Nicholas Kristof

Sam Brownback has lots of friends and enemies: Reporters need to talk to both, right now

Sam Brownback has lots of friends and enemies: Reporters need to talk to both, right now

Sam Brownback has had a log and quite complicated political career and now it has taken another turn. On Capitol Hill, he has served in the House and the Senate, then he returned to Kansas as governor, where his stay was stormy, to say the least. He briefly ran for president in 2008.

On the religious side of things, he made headlines by converting from evangelical Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. He would make any observer's list of the top 20 or so cultural conservatives in American politics.

That's the kind of career that earns someone a long list of enemies, as well as friends.

All of that came into play when Brownback was nominated by the Donald Trump administration to be the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom. That brings us to the top of this Associated Press report (as circulated by Religion News Service):

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved Sam Brownback’s bid to be U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, setting the stage for him to resign the governorship in Kansas after seven contentious years in office.
With two Republican senators absent, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Capitol Hill to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Brownback, a favorite of Christian conservatives for his views on same-sex marriage and abortion. The vote was along party lines, 50-49, underscoring the narrow margin Republicans hold. Pence’s vote also was needed earlier in the day to get Brownback’s nomination over a procedural hurdle.

Now, it's obvious -- with that cliffhanger vote -- that Brownback's enemies came loaded for bear. You can also see, in the AP wording, that the battle over this nomination was fought along culture-wars lines. Note this: He is a "favorite of Christian conservatives for his views on same-sex marriage and abortion."

Noted. Thus, it is going to be crucial, in this story, to cover the reasons that the cultural and religious left opposed him so strongly. That's part of the story.

However, it would also be crucial to note why Brownback was nominated for this particular post in the first place. What actions did he take, what causes did he support, during his long career that caused his supporters to support this nomination? I would add: Were all of his supporters on the right?

Anyone want to guess which side of this equation AP all but ignored?

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Are there any culture wars inside the Great Gray Lady?

Here’s a safe prediction for 2014: Look for another year with tough culture wars cases — whether from courthouses in Utah or your local Christian university or parachurch ministry — rolling toward the church-state crossroads at the U.S. Supreme Court. If that’s the case, journalists will continue to face a numbing barrage of stories in which they will be challenged to accurately and fairly report the views of activists on both the religious left and Religious Right.

With that in mind, consider this interesting comment by elite columnist Nicholas Kristof, in response to this question: “What is the culture like at The New York Times?”

There isn’t really a simple answer to this question, because the culture of the Times varies by section and even time of day. In my part of the building, where the opinion columnists have their offices, it tends to be a bit more relaxed, even sleepy, while the metro desk at deadline on a big story will be frenetic and full of electricity. When I started at The Times in 1984, it was mostly male, and we wore jacket and ties; there was plenty of smoking and drinking. These days, the dress code is much more casual, and somewhat more earnest; not a lot of whiskey bottles hidden around today. There are also lots of women, which means there’s less of a locker room atmosphere. …

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