B-level story on 'Christian A-team'

Right off the bat, can I make a confession?

I've read a 3,500-word New York Magazine piece on King's College's new president at least three times, and each reading leaves me more confused.

I'm exaggerating a bit, but this is one of those rambling pieces of, um, journalism where you never really know where you're going or what the point is. It's almost as if the writer assembled a bunch of facts and anecdotes, dumped them in a blender and created a messy concoction that tastes pretty darn nasty.

At the beginning, this much seems clear: In the basement of the Empire State Building, something wacky — and decidedly right-wing — is going on:

Dinesh D’Souza, the new president of the city’s only Evangelical college, wants to build a “Christian A-team.” But can the man who says Obama supports radical Muslims persuade students to follow him?

The top of the story:

Each spring, the King’s College, a Christian school occupying two floors in the Empire State Building, hosts a series of lectures and debates on a single theme. This year’s theme is villainy. In a windowless basement room, Dinesh D’Souza, the college’s newly installed president, is delivering his remarks to a student camera crew, two potential donors, and about 30 undergraduates. In keeping with the college’s dress code, the students wear business suits.

“I want to talk a little bit about what I call the unique villainy of Barack Obama,” D’Souza, 50, says with a grin. “In my view, it’s the villainy of nondisclosure.” Obama campaigned as a standard liberal, D’Souza says, but actually is a vehement anti-colonialist. “For Obama, the radical Muslims are on the right side of history—that’s why he is so unnaturally solicitous toward them.”

This theory, D’Souza’s idiosyncratic twist on birtherism, forms the core of his 2010 book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which was, like many of D’Souza’s books, both a New York Times best seller and a piñata for critics of all political stripes. Even the conservative Weekly Standard lamented the book’s “misstatements of fact, leaps in logic, and pointlessly elaborate argumentation.”

An austere young man asks, “Doesn’t the villainy of deception sort of pale in comparison to Obama’s moral villainies, such as supporting the abortion agenda or even the redistribution of wealth, stealing from the rich to give to the poor?”

The next paragraph provides an indication that internal support of the new president may not be 100 percent:

“In a sense, yes,” D’Souza concedes, and later says, “Frankly, I don’t think Obama cares that much about the poor. What he cares about is bringing down the people at the top … In my opinion, Obama’s animating energies are negative.” By now the two potential donors have left the room looking ashen. Chris Ross, an employee of the college who is “facilitating” my visit by never leaving my side, winces slightly every time I write something down. As he escorts me out of the building, he says, “Remember that President D’Souza speaks for himself, not for the school.”

Left the room looking ashen. In a perfect world, a journalist would provide a bit more concrete information than that. Did the writer attempt to interview the potential donors? Did they voice any concerns on the record?

“Remember that President D’Souza speaks for himself, not for the school.” Seriously? In what world does a college president not speak for the school? That little nugget right there seems to be the newsworthy peg for this story, a delicious angle that could be explored and developed. But keep reading, and the piece only scratches at the surface of that highly relevant question, instead zigging and zagging all over the place in a scatterbrained profile of the college and its new president.

Strangely enough, the report capitalizes evangelical in the few references to it. Meanwhile, the writer all but ignores D'Souza's Catholic background — the subject of a 2,700-word Christianity Today report when he was hired last year. While CT referred to D'Souza as "widely identified as a Roman Catholic," this is how New York Magazine handles his religious affiliation:

Born Catholic in Mumbai, D’Souza was brought to Evangelicalism by his wife, Dixie, whom he met when he was Reagan’s youngest policy analyst and she was a White House intern.

Nearly 3,000 words (3,000 WORDS!) into the story, a hint of some student disfavor with D'Souza finally emerges:

I offer to treat them to a meal at a Lower East Side bistro. At the restaurant, they squint at the menu by candlelight and ask for a crash course in French culinary vocabulary. When I ask them to describe their teachers and classmates, each uses the phrase “the smartest people I’ve ever met.” But when talk turns to D’Souza, their enthusiasm seems to dim. “I think he has some … interesting ideas,” Smith stammers.

If the board of trustees hoped a marquee conservative would help with fund-raising, their gamble could still pay off. Yet signs suggest that the King’s community may find D’Souza more divisive than galvanizing. Some King’s professors are considering resignation next fall rather than pledging allegiance to their new president. “I mean, I’m a conservative,” one tells me. “I didn’t vote for Obama. But I don’t hate him.”

I'm still unclear what role politics actually plays at King's College, whether anyone besides D'Souza wants to create an "A-team" of Christian power brokers, whether the college's trustees regret D'Souza's hiring or support his direction, what level of dissent has occurred, etc., etc., etc.

Seldom have 3,500 words conveyed so little real information.

Strange, strange, strange.

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