Report the political wildfire

speaker hastertApparently GetReligion's post on the Foley scandal was featured on the front page of Yahoo on Thursday morning, which drew responses from across the political spectrum. For those of you who are new to the blog, note that we are not here to debate faith but to discuss the media's coverage of faith. Hence our name: GetReligion. While your well-reasoned, and some not-so-well-reasoned, thoughts are great, there are millions of other blogs out there that serve that purpose. Allow GetReligion to be a place to discuss the media's coverage of the religious issues in our society. Comments outside the realm of media analysis will be considered for deletion.

As a short follow-up to Thursday's post on Foley and the subsequent media firestorm and Drudge-induced crazy twists and turns, I want to note George Will's Washington Post column that says this scandal has revealed the fault lines in the GOP. Much of it explains the quiet, and some not-so-quiet, GOP calls for the resignation of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Wheaton College graduate:

Their story, of late, has been that theirs is the lonely burden of defending all that is wholesome. But the problem with claiming to have cornered the market on virtue is that people will get snippy when they spot vice in your ranks. This is one awkward aspect of what is supposed to have been the happy fusion between, but which involves unresolved tensions between, two flavors of conservatism -- Western and Southern.

The former is largely libertarian, holding that pruning big government will allow civil society -- and virtues nourished by it and by the responsibilities of freedom -- to flourish. The Southern, essentially religious, strand of conservatism is explained by Ryan Sager in his new book, "The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party":

"Whereas conservative Christian parents once thought it was inappropriate for public schools to teach their kids about sex, now they want the schools to preach abstinence to children. Whereas conservative Christians used to be unhappy with evolution being taught in public schools, now they want Intelligent Design taught instead (or at least in addition). Whereas conservative Christians used to want the federal government to leave them alone, now they demand that more and more federal funds be directed to local churches and religious groups through Bush's faith-based initiatives program."

To a Republican Party increasingly defined by the ascendancy of the religious right, the Foley episode is doubly deadly. His behavior was disgusting, and some Republican reactions seem more calculating than indignant.

firestormGetReligion would like to throw in another fault line: Reagan Democrats-conservative Catholics.

While it's clear that some Republicans will back Hastert, others are outraged and want heads to roll. Identifying the source of that outrage will speak volumes about the Republican Party and its commitment to values voters.

The media would do us all a real favor if they spent less time with talking heads, cut back on the commentary and devote more time to talking with everyday members of Congress, or even your average loyal Republican. Reporters' inboxes were bombarded Thursday with news releases from the House majority citing the number of Republicans who are supporting Hastert. I have a feeling that those news releases instigated this Washington Post article describing House Republicans closing ranks around their leader.

Reporters don't have to bring these people onto radio or television shows, or quote them in newspapers, but they should talk to everyday members of the GOP and get a feel for how they are reacting to the scandal. When they're on the record, politicos, even values-focused politicos, will be more likely to follow marching orders, but how they feel in their hearts and souls could be an entirely different matter.

To highlight a great example of this type of reporting, check out this Morning Edition report in which a handful of rural values voters are asked about how the Foley scandal will affect their vote. Their answer? Not at all. Issues such as Iraq and their values matter more. While admitting that its own small-sample poll is not scientific, NPR also cites this very scientific poll from the Pew Research Center to support its conclusion.

Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post came to a more wishy-washy conclusion using different numbers from what seems to be the same Pew poll. Cooperman's story contends that the GOP hold on the evangelical vote is weakening, but does not tie that weakening to the Foley scandal. There are other issues at stake, such as Iraq. But there's a problem. I cannot find any of the statistics cited in Cooperman's article in the Pew poll. Is there another poll out there that Pew has not released on its website?

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