Esquire

You know what? Peter Boyer does have some thoughts on religion news, Trump and the press

You know what? Peter Boyer does have some thoughts on religion news, Trump and the press

I recently wrote a think-piece post about an Esquire piece by Peter Boyer on how Donald Trump has successfully baited many elite mainstream journalists into switching from classic American Model of the Press journalism and into advocacy mode.

If you didn’t see that GetReligion post, please click this link: “Peter Boyer in Esquire: Thinking about Trump, advocacy journalism, religion and stick-on labels.”

Boyer, of course, is best known for his years of work with The New Yorker. I have always thought that he has an incredible ability to write about hot-button topics while showing respect for the beliefs of people on both sides of those emotionally charged issues. Yes, that includes religion. Check out this example from 2005: “Jesus in the Classroom.”

In my earlier post, I wondered how Boyer might apply his thesis about Trump and the press to, well, the whole issue of journalists not “getting” religion. It helps that Boyer started reading GetReligion back in 2005 and that we’ve been in touch over the years.

Now, I have something to share, from Boyer, about that religion-news question. But first, here is a crucial section of my earlier post to help introduce readers to this discussion. In the Esquire piece, a key scene opens with Boyer interviewing Trump:

… Amid those passing controversies was one story that Trump himself remembers clearly still. “Yep, very famous story,” he remarked to me in a recent interview. “It was a very important story...” Trump was referring to a front-page New York Times article published on August 8, 2016, under the headline "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." The opening paragraph posed a provocative question:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

Here’s another key statement:

Reporters who considered Trump “potentially dangerous,” [Jim] Rutenberg wrote, would inevitably move closer “to being oppositional” to him in their reporting — “by normal standards, untenable.” Normal standards, the column made clear, no longer applied.

This reminded me, of course, of the famous remarks that Times editor Bill Keller made several days after his retirement — the 2011 remarks that led a GetReligion reader (a D.C. area scholar) to create our “Kellerism” term.

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Peter Boyer in Esquire: Thinking about Trump, advocacy journalism, religion and stick-on labels

Peter Boyer in Esquire: Thinking about Trump, advocacy journalism, religion and stick-on labels

The news media vs. Donald Trump.

Donald Trump vs. the mainstream news media.

Who will win in this epic life and death steel-cage wrestling match?

Well, you can argue that the media has already lost this battle, in that Trump now resides in the White House.

One could also argue that Trump has successfully rewritten the rules of public discourse in a way that has forced journalists to abandon many of their most important standards linked to fairness, objectivity and even accuracy. The more journalists veer into a Trump-style screaming match, the more they fit into the stereotypes that The Donald has created for them.

This brings us to an important Esquire piece written by magazine-pro Peter Boyer. If you know this work — including his years at The New Yorker — you know that he has a reputation as a reporter with an uncanny knack for covering both sides of tense, angry arguments. (See this classic New Yorker piece on Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ.)

So what does this Esquire piece have to do with religion-beat reporting? Read the following and think of former New York Times editor Bill Keller and his statement that the Times was attempting to do balanced, accuracy coverage of the news, “other than” many topics linked to culture, morality and religion.

So the scene opens with Boyer interviewing Trump:

… Amid those passing controversies was one story that Trump himself remembers clearly still. “Yep, very famous story,” he remarked to me in a recent interview. “It was a very important story...” Trump was referring to a front-page New York Times article published on August 8, 2016, under the headline "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." The opening paragraph posed a provocative question:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

There is more, of course:

Reporters who considered Trump “potentially dangerous,” [Jim] Rutenberg wrote, would inevitably move closer “to being oppositional” to him in their reporting — “by normal standards, untenable.” Normal standards, the column made clear, no longer applied.

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What are we to think of 'religious' TV shows that sidesteps the whole God issue?

What are we to think of 'religious' TV shows that sidesteps the whole God issue?

A late September headline at the Esquire magazine website proclaimed “There Is No God on TV, Only The Good Place.”

Indeed, the clever sitcom of that title, which launched season No. 3 last week, plays around with good and evil, heaven and hell, and even portrays supernatural demons. But God is missing.

This NBC fantasy is just the thing to lure the eyeballs of America’s growing legion of young, religiously unmoored “nones,” in a carefully multicultural fashion that also ignores religious beliefs and practices. Instead, the proceedings are all about a hazy moral philosophy about what makes a good person.

CBS makes a different audience bid with “God Friended Me,” which premiered Sunday. The drama’s lead character Miles (played by Brandon Micheal Hall) is a preacher’s kid turned outspoken atheist. Is the “God” who becomes his Facebook “friend” the actual cosmic God or some human or otherworldly trickster? To find out, Miles enlists his devout bartender sister, a hacker pal, and a journalist, and experiences coincidences that just might be miracles.

