Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

Alabama Governor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Perspective on the Trump Evangelicals

I am happy to contribute to this video posted today at The New York Times.

Retro Report spent over an hour interviewing me at Messiah College back in August.  I was apparently not as engaging as Cal Thomas, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Randall Balmer since I only got a quick soundbite.  (They even made me go home and change my shirt because it had too many stripes and did not look good on the camera!)

Whatever the case, it is a nice piece:

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000006182547

Did Jon Huntsman Write the Anonymous Op-Ed?

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It is certainly possible.  William Saleton makes the case at Slate:

Who wrote the anonymous op-ed against President Trump in Wednesday’s New York Times? All we know for certain is what the Times disclosed: that it’s a “senior official in the Trump administration.” But the most likely author, based on the op-ed’s content and style, is the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman is an obvious suspect for several reasons. The article’s themes are classic Huntsman: effusive about conservative policies, blunt about low character. In 2016, he made the same points for and against Trump. The topic that gets the most space and detail in the piece is Huntsman’s current area, Russia. (As Slate’s Fred Kaplan points out, Trump has been circumventing and undermining Huntsman.) The prose, as in Huntsman’s speeches and interviews, is flamboyantly erudite. The tone, like Huntsman’s, is pious. And the article’s stated motive—“Americans should know that there are adults in the room”—matches a letter that Huntsman wrote to the Salt Lake Tribune in July. In the letter, Huntsman, responding to a columnist who thought the ambassador should resign rather than keep working for Trump, explained that public servants such as himself were dutifully attending to the nation’s business.

Read the rest here.

Who Has Denied Writing the Anti-Trump Op-Ed in *The New York Times*?

Times Op-Ed

Mike Pence, James Mattis, Mike Pompeo, Jeff Sessions, Steve Mnuchin, Dan Coats, Ben Carson, Nikki Haley, Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos, and John Bolton have all denied it.

Of course this means nothing.  All of these cabinet members and senior officials are complicit with a presidential administration that lies to the American people multiple times a day.  Should we really believe them now?

Peter Beinart on the “Real Authors” of *The New York Times* Op-Ed

Congress

Writing at The Atlantic, Beinart argues that Republicans in Congress are the “real authors of the anonymous New York Times op-ed.  Here is a taste:

In theory, in America’s constitutional system, the different branches of the federal government check one another. When a presidents acts in corrupt, authoritarian, or reckless ways, the legislative branch holds hearings, blocks his agenda, refuses to confirm his nominees, even impeaches him. That’s how America’s government is supposed to work. But it no longer does. Instead, for the last year and a half, congressional Republicans have acted, for the most part, as Trump’s agents. Not only have they refused to seriously investigate or limit him, they have assaulted those within the federal bureaucracy—the justice department and the FBI in particular—who have.

So in the absence of this public, constitutional system of checks and balances, a secret, unauthorized system has emerged to replace it. Because Congress won’t check the president, the president’s own appointees are doing so instead. 

Read the rest here.

The 25th Amendment

 

Ford

Yesterday’s anonymous op-ed in The New York Times noted that some of Trump’s senior staff have talked about the 25th Amendment in the context of his inept presidency.

If you are unfamiliar with the 25th Amendment, I recommend this piece at National Public Radio.

Here is the text of the amendment:

Section 1.

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2.

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3.

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

The Morning Headlines are Back!

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The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog intern Devon Hearn is back in the saddle after spending the summer in Kenya.  This means that our “Morning Headlines” feature is also back.  Check in every morning to see daily headlines from The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, and Fox News.  And for those who are local, we also post the daily headline from The Harrisburg Patriot News.

We have found that teachers have found these headlines useful not only for getting up to speed with current events, but also for teaching their students how to detect bias in various news sources.

“I am Part of the Resistance”

trump

By this point, many of you have seen the anonymous New York Times op-ed written by  a senior official in the Trump White House.

Read it here.

I don’t know what to make of this piece.  On the surface, it seems to square with everything we have heard about the chaos of the Trump White House.  But what is the motive?  Does the author want to paint Trump as a sympathetic character whose administration is being undermined by spies, leakers and other potential “deep staters”?  Does the author want to assure Americans that there are rational people trying to hold the republic together?  Is this an attempt to get Trump to do something irrational so that he can be removed from office?

I don’t know what qualifies as a “senior official” in the Trump administration, but apparently the editors of The New York Times thought this person was important enough to protect her or his anonymity.

Over at CNN, political reporter Chris Cilizza tries to guess who is behind the op-ed.  Some of these suggestions are outrageous (Kellyanne Conway?  Mike Pence? Javanka?), but anything is possible in this administration.

Now Trump is demanding that The New York Times reveal the identity of this person.

Sorry Donald, it doesn’t work that way.  We have something in the United States called the First Amendment.

*The New York Times* on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13

jeff-sessions

It’s been a crazy day.  Last night I was wrapping-up some writing on the Southern Baptist Convention, trying to finish some end-of- the-academic-year paperwork, scheduling some blog posts, and preparing for the Believe Me book tour.

Then Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 and The Washington Post asked me for some historical context. I have been answering questions all day.

Here is my contribution to Julia Jacobs’s piece at The New York Times:

Referring to the Bible in political speeches is nothing new, said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did so liberally, for example. But using Scripture as an enforcement tool for a particular federal policy is more concerning, Dr. Fea said.

