Vanity Fair

Haunting words: What did Jeffrey Epstein mean when he used the term 'spiritual stimulation'?

Haunting words: What did Jeffrey Epstein mean when he used the term 'spiritual stimulation'?

I have followed the acidic soap operas (timeline here) surrounding Jeffrey Epstein for more than a decade. That may sound strange, but there’s a logical reason — I lived in West Palm Beach from 2001-2005 and taught at Palm Beach Atlantic University, right next to the mini-towers of Trump Plaza.

Yes, that was a long time ago, back when Donald Trump was embracing his good buddies Bill and Hillary Clinton and acting like a rather mainstream Democrat, in terms of moral and social issues. And it was impossible to read the news in the Sixth Borough of New York without bumping into the kingdom of Trump. That included, from time to time, the people being courted — socially speaking — by Epstein and Co.

Life behind the scenes? That, of course, is where everyone who cares about the details of this sordid affair has to dig into the essential “Perversion of Justice” series by Julie Brown of The Miami Herald. Download it into an iPad program of some kind, because you’ll have to read it in painful chunks.

So why bring this up here at GetReligion? To be blunt: I am waiting for some kind of religion shoe to drop, some angle linked to twisted religion or anti-religious convictions. In my experience, great evil almost always involves twisted religion or blunt, demonic rejection of what is good, beautiful and true.

In one recent story, I was struck by an Epstein statement — when he was a young prep-school teacher — that mentioned his use of “spiritual” activities with his students. Hold that thought.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting to see the long lists of people who socialized with Epstein, did “business” with him or both. Some of those names — such as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — are already known.

Will the list contain hypocrites as well as libertines? Of course it will. We live in a sinful and fallen world.

A new Vanity Fair piece on this scandal notes that it’s hard to talk about the mysteries of Epstein’s fortune without getting into the moral dynamics inside his entourage and clients:

In the absence of much other information, the reigning theory on Wall Street currently is that Epstein’s activities with women and girls were central to the building of his fortune, and his relations with some of his investors essentially amounted to blackmail.

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Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announce a 'separation': Might faith play a role in this story?

Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announce a 'separation': Might faith play a role in this story?

It was one of those zippy entertainment stories produced during the PR festivals that are scheduled before the release of major motion pictures.

In this case, journalists were covering a sci-fi flick called "Passengers."

As always, superstar Jennifer Lawrence -- who grew up in mainstream, middle-class America -- was candid to the point of near-embarrassment, producing the following fodder for Tinseltown discussion. This is from Vanity Fair:

“I had my first real sex scene a couple weeks ago, and it was really bizarre,” Lawrence admitted to fellow actresses Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett during The Hollywood Reporter’s awards-season roundtable. “It was really weird.” ...
Lawrence said she couldn’t get past the fact that she had to film a love scene with a married man.
“It was going to be my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach,” Lawrence explained. “And I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that. ...”

The married co-star on the other end of the kiss was, of course, rising superstar Chris Pratt.

Other than the fact that Pratt is married -- half of the Hollywood power couple with actress Anna Faris -- it also helps to know that he is one of the most outspoken evangelical Christians in Hollywood (click here for more Vanity Fair coverage). Hold that thought.

That leads us to the current explosion in tabloid America, care of People magazine, of course:

Chris Pratt has stepped back into the public eye after he announced his separation from wife Anna Faris.

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Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

When talented Time magazine colleague John Moody became a top Fox News Channel founder 20 years ago, the Religion Guy thought, “He’d better have a golden parachute because this is probably going to fail.”

After all, pioneer CNN was thoroughly entrenched, and newborn rival MSNBC had rich corporate resources.

Ha. Nielsen tabulations show FNC not only topped those news competitors for all of 2016 but drew the #1 audience among all cable TV channels. Remarkable. The question now becomes whether the defection of 9 p.m. shining star Megyn Kelly to NBC will hurt ratings.

