A lot happened over Christmas break. How did the court evangelicals respond?

Earlier today, I wrote about some of the highlights of the last ten days. I mentioned the Nashville bombing, Trump’s handling of end of the year legislation, the president’s continued attempts at overturning the 2020 president election, and the support he is now receiving from at least twelve U.S. senators. Read that post here. It provides the necessary context for this post.

So what have the court evangelicals had to say since our last update on December 24, 2020?

The Falkirk Center at Liberty University, ground zero for evangelical conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, is getting heat from the Liberty student body. As of December 30, 400 Liberty students and recent graduates have signed a petition calling for the university to close the Falkirk Center. The petition states: “We are also concerned that the Falkirk Center has become a gateway for many wolves in sheep’s clothing–people who claim Christ’s name because it is convenient for their personal or political gain.” It specifically calls out Falkirk “fellows” Eric Metaxas, Allie Beth Stuckey, Sebastian Gorka, Jenna Ellis, Ryan Helfenbein, and co-founder Charlie Kirk.

The petition is similar to what I wrote about the Falkirk Center in a Religion News Service piece on September 9, 2020.

The Falkirk Center’s social media feeds did not address the petition. They continued to double-down on abortion, church closings due to COVID-19, and “socialism.” Perhaps this tweet was meant as a subtle response to the petition:

Charlie Kirk, the founder of the Liberty University Falkirk Center, did not mention the student petition, but defended Trump’s veto of the Defense Authorization Act on the grounds that it would rename military bases named after Confederate leaders:

Kirk believes that Josh Hawley’s decision to object to the Electoral College votes is a sign of courage:

He is also attacking Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensberger for his refusal to “find votes” for Trump:

And yes, he still believes that the Democrats stole the election:

Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow and Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis was still claiming that election fraud is real:

According to Ellis, those who claim Trump lies are engaging in some kind of leftist philosophy about the definition of words:

The election was rigged and everyone who loves the Constitution knows it:

Don’t concede. Never concede:

Jenna is working for the Lord:

All she has done is part of the sovereign will of God:

And in good “Christian” form she is bragging about advancing her career as she trashes someone else’s career:

But at least she will keep speaking truth and reminding everyone that she is trending on Twitter:

Are Liberty University Falkirk Center fellows allowed to drink beer?

Another Liberty University Falkirk Center fellow, Eric Metaxas, continued to claim that “the election was stolen.” He describes the 2020 election as the equivalent of “stabbing Lady Liberty in the throat,” “murdering Uncle Sam,” and “desecrating all the young men who died for liberty over the centuries.” Metaxas believes that if Joe Biden gets inaugurated on January 20, 2021 it will be a “miracle.” Biden, Metaxas says, “was involved in one of the most wicked, treasonous acts in the history of the greatest nation in the world.” Watch here (after the five minute mark).

In other court evangelical news:

Self-proclaimed prophet Lance Wallnau is worried that Biden and Harris will “rule” America:

It is all a spiritual battle for “rulership on earth”:

On Wallnau’s Facebook page he says that we are “in the spiritual fight of our lifetime” and we are entering a week that will “change America.” His source is Trump election fraud lawyer Sidney Powell. He believes that any member of Congress up for election in 2022 should be protesting the Electoral College results on January 6. Christians must “enlarge their presence” to make sure Trump stays in office.

Court evangelical journalist David Brody believes journalism is dead.

But apparently good journalism continues to live at the Christian Broadcasting Network. This is some hard-hitting stuff from Brody:

And this:

This next tweet may be true. But it says more about evangelicals than Trump:

Brody gives a signal boost to violence on January 6:

Brody retweeted Dinesh D’Souza:

Pastor Jack Hibbs is retweeting the president:

Hibbs is also going on Newsmax in support of Trump. Just another court evangelical doing his part.

Jim Garlow’s prayer meetings for election integrity are continuing into the new year. Last week he was marching around the Georgia capital with a few followers, including Messianic Jews with shofars.

Garlow also engaged in a Twitter debate over who is the “adult” in the Senate:

Robert Jeffress continued to remain quiet on election fraud. He is back to his usual talking points about the Democrat “administration of death.” There is an interesting and ironic part of this interview in which Jeffress criticizes liberal Protestants for getting too political.

Gary Bauer is doing what Trump court evangelicals do:

Is historian Jon Meacham “the most politically relevant American writer of 2020?”

Check out Ben Smith’s New York Times article on the close relationship between Joe Biden and “old-line newspaper columnists.” The essay focuses, in part, on the role popular historian Jon Meacham played in the Biden campaign. Will Meacham be to Joe Biden what Arthur Schlessinger Jr. was to JFK?

