GetReligion gift: Quick, accurate correction

waterboard-11-14-07_2Every now and then, people send GetReligion gifts. Think of these gifts as GetReligion-esque posts that have already been written by people who do not write for this weblog. In this case, we are dealing with an item over at National Review Online written by Keith Pavlischek, who is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and leads its Program to Protect America's Freedom. As you would expect, this is a conservative who is upset because he believes he was not treated very well in a mainstream media outlet, in this case Religion News Service.

Now what makes this a GetReligion gift is this: Pavlischek's item at NR Online treats RNS with respect and, in turn, the professionals at RNS treat him with respect and we end up with a corrected story that is more accurate, nuanced and balanced.

It's called journalism. We cheer for that around here.

Here is the top of the Religion News Service piece that is at the heart of this conflict and resolution. It centers on a hot topic, one that is very hard to get into a small amount of print -- as you will see. The headline: "Evangelicals seem unfazed by torture. Why?"

Does conservative Christianity encourage torture? That debate has been reignited by new numbers from the Pew Research Center that show white evangelicals are more supportive of "torture to gain important information from suspected terrorists" than any other religious or political group in the survey.

Less than half of the general public (49 percent) say government-sponsored torture can "often" or "sometimes" be justified, compared to almost two-thirds of white evangelicals (62 percent). That view is almost identical to the view of Republicans (64 percent), giving fuel to the charge that evangelicals' views on torture are rooted more in politics than their faith.

"Conservatives are living within their own moral universe," said Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from suburban Orlando, Fla. "In the last few decades, we have kind of created our own moral terms -- more neoconservative than walking in sacrificial love."

So that's the context. To cut to the chase, Pavlischek was quoted saying some things that he does not, in fact, believe. That's bad.

Let's let him pick up the media part of this narrative, which centers on scholars and activists trying to come up with a precise definition of the word "torture." However, you really need to read the whole thing to see the nature of the corrections made and why this case transcends the usual anti-MSM whining one hears on the right:

... I spent nearly an hour on the phone with the RNS reporter and certainly did not claim that "torture is not inherently evil according to Christian principles." Because the term "torture" carries a normative connotation -- namely, the immoral and illegal infliction of pain -- the reporter's paraphrase suggests that I hold the preposterous position that immoral acts are not immoral and can actually be justified on the basis of Christian principles, natural law theory, and just war theory.

In fact, I carefully explained to the reporter that there are forms of pain-infliction that are necessarily torture and are intrinsically immoral, such as forced sodomy, bodily mutilation, and electrical shocking. I also took special care to explain that not all forms of pain-infliction are necessarily torture and intrinsically evil. If they were, then actions such as spanking, handcuffing, and riot control would be intrinsically evil.

I also did not "insist [that] waterboarding is not torture." On the specific question of waterboarding, I told the reporter that I believe that it is a "close call," and that reasonable people of good will can disagree about its morality.

More broadly, in discussing the moral permissibility of "enhanced interrogation techniques," I told the reporter that any Christian argument for such techniques had to be non-consequentialist. In other words, a Christian's moral judgment of the acts cannot depend on the hoped-for outcome; it must be based on the morality of the actions themselves -- because Christians don't "do evil so that good may come."

Now, I am happy to report that the very next passage says the following.

I'm completely confident that this reporter, who has apologized to me, did not set out to so badly mischaracterize my views. He had to synthesize and summarize the views of a half-dozen scholars and on a tight deadline and had only 1,000 words or so to tell the story. ... And I am happy to report that Kevin Eckstrom, the editor of RNS, responded to my request for a correction. ...

All's well that ends well, and RNS should be applauded for quickly correcting the record. Journalistic errors of this sort are not always so promptly and responsibly corrected and too often they serve to confuse this heated debate.

There is, however, one problem here. If you clicked the link included above that takes you to the RNS text, you'll notice that the Pew Forum religion news site has not printed the correction. We live in a fallen world and errors are hard to correct once they get into, well, the real world.

UPDATE: Eckstrom kept following this up. The Pew Forum text has now been corrected.

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