Jonathan Cain

Reporting on Paula White and the White House: Trying to tell her side of the story

Reporting on Paula White and the White House: Trying to tell her side of the story

Those of you who may have read my lengthy profile on Paula White in this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine may not know that it was this GetReligion post a year ago and then this one that helped make the Post story happen.

Her spokesman, Johnnie Moore, noticed these posts, and contacted me to express thanks for their fairness.

Mercenary creature that I am, the wheels started turning in my head. A lot of publications, I thought, would be interested in knowing the inner life of this woman; the backstory behind her relationship with President Donald Trump and how she has hung on over the years despite scandals that would deck most people.

So I floated a trial balloon: Would Paula, I asked him, consent to appearing before dozens of journalists at the Religion News Association convention in Nashville in September? As a member of the conference committee, I was putting together a panel and I wanted her to be on it. Through Moore, she said yes. (Note: I’ll be referring to everyone by their last names in this piece except for Paula).

By this time, I was in contact with pros at the Post’s Sunday magazine, since I have written 14 stories either for the magazine or the Style section. Most of the pieces were several thousand words long, including my latest: A 2015 profile on Alice Rogoff, wife of inside-the Beltway billionaire David Rubenstein and (at the time) publisher of the Anchorage-based Alaska Dispatch News. T

he folks at the magazine were definitely interested in a story. Paula was on the road so much that I didn’t get through to her until June to explain what a story of close to 6,000 words would entail. We agreed that I’d spend three days following her around Washington, D.C. in late July.

Early in the afternoon of July 27, I was standing at the Northwest gate on Pennsylvania Avenue impatiently waiting for the right media person to allow me in. I didn’t know there was a titanic battle raging right then between communications director Anthony Scaramucci (who would be fired the following week) and chief of staff Reince Priebus who was about to be ousted.

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The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

My apologies for the clickbait title.

But I had to get you here so I could congratulate a colleague: my fellow GetReligion contributor Julia Duin.

If you follow religion headlines, you've probably already heard about the Washington Post Magazine's in-depth — really in-depth — profile of televangelist Paula White and her role as pastor to President Trump.

Perhaps, though, you missed Duin's byline on the piece.

As she described it on Twitter, her magnum opus — 6,408 words in all — took four months to research and write.

I won't even pretend to be able to offer an unbiased critique of my colleague's work. But I will share a variety of tweets from the Twitterverse praising Duin's "fascinating," "fantastic," "must-read," "quite a meaty profile":

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The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

 The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

Attempting to comprehend the mystery of Donald Trump’s religion, his critics can’t decide whether to blame Peale or Paula.

Some consider that “positive thinking” guru, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), the inspiration for what they dislike. (Reports say Trump, a boyhood Presbyterian, never actually joined  Peale’s New York City congregation, which is part of the Reformed Church in America.) For other skeptics, it’s not Peale who’s appalling but Paula White.

Writers with yahoo.com and then Politico.com have recently profiled White,  a popular broadcaster, speaker, author and since 2012 senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla. This is one of America’s countless high-growth independent congregations with a “Charismatic” or “Neo-Pentecostal” flavor.

White, a 50-year-old grandmother, and her ministries deserve further reportage with two angles, Trump’s creed and a major fissure in the unruly U.S. evangelical movement.

Veteran activist James Dobson alerted media to the White connection by passing along reports that Trump, a “baby Christian,” was led to renewed faith by White. Trump and White were pals long before she helped broker his 2015 and 2016 meetings with evangelical types. Trump endorsed one of her books in 2007 calling her “a beautiful person,” appeared on White’s TV show, and White rents a New York apartment in a Trump building.

So let's turn to Trump’s fiercest evangelical foe, the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, the Washington D.C. voice for America’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention.

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