Generally the newspaper coverage of the Justice Department report on illegal hiring practices has been really good. There is one glaring exception though: the lead in The Washington Post's A1 story. You have to wonder where the phrase "Christian lifestyle choices" came from. Here it is along with the second paragraph:
For nearly two years, a young political aide sought to cultivate a "farm system" for Republicans at the Justice Department, hiring scores of prosecutors and immigration judges who espoused conservative priorities and Christian lifestyle choices.
That aide, Monica M. Goodling, exercised what amounted to veto power over a wide range of critical jobs, asking candidates for their views on abortion and same-sex marriage and maneuvering around senior officials who outranked her, including the department's second-in-command.
I wish I could have been in the newsroom when the Post put that lead together. I really hope they did not put too much thought into the phrase "Christian lifestyle choices" because what in the world does that really mean?
Giving the Post the benefit of the doubt, the "Christian lifestyle choices" language may have come from Goodling herself. If so, that choice of words should have been attributed to her as a quotation. Otherwise, the language must have been chosen, in the newsroom, in an attempt to reflect how Goodling was portraying these issues in interviews, memos, etc.
In essence, the phrase attempts to indicate that supporting the Bush Administration's views on two critical legal issues -- abortion and same-sex marriage -- means that the person in question is practicing a "Christian lifestyle." Is the opposite position a secular lifestyle? I would imagine liberal Baptists in the Clinton Administration would have a thing or two to say about that.
I've always been a fan of avoiding labels in news reports. The better way to go is just to describe in as much detail as possible what actually happened. Here is The New York Times in the third paragraph of their article on the subject:
Another prosecutor was rejected for a job in part because she was thought to be a lesbian. And a Republican lawyer received high marks at his job interview because he was found to be sufficiently conservative on the core issues of "god, guns + gays."
There is no religious or sectarian terminology in that paragraph. That doesn't mean religion is not part of this story. Rather, the political decisions were not necessarily made using religion as the basis.
More of course could be said on this subject and there will be more to come from us on this fairly significant story involving evangelical influence in the Bush Administration.
Tmatt, who is swamped in meetings all day, noted in a quick email to the GetReligionistas that there are plenty of other ways to get to conservative stands on these significant legal issues. What is making some news reports phrase the screening process in religious terms?
Also, are readers to believe that the Clinton White House did not have ways of screening applicants for stances on these hot button issues? They just did not do so in sectarian terms. The choice of words -- "Christian lifestyle choices" -- could mistakenly indicate that the opposing positions on gay marriage and abortion are non-Christian lifestyle choices. I do not think that is what the Post intends to say.
I don't doubt it is possible that Bush Administration officials and decision makers in the Justice Department view the conservative position on abortion and gay marriage as the lifestyle of choice for Christians. If that was what Goodling told the investigators who wrote this report then so be it. News stories should report that. That doesn't make it the final word on the matter for the purposes of a news story though.