Stephen Colbert

Is Howard Stern, the man who gave us Butt Bongo Fiesta, evolving into a prophet for our time?

Is Howard Stern, the man who gave us Butt Bongo Fiesta, evolving into a prophet for our time?

Howard Stern gave a remarkable two-part interview last week on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. In terms of cultural encounters, that’s interesting in and of itself.

A good many social conservatives — OK, I’ll own this — have usually found it easier to think of Stern as one of the harbingers of the apocalypse. If he was not one of the four horsemen, he was the nearly naked drunken guy dancing with abandon somewhere in the end times parade, much to the delight of those citizens who think of Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street as the cultural high point of the year.

Writing in “Prophet of All Media” for Tablet, Liel Leibovitz makes an argument that, like Stern, is provocative. Leibovitz repeatedly compares Stern to Judaism’s prophets, and he begins with an earthy tale straight out of the Talmud about a prostitute who breaks wind and delivers a related prophetic word to her client, a rabbi.

“And it’s just the sort of story that makes the seminal text of Jewish life — often introduced to young yeshiva students as an account of God’s own mind — so transcendent,” he writes. “To imbue humans with wisdom, the ancient rabbis who compiled the Talmud realized, you need more than just a commandment; if you want humans to listen and learn, you have to embrace all the appetites and the oddities that make them human. Try to talk to us about the labors of redemption, and we might scoff at such haughty moralizing or slink away from the effort it demands. Deliver it in a good yarn about a farting prostitute, and we’re bound to laugh, think, and empathize.”

Much of Leibovitz’s argument continues in this vein, leaving the impression that apart from the occasionally unkind or crude remark, Stern surely joins the farting prostitute in having a heart of gold.

In time, however, Leibovitz reaches the mother lode of his case, with a comparison for all Americans who have set NPR as the first station on the audio devices built into their automobile dashboards. Leibovitz goes so far as to compare Stern to Terry Gross — not by mentioning their most recent interview, but by comparing the cultural effects of their respective style of interviews.

This is very long, but essential. Media professionals, let us attend:

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This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

Every semester, in my Journalism Foundations seminar at The King’s College in New York City, I dedicate a night to the role that Stephen Colbert’s Catholic faith has played in his life and career.

It’s important, of course, to spend some time looking at the humorist’s break-out show — The Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. This show was, of course, a satire focusing on the flamethrower commentary of Bill O’Reilly for Fox News work.

With Colbert, every thing on the show was upside-down and inside-out, with his blowhard conservative character making lots of liberal political points by offering over-the-top takes on some — repeat “some” — conservative stances. I argued that to understand what Colbert was doing, you had to understand O’Reilly and then turn that inside out.

Thus, I asked: What kind of conservative is, or was, O’Reilly? Students always say things like, a “right-wing one?” A “stupid one”? An “ultra-conservative one”? I’ve never had a student give the accurate answer — a Libertarian conservative.

I realize that there have been lively debates about the compatibility of Libertarianism and Catholicism. However, it’s safe to say that most Catholics reject a blend of liberal, or radically individualistic, social policies and conservative economics. Turn that inside out and you have what? Conservative morality and progressive economics?

This brings me to the massive New York Times Magazine deep-dive into the life and career of Rupert Murdoch. Here’s the humble headline on this long, long piece (150 interviews, readers are told) by Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg: “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World.”

So the question: What kind of conservative is Murdoch? Is it possible that there is some kind of moral or even religious ghost in this story?

It opens with a rather apocalyptic scene in January, 2018. The 86-year-old press baron — on holiday with his fourth wife, Jerry Hall — has collapsed on the floor of his cabin on a yacht owned by one of his sons. Is this the end? The big question, of course, is, “Who will run the empire after the lord and master is gone?”

So here’s what’s at stake:

Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs than the man lying in that hospital bed, awaiting his children’s arrival.

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When Pope Francis rails against smartphones at Mass, what's the best way to cover this news?

When Pope Francis rails against smartphones at Mass, what's the best way to cover this news?

Recently, Pope Francis criticized folks who are glued to their iPhones during Mass, calling such flippant behavior “a very ugly thing.”

Chances are the typical Catholic didn’t hear of Francis’ remarks, even though they were widely covered. All the same, the New York Times decided to have some fun with the idea.

