You can take M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion (although I am still struggling to get used to that), but it does appear that you can't take those GetReligion instincts out of Mollie the journalism critic.
Consider for a moment what is actually going on in this recent short written by the GetReligionista emeritus over at The Federalist. It focuses on that whole Starbucks (with help, believe it or not from USA Today) #RaceTogether campaign that has been getting so much mainstream news ink and commentary lately. Here's the headline on her piece: "With Race Together, Starbucks Is Using Worst Of Evangelical Practices."
Evangelicals? Wait for it.
Now, lots of that commentary has been either nervous or critical or both. Is it really a good idea for a major corporation to try to push its customers -- people who just trying to mind their own business while buying a cup of overpriced coffee -- into a hot-button conversation that may or may not be constructive in the long run?
Still, Starbucks is one of those urban prestige brands that must be taken seriously by the press. Right? Mollie's insight, if you read between the lines, was to ponder what kind of press reception this campaign would have received if attempted by another institution on another hot-button topic. What kind of reception would, let's say Hobby Lobby, have received with a #TalkMarriage campaign or even a safer #TalkParenting effort?
That's my question, not the one chosen by M.Z. She went straight for a link to one of the most bizarre religion-news stories of all times. Remember this guy?
NEW YORK (CNN) -- An American Airlines pilot made some passengers fearful when he urged them to make wise use of their flight time by talking to Christians, passengers said Monday.
Passengers were "shocked," said Karla Austin, who had flown on Friday's Los Angeles to New York Flight 34. Some reached for their mobile phones and others used the on-flight phones, she said.
"Just given the history of what's happened on planes in this country, anything can happen at this point. So we weren't sure if something was going to happen at takeoff, if he was going to wait until JFK (John F. Kennedy) to do something," Austin said. "But there was definitely implication there that we felt that something was going to happen."
Passengers complained to the flight attendants, who relayed their concerns to the cockpit and who then reassured them they had nothing to worry about, Austin said. Attendants also told passengers they had contacted airline officials about the matter, she said.
Ah, the old preaching-to-a-trapped-choir story.
Well, isn't that sort of what is going on this time, too?
But, wait, the airplane guy was doing something bad and the Starbucks (and executives at USA Today and, thus, the nation's largest newspaper chain) people are trying to do something good. Right? The pilot was trying to convert people to his point of view and the Starbucks folks are, well, what? Here's M.Z., noting that the pilot had:
... suggested to the ones who raised their hands that they spend the remainder of the flight trying to convert those who hadn’t. The passengers were so confused by the request that they wondered if the pilot was a terrorist.
Listen, I love few things more than sharing the good news that Jesus has triumphed over sin, death and Satan with others and I hate racism. But there’s a reason why the American Airlines pilot and the Starbucks approaches freak people out! Yes, part of it is that there’s a time and place to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and discuss difficult social problems. But also, these things are highly ineffective when done outside of a personal relationship.
I'm not arguing that there was, literally, a religion angle in the Starbucks story that should have been covered by journalists.
I am, however, asking if a similar campaign would have received a completely different level and kind of coverage if it HAD BEEN somehow linked to religion. I am asking it, at this point in history, our media tend to treat religious speech as uniquely offensive and even dangerous.
Keep 'em coming, lady.