Failing to connect the dots

mcdonnellsignElections are like Super Bowls for political journalists. It's usually the big game that everybody has been waiting for, and although last night was quiet compared to last year, many outlets focused on the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia. I sympathize with reporters trying to meet deadlines, but the Associated Press probably prepared an election story ahead of time, right? For some reason, though, its story on governor-elect Bob McDonnell turned into more of a Wikipedia article than a compelling angle. The headline suggests that a story on McDonnell's faith will follow: "Bob McDonnell: Catholic family formed life views."

However, it doesn't contain any quotes from him, his family, his friends, pundits, or anyone that suggests that his faith impacts his current policies. It's like the reporter tried process of elimination for why McDonnell could be conservative: well it can't be because he's from Washington, maybe it could be because he's Republican, but it must be his faith!

McDonnell may very well attribute his policies to his faith, but the story seems to lack the proof. The New York Times report suggested that during the election McDonnell steered away from socially conservative issues, emphasizing job creation, the economy and transportation.

Mr. McDonnell was careful to keep his distance from the farther right end of his party. When the conservative activist Ralph Reed sponsored robocalls to voters featuring former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska asking them to vote their values, Mr. McDonnell's campaign declined to answer questions about the calls and emphasized that the campaign had not asked Ms. Palin to make them.

The AP deserves credit for highlighting the fact that McDonnell became the second Catholic governor of Virginia; Gov. Tim Kaine was the first. The Washington Post's article, though, doesn't even mention McDonnell's Catholicism. It simply says he is "known for a social conservatism deeply informed by his religious faith." Religious faith? Why not make it more specific?

The AP begin with this lead: "The new Republican governor-elect of Virginia brings to the office firmly conservative views that took root in the suburban, middle-class Irish Catholic home of his youth." But it hardly contains anything about McDonnell's Catholic family, only saying that he "was one of five children of a stay-at-home mom and a father he still describes as 'a tough, Boston Irish-Catholic Air Force officer who wasn't afraid to use the belt.' " That's it?

It also tells us that he went to a Catholic high school, then attended Notre Dame University (last time I checked, it was the University of Notre Dame), married a Washington Redskins cheerleader (who mothers his five children), and became an Army officer.

The Times, the Post and the AP all tell us, once again, about his 20-year-old thesis that he wrote while attending what is now Regent University where he described working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. Did anyone ever think to ask why McDonnell, as a Catholic, went to Regent in the first place? Although the school accepts students from various traditions, Regent theology professor Amos Yong said last year that the school's desire is to "posture itself as a broadly evangelical institution."

McDonnell's going to be around for a while, giving local Virginia papers a chance to pick up where these national outlets left off.

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