initial report, what the bishops did for the secret police, popular reaction, calls for the bishops to resign, actions to be taken by the church’s synod. It is also reported that not just the Orthodox bishops betrayed their people, the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Sophia and the present and former chief Mufti of Bulgaria were named as collaborators. Maxim was cleared by the committee investigation collaboration — to the surprise of the Alternative Synod — but suspicions remained of his guilt as his parts of his file appeared to have been mislaid.

While the canard that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi stooge continues to excite journalists — a real story of church leaders collaborating with evil was overlooked by Reuters and the AP in their report on the death of Maxim. Reuters even managed to lead with the descriptor that Maxim was a “conservative”. What can that mean in these circumstances.

After the news broke in January of the bishops’ ties to the secret police, Metropolitan Gavril of Lovech – one of the bishops not named as a collaborator — told the Sofia Echo the church was torn over how to respond to the revelations. “We cannot now think about asking for the resignations of 11 people. That is impossible. If it had been one, or two or three, that is another matter.  The Synod must remain united and these problems should be resolved in some way so as to benefit, but also on the other side, not to destroy, the church,” he said.

What Reuters and the AP seemed to have missed — apart from the disagreeable bits about Maxim’s past — is the fact that the death of the man who caused the schism may well end the schism.

The Bulgarians are not alone in avoiding scrutiny of church and state in the Communist era. Russia has yet to examine the Stalinist era. The Moscow Patriarchate — the official name for the Russian Orthodox Church — was set up on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1943 as a front organization for the NKVD and all of its senior positions were vetted by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, according to reports published in the U.K. following the defection of KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin  in 1991.

In two books written with intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, The KGB in Europe and the West and The KGB in the World, Mitrokhin claimed that Russian Orthodox priests were used as agents of influence on behalf of the KGB in organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the World Peace Council.  Patriarch Alexius II was also named as KGB agent with the codename DROZDOV, whose services earned him a citation from the regime.

TMatt has discussed this question in a number of posts. In his 2007 story “Mere candlestick holders in Moscow?” he wrote that in 1991 an anonymous priest in Moscow told him the post-Soviet Russian church had four kinds of leaders:

A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.

“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”

While the setting is Bulgaria and the characters are Orthodox clergy and secret policemen, the issues are of collaboration with evil and the battle for truth. Change the characters and the same story could be told of Vichy France, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and the Confessing Church in Germany, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House Church movement in China.

In French there is an expression très balkan: meaning hopelessly confused with the connotation of labyrinthine or byzantine machinations. It would be easy to dismiss this story as being a très balkan intrigue more worthy of an Eric Ambler novel than hard news. However the death of Maxim and the saga of the Orthodox Church raises profound questions of morality.

What is the journalist’s task in all of this? Is it too much to expect a discourse of the ethical and moral ghosts that lay behind a story on collaboration with evil — or is it enough to just report the events. How should society judge those who collaborated with evil or who were agents of evil?

Writing a puff piece: a how-to manual

Truth be told, in our bias for fair, accurate journalism, we at GetReligion probably focus too much on the negative.

We point out mistakes in mainstream reporting. We cry out for balance. We complain about the MSM bubble.

For once, I want to accentuate the positive. Therefore, please allow me to highlight a Seattle Times story this week as a perfect example of how to write a puff piece.

Before I begin, however, I must stress that reporters typically do not write their own headlines. In this case, the headline and deck might give the reader the mistaken impression that this will be an actual news story, not a puff piece (shame on the headline writer!):

In black churches, a gay-marriage divide

A source of debate across the country and the subject of ballot measures in four states this year, same-sex marriage remains a thorny issue within the African-American community, where objections are deeply rooted in religion and biblical teachings.

At this point, I must admit that I was worried. I feared that the story might subject me to actual intelligent voices on both sides seriously engaging the thorny issue and even providing insight (of a theological nature!) on the deeply rooted objections.

Whew! Imagine my relief when I realized that this would indeed be a puff piece.