Here is a taste of Smith’s piece:

Mr. Meacham’s work may offer a bit of a clue as to how Mr. Biden, who interviewed the historian for more than an hour at the University of Delaware in 2019, will handle reporters in the West Wing. Mr. Meacham’s work is aimed at the big picture and toward a conservative form of narrative — heroic leaders and patriotic themes — that depicts America confronting big challenges like the civil rights movement of the 1960s and choosing the liberal path. It’s a bit hard to see how those sepia tones and stirring themes would play in a White House communications office putting out a thousand fires a day at the speed of Twitter. But Mr. Meacham, who has told associates he does not expect to join the administration, sees virtue in past presidents who were able to look past the pressure from the media of their days.

Read the entire piece here.

When false allegations from court evangelical Charlie Kirk resulted in death threats to a Harvard professor

Danielle Allen is a politics professor at Harvard. In a recent article at The Washington Post she writes about the death threats she received after Charlie Kirk, a spokesperson for Liberty University’s Falkirk Center, made a false allegation about her teaching. The allegation occurred on the Tucker Carlson Show on Fox.

Here is Allen:

Let me share a 2017 email exchange between myself and Fox News host Tucker Carlson after he broadcast my face on his television show and permitted his guest, conservative activist Charlie Kirk, to falsely allege that, in my classroom at Harvard, I taught that the rise of Trump was similar to the rise of Hitler. Immediately following that broadcast, I received death threats called into my office phone. I wrote to both Fox News and Carlson requesting a correction. I received none. Here is the exchange that resulted:

Danielle Allen: You failed to vet your interviewee for factual accuracy or to take responsibility for the falsehoods articulated on your show.

Tucker Carlson: How would I have vetted that claim? You compared Trump’s election to the rise of Hitler in the Washington Post. It didn’t seem outlandish to suggest that you might teach similar things in class. And, in fact, I still have no evidence that you haven’t taught that in class. How can I verify that?

Allen: Before accepting the interview, you should have asked him for his sources. Journalism should be based on facts, not your gut instinct for what is or is not outlandish. You were broadcasting a national story that directly affects people’s professional reputations. Also, even here, in this email, you are inaccurate. I wrote my piece in [February] 2016. Trump was not yet even the party nominee. I did not ever compare his election to the rise of Hitler. Not in print, not orally, ever. I compared his fast rise within a fractured Republican party during the primary to Hitler’s rise in a similarly fractured Germany.

Carlson: I’m committed to accuracy. You say you’ve never compared Trump’s rise to Hitler’s rise in class. How can we prove that?

Allen: Basic journalistic protocol would suggest that you should have begun by asking Mr. Kirk that sort of question.

Carlson: I had no idea he was going to say you’d made that comparison in class. I’d be happy to correct the record. Just send me conclusive evidence you’ve never made that comparison while teaching. Thanks.

Allen: You have my word and until Mr. Kirk provides you with any evidence to support his claim or any sources for his claim, the burden is not on me.

Carlson: I hear that a lot, unfortunately.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump trashes tonight’s debate moderator nine hours before the debate

Here we go:

Learn more about Kristen Welker here.

Am I sensing a pattern here?

Lesley Stahl

Savannah Guthrie

Weijia Jiang

Abby Phillip

Cecelia Vega

Paula Reed

Megyn Kelly

April Ryan

Mika Brzesinski

Gail Collins

Katy Tur

Yamiche Alcindor

When the politics editor of *The Christian Post* refused to let the website become a court evangelical mouthpiece he had no choice but to resign

In December 29, 2019 Napp Nazworth, the politics editor of The Christian Post, resigned after The Post denounced Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Now Napp Nazworth is telling his story in a long form piece at Arc Digital.

Nazworth shows how court evangelicals tried to use The Christian Post as a propaganda tool for Donald Trump. But it also reveals how these evangelical leaders crave public attention, promote themselves through public relations firms, and seek political power.

Here are some highlights:

On court evangelical Richard Land, the Executive Editor of The Christian Post:

Executive Editor Richard Land led the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission when CP first hired him, then later became president of Southern Evangelical Seminary. He was often relied upon for his theological insights and his deep knowledge of Washington politics and the SBC.

It was wise of CP to bring Grano and Land on board. All the upper management were young, in their 20s and 30s, which meant they needed people with experience they could turn to for advice.

Land is nothing like Trump on issues of race and immigration. He was one of the primary figures leading the SBC to grapple with its racist past. The ERLC also joined the pro-immigration Evangelical Immigration Table under his leadership.

Land is also nothing like his public image. He has a great sense of humor. Since his public interviews discuss serious topics, those who don’t know him don’t get to see this other side. If the multiverse is real, there’s another Richard Land somewhere doing stand-up right now. Sharp-witted, his humor often worked on many levels. One of my favorites was when he joked that Matt Drudge, founder of The Drudge Report, is what he would be like if he had never become a Christian.

