NYTimes inside private GOP session on abortion strategy?

ShutDoorMeeting

Apparently, this past spring, the Republican National Committee held a closed-door meeting in which a circle of conservative women discussed a topic that they have been discussing for decades — how to talk about abortion when dealing with mainstream journalists, especially television reporters.

Apparently, someone taking part in this meeting decided to invite a reporter from The New York Times to step inside the closed doors. Bravo for whoever made the brave decision to do that.

Apparently, however, it took quite a while for editors at the Times to decide that this was a story worth printing, since it just ran in late July, under the headline, “Conservatives Hone Script to Light a Fire Over Abortion.”

On one level, this is pretty straightforward stuff. However, I have one rather basic journalistic question: If this was a closed-door session, was the Times reporter actually invited to attend or did someone slip into the meeting? Consider how this issue is framed at the top of the report.

It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.

They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.

Please hear me: The content is valid either way. However, shouldn’t this question about access to the meeting have been mentioned? If a reporter snuck in, that’s interesting, especially in terms of decades of tensions about abortion coverage and mainstream news-media bias. If a reporter was invited into the meeting, then that is even more interesting — for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, I thought it was rather strange that the Times team thought that this session focused on an “unlikely set of skills.”

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WPost still gets ‘Julia’ vote, but what about church ladies?

The other day I wrote a post about a Washington Post story about the upcoming elections that managed to do something really interesting: It addressed the challenges Democrats are facing as they try to frame issues going into the midterm elections in ways that would inspire their voters, yet managed to do so without mentioning the ongoing “pew gap” factor.

You remember the pew gap don’t you? It’s the trend, during recent decades, in which people who frequently attend worship services (especially among white voters) tend to vote for morally and culturally conservative candidates. And the opposite?

Thus, a key passage in that Post report discussed:

So much has been made of the building blocks the president assembled to win his two elections — the outpouring of voters younger than 30; the long lines at precincts in African American communities; the support he engendered among the rising Hispanic population; the growing support for him and Democrats generally among unmarried women. …

Obama hopes to stir his base to action and in the past two weeks has been trying to push all the buttons.

The story contained tons of valid and interesting info. I simply wanted to know how the Post team could address this topic with zero references to the impact of religion on American public life and, yes, voting patterns. For example, I suggested that there might be a religion ghost linked to the fact that Democrats do so well with single women (think “Julia”), while Republicans draw strong support among married women.

Now, the big paper here in Beltway land is back with a long A1 report under the headline: “Women could be critical to key races, and both parties are going all out to get their votes.” Here’s a key block of summary material:

Republicans have watched with rising alarm as female voters, especially younger and unmarried ones, have moved toward ­Democratic hopefuls. Democrats have exploited inarticulate or sexist remarks by some Republicans and harsh antiabortion measures passed in GOP-led legislatures or sponsored by party candidates.

In Washington, Democratic lawmakers have also pushed bills designed to draw a contrast, including this month’s Paycheck Fairness Act, which died in the Senate. President Obama instead signed two executive orders designed to advance equal pay. As a result, the gender gap has grown in recent election years to Democrats’ advantage. Women make up a larger percentage of the electorate than men, they are disproportionately likely to go to the polls in midterm election years, and they are more likely to vote Democratic than men are to vote Republican.

Notice that, at this point, the story is making little or no effort to discuss the divisions inside the women’s vote, which is hardly monolithic.

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WPost team looks at politics in 2014, sees zero folks in pews

It’s time to set the wayback (actually, it’s WABAC) machine for the year 2003, when editors of The Atlantic Monthly published one of the most famous anecdotal ledes in the recent history of American politics.

The article was called “Blue Movie: The “morality gap” is becoming the key variable in American politics” and the essay opened like this:

Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton’s advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter’s life.

