In a front-page story on Easter Sunday, the Los Angeles Times made some rather broad statements concerning President Barack Obama and religion.
Let's start right at the top:
President Obama stood before an audience of distinguished Christian clergy and lay leaders and took on the mantle of pastor in chief.
"I have to be careful," he joked at the White House's annual Easter prayer breakfast. "I am not going to stand up here and give a sermon. It's always a bad idea to give a sermon in front of professionals."
With that, he gave a sermon, telling the story of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and his eventual crucifixion, a sacrifice that "puts in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems he was dealing with."
Few presidents have spoken about their religious faith as often, as deeply or as eloquently as Obama. "We worship an awesome God in the blue states," he declared at the 2004 Democratic convention, and he has sought since then to rebuild ties between the Democratic Party and the world of faith.
Yet no president has faced such sustained hostility over issues of faith, including Republican charges that he is waging a "war on religion," widespread suspicion about the sincerity of his Christian faith, and the persistent legend that he is a practicing Muslim.
That's certainly a compelling intro. And the piece definitely is timely given the ongoing discussion of the role of religion in politics and public life (see a related Washington Post story).
But concerning the L.A. Times story, do any journalistic questions strike anyone besides me?
For example, concerning the statement that "few presidents have spoken about their religious faith as often, as deeply or as eloquently as Obama," does anybody besides me desire some, um, attribution?
Who said that? What facts back up that claim? To put it most simply, where did the Times get that information? Without attribution (and the rest of the 1,200-word article fails to provide it), the statement sounds like editorializing. This is not rocket science. It's Journalism 101.
Similarly, the statement that "no president has faced such sustained hostility over issues of faith" rings hollow without any concrete information to judge the veracity of the claim. Again, the Times fails to provide any attribution at all.
The claims raised certainly are intriguing. I wish the Times had quoted presidential scholars and/or American religious historians who could have weighed in on the questions raised.
Alas, the piece takes an abrupt detour after painting such broad strokes in the lede, focusing mainly on religious issues in the political realm during Obama's presidency. Most of the ground covered will be familiar to those who have followed religious issues during the Obama administration (presumably, that would include most GetReligion readers).
Like the intro, the rest of the story suffers from broad labels (from "moderate groups" to "conservative critics") and sweeping statements mainly made without concrete attribution.
That said, the writer provides enlightening insight in a few sections, such as these quotes from an evangelical lobbyist:
"We're very, very concerned about that," said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Assn. of Evangelicals, which objected to the government deciding which religious groups qualified for an exemption from the rule.
At the same time, Carey expressed a nuanced view of Obama's record. "There are some things that President Obama has done that have been helpful," he said. "There are some policies that we definitely take exception to, but to say the president is hostile to religion, I think, would not be correct."
Obama gets generally high marks from faith organizations for maintaining, and in some ways strengthening, the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships begun by President George W. Bush. Obama faced pressure from secular liberals to scuttle the office, which was seen as blurring the line between church and state. Instead, he used it to reach out to faith groups across a broad spectrum of theology and politics.
Even in that last paragraph, however, I'd welcome more specific details on the "faith organizations" who are giving high marks as well as the "secular liberals" who are applying pressure.
Without such details, I can't help but ask: Where's the (journalistic) beef?