jump to navigation

Americans really are ignorant boobs: Get Religion, February 10, 2012 February 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: , ,
comments closed

Rick Santorum is not a Protestant. He has not called for public schools to teach creationism. Notwithstanding claims made by the Telegraph that the former Senator from Pennsylvania is an evangelical and a creationist — Mr. Santorum remains not guilty of these charges.

I wonder from where they get these things? This Telegraph story oozes contempt for Mr. Santorum. It paints him as a backwoods huckster who seeks to capitalize on the loathsome ignorance and cupidity of the great unwashed.

This pandering to the prejudices of the N1 chattering classes is a shame really, as the article does make a few cogent points about the weakness of Mitt Romney — but the boneheaded mistakes that lead off this article will likely cause a thoughtful reader (one who actually knows something about the candidates and wishes to learn more) to give it up as a bad job.

These mistakes about Mr. Santorum’s religion are not new, of course. And the Telegraph has already claimed the former senator pushed for the federal government to mandate the teaching of intelligent design (which is different from creationism, but I’ll get to that) as part of the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. However, repetition of a false story — even by the Telegraph — does not make it true.

GetReligion reader Dr. Terry Tastard alerted me to the latest brick dropped by the Telegraph found in an 8 Feb 2012 article by the newspaper’s American political reporter entitled “US elections 2012: Rick Santorum’s triple win gives yet another twist in Republican race.”

The lede sentence in the Telegraph‘s report on Mr. Santorum’s caucus wins in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri states:

With Newt Gingrich’s second coming in South Carolina now a distant memory, Mr Santorum, a fiercely evangelical Christian, is suddenly positioning himself as the only conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, the moderate-liberal front-runner.

Yes and no. Yes, Mr. Santorum is positioning himself as the “only conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.” No, he is not a “fiercely evangelical Christian.” He is an outspoken Roman Catholic.

In his email to GetReligion, Dr. Tastard suggests this mistake by the Telegraph might be explained by the Telegraph’s reliance upon the 2005 Time magazine article that called the senator one of America’s top 25 evangelicals.

“Journalists are frequently unable to tell the difference between evangelist and evangelical,” Dr. Tastard noted. I concur. TMatt at GetReligion has waxed eloquent on this point, and I refer you to his posts as to why it is important for reporters to get this right.

Let’s return to the article. It goes on to state that:

… down-at-home Mr Santorum – who believes in creationism, reviles gay marriage, thinks global warming is a myth and wants to bomb Iran – enthuses hardcore Conservatives in a way that Mr Romney, with his corporate gloss, never will.

If I am not mistaken (apart from the creationism business) I believe just about all of the Republican candidates — leaving Ron Paul to one side — oppose gay marriage, are prepared to use military force against Iran, and are skeptical about the claims of the global warming enthusiasts.

On 4 January 2012, the Telegraph‘s assistant comments editor opined that the senator advocated the teaching of intelligent design in public school science curricula.

Mr Santorum pushed the “Santorum amendment”, an amendment to the 2001 education funding bill which attempted to push the teaching of intelligent design in science classes, and questioned the validity of evolutionary theory. He told Hardball’s Chris Matthews that he only believes in a “some amount” of evolution in a “micro sense”.

Is this a valid point? Let’s look at the amendment proposed by Senator Santorum.

It is the sense of the Senate that — (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

If this was an attempt to sneak intelligent design under the edge of the tent, Mr. Santorum failed as he forgot to mention intelligent design in the amendment. Or maybe the crafty senator put one over on his colleagues through a cunning plan (which he has yet to reveal over the past ten years.) The senate adopted the amendment by a vote of 91-8. All of the Democrats voting supported the amendment, while the “no” votes came from Republicans who opposed Federal intervention in education.

While some have said the explicit mention of biological evolution as being a topic of controversy qualifies as a critique, I am not persuaded by this argument. As I read it, the amendment sought to help students understand what is, and what is not, science — t0 discern the difference between the truth claims of the scientific method against the truth claims of philosophy and religion.