Some key elements that make this puff piece work:

• The lede: Immediately, the Times takes readers to a gay-friendly church that stands as a stark contrast to the discriminatory black churches that — somehow in an enlightened age — still manage to claim the Bible condemns homosexuality:

Sounds of gospel music resonated through the sparse sanctuary on a recent Sunday afternoon as voices rose up in praise and a few hands sailed through the air.

Liberation United Church of Christ in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood is a small congregation with a style of Christian worship not unlike many charismatic black churches.

But its congregants, many of them African American, come here as much for the spiritual euphoria as for this: that as gays and lesbians, they have felt unwelcome and uncomfortable in the churches of their parents and grandparents.

That’s particularly relevant in a year when questions about whether gays should be allowed to marry will appear on the November ballot in four states, including Washington.

The sourcing: The Times quotes eight sources by name, by my quick count. Fortunately, six of them support same-sex marriage and contribute mightily to the puff piece. But even the two sources who oppose same-sex marriage serve a purpose, providing caricatures with real names to highlight the lunacy of the other side:

Within the community, there are unspoken concerns, particularly among older people, that to accept gays as victims of discrimination somehow diminishes the discrimination blacks have endured.

Some have even said that given the challenges in the black community — from education to health care — marriage for gays cannot be a priority, despite a significant number of African Americans in same-sex relationships.

But ultimately for many, the Bible is the final arbiter.

“People have a hard time advocating for something that is biblically wrong,” said André Sims, senior pastor of Christ the King Bible Fellowship in Federal Way, who has participated in recent rallies in favor of traditional marriage.

“Same-gender relations are wrong because of what God said about them.”

Notice the way the story makes a lot of broad generalizations about the other side without attributing the information to a named source? That’s a brilliant tool for a puff piece. But then the story quotes a single pastor as the sole representative of the “many conservative leaders — including some black pastors” opposed to same-sex marriage. Again, brilliant.

• The marginalization: Make it crystal clear which point of view is on the right side of history and public opinion. (Hint: Don’t dare let on that a state referendum on legalizing same-sex marriage has never passed in the United States or that polls show support for the Washington state measure under 50 percent.) The proper way to write it:

While national polls now show majority support for gay marriage in the general population and among other racial and ethnic groups, support among black people remains under 50 percent — despite a bump after endorsements by President Obama and the NAACP.

Recently, black pastors in parts of the South and Midwest have encouraged voters to sit out the election or to consider not supporting Obama because of his position.

In Atlanta, Alveda King, a niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s, said she would never suggest that people not vote. But she said she and some pastors are so disturbed by Obama’s endorsement they’ve formed an organization, GodSaid.org, to urge black Americans to vote their “biblical values” rather than a party line.

At this point, we’re roughly two-thirds of the way through the story. The writer has allowed token appearances by the other side. But the entire rest of the story — the final one-third — needs to provide positive, compelling anecdotes and quotes to support the need for same-sex marriage. Bingo, the Times is up to the challenge! This is such a terrific puff piece — leads with the side that’s right, ends with the side that’s right and sprinkles the side that’s wrong in the middle, but just a little bit!

All in all, I don’t think anyone could ask for a better puff piece.

Seattle skyline image via Shutterstock

Pod people: saying goodbye

Friends of GetReligion, it is time for me to tip my hat and say farewell. It’s been a good ride, three years of working with excellent colleagues.

I’ll give one final post with some reflections, but first, in my last podcast, I tried to address a few posts that have encapsulated some of the issues GetReligion regularly addresses. Ultimately, we hope to help reporters understand better how to cover the religion beat, a challenging beat for reporters to cover.

Recently, we considered how the religion beat is changing, looking at what’s new that we didn’t have a few years ago. Here’s a hint: we’re all recovering from this great recession and we have this thing called Twitter on the scene. Combine those and you have a few dead religion blogs, reporters moving in and off the beat faster than many people can remember in recent years.

