The biggest loser

loserUsually I groan when I come across an Associated Press piece marked "analysis." I like my AP reporters to report, not analyze. But in a year like this, when reporters have dropped most pretense of reporting in favor of overtly playing politics, it's actually kind of a breath of fresh air to have something clearly identified as analysis. On this note, if media outlets' horribly misnamed "fact checks" could go the way of the Dodo bird, I'd be most happy. But the AP had an analysis piece that lived up to its name. Reporter Eric Gorski looked at the political scene over the last two years to declare a loser in the president election. The loser, he writes, is religion. It's a provocative piece that takes readers through the religious hurdles Mormon Mitt Romney faced through the denigration of Gov. Sarah Palin's Pentecostal roots. And it hits quite a few points in between:

With a few exceptions, whatever seemed odd or fringe trumped serious discussion about how candidates' religious beliefs shape their approach to governance.

As the race nears its end, scholars and religious leaders are using terms like "new low" and "embarrassing" to describe how religious beliefs were distorted and picked over, while candidates were asked to mount theological defenses for their respective faiths or be held accountable for the views of others.

"Religion is reduced to the exotic or to morality bumper stickers, or just a trump card for identity politics," said Eric Gregory, an assistant professor of religion at Princeton University. "The focus becomes buzzwords or personal piety rather than the way religion impacts issues."

Gorski discusses the analysis of Sen. Barack Obama's lengthy relationship to his pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and black liberation theology. Gorski covers the treatment of Muslims in American politics, Sen. John McCain's attempts to reach religious voters and much, much more:

The thread linking the above stories: videotaped sermons posted online, sometimes by churches trying to reach bigger audiences but increasingly by political activists looking for toxic material.

"This year we invaded churches with cell phones and started putting sermons up on YouTube," said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown political science professor. "That's been troubling, because you would like to think a candidate would have a little privacy in church."

In Gorski's analysis, Romney's religious views were scrutinized the most. He also looks at some higher watermarks in the election cycle, namely the Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and the Saddleback Civil Forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren. Gorski calls him a "mega-pastor" which must be a reference to his mega-church. I'm not sure how well the term works. There's no mention of Catholic bishops taking issue with the pronouncements of pro-choice Catholic politicians such as Sen. Joe Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Anyway, it's an interesting piece of analysis from a mainstream beat reporter who has had front row seats to the whole thing.

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