David Brooks

Some of the best religion stories start with a question — this one about NYT's David Brooks, for example

Some of the best religion stories start with a question — this one about NYT's David Brooks, for example

When Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes a thoughtful, nuanced story on religion, it’s not exactly a man-bites-dog scenario.

That’s what she almost always does, after all.

But here at GetReligion, we like to highlight positive achievements in religion news coverage (as well as the negative). So I can’t resist noting Bailey’s very interesting Washington Post piece today on the complicated faith of New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks.

Like a lot of the best religion stories, this one starts with a question.

“So what is David Brooks' faith?” Bailey commented in a public Facebook post. “I've heard that question over and over for the past few years. Here, I try to explain.”

Suffice it to say that Brooks’ faith is not an easy thing to explain, and that makes the former GetReligion contributor’s story all the more compelling.

The opening paragraphs:

In the world of national columnists, David Brooks is a star. But in the last few years, the New York Times writer and author has whipped up fascination among a certain subset of readers for a specific, gossipy reason: They wonder if the Jewish writer has become a Christian.

In his bestselling new book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for the Moral Life,” Brooks, 57, one of the most prominent columnists in the country, traces his spiritual journey alongside his relationship with his second wife, his former assistant who is 23 years his junior and attended Wheaton College, an elite evangelical school.

“I really do feel more Jewish than ever before,” he said in a recent interview. “It felt like more deepening of faith, instead of switching from one thing to another.”

He has no plans to leave Judaism, he writes, calling himself “a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian.”

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News in an age of rage tweets: Who needs to repent, after the Covington Catholic acid storm?

News in an age of rage tweets: Who needs to repent, after the Covington Catholic acid storm?

As this past weekend’s March for Life controversy began to escalate, I did what legions of other journalists and pundits did — I aimed a tweet at the young men of Covington Catholic High School and their leaders.

It was a rather mild tweet, as these things go. I said: “We can hope the young men repent and change. #MarchForLife holds out hope for repentance and healing.”

Later on, I also said that I thought it was time for politicians to take a lower profile at this annual pro-life event. I’m OK, with political leaders marching, but I’m worried about the high-profile speeches.

During the past day or two, lots of journalists have been taking down lots of tweets after this particular journalism train wreck.

However, I haven’t deleted mine — even after watching lots of alternative videos of this incident — for a simple reason. Based on my own life and sins, I have concluded that there is never a bad time for repentance. There may be Covington students who will want to go to Confession.

However, I’m still looking for video evidence of crucial facts — like the charge that students chanted “Build the wall!” and behaved in a way that threatened Native American activist Nathan Phillips or anyone else. I did see lots of young males acting like young males, which often means being rather rowdy (I never heard the Atlanta tomahawk-chop chant, but a few boys made gestures — while dancing around — that might be interpreted that way). Then again, there were Black Hebrew Israelites aiming bitter, obscene, homophobic chants and accusations at these students, who had gathered at a previously assigned location to meet their bus to ride home.

So what happened here?

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Lax news: Catholic teens, plus Native elder, plus Hebrew Israelites equals volatile video mess

Lax news: Catholic teens, plus Native elder, plus Hebrew Israelites equals volatile video mess

No doubt the religion story of the month involved a feisty aftermath of Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. where a group of Catholic high school kids from Kentucky, a handful of Black Hebrew Israelite protestors and Native American activists met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Black, Native, white: A perfect storm. What all three groups did or were alleged to have done during a two-hour period provoked a shrill media response on Saturday, resulting in a social media hatefest as local officials, their school and even their diocese immediately spoke out against the boys.

The digital attacks were so bad, the kids' Catholic school had to take down its website and Facebook page on Saturday afternoon.

Then more videos surfaced on Sunday; videos that showed some appalling insults from the Black Israelite group, aimed at the young Catholics; some tone deafness on the part of some of the Natives present and a group of clueless, often confused, teen-agers who got blamed for it all.

The end result: Sloppy reporting 1, MSM: 0. The prefect end to a horrid week for journalists.

Let’s start at the beginning. Here’s what the New York Times had on Saturday:

They were Catholic high school students who came to Washington on a field trip to rally at the March for Life.

He was a Native American veteran of the Vietnam War who was there to raise awareness at the Indigenous Peoples March.

They intersected on Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding a Native American elder.

One does wonder what kids in town for a pro-life protest are doing with MAGA caps on. However, all kinds of things are sold near the National Mall.