On court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress is a celebrity hound. It wasn’t uncommon for Jeffress to personally email me or our reporters to show us one of his many TV interviews in the hopes we would report on it. We often obliged. Land liked to tell a joke he heard in Southern Baptist circles that the most dangerous place in Texas to stand is between Jeffress and a television camera.

There is also a really interesting section on how court evangelicals Johnnie Moore and Paula White tried to manipulate The Christian Post to publish a White puff piece in the hopes that Donald Trump would read it.

And this:

While most of my time at CP I could write on the topics I wanted, I recall two separate occasions when I was told I couldn’t criticize prominent evangelical leaders Franklin Graham and Eric Metaxas. This made sense from a business perspective. Graham and Metaxas each have a huge and influential media presence and their audiences closely overlap with CP’s audience. All they would need to do is tell their followers to not read CP and CP would take a big financial hit. This is why it was easy at CP to be sharply critical of liberal leaders — their audiences didn’t overlap with ours, but criticizing prominent conservatives was problematic.

And more on Johnnie Moore, the self-proclaimed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer”:

In 2017, Johnnie Moore was being mentioned as a candidate for the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. He asked CP for help in advertising his credentials for the position, while also claiming he didn’t want the position. It was an odd email. If he didn’t want the position, why should we publish articles promoting him for the position? We published two articles after Johnnie Moore’s request, “Meet the 3 Leading Candidates for Trump Religious Freedom Post,” and an op-ed by Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and also a CP advisor, titled, “President Trump Should Appoint Johnnie Moore to Top Religious Freedom Post.” Trump selected Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback for the position.

We heard from Johnnie Moore often by email and occasionally on an editors’ chat. While he was supposed to provide advice to CP, when Johnnie Moore spoke, we couldn’t tell if he was really thinking about the best interests of CP or the interests his clients and Trump. This problem was understood and discussed by both editors and reporters. We appreciated that he was well connected and sometimes helped us get interviews with his clients. But sometimes he would ignore our emails and requests for weeks, then suddenly we would hear from him again when we published a story he didn’t like. Those stories were about his clients or Trump. He wanted to help us, but only to the extent we could help his clients. When it came to Trump, he expected us to behave like state media. Kwon became increasingly frustrated with this side of Johnnie Moore.

In one editor chat, we asked Johnnie Moore for help in getting interviews with Trump administration officials. He remarked that our previous “Donald Trump is a Scam” editorial was a stumbling block. Was he fishing for a quid-pro-quo? Positive coverage in exchange for an interview? I’m still not sure. After that call, I asked Grano if Johnnie Moore was speaking for the administration or himself. Grano answered that he wasn’t sure.

CP editors all understood then that our relationship with Johnnie Moore had to be kept at arm’s length. He was on Team Trump, and would always want us to spin the news in his team’s favor.

Read the entire piece here.

Editor of *The New York Times Magazines* addresses recent criticisms of the 1619 Project

You can find all of our posts on the 1619 Project here.

Here is Jake Silverstein, editor of The New York Times Magazine:

Most of the questions around our display language have centered on variations on a single phrase. In some cases, we referred to 1619 as the nation’s “birth year,” in others as our “birth date,” in others as “a foundational date,” in others as our “point of origin.” In one instance of digital display copy, we referred to 1619 as our “true founding.” It is this use of this last phrase, and its subsequent deletion, that was the subject of an article in the online magazine Quillette and then, more recently, that figured prominently in a column by my colleague Bret Stephens, a columnist on The Times’s Opinion page.

A few notes on this phrase, “true founding”: It was written by a digital editor and approved by me. (Hannah-Jones, as a staff writer at the magazine is not typically involved in matters of digital display language.) It does not appear in the print edition of The 1619 Project. This phrase was introduced when the project went online, in August 2019, appearing in an un-bylined 55-word passage that lived in a small box on the project’s main web page, as well as on the individual story pages, which read as follows: “The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

Given the space constraints, “true founding” was a way to summarize the “birth” metaphor that appeared here and there throughout the print edition — such as in a sentence in my editor’s note that read: “The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” It also carried some of the meaning of a sentence from Hannah-Jones’s essay in which she says that Black Americans, “as much as those men cast in alabaster in the nation’s capital, are this nation’s true ‘founding fathers.’” (This summer, President Obama made a similar comparison in his eulogy for the civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis, calling him a “founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.”)

Nevertheless, in the months after the package went online, we began to wonder if we’d gotten it quite right. In the longer phrase from the editor’s note (“by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year”), the sense that this was a metaphor — a whole new perspective on American history that this collection of essays would give you — was explicit. The online language risked being read literally. And indeed, some readers pointed out that this word choice implied that the specific historical meaning of what took place during the founding period should be replaced by the specific historical meaning of what took place in 1619.

So in December, we edited this digital display text to more closely mirror what appeared in the print magazine. We did not see this as a significant alteration, let alone concession, in how we presented the project. Within the project’s essays, the argument about 1619’s being the nation’s symbolic point of origin remained.

