Politico’s long-but-shallow exposé on Hobby Lobby family

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Cue the dramatic music.

Politico has a breathless, 2,200-word profile of the Greens — the Hobby Lobby family — out this week with this sensational headline:

Hobby Lobby aims for Obamacare win, Christian nation

Stop the presses!

In one sense, it’s a long piece seemingly designed to expose the Greens’ desire to promote the Bible as truth. At the same time — despite its length — the report ends up feeling rather shallow in the true depth it provides.

Like a child playing with a water gun on a hot summer day, Politico attempts to cover a lot of territory. But nothing really seems to stick in this game of journalistic hopscotch.

Let’s start at the top (and don’t bother looking for any named sources up high):

The evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby made a fortune selling crafts supplies and made headlines fighting government-mandated birth control coverage. They’re also using their billions to sell the American public on the literal truth of Scripture — through a public school Bible curriculum, a huge museum around the corner from the Smithsonian and public forums on the faith of the Founding Fathers.

The Green family may be best known in secular circles for their lawsuit against Obamacare, a high-stakes — and highly political — case that could undercut the administration’s goal of setting minimum standards for health care coverage. By the end of this month, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal government can force the Greens to include methods of contraception they deem sinful as part of employees’ health insurance.

The pending Hobby Lobby ruling has thrust the Greens into the national spotlight, but the family’s mission is far bigger than a single court case. The Greens are spending hundreds of millions on a quiet but audacious bid to teach a wayward nation to trust, cherish — and heed — the Bible.

They’re building a huge museum dedicated to the Bible a few blocks from the Mall in Washington , with as much public space as the National Museum of American History. They’ve financed a lavish traveling exhibit as well, complete with a re-created Holy Land cave, a “Noah’s Ark experience” for kids and animatronic characters such as William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for daring to translate the New Testament into English.

The Greens are sponsoring scholarly study of the Bible and hosting forums such as a recent panel on faith’s role in shaping early America, which they hope to package for national broadcast.

Most provocatively, they’ve funded a multimillion-dollar effort to write a Bible curriculum they hope to place in public schools nationwide. It will debut next fall as an elective in Mustang High School, a few miles from Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City headquarters.

I previously critiqued a one-sided Associated Press report on the Mustang Bible elective. Politico never gets around to identifying the source or explaining the specifics on the “multimillion-dollar effort.”

Roughly 600 words into the story, the first named source — besides a reference to a Steve Green quote last spring — shows up. That source is a critic:

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Liberal media? Yes, say some journalists

I caught this news via a tweet from Mark Hemingway, half of the former GetReligion power couple (side note: We miss you, Mollie!):

Methinks that the “BREAKING!” nature of that Twitter post was an editorial comment on the part of Mark, a senior writer at the conservative Weekly Standard.

“New” news or not, the Politico article to which Mark linked probably will interest many GetReligion readers.

Let’s start at the top:

Top journalists from The New York Times, NBC News and CNN acknowledged Wednesday that, generally speaking, the national media have a liberal bias.

On a Playbook Breakfast panel, the Times’ Peter Baker and Mark Leibovich, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and CNN’s Jake Tapper all said “yes” when asked if the news media lean left — though all agreed it was a nuanced issue having more to do with journalists’ life experiences than with any particular agenda.

“Most of my colleagues, I have no idea what their politics are. … But think about it: I live in northwest Washington, none of my neighbors are evangelical Christians, I don’t know a lot of people in my kid’s preschool who are pro-life,” Leibovich said. “When you have conversations, at all the newspapers I’ve worked at, about politics — it doesn’t happen often — but you see clues that there is absolutely a left-wing bias.”

The Daily Caller, meanwhile, poked fun at the question of whether the media lean left:

Maybe a better question: Do ducks quack?

The idea that reporters don’t know any evangelicals, of course, isn’t all that shocking either, especially given what The New York Times’ Michael Luo said in a Christianity Today interview that we highlighted last week:

Many Christians consider The New York Times hostile toward evangelical faith. Is that a fair assessment?

Most evangelicals — and non-evangelicals — would be surprised by the lengths that reporters and editors go to fairly report the news. We agonize almost daily over individual sentences, even phrases, in articles and headlines, web summary lines and captions, to make sure they are fair and unbiased. Do we always succeed? No, but the effort is almost always there.

