Dianne Feinstein

Michael Gerson sends message to senators (and journalists?) about faith, law, public life

Michael Gerson sends message to senators (and journalists?) about faith, law, public life

Miichael Gerson is a graduate of one of America's best known evangelical liberal arts schools -- Wheaton College.

He has been a mainstream journalist, as well as a writer for Christian think tanks.

Gerson is, of course, best known for his work as a presidential speech writer for George W. Bush. He then moved into the role of the well-connected Washington, D.C., pundit, writing columns for the Washington Post op-ed page while holding various semi-academic research posts as a public intellectual at the Council for Foreign Relations and other groups.

It's safe to say that Gerson is capable of writing a column that is aimed at one specific DC crowd, while including information and themes that are relevant to other Beltway audiences.

Consider his Post piece on the "loud dogma" controversy that I have been writing about all week (click here for podcast) at GetReligion. The headline: "Senate Democrats show off their anti-religious bigotry."

We are, of course, talking about the recent U.S. Senate hearing in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and others, probed judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett about the fine details of her traditional Catholic beliefs. Mainstream news coverage of this event was thin to nonexistent, but opinion writers of various stripes have had a field day. It's the new American journalism.

Here is my question: Gerson's column is about Democrats in the Senate. But there are places where one could switch his target to the mainstream press and his language would work just fine, if I believes that many journalists struggle to do news coverage of traditional forms of religious faith.

First, here is a key passage near the top of Gerson's column:

Barrett is an instructive test case of secular, liberal unease with earnest faith, particularly in its Catholic variety. She is, in the description of a letter signed by every full-time member of the Notre Dame Law School faculty, “a brilliant teacher and scholar, and a warm and generous colleague. She possesses in abundance all of the other qualities that shape extraordinary jurists: discipline, intellect, wisdom, impeccable temperament, and above all, fundamental decency and humanity.”
Barrett is also, not coincidentally, a serious Christian believer who has spoken like one in public.

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Podcast thinker: Bannon attack on Catholic bishops was news, while 'loud dogma' wasn't?

Podcast thinker: Bannon attack on Catholic bishops was news, while 'loud dogma' wasn't?

It's one of the questions that non-journalists ask me all the time: What makes some events "news," while other events are not "news"?

Long ago, a caller in Charlotte wanted to know why it was news that a downtown church replaced a window, while it was not news that her church built and dedicated a new building.

Well, I explained, that window was in an Episcopal Church downtown and that sanctuary is an historic site. It was controversial to put in a modern window. Now, if there had been a zoning fight about that new megachurch sanctuary, then the newspaper would have covered it. She was not amused or convinced.

So here is a more modern news-judgment puzzle, one with a twist that combines cutting-edge technology and the old demons of media-bias studies. This puzzle was at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in).

Too wade into this, start with the top of this interesting Crux piece that ran with this headline: "Fears of anti-Catholic bias rise on both left and right."

NEW YORK -- Of late, California Senator Diane Feinstein has come under fire for questioning judicial nominee Amy Barrett’s commitment to her Catholic faith during a senate confirmation hearing last week.
“I think in your case, professor … the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” declared Feinstein.
That same week, another story prompted Catholic furor when former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said he thought the U.S. bishops had been “terrible” in their support of DACA and “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”
These two cases -- which happened in the span of one, shared 24-hour news cycle -- have prompted some to wonder if anti-Catholic bias on both the political left and the right in America is on the rise.

In my mind, there's no question that both of these events were worthy of coverage.

However, stop and think about it.

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AP offers reaction piece about the 'loud dogma' story that it didn't cover the first time around

AP offers reaction piece about the 'loud dogma' story that it didn't cover the first time around

For decades, the Associated Press played a crucial role in the typical news cycle that followed a big event -- from Supreme Court decisions to tornadoes, from big elections (whether presidents or popes) to plane crashes.

Back in the 1970s, when I broke into journalism, you would hear the chimes on the newsroom AP wire machine signalling that something "big" just happened. I'll never forget hearing the four bells marking the first clear sign that President Richard Nixon would resign.

The key: The AP usually wrote the first story on big news, or quickly picked up coverage from local outlets to take a story to the national or international level.

It helps, of course, when people agree on whether an event is news or not.

I put the question this way in my first post on the U.S. Senate appeals-court nomination hearings for Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven, who was told that the "dogma lives loudly within you" by Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

... The main question is an old one that your GetReligionistas have asked many times: Can you imagine the mainstream press ignoring this story if the theological and political doctrines in were reversed? Can you imagine liberal senators asking the same questions to a Muslim nominee?

Several readers sent emails taking that idea a step further: Try to imagine the press coverage if conservative senators asked if a nominee was too Muslim, or too Jewish, to serve on a major U.S. court.

Yes, I think the AP would have written a first-day news story in those cases, reports with the basic facts and reactions from voices on both sides. At that point, the AP story would trigger the normal "news cycle" in other newsrooms, in radio, television and print outlets.

Thus, it's crucial whether AP people think an event is news or not.

We finally have an AP story about last week's "loud dogma" hearing. Please read the overture carefully, since this is a follow-up story about an event that didn't deserve an initial report:

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Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

So, did you read all the stories about the liberal Episcopalian who was nominated to a federal appeals court seat, only to be grilled about her religious beliefs -- with subtle references to her same-sex marriage -- by evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Catholics in a U.S. Senate hearing?

I mean, one senator called her a Communist because of her decision to speak at a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union. One conservative Anglican on the committee questioned whether her vocal support for her church's doctrine should block her appointment to a federal court. Another conservative Anglican asked her point blank: "Are you a liberal Episcopalian?”

Wait, you didn't see coverage of that story by journalists at major newspapers and cable networks?

Right, I made that up. But can you imagine the mainstream press failing to spotlight a story in which fundamentalist yahoos did something like that to a liberal religious believer?

Me either. So did I miss something when we had that story in reverse? I searched all over for mainstream coverage of this real story, including at the newspaper of record. Scan this simple Google News search and tell me if I blinked and missed something important.

Now let's turn to alternative, "conservative" media outlets and look at this real story -- only reversed in a journalistic mirror. In the real world, we have a pro-Catechism Catholic nominee, a Notre Dame University law professor and mother of seven, facing a liberal Catholic senator. The consistently #NeverTrump National Review reported:

... [D]uring a confirmation hearing for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein attacked the nominee for her Roman Catholic faith.
Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written about the role of religion in public life and delivered academic lectures to Christian legal groups. ...
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

At another point in this drama:

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