flyover country

Flyover country: When it comes to big Lilly grant and all those Godbeat jobs, does location matter?

Flyover country: When it comes to big Lilly grant and all those Godbeat jobs, does location matter?

Location. Location. Location.

When it comes to that glorious, $4.9 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant that will fund 13 new religion journalists at The Associated Press, Religion News Service and The Conversation, exactly how much does location matter?

That’s the question some are asking after AP posted job ads for seven new positions last week and RNS did the same this week for its three grant-funded openings.

According to the ads, six of the seven AP positions will be based at AP headquarters in New York City or in Washington, D.C. The exception will be a Cairo-based newsperson who will cover Islamic faith and culture.

RNS, meanwhile, is hiring a managing editor to work in New York or Washington, along with a Rome-based Vatican correspondent and a Los Angeles-based national writer.

Sarah McCammon, an NPR national correspondent based in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast U.S., grew up in a conservative Christian home in Kansas City and attended an evangelical college.

McCammon got more than 250 “likes” when she tweeted this suggestion to AP:

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Andrew Sullivan: You want to see hate? Why did media Twitter-verse want to punch out some kids?

Andrew Sullivan: You want to see hate? Why did media Twitter-verse want to punch out some kids?

Your GetReligionistas could have run nothing the past week except for news and commentary about the Covington Catholic High School teens and we still would not have looked at half of the worthy stuff that was out there.

I could run 10 think pieces today on this topic and they all would be worthy of your attention.

The bottom line: This disaster is turning into a watershed moment in media-bias studies, one that — for people of good will in the middle of American public discourse — is increasingly being seen as a parable involving more than read MAGA hats.

Then again, debates about the Covington Catholics would be snuffed out like a candle if Ruth Bader Ginsberg announced that she was retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court. At that point, screams about Loud Dogma would drown out everything else.

Back to the Covington teens. At this point, there’s no reason to read people on the far left or the far right. The ruts there have been dug pretty deep by this point.

Thus, I would urge readers who care about the mainstream press, and religion-beat news in particular, to seek out voices toward the unpredictable middle of American public discourse. For example, see the Caitlin Flanagan piece in The Atlantic that ran with this headline: “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story — And the damage to their credibility will be lasting.”

The must-read essay that journalists really need to ponder, however, is by Andrew Sullivan, a political and cultural commentator whose voice is hard to label — other than the fact that he is an old-school liberal on First Amendment issues. The New York magazine headline: “The Abyss of Hate Versus Hate.”

On one level, Sullivan’s piece focuses on the same question that I put at the center of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast: “Why did Covington Catholic boys instantly become the bad guys?” As opposed to what? As opposed to the Black Hebrew Israelite protesters whose verbal attacks on the Catholic teens lit the fuse on this entire media exposition.

How did elite media handle the stunning direct quotes — they’re on videotape — packed with hate that these bullhorn screamers aimed at the Catholic boys?

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Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Ballot-box religion ghost for 2018? U.S. Senate races plus Supreme Court heat equals ...

Surely it says something about the current state of American politics and religion when the organization Democrats For Life sends out a press release celebrating the election of one — count ‘em, one — new pro-life member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Just a reminder: I have stated many times that I was a pro-life and registered Democrat my whole adult life — until the 2016 White House race. I am now a registered member of a tiny (in America) third party that’s progressive on economic issues and conservative on cultural issues (other than being old-school liberal on the First Amendment).

But back to that release from Democrats For Life, celebrating a win in the rather unique political environment of Utah:

ANOTHER PRO-LIFE DEMOCRAT

A bright spot this election cycle is the election of Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Twice elected the mayor of Salt Lake County, McAdams may be the kind of Democrat we need. He has a history of bringing people together to provide solutions.

On his campaign website, he stressed his bipartisan cooperation.

”Ben worked with both sides of the aisle in the Utah Legislature and as Salt Lake County mayor to balance the budget and act on important initiatives. He will continue to work with colleagues in both parties to overcome Washington’s broken politics and put Utah families first. He has proven bringing people together helps to solve tough problems like homelessness and criminal justice reform....”

Meanwhile, a member of an even more endangered political species — a pro-life Democrat incumbent in the U.S. Senate — lost his seat. If you followed the race carefully, it was obvious that Sen. Joe Donnelly had trouble separating himself from those “other” Democrats” during the firestorm surrounding U.S. Supreme Court nominee, and now justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

This brings me to the main theme in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which focused on the rare glimpses of religion during the mainstream news coverage of the 2018 Midterm elections. Click here to tune that in, or head over to iTunes to subscribe.

