Ross Douthat

Say what? Newborn would be 'resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired'

Say what? Newborn would be 'resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired'

For lots of people, this was the story of the week — if you saw it covered anywhere.

Say what? If you were following any moral and religious conservatives on Twitter late this week, then you saw the explosion of outrage about proposed Virginia legislation that cranked up the flames under a topic that has long caused pain and fierce debate among Democrats — third-trimester abortion.

However, if you tend to follow mainstream media accounts on Twitter, or liberal evangelicals, or progressives linked to other religious traditions, then you heard — not so much. Ditto for big-TV news.

Now why would this be?

After all, the direct quotes from Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia were pretty out there, if you read them the same way as the leader of Democrats For Life, Kristen Day, who put the i-word in play — infanticide.

Once again, no one has to agree with her, but there are fierce debates about how many Democrats would welcome new restrictions on abortion, especially after 20 weeks or “viability.”

What’s the fight about? On one side are those who see Northam & Co. opening a door that leads — with a wink and a nod — to horrors that are hard to contemplate. On the other side are those who see the right to abortion under attack and want to protect every inch of the legal terrain they have held for years, and perhaps even capture new ground.

On the pro-abortion-rights left, what happened in Virginia — what Northam and others advocated — is not news. The news is the right-wing reaction — it’s the “seized” meme — to those words. And, of course, the tweeter in chief piled on.

Want to guess which wide the Acela-zone press backed?

Here’s the headline at The New York Times: “Republicans Seize on Late-Term Abortion as a Potent 2020 Issue.”

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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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New podcast: What if President Jeb Bush, not Donald Trump, had picked Brett Kavanaugh?

New podcast: What if President Jeb Bush, not Donald Trump, had picked Brett Kavanaugh?

Halfway into the radio segment that turned into this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken asked a totally logical question.

Oh, by the way, this was recorded while Brett Kavanaugh was still offering testimony. I was following the story online, while avoiding the emotion-drenched reality show airing on cable-TV news.

Backing away from the current headlines, Wilken noted that, these days, it seems like EVERYTHING in American politics — good or bad, sane or insane — is linked to Donald Trump. Is it possible that the take-no-prisoners war over the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh is just another one of those stories?

My answer was linked to piece of aggregated news that just ran at The Week: “George W. Bush is reportedly working the phones for Kavanaugh.” Here’s the overture:

President Trump isn't the only one standing by his man.

With Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination coming down to the wire, The Washington Post reports former President George W. Bush in recent days has been calling key senators to whip up support. …

Although The Washington Post's report doesn't clarify whether Bush made any calls after Thursday's hearing, the former president's chief of staff confirmed to Politico after the testimony that he still supports Kavanaugh, who worked in the Bush White House as staff secretary and assisted in the 2000 Florida recount.

In the Senate, Kavanaugh needs 50 votes to be confirmed, and with 51 Republican lawmakers, only two would need to break from the ranks for the nomination to go up in flames. Some of the key votes include Republican senators who aren't necessarily the biggest Trump fans, which is where the 43rd president comes in. And Bush isn't the only one working the phones, as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that she has received calls from both the former president and the former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

What does this have to do with a discussion of media coverage of religion angles in this agonizing story (click here for my first post on this topic)?

Well, note this throwaway line in the block of material: “Some of the key votes include Republican senators who aren't necessarily the biggest Trump fans, which is where the 43rd president comes in.”

That’s stating it mildly.

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With elections looming, let’s freshen up that old evangelicals-and-Trump theme

With elections looming, let’s freshen up that old evangelicals-and-Trump theme

Time for reporters who cover politics, or religion, or both, to start planning those big-picture election analyses.

If they’re like The Religion Guy, desks and files are all a-clutter with clippings about why oh why so many evangelicals voted for President Donald Trump and why so many still support him.

Pardon The Guy for once again griping about media neglect of why, oh why, non-Hispanic Catholics also helped deliver the states that gave Trump the White House. Exit polling showed Trump was backed by 81 percent of white evangelicals (with 40 percent casting those votes reluctantly), but also 60 percent of white Catholics.

These numbers are very close to both groups’ Republican support in 2012, but increases from white Catholics’ 52 percent and evangelicals’ 74 percent in 2008.

The fresh angle to exploit is accumulating evidence of broad change across America, with today’s Trumpublican Party as a mere symptom. Presumably Nov. 6 will tell us more about alienated white Americans who resent elitists in education, economics and cultural influence. Here’s some material journalists should ponder.

