The Politico

Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Museum of Bible is hot news, no matter what

Damned if you do, damned if you don't: Museum of Bible is hot news, no matter what

The debates began during World War II and raged through the following decades among human-rights advocates, private art collectors, museum leaders and others.

The Nazis stole astonishing amounts of Jewish art on an unprecedented scale (something like the legendary 1204 rape of Byzantium by Crusaders). Some of that art vanished. Some went to art collectors, and museums, with leaders who argued that the greater good was to save it for viewing by future display. Some insisted these treasures must be returned to the heirs of the families who owned them. But what if there were no heirs?

Now, similar arguments are raging about antiquities looted by the Islamic State as it ravaged the ancient communities, monasteries, churches, mosques, libraries, etc., of Iraq and Syria. Treasures hit the black market in the Internet age and, again, arguments raged about whether it is legal or moral to purchase these items, rather than leaving them in the hands of ISIS. But did purchasing them fund terrorism? It would appear so. Would it have been better to have let these items vanish into the hands of collectors who would hoard them out of sight? How could these treasures be returned to religious communities that, in some cases, no longer exist?

To say the least, the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame and its Museum of the Bible got caught up in these scandals, producing waves of headlines. The crucial issue: At what point does trading for these items cross the line into theft and encouraging theft?

So what makes a museum controversial? That was the question at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

As it turns out, there are all kinds of reasons for people -- secular and religious -- to argue about the new Museum of the Bible, just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Some of these issues ended up in a Washington Post feature that was the focus of my recent post on this subject. Headline: "Washington Post religion team (thank God) gets to offer first look at the Museum of the Bible."

At the heart of the Post piece was a fascinating, and perfectly valid, damned if you do, damned if your don't question about this museum.

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Classic MZ: How many stupid believers must government heroes save off houses in Houston?

Classic MZ: How many stupid believers must government heroes save off houses in Houston?

Let's face it. It takes a certain degree of courage for a journalist to mock the people living along the Texas Gulf Coast -- the sprawling multicultural city of Houston in particular -- at this moment in time.

We are, in this case, talking about an editorial cartoonist -- Matt Wuerker of The Politico -- as opposed to an actual reporter or columnist.

As you can see in the screen shoot at the top of this post, the point of the cartoon appears to be that the people of Houston, and the thousands of volunteers from Louisiana, upstate Texas and all over the place, are giving too much praise to God for their deliverance and not enough thanks to agents of government.

I grew up in Port Arthur, most of which was under water in the most recent images I saw, and my late parents spent most of their adult lives in the Houston area and the Gulf Coast. That doesn't make me an expert on Hurricane Harvey. It does help me understand how Texans think and act under these circumstances. The bottom line: It's a complex region, with just as many progressives as libertarian, fundamentalist, anti-government Yahoos (or whoever that guy is in the Confederate flag shirt).

So I'll just state the question this way: If you have been watching media reports about the first responders -- government or volunteer -- and the people they have been rescuing, does the contents of this cartoon ring true to you? Is this how the people of Houston are acting?

I don't think so. And ditto for M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway, who lit into Wuerker in a piece at The Federalist. Consider this another installment of our ongoing series that could be called "Classic MZ." From a GetReligion point of view, this is the slam-dunk section of her essay.

 

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Who penned this satire gem? Democrats in U.S. Senate or editors at The Politico?

Who penned this satire gem? Democrats in U.S. Senate or editors at The Politico?

All of us have social-media buttons that our friends know how to push to get us to click this or that link, to forward this or that item, to pull out of our email haze and to PAY ATTENTION.

For me, one of the most magic phrases in the world is "Not The Onion." This is especially true when the item is sent by GetReligion co-founder Doug LeBlanc, whose sense of humor has a similar laugh-to-keep-from-crying twist as my own.

But in this case, when I saw the headline, I had my doubts.

This was supposed to be a short story from The Politico. But the whole tone of the thing was just so dry and understated and, well, surreal. How could this not be from The Onion or even the Babylon Bee?

Are you ready? Here is what has to be the first nomination for the Not The Onion headline of 2017:

Democrats hold lessons on how to talk to real people

Alas, there is no second line to this masterpiece of a headline. After all, it would be hard to top the excellence of that first line.

I also liked the fact that the story was so short and that it ignored so many obvious "real people" topics. Yes, like religion and culture. It was like no one in the room had ever even heard of books such as "What's the Matter with Kansas?" or "Hillbilly Elegy."

Once again, life is all about politics and money and that is that. Here is the brilliantly boring opening of the piece:

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Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

It's for a deep, deep dive into my GetReligion folder of guilt, that cyber stash of items that I really planned to write about pronto, but then things (oh, like the post-election mainstream news media meltdown) got in the way.

I remembered this particular item because of my recent posts about NBC News and Politico coverage of challenges facing the Democratic Party, which has gone off a cliff in terms of its fortunes at the level of state legislatures (and governors' mansions) in the American heartland (and other places, too). Of course, Democrats are in trouble in Washington, D.C., as well -- but after some truly agonizing close losses.

To sum up those posts: Both NBC News and The Politico totally ignored the role of religious, moral and cultural issues in the current predicament facing the modern Democrats. That "pew gap"? Never heard of it.

But there are people who are thinking about that issue, such as Emma Green at The Atlantic. Scores of faithful readers let us know about the recent piece there that ran with this headline: "Democrats Have a Religion Problem." It's an interview with conservative evangelical Michael Wear, who served as former director of Barack Obama’s 2012 faith-outreach efforts.