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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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Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

Ratings were way, way down at the Church of the Oscars this year (spot the religion ghosts)

It sounds like a simple question: Who is the AUDIENCE for the annual Academy Awards show? "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken opened this week's podcast host with that puzzler (click here to tune that in).

Ah, but are we talking about the audience for the program itself, as in the audience in the glitzy auditorium, or the audience for television broadcast that, once upon a time, was must-see TV in pretty much all American zip codes?

You see, you really have to think your way through that two-part equation in order to understand the post that I wrote the other day about the collapse in television ratings for this year's Academy Awards telecast. That post is right here: "Kudos to Washington Post for accidentally revealing diverse forms of Oscar hate/apathy?"

You see, I praised the Post -- gently -- for kind-of noticing that many Americans may have tuned out this year's Oscars show for reasons other than a desire not to see President Donald Trump bashed over and over. Late in that piece, they quoted some religious conservatives, one of whom sounded disappointed that stars hadn't dedicated more time to #MeToo issues during the Oscars.

Then there was this quip by host Jimmy "Man Show" Kimmel, which was aimed at the current administration -- but also had the beliefs of millions of traditional Christians, Jews and Muslims.

“We don’t make movies like ‘Call Me by Your Name’ for money. … We make them to upset Mike Pence,” Kimmel also said, referring to the same-sex romance film nominated for best picture.

So why did gazillions of Americans in flyover country tune out Oscars 2018, giving this cultural touchstone its lowest ratings, ever?

Obviously, it has something to do with the bitter divisions in American life that are cultural and moral, as well as political. At the same time, there is an schism between Americans who like the edgy niche-market movies that are dear to modern Hollywood's heart, and those who show up for mass-market superflicks that are not as preachy (or preach in a different style).

Do the power players in Hollywood know about this schism? Of course they do.

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Fading color purple: America's cultural divisions getting worse, election after election

Fading color purple: America's cultural divisions getting worse, election after election

For various reasons, I didn't get to post a "think piece" this weekend. A "think piece," on this blog, is an essay linked to the news that raises or discusses an issue that I believe is directly linked to religion trends and events that are in the news.

So please consider the following short-ish piece from FiveThirtyEight a kind of holiday weekend thinker for you to scan on your smartphones while flipping burgers at your grills (or pulling pork out of smokers here in the hills of East Tennessee).

To be honest with you, there is little or no religion content in this piece -- which is precisely why it fascinated me. The double-decker headline proclaims:

Purple America Has All But Disappeared
Counties are increasingly super red or super blue, with less and less in between

Purple, of course, represents compromise between liberal blue (urban) and conservative red (Middle America and/or flyover country). The whole fascination with red counties and blue counties really began with that famous USA Today graphic following the 2000 George W. Bush vs. Al Gore race.

What does purple mean on the ground? In my experience, it means liberal social values and conservative economics (think libertarian). On the other hand, it could refer to people who are progressive on economics and conservative on moral issues (think abortion and, now, religious liberty). However, the evidence I have seen indicates that prog pro-lifers, to pick one possible label, have primarily been voting GOP at the national level, due to concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever it means, purple people are an endangered species. The overture in this think piece notes:

President Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was among the narrowest in history, and the country is deeply split on his job performance so far. But if you feel like you hardly know anyone who disagrees with you about Trump, you’re not alone: Chances are the election was a landslide in your backyard.

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Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

If you have been paying attention to gossip about the news industry lately, you may have heard that many New York Times readers were not amused when the leaders of the great Gray Lady's editorial pages decided to add another conservative voice to the mix

Ever since the first column by one Bret Stephens -- a piece criticizing how the cultural left pushes climate change (but he does not reject the reality of climate change) -- large numbers of Times nation citizens have been voicing their wrath about this invasion of a beloved safe space, primarily by canceling their subscriptions.

I have not heard of a similar reaction to the recent Times opinion essay by the Catholic scribe R.R. Reno, who is editor of the conservative interfaith journal First Things. The title: "Republicans Are Now the ‘America First’ Party."

