Faith-based funding

electionexplanation2Religion reporter Alan Cooperman covers faith-based initiatives for the Washington Post. His story today, which highlights a report from the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare, had some interesting phrases.

Despite the Bush administration's rhetorical support for religious charities, the amount of direct federal grants to faith-based organizations declined from 2002 to 2004, according to a major new study released yesterday. . . .

The study by the nonpartisan Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy examined 28,000 grants made by nine federal agencies over three years. It found that religious charities got an unchanging share -- about 18 percent -- of the money awarded each year.

But because the total pie of available funding shrank by more than $230 million over the three years, the slice that went to religious groups also declined, from $670 million in fiscal 2002 to $626 million in fiscal 2004.

Note the lead, which is, essentially: despite claims of support, the amount of money to faith-based groups decreased under Bush. I have really enjoyed Cooperman's writing for years and this is a minor quibble, but I think it's important to note that a leader can, in fact, support faith-based initiatives and at the same time oversee a funding decrease. It's not necessarily a contradiction and therefore doesn't require the loaded word despite. In fact, the third paragraph I've excerpted here shows that overall government-wide discretionary spending went down (while spending to pay for the war in Iraq and to fund mandatory entitlements skyrocketed, of course) and is the reason for the decrease.

It's just a good reminder that budgets are contentious issues and reporters shouldn't take sides on policy prescriptions. Because of that, the language should be as neutral and straightforward as possible. In fact, the more contentious the issue, the flatter the language should be.

Another note: see how the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy is characterized? That's right -- nonpartisan. If there is a worse descriptor for reporters to use, I'm not aware of it. And, in fact, the Roundtable has a fairly good record of raising legal and ethical questions against faith-based initiatives. I know this because I used its research when I was writing a chapter of my book against faith-based charity funding! The Roundtable might be nonpartisan in the sense that it more-or-less opposes charitable choice and faith-based funding no matter which party supports it. But is that the best way to characterize the group? How about we reveal the Roundtable's funding, at least?

Also, I'm not sure how great of an idea it is for Cooperman to vouch for the group while he's covering it. But all of this quibbling is actually not what I intended to say. I think it's good for reporters to look into faith-based funding and see how it's changing -- or not changing, as Cooperman's report says -- public policy. There's a treasure of information to be mined.

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