This is what appeared in last Sunday’s paper:

Dianne Alfaro sat in a pew in the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, her head bowed during Mass on Sunday morning. She cast her eyes down as the hymn “Jerusalem My Happy Home” swelled around her.
As the words “Hosanna in the highest!” echoed in the cathedral, she never looked up. That is, until she finished buying a pair of black boots off the internet on her iPhone.
“At some point, the priest during the Mass says, ‘Lift up your hearts.’ He does not say, ‘Lift up your cellphones to take pictures,’ ” Pope Francis said last week during a general audience at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, where he urged Catholics to leave their phones home.
But during Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it seemed either the pontiff’s message had not yet reached across the Atlantic or the churchgoers were not listening.

The article goes on to record interviews with several people attending services at the cathedral that day, many of whom were quite involved with their cell phones. It is clever, I admit, and honest about what people are really doing in those pews.

It’s also what reporters and editors used to call a quick-and-dirty: Reporter and photographer visit one church, take notes, interview a few people, then put in a call to the archdiocese for comment.

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Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Yes, I heard you.

There is no question that the think piece for this week was that amazing cover story at The Atlantic that ran with that fascinating double-decker headline that caused several of you to click your mouses, sending me the URL.

Normally, "think pieces" are non-newsy essays that offer information or commentary on a subject that I think will be of interest to religion-beat pros and to faithful consumers of mainstream religion-beat news.

This one is different. Let's start with that headline:

How America Lost Its Mind
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history

Now, before we move on, please CLICK HERE (this is really important) and look at the illustration that ran at the top this essay by Kurt Andersen, an essay that was adapted from his soon-to-be-released book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire -- A 500-Year History. This is, of course, an image of crazy America.

So what do we see? Well, there's bigfoot and a church steeple, Mormons and hippies, Fox News and a burning witch, UFOs and Disneyland. Oh, and several symbols of Donald Trump's base. Wait, I guess that should be several OTHER symbols of Trump's base, because all of that craziness is linked to the rise of The Donald. And that craziness has been around in American since The Beginning.

Now, the question that I heard this week from several readers was this: Is this piece at The Atlantic telling us what American journalists think of the American people and, in particular, Americans who are conservative religious believers? Or, is this just what Andersen thinks and the powers that be at The Atlantic simply ran it on the cover as a way to fire up their base, their core readers (kind of like "War on Christmas" stories at Fox News, only in reverse)?

Now, I would stress that it is never helpful to say that journalists in America are some kind of cultural monolith. That's just wrong.

Trump was clearly out of his mind with populist rage when he said that journalists (or the "news media") are the enemy of the American people That's simplistic. As I said over and over on Twitter, it would be more accurate to say that many, perhaps even a majority, of elite journalists on the left and right coasts are the enemies of about 20-25 percent of the American people.

OK, so what does the piece say?

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Covering Robert Jeffress and Kim Jong Un: Some media shone, while others flailed

Covering Robert Jeffress and Kim Jong Un: Some media shone, while others flailed

It certainly made for a lot of waves on the internet: The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, describing how America's chief executive has authority from God to kill off North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

I’m still waiting for Pope Francis to come up with a statement to refute that one. But first things first: On Tuesday, Jeffress’ remarks were released to the Christian Broadcasting Network, an odd alliance if there ever was one. CBN is very oriented toward the Pentecostal-charismatic side of things and Jeffress most definitely is not, as an old-guard leader on the Southern Baptist right.

But politics always makes for strange bedfellows and with its superior contacts within the Trump administration, CBN has found itself in the unusual role of breaking national stories lately. David Brody’s three-paragraph story was part news, part editorial:

Sometimes you've got to stop evil. It's biblical. In North Korea, it's pretty clear that their dictator is downright evil. So tonight, Pastor Robert Jeffress, a longtime evangelical backer of Donald Trump, just released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to take out Kim Jong Un. This comes after Trump said today that if North Korea continues to threaten the U.S. then they will “be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."
“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary -- including war -- to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president -- contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors -- will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”
Folks, get ready. I've warned for a long time that North Korea was the biggest problem all along. Memo to North Korea: with Trump as president, you really don't want to mess with America. This could get real ugly real soon. Trump won't tolerate this for too much longer.

Later, CBN did follow up with something more nuanced from other evangelicals. 