Recall that in 2012 Charles Murray analyzed five decades of data in “Coming Apart: The State of White America” to profile the growing gap in behavior and values between a thriving upper class that he contrasted with an emerging lower class that suffers eroding family and community life, religion included.

That same year, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and colleagues issued a less-noticed but important academic study on the decline of religious and family life for the white working class, under the snappy headline “No Money, No Honey, No Church.”

In April, 2017, pundit Peter Beinart wrote a prescient piece for The Atlantic titled “Breaking Faith.” He contended that a secularized America with so many citizens lacking involvement in religious groups (yes, that much-discussed rise of the “nones”) means many identify the politics of “us” versus “them” in increasingly “primal and irreconcilable ways.”

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Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

“Who gets to define a nation?,” journalist Anne Applebaum asks in a piece she wrote for the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine. “And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation?

For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled — but why should they ever be?”

Newspaper, magazine and broadcast reports attempting to explain the moves toward nationalist-tinged political populism in a host of European nations, and certainly the United States as well, have become a journalistic staple, which makes sense given the subject’s importance.

Here’s one recent example worth reading produced by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat  that looks at the issue in light of the recent Swedish national election. His focus is whether the political center can continue to hold, and for how long?

So why single out this magazine essay by Applebaum, who is also a columnist for The Washington Post?

Because it’s a good example of how a writer’s deep personal experience of living within a culture for many years can produce an understanding that’s difficult to find in copy produced by the average correspondent who, at best, spends a few years in a region before moving on to a new assignment.

Granted, the American-born Applebaum has the advantage of being married to a Polish politician and writer. She herself has become a dual citizen of the U.S. and Poland, and is raising her children in Poland.

As a Jew, however, she retains her outsider status in Polish society. It's from this vantage point that she conveys how Poland’s shift toward right-wing populism has impacted the nation, and her. (Her piece is one of several published by The Atlantic grouped together under the ominous rubric, “Is Democracy Dying?”)

If it is dying, at least in the short run, she argues that in large measure it’s due to the sweeping demographic changes in Europe triggered by the large number of Muslim refugees and immigrants fleeing war, poverty and general chaos in Syria, Iraq, North Africa and elsewhere who have moved there.

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Veritas Forum invites college students to think through 'life’s hardest questions”

Veritas Forum invites college students to think through 'life’s hardest questions”

It’s back to school time, and how’s this for a bracing lineup of campus lectures in just the past four weeks?

At Yale University, distinguished philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who is an atheist, hosted a top theologian, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews to jointly ponder “Living Well in Light of Death.”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat visited Ann Arbor to advise University of Michigan students that “Faith Is Not a Sideshow.”

At arch-rival Ohio State, a panel on “Living and Dying Well” consisted of a physician, a biological ethicist, and a specialist who helps patients with end-of-life planning.

Bob Cutillo, a physician working with Colorado’s homeless, spoke at the Mayo Clinic and its medical college on “The Doctor’s Gaze: Some Ancient Opinions on How We See Our Patients.”

Then it was celebrated attorney Rachael Denhollander, leader of the sexual abuse victims in the Michigan State and USA Gymnastics scandals and among Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.” Her double-header this week at New York University, then Columbia University Law School, addressed how justice can be reconciled with religious faith and forgiveness.

So began the season for the Veritas Forum of Cambridge, Mass., which organizes campus lectures to address “life’s hardest questions” from traditional Christian viewpoints that it believes academe neglects. To date there’ve been Veritas events at 185 colleges and universities, including at all but one of America’s top 25 schools in the new Wall Street Journal rankings.

Lecture topics run the gamut, for example “What Does It Mean to be Human?? “Is There Truth Beyond Science?” “Does Science Point to Atheism?” “Is Tolerance Intolerant?” “Contradictions in the Bible?” and “What Makes Us Racist?”

The concept is particularly intriguing due to heavy involvement of conservative or “evangelical” Protestants, often depicted in the media as anti-intellectual or at best mediocre thinkers.

The journalism hook?

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Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Archbishop Vigano's explosive testimony dismissed as new conservative attack on Pope Francis

Just when you think the wheels have come completely off the ongoing Catholic sexual abuse story, it goes to the next level.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, is the author of an 11-page document that is rocking the Roman Catholic world. You may remember him as the official who was ejected from his Washington, D.C. post in 2016 by Pope Francis after he arranged a meeting between the pope and Kim Davis, a former municipal clerk in Kentucky who was fired for refusing to sign marriage licenses to gay couples.