On the other hand, sometimes you can’t know what you don’t know. A lot of reporters and editors at The Times don’t know any evangelicals, have never set foot in a church, and have worldviews that are far removed from evangelicals’. … They might not know that evangelical is a theological orientation, not necessarily a political one; that there’s a difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism; that plenty of evangelicals do not believe the earth was created in six 24-hour days; that not all evangelicals believe in the Rapture. Ignorance can lead to inaccurate and misleading characterizations. And yes, it can lead to bias seeping through in the way Christians are depicted.

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Hey! It’s journalists mangling scripture day! (UPDATED)

David Brooks wrote a very Brooksian column for today’s New York Times about how our culture was more dynamic when there were competing status hierarchies and how our current situation of one hierarchy means that the successful are less haunted by their own status and the less successful have nowhere to hide.

Now, normally we pay no attention to opinion pieces because our concern here at GetReligion is how straight news about religion is reported. But the column included this passage that I had to share:

In Corinthians, Jesus tells the crowds, “Not many of you were wise by worldly standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Whoopsie! Not Jesus, but Paul! Brooks has since corrected the column and added a note reflecting the correction at the end. Another correspondent said he disliked the reference to Corinthians, as opposed to 1 Corinthians or 2nd Corinthians (the verses in question here are from the first chapter of 1st Corinthians, verses 26 and 27 and come from the New International Version, for what it’s worth).

Our second example of how to mangle a Scripture reference does come from a straight news report, this time Politico. The story is about how Rep. Mark Sanford spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, which is for social conservatives:

In the latest stop of Sanford’s comeback tour, he explained that “great moments follow moments of great difficulty.”

Several months ago, Sanford recalled a supporter in the Palmetto State urging him to be more courageous in the spirit of Timothy 1:7. He called it “a pivotal point” in his race.

“You need to seize that verse and operate on it,” he told the activists. “So I would simply ask as you build a movement to make a difference … be of courage.”

Um, what is Timothy 1:7? The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to Timothy. In the first letter, in the first chapter, Paul tells Timothy to encourage people in Ephesus to reject the teaching and practice of false doctrine. The seventh verse is just a snippet of this portion:

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

In the second letter to Timothy, Paul writes with encouragement:

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Let’s revisit Benghazi and the 1st Amendment

YouTube Preview ImageIf you didn’t get a chance to watch the Benghazi whistleblowers testify before Congress yesterday, you should. Part of what made it so interesting was how dramatically their testimony contradicted the official line received and published by the media in previous months. It was also just a good lesson in how bureaucracy works and how competing interests can impede the search for truth or justice.

You may recall that “What difference, at this point, does it make?” was a main takeaway from former Sec. of State Hilary Clinton’s fiery testimony on Benghazi.

State Department counterterrorism officer Ed Nordstrom responded to that by saying, as he choked up, “It matters to me personally. It matters to my colleagues, to my colleagues at the Department of State. It matters to the American public for whom we serve. And most importantly, excuse me. It matters to the friends and family of, of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, who were murdered on September 11th, 2012.”

And Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Benghazi, testified that when he heard Obama administration officials say that the Benghazi attack was due to a blasphemous YouTube video, “I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed.”

Now, given who the perpetrators were, the 9/11/12 terrorist attack has serious and complicated religious angles that should be explored. But there was another huge religion angle to this story and I’m disappointed that we didn’t see more or better coverage of that angle.

That religion angle is about freedom of religious expression and government action against blasphemy.

For reference, my posts on the matter from last September (aka “a long time ago”) hold up well: Missing the forest for the YouTube video, The missing anti-Muslim movie stories, and Journalism means never having to say you’re sorry.

I thought about this angle again when reading Reason‘s “Hall of Shame” for people who thought the overarching lesson of Benghazi was that freedom of expression needed to be restricted. It’s frightening how highly placed or influential some of those people are.

Falsely assessing partial blame for the violence on a piece of artistic expression inflicted damage not just on the California resident who made it—Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is currently serving out a one-year sentence for parole violations committed in the process of producing Innocence—but also on the entire American culture of free speech. In the days and weeks after the attacks, academics and foreign policy thinkers fell over themselves dreaming up new ways to either disproportionately punish Nakoula or scale back the very notion of constitutionally protected expression.

I also thought of that angle when reading Rich Lowry’s column in Politico today that began:

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula deserves a place in American history. He is the first person in this country jailed for violating Islamic anti-blasphemy laws.

