Your Saturday PBS fun link

On Tuesday, my friend George Neumayr, executive editor of The American Spectator, was a talking head on NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. The subject: funding for PBS and NPR. Neumayr argued a) that the publicly-funded stations are dripping with liberal bias; and b) that Congress should discontinue the subsidy. The letters continue to pour in to the Spectator. For George-Neumayr-go-to-hell letters, look here. Anti-PBS (and PBS viewers) letters here. Neumayr breaks out the f word here. Outraged Media Matters coverage here. Picture of a woodpecker here.

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Nicolosi and the Times, round III

windowAnd now it is time for another episode of Barbara Nicolosi and James the New York Times reporter. Barbara is the leader of the Act One screenwriting workshops in Hollywood and one of the most witty, at times even snarky, former nuns one would ever want to meet. “Snarky” can be a good thing, right?

If you want to catch up on the arc of this mini-drama, the previous acts and a lot of related links, click here. As I said before, Nicolosi is posting her side of her recent telephone encounters with a Times reporter who is writing a story on born-again right-wingers who have an evil plan to take over Hollywood, or something like that.

Barbara, you see, is not fitting into the mold that exists in the reporter’s mindset. She is not playing along.

I think more people involved in complicated, tense journalistic encounters in the blog age might want to try this approach. Let a million transcripts bloom. In the past, I have urged people I interview — if they are worried about being quoted fairly — to use a tape recorder. Then I have a tape and they have a tape. That’s fair, right?

Anyway, let’s get to the latest installment in this series, which is unfolding at Nicolosi’s blog, Church of the Masses.

So, I got a call today from my new friend, James, the NY Times reporter who has been working on the story to unmask the secret scary vast conspiracy to funnel money from rightwing political covert ops into Christian ministries in Hollywood. He was calling to say the piece he interviewed me for is running in this Sunday’s Times — the front page of the lifestyle section. It was very nice of him to call. . . .

James: I hope you’ll be okay with this. In my article, I referred to you as “a Catholic activist.”

Barb: Forgive me, but what the heck is a Catholic activist?

James: (laughing nervously) Well, you know, somebody who is really into organizing Catholic things.

Barb: But, I don’t organize Catholic things. I am the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit –

James: Yeah. Yeah . . . I know . . . but I had to call you something.

Barb: You could have called me the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit organization.

James: Yeah. Well . . . [cough]

Let’s all watch for that story in the Sunday edition of the Times. In a perverse sort of way, I hope that it ends up being pretty good — meaning that the facts are right and there is some balance to it. Hey, it could happen.

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Bizarre Newsweek labor ghost

So you are rolling through the Newsweek story on tensions in American labor and how they may hurt the Democratic Party and then you hit this ghost — which is left unexplained by Howard Fineman, of all people. Boooo! There is, you see, a showdown looming between “Change to Win” coalition leader Andy Stern and AFL president John Sweeney. It’s complicated, so check out the story. But here is the part that spooked me:

Some say [Stern] has another agenda, which is to take over the AFL-CIO from his former SEIU colleague Sweeney, who is half a generation older and cut from a different cloth: a Dorothy Day social activist from the working-class Bronx, N.Y., versus Stern, whose grandparents were members of an exclusive German-Jewish country club and who is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

OK, so it’s a class reference. But you can’t help but note the Catholic Worker tag on one side and the “German-Jewish” label on the other. Say what precisely is being said here?

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Another win for vague “fundamentalism”

I have been mulling over a Los Angeles Times story about Iran for several days. I get stuck on something like this every now and then. I used to work on a copy desk.

Once again, I am upset about that troublesome word “fundamentalist” being used in a way that leaves it totally undefined. Here, for example, is the headline for the online version of reporter John Daniszewski’s report from Tehran: “Iran’s Runner-Up Puts Fundamentalists in Race.”

Then we have the first two paragraphs.

TEHRAN — From his childhood as the impoverished son of a blacksmith, to his youth as a student activist against the shah of Iran, to his manhood as a soldier fighting in Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had a fierce attachment to Islam and to the teachings of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Now the 48-year-old appointed mayor of Tehran appears to have the backing of much of the military, fundamentalists and loyalists of the country’s supreme leader in a runoff election Friday with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. If Ahmadinejad wins, it would be seen as a victory for the most fundamentalist wing of Iranian politics and a devastating setback for reformers.

Forget the outcome of the election for a minute or other recent developments. Just focus on the words. It would appear that “reformers” is the doctrinal word that is the mirror image of “fundamentalists.” Yet “fundamentalist” is defined, by context, as someone with a “fierce attachment to Islam.”

What am I missing? So, essentially, anyone who is unusually devoted to Islam is a “fundamentalist” and some who is not all that devoted is a “reformer”? So the word “fundamentalist” is bad, since it is against reform. Reform is good, since it involves a lack of strong belief in the historic doctrines of a particular faith?