Judging from one episode, there may not be much here for religion writers to ponder, and it's hard to guess whether “Friended” can even survive. (Ratings prospects are dimmed by CBS’s inability to set predictable Sunday start times following sports events.) This seems inspiration-drenched programming in the varied tradition of “Highway to Heaven,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Promised Land,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” or last season’s short-lived “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.”

“The Good Place,” by contrast, has somehow managed to establish a niche and win critics’ acclaim by probing Big Questions with a droll touch. Here salvation is earned strictly by performing good deeds instead of faith. That conflicts with an historic 1999 Catholic-Lutheran accord that insists Christianity believes that “by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God” who equips and calls us to “good works.”

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An abortionist and his faith? The Atlantic leaves us wondering what kind of faith

An abortionist and his faith? The Atlantic leaves us wondering what kind of faith

When I saw that The Atlantic had interviewed someone about abortions in the South, naturally I was interested. Here was an African-American doctor talking about why he makes huge sacrifices to make sure southern states have access to abortions.

Being that 35 percent of all aborted babies are black even though black women are only 6 percent of the U.S. population, that says something about the large numbers of black babies who will never see the light of day. And since this doctor is in Birmingham, Ala., in the rural South, which is heavily black, I thought he might have something to say about why that clientele has such high abortion rates out of proportion to their share of the population.

One more thing: Since the kicker above the article says he would be discussing his Christian faith, I was even more interested. Would the reporter know enough, I wondered, to challenge this doctor with theological questions about this topic? Or would this be one of a zillion sympathetic profiles of abortion providers out there? Also, there is another obvious question: What is this man's church tradition?

The story begins:

Willie Parker is an imposing ob-gyn who has been traveling across the deep South providing abortions since 2012. At times, he has been one of the few providers in the only abortion clinic for hundreds of miles. Though he had been flying down from his home in Chicago twice a month to provide abortions in Mississippi and elsewhere, he recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama -- closer to the center of the abortion wars.
He is also a practicing Christian, and he frequently refers to his faith as being the reason why he does what he does. It’s the argument he lays out in his recently published book, Life’s Work, and in his new position as board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a prominent pro-choice advocacy group.

The link after the words ‘his faith’ is to an enormously sympathetic 2014 profile of the same doctor done by Esquire. By now I already know where this article is heading.

Still, the writer, Olga Khazan, does ask the question:

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Carson, Clinton, Colbert and ... Lucifer? The God-and-politics drama never ends

Carson, Clinton, Colbert and ... Lucifer? The God-and-politics drama never ends

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any weirder at the Republican convention, the Prince of Darkness showed up. Or at least his ally was in the house, via a prime-time speech reference to none other than Hillary Clinton by one-time GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I am not making this up. Stephen Colbert has even invented a new word: Trumpiness, to describe the state of things in Cleveland, and America in general. More on Colbert later. 

Frankly, I thought most media were fairly subdued in handling what a goofball Carson has become although their headline writers definitely had a holiday. "Did You Stay Awake Long Enough to Hear Ben Carson Call Hillary Lucifer?" Esquire asked

Here's how CNN called it

Washington (CNN) -- Former presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday that he linked Hillary Clinton to a prominent community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who once offered measured praise of Lucifer in a book, to provide "perspective" on what type of president the Democrat would be.
"Recognize that this is a very famous book -- 'Rules for Radicals' -- and on the dedication page, you acknowledge Lucifer in an admirable way saying he's the original radical who gained his own kingdom," Carson told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day." "What I am saying is that we are talking about electing to the presidency an individual who embraces someone who obviously is not someone who is consistent."
Clinton wrote her 1969 Wellesley undergraduate thesis on Alinsky -- though she's said in her own book that she had "fundamental" disagreements with him," according to an analysis of Carson's comments on Politifact.

Now back to what Carson originally said Tuesday night:

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Axing the wrong questions after Brat-Cantor stunner

There’s analysis, and there’s hack ‘n’ slash. When blindsided by the come-from-behind election of David Brat over Virginia’s longtime congressman Eric Cantor, many mainstream media fell back on the latter. Often with dull, rusty blades. Brat is a (gasp) fiscal conservative, some pundits said. He’s an (gasp #2) evangelical, said others. And a Calvinist. And a Catholic. And still others insinuated that he’s a closet anti-Semite, or his supporters are, or something.

Let’s take the last first. In the otherwise distinguished Wall Street Journal, Reid Epstein seizes on something that Brat wrote three years ago:

David Brat, the Virginia Republican who shocked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) Tuesday, wrote in 2011 that Hitler’s rise “could all happen again, quite easily.”

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Megan Fox, glossolalia and AP Style (you read that right)

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is a lot of things and it fills a lot of roles. With good cause, thousands of media professionals call it the bible of mainstream journalism. However, this omnipresent spiral volume doesn’t answer a whole lot of complex questions that scribes will encounter trying to cover life on the modern religion beat.

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