We also have often discussed what religion ghosts look like, stories that should include religion but they don’t. I made a few assumptions when watching London’s opening ceremonies, for instance, filtering religion through my own set of beliefs. Religion is truly everywhere, so sometimes it’s worth getting over yourself and admitting you don’t know the answer. Then you go to a religion scholar and ask some basic questions. Or you crowd source and ask Twitter for help. There are more ways of reporting when we get creative.

Remember this summer when everyone was getting all hot and bothered over Chick-fil-A? The stories were perfect for social media, so what do you do when you have a really hot story the internet loves? I say, maybe you should give it a little bait and then quickly ignore it. Truly, the internet honors stupid stories. Additionally we see seen time and time again reporters who show biases, undercutting their own objectivity.

Because my husband is a sports reporter, I regularly make comparisons between the religion beat and the sports beat. Think about it. There are passionate fans in both beats, people who will spend a lot of money in both areas. So why, then, do sports reporters often ignore an athlete’s faith? I’ve made the case time and time again that sports reporters expect the faith narrative and think it’s cliche. But reporters who ignore the glaring religion angle, as some did with the story on Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, do a disservice to their readers. So how do they keep it fresh? Examine the Grantland piece on athlete Mo Isom for ideas.

There are always ways to tell stories about religion in fresh and interesting ways. Just ask the religious leaders who give sermons every week. And enjoy the podcast.

Imagine this: Another unbalanced Post LGBT piece

Oh well, here we go again. I realize, at this point, that I am severely testing the patience of the many GetReligion readers who are convinced that our elite media have little or no interest in balance and fairness when it comes to covering the hot-button issues that severely divide our nation, yet trigger severe group-think in so many newsrooms.

So, to set the stage for this latest bias case study, let’s try to imagine the following fictional scenario.

It’s late January, 2013, and — in a bizarre turnaround in political affairs — President Mitt Romney is naming the key members of his administration.

As director of the often overlooked, strategically crucial, Office of Personnel Management the Republican president repays a crucial debt and appoints a conservative evangelical activist, someone best known for his work with, oh, Focus on the Family or the National Organization for Marriage.

So, The Washington Post eventually decides to run a profile of this social activist turned government executive and, over the course of this 1,700-word text, focuses almost completely on the voices of people who think this appointment is perfectly normal, or even a giant step forward in American life.

Where are the culturally and politically liberal critics of this appointment, the people who believe that their stunned and furious voices should be heard in this piece? Where are the liberal voices offering balance in this piece of advocacy journalism? Well, they are nowhere to be found, in this pretend Post piece. In fact, the only voices critical of this activist come from those who are even further out on the political and cultural right.

Can you imagine this happening? Me neither.

Now, with this in mind, read through the recent Post story that ran under the headline, “John Berry, head of OPM and openly gay, helps Obama reach out to LGBT community.”

Who are the informed, critical, conservative voices quoted in this piece? Come back when you’re done with this quick reading assignment.

So, did you spot any? Instead, readers are given paragraph after paragraph of hagiography that sounds like this:

On that summer evening, the unassuming but effervescent bureaucrat gave a passionate recitation of the president’s record on gay rights and a pledge that a second term would bring full equality. And threaded through those remarks was Berry’s personal story. It’s a tale of humanity that has resonated so widely that he’s become a quiet figurehead, not so much fighting a full-throated battle for gay rights as embodying a philosophical shift: Gay relationships, Berry suggests with his presence, are normal, humane, right. An openly gay man can run a federal agency. He’s accepted by conservative veterans.

Berry told the donors in Rehoboth how he made the risky decision at 25 to come out to his devout Catholic parents, his terror that they and God would reject him, his Marine father’s painful decision to ban Berry’s partner from the family’s Rockville home for Sunday dinners. And redemption: When the partner, Tom, was dying of AIDS in 1996, the elder Berry held him in his arms and told him he loved him as a son.

There are, however, critical voices. They sound like this:

Speaking in July to gay Latinos gathered in Las Vegas, Berry chose his words carefully, promising that the president still is committed to crossing the next big hurdle to gay equality: workplace discrimination.