“Fundamentalist” Catholic vs. “reform” Catholic? “Fundamentalist” Protestant vs. “reform” Protestant? “Fundamentalist” Anglicans vs. “reform” Episcopalians? This has all kinds of implications, doesn’t it?

So the goal of American policy — or at least the reporters covering it — is to prevent the rise of “fundamentalists” in the Islamic world and to encourage the “reformers” who are not as devout? What do Islamic religious leaders think of that? Maybe we don’t want to know the answer to that question.

Meanwhile, let us again meditate on these fading words in The Associated Press Stylebook:

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

UPDATE: Election results are in. He won.

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Doing that left-right MSM thing

Those on the left view MSM as mainly conservative. See mediamatters.org.

Posted by wildwest at 11:01 am on June 23, 2005

MSM = corporate owned, lilly-livered, roll over and don’t make waves, sensationalist, full of schmuck reporters standing around in the cold and dark in front of the “scene of the incident” live at 11 pm HOURS after the incident is over and cleaned up and everyone has gone home, site of the pained look of consternation (or constipation, take your pick) while reading grammatically questionable sentence construction about the latest celebrity falderal, really only useful for lining bird cages (print edition).

Posted by Molly at 2:54 pm on June 23, 2005

Clever, but wrong. She describes media in general. All media succumb to the sensational, etc. The MSM manage to do all this and remain utterly unaware of their extremist left-wing bias. Quite talented, really, to juggle both.

Posted by Stephen A. at 9:57 pm on June 23, 2005

Well now.

Let’s pause for a moment for a brief worldview statement about GetReligion, even though I know that can’t speak for my non-Borg partners. This Indianapolis Star bias case is the kind of thing I hear about all the time, since most of my speaking engagements are linked to issues of religion and journalism.

I wonder, is there anyone else out there in the blogosphere/academia/news biz who has, on the within-reach bookshelf above his or her desk, a copy of Ben Bagdikian’s classic The Media Monopoly sitting right next to a copy of Marvin Olasky’s Prodigal Press?

The first is a touchstone book for the left and the latter plays the same role for the right.

Both books argue that the basic structures of journalism are biased. And both of them, I believe, are right. The problem is that these books are focusing on totally different issues, when it comes to media bias.

Bagdikian is a classic political progressive — old school. He is right that the corporate media of our day tend toward a brand of economic conservatism, especially on issues that are close to home. It is hard to get more conservative than a newspaper within shouting range of a military base that is about to be shut down. If corporations are conservative, then we live in an increasingly conservative age in journalism. Your basic one-newspaper-city newspaper is not going to be “liberal” when it comes to groups that attack the economic status quo.

The enemy is Gannett, with all of its top-down corporate culture.

Olasky is a religious, social-issues conservative. He is primarily interested in issues of faith, morality and public culture. He is a political conservative, but he bleeds on media-bias issues linked to abortion, sexuality, religious liberty, etc.

The enemy is, well, Gannett, with all of its top-down, rules-based liberalism on social issues.

Bagdikian has lots and lots of facts on his side when it comes to labor issues, economics, etc. Olasky has lots of facts on his side when it comes to social issues and religion.

In other words, the heart of the MSM is a kind of moral Libertarianism. It’s kind of Clintonian economics and morality. Leave us alone and let us make lots of money. It’s a Hollywood conservatism. It’s a corporate thing. It’s a moderate Republican thing, the brand of faith that dominates business elites.

The problem is that our age is dominated by the politics of social issues. When the first non-conservative seat on the U.S. Supreme Court bench goes open, do you expect hotter-than-hot arguments over economics or morality? Foreign policy or religion?

Do the same dynamics affect the journalism wars? Absolutely. We should expect the Indianapolis Star case to boil down to corporate leaders clashing with the morally conservative beliefs of individuals. You can read all about it in Olasky and Bagdikian.

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Another victory for Anglican nuance

Gene Robinson, the bishop of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of New Hampshire, said at his consecration that the church could not buy the sort of publicity that his election and approval had attracted.

One could say the same of how Jill Lawless of The Associated Press summed up one decision of the Anglican Counsultative Council, which met this week in Nottingham, England:

The Anglican Communion rejected Wednesday an attempt by traditionalists to punish the Canadian and U.S. wings of the church for their stand on homosexuality, watering down a resolution that called for the North Americans to be suspended from all church bodies.

Clergy including Archbishop Peter Akinola, head of the 17.5-million-member Church of Nigeria, submitted a resolution to the influential Anglican Consultative Council requesting “that the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) and the Anglican Church of Canada withdraw their members from all other official entities of the Communion” for three years.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 30-28, with a key change — “all other official entities of the Communion” was replaced with a reference to the council’s “standing committee and the inter-Anglican finance and administration committee.”

The Episcopal Church’s own Episcopal News Service did not place such an optimistic interpretation on the ACC’s vote. Likewise, Solange De Santis of Anglican Journal — the national newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada — described the ACC as narrowly supporting censure of the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) and the Canadian church.

It’s also worth comparing the AP article with coverage by Ruth Gledhill of the Times, this BBC story and this interview on BBC Radio.