Read the entire piece here.

Donald Trump is a liar. His lies must be confronted.

Trump corona

All president’s lie. But these lies were not amplified through media echo-chambers in the way they are today. Here is Eric Alterman’s recent piece at The Nation:

Trump knows, as all tyrants do, that without the accountability provided by an independent media, a powerful politician can get away with almost anything. America’s founders bequeathed the press its special status and protections under the First Amendment for exactly this reason. Trump’s insistent accusation that the media are the “Enemy of the American People” and constant protestations of “fake news” are intended to undermine confidence in the press and thereby undermine its ability to hold his administration answerable to the public.

But it did not matter how frequently or how egregiously Trump and his administration lied to journalists or how viciously they insulted their character, their professionalism, or even their ethnicity—reporters for mainstream outlets kept returning for more abuse and precious little truth. “We’re not cheerleaders for the president nor are we the opposition,” argues New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker. He further insists, “What we shouldn’t do is let the noise overcome our journalistic values.” But all too often, what was offered as a defense of old-fashioned commitments to provide “both sides” of any given controversy devolved, in practice, to running interference for Trump’s dishonesty. Many journalists were so insistent that they were not in a fight with the president that they were failing to inform the public of just how serious a threat he posed to the country’s freedoms.

Even were Trump to respect the constitutional constraints on his office, he would still enjoy an awesome degree of potentially destructive power. Beginning with the birth of the atom bomb and the ever-expanding ideology of the “national security state,” the prerogatives of the presidency have grown beyond anything the founders could have possibly imagined. With America’s nuclear arsenal at his disposal, Trump could, of course, end all human life and destroy the planet. Less dramatically, he could invoke any one of the emergency powers contained in the 123 statutory provisions that give presidents near-dictatorial powers. Trump might, for instance, seize control of “any facility or station for wire communication,” should he decide to proclaim “that there exists a state or threat of war involving the United States,” and order it to broadcast only his voice and his orders. With Trump’s power and dishonesty, the institutions charged with protecting American democracy and civic life should err on the side of vigilance rather than complacency.

Read the entire piece here.

Religion journalist Ruth Graham joins *The New York Times*

Rith Graham

Ruth Graham

Big news on the religion journalism front. Here is the announcement:

 

Given National’s mission to understand the country in all its complexity, our coverage of religion in America could not be more important. That is why we are thrilled to announce that Ruth Graham is joining us as a national correspondent covering religion, faith and values.

Since 2018, Ruth has been a staff writer at Slate, where she has written with enormous grace and wit about the intersection of religion, politics and culture. Ruth’s work is compulsively readable and caught our eye for its sheer range in tone, subject matter and form.

She has written with sensitivity about what it’s like to be Black at Liberty University. She can bring a light touch, introducing readers to the jetsetting, Jesus-quoting Christian influencers of Instagram. She can break news, like when she traveled to rural Kansas last year to conduct the first interview with former cardinal Theodore McCarrick after he was publicly accused of sexual abuse. (If you need a brief escape from your pandemic quarters, you should stop what you’re doing and read her take on which fantasy celebrity house is best for a quarantine.)

On top of all that, she also reported and hosted the four-part narrative podcast “Standoff,” a re-examination of the 1992 federal siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho.

Born and raised in Wheaton, outside Chicago, Ruth has a B.A. in political science from Wheaton College. Her career in journalism started at The New York Sun, where she eventually became features editor. Her religion reporting as a freelance journalist appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Politico magazine, Al Jazeera America and many others. She has been a contributing writer to The Boston Globe’s Ideas section and to TheAtlantic.com.

Ruth lives with her family in a small town in New Hampshire, and plans on moving next year to Dallas for The Times, which will put her in an ideal spot to explore religion in America.

The combination of Ruth and Elizabeth Dias will create a powerhouse team for making sure The  Times covers religion and morality with depth and sophistication. We can’t wait for Ruth to start next month.

Please join us in congratulating and welcoming her.

Congratulations Ruth Graham!

What happened to *The New York Times*?

Times

Last week the editorial page editor of The New York Times resigned after he was criticized for publishing an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton that called for the use of federal troops to quell violence in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Over at Politico, historian David Greenberg puts this story in historical perspective. Here is a taste of his piece “The New York Times Used to Be a Model of Diverse Opinion. What Happened?“:

All might be surprised to know how uncannily these debates echo those of 50 years ago, during a period of equal or greater turmoil. In 1969, the Wall Street Journal reported on a 21-year-old Raleigh News and Observer reporter, Kerry Gruson, who declared objectivity a “myth” and insisted on wearing a black armband while reporting on the “Moratorium,” a nationwide day of protest against the Vietnam War. Five hundred miles to the north, her father, Sydney Gruson, a muckety-muck at the New York Times forbade some 300 of his employees from using the paper’s auditorium for an antiwar teach-in, declaring, “Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I feel strongly about the purity of the news columns.” (The Journal piece is cited in the scholar Michael Schudson’s classic history of objectivity in journalism, Discovering the News).

