Politics

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

It’s important to know right from the start that Kirsten Powers is a cradle liberal who has never once voted for a Republican.

She was a Clinton-Gore operative in 1992, a Clinton administration appointee, press secretary for Andrew Cuomo’s first New York governor race and held other partisan posts. She then shifted into opinion journalism, currently as a USA Today columnist and token liberal commentator on Fox News.

Powers’s credentials as a card-carrying political liberal have helped create buzz about her iconoclastic new “The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech” (Regnery). It’s proclaimed “an important book” by no less than Ron Fournier, National Journal’s editorial director and former Washington bureau chief of The AP. More predictable praise comes from conservatives like Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Krauthammer and George Will, her fellow Fox pundits.

What possessed Powers to issue a broadside against what she calls “the illiberal left”?  Mainly two things.

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New persecution in Sudan: Religion News Service report leads mainstream media

New persecution in Sudan: Religion News Service report leads mainstream media

"Courage is contagious," Billy Graham has said. "When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened."

Whether from courage or just old-school nose for news, the Religion News Service deserves thanks and applause for its Wednesday story on a new round of persecution in Sudan.

Remember Meriam Yayha Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who was jailed and threatened with death last year? Well, something like that is happening again: The government there has jailed two pastors, charging them with spying and, according to RNS, with "assault on religious belief."

In a way, it's even worse this time around. Ibrahim was accused of "apostasy," deserting the Islamic faith. Her counter-argument was that her mother raised her as a Christian and she never converted to the faith of her father. She won her case and was released in a month, then emigrated to the United States.

In the current case, neither the Rev. Michael Yat nor the Rev. Peter Yein Reith is accused of leaving Islam. At bottom, their arrests stem from the creation of South Sudan in 2011 after a long, brutal civil war. Both ministers are members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.

As RNS tells it:

Yat was arrested last year after visiting the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church’s Bahri congregation in Khartoum, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a charity that works on behalf of persecuted Christians.
The congregation had resisted the takeover of the church by a Muslim businessman, who had demolished part of the worship center.
In December, police beat and arrested 38 Christians for worshipping in the church.
With Yat’s arrest, South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church sent Reith with a letter to the authorities to demand his release. He was arrested on Jan. 11.

RNS adds that since the creation of South Sudan, the northern nation "has forced out all foreign missionaries, raided churches and arrested and interrogated Christians on grounds that they belonged to South Sudan." So Yat's and Reith's case is an apparent blend of governmental paranoia and Sudan's militant form of Islam.

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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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In Illinois, gay conversion therapy bill passes, and front-page Chicago Tribune story misses the mark

In Illinois, gay conversion therapy bill passes, and front-page Chicago Tribune story misses the mark

Here we go again.

At GetReligion, we repeatedly have highlighted the media misconception that Christian therapists believe they can "pray the gay away."

Tmatt tackled the subject again just last month.

The latest news on this front comes from Page 1 of Wednesday's Chicago Tribune.

Here's the lede:

Following a series of big wins during the past decade that culminated in the approval of same-sex marriage in Illinois, the new cause for gay rights supporters at the Capitol is banning conversion therapy on minors — a controversial practice aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight.
The effort gained momentum Tuesday as the Illinois House voted to approve the measure 68-43 after the bill failed in the chamber last year. The bill now goes to the Senate, which tends to be more liberal.

Under the proposal, mental health providers would be barred from engaging in treatment aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors. Psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors caught doing so could be deemed as engaging in unprofessional conduct by state regulators and face disciplinary action ranging from monetary fines, probation, or temporary or permanent license revocation.

See any problem with that?

To that question, a fellow GetReligionista replied:

You mean other than the lede misstating the goals of most people who do this work, focusing on behavior rather than the mystery of orientation? 

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'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

Let's talk scare quotes for a moment.

Regular GetReligion readers know what we mean when we use that term.

But in case you're new to this nerdy journalism site focused on mass media coverage of religion news, click here to review past examples.

I bring up this topic again today because of a note I received from a regular reader, who opined:

Notice how whenever the Left invents a new phrase, the media adopt it immediately and uncritically, while well-known, long-understood and uncontroversial words and phrases get scare quotes? Oh, of course you do.
"Aid-in-dying" gets no scare quotes, while "religious freedom" always does? 

The reader included a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story.

Actually, the Chronicle lede does include scare quotes — just not around the phrase 'aid-in-dying":

SACRAMENTO — The California Medical Association has become the first state medical association in the nation to drop opposition to what has long been known as “physician-assisted suicide,” it said, acknowledging a shift in doctor and patient attitudes about end-of-life and aid-in-dying options.

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Hurrah! New York Times spots a religion ghost in Nebraska drive to kill death penalty

Hurrah! New York Times spots a religion ghost in Nebraska drive to kill death penalty

I groaned when I saw the following New York Times headline on yet another story about a political battle -- one that some would call a "culture wars" skirmish -- out in middle America, the land of red zip codes.