Respondents who took the “liberal” stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a “conservative” stand on three or more of the questions. (Someone taking the liberal position, as pollsters define it, dismisses the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong, admits to looking at pornography, doesn’t look down on a married person having an affair, regards sex before marriage as morally acceptable, and views religion as not a very important part of daily life.) According to Morris and Penn, these questions were better vote predictors — and better indicators of partisan inclination — than anything else except party affiliation or the race of the voter. …

Later on, of course, as the red zip code vs. blue zip code warfare became more refined, pollsters began to focus on a more refined research angle — which became known as “The Pew Gap.” The basic truth: The best way to predict the behavior of white voters — irregardless of their religious traditions — was to find out how often they attended worship services. The more often they were in a religious sanctuary, the more likely they were to vote for culturally conservative candidates (usually Republicans, in recent decades).

In other words, a person’s religious beliefs and practice matter, when it comes time to predict her or his actions in a voting booth.

This brings me to a recent story in The Washington Post, which ran under this headline: “Democrats seek to reshape midterm electorate along lines of a presidential year.” The lede is perfectly obvious, to anyone who lives here in Beltway-land or reads news produced by the scribes who gather here:

Democrats have a problem and everyone knows it. President Obama calls it a “congenital disease.” If they can’t control it, Obama could spend the final years of his presidency battling not only a Republican House but also a Republican Senate.

Democrats don’t vote in midterm elections. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but the core of the Democratic coalition is made up of many people who turn out to vote only in presidential elections. The Republican coalition — older and whiter — suffers less from midterm falloff.

So what is wrong with this story? What is the crucial element that the Post team totally ignored?

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Shocking! Baptist says wives should ‘submit’ to husbands

Courtesy of The Washington Post, let’s all prepare to hyperventilate.

This news will shock you (SHOCK YOU!):

A Republican member of Congress says in a recently released book that a wife is to “voluntarily submit” to her husband, but that it doesn’t make her inferior to him.

Rep. Steve Pearce’s (R-N.M.) memoir, “Just Fly the Plane, Stupid!” was released last month. Its publication — and his acknowledgment in the book of the controversial nature of the submission debate — come as the Republican Party reevaluates how it talks to and about women.

In the book, Pearce recounts his rise to owning an oil-field service company and winning election to Congress. In the book, the Vietnam War veteran says that both the military chain of command and the family unit need a structure in which everyone plays his or her role.

He said that, in his family’s experience, this meant that his wife, Cynthia, would submit to him and he would lead.

“The wife is to voluntarily submit, just as the husband is to lovingly lead and sacrifice,” he writes, citing the Bible. “The husband’s part is to show up during the times of deep stress, take the leadership role and be accountable for the outcome, blaming no one else.”

My sincere apologies to all you inside-the-Beltway readers who just spilled your cocktails.

Who is this maniac? Is he a Baptist or something? Heaven forbid.

But apparently, yes, that is the case. Pearce is a Baptist. Worse yet, even though the Post spares him the ignominy of being so specific — it appears that he is a Southern Baptist.

And even more horrifying that that, it seems readily apparent — based on the Post’s justifiably breathless reporting — that he is a Southern Baptist who believes in traditional Southern Baptist doctrine. You know, doctrine that subscribes to Bible passages such as Ephesians 5:22-23:

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NPR stumbles on GOP and Darwinian orthodoxy

Here’s a shocker, but not really. More Democrats than Republicans believe in evolution, or so says a survey from the Pew Research Center. Overall, Pew says:

…six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that ‘humans and other living things have evolved over time,’ while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that ‘humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.’ The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The predictable party gap seems of interest to many, though mostly political pundits.

National Public Radio is not content to leave speculation to mere political bloviators, however, and trumpets the change in party affiliation of creationists as a major political issue:

A new national survey showing that the share of Republicans who believe in evolution has tumbled from 54 to 43 percent over the past four years comes at an inopportune time.

The Pew Research poll suggests that the GOP, already struggling with an identity crisis and facing ferocious internal battles, is out of sync on the issue with independents and young voters, who are far more likely to believe in the science of evolution than their forebears.

