Why is Paula Broadwell’s faith such a mystery?

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey noticed something weird about today’s stories about Paula Broadwell. They all refer to her faith but they don’t tell us what her faith is.

Above you see the example from CBS News, headlined:

Seeking “redemption” after Petraeus scandal, Paula Broadwell looks to faith

Reuters:

Paula Broadwell looks to faith to rebuild after Petraeus affair

And here’s CNN:

Petraeus’ mistress Broadwell: I’m looking forward with faith

All of the stories are based on an interview she gave to the local CBS affiliate in Charlotte. And it’s Broadwell who is oblique about the “faith-based” environment she’s referring to. She’s interviewed while attending a YWCA prayer breakfast, which could give a clue, but the YWCA is no longer necessarily Christian (as it’s original name, the Young Women’s Christian Association, would lead you to believe).

She mentions God and family and trying to find meaningful work, none of which narrows it down terribly much.

To be completely honest, I don’t even see the need for a story on Broadwell’s faith right now. But if you are going to do it, do it! The basic questions of journalism should be answered in a story on a given topic. Readers should not have to guess or surmise what the faith in question is … in a story about someone’s faith.

More than that, I’d like a bit more digging down on the particulars of a person’s faith. Once you find out which general religion we’re talking about, wouldn’t it be nice to learn a bit more about what, specifically, their religion is helping them with or what has been most challenging?

In light of the journalistic response to Chris Broussard’s comments on sin the other day, I’m wondering if the media have just completely dropped the ball on knowing how to talk about such religious concepts as sin and redemption. It’s clear they’re not handling the topics very maturely or very well. This is just the latest example.

“Was that wrong?” — New York Times and adultery

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The New Criterion is my favorite journal. I discovered the magazine when I was in college and have been a fan of the monthly ever since, reading the magazine cover to cover when it hits my doorstep. And ArmaVirumque, the New Criterion‘s blog, is a site I visit frequently.

I mention my views on this point, as the New Criterion‘s media critic, James Bowman, has published a post entitled “Medieval Barbarism — It Wasn’t All Bad” that captured much of what I wanted to say about a recent story in the New York Times on the topic of adultery.

The Times article of 15 Nov 2012 entitled “Adultery, an Ancient Crime That Remains on Many Books”  jumped out at me as a strong story for GetReligion. I was mulling over the approach I would take, trying to find the right literary or pop culture angle to open my critique, when I read James Bowman’s piece. And, my work was done, for I doubt anyone could have done a better job that Bowman on this story. I will add in my own GR hook further down in this story (to justify my post to GR’s editor), but lets start with the Times piece in question and Bowman’s response.

The New York Times story is a European-style advocacy piece. Though it appears on page A12 in the news section, it rightly belongs on the opinion pages as it is more of a lecture than reporting. I know what the Times‘ thinks about adultery after reading this article, but I did not learn much about adultery. (Perhaps I should take the Post or Daily News instead.)

It opens with:

When David H. Petraeus resigned as director of the C.I.A.because of adultery he was widely understood to be acknowledging a misdeed, not a crime. Yet in his state of residence, Virginia, as in 22 others, adultery remains a criminal act, a vestige of the way American law has anchored legitimate sexual activity within marriage.

In most of those states, including New York, adultery is a misdemeanor. But in others — Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — it is a felony, though rarely prosecuted. In the armed forces, it can be punished severely although usually in combination with a greater wrongdoing.

This is yet another example of American exceptionalism: in nearly the entire rest of the industrialized world, adultery is not covered by the criminal code.

Like other state laws related to sex — sodomy, fornication, rape — adultery laws extend back to the Old Testament, onetime capital offenses stemming at least partly from a concern about male property. Peter Nicolas of the University of Washington Law School says the term stemmed from the notion of “adulterating” or polluting the bloodline of a family when a married woman had sex with someone other than her husband and ran the risk of having another man’s child.

The article continues in this vein with four more law school professorial voices advancing the same line, speaking in censorious tones of the past and the enlightened future we face once the shackles of our repressed sexuality and repressive society are loosed. And then I read Bowman’s response. After he read this piece he:

immediately thought of the great “Seinfeld” episode of 1991 in which George Costanza is caught engaging in sexual relations with the cleaning woman on his desk. Called on the carpet for it, he says to his boss: “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I’ll tell you, I’ve got to plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon — because I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.” Jason Alexander, who played George, is supposed to have said that this is his favorite moment from the series and the defining one for his character. Twenty-one years later it’s still funny, too, …