“We have not taken it off the table,” he assured activists at the National Council of La Raza’s annual convention. But he would not commit to a date when Obama would sign an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors, leaving impatient activists to wonder if the White House is serious about the pledge Obama made during his first presidential campaign.

Weeks before, Berry had told activists the president would not sign the executive order until after the November election.

“He defended the decision,” said Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, who was at the White House when the activists learned the news. “It shows the tension and challenge of being on the inside of an administration.”

This dual role has left some activists wondering whether Berry is their best representative. The same skepticism came up over the Defense of Marriage Act, which the administration initially defended. Berry had to fall in line.

See the balance? On one side, in this report, are those who cheer him. On the other side are those in the LGBT community who think he has not pushed hard enough for the changes they seek.

Would a Post piece about a conservative activist be constructed in this manner? Of course not. It would — and properly so — include the voices of representative LGBT leaders and other progressives. That’s journalism. So what, precisely, in journalistic terms, should this Post feature be called?

Paper of record or church bulletin of the left?

The New York Times‘ outgoing public editor — Arthur S. Brisbane — wrote his final column this weekend. Most of it is outside the purview of this blog, which is discussion of media coverage of religion news. He talks a lot about how the Times has streamlined and responded to social media. But part of it was interesting enough to some readers to send it in for discussion. Here it is:

I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.

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.

It is to the New York Times’ credit that it publishes critiques such as this.

You’ll recall former public editor Daniel Okrent’s column headlined “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?”  The first line of that piece was “Of course it is.” It went on to mock anyone who thought the paper “plays it down the middle” on the issues of “gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others.” Okrent said the newspaper’s coverage of same-sex marriage resembled “cheerleading.”

One of the things I find most astute is how Brisbane notes that it’s easier to see the homogenous thinking on display across the paper’s many departments from the outside. Almost as if to prove his point, Times‘ executive editor Jill Abramson said to Politico in response to the column:

“In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane’s sweeping conclusions,” Abramson told POLITICO Saturday night.

It’s interesting to read through some of the comments from readers, too. Ron from New York City says, “I’m all for gay marriage. But the obsession of The Times with gay marriage and all gay issues is beyond bizarre.” Dave from Texas writes “Groupthink can be a very dangerous thing. So many at the Times think the same way that they literally cannot comprehend how any thinking person could hold an opposing viewpoint. Sadly that inability is costing the Times tens of millions of dollars a year because their thinking is so one-sided that half, yes half, their potential customers refuse to buy their product.”

Media critics also responded to the piece. Jay Rosen says “Look: The New York Times would be better off if everyone knew where it was coming from.” National Review’s Jay Nordlinger agrees, saying that the Times must abandon “the fiction that ‘We’re just reporting the news here.’” The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple avoids the more interesting charges about same-sex marriage to criticize the public editor for failing to document bias covering Occupy Wall Street.

As for me, I’ll only say that I think that the type of bias that the New York Times displays when it advocates for same-sex marriage is hurting our ability to be civil with each other. Even before the politically motivated shooting at the Family Research Center, I wrote about my concern that unbalanced and inaccurate media treatment of same-sex marriage battles was harmful to civil society. I mentioned a few recent incidents — the reporter going off on a Chick-fil-A-related Facebook tirade, the same-sex marriage proponent losing his job after bullying a remarkably composed young Chick-fil-A drive-thru worker, a lesbian who said watching lines at Chick-fil-A made her feel like there were boots on her chest.

All of these stories made me sad, for one reason or another. Obviously something in civil society had broken down. As I wrote then:

If it is true that believing marriage is the conjugal union of one man and one wife is bigoted, the equivalent to the most vile racists of the past centuries, then it makes sense to react in the way the reporter, the recently fired corporate executive and the lesbian passer-by did.

