Religion Dispatches, a progressive blog for religion news and analysis, has a post about President Barack Obama's newly appointed religion ambassador. The headline sums up the story very well:
Obama's Religion Ambassador: Inexperienced? Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook is an upbeat motivational preacher, but her self-help background may not be preparation enough for an international diplomatic post
As I searched around for news about Cook, I was surprised to find very little outside of Christian media.
In yesterday's Washington Post, however, is this dramatic Got News? entry by Thomas Farr:
It appears that the policy Johnson Cook has been nominated to lead is being sidelined even before she takes the job. The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom. In fact, such a decision would harm the victims of religious persecution, hamstring key Obama initiatives and undermine U.S. national interests.
After explaining why the post is important and the bipartisan support it has received, he writes:
Expert envoys have long been at work on favored subjects, including HIV/AIDS, Guantanamo, disabilities and outreach to Muslim communities. A task force on gay rights has been in place for months.
Yet it took 18 months to nominate an ambassador for international religious freedom. And despite bipartisan urging to employ religious freedom as a means to advance our national security, the recent National Security Strategy ignores IRF policy. The ambassador will not report directly to the secretary of state as do other ambassadors at large (all of whom are experts in their fields). The staffers who reported to predecessors will not report to Johnson Cook should she be confirmed. The position will be emasculated, in direct contravention of the legislation that created it.
This seems like major news -- so why haven't mainstream outlets reported on this more?
The Washington Post is the notable exception -- Michelle Boorstein wrote back in January:
Missing, say religious freedom advocates, is any work related to religious freedom or foreign policy.
And when the appointment was finally announced recently, William Wan and Boorstein had an analysis-laden blog post that explained what was happening in the office and why some folks are worried:
Farr notes that his field is "met abroad with almost universal skepticism" and is seen as a "front for Christian missionaries" - problematic perceptions that need to be dealt with by an influential, respected ambassador.
"If the Obama administration were taking this issue seriously, it would choose an expert in international religious freedom with experience in foreign affairs. It would choose a proven leader who can change things at the State Department and re-energize our flagging [international religious freedom] policy," Farr says.
So the Post is all over this story. That's fantastic. It's a shame other media outlets aren't interested in this story as well.