Sandra Fluke, Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ and tender stories

Sandra Fluke, Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ and tender stories November 28, 2012

Time magazine is doing its annual PR blitz for its “Person of the Year.” After I won the designation in 2006, I stopped paying attention to it. Since then the honor has gone to Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, Mark Zuckerberg and “the protester.” And yes, if you’re wondering, the tradition of selecting a Man of the Year began in 1927 with Time editors contemplating newsworthy stories possible during a slow news week. We’ve all been there.

Among the nominees this year are Ai Weiwei, Bashar Assad, Felix Baumgartner, Joe Biden (fer real), Bo Xilai, Chris Christie, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Stephen Colbert, Gabrielle Douglas, Roger Goodell, the Higgs boson, E.L. James, Jay-Z, Kim Jong Un, the Mars Rover, Marissa Mayer, Mohamed Morsi, Psy, Pussy Riot, John Roberts, Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein, Undocumented Immigrants, Malala Yousafzai.

The winners, no matter how unworthy, tend to be from the United States. But we have a fair number of nominees from other countries. I’m a bit surprised Chen Guangcheng wasn’t on there. I might also note that the religious dimensions of the list are somewhat slight. Readers of our recent post on the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood may appreciate that the write-up for Morsi included this line, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s religiosity is moderate, or at least moderated by pragmatism; its politics are populist and likely the template for a number of other fledgling democracies in the region.”

The entry for Yousafzai was a nice tribute to her devout Muslim father who supports her and her educational goals. The last line is “It is among the tenderest of stories in the world of conservative Islam.”

But I bring all this up because of the write-up for another deserving nominee — Sandra Fluke. While I tend to think the prize is too American-focused, if it goes in that direction again this year, she should definitely win. I only wish she could win it in conjunction with the media that has been so supportive of her during her entire public relations journey. You could say their love for her is among the tenderest of stories in the world of mainstream media. (For more on that, you can see some of our posts on the coverage of Fluke here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. And if/when Fluke does win, I hope she can accept the award with Cecile Richards, Andrea Mitchell and the whole Church of Planned Parenthood. They all had an amazing year and they deserve credit.)

Anyway, here’s the write-up of our Person of the Year:

The daughter of a conservative Christian pastor, Sandra Fluke, 31, became a women’s-rights activist in college and continued her advocacy as a law student at Georgetown. After she complained about being denied a chance to testify at a Republican-run House hearing on insurance coverage for birth control, Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut.” Democrats and many Republicans reacted with outrage, and the left made Limbaugh’s slur Exhibit A in what they called a GOP “war on women.” Fluke, meanwhile, weathered the attention with poise and maturity and emerged as a political celebrity. Democrats gave her a national-convention speaking slot as part of their push to make reproductive rights a central issue in the 2012 presidential campaign — one that helped Barack Obama trounce Mitt Romney among single women on Election Day.

Technically the hearing was on religious liberty, but the media have long decided that the issue is best framed otherwise.

But what I found interesting was that Time has described Fluke’s father as a “conservative Christian pastor.” We learned earlier that “The Rev. Richard Fluke, Sandra’s father, is a part-time licensed local pastor who shares the pulpit at Tatesville United Methodist Church in Everett, Pa., with two other pastors. Both he and his wife, Betty Kay, are proud of their daughter.”

I know enough Methodists to know that some are very conservative and some are very progressive. The leadership of the denomination tends to be liberal but Methodist polity and culture permits some significant variance. I would love to know more about his conservatism or how that descriptor was chosen. What does it mean in this context? Maybe when she wins the award, we’ll get some substantiation about Fluke’s conservative Christian upbringing.

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  • Thinkling

    Slightly off topic but nonetheless a recurring one: why does Time put scare quotes around “slut”? I mean he did call her a slut, didn’t he? No quotes necessary, methinks. Any insights?

    • Parker

      I’m not a journalist, so maybe I’m off base here, but wouldn’t the quotes not be scare quotes, but actual quotes? I mean, you’re right, he called her a slut, so maybe the quotes are serving the actual function of quotation marks, and making it clear that the words in the quotes are exactly what Mr. Limbaugh said, as opposed, to just being a summation of what he said.

      • Melissa

        Somehow I think that if a journalist is going to use quotation marks around someone’s words, the quote should be at least a phrase long. A single word quotation can be too easily taken out of context. Not that it was taken out of context in this particular case, but if the journalist had written “Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut,” that would have been perfectly understandable. While I’m all over using a person’s actual words when describing their views, you can overuse quotation marks, methinks.

  • Josh Lyman

    Because they are directly quoting him. When you directly quote someone, you use quote marks.

  • Dan Crawford

    Molly can always be counted on.

  • Maybe he’s a “conservative Methodist” minister and not a (political) conservative who’s a Methodist minister, a use of “conservative” that tmatt also had questions about. But what I want to know is why the father’s religious inclinations are even a matter of interest. What about the mother? Do the profiles of the other candidates list the father’s religion and vocation? I suspect, given that it’s Time and that “person” can be anything designated by a noun or pronoun in English, that they want us to know that a “conservative Methodist pastor” can be a proud father of an evangelical Obamaite. The religion angle seems a little gratuitous and not well paid off.

  • DeaconJohn M. Bresnahan

    Sandra Fluke is the perfect person to be Time Magazine’s so-called person of the year. They both inhabit the same cultural strait jacket and moral vacuum .

  • Julia

    Why was my comment about the ubiquitous Slut Walks on university campuses removed?

    • mollie

      Simply because it was not focused on media coverage of religion news. We had a few such off-topic comments that I removed (albeit a bit late because I was on the road!).