Newsweek scare-quotes non-quotes

KirbyjonCaldwellNewsweek's Lisa Miller has written a mostly thoughtful and revealing profile of Kirbyjon Caldwell this week. The story describes how Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, introduced George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention in 2000, voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and has now changed his political loyalties. "Last summer he aligned himself with a man who he believes better represents the Christian ethics and American values he preaches: Barack Obama," Miller writes in an elegant transitional sentence.

Too bad the elegance wasn't woven throughout the article. The profile is hindered by two of the more cheap gimmicks of telegraphing opinion in a news article: scare-quoting, and "what he calls" throat-clearing. Using "what he calls" is a way for a reporter to establish a distance from words or clauses she finds unfamiliar or perhaps dubious. Miller uses this flourish four times in her article, and in no case is it necessary:

After they met at a party, Caldwell began working as an informal adviser to the governor, giving him what he calls the "man on the street" perspective on local issues. Both Houston natives, the men shared an appreciation for what Caldwell calls "Christian ethics and American values."

. . . Over and over, in public and in private, he praises what he calls Obama's "heart," a quality that can still move him to tears.

Let's see -- man on the street, Christian ethics and American values, heart, knowing. What is this strange patois that Caldwell speaks? Granted, millions of Americans will define "Christian ethics and American values" in different ways, but scare quotes do not make this point. They just sneer.

Miller also writes of Caldwell's removing a link from his church's website to that of Metanoia Ministries, a national organization with a support group at Windsor Village:

More recently, Caldwell has come under fire for supposedly betraying his beliefs. In January, gay groups discovered a ministry called Metanoia on the Windsor Village Web site whose stated aim was to help homosexuals understand with God's help that "change was possible" (euphemistic language for "curing" gays). After the groups launched a small battery of protests online, Caldwell says, he received a call from the Obama campaign. "They asked, 'What is Metanoia?,' and they commenced to say they had gotten some calls." Not wishing to cause his candidate any "unnecessary angst," Caldwell voluntarily took the ministry off the Web site, though the ministry itself, which he says was started at the request of church members, remained open. Metanoia, he adds, will be back online soon. The Obama campaign did not comment.

Here Miller scare-quotes the word curing, although Metanoia does not describe its goals or its philosophy with that word. This is scare-quoting a strawman scare word.

In the very next paragraph, Miller does it again:

The Rev. [D.L.] Foster runs "Witness Freedom Ministries Inc.," an Atlanta-based program aimed at "converting" gays; he believes Caldwell betrayed his own Christian convictions when he took the ministry offline.

Convert is not a dirty word among Christians, of course, but it's not the language Foster uses to describe his work.

The alternative here is simple: Follow the wise advice of The Associated Press Stylebook and favor whole sentences over sentence fragments -- especially when describing a person's most disputed beliefs or actions.

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