The importance of religion stories

whitehousedinner johnrobertsEven though I'm a reporter, I only recently began reading bylines as part of my newspaper experience. I can credit Robin Givhan for that. She's a staff writer for the Style section of the Washington Post. I was so aghast at reading a piece of hers years ago that I actually started noticing her byline. She said that Katherine Harris couldn't be trusted to deal with the 2000 election mess in Florida because of something about the way she applied her mascara. What was this, 1952? High-achieving women are judged not for their degrees from Harvard or being elected to a statewide office but for their makeup?

Of course, it's not hard to criticize fashion in Washington, where the women look like they're in an Ann Taylor cult and the men wear Dockers and pennyloafers to work out at the gym.

I love fashion criticism, it's just that rather than treating good fashion as its own virtue, Givhan extrapolates opinions about aesthetics into moral judgments. Beauty becomes equivalent to political virtue, ugliness to political vice, and Givhan writes it up in a manner that is extremely one-sided. She ridiculed John Roberts' family for looking too perfect, referred to Condoleezza Rice as a dominatrix and said Dick Cheney dressed horribly for a blizzard.

So when someone said that Givhan won a Pulitzer yesterday, I laughed. I saw a few other references to a Givhan Pulitzer and figured there must have been some joke on Wonkette that people were referencing. A full seven hours later I checked out the official list and saw that Givhan's name was on it. I turned to my fiance, who fortunately had some smelling salts on hand. When I came to, he explained to me in soothing tones that it was true.

But the Pulitzer committee has made mistakes before. It's still a prestigious award, even if its biases are pretty obvious.

It got me wondering, though, about the Godbeat. How well are religion reporters represented among the 2006 winners? I had hoped that Stephanie Simon might win for her excellent coverage of religious and moral issues for the Los Angeles Times. Alas, no. I imagine New Orleans' Times-Picayune and Biloxi-Gulfport's Sun Herald had some good religion reporting in their Katrina coverage, for which they won awards.

Here's the full list of awards. Some were given to reporters for stories that have religion ghosts -- such as the Jack Abramoff scandal or stories related to counterterrorism efforts. The Rocky Mountain News won two awards for a story and photographic essay about how Marines honor fallen comrades.

I guess I'm surprised that there weren't more overtly religious stories. Awards are given for stories written in 2005. Terry wrote about the top 10 religious stories for 2005. I see very little overlap between the Pulitzer awards and the Religion Newswriters Association's list of the year's biggest stories. What's more, the Pulitzer list has the same blind spot that Terry noted: the religious dimensions to terrorism.

And that's probably because the media have done a horrible job of exploring those dimensions. But at least we know all about those scary Roberts children.

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