Republicans

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

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Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Once again, it's time to talk about the many symbolic modifiers and verbs that offer clues to how journalists frame coverage of you know what. Consider, for example, the top of that Washington Post news report about Republicans backing away from a strategically timed vote on a bill that would protect unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy.

Now, you saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.

That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate, here on Jan. 22nd.

Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate? Let's look at the top of that Post report:

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Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

In a fascinating story, the Tampa Bay Times explores former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who died a decade ago after the feeding tube that sustained her for 15 years was removed.

The front-page report published Sunday focuses on Bush's decision to "err on the side of life" in a messy conflict over the fate of Schiavo, whom medical experts described as in a "persistent vegetative state."

The lede:

Tricia Rivas had never written to an elected official, but gripped with emotion, she composed an urgent email to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "Please save Terri Schiavo!" she wrote from her home in Tucson, Ariz., on March 20, 2005. "Do something before it is too late … please! Every parent is watching this drama unfold … and will remember the outcome in future elections." Schiavo would be dead by the end of the month at a hospice near St. Petersburg, but not before Bush took a series of actions that, looking back a decade later, are stunning for their breadth and audacity.
A governor who was known for his my-way-or-the-highway approach — and who rarely was challenged by fellow Republicans controlling the legislative branch — stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis in order to overrule the judicial branch for which he often showed contempt. Bush used his administration to battle in court after court, in Congress, in his brother's White House, and, even after Schiavo's death, to press a state attorney for an investigation into her husband, Michael Schiavo.
While many Republicans espouse a limited role for government in personal lives, Bush, now a leading contender for president in 2016, went all in on Schiavo.

Brief glimpses of faith and religion appear throughout the 2,200-word story. Unfortunately, those glimpses function more as flashing lights — as buzzwords — than real spotlights illuminating any kind of spiritual insight or depth.

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So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

Several years ago, I attended a forum here in Beltway territory about religion and politics, featuring a presentation by one of the official voices of the Democratic Party establishment -- E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post op-ed page. This was about the time that he released his book "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right."

During the question-and-answer session, I identified myself as someone who grew up as a moderate or conservative Democrat in Texas, back when that was the dominant political worldview in that state. In other words, this was before the whole red zip codes vs. blue zip codes phenomenon was identified, also famously symbolized by the "Jesusland vs. The United States of Canada" cartoon.

I asked Dionne if Gov. Mike Huckabee was nothing more than an "ordinary pre-Roe v. Wade populist Southern Democrat." This would explain, for example, why a secular libertarian like Rush Limbaugh detests Huckabee so much. 

Dionne thought about it for a second and replied that it would be very hard to argue against that thesis.

This brings me a piece that ran recently on the McClatchy wire -- "Democrats are all but extinct in the South." This news story was, timed, I am sure, to be relevant after the long-awaited fall of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the last Democratic senator in the old South (or as many journalists prefer to say, the old Confederacy).

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Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades?

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period.

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

Grumble  if you wish, but in this era of perpetual campaigns it’s nearly time for the usual news media blitz assessing evangelical Protestants’ presidential feelings about the Republicans’ notably God-fearing 2016 list.

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Your weekend think piece: Former GetReligionista discusses anti-Catholic story up in Seattle

Your weekend think piece: Former GetReligionista discusses anti-Catholic story up in Seattle

This is one of those stories that could have shown up with a "Got news?" notice in a GetReligion headline. It's rather amazing that this Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog item -- it's hard to tell if it was given serious news treatment -- did not receive more attention from the national press.

It's a classic example of a "mirror image" story. Try to imagine the coverage if a liberal Catholic or a traditional Muslim had been the target of this kind of ad. 

Here's the top of the PI report:

A website erected by local Democratic activists mocked the Catholic faith of Republican state Senate candidate Mark Miloscia, showing a cartoon of Miloscia waring a bishop’s mitre and holding a rosary and claiming that Miloscia represents “the Vatican.”
Democratic opponent Shari Song asked that the posting be taken down. It was, but has been replaced by an equally crude posting entitled “Pope Francis vs. Mark Miloscia,” which appears to argue that Miloscia is opposing the pope by being pro-life and upholding church teaching on same-sex marriage.

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Yo WaPo: All those disaffected evangelicals are singing a very old song

Yo WaPo: All those disaffected evangelicals are singing a very old song

Does anyone out there remember the wave of press coverage for the gigantic Promise Keepers "Stand In The Gap" rally on the National Mall long, long ago?

I was there as a color commentator for MSNBC, believe it or not, and all through the day I watched the national press try to turn the event into a Republican rally. That was hard, since nearly half of the speakers were African-Americans and the crowd of a million or so included lots of men whose views were focused on moral and cultural issues, as opposed to partisan politics.

This was the Woodstock of the multiracial charismatic movement, I noted, and by the end of the day it was very clear that most of the speakers were convinced that they were not going to be able to count on the Republican Party to defend centuries of Judeo-Christian doctrines on marriage, family and sex. Forget Bill Clinton, I said, if anyone had reason to worry at the end of that rally it was Newt Gingrich.

That was Oct. 4, 1997.

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NYTimes inside private GOP session on abortion strategy?

NYTimes inside private GOP session on abortion strategy?

Apparently, this past spring, the Republican National Committee held a closed-door meeting in which a circle of conservative women discussed a topic that they have been discussing for decades -- how to talk about abortion when dealing with mainstream journalists, especially television reporters.

Apparently, someone taking part in this meeting decided to invite a reporter from The New York Times to step inside the closed doors. Bravo for whoever made the brave decision to do that.

Apparently, however, it took quite a while for editors at the Times to decide that this was a story worth printing, since it just ran in late July, under the headline, "Conservatives Hone Script to Light a Fire Over Abortion."

On one level, this is pretty straightforward stuff. However, I have one rather basic journalistic question: If this was a closed-door session, was the Times reporter actually invited to attend or did someone slip into the meeting? Consider how this issue is framed at the top of the report.

It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.

They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.

Please hear me: The content is valid either way. However, shouldn't this question about access to the meeting have been mentioned? If a reporter snuck in, that's interesting, especially in terms of decades of tensions about abortion coverage and mainstream news-media bias. If a reporter was invited into the meeting, then that is even more interesting -- for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, I thought it was rather strange that the Times team thought that this session focused on an "unlikely set of skills."

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WPost still gets 'Julia' vote, but what about church ladies?

The other day I wrote a post about a Washington Post story about the upcoming elections that managed to do something really interesting: It addressed the challenges Democrats are facing as they try to frame issues going into the midterm elections in ways that would inspire their voters, yet managed to do so without mentioning the ongoing “pew gap” factor. You remember the pew gap don’t you? It’s the trend, during recent decades, in which people who frequently attend worship services (especially among white voters) tend to vote for morally and culturally conservative candidates. And the opposite?

So much has been made of the building blocks the president assembled to win his two elections — the outpouring of voters younger than 30; the long lines at precincts in African American communities; the support he engendered among the rising Hispanic population; the growing support for him and Democrats generally among unmarried women. …

Obama hopes to stir his base to action and in the past two weeks has been trying to push all the buttons.

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