Don’t bet against Fox News. But, hey, how about giving religion correspondent Lauren Green more airtime! Think about it. What percentage of Fox News viewers are concerned about issues of religion, family and culture?

Inside FNC, that which Ailes (Roger, that is) produced a tumultuous year. And the same for Kelly, who just issued an autobiography, “Settle For More” (Harper). The Guy approached this book with mild interest, but was quickly swept up by insider scoop about her role in the Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal and her behind-scenes account about dealings with the new president and his followers.

The months of Donald Trump strangeness were perhaps without precedent in news annals.

Imagine trying to give fair coverage to the Trump campaign despite the candidate’s harangues and alongside followers’ social-media filth and death threats with armed guards accompanying your youngsters. Journalistic fame can exact a high price. An evangelical hero, attorney David French, suffered similar abuse from fans -- this is a must-read -- after becoming a NeverTrumper.  

Apparently due to the publishing deadline, Kelly doesn’t moralize about  Mr. Trump’s “Access Hollywood” bragging about unwanted sexual groping.

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The liturgical color purple: Did Clintons make a statement about politics or faith?

The liturgical color purple: Did Clintons make a statement about politics or faith?

All over the world, millions and millions of Christians know what the color purple means.

More than anything else, it stands for seasons centering on the repentance of sins. Thus, it is the liturgical color for vestments and altar cloths that the truly ancient churches -- think Eastern Orthodoxy and the Church of Rome -- associate with Great Lent and also with the season known as Nativity Lent in the East and Advent in the West.

Of course, in the modern world Nativity Lent/Advent has been crushed by the cultural steamroller of Shopping-Mall Christmas (which already seems to be underway in television advertising). But that's another story, as in the actual cultural War on Christmas (as opposed to you know what).

Purple is also the liturgical color associated with royalty, as in Christ the King. In Western churches -- especially oldline Protestant churches -- most people link this connection with the purple candles in an Advent wreath. United Methodist churches retain some of these traditions through historic links to Anglicanism.

This brings us news-media speculations about why Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton elected to splash purple into their wardrobe when she gave her speech conceding that Donald Trump had won the presidency. Let's start with the top of this U.S. News & World Report take on the topic:

Hillary Clinton conceded the presidential election to Donald Trump on Wednesday in front of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Both Clintons made a bold statement with their clothing: Hillary donned a dark gray pantsuit with purple lapels and a purple blouse underneath, and Bill wore a matching purple necktie.
Throughout her campaign, Clinton has often sent a message with her fashion choices, so what did the purple ensemble mean?

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Painful think piece: Has the year of Donald Trump killed off traditional journalism?

Painful think piece: Has the year of Donald Trump killed off traditional journalism?

This weekend's think piece is not about religion-news reporting, at least not directly.

Rather, this Vanity Fair piece -- "Maybe the Right-Wing Media Isn’t Crazy, After All" -- is about the degree to which the loaded-dice political coverage of this year's White House race has pushed our elite media in a dangerous direction, towards open advocacy coverage in favor of Democrats and against Citizen Donald Trump, the sort-of Republican candidate.

It's crucial to note that the author of this piece is one Ken Stern, the former CEO of National Public Radio. This is not your normal wingnut critic of media bias. The thesis: Many elite newsrooms in mainstream journalism have become almost as unhinged as the alternative press on the right, making the latter -- tragically -- a more viable alternative source of news for millions of heartland Americans.

If that sounds familiar, it should. This essentially the point of view voiced -- over and over -- in the past decade or so by readers' representatives at The New York Times. At some point, the leaders of great Gray Lady simply started preaching to their choir, on many key subjects, and wrote off their responsibility to do accurate, balanced, respectful coverage of news and trends in much of America.

Yes, say hello to former Times editor Bill Keller and the doctrines of what your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism." This is where we make contact with many crucial stories in mainstream religion news, especially those related to marriage and sexuality.

