In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

It is a, well, mantra here at GetReligion that we don't analyze the reporters who write a given story as much as we discuss the story itself and the outlet that produced it. But I'm going to plead for an exception here, and I believe with good reason. More on that in just a moment.

First, the facts: Acrimony surrounding President Donald J. Trump's reaction/tweets/statements concerning the tragic events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a protester was killed by a car driven by an alleged white supremacist, has caused a number of business leaders to rethink any association, however cursory, with the current administration. Two of Trump's business-related advisory groups have folded as a result.

This leads us to a New York Times story on "The Moral Voice of Corporate America," in which reporter David Gelles uses 2,718 words (subheads included) to explain what's going on. Well, almost, since I believe some crucial voices are missing.

Four paragraphs in, we learn how corporate America has found its voice:

In recent days, after the Charlottesville bloodshed, the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, called on people to “come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us — tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan said, “The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”
Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, criticized Mr. Trump by name for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville, and called for healing. ...
The forthright engagement of these and other executives with one of the most charged political issues in years — the swelling confidence of a torch-bearing, swastika-saluting, whites-first movement — is “a seminal moment in the history of business in America,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at PepsiCo.

As you can imagine, 2,718 words affords a writer a lot of room in which to explain issues and quote various viewpoints. For example, we get five paragraphs about (and quoting) CEO Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, widely seen as a prime mover behind the defeat of Indiana's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Hoosier state dared to put forth protections for those whose faith stops short of participating in nuptials that redefine marriage, even if it's as seemingly incidental as baking a cake or taking photographs.

Notes the Times:

In 2015, after Indiana passed a law that would have made it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay people, Mr. Benioff canceled all Salesforce events in the state and threatened to relocate employees away from Indianapolis.
The outcry from Mr. Benioff and other business leaders helped force politicians, including Vice President Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana, to reverse course. Ultimately, lawmakers passed a watered-down version of the law.
“C.E.O.s wield economic influence,” Mr. Benioff said. “Nobody wanted to lose those jobs in Indiana. But we had to make a statement that we were going to withdraw if they were going to create laws that were going to discriminate against our employees.”

Here's where the reporter's background comes into play, however. Reporter Gelles, in 2015, published a book called Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business From the Inside Out, which was enthusiastically praised by several business executives. (He discusses the book's genesis in the video clip above.) For example, consider this endorsement:

"Gelles deftly shows the power of mindfulness to change individuals, businesses and our world for the better. Mindfulness is a practice we need to embrace, and we cannot be afraid to follow this path.” — Marc Benioff, Chairman & CEO, Salesforc

It would be folly to suggest that a reporter should or would never quote someone who lauded a book that reporter has written. (Benioff is also mentioned on page 232 of the hardcover as having attended workshops held by Thích Nhất Hạnh, a well-known Vietnamese Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher.)

But when it is Benioff's and other, as Gelles put it, "progressive executives" that are the only ones quoted, one has to wonder why. The moral stances of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby are given cursory treatment here, and no executive from either firm was quoted or recorded as having been approached by The New York Times for comment for this article.

The journalistic issue here seems simple: If you're going to quote people who vigorously advocate for one side in a debate on moral issues, be sure to include some authoritative voices with a different viewpoint. Otherwise, you're not publishing news, or even news analysis, you're pushing one only viewpoint, in my opinion.

If only there were someone in the religious world who knows a little about business and economics, someone who could be interviewed and quoted.

Oh, wait! There's the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, head of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He knows the subject. Again, the Times either didn't contact Sirico for a comment on this subject or forgot to mention it had.

Of course, it is a tenet of the Times' -- the doctrine of Kellerism -- that there are some issues which do not deserve the airing of both sides, and many of the moral questions discussed in this article appear to fall into that bucket. And, no, gentle reader, I'm not suggesting that fascism or racism of any sort deserves "equal time."

But protecting the religious conscience and free exercise rights of business owners and employees is nowhere near the same as burning a cross on someone's lawn. Challenging a contraceptive mandate that required company owners to violate their owner's consciences is not in any way equal to painting swastikas on a house of worship. The concerns about protecting religious conscience are valid, and merit discussion, particularly in a newspaper as influential as The New York Times

Given that there are reasonable arguments on questions such as the Indiana RFRA bill and Hobby Lobby's challenge to the HHS mandate under the affordable care act, it would not hurt to have those dissenting views presented in a news article discussing how businesses found a "moral voice." In fact, readers would likely appreciate hearing diverse perspectives. It's called "journalism."

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