When word got out that Francis had secretly met with her during his September 2015, U.S. visit that year, the Vatican furiously backpedaled on whether Francis backed religious-liberty claims by Davis, and many U.S. bishops. Viganò was eventually removed.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and Viganò waited for an opportune time to strike back. It arrived on June 22, when former Washington Cardinal McCarrick, a Vatican favorite and a Francis confidante, was exposed for being a serial sexual predator. Viganò’s letter was released two months later.

The document is very detailed; it mentions dates and names (which can be easily verified or disproved) and, Viganò assures, all the documents backing him up are at the Vatican and the apostolic nunciature office on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC.

Ross Douthat, a New York Times columnist, tweeted that the document implicates 17 cardinals (I counted 23), two popes, four archbishops and three bishops.

As tmatt pointed out yesterday, different media are reading this different ways. Still, others at the Times attacked the messenger, portraying it as yet another battle between church liberals and conservatives. 

DUBLIN — On the final day of Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland, as he issued wrenching apologies for clerical sex abuse scandals, a former top Vatican diplomat claimed in a letter published on Sunday that the pope himself had joined top Vatican officials in covering up the abuses and called for his resignation.


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Nuclear war in Rome: Vatican's former U.S. ambassador claims Francis protected 'Uncle Ted'

Nuclear war in Rome: Vatican's former U.S. ambassador claims Francis protected 'Uncle Ted'

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said -- right out in public -- that he worked behind the scenes as part of the network that helped elect Pope Francis.

Now, according to the former Vatican ambassador to the United States from 2011-2016, McCarrick had every reason to do this. That would be Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a major Vatican player on the doctrinal right, who claims that Pope Francis and his network of supporters in red hats protected McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Thus, Vigano has called for Francis to resign.

Yes, Vigano is a Francis critic -- as noted (with good cause) by Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times. However, journalists will also note that Vigano was in a position to see the letters and emails from people on both sides of the long, long battle over whether "Uncle Ted" McCarrick could be driven out of the College of Cardinals. He is claiming the ability to name names and quote chapter and verse.

This will be a nuclear war between the Catholic left and right and people on both sides will have what journalists should -- read SHOULD -- find hard to ignore: documents and first-hand knowledge of key moments in this secret drama. Will the mainstream press quote the voices and documents on both sides, in the battle between bishops and cardinals?

Here is the key information at the top of the Edward Pentin report in The National Catholic Register:

In an extraordinary 11-page written testament, a former apostolic nuncio to the United States has accused several senior prelates of complicity in covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s allegations of sexual abuse, and has claimed that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò ... said that in the late 2000s, Benedict had “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis” and that Viganò personally told Pope Francis about those sanctions in 2013.

Archbishop Viganò said in his written statement, simultaneously released to the Register and other media, (see full text below) that Pope Francis “continued to cover” for McCarrick and not only did he “not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him” but also made McCarrick “his trusted counselor.”  Viganò said that the former archbishop of Washington advised the Pope to appoint a number of bishops in the United States, including Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark. 

The Register report claims that it has direct confirmation of the Benedict sanctions against McCarrick. The source? Staff close to Pope Benedict XVI.

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Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

The whole story of retired Cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick has reached the stage where reporters, as well as concerned readers, simply have to ride the waves of coverage and wait to connect the hellish dots. The victims are starting to tell their stories.

But let's pause to note a significant change in the shape of the clergy abuse story that has haunted Catholic leaders in America (and elsewhere) since the mid-1980s.

Reporters who have covered this story for decades -- such as my colleague Julia Duin -- have always known that this was a tragedy on three levels, in terms of law, science and even moral theology. But it's hard to tell the bigger story, when the victims remain silent, often because of pressure from parents and clergy.

Level I: Pedophilia -- The sexual abuse of prepubescent children. These cases have received the most news coverage.

Level II: Ephebophilia -- The widespreed sexual abuse of under-aged children and teens.

Level III: The sexual harassment and abuse of adults, often young seminarians.

A bombshell report from The New York Times -- "He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal" -- opened the floodgates, in terms of urgent discussions of sins and crimes at Level III. 

Now the Times team is back with a report that, in the words of Rocco Palmo of the Whispers in the Loggia website, is "a nuclear bomb." The Times headline: "Man Says Cardinal McCarrick, His ‘Uncle Ted,’ Sexually Abused Him for Years."

With a devastating three-word tweet -- "Millstone, neck, sea" -- columnist Ross Douthat of the Times (a pro-Catechism Catholic) has pointed readers to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 6:


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