US News Responds re Anti-Catholic Op-Ed; They’re OK with Screeds – UPDATE

The long-awaited statement from U.S. News was released yesterday evening. Editor Brian Kelly has this to say, regarding Jamie Stiehm’s column dated January 7:

Perceived bias on the court is a legitimate issue that U.S. News & World Report has covered for many years, from many perspectives. Our Opinion section has published pieces on the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage from all sides of the debate and, just this week, included pieces from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of New York and Concerned Women for America. We are committed to publishing a diversity of views on a variety of topics. Jamie Stiehm’s piece is within the bounds of fair commentary. We have run letters rebutting the piece and will continue to feature a diversity of opinions on this topic and others.

That’s weak; a very shortsighted response. Stiehm’s piece was not a standard professional commentary; it was a full-scale, blanket condemnation of a particular set of people, flavored with a strong suggestion that those sorts of people should probably be excluded from the public square.

Let’s take a second look at what Stiehm wrote, insert words other than “Catholic” into her lines, and we can wonder whether Mr. Kelly would be quite so cavalier about printing the following:

Lesbians often try to impose their beliefs on you, me, public discourse and institutions. Especially if “you” are female.

Jews in high places of power have the most trouble, I’ve noticed, practicing the separation of church and state. The pugnacious Jewish Justice. . .is the most aggressive offender on the Court, but not the only one.

The seemingly innocent Black Sisters likely were likely not acting alone in their trouble-making. Their big brothers, the meddlesome NAACP are bound to be involved. [Blacks] seek and wield tremendous power and influence in the political sphere.

In one stroke with ominous implications, there’s no such thing as Gay justice or mercy for women on the Supreme Court, not even from GLAAD.

The Dome of the Rock refuses to budge on women’s reproductive right. . .

I am going to make a good-faith assumption that Mr. Kelly did not attempt that little exercise before handing down the statement. Had he done so, I find it very difficult to believe that he (or op-ed page Managing Editor, Robert Schlesinger) would still think it fell “within the bounds of fair commentary.”

Or, perhaps they would, and if so they need to admit it. Their readership certainly deserves to know what they stand for, and if U.S. News is going to embrace such a radical editorial policy, they might as well put it out there and say, “yes, we would be just as content with Stiehm’s column if she had expressed exactly these sentiments about Lesbians, or Jews, or African Americans, or Gay men, or Muslims, because we agree that there are some kinds of people who simply should not be trusted to participate in American governance, and it’s time to stop being so politically correct and say it.”

That would almost be refreshing, truth be told.

Until, of course, people understood that this is how jackboots are constructed.

I hope U.S. News will give it another shot. As I said in this piece, the knee-jerk habit of silencing anyone — left or right — who misspeaks or says something stupid or even vile, does not allow for education, reconciliation, enlightenment or enlarged thinking, and I have never supported it. We need to move beyond making people “go away”, because scalp-collecting begs retaliation. And too, we really do need to know what people actually think, not merely what they say. That way, there are no surprises when movements spring up.

But clarity of purpose is required, and as regards this matter, things are still murky. When I asked Schlesinger if he cared to comment further, he declined, so we still need answers: Why, precisely, does U.S. News think Stiehm’s piece fine and fair, as it is, and to what end do they defend it? Are they saying “let ‘er rip” and endorsing full-scale hate speech as something good and necessary — the inevitable corrective to thirty years of hedging language, used in service to ersatz and redefined notions of “tolerance” and “sensitivity”? If that’s what they’re intending, that might at least be interesting and some people may even applaud it; the policing of public language has left us leery of each other, flocking to echo chambers that feel “safe” but have furthered our polarization.

If U.S. News intends a correction in public dialogue, let them own it.

Still, Steihm’s piece would seem a too-sudden over-correction, the sort that usually ends up crashing into something, or causing a chain reaction of destruction. “You mean everyone isn’t special, after all, and it’s okay to hate certain people? Wait, let me get my list…” A more constructive correction might be, “we don’t fire people for expressing their actual thoughts, but we do think Stiehm needs to spend some time with these people she hates, and write what she learns about them, so we can all rightly know each other.” Mindless “celebration” is worth very little; actual understanding is what reveals the true value of diversity.

To be honest, though, it doesn’t seem like that’s the direction in which U.S. News wishes to go, and if America is headed — as I believe she is — to a more statist, over-controlled place, then someone in the press was going to have to begin identifying the officially unacceptable people, so the rest of the country could start falling in line (or standing in them), convinced that they know who the real enemy is. I would have laid odds on the New York Times getting to it first, but then U.S. News always has always had an upstart vibe to them.

Still, if I’m surprised by the outlet, I always knew that the acceptable enemy would, in the end, be the Catholics. To paraphrase Luther, we stand where we stand, and can do no other.

UPDATE I: Deacon Greg, who spent a quarter of a century working for CBS News and understands the value of good journalism, is appalled.

UPDATE II: Ed Morrissey, staying on point, makes some excellent ones about US News’ statement and circumstances. And Frank Weathers chimes in too.

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