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Perry may get fair coverage, said a source

Long-term GetReligion readers probably know that I am a conservative Democrat with Texas roots (so that makes me pro-life and willing to raise taxes, I guess). Tea parties? I like my tea iced, with lemon. I offer this information again in order to make the following statement: I really have no idea what I think of Rick Perry.

However, I will say that I have never seen someone who engendered such hatred in the small and, thus, often paranoid world of true Texas leftwingers. It's off the chart, down there, making the anti-George W. Bush revival meetings seem tame by comparison.

Politics and the religion are, of course, totally tumbled together in all of this.

How? Let's take a look at one crucial passage in a recent Washington Post pseudo-analysis piece, part of the series by Dan Balz called "The Take." Is this an A1 column? Part of a series of analysis essays?

It's hard to tell. However, I have questions about the basic journalistic infrastructure of the following, which seems to have spun out of the candidate's fiery shot at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke:

Perry is a robust conservative in a GOP in which the tea party movement and social conservatives hold great sway. He is also a leader with the potential to appeal more to the party establishment, but perhaps only if he can convince Republicans that he is the most electable of their candidates.

Perry loyalists may regard the Bernanke episode as a mini-storm that will pass quickly, a blip that will be written off as part of the learning curve for a new candidate. Maybe they are correct, particularly if Perry quickly learns from the experience.

Other Republicans may see in Perry the kind of candidate they are looking for to challenge the president in the general election, someone who is tough, brash and unafraid to speak his mind -- a Michele Bachmann with real executive governing experience.

See anything missing in this passage? Read it again, if need be.

The word you are looking for is "attribution." Another key word in the mix is "may," as in "Republicans without names MAY see in Perry. ..."

Let's continue. Please try to keep a watch on that "may" device and please keep looking for those clear journalistic attributions of quoted material. Good luck with that.

Another obstacle may be learning to broaden his appeal. Texas-based strategists say Perry has focused his campaigns almost completely on the Republican base and conservative independents. That may not be enough to win a national race, unless the dissatisfaction with the economy and Obama’s leadership make 2012 a race that is the Republicans’ to lose.

What is considered the conservative mainstream in Texas may be too conservative in other parts of America. What worked in Texas won’t necessarily work elsewhere. Being too Texan, never much of a problem at home, could hurt him nationally. Aspects of his record that Perry may assume have been fully litigated could become problems when the national spotlight begins to shine.

The Republicans who worry about Perry as a general-election candidate fear that he is too conservative on social issues, too grounded in the idiom of Texas, too enamored of his 10th Amendment, states’ rights message.

"Social issues" and "social conservatives" refer -- think 2008 campaign coverage -- to God, guns and gays. People packed into megachurch pews, in other words. Small-town, suburban and non-NPR Texans, in other words.

Now, the wealth of "may" references and all of those vague, but biting, references that lack attribution are not examples, in and of themselves, of the press not "getting" religion. I know that.

However, mainstream reporters will not be able to accurately cover this kind of story in which politics and religion are woven together without due diligence to the journalistic basics -- including the clear attribution of quoted material. This is especially true when covering religious beliefs and statements of fact about religious issues.

The bottom line: If people want to take shots at Perry (or Barack Obama, for that matter) on religious/political subjects, then let them do so with their names on the record.

It also helps if major newspapers avoid that whole foggy, vague, potentially slanted "may" game -- especially on A1. Play that game on the op-ed pages.

In a word, I read this story and thought to myself, "OMG, this is going to get really ugly."

It may get ugly and Perry may help stir the whirlwind. I just hope that the religion coverage stays on the record and out of passive voice.

Lord knows that may happen or it may not. Comments, please, on the basic journalistic issues raised in this post. Not your opinions of Perry.

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