The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I find it sad, but not all that surprising, that the journalistic virus that your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism" is spreading out of the elite zip codes along the East and West coasts.

Once again, "Kellerism" is a form of advocacy journalism that is practiced by journalists who are working in mainstream newsrooms, as opposed to newsrooms that openly admit that they have a dominant editorial point of view, or template, on many crucial issues in the public square. The term grew out of remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 forum (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin.

Here, once again, is a chunk of an "On Religion" column I wrote about his response when he was asked if -- it's a familiar question -- the Times can accurately be called a "liberal newspaper."

“We’re liberal in the sense that ... liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. ... “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” ...
Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes -- and did even before New York had a gay marriage law -- included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

As I have noted several times, the key words are "aside from." Why use a balanced scale when editors already know who is right?

So politics is worthy of balanced journalism, but there is no need for that kind of thing when professionals deal with news linked to morality and religion -- things like sex, salvation, gay rights, abortion, euthanasia, cloning and a few other non-political issues. Yes, things like Roe v. Wade and Romer v. Evans. A second doctrine grows out of that. There is no need for intellectual and cultural diversity in mainstream newsrooms on these kinds of issues, the kind recommended in that famous 2005 self-study at the Times called "Preserving Our Readers' Trust."

Sorry for the long introduction, but it's crucial to understand this term in order to wonder why a long-time GetReligion reader was so upset after reading the recent Ford Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette story that ran under the headline, "For 20 years, same-sex couples wed in city."

Let me stress that this is a valid story that focuses on an important topic -- the fact that doctrinally liberal congregations in the newspaper's region had long been performing religious rites to bless same-sex relationships, even before same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana.

Yes, the word "wed" in the headline might be problematic for some readers, since the union rites were not legally "weddings" until recently, but that didn't really bother me -- since as an active churchman I think of marriage in terms of doctrine rather than state laws, anyway. But, did these liberal clergy openly call them "weddings" at the time? That would have been a good question for a journalist to have asked.

However, it does not appear that the Journal Gazette team was asking many questions. There is no evidence that the goal here was anything other than public relations for one side of a very important public and religious debate. Read the story and look for any attempt to accurately report the views of traditional Jews, Christians or anyone else on the traditional side of a sanctuary aisle. Here is a key section of the story, its one attempt at balance:

While there is more hesitation in acceptance among churches and clergy in smaller, more rural areas, the Fort Wayne area is generally pretty welcoming to the LGBT community. ...
Last month, two days after same-sex marriage became legal in Indiana, the University of Notre Dame announced it would extend benefits and housing to legally married same-sex couples.
Days later, the Rev. Kevin Rhoades, bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Roman Catholic Diocese, wrote that it was important that Notre Dame continued to affirm its fidelity to Catholic teaching on the true nature of marriage, adding that there was “confusion” over a preliminary document from a Vatican committee on issues concerning homosexuals.
Rhodes cited official church documents that say the church views homosexuals and heterosexuals as “equal in dignity” and opposes “unjust discrimination” against homosexuals. But, he wrote, the church continues to view homosexual sex as wrong and opposes same-sex marriage because the “nature” of marriage requires opposite sexes.

Actually, is it proper under Associated Press style to refer to a bishop as merely "the Rev." -- which is the proper style for a priest or pastor? Just asking.

Meanwhile, note that Rhoades "wrote" these views. Where? Did the local newspaper really settle for a quote from a website or a press release on a topic this crucial, rather than doing actual research talking to the bishop and other experts on the other side?

After all, the newspaper's team interviewed clergy person after clergy person on the liberal side of the debate, as well as people directly touched by these rites. That was good, solid, necessary research to represent their beliefs and to help readers understand their actions. They were treated with respect, as they should have been.

And what did the Journal Gazette offer believers on the other side of this debate?

There is a word for what the orthodox believers received in this case: Kellerism.

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