The headline said: "Conservative Support Aids Bid in Nebraska to Ban Death Penalty."

I assumed, of course, that the story would focus on the fiscal and legal side of the term "conservative," ignoring the fact that there are conservative people (my hand is raised as a pro-life Democrat) who believe that all human life is sacred, from conception to natural death -- even when a jury assembled by the state approves the killing.

You see, some doctrinally conservative people -- but certainly not all -- don't want to give that kind of power to the state, fearing human error and injustice linked to race and social class. As St. John Paul II once noted:

"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made ... for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

This is, in other words, a story with strong religious themes it and that part of the debate must be covered. I kind of assumed the Times would miss that, but I was wrong. This may be evidence that the Times team does a better job covering this kind of moral, religious and cultural issue (a) when it does not involve the Sexual Revolution, (b) when the conservatives involved happen to agree with the Times editorial page and (c) well, I can't think of a good (c) option.

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Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

Where is Sen. Moynihan when you need him? Baltimore's 'Hero Mom' going it alone

By now, many GetReligion readers will have already seen some or all of the video at the top of this post, the one in which Toya Graham of Baltimore offered some blunt guidance to her son as he was poised to throw rocks at police during the Baltimore riots.

In online coverage and commentaries, the 42-year-old Graham is often known as the "Hero Mom" and police and civic leaders have praised her for trying to control her child, while noting that they wish there were more parents around who would do the same.

The Baltimore Sun did a very interesting and complex profile of Graham and covered almost all of the bases relevant to this story, including some interesting material about her church ties. Still, by the end, I was left asking a familiar question: What would the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a giant of the Democratic Party in the late 20th Century say about this sad urban scene?

I suspect that, like many readers in commentary boxes on reports about this incident, he would ask a basic question linked to faith, family and culture -- Where is this young man's father? Moynihan, of course, is famous for producing a 1965 report (50th anniversary news feature alert) in which he argued that in the future the key factor in poverty in America would no longer be race, but whether children were raised in intact homes, with a father as well as a mother.

Is that a question with religious and moral overtones? I suspect that many, but perhaps not all, leaders in the black church would say that it is.

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Curious about the religion of the 2016 presidential candidates? Check out RNS' impressive '5 faith facts'

Curious about the religion of the 2016 presidential candidates? Check out RNS' impressive '5 faith facts'

Did you know that Hillary Clinton "was, is and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist?"

Did you know that even as governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee "maintained his pastoral instincts, sometimes contacting members of his Southern Baptist church when he learned of a death in their families?"

Did you know that Ben Carson is "a twice-baptized Seventh-day Adventist?"

You knew all of those things — and much more — if you've been following Religion News Service's "5 faith facts" series on the declared candidates.

I really like RNS' "5 faith facts" format.

In this listicle age of journalism, it's an interesting and informative way to report on the candidates' faith. Plus, for a wire service such as RNS, it presents value-added content that news organizations can use either by itself or as a sidebar to other major coverage. I definitely intend to save the links for future reference.

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There's cheese, but where's religious beef in New York Times story on Scott Walker and Paul Ryan?

There's cheese, but where's religious beef in New York Times story on Scott Walker and Paul Ryan?

In the mid-1980s, I played tuba in the band, edited my high school newspaper and donned an ugly maroon McDonald's uniform at night and on weekends.

I never worked so hard as I did sticking buns in the toaster, dropping frozen patties on the grill and arranging condiments on thousands of cheeseburgers, Quarter Pounders and Big Macs.

I definitely earned my minimum wage of $3.35 an hour and was elated when I got a 50-cent raise to $3.85 after just a few months.

In a recent story, The New York Times highlighted two other men in their mid-40s who gained real-world experience under the Golden Arches.

You may have heard of them.

The lede:

DELAVAN, Wis. — Who could have guessed in the mid-1980s, at a pair of otherwise forgettable McDonald’s restaurants some 20 miles apart, that two bushy-haired teenagers working the burger grills would become Wisconsin’s most powerful Republicans?
Scott Walker, 47, now the governor and a likely presidential candidate, was a record-setting track star with a mean mullet when he donned the McDonald’s uniform — black pants, white shirt, long black tie — to make Big Macs here in his hometown.
Paul D. Ryan, 45, now a powerful United States representative who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012, suited up with something greater in mind in nearby Janesville: operating the front register. One dark day, though, Mr. Ryan’s manager told him that he lacked the “interpersonal skills” to deal with customers — and into the kitchen he went.
Mr. Walker tells that story of a young Mr. Ryan to virtually every Republican crowd he meets as he prepares for his campaign for president, sprinkling his biography with some of the gold dust Mr. Ryan has accrued as a favorite of conservatives — and as the better-known name, from his three months as Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Keep reading, and the Times indicates that Walker and Ryan have a bond that goes beyond McDonald's burgers and Wisconsin cheese.

Yes, there's a religion angle:

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