If the idea that marriage is the conjugal union of man and wife is bigotry — and the mainstream media and the cultural elite have pounded this view non-stop for years (here’s the latest example of the accompanying holier-than-thou pietism with which the view is pushed) — then you should respond by tormenting drive-thru workers who are part of the bigotry-industrial complex. You should speak ill of people who hold this view on Facebook. Often! You should feel like eating a chicken sandwich was about people putting their boot on your chest.

The thing is, though, that it’s not…

When I first began covering this issue — back when California was deciding Prop. 8 — I was shocked to learn that what the media had told me was wrong. When I interviewed people who supported Prop. 8, I found that they were eminently calm and reasonable. Their arguments did take a while to learn, but they were able to be learned.

These people explained why marriage law exists and what it is designed to protect. They explained why they viewed a change to those laws as seriously misguided. They pointed out some of the logical conclusions to changing the definition of marriage.

Now, you may agree or disagree with what they have to say (and to learn more about what they say, I think this paper is easy to read and digest), but it’s not bigotry. And it is a scurrilous indefensible charge to say otherwise.

If our country is to work through these debates about what marriage is and what it should be, we simply must devote ourselves to listening to arguments and thinking things through. It is impossible to do that when we dismiss supporters of traditional marriage as bigots.

Even more than the reflexive cheerleading for same-sex marriage that Brisbane refers to, it is the media’s demonization of those who retain a traditional definition of marriage that concerns me. I am in no way blaming the media for recent violent attacks against people or businesses. Only the people who assault employees or their buildings are responsible for their actions. It’s just past time to start talking about what marriage is without charging people with bigotry. Some people believe that marriage is the conjugal union of a man and woman who make permanent and exclusive commitment to each other, based on their gender differences and built around conjugal acts — those acts that naturally lead to reproduction and unite them as a reproductive unit. Other people believe that marriage is the union of two (or some might say more) people of any sex who commit to romantically love and care for each other and share domestic burdens. These are different definitions that have consequences that are far-reaching.

We probably haven’t even touched the surface of what those consequences might be. And we will never be able to think these things through rationally and calmly if we denounce one or the other view as unfit for public discussion. Heck, I’d say that most media outlets haven’t even begun for a moment to think about any consequences for changing this definition — apart from what you read about in terms of particular people who would be affected by the change.

This is one of the wonderful things about a mainstream press. It can help promote civil discourse, rational thinking and an improved society (I thought this recent debate led by a New York Times religion columnist was a good step in the right direction). When the paper of record becomes a particularly virulent propaganda arm for one side in the culture war, those things don’t happen — and I hope we can agree no matter which side we take on hot-button cultural issues.

(For what it’s worth, I stole the headline from one of the commenters to the public editor’s last column.)

Todd Akin interviewer denies blunt attack on Christianity

The most important story this week — do the math — has been the reaction to Rep. Todd Akin’s comments to an interviewer about what he called “legitimate rape.” While people have focused on Akin, it might be worth taking a closer look at the reporter who asked Akin the question about abortion and rape. It came during an appearance on The Jaco Report, hosted by veteran journalist Charles Jaco.

Yesterday I asked why reporters always ask consistent pro-life politicians about rape exceptions but never ask consistent pro-choice politicians about why they support abortion being legal moments before birth, or just because the child happens to be female, or because the child has Down syndrome.

I don’t know if Jaco has asked — or will be asking — Akin’s Senate race opponent Sen. Claire McCaskill good and tough abortion questions, but several days ago I was forwarded an email exchange a viewer says she had with him that gave me pause about his ability to impartially cover hot-button topics such as these.

The viewer was complaining about inaccurate statements that Jaco had made in an aimless commentary against Chick-fil-A. Here’s the note Sally Dooling sent to Jaco via an online form:

Name: George and Sally Dooling
Email: [redacted]

I do not have a question for Mr. Jaco–I have a comment.  The next time you want to quote the Bible in your commentary, I suggest you get your information correct.  I saw your very hateful comment on Chick-fil-A this afternoon and and you said that the Bible says that women are subservient to men.  The bible says no such thing.  It says that the wife is to be submissive to her husband and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church.