NPR raises what it considers the key question:

But just how politically significant is the finding, which shows that the evolution belief gap between Republicans and Democrats has since 2009 grown from 10 percentage points to 24 points?

Now there are all sorts of interesting — and interested — people who could address the topic. People who are experienced in science and theology, or people who hold informed opinions about evolution or creationism. Instead, the first “expert” sought out by NPR is a political consultant, albeit a Republican one:

For Republican strategists like Whit Ayres, however, the evolution results are politically insignificant. More than anything, he says, it reflects the trend of both parties gravitating toward their more extreme wings, which, in the GOP, includes evangelical Christians. He argues that it is unlikely to define the GOP negatively or otherwise in any sustaining way.

“It’s not a particularly surprising result, especially if you follow Gallup data on how Americans interpret the Bible,” says Ayres, of North Star Opinion Research. “There’s a significant minority of Americans who believe that the Bible is the actual true word of God.”

Apart from a grammatical flaw that always annoys me — did they really talk to Ayres or someone “like” him? — why is his view on how many Americans believe “the Bible is the actual true word of God” more useful than that of Randall Balmer or George Barna or someone else who “gets” debates about doctrine and science?

NPR does link to the Gallup numbers, but again, is there another, better voice? If so, you won’t find it here.

And what about the “political” implications of this interesting and crucial passage?

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Yes, that Virginia gubernatorial candidate has layers

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In one of my favorite scenes in the original  “Shrek” movie, the title character explains to Donkey that “there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.”

“Example?” Donkey responds.

“Example … uh … ogres are like onions,” Shrek says, holding up an onion that Donkey sniffs.

More of the dialogue:

Donkey: “They stink?”

Shrek: “Yes. … No!”

Donkey: “Oh, they make you cry?”

Shrek: “No!”

Donkey: “Oh, you leave ‘em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.”

Shrek (peeling an onion): “No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.”

I’ve used this analogy before, but too many newspaper stories lack layers. The main characters are 100 percent heroic or totally villainous. They are cardboard cutouts, fitting an easy storyline. Unlike onions (and ogres), they don’t have layers.

But Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican candidate for Virginia governor, certainly has layers, as portrayed this week in a 3,000-word, front-page profile by the Washington Post. 

I was impressed by the newspaper’s effort to get religion — to see Cuccinelli’s personal actions and political positions through the lens of his Catholic upbringing and experiences:

Gonzaga, the Jesuit high school in a scruffy part of Washington’s inner city, is where Ken Cuccinelli II says he became the man he is. The Republican candidate for governor of Virginia emerged in part in John Hoffman’s social justice class in 1986, when the teacher pressed the boys to look beyond the facts of poverty and inequality and examine the structures that shape people’s lives.

Cuccinelli came into that classroom as a kid from the suburbs who showed great spirit — he was the guy inside the school’s eagle mascot costume — and had a bit of a temper, but he was nobody’s idea of a rebel.

His parents had insisted that he leave the Fairfax County public schools and commute from McLean to the private Catholic school because, as his father put it, “Fairfax is not the real world.”

At Gonzaga, Cuccinelli would be with boys of different races and classes, guys from Anacostia on scholarship and kids from Chevy Chase who’d never known hardship.

Now, a liberal teacher with a beard so long the boys called him “ZZ Hoffman” assigned them readings by Karl Marx and asked them to imagine how society might be different if the world were constructed of, say, Nerf.

Suddenly, ideas could be as exciting as football. The boy who would become a state senator and Virginia’s attorney general embraced his church’s strict rules about right and wrong, and also absorbed a responsibility for those in need.

After a second telling anecdote — this one from the candidate’s time at the University of Virginia — the Post notes:

A quarter-century after those formative chapters in Cuccinelli’s life, those who watched him closely find him a more complex and thoughtful figure than the caricature of a hard-line social conservative might allow. But of those interviewed for this article, none said they would vote for him.

