We're all fascists now

ChristianFascismChris Hedges is the the former New York Times bureau chief in the Middle East and the Balkans. He has covered many wars. And he just wrote a book about evangelical Christians. He used to be Presbyterian and is the son of a pastor. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School, planning to become a member of the clergy. However, I gather he is no longer Christian. Because I tend to eschew all books with histrionic titles, I have not read Hedges' American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Fascism is such a nuanced epithet. Of course, I went to school in Colorado where all Republicans, skiers who didn't respect snowboarder rights, and parents who checked your grades before giving you additional funds were considered fascists. I did read a Salon interview with Hedges about it after more than a few readers passed it along. The author attends pro-life rallies and evangelical courses on conversion for his book. He concludes that all it will take for the Christian right to triumph and destroy American democracy is one more national crisis on the order of September 11. Here's a sample from the interview:

You say [the religious right] would like to impose a totalitarian system. How much of a conscious goal do you think that is at the upper levels of organizing, with, say, somebody like Rod Parsley?

I think they're completely conscious of it. The level of manipulation is quite sophisticated. These people understand the medium of television, they understand the despair and brokenness of the people they appeal to, and how to manipulate them both for personal and financial gain. I look at these figures, and I would certainly throw James Dobson in there, or Pat Robertson, as really dark figures.

I think the vast majority of followers have no idea. There's an earnestness to many of the believers. I had the same experience you did -- I went in there prepared to really dislike these people and most of them just broke my heart. They're well meaning. Unfortunately, they're being manipulated and herded into a movement that's extremely dangerous. If these extreme elements actually manage to achieve power, they will horrify [their followers] in many ways. But that's true with all revolutionary movements.

The core of this movement is tiny, but you only need a tiny, disciplined, well-funded and well-organized group, and then you count on the sympathy of 80 million to 100 million evangelicals. And that's enough. Especially if you don't have countervailing forces, which we don't.

I'm all for hearty critiques of politicized Christianity and evangelical Christianity in general, but I can't believe how over the top Hedges' views are. But that's not why I excerpted his comments here.

Hedges is a former bureau chief for The New York Times. Last week I pointed out the obvious fact that The New York Times Sunday Magazine gets its contributing writers from liberal publications, not conservative ones. Jack Hitt, who messed up the reporting on the abortion in El Salvador story, is a well-known liberal. After all the criticism Times editors have faced over their abortion reporters this year, I wondered whether abortion advocacy -- and not truthfulness -- was the goal of this newspaper.

Jeff Sharlet, a wonderful religion reporter and progressive media critic who has a terrific new personal blog, defended Hitt and took issue with me. He said I sounded conspiracy-minded:

Hitt's open about his liberalism. But it wasn't liberalism that bent this story -- it was sloppy reporting, and lazy fact checking.

I actually agree. Some of the most liberal reporters I know are also the fairest. But sometimes I think people with strong personal biases are more conscious of them and therefore work harder to overcome them. It's the people like Linda Greenhouse who think their personal opinions are factual that concern me.

Having said that, you don't find many former New York Times bureau chiefs writing books in defense of evangelicals or attacking the abortion rights movement. There is nothing wrong with The New York Times hiring good liberal reporters and editors. After all, the Times is a liberal paper. But I believe that the Times might have avoided the error in its abortion story if it had more pro-lifers on staff.

While a good reporter and editor should always double-check anecdotes that sound too good to be true, it's human nature for us to be more skeptical of anecdotes that oppose our views and more accepting of anecdotes that support our views. A healthy diversity in the newsroom can contribute to better reporting and editing.

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