Similar clashes in this period took place at other publications. They revolved around civil rights, gender equality and diversity in the newsroom. All generally pitted older, stodgy traditionalists (mostly white and male) against more diverse younger journalists seeking to test the boundaries of how much viewpoint and even activism they could get into print.

In our dismal times, it may be encouraging to note that a détente, of sorts, was reached—suggesting there may be a satisfactory way forward as newspapers face a similar crisis today.

One reason quality journalism survived after the 1960s is that institutions like the New York Times bent so as not to break. Under pressure to make room for more subjectivity and analysis, they innovated, permitting in their publications a greater range of topics and writers, more personal voice, more political opinion and more in-depth exposés—but each in its proper place. These developments allowed journalism to become more interesting, useful and appealing to audiences without sacrificing its bedrock principles.

Read the entire piece here.

*Columbia Journalism Review* on Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Latest Attack on the Press

Liberty Campus

Here is a taste of Bob Norman’s piece at the Columbia Journalism Review:

ON THE MORNING OF MARCH 27, Julia Rendleman, a freelance photographer, asked in a text if Calum Best, a student government leader at Liberty University, was available to be photographed for theNew York Times. He’d agreed to the photo shoot the previous day at the request of Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson.

“Sure, what should I wear?” answered Best, 21. They decided to meet on the grounds of the Lynchburg campus.  The resulting photograph was published in the Times two days later. It accompanied  Williamson’s story about a decision by Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical Christian leader, Liberty’s president and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump,  to keep the campus partially open after spring break despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Falwell didn’t appreciate the Times’ coverage. He disputed a claim in the story made by the director of the student health service that students had exhibited symptoms of the virus, and threatened a defamation suit. The Timesstood by its reporting. 

“The enemy is real,” Falwell said of the media on the John Fredericks Showon April 14. “They really don’t have any care for the well-being of average Americans. They just want power. They’re authoritarian. They’re like nothing I’ve seen … since Nazi Germany.”

Falwell hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit, but he did go on the attack. The Liberty University Police Department obtained a warrant for Rendleman’s arrest on a trespassing charge shortly after her visit.

The university also pressed charges against ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis and freelance photographer Amanda Rhoades, who had entered campus on March 31 on behalf of Agence France-Presse. Falwell said his police department sought a warrant for Williamson as well, but the judge refused to sign it based on a lack of evidence. 

“They’re willing to come from hotspots like New York and go right past no-trespassing signs that we had at every entrance,” Falwell said on the conservative radio show. “These people are not gonna trespass on our campus and bring viruses on our campus and bring whatever it is they’re doing.” 

He promised an “ugly legal fight” over the trespassing charges. 

“They forced us into a corner and I don’t think God wants Christians to just sit back and not protect what they believe in,” he said on the Todd Starnes show last month. 

But Falwell apparently relented after speaking with prosecutor Harrison and receiving written statements from both Rendleman and MacGillis. In mid-May Harrison announced that she was not prosecuting the two journalists on the misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail if convicted. 

In written statements, Rendleman issued an apology and MacGillis offered an explanation for his campus visit and accepted a ban from returning to the campus: “Mr. MacGillis believed he had the right to report there based on a prior conversation with [Falwell] and because such reporting constituted business with the university. Mr. MacGillis now understands that Liberty believes he should not have been on campus in light of newly posted signs restricting certain access.”

Harrison told CJR a decision in the Rhoades case has not been made because she has not been in contact with counsel for the photographer. 

Read the rest here.

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly Responds to Mike Pompeo

Mike-Pompeo-Angry

Get up to speed here and here and here.

Here is a taste of Kelly’s New York Times op-ed, “Pompeo Called Me a ‘Liar.’ That’s Not What Bothers Me“:

There is a reason that freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution. There is a reason it matters that people in positions of power — people charged with steering the foreign policy of entire nations — be held to account. The stakes are too high for their impulses and decisions not to be examined in as thoughtful and rigorous an interview as is possible.

Journalists don’t sit down with senior government officials in the service of scoring political points. We do it in the service of asking tough questions, on behalf of our fellow citizens. And then sharing the answers — or lack thereof — with the world.

Read the entire piece here.

How is David Garrow’s MLK Article Faring Today?

King preaching

We are starting to hear from historians and others on today’s David Garrow’s Standpoint piece on Martin Luther’s King’s moral indiscretions.  I linked to the article here and blogged about it last night.

Here is some news/commentary on Garrow’s piece that we found today.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers Garrow’s piece, has an article about Garrow, and explains to readers why it is covering this story.  In the latter piece, the AJC mentions that Garrow approached the paper with his findings and wanted to work together on an investigative report. AJC declined because it did not have access to the King tapes.  (The tapes will be released in 2027).

