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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AP’s one-sided report on teaching Bible in public schools

Gotcha!

That’s the distinct tone of an Associated Press story out this week (just three weeks behind Religion News Service) on a new Bible elective approved by an Oklahoma school district.

But does this AP story, filled with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, deliver the actual journalistic goods?

Why don’t you help me decide, inquiring-mind GetReligion readers?

Let’s start at the top:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Steve Green’s faith led him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he’s argued the nation’s new health care law and its requirement that his business provide certain types of birth control to employees violates his religious freedoms.

At the same time, the president of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores is working to add the Bible to the curriculum of public high schools nationwide. His purpose, stated more clearly at some times than at others, is for students to learn its text and put America on a righteous course.

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” Green said last year to the National Bible Association, announcing his plan for the high school course. “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it, and if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

Green has established a beachhead in his home state of Oklahoma, where the public Mustang School District in suburban Oklahoma City will begin teaching a class about the Bible as an elective beginning this fall. The goal is to place the Bible course in thousands of schools by 2017.

Green told the Mustang school board last fall that the one-year trial of the Bible curriculum developed by the Green Scholars Initiative wasn’t intended to proselytize or “go down denominational, religious-type roads,” and persuaded the board that the plan would pass any constitutional challenges.

Later in the story, readers learn that Green declined an interview with the AP. So readers are left with the wire service’s interpretation of what he has said in the past and what his motivations/intentions are. (For the record, I don’t think Green’s refusal to talk helps his side.)

Keep reading, and the AP quotes three “experts” — all concerned about the Bible elective approved by the suburban school district. First up and worried about a constitutional line possibly being crossed is Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University:

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Pod people: Much ado, nothing new, Merry Christmas to you

Santa scored big in Texas schools this week. Free speech, meanwhile, ruled it a tie. And religion paced the sidelines waiting to be put in the game.

The Lone Star state’s “Merry Christmas Law” guarantees the freedom for students, teachers and administrators to wish each other Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah. They can wear sweaters with St. Nick on them to class Christmas parties and hand out dreidel pencils and reindeer antlers. As I said earlier this week, the law was effective this past summer.

Never mind that they could, by law, do all these things before. Now it’s duplicated, so it really must be OK!

The Christian and Jewish holidays lawmakers unanimously voted in June to verbally and visually protect in schools were represented by the most familiar and commercial symbol at a press conference this week: Santa Claus.

Not Mary, Joseph and the infant Christ, along with all the nativity trappings.

Not the menorah or a scroll containing a blessing.

Santa was the main focus of a press conference given to remind Texans that they didn’t have to be politically correct and dance around the words Christmas or Hanukkah in public school settings.

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Do we cover hypocrisy consistently?

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It is my fallen nature that causes me to delight in stories about hypocrisy. We are all hypocrites if we use that term to mean we behave in ways contrary to the ideals we espouse. Technically that’s not what hypocrisy means. Rather it refers to claiming to believe something different than what one believes. Or as Wikipedia puts it “Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have.” It involves deception.

Still, we have a media that is “on it” whenever someone who espouses family values is embroiled in an adulterous affair. If they’re involved in adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and drug rings? We call that a fantastic news cycle.

Hypocrisy and other moral failures are covered not infrequently on the Godbeat. But I also find it interesting when they are not covered.

The Guardian has an interesting article up about Matt Damon that begins:

Matt Damon‘s politics owe a great deal to his mother. The first time Nancy Carlsson-Paige saw her son featured in a glossy magazine, she was appalled. “My beautiful boy is being used to sell products,” she told a newspaper. “He is just a cog in the capitalist system.” She’d never even read a magazine like Vanity Fair before, her son explains. “She’s a professor. If it’s not the Nation, she doesn’t read it. And she said, ‘This thing is nothing but page after page of adverts for products that nobody needs!’” He chuckles.

I am not terribly knowledgeable about Damon but among other political causes he espouses, he’s a huge supporter of public schools. In the video above he talks about some of that. He actually flew from Vancouver, B.C., to Washington, D.C., to attend a rally for public schools. He has children, which leads some to wonder which public school he sends them to or what his experience with his children’s public school is. The Guardian covers this point:

Choosing a school has already presented a major moral dilemma. “Sending our kids in my family to private school was a big, big, big deal. And it was a giant family discussion. But it was a circular conversation, really, because ultimately we don’t have a choice. I mean, I pay for a private education and I’m trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It’s unfair.” Damon has campaigned against teachers’ pay being pegged to children’s test results: “So we agitate about those things, and try to change them, and try to change the policy, but you know, it’s a tough one.”

Ay yi yi!

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