Al Tompkins

Think piece from guilt files: The ethics of ambushing Robert Mueller after Easter worship rites

Think piece from guilt files: The ethics of ambushing Robert Mueller after Easter worship rites

It’s one of those surreal scenes that’s hard to imagine ever happened — but it did. More than once.

The setting is a Roman Catholic church in England and the late, great Sir Alec Guinness has just knelt to receive Holy Communion and is quietly returning to his pew. Then someone would do the unthinkable.

To be blunt: Is this the time and place to talk to Guinness about “Star Wars”? The answer is: “No.” As Joseph Pearce, author of "Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief,” once told me:

"All that we really know about Sir Alec Guinness — right down the line — is that he did not consider his life to be public property. ... He was particularly irritated when people would, literally, come up to him after Mass and try to talk to him about his movies."

Ah, but what if it is Easter and all of America is talking about the release of the most important government document in the history of the Republic? What if the person coming out of church is the Special Counsel who millions (OK, it seems that way) of Beltway Talking Heads had designated as the hero who would slay (it’s a metaphor) the evil Donald Trump and allow Blue Zip Code Americans to return to living happy, fulfilled lives free of Twitter insults, other than their own?

This brings us to this weekend’s think piece, which I feel very guilty about because I should have used this earlier. But better late than never. This ran as an “ethics” commentary by Al Tompkins at Poynter.org, with this headline: “Offensive or appropriate? We talked to the reporter who questioned Mueller on Easter.” Here’s the overture:

MSNBC freelance reporter Mike Viqueira was trying to land the interview that nobody else has in close to two years. That’s why he confronted Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he and his wife left a Washington, D.C., church service on Easter Sunday. Viqueira is taking heat on social media for confronting Mueller after church, but some journalists say Mueller is such a high-profile public figure that he is fair game.

There’s a word for this: optics.

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Question for journalists: Where does this hellish Charlottesville story go next (other than Trump)?

Question for journalists: Where does this hellish Charlottesville story go next (other than Trump)?

So you are a journalist and you think there is more to the Charlottesville tragedy than political word games. Where to you think this story will go next?

Oceans of ink will, of course, be spilled covering news linked to President Donald Trump and what he does, or does not, say about that alt-right and white supremacy. Political reporters will do that thing they do and, in this case, for totally valid reasons. Please allow me to ask this question: At what point will major television networks -- rather than sticking with a simplistic left vs. right strategy -- spotlight the cultural conservatives who have been knocking the Trump team on this topic from the beginning?

In terms of religion angles, our own Julia Duin wrote an omnibus piece that this this morning and I would urge readers to check it out. Lots of people in social media urged pastors to dig into issues of hate and race in their sermons. Now I'm looking for coverage of that angle. Has anyone seen anything? Just asking.

The latest report from The New York Times -- "Far-Right Groups Surge Into National View in Charlottesville" -- raises some very interesting issues about this event. I came away asking this question: Who were the marchers and where did they come from (and get their funds)? Once reporters have asked that question, they can then ask: Who were the counter-protestors and where did they come from (and get their funds)? I think both angles will be quite revealing, in terms of information about the seeds for the violence.

I thought the following was especially interesting:

George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists, said that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. ...

The counterprotesters included members of the local Charlottesville clergy and mainstream figures like the Harvard professor Cornel West. As the rally erupted into violence Saturday morning, the First United Methodist Church on East Jefferson Street opened its doors to demonstrators, serving cold water and offering basic medical care.
Dr. Hawley said he believed the far-left activists, known as antifa, were welcomed by the white nationalists. “I think to an extent the alt-right loves the antifa because they see them as being the perfect foil,” he said.

That drew a response from one of the local organizers -- Laura Goldblatt, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia:

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On same-sex marriage, 'Amen!' to what Poynter said about covering the battles ahead — with a few quibbles

On same-sex marriage, 'Amen!' to what Poynter said about covering the battles ahead — with a few quibbles

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of same-sex marriage Friday, some media organizations couldn't resist celebrating.

Almost immediately, a Pennsylvania newspaper announced that it would no longer publish letters from those opposed to same-sex marriage — a decision that drew a backlash and prompted the paper to "further elaborate." Our own tmatt has more to say about that case.

Against such a backdrop ("Kellerism," anyone?), wouldn't it be really nice if a respected voice stepped in and preached a sermon on the need for fair, thoughtful journalism?

Enter Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute — the influential journalism think tank.

Tompkins delivered just such a message in a piece he wrote this week.

Some of what Topkins had to say:

Now that the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage has had time to sink in, journalists should wake up to the fact that a complicated and contentious debate lies ahead. Just as Brown v. The Board of Education didn’t end discrimination in schools and Roe v. Wade did not end the abortion debate,Obergefell v. Hodges will not end the opposition to same-sex marriage. The next battles may be in churches, where the Court’s decision cannot interfere. ...

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