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes several historians.  Gillian Brockell’s piece notes that Garrow has been skeptical in the past about using FBI memos on historical research.  Garrow makes the case that the MLK memos are different. Yale’s Glenda Gilmore questions the veracity of the hand-written notes in the memos.  (This is relevant because the reference to King watching a rape is hand-written). Gilmore adds that FBI files often contain “a great deal of speculation, interpolation from snippets of facts, and outright errors.”  Nathan Connolly of Johns Hopkins is also “deeply suspicious” about Garrow’s sources.  He said that Garrow’s decision to publish these documents is “archivally irresponsible.”

From this article at Insider we learn that the Guardian originally accepted the piece and then retracted it at the last minute.  It was also rejected by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Intercept.

I am sure there are historians working on op-eds and blog posts as I type this.  I will monitor this as best I can.

Of course I have no idea if any of the allegations in Garrow’s piece are true.  Historians will offer interpretations.  The way they respond to this story could have career-defining implications.  I think you will see a lot of caution and hedging over the next few days and weeks.  And, I might add, this is a good thing.  Historians should be the last people to rush to judgement (one way or another) on a story like this.

Journalists will now try to track down people who know something about what is written in these FBI memos.  They will shape the so-called “first draft” of this story.

Indeed, as Connolly and Gilmore note, we need to think about bias in these FBI sources.  This is important, especially in light of what we know about J. Edgar Hoover.  I read some of the documents embedded in Garrow’s piece and I also had suspicions about the hand-written marginal comments.  The memos Garrow found were documents that were obviously part of an ongoing editing process.  I am guessing that the final, more polished, reports are with the tapes.  Once historians see them they will be able to make more definitive statements about how the FBI interpreted the tapes.

We also know that context teaches us that King was not a saint when it came to these encounters with women who were not his wife.  Any historian will take this into consideration. King historians can comment on just how far of an intellectual leap is needed to get from what we already knew about King to the allegations in the FBI memos.

And what if we learn that Garrow is right about King?  This will be a reminder that all historical figures are complex and deeply flawed people.  Stay tuned.

This is also a great opportunity for teaching students and others about how to read the Internet responsibly.  (See Sam Wineburg’s new book and our interview with him here).  Different news outlets and opinion sites are already reporting this story in different ways.

Big News on the Religion Journalism Front

In case you haven’t heard:

BOSTON (April 24, 2019) – The Conversation US, Religion News Service (RNS), The
Religion News Foundation (RNF) and The Associated Press (AP) are creating a global religion journalism initiative to grow and strengthen religion, ethics and spirituality news reporting in the United States and around the world, funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. It is one of the largest investments in religion journalism in decades.

The funds will allow the establishment of a joint global religion news desk aimed at providing balanced, nuanced coverage of major world religions, with an emphasis on explaining religious practices and principles behind current events and cultural movements. Each organization retains editorial control of its respective content, which will be labeled and distributed by AP.

“Thanks to the Lilly Endowment, The Conversation can now expand the coverage we give to ethics and religion, which is one of our eight areas of editorial focus,” said Bruce Wilson, chief innovation and development officer of The Conversation. “Through this collaboration with the AP, RNF and RNS, The Conversation can bring our fresh insights to an even wider range of audiences across the country and globally.”

The Conversation US, an independent, nonprofit publisher of explanatory journalism and analysis sourced from academic experts, will work with scholars to provide readable content about religion, spirituality and ethics for the general public. The Conversation’s content is shared for free through a Creative Commons license – and through AP – with a wide and diverse network of hundreds of republishers in the U.S. and beyond.

Staffed by journalists from AP and RNS, a subsidiary of RNF, and editors from The Conversation, the global religion news desk will produce multiformat religion journalism intended to improve general understanding and analyze the significance of developments in the world of faith.

As part of the initiative, AP will add eight religion journalists; RNS will add three religion journalists; and The Conversation will add two editors to cover religion, ethics and spirituality. Additional business staff will also be hired across the organizations.

“The Global Religion Journalism Initiative grant fundamentally transforms religion journalism in the U.S. and globally,” said Thomas Gallagher, president and CEO of the Religion News Foundation and CEO and publisher of RNS. “It is deeply affirming and humbling to be entrusted with this important grant, especially at a time when competent, reliable, professional religion journalism is needed now more than ever.”

“This collaboration significantly expands AP’s capacity to explore issues of faith, ethics, and spirituality as a social and cultural force,” said AP Vice President and Managing Editor Brian Carovillano. “We are delighted to be working with these organizations to produce meaningful religion journalism that will help inform audiences across the globe.”

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s support for efforts that strengthen the public understanding of religion. Grants have helped fund other media projects, including RNF’s support for RNS and documentaries about religious leaders and traditions.