In today’s Times, for example, the editors seemed to think in all seriousness that, in the wake of the Petraeus scandal, their readers are in need of an exploration of what people used to think was wrong with adultery in order to explain why, as “a vestige of the way American law has anchored legitimate sexual activity within marriage,” it is still illegal in 23 states. Basically, we find, this is because the stigma on adultery is a primitive relic of patriarchal societies having to do with the prevention of pollution (i.e. “adulteration”) of male blood lines. Melissa Murray, a professor of law at Berkeley, reports the Times, “said her research had led her to conclude that laws regulating sex emanated from a notion that sex should occur only within marriage.” Well I never. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Criminal law, she said, was there to reinforce marriage as the legal locus for sex. So any other circumstance — sex in public or with a member of the same sex, or adultery — was a violation of marriage. “Now we live in an age when sex is not limited to marriage and laws are slowly responding to that,” she said. “But we still love marriage. Nobody is going to say adultery is O.K.”

Bowman has it in one. (Do look into the New Criterion if you have not already done so — it is worth your time.)

This article is not a news article. It is the Times‘ midweek sermon — an episode of moral enrichment that will make us (the reader) better people for having read these sonorous solipsisms on sex. The Times writes as if only its voice and the voices of its acolytes are the only voices that speak on this issue. Other voices, other minds, other worlds, do not exist.

Let me step back a bit and ask where were the contrary voices? The way the article was framed it appeared nigh but impossible for any argument to exist other than that espoused by the author. Yet, there are quite a few moral philosophers, law school professors, even (heaven forefend) clergy, who would offer a contrary view about marriage, adultery and the law.

As journalism this article falls short. It is preachy, one-sided and self-righteous. It really isn’t journalism as it is understood in the classical liberal sense. It is an advocacy piece.

As I have said before in the pages of GetReligion there is nothing wrong with advocacy journalism — when a newspaper is honest about what it is doing. The Times, however, believes it is writing balanced, fair and full news stories. This article does not do that.

The decline and fall of King David Petraeus

Even by Friday night news dumps, this one was a doozie. David Petraeus resigned on Friday afternoon for reasons related to adultery. Which led Joyce Carol Oates to tweet:

Don’t understand why “adultery” is quasi-illlegal in a nation in which church & state are separate….

…..the ugly word “bastard” has been phased out of usage & next should come “adultery” with its Biblical rectitude & cruelty.

How we treat our spouses and how honest we are about our liaisons are interesting ethical discussions. I was intrigued by this New York Times piece about the self-destruction. It mentioned an interesting Biblical reference:

“P4,” as he was called for the four stars he earned, was viewed with respect — but often grudging respect. His celebrity brought positive attention to an all-volunteer force that at times struggled to meet recruitment numbers over a decade of grinding ground conflict. But that same publicity, and the fiercely ambitious man who pursued it, drew private criticism from some officers, who nicknamed him King David.

Biblical Echoes

As word of his resignation resounded across the Pentagon on Friday, more than one officer cited the biblical adultery of King David and Bathsheba.

I love the Biblical references if for no other reason than that when we report stories, people frequently use Biblical references that never make it into print. It’s hard to know how to put them in a story or what, in general, to do with them. But while I was happy to see the reference, I actually wish it would have been spelled out more.

We’ll see plenty more discussions about the ethical concerns related to Petraeus’ lack of rectitude (sorry, Ms. Oates). But I wish that the media were as interested in other aspects of CIA operations as the sex scandals (interesting though they may be).

I’ll take this opportunity to highlight this piece in The Economist about how Petraeus requested more drone capabilities in recent weeks. The article doesn’t shy away from the ethical issues, noting:

Because drones can loiter over potential targets for hours before firing their missiles, they are more discriminating than either fast jets or helicopter-borne special forces. Nor are their pilots put in harm’s way. Yet it is disturbingly unclear how many people the attacks have killed (some estimates suggest more than 3,000). The vast majority appear to have been militants, but some have been unlucky civilians. The distinction may also be blurring. New looser rules allow so-called “signature” attacks on unnamed fighters; that can easily mean any male of fighting age in an insurgent-held area…

But Kurt Volker, a former American official close to Senator John McCain, sees a bigger problem: drones have made killing too easy. In a recent article he asked: “What do we want to be as a nation? A country with a permanent kill list? A country where people go to the office, launch a few kill shots and get home in time for dinner? A country that instructs workers in high-tech operations centres to kill human beings on the far side of the planet because some government agency determined that those individuals are terrorists?” The debate over drones is only just starting.

It’s a start. Neither of the two presidential candidates seemed particularly interested in discussing ethical concerns of drone warfare during the campaign. The media frequently seem more interested in other topics as well. As the CIA moves toward increased drone killings, I wish the media would go ahead and ask some tough questions about their use.


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