 

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Pod People: Media wake up to Gosnell failures

YouTube Preview ImageGetReligion’s critique of media coverage of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial has received quite a bit of attention in recent days. I’m glad, since we’ve been aware of the problem with media coverage of this topic since early 2011. My post from January of that year, “8 Murders in Philadelphia,” shows the history of problems in coverage.

We looked at many abortion-related stories since that time, but they were, naturally, in the area that the media took the most interest — the Susan G. Komen feeding frenzy, the Sandra Fluke drama and the Todd Akin obsession. In fact, it seemed I spent most of my year paying quite a bit of attention to what the media wanted me to pay attention to — those stories. They were viewed as extremely, extremely important stories for the populace to pay attention to.

And so I found it disturbing that, when the Kermit Gosnell trial commenced last month, the coverage was so very weak or non-existent. I wanted to critique the coverage, but there just wasn’t too much to look at. The first day of the trial was the exception, and we looked at some oddities with how that trial was being covered by the Associated Press in “The new ‘abortion’: cutting newborns’ spinal cords.”

By Monday of last week, it was clear that there had been a massive failure across the media — as I wrote in “Should media cover — or cover up — abortion trial?” Then we discussed some frames that might be helpful for reporters struggling to do their jobs in “Mainstream press on Gosnell: adjust the framing.” As the week progressed and I got more and more confused by the media blackout, I wrote, “We need answers on Gosnell coverage,” picking up on Kirsten Powers’ powerful USA Today column calling for front-page, top-of-the-broadcast coverage of this horrific trial.

That’s when I got to work asking a few reporters to explain their role in the blackout, and you can read about the early part of that project in “WPost reporter explains her personal Gosnell blackout” and “Politico and Atlantic.com’s turn to explain Gosnell blackout.”

I wanted to provide all that context before linking to this week’s Crossroads podcast. Host Todd Wilken and I discuss this huge story and we also discussed the “how” and “why” of this story. I know that many people are demanding answers on those last questions and I am trying to weigh in. It is, of course, difficult to know how this massive media failure happened. I assume it’s quite complex. We discuss racism, views on abortion, and narrative frames. Wilken wonders whether abortion views led some journalists to think these murder charges weren’t a big deal. There are many more possible answers.

When I was on Fox News on Friday to discuss the lack of media coverage of this case, I was so pleased by what Kirsten Powers said when asked to explain why this all happened. She noted that some journalists were writing mea culpas that included admissions of pro-choice bias. But, she said, she couldn’t really speak to motivation.

I know that this Gosnell dust-up is happening in a very heated political environment. GetReligion is a media analysis blog. Our readers have done a very good job of discussing this topic respectfully and thoughtfully by focusing on media coverage as opposed to underlying views on abortion. If you’d like to discuss politics or religion, that is of course fine, but you can’t do it here. There are other places better suited for that. We really need to keep a tight focus on media coverage here.

 

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Is Politico as partisan as The Weekly Standard?

Today is Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton’s last day. You can read his memo to staff here.

To mark it, I’m ruminating on a Twitter exchange I happened across last night. So telling. It begins with John McCormack, a reporter for The Weekly Standard, writing:

Politico article on abortion issue includes two quotes–one from Planned Parenthood and one, for balance, from ACLU

It’s a particularly bad example of what we see on abortion coverage every day, as well as coverage of many other hot-button issues commonly found on beats linked to religion and politics. Even though this is only six paragraphs long, it’s a bad example.

But what I found interesting was the response from Andrew Kaczynski, a reporter for the supposedly mainstream Buzzfeed:

Lot of balance in those Weekly Standard Chuck Hagel stories.

This is a reference to The Weekly Standard‘s work opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. But the Standard (where my better half works) is an avowedly conservative opinion journal. It’s whole purpose is to spread adoption of a particular set of conservative values.

Do you see the problem here?

BuzzFeed and Politico (and the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets) present themselves as mainstream media outlets doing straight news. I’ll let Twitter do my work for me:

@QuinHillyer Weekly Standard is an opinion journal. Politico claims to be straight news. Big difference in what’s expected

@McCormackJohn Well, at least they’re more balanced than Buzzfeed’s articles on gay marriage. Also: We don’t pretend we’re not ideological.

@IMAO_ He’s very clearly saying that Politico is as partisan as the Weekly Standard.

We’ve been talking about this a lot recently, because it’s a major change in the stated objectives of mainstream media. This is also a topic closely linked to media-bias studies about religion news.

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