Now, let me stress that this Reno think piece does not contain large chunks of theology or commentary about religion. Instead, it's about how one Donald Trump has moved the ground under the feet of Republicans who had, for a long time, assumed that the GOP orthodoxy of Ronald Reagan would last 1,000 years or so.

The central theme: The new GOP enemy is globalism, not big government.

As I read this Reno piece, I kept waiting for religious material, for cultural and moral material, to show up. After all, I read newspapers through the lens of the great historian Martin Marty, as described in an "On Religion" column I wrote a year after 9/11 (at an event that started the dominoes falling that led to the birth of GetReligion). Here is the top of that 2002 column (this is long, but essential):

It is Martin Marty's custom to rise at 4:44 a.m. for coffee and prayer, while awaiting the familiar thump of four newspapers on his porch. ... America's most famous church historian prepared for a lecture in Nebraska by ripping up enough newsprint to bury his table in headlines and copy slashed with a yellow pen.
A former WorldCom CEO kept teaching his Sunday school class. A researcher sought the lost tribe of Israel. Believers clashed in Sudan. Mormon and evangelical statistics were up – again. A Zambian bishop said he got married to shock the Vatican. U.S. bishops kept wrestling with clergy sexual abuse. Pakistani police continued to study the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Marty tore out more pages, connecting the dots. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey feared an Anglican schism. Public-school students prayed at flagpoles. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explored the border between church and state. And there were dozens of stories linked to Sept. 11, 2001.

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NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?

NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?

The very first item posted here at GetReligion -- written on Feb. 1, 2004 and the site went live the next day -- had this headline: "What we do, why we do it."

That was a long time ago. This piece, obviously, was a statement of purpose for the blog. Several million words of writing later, there are lots of things in it that I would update (and I have, here and here), but few things I would change.

In that first post, co-founder Doug Leblanc and I introduced the concept of mainstream news stories being "haunted" by religion "ghosts" -- a term your GetReligionistas are still using today. And I am about to use it again right now while probing a lengthy NBC News piece that ran online with this dramatic double-decker headline: 

Democrats: Left in the Lurch
The curious decline and uncertain future of the Democratic Party

Before we look at a few haunted passages in this long story, let's flash back to GetReligion Day 1 and review our whole "ghost" thing. The essay starts like this:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.
They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

According to this NBC News feature, the current distressed state of the Democratic Party at the level of state and national races (including Hillary Clinton's loss to Citizen Donald Trump) is based on race and maybe this other strange something that has to do with the culture of cities vs. people in rural America, or working-class people vs. elites, or something

But the key R-word is "race," not You Know What. It's "race" and race alone.

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Thanksgiving podcast break: But lots of GetReligion links in radio visit with Metaxas

Thanksgiving podcast break: But lots of GetReligion links in radio visit with Metaxas

There is no "Crossroads" podcast this week, seeing as how our friends at Issues, Etc., are off for the holidays. Lutherans do need to party every now and then.

However, I saved something that I thought may be of interest to GetReligion readers/listeners on this Black Friday, a day in which my family has a sacred tradition of staying as far as we can from shopping malls.

This is a radio interview between my self and a man -- Eric Metaxas, by name -- who has been my friend for two decades. The subject of the interview is the debate inside The New York Times staff about the quality and direction of its coverage of, well, non-New York City America during the recent election. Click here to tune that in.

Metaxas is, of course, a New Yorker and a Yale University man. I am a prodigal Texan who has spent most of his life and career -- other than a decade-plus as an outsider in Washington, D.C. -- deep in "flyover country."

What makes the interview interesting, I think, is that Metaxas and I are coming from two different points of view about the status of Citizen Donald Trump. (We also disagree on the Bee Gees.)

As GetReligion readers know, I was outspokenly #NeverHillary #NeverTrump. Metaxas was, of course, portrayed in the mainstream press as one of the Donald's strongest evangelical supporters (forgetting this lovely bit of classic Eric satire in The New Yorker). However, anyone who was paying close attention knew that Metaxas was a strong advocate of VOTING for Trump, based on his conviction that Hillary Rodham Clinton was a uniquely dangerous threat to religious liberty in this country.

Eric and I disagreed on the wisdom of voting for Trump. You'll hear hints of this in this Eric Metaxas Show hour, even though that isn't the subject of the interview. What we agree on is that this whole campaign was not a shining hour for the mainstream press and the great Gray Lady in particular.

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