Republicans

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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Yes, we saw that rather stunning Gawker quote about God and the mainstream press

Yes, we saw that rather stunning Gawker quote about God and the mainstream press

For years, I have heard religious leaders -- yes, most of them conservative types -- ask reporters whether or not they go to church. It's not a nice question and, I would argue, it's not the right question to ask if the goal is to understand why the mainstream press struggles to cover religion news.

The goal of this question, essentially, is to show that an unusually high percentage of the scribes and editors in newsrooms are godless heathens who hate religious people. Now, I have met a few of those heathens in newsrooms, but not as many as you would think. I've met my share of "spiritual, but not religious" journalists and quite a few religious progressives. I once heard a colleague quip that the only place that the Episcopal Church's "Decade of Evangelism," in the 1990s, was a success was in newsrooms.

As I have said before on this blog, there are plenty of non-believers who do a fine job covering religion news. Then again, I have met believers who could not report their way out of a paper bag.

No, the question religious folks should be asking journalists -- when reporters are sent to cover religion events -- is this: How long have you covered religion news and what did you do,  professionally and/or academically, to prepare for this work? In other words, stop asking journalists religious questions and start asking them journalism questions.

If you want to see a "Do you go to church?" train wreck, then check out the following commentary (and then some) from Hamilton Nolan at Gawker that as been making the rounds.

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Planned Parenthood video Stage 3: New York Times explores an ethics question!

Planned Parenthood video Stage 3: New York Times explores an ethics question!

I don't avoid the world of advocacy journalism online, but I also strive not to live there. However, I often bump into links that take me into liberal and conservative "news" sites and, every now and then, you hit some interesting info worth exploring (especially when there are URLs to original documents and sources).

If journalists are willing to do that kind of thing, this work could be part of what I called -- in an earlier post -- the Stage 3 coverage of the Planned Parenthood video story.

One such site is The Blaze, which actually has a piece online pointing toward some interesting trails. Click here to go there. Let's start here:

While activists have doubled down, Planned Parenthood responded ... by dismissing the allegation and claiming that its clinics simply help women who wish to donate the tissue of aborted fetuses to scientific research. On the other hand, Snopes.com, a fact-checking website, labeled the claim against Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress, a pro-life group, as “undetermined” based on the evidence.

Precisely! "Undetermined," as in journalists cannot avoid doubting and exploring the truth claims offered by Planned Parenthood and the same goes for its critics. What we need here is old-school journalism, which requires showing some skepticism after reading the press releases on both sides.

The Blaze team then talked -- wonder of wonders -- to a pro-life activist outside of the New York City-Washington, D.C., corridor who has (gasp) not made his mind up when it comes to judging the final outcome of this case.

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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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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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Speaking of 'so-called values issues,' let's stop editorializing by saying 'so-called'

Speaking of 'so-called values issues,' let's stop editorializing by saying 'so-called'

Warning: We're about to talk nerdy, as my friend Kenna Griffin puts it on her excellent "Prof KRG" blog for journalists.

The key point of today's post: In journalism, words matter.  

That's why I raised a stink not long ago over use of the term "controversial" to describe the religious freedom law that made headlines in Indiana.

And it's why I'm going to nitpick language in a USA Today story this week on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee facing competition for evangelical voters.

The timely lede:

WASHINGTON — When former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee ran for president eight years ago, he scored a surprising upset in the opening Iowa GOP caucuses by appealing to the state's evangelical voters.
This time, he'll have a lot more company.
On Tuesday, Huckabee, 59, formally announced his bid for the Republican nomination in 2016 from his hometown of Hope, Ark. He portrayed himself as an economic populist, a protector of Social Security, a defender of Israel and the scourge of Iran. A former Southern Baptist minister and Fox News talk-show host, he also touched on issues that particularly resonate with many conservative Christians, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, his support of religious freedom laws and his concern about the country's moral standards.

 

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Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Having worked as both a copy-desk editor and as a reporter, I am well aware of the fact that the scribes who write news stories rarely get to write the headlines that, for many angry readers, define the heart of what the stories say.

However, experienced reporters do get to write the vast majority of their own ledes.

So that's what I was thinking the other day when I read the top of that Washington Post news feature about Dr. Ben Carson that angered several GetReligion readers, who sent me emails containing the URL. For starters, there is that headline: "As Ben Carson bashes Obama, many blacks see a hero’s legacy fade." The vague word "many" is always a bad place to start.

Raise your hands, cyber-folks, if you are surprised that scores of black Democrats are upset with Carson. Ditto, of course, for the leaders of African-American churches that march under the banner of progressive politics, progressive doctrines, or both.

Carson is a person who, in addition to his excellence as an world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon, is best understood in the frame work of his religious and cultural beliefs, rather than his political views, strictly defined. Yes, this is one reason that some people -- including some admirers -- think he should not be running for president (as opposed to running for vice president or a chair in the cabinet). Hold that thought.

It is significant, this time around, that the story's lede and summary material has the exact same tone as the headline:

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Changing churches: What's Scott Walker's faith got to do with his Republican presidential creds?

Changing churches: What's Scott Walker's faith got to do with his Republican presidential creds?

As the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination develops, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is making faith-related headlines again.

This time the news has nothing to do with whether Walker thinks President Barack Obama is a Christian.

The New York Times explored Walker's religious background in a front-page story Sunday.

The Times' lede:

DES MOINES — Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, learned a lot about being a politician by going to church.
He was introduced to glad-handing while greeting worshipers beside his father after Sunday services. His confidence as a public speaker began at 2, when he delivered a Christmas greeting from the pulpit, and it blossomed when he preached occasional sermons as a teenager. And now, Mr. Walker’s lifelong church involvement may be a powerful asset as he positions himself to run for the Republican presidential nomination and focuses on early primary and caucus states dominated by evangelical voters.
Already a hero to fiscal conservatives — both the Tea Party base and billionaire donors like Charles G. and David H. Koch — Mr. Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, made his most explicit appeal yet to the Christian right on Saturday before hundreds of social conservatives in Iowa. During his toughest times in office, he said, “What sustained us all along the way is we had people who said, ‘We prayed for you.’ ”

A few days earlier, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel produced its own, even more in-depth portrait of Walker's faith.

 

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