For example: What does Wear think of the modern party's attempts to deal with pro-life Democrats, such as himself? Green states the question this way: "How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?"

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups -- who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories -- had been demanding.
The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane.

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Are faith, morality and culture issues haunting modern Democrats? (Round II)

Are faith, morality and culture issues haunting modern Democrats? (Round II)

There are two ways to think about the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which focuses on the religion "ghosts" in some recent coverage of the modern Democratic Party's fortunes at the state and national levels.

First of all, there are some basic facts that I think all journalists can see.

The Democrats are way, way, way down when to comes to controlling state legislatures. The same thing is true when it comes to electing governors.

At the same time, the Republicans now control the U.S. House, Senate and the White House. But let it be noted that (a) there have been many close, close contests there and (b) Democrats easily control the states and cities that shape American public discourse, in terms of entertainment, higher education and news.

Democrats have some obvious demographic trends on their side -- with massive support among ethnic groups, the super-rich tech sector and the rapidly growing portion of the U.S. population that is young, urban, single and religiously unaffiliated.

Now, in my recent post ("NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?") I dug into a long, long feature that basically said the Democrats are having problems with working-class, heartland, white Americans for one reason and one reason only -- the party's history of fighting racism. The story alluded to vague "cultural" issues, but never mentioned, to cite on glaring omission, the role Roe v. Wade played in the creation of the Religious Right and the rise of the (Ronald) Reagan Democrats.

"Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I worked through all of that, including the fact that -- in the early exit-poll data from Donald Trump's win -- it appears that the "pew gap" remained in effect, favoring the GOP. What is the "pew gap"? Here is a chunk of my "On Religion" column about the 2016 election results:

The so-called "God gap" (also known as the "pew gap") held steady, with religious believers who claimed weekly worship attendance backing Trump over Hillary Clinton, 56 percent to 40 percent. Voters who said they never attend religious services backed Clinton by a 31-point margin, 62 percent to 31 percent. ...
Meanwhile, white Catholics supported Trump by a 23-point margin -- 60 percent to 37 percent -- compared with Mitt Romney's 19-point victory in that crucial swing-vote niche. Hispanic Catholics supported Clinton by a 41-point margin, 67 percent to 26 percent.
Clinton also drew overwhelming support from the growing coalition of Americans who are religious liberals, unbelievers or among the so-called "nones," people with no ties to any religious tradition. In the end, nearly 70 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans voted for Clinton, compared with 26 percent for Trump.

Note the two sides of that equation.

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Yes, Jerry Falwell, Jr., spiked an anti-Trump column (Dang it, publishers do things like that)

Yes, Jerry Falwell, Jr., spiked an anti-Trump column (Dang it, publishers do things like that)

Several times a year, either to students at journalism conferences or in a classroom at The King's College in New York City, I deliver a lecture that I call "Up Against the Wall: Getting along with administrators at private colleges."

The big idea of this talk is that private schools are difficult, but not impossible, places in which to do traditional journalism -- because in a private school the administration is both the publisher of the newspaper and the "local government" that student journalists need to cover.

The goal, I stress, is to do as much journalism as possible, with an emphasis on hard-news reporting. Thus, one of my guidelines -- while serving as newspaper advisor at two Christian private schools -- was to address campus controversies with real reporting, as opposed to taking the easy way out and writing splashy opinion columns.

This brings us, of course, to news reports about Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., yanking an opinion column critical of Donald Trump out of the Liberty Champion. Here is the top of The Politico report on this development:

The president of Liberty University censored an article critical of Donald Trump, according to the sports editor of the school's official newspaper, the Liberty Champion.
The editor, Joel Schmieg, posted a statement on his Facebook account claiming it was Jerry Falwell Jr., the university's president and a Trump supporter, who spiked the column, which criticized Trump for lewd comments he made on a hot mic during a 2005 taping of "Access Hollywood."
"Yesterday I was told [Falwell] was not allowing me to express my personal opinion in an article I wrote for my weekly column in the Liberty Champion about Trump and his 'locker room talk,' " Schmieg wrote.
"I understand Joel's frustration regarding the situation," Cierra Carter, the opinion editor for the Liberty Champion, told POLITICO. "Our president has been very vocal with his opinions during this election season and we'd like that same privilege."

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Keep saying this: Politics is all that matters, even when covering Pope Francis

Keep saying this: Politics is all that matters, even when covering Pope Francis

I'm sorry, but it's "Kellerism" time again.

So soon? I am afraid so. This time, the virus hit The Politico in a rare news-feature venture by that politics-equals-life journal into the world of religion news.

The subject, of course, is the political impact of Pope Francis and why he will be good for the Democrats or, at the very least, why he will not have a positive impact on the work of conservative Catholics who in recent decades have pretty much been forced to vote for Republicans.

The double-decker headline says analysis piece from the get-go, even though the piece is not marked as analysis or advocacy journalism: 

How Will the Pope Play in 2016?
Francis’s softer brand of Catholicism kept his bishops out of the midterms -- and they’re likely to tone down their message next time too.

First, if you need some background info on retired New York Times editor Bill Keller and the statements in which he promulgated the "Kellerism" doctrines,  click here.  The key is that "Kellerism" journalism argues that there is no need to be balanced and fair in coverage of news about religion and culture, since urban, sophisticated journalists already know who is in the right on those kinds of issues.

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