The owner made a statement of his personal beliefs and said nothing about gay marriage or homosexuals.  He stated that he believes in the biblical meaning of marriage and said nothing demeaning about gay people.  The hate speech  that has been directed at him is just terrible and you add to that with your comment.

It’s a sad day in the U.S when someone can’t state their beliefs and sadly it happens all the time to Christians.

Phone: [redacted]

Time: Thursday August 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm
IP Address: [redacted]
Contact Form URL: http://fox2now.com/2012/02/07/contact-the-jaco-report/
Sent by an unverified visitor to your site.

Jaco didn’t respond to her complaint about his inaccurate statement about what the Bible says but he did respond with this:

This was NOT the man’s personal opinion. As a corporation, Chik Fil A has given over $5 million to anti gay rights groups. So what’s your problem? Sent from my Droid Charge on Verizon 4GLTE

The viewer responded:

What is YOUR problem–as a corporation why can’t they give some of their profits to whomever they want.  Corporations give money to different organizations every day without all the uproar.  You did not address the biblical part of my comment. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, as you are entitled to yours and so is Mr. Cathy. We have gay friends and we are not anti-gay, but the strong arm of the gay movement always talks about “TOLERANCE”, but they sure don’t practice what they preach.  Whenever someone disagrees with their agenda, that someone is called intolerant. I think they should practice what they preach.

Have a blessed day Mr. Jaco–I love a good debate. God bless you and your family.

Jaco then more or less lost it. He mixed some, at best, Sam Harris/Dan Savage-level Biblical exegesis with some garden variety bigotry and came up with this:

Since you choose to live as what Thomas Jefferson called, “…a prisoner of superstition,” I don’t imagine there’s much I can do to sway your belief in Bronze Age folk tales as some sort of direct communique from the creator.

I would expect you call yourself a Christian, which is amusing, given that the man you worship had a lot to say about tolerance, and not one word to say about homosexuals. Your bible is loaded with all sorts of admonitions on how to live one’s life. It’s your choice if you want to cherry-pick the bits that condemn men laying with men, and ignore the parts that say you shouldn’t consume swine, or shellfish, or that the woman should be subservient to the man. How does that sort of cafeteria religiosity work, anyway, where you can create a political movement against gay marriage with some quotes, and ignore the rest? As I recall parts of the bible, large chunks also defend slavery.

Gay marriage certainly doesn’t affect the sanctity of my marriage. I’m sorry if it somehow devalues yours. I’m even sorrier that you base your fear of it on something written by zealots half a world away 3,200 years ago.

Charles Jaco

What the what? “Prisoner of superstition” … “Bronze Age folk tales” … “direct communique from the creator” … “you base your fear” … “something written by zealots half a world away 3,200 years ago”? What in the world is this guy doing in the journalism business? And why do journalists not know that this is unprofessional behavior? I can’t be alone in thinking that this incivility — and refusal to admit error or correct an error — reflects poorly on our profession. We should always aim to treat our viewers/listeners/readers with respect.

I get that these types of bigoted views are sadly common among people who are in the media. It’s hard to ignore that those views make their way into decisions of how to cover the news, what questions to ask, how to frame the issues of the day, etc. But this is not a helpful way for journalists to respond to their listeners, readers or viewers. It certainly goes far to hurting trust between the media producers and consumers.

And if I were his employer, I’d think about whether he’s best suited to be interviewing religious conservatives, given his stated bias against them.

For his part, I emailed Jaco to confirm and he* wrote back to say he didn’t send the email that comes from his e-mail address and uses his name. He suggests that someone else in his newsroom is pretending to be him, although he doesn’t indicate knowledge of who that might be. I’ll go ahead and quote his response here:

I did not send the attached communication. The computers in the newsroom are public, and if we log on to our email and fail to log off, are accessable to anyone.

I don’t know if that includes the note that says it was sent from the Droid or just the one that I sent him for confirmation that included the sign-off “Charles Jaco,” but there you go.

*or someone using his email account, I guess.