As with any other meeting of Anglicans — from the Lambeth Conference to the regular meetings of Anglican primates — there is enough ambiguity in the ACC’s votes that both sides can claim victory and go home. It’s a rare thing, though, for an AP reporter to claim victory for one side in such strong language.

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You say Namaste, I say yoga-blessing-thank-you hands

KerryBowsToward the end of the 2004 presidential election, I grew more curious about John Kerry’s habit of clasping his hands together and bowing to his audience. I’d seen the gesture before, mostly among Episcopal women who would say “Namaste” (which, they said, means “The God [or god] in me bows to the God in you”).

I asked GetReligion FOB Gary Gach, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism, if he saw potential for a post on any spiritual content behind the gesture. Gach pointed me to this entry on page 156 of his book:

Two basic gestures practitioners use are in bowing and in meditation. Bowing is a meditation, in and of itself, and can be done just by joining palms, a universal gesture of spirit. There’s a famous etching by Albrecht Dürer of two hands praying, as if by themselves. In the East, putting palms and fingers together is a gesture of spiritual greeting, instead of shaking hands. In India and Thailand, you put your palms together at your chest and raise them to your forehead, often followed by a bow, still in that position — eyes and joined hands going outward and down to a spot on the ground equidistant between the greeter and the greeted. A bow can also be a quarter-inch. However done, bow or no bow, “palms-joined” says “The Buddha within me salutes the Buddha within you” (no dualism). “Have a nice day.”

On Wednesday’s edition of Fresh Air, Terry Gross found a humorous pop-culture description of the West’s truncated Namaste greeting. Speaking with Lisa Kudrow and writer Michael Patrick King of the new HBO series The Comeback, Gross remarked on how often Kudrow’s character, former celebrity Valerie Cherish, will bow to a TV crew or director as an assertion of power she doesn’t truly have.

Kudrow: The first thing that always came to mind with her, she’s like that bad old-time ad guy, that if you sell it and you sell it well enough, they’ll believe it, even if there’s absolutely no substance there to support what you’re trying to sell. That’s one thing that I was hoping would be really obvious, that she’s just a little bit over the top with her very assertive demand respect. It only comes up — she doesn’t address it when she’s actually getting pummeled.

King: I also wanted to mention something, Terry, about the hands. You were talking about her bowing all the time, earlier. We call those the yoga-blessing-thank-you hands. We laugh so hard, because that also is a little bit of a virus that’s running rampant in the actress community. Now you’ll start seeing it a lot. A lot of actresses do the yoga-blessing-thank-you hands — to interviewers, to people bringing them their lattes. Suddenly the hands come up. I’ve had actresses do it to me . . . when I say, “That was a really good scene,” they go — here come the hands — “No, you. No, it’s about you.” But it’s never about you. It’s about you saying “It’s about you.” So what we liked about the yoga-blessing-thank-you hands was that it was accurate and goofy. She’ll try to squeeze them in as she’s going out the door. Sometimes you’ll see just the tips of the hands as the door closes.

Kudrow: It’s a phony gesture of grace.

King: Yes! And centered spirituality, which she wouldn’t even know how to spell!

Each time King refers to yoga-blessing-thank-you hands, Gross lets loose with her wonderful chuckle. The segment on yoga-blessing-thank-you hands begins at about 21 minutes in, but the entire 31-minute interview is worth a listen.

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GetReligion gets results

Well, it looks like my gentle prodding about Romania has paid off in the form of a new Matt Welch column. Welch (pictured) begins:

If Romania didn’t exist, Ananova.com would have to invent it. Seems not a week goes by without another freakshow headline from the land of Vlad the Impaler — 66-year-old Woman Gives Birth, Driver Fined for Having ‘Face Like a Moron,’ and this weekend, Murder Charge for Nun-Crucifying Romanian Priest.

On behalf of my Romanian friends, all of whom are much smarter and more sophisticated than me, I’d like to report that their homeland is not an easy place to find quotes like, “They took out his heart, burnt it and drank the ashes in a glass of water.” But I’d be lying.

A year ago, I spent a weekend in a small subsistence-farming village in southern Romania near the Danube, and heard that exact same heart-gobbling story told by several different people about separate incidents, though if memory serves it was tea and not water that washed down the blood-organ of the dearly departed. An energetic local Orthodox priest, one of the best commie-haters I’ve ever met, explained and demonstrated in detail how his parishioners cling to the spooky pre-Christian superstitions of their ancestors, who have lived in the fertile Oltenia region for something like 6,000 consecutive years.

“Ask any priest in this region, and he’ll tell you he knows these things are going on,” he said. “I know it sounds like a bad B movie, but it’s a pagan ritual that happens several times a year . . . Before the dead is put in the coffin, his relatives insert a needle above his bellybutton to prevent him from becoming a strigoi. But if he is already buried, they have to dig up his grave in the middle of the night. The family drinks a lot before opening the coffin!”

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