The House version did not include similar language, and in conference the following language was adopted and included in Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference in Title I, Part A, as item 78.

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

After the compromise language was adopted, Senator Santorum spoke from the floor of the Senate thanking his colleagues for their support.

As the education bill report language makes clear, it is not proper in the science classrooms of our public schools to teach either religion or philosophy. But also, it says, just because some think that contending scientific theories may have implications for religion or philosophy, that is no reason to ignore or trivialize the scientific issues embodied in those theories. After all, there are enormous religious and philosophical questions implied by much of what science does, especially these days. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that the scientific evidence behind them is examined in science classrooms. Efforts to shut down scientific debates, as such, only serve to thwart the true purposes of education, science and law. There is a question here of academic freedom, freedom to learn, as well as to teach. The debate over origins is an excellent example.

Can we say that Senator Santorum believes in some form of intelligent design? Yes. Can we say that he does not accept every tenet of Darwinian evolution? Yes. Can we say he believes in creationism? No.

While creationism and intelligent design may be conflated in discussions about critiques of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design posits a role for the deity in the creation of the cosmos, while in the context of Christian religious conservatism creationism is the literal belief in the Genesis account of creation — God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh.

In his email to GetReligion, Dr. Tastard wrote “Why can journalists not go beyond the cliches?”

His point is well taken. Labeling Mr. Santorum an evangelical is an error of fact while the creationist label is tendentious, if not flat out incorrect. However, these mistakes need to be heard in the context of the article as a whole, which seeks to belittle the senator. The bottom line — this article is an advocacy piece masquerading as reporting. For shame.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Democracy simply doesn’t work” are sentiments expressed by fictional news anchor Kent Brockman on The Simpsons. It is dispiriting to find the Telegraph‘s reporting on American politics follows this line of thinking. It endorses H.L. Mencken’s view that America is the land of the booboise. Unsophisticated morons fixated on guns, god and gays. The Telegraph really can do better than this.

As an aside, do look at the Wikipedia entry on the Santorum amendment. Here you will see why it is foolish to rely on Wikipedia as an unbiased source for information. The Wikipedia article states the senator’s amendment sought to introduce intelligent design into school curricula and was voted down among its other dubious assertions.

Caricature courtesy of Wikipedia Commons by DonkeyHotey

First printed in GetReligion.

Guardian news flash – Michele Bachmann is not insane: Get Religion, January 5, 2012 January 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

The European press has provided extensive coverage of the American presidential campaign. Much of it is of high quality — other stories are just awful (see the Guardianbelow.) The results of the Republican caucuses in Iowa could be found on the inside pages of most newspapers, with many publications offering editorials as to what the vote means for the U.S. and for Europe.

Some of the analyses however, tells us more about the European mind than the Iowa voter. While the U.S. press has seen a great deal of speculation about the role religion played in the voting and provided strong pieces about the faith of individual candidates, with a few notable exceptions this angle received less coverage overseas.

The best of these I have seen comes from La Stampa, Italy’s largest circulation newspaper. In an article entitled “Santorum: fede, libertà e lavoro ecco la mia ricetta per la vittoria” (Santorum: faith, freedom and work – here is my recipe for victory) reporter Paulo Mastrolilli speaks with the former senator following a stump speech in Des Moines.

Recounting the senator’s personal tragedies including a child born with a debilitating disease La Stampa writes:

“Sono cattolici praticanti e questo è il loro modo di trattare la vita.” (They are practicing Catholics, and this is their way of dealing with life.)

Asked if he was ashamed of his Italian heritage because his grandfather fled the fascists, Santorum says (in English translated into Italian and back into English so it is not a word perfect quote):

Absolutely not. I am proud of my origins, because they made me the man that I am today. I always tell the story of my grandfather because he is a source of great inspiration. The core values I believe in, ones that are based on my life and my politics come from there.

Asked if this core value is life (a word with strong religio-political symbolism in Italian as well as U.S. politics), Santorum responds:

The value and dignity of every life, of course. It is the thing that motivates me more to get up every morning to fight, along with the help of God.

