One thing I don't miss from Washington are the snarky, uninformative feature/news stories in The Washington Post's Style section. The latest and greatest from those pages, Sridhar Pappu's report on the Values Voters Summit, is like a bowl of bad popcorn. Little informed, slightly amused but mostly bemused, I came away from this story learning more about Pappu's day at the Hilton Washington than the latest plots from the religious right to take over America, or at least install a president to its liking in 2008. Maybe it's the tight deadlines Post feature writers suffer under (ha!). The level of insults, selective quotation marks ("Indeed, for three days, it was a huddle of people with 'shared values'") and general one-sidedness was beyond anything I've read attempting to pass for news these days:
On the subterranean concourse level of the Hilton, it was very easy to feel you were in a different world. Former Reagan administration official and 2000 Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer told those assembled, "You are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid's and Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare."
Across the way, the exhibition hall would probably require the Democratic Party's leadership to order a mass prescription of Ambien as well. There, both Exodus International and PFOX (Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays) supplied literature offering ways out of homosexuality. Centurion Mutual Funds offered a "Biblically responsible" alternative to financial planning. For $499 (plus shipping), you could buy from the Family Research Council a stand called the "Cultural Impact Center." It comes fully stocked with literature like "Partial-Birth Abortion on Trial" and "Dealing with Pornography: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Family and Your Community."
Standing by the Abstinence Clearinghouse Booth, which offered a plethora of items including "Pet your dog, not your date" T-shirts, Kurt Gernaat and his wife, Mary Beth, explained their own sense of struggle.
Aren't those evangelicals just a riot? I'm surprised Pappu didn't bother to mention that this whole thing happened a few yards away from the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. What other juicy details can Pappu deliver from a conference in a hotel?
I wonder how Hannah Rosin, author of God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, would have handled this piece. In reporting on Patrick Henry College, Rosin could have easily slid into a mocking and demeaning tone and written a handful of pieces that would no doubt have been published. But instead, Rosin took the time to listen and understand, and then report what she learned. We're all better off for it.
Reporters covering these religious issues -- both on the left and the right -- don't have to be religious in any particular sense in order to get what they are covering. To get it they have to be willing to listen and understand and take the time to learn what is beyond the surface.
Photo by Chuck Holton, via Flickr.