“This collaborative initiative among RNF, The Associated Press and The Conversation is  groundbreaking and demonstrates significant promise to strengthen both the volume and quality of religion news reporting,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “We are excited that the initiative will help to ensure that fair and accurate news coverage about religion will reach broad audiences and increase understanding about the role of religious faith in shaping national and international events.”

When Journalists Used the “tools of a novelist to tell a news story”

breslin

I need to see the HBO documentary Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.  I grew up reading Jimmy Breslin’s columns in the New York Daily News and his writing was one of the reasons I wanted to grow-up to become a journalist.

Eric Cortellessa reviews the documentary at Washington Monthly.  Here is a taste:

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artistsmight be the perfect film for today’s generation of aspiring journalists. The documentary, which premiered on HBO Monday night, has a kind of romance that only the young—at least at heart—can fully internalize.

The New York City newspaper columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill were both larger-than-life personalities who made journalism seem more glamorous than it normally is. (Hamill dated Jackie Onassis and Shirley MacLaine and hung out with Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.) The two writers—who bore witness to some of American history’s greatest tragedies and inflection points—lived by an unwritten code that journalism is a public service. That kind of idealism isn’t rare for a budding ink-stained wretch, but Breslin and Hamill’s approach to fulfilling it was: one of Breslin’s most memorable columns was an interview with the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. This was, as the sportswriter Mike Lupica says in the film, an example of using “the tools of a novelist to tell a news story.”

Read the rest here.

Alan Jacobs: “Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move”

Pence

Baylor University scholar Alan Jacobs reflects on Mike Pence and the journalists who cover him:

VP Mike Pence says, “Criticism of Christian education in America must stop.” No it musn’t. Nobody and nothing is above criticism. Demanding that others stop criticizing your preferred group is a cheap identity-politics move. It would simply be a good thing if the critics made some effort to understand what they’re criticizing, though of course that’s not going to happen. I can’t imagine a cohort less likely to inform itself about conservative Christianity than the cohort of American journalists.

My caveat: There is a growing number of excellent journalists covering the religion beat who do try to understand conservative Christianity.

David Brody: Trump’s Court Journalist

Brody FileSome of you are familiar with David Brody, the Chief Political Analyst at CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News and the author of The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography.  He often claims to be a legitimate journalist and chronicler of American politics, but in reality he is a pro-Trump advocate.  Here are a few of his recent tweets:

Today Brody has a piece at USA Today titled “Supreme Court and Andrew Brunson return show God sent Trump for ‘such a time as this.'”

The title itself implies that Brody seems to have a hotline to God.  He knows that Donald Trump is part of God’s will to make America great again and restore America to its Judeo-Christian roots.  This kind of certainty about God’s will in the world has long been a hallmark of American fundamentalism.

Brody then expounds on the Old Testament book of Esther.  He writes:

Esther is considered a hero in the Jewish history books.  Evangelicals see Donald Trump in a similar way: an unlikely hero, put in a place of influence, “for such a time as this.”  No, not turn back the clock on civil rights.  Today’s authentic, Bible-believing evangelicals have no tolerance for racism of any kind.  Rather, they see God’s hand at play to usher in a new era in support of traditional Judeo-Christian principles.

Two quick responses to this paragraph:

  • This is classic Brody.  He writes about “evangelicals” in the third person as if he is only reporting on what they believe.  Yet he continues to tweet as a politico and pro-Trumper.
  • Like Brody, I don’t know many evangelicals who would say they want to “turn back the clock on civil rights” (but I know they are out there).  But I know a lot of evangelicals who will not condemn Trump’s racist comments or the way those comments fire-up the white nationalists in his base.  Let’s remember that Robert Jeffress (who Brody quotes glowingly in his USA Today article) said Trump “did just fine” in his comments in the wake of the race riots in Charlottesville.  I also know a lot of evangelicals who have no problem chanting a phrase like “Make America Great Again” or wearing a MAGA hat.  As I have said multiple times at this blog,  in Believe Me, and on the Believe Me book tour, America has never been “great” for everyone–the poor, people of color, women, etc….

Brody concludes:

Romans 13:1 declares, “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Evangelicals believe this promise, and that’s why they are supremely confident that Donald Trump and his Supreme Court have been heaven-sent.

I did not hear Brody or other conservative evangelicals making this argument during the Clinton or Obama presidencies.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify separating children from their parents at the border.

Read Brody’s entire piece here.

After *The New Yorker* Nixes Steve Bannon, Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas Steps-In

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks with moderator Eric Metaxas at the National Religious Broadcasters Annual Convention at Oryland in Nashville

Court evangelical Eric Metaxas yucking-it-up with Ted Cruz

David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, was going to interview former Trump adviser and Alt-right leader Steve Bannon at the magazine’s annual festival.  When other guests at the festival said they would drop-out unless Bannon was disinvited, Remnick folded and Bannon was dumped.  Learn more here.