Asked how Italy should respond to its economic crisis, the senator says:

You must return to being like my grandfather, who worked hard, without complaint and without excuses. [and America must learn] the same lesson and [emulate those] who built this country through effort and hard work.

La Stampa resists the impulse of categorizing Santurum in Italian terms — where his language and lifestyle would make him recognizable as a Catholic politician and allows him to define himself using American categories and religious and ethical standards.

Not all of the reporting has this lightness of touch. Although the vote count shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney running first, former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum placing second, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul showing third — the real winners were Fox News and Barak Obama some argued.

Fox News had emerged out of Iowa as the king maker of the Republican Party argued the German news magazine Der Spiegel, while the leader [the British term for an editorial] in The Independent was entitled “And the winner in Iowa was … Barak Obama”.

The Independent’s editorial board argued the Republican’s window of opportunity to defeat President Obama may have closed due to their sharp partisan divisions. The Financial Times followed this line too in its opinion piece “Poor Night for the GOP” while the Belgian business newspaper De Tijd in “Die lessen van Iowa” (The Lesson of Iowa) in Belgium interpreted the results as showing the Republicans being hopelessly divided.

The winner by a hair, Mitt Romney, represents the classical policy of the establishment that made the Republican Party great. The unexpected runner-up, the ultra-conservative Rick Santorum, focuses on the traditional values that play a role above all in rural America. The third, Ron Paul, appeals above all to younger, dissatisfied voters who’ve had enough of the political system. … None of the three seems capable of winning over the other currents. … For voters not allied to any one party, the Republican circus is hardly impressive. That puts the current president in a comfortable position for the time being. His chances are on the rise.”

The left-liberal Viennese newspaper Der Standard concurred, writing the Republican caucus result “will work to the Democrats’ advantage.” However:

…the Democrats shouldn’t start celebrating yet. Once the Republican candidate has been nominated the cards will be reshuffled. Then the election will be decided by what the Republican consider more important: the self-castigation of their own party or their hatred of the Democrats in the White House.

In its news analysis of the election the Prague business newspaper Hospodárské noviny also argued that Barak Obama was not yet home free.

Considering the high unemployment rate Obama shouldn’t stand a chance of being re-elected. Although he has the opportunity now to defend his office, one thing he can’t base his campaign on is hope. … [The election] will be a bitter confrontation between two very different ideologies, two different notions of the role of the state and ultimately two different visions of America.

Religion, values-voting or other faith related issues did not figure highly among most accounts. While the Guardian did not do religion in its account, its reporter in Iowa does do psychoanalysis. In his live blog report on Michele Bachmann’s speech suspending her campaign, the Guardian’s reporter wrote:

… According to Bachmann, a painting of Ben Franklin told her to run for the presidency.

OK, so another recitation of the evils of “Obamacare” and how awful it is, which according to Bachmann is the greatest threat to America in history. I am not making this up.

Is she also resigning from congress as well? Oh and now it’s back to the painting: “I worried what a future painting … might depict” if Obamacare isn’t repealed. Really.

Now she’s talking about her campaign for the presidency in the past tense, but there’s a lot of stuff about “the president’s agenda of socialism,” which is hilarious.

Now Bachmann is stumbling over reading her written text. But otherwise, it’s all about fighting, how she will fight for everything. Fight, fight, fight … President Obama socialist policies … party of Reagan … America is the greatest force for good … constitution.

And after all that fighting: “Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside.”

So she’s not entirely insane, even if a painting of Ben Franklin speaks to her and watches her.

I find it reassuring that the Guardian employs a psychiatrist on the U.S. political beat who can tell us Mrs. Bachmann is not insane. What can one say about this last item, other than it is shoddy juvenile work that should not have made it past the editor’s pencil. Comparing La Stampa’s coverage of Santorum to the Guardian’s coverage of Bachmann is an object lesson in the difference between good and bad reporting.

First published in GetReligion.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 211 other followers