The episode was being investigated and the students could face punishment, up to and including expulsion, their school said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

In video footage that was shared widely on social media, one boy, wearing the red hat that has become a signature of President Trump, stood directly in front of the elder, who stared impassively ahead while playing a ceremonial drum.

What was not apparent in the first video footage was that the elder had marched into this group of kids and walked right up to the boy, who was backed up against the steps of the Memorial.

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Memory eternal! DC loses Michael Cromartie, who loved both sides of the First Amendment

Memory eternal! DC loses Michael Cromartie, who loved both sides of the First Amendment

I've been saying this in seminary and journalism classrooms for several decades, but let me say it again.

For a long time now, the First Amendment has been a kind of painful blind spot -- a blind spot with two sides. On one side there's the press and, on the other, there's the world of religion. The problem is that these two powerful forces in American life just don't get along.

Yes, there are lots of journalists who just don't "get" religion, who don't respect the First Amendment role (that whole "free exercise of religion" thing) that religion plays in public and private life. We talk about that problem a lot at this website.

However, there's another problem out there, another stone wall on which I have been beating my head for decades. You see, there are lots of religious leaders, and their followers, who just don't "get" journalism, who don't respect the First Amendment role that a free press plays in American life.

Some people can see one side of that two-sided blind spot and some people can see the other.

We just lost one of the rare people in Washington, D.C., who saw these problems on both sides of that blind spot with a clear, realistic and compassionate eye. That would be Michael Cromartie, who for years organized constructive, candid, face-to-face encounters between mainstream religious leaders and elite members of the Acela Zone press. News of Cromartie's death -- at age 67, after a battle with cancer -- spread in social media on Monday.

There will, I am sure, be detailed obituaries in major media. After all, Cromartie had contacts in most of those newsrooms. Right now, the best place to find tributes to his work with the Ethics and Public Policy Center is at Christianity Today. The headline: "Died: Michael Cromartie, the Church’s Ambassador to Washington."

Personally, I think it would have been more accurate to say "mainstream evangelicalism's ambassador" to Beltway-land, since that was the world in which Cromartie had the strongest influence. However, as an evangelical Anglican he worked with leaders and thinkers in a wide range of other pews, as well. Here is a major chunk of a CT tribute:

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Rhino hide alert! Changing of the guard at New York Times bureau in Jerusalem

Rhino hide alert! Changing of the guard at New York Times bureau in Jerusalem

What presidential campaign reporting is to political junkies, the naming of a new New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief is to the most vociferous partisans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's red meat for people on both sides.

The Times is arguably the world's most influential newspaper and the Jerusalem job is among its most visible perches. That means only the thick-skinned need apply. I'm talking rhino-hide thick.

Just about every story produced by the Jerusalem bureau -- for which the bureau chief is deemed responsible by friend and foe alike -- is perceived by partisans to be of ultimate importance in the closely watched, extraordinarily complex and seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It matters little if yesterday's story went your way, or that tomorrow's may as well. We're talking about virtually daily conflict reporting in which every ephemeral sentence is subject to microscopic scrutiny. Because who knows when some verb or noun chosen hastily under deadline pressure will sway world opinion?

The charges of bias fly fast and furious. And they come, at one time or another, from just about every faction -- from the far-right and the far-left, from Israelis and Palestinians, from those in-country and those outside it. From every angry troll with a keyboard.

(Nor does the partisan crowd seem to know or care that editors may chop copy for length, may change verbs or nouns on a whim, choose the accompanying art, and write the headline. The person in the byline always gets the blame.)

Oy, the pressure -- which I've written about before.

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What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

From time to time, I receive private emails from readers who think this website's insistence that mainstream journalists need to cover both sides of doctrinal debates between Muslims is, to be blunt, just a clever way of bashing Islam.

Why else should journalists, for example, need to listen to and then quote what Islamic State leaders have to say about the role of women or the need for tough blasphemy laws in the modern world? We already know the radicals are wrong, so why be guilty of "false balance" and accurately quote what they are saying?

Why indeed? I would argue that journalists cannot cover the facts in these stories -- such as the gruesome executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- without quoting the religious language in these religious debates. The bottom line: It is not prejudice against Islam to cover both sides of crucial debates between Muslims.

This brings me to the end of that stunning column today by David Brooks of The New York Times, the one about the powerful theological symbolism involved in beheading someone.

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Hey! It's journalists mangling scripture day! (UPDATED)

David Brooks wrote a very Brooksian column for today’s New York Times about how our culture was more dynamic when there were competing status hierarchies and how our current situation of one hierarchy means that the successful are less haunted by their own status and the less successful have nowhere to hide.

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