Not everyone–even those who are not part of the Alt-right–were happy with Remnick’s decision.

Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone called Remnick’s decision “a journalistic embarrassment.”

Malcolm Gladwell tweeted:

Jack Shafer of Politico described Remnick decision as a “screwup” and said:

The primary objection to the invitation coalesced around the idea that the New Yorkershould never present a bigot or a fascist or a xenophobe like Bannon to such a distinguished audience, thereby normalizing hate. Exactly how a hardball Remnick interview with Bannon would normalize anything has yet to be explained. How many New Yorkerreaders—you know who you are—attending the festival were likely to start thinking of Bannon as “normal” after Remnick cross-examined him? Too few to count, I reckon. So the Bannon ban wasn’t designed to protect New Yorker fans….

Is Bannonism so contagious and corrosive that it must be suppressed? If you really fear Bannon’s thoughts, isn’t it better to allow a mind like Remnick’s to dissect and refute them rather than trying to no-platform them into oblivion? Talking to a monster is not necessarily an endorsement of a monster’s ideas. The whole episode is enough to make you wonder whether the celebrities who bailed from the festival even read the magazine, which routinely steers its way into conflict and controversy. 

I lean toward Gladwell and Shafer here.  A fair case can be made that Steve Bannon was influential in the election of a President of the United States.  Bannon does have ideas. And those ideas have been pretty influential among a certain sector of the American population.  They need to be confronted by talented interviewers like Remnick.

Now that Bannon will not be at The New Yorker festival, author, radio host, and court evangelical Eric Metaxas has decided to enter the fray.  According to a piece by Michael Gryboski at the Christian Post, Metaxas will interview Bannon “at a future event.”

Here is a taste of Gryboski’s article:

In an episode of his podcast “The Eric Metaxas Show” that aired Tuesday, the conservative Christian author announced that he was going to interview Bannon at a future event.

Metaxas explained that he reached out to Bannon’s representatives and they agreed, though a specific date had not yet been chosen. Driving his decision, explained Metaxas, was the New Yorker’s cancellation.

“It’s very important in this country, folks, I just want to say this, that we keep our mind open and that we allow people to have their say,” stated Metaxas.

Metaxas bemoaned Remnick’s decision to cancel Bannon’s interview, noting that he “could have asked him anything,” including critical questions. This led Metaxas to believe that “I need to do something.”

I am guessing that Remnick invited Bannon because he thought it might be important to have some intellectual diversity at the New Yorker Festival.  I commend him for this decision and, like Shafer, I think he folded under pressure when his liberal friends got mad about Bannon’s appearance.

But what is Metaxas’s motive?  This seems like little more than a publicity stunt.  It is yet another attempt by a court evangelical to rally the Trump base.

And Warren Throckmorton also makes a good point in this tweet:

 

Charles Krauthammer Writes One Final Note to His Readers

Kraut

From the Washington Post:

I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.

In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.

However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.

Read the rest here.

Click here to see what we have said about Krauthammer’s writing over the years.

“Fake News” is an Old Problem

1750_painting_of_Thomas_Hutchinson_IMG_2873.JPG

Thomas Hutchinson

Jackie Mansky, the humanities editor at Smithsonian.Com, reminds us that “fake news” has a long, long history in the American republic.  Here is a taste of her piece, “The Age-Old Problem of ‘Fake News’“:

Earlier echoes of John Adams’ frustrations can be found in laments by figures like Thomas Hutchinson, a British loyalist politician in a sea of American revolutionaries, who cried that the freedom of the press had been interpreted as the freedom to “print every Thing that is Libelous and Slanderous.”

Hutchinson’s bête noire was Sons of Liberty leader Samuel Adams, whose “journalism” infamously did not concern itself with facts. “It might well have been the best fiction written in the English language for the entire period between Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens,” writes media historian Eric Burns in his book Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism. (Burns borrows the title from the term George Washington used to refer to the media figures of the day. In a 1796 letter to Alexander Hamilton, Washington cites as a reason for leaving public office “a disinclination to be longer buffitted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers.”)

Hutchinson, for his part, wailed that Samuel Adams’ writing in Boston Gazette particularly slandered his name. He believed that “seven eights of the People” in New England, “read none but this infamous paper and so are never undeceived.” Among other epithets, the Gazette called Hutchinson a “smooth and subtle tyrant,” as historian Bernard Bailyn notes in The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, whose purpose was to lead colonists “gently into slavery.”

In 1765, arsonists burned Hutchinson’s house to the ground over the Stamp Act though the loyalist was not even in favor of the hated tax. “They were old men, young men, and boys barely old enough to read, all of them jacked up on ninety-proof Sam Adams prose,” writes Burns about those behind the fire, the scene sharing eerie parallels to the 2016 shooting of a Washington, D.C. pizza shop provoked by insidious fake news reports.

Read the entire piece here.