The Post provides this background on the faith of the candidate’s parents:

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The New York Times hides abortion editorial on front page

Yesterday after the House of Representatives voted 228 to 196 to limit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, I was surprised to find the following headline at the New York Times:

Democrats Defend Killing of Viable Fetuses to Appease Vocal Base

Only kidding, of course. As Matthew J. Franck of First Things wrote, that’s a New York Times headline we’ll never see. The real headline used exhibits the partisan editorializing we’ve come to expect from the Old Gray Lady:

G.O.P. Pushes New Abortion Limits to Appease Vocal Base

That was the title on the web version. A note says that a version of the article appeared on page A1 of the New York print edition with this headline:

Unfazed by 2012, G.O.P. Is Seeking Abortion Limits

You’ll search in vain for a label indicating the piece is “news analysis,” the fig leaf that allows editorials to be presented as news stories. Instead, the feature by Jeremy W. Peters is one long editorial sigh of frustration that a majority of Republicans are still, despite having lost the last presidential election, sticking with their pro-life agenda.

After Republicans lost the presidential election and seats in both the House and the Senate last year, many in the party offered a stern admonishment: If we want to broaden our appeal, steer clear of divisive social and cultural issues.

Yet after the high-profile murder trial of an abortion doctor in Philadelphia this spring, many Republicans in Washington and in state capitals across the country seem eager to reopen the emotional fight over a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. …

Much of the movement in recent weeks can be linked to the outcry over the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia physician who was convicted last month of first-degree murder for cutting the spines of babies after botched abortions.

His case, coming on top of successful efforts to curtail reproductive rights in several states over the last three years, has reinvigorated the anti-abortion movement to a degree not seen in years, advocates on both sides of the issue said.

If you were still wondering why it took an epic shaming by GetReligionista Mollie Hemingway to get journalists to cover the Gosnell story, there’s a hint. You can almost hear the frustration in the New York Times newsroom: “This is the type of nonsense that comes from bringing attention to Gosnell.”

But it gets better. Check out the next paragraph:

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The ghost of Prince William County

It’s all about race.

And age.

Religion? Uh, surely that’s not a factor worth exploring.

That’s my interpretation of a front-page New York Times story today that focuses on the changing demographics in Prince William County, Va., and their impact on Tuesday’s presidential election:

A couple of decades ago, Prince William County was one of the mostly white, somewhat rural, far-flung suburbs where Republican candidates went to accumulate the votes to win elections in Virginia.

Since then, Prince William has been transformed. Open tracts have given way to town houses and gated developments, as the county — about a half-hour south of Washington — has risen to have the seventh-highest household income in the country and has become the first county in Virginia where minorities make up more than half the population.

If Prince William looks like the future of the country, Democrats have so far developed a much more successful strategy of appealing to that future. On Tuesday, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by almost 15 percentage points in Prince William, nearly doubling George W. Bush’s margin over Al Gore in 2000, helping Mr. Obama to a surprisingly large victory in Virginia.

At GetReligion, our mantra is that “holy ghosts” all too often haunt mainstream news stories. We see these ghosts in stories where religion seems to be a major theme, yet somehow religion shows up nowhere in the text. Welcome to the ghost of Prince William County.

As Mollie wisely pointed out already today, reporters should proceed with caution when trying to make sense of the reasons people voted the way they did — and the religious motivations, if any, behind their choices. At the same time, it seems extremely strange for the Times to attempt to assess Prince William County’s voting patterns with no acknowledgment of the religion question.

For example, consider this paragraph:

The Republican Party “needs messages and policies that appeal to a broader audience,” said Mark McKinnon, a former strategist for George W. Bush. “This election proved that trying to expand a shrinking base ain’t going to cut it. It’s time to put some compassion back in conservatism. The party needs more tolerance, more diversity and a deeper appreciation for the concerns of the middle class.”

Who is that “shrinking base?” Would it include evangelicals for whom issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage are closely tied to their religious beliefs? Could the rise of the “nones” be a factor?

Regrettably, the Times doesn’t bother to address such questions.

Diversity image via Shutterstock


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