Before I offer a slice or two of the Vanity Fair piece, let's flash back to "Is The New York Times A Liberal Newspaper" essay in 2004, written by readers' representative Daniel Okrent. He is focusing on how issues of morality, culture and religion are at the heart of most complaints about bias at the Times.

If you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world.

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Concerning Megyn Kelly in Vanity Fair: Raising 'spiritual' question about her Fox News work

Concerning Megyn Kelly in Vanity Fair: Raising 'spiritual' question about her Fox News work

GetReligion readers, I have a question for you. Which news network has consistently shown a greater commitment to original reporting on religion events and trends, Fox News or Al Jazeera?

When answering this question, it might help to visit the Al Jazeera landing page for "Religion, Spirituality & Ethics" and then do the same for the "religion" search category at Fox News. What you are looking for is actual hands-on reporting work done by the personnel in these newsrooms, as opposed to pieces built totally on wire-service reports.

I raise this question because, year after year, people ask me why Fox News -- in light of its massive audience share among culturally conservative news consumers -- doesn't do more reporting on religion topics (as opposed to the usual commentary pieces and talk-show work). This also comes up in my classroom work, as I have mentioned before:

One of the most interesting discussions that I have with journalism students every semester is the moment when I ask them to identify the specific cultural and political philosophy that drives the editorial policies of Fox News and other giants associated with the world of Rupert Murdoch.
They always say, "Conservative" or "right wing."
Then I ask them this question: "What kind of conservatism?"

The answer, of course, is a kind of secular Libertarian stance that isn't comfortable with a conservatism rooted in moral and cultural values.

This brings me to that new Vanity Fair piece on Fox superstar Megyn Kelly, which -- right at the very end -- contains a major, major fumble when it comes to digging into a crucial statement linked to religious faith and moral issues.

But first, who is Megyn Kelly?

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Holiday fare? National Geographic delivers a meandering mess on the Virgin Mary

Holiday fare? National Geographic delivers a meandering mess on the Virgin Mary

Just in time for Christmas, National Geographic magazine has given us an article “How the Virgin Mary became the world’s most powerful woman” for its December issue. Sounds like a great story, I thought.  Then I saw the splashy graphics mapping Marian sightings around the world and the photos of various Marian devotees. I realized this article wasn’t about Mary, it was about the people who say they’ve seen Mary and those who pray to her. And sure enough, a story that promised so much failed to deliver in a big way.

Here’s how it begins:

It’s apparition time: 5:40 p.m. In a small Roman Catholic chapel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the village of Medjugorje, Ivan Dragicevic walks down the aisle, kneels in front of the altar, bows his head for a moment, and then, smiling, lifts his gaze heavenward. He begins to whisper, listens intently, whispers again, and doesn’t blink for ten minutes. His daily conversation with the Virgin Mary has begun.

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Battlefield PTSD, the healing power of community and one giant religion ghost

Battlefield PTSD, the healing power of community and one giant religion ghost

Sebastian Junger is as fine a reporter specializing in war and conflict coverage as there is today. He shot to fame in 1997 with his book "The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea" (a non-military saga, of course) and ever since has been producing award-winning journalism for print and screen, most of it conflict related.

His work includes the extraordinary feature documentary "Restrepo," a 2010 Academy Award nominee. Restrepo resulted from his spending a full year embedded along with photojournalist Tim Hetherington with an Army airborne platoon manning a highly vulnerable forward position in the mountains of Afghanistan. Restrepo was the name of a platoon member KIA.

Junger's now produced an absorbing piece of long-form magazine journalism (more than 7,100 words) published in the June issue of Vanity Fair on the subject of battlefield PTSD, now more prevalent than it's ever been for U.S. military personnel. Junger writes that it's also probably the highest military PTSD rate in the world, following more than a decade of American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(Exact PTSD rates are hard to determine for various reasons, including some fraud cases and some conflating of military PSTD with pre-existing conditions. Here's some numbers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But Junger's piece is about way more than psychological battlefield wounds that often do not manifest until a soldier reenters civilian society.

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