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Mel Gibson and his 2016 multi-media tour: Can this fallen star ever repent enough?

Mel Gibson and his 2016 multi-media tour: Can this fallen star ever repent enough?

Mel Gibson, for years one of the most despised men in Hollywood, appears to be back on top with the release of a new film “Hacksaw Ridge.” This has brought together a delightful brew of movie reviews, Gibson gossip fests and interminable articles on how this industry pariah and renegade Catholic is trying to redeem himself, through a marathon of interviews in news and entertainment media.

There is valid religion-beat news here. It’s impossible to sidestep the faith factor in the story of how the maker of“The Passion of the Christ” has now come out with a movie about a Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector who survives one of World War II’s bloodiest battles without so much as a gun by his side.

In one of those journalistic mixes of opinion and fact that are all too common in newspapers these days, the Los Angeles Times expounds on all this.

 At the recent Academy premiere of "Hacksaw Ridge," there was a 10-minute standing ovation.
Not terribly surprising, except it was for Mel Gibson.
Ten years ago, Gibson was the most hated man in Hollywood. First, during a DUI arrest,  he verbally assaulted police officers using anti-Semitic and sexist language. Then he was caught on audiotape threatening his then-girlfriend with rape and other physical abuse as well as dropping the N-word.
Forget standing ovations; many believed he would never work again.
But forgiveness, like everything else, has always followed a hierarchy in Hollywood. The elite — those who've won awards, broken box office records, sold successful franchises — are often welcomed back even as newbies like Nate Parker or middlings like Lindsay Lohan are cut loose. 

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Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

So what is this week's "Crossroads" podcast actually about?

Well, on one level it's about the "Christian" humor website called The Babylon Bee. But on a deeper level, it's about what happens when the word "Christian" is turned into an adjective defining a form of popular culture. At that point, all kinds of interesting and even distressing things take place. There are news stories in there, folks.

For example, when you hear someone talking about "Christian" rock 'n' roll, doesn't that (if you are of a certain age) make you think of that famous "Seinfeld" episode that included the riff about the car-radio buttons? Here's a flashback, from an "On Religion" column that I wrote long, long ago:

As she pulled into traffic, Elaine Benes turned on her boyfriend's car radio and began bouncing along to the music.
Then the lyrics sank in: "Jesus is one, Jesus is all. Jesus pick me up when I fall." In horror, she punched another button, then another. "Jesus," she muttered, discovering they all were set to Christian stations. Then the scene jumped to typical "Seinfeld" restaurant chat.
"I like Christian rock," said the ultra-cynical George Costanza. "It's very positive. It's not like those real musicians who think they're so cool and hip."

It's all about the world "real." We are not talking about "real" musicians, here. We are talking about "Christian" rock. Thus, when most people hear the phrase "Christian" rock, they probably think of this rather than this (please click these URLs).

What do you think of when you hear people talk about "Christian" movies? Do you think of this or of this?

How about the fine arts? When you think of Christian paintings, do you think of this or, well, of this?

I could go on. "Christian" humor, including satire, is not new -- in fact, it's ancient.

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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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Guns, the f-word (the other one), Disney, evangelicals and Denzel Washington, oh my

Guns, the f-word (the other one), Disney, evangelicals and Denzel Washington, oh my

What we got here is FAILURE to communicate.

That's a movie reference, you see, to one of the great religion-haunted films in the history of Hollywood. But never mind, I thought that might be a good place to start in a short post about some bizarre mangling of religious language in a piece by The Hollywood Reporter. I've been wanting to get to this one for some time now.

So there is this new documentary film called "The Armor of Light" and the key player behind it is one Abigail Disney. The trouble starts right in the epic double decker headline. See if you can follow this one:

Walt Disney Heiress Courts Evangelicals With Anti-Gun Movie
Well versed in her family's conservative politics, Abigail Disney discusses her new film 'The Armor of Light' (out Oct. 30), which tackles the gun controversy while also reaching out to fundamentalist Christians in a new way: "This film goes to them on their own terms, and they appreciate that."

OK, GetReligion readers already know that use of the term "fundamentalist" is very tricky, for journalists who have any intent of using religious language accurately or, well, paying any attention to the Associated Press Stylebook. As the bible of daily journalism notes:

"fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. ... However, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.
"In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself."

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