“The founding fathers created the criminal justice system to be a largely secular criminal justice system,” he said. “They didn’t have in mind punishing criminals and condemning them using Bible verses.”

And the passage he chose drew considerable criticism. Historians and theologians took to the internet to point out that Romans 13 has been used to defend antiquated or outright contemptible points of view.

Before the nation’s founding, it was frequently used by Loyalists to oppose the American Revolution, Dr. Fea said. And in the 19th century, pro-slavery Southerners often cited the chapter’s opening verses to defend slavery — in particular, adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Court Evangelicals” in *The New York Times*

Trump court evangelicals

Check out Laurie Goodstein‘s piece on anti-Trump evangelicals at The New York Times.  The article focuses on Shane Claiborne and the recent Red-Letter Revival in Lynchburg, but it also mentions our phrase “court evangelicals” and links to The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.

Here is a taste:

The revival last month was the most energetic of several recent attempts by Christians in various camps to confront what they see as Mr. Trump’s “court evangelicals” selling out the faith. The critics have written columns, and a book called “Still Evangelical?” They convened a closed-door summit last month at Wheaton College. A number of bereaved, eminent elders plan a procession to the White House soon to hand over their manifesto, “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”

Read the entire piece here.

Overlooked

Ida_B._Wells_Barnett

The New York Times is publishing obituaries for important people in history who never got an obituary published in the Times at the time of their deaths.  Learn more here.

The initial installment of the “Overlooked” series includes obituaries of fifteen women:  Ida B. Wells, Qui Jin, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, Diane Arbus, Marsha Johnson, Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Madhubala, Emily Warren Roebling, Nella Larsen, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Abbott, Belkis Ayon, Charlotte Bronte, and Lillias Campbell Davidson.

Here is a taste of the Ida B. Wells obit:

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Miss., in 1862, less than a year before Emancipation. She grew up during Reconstruction, the period when black people, including her father, were able to vote, ushering black representatives into state legislatures across the South. One of eight siblings, she often tagged along to Bible school on her mother’s hip.

In 1878, her parents both died of yellow fever, along with one of her brothers; and at 16, she took on caring for the rest of her siblings. She supported them by working as a teacher after dropping out of high school and lying about her age. She finished her own education at night and on weekends.

Around the same time, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was largely nullified by the Supreme Court, reversing many of the advancements of Reconstruction. The anti-black sentiment that grew around her was ultimately codified into Jim Crow.

“It felt like a dramatic whiplash,” said Troy Duster, Wells’s grandson, who is a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University. “She cuts her teeth politically in this time of justice, justice, justice, and then injustice.”

Observing the changes around her, Wells decided to become a journalist during what was a golden era for black writers and editors. Her goal was to write about black people for black people, in a way that was accessible to those who, like her, were born the property of white owners and had much to defend.

Her articles were often reprinted abroad, as well as in the more than 200 black weeklies then in circulation in the United States.

Read the rest here.

How Major Media Outlets Covered Billy Graham’s Death

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Via Wikipedia commons

I haven’t watched much television today, but I have noticed that every time I tuned into CNN on my computer I found very little coverage about the death of Billy Graham, arguably the most famous person in the 20th-century world.  Granted, there are issues related to guns and school shootings in Florida and beyond.  I thus fully understand why Graham took a back seat on my preferred cable news station.

So I decided to cruise around the Internet a bit.  On CNN’s website, I needed to scroll down a bit before I found a link to Graham’s death.  The same was true for MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post.

Graham’s death is front and center at the websites of the BBC, The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal.  On the BBC site I was able to click on links to two articles on Graham without having to scroll down.

The Last Great Newspaper War?

PostCheck out James Warren’s Vanity Fair piece, “Is The New York Times Vs. The Washington Post Vs. Trump The Last Great Great Newspaper War?

The answer to Warren’s question just might be “yes.”  Here is a taste:

The financial models at the two newspapers are different, and so is what they are selling. The Post, whose coverage is Washington-driven, can never hope to match the Times’s range across culture, business, and international affairs, and the Times, whose total revenues are less today than they were a dozen years ago, cannot hope to match the deep pockets of Jeff Bezos, who sometimes earns more in a few hours, if Amazon stock goes up, than he paid for his newspaper to begin with. (Bezos made $2.5 billion—10 times what he had paid for the Post—in the two hours after Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods was announced.) The Post is more advanced technologically than the Times and seems to recognize that the true competition, as publisher Fred Ryan Jr. put it, is “anything that engages you in your non-sleeping hours.” But both papers are ultimately built on people paying for quality.

You can argue that Trump has bought both newspapers some time—which makes you wonder if their success will continue once Trump is no longer an irresistible and unsettling object of scrutiny. Will even the world’s second-richest man lose his passion somewhere down the road? Will the fifth generation of a newspaper family be done in by what is, essentially, their one and only revenue stream? The leaders of both newspapers say they will continue to double down on content. The Times is now available in Spanish and Mandarin, with big plans in places as diverse as Mexico and Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. On the margins it hopes to generate additional revenue with gimmicky ventures such as around-the-world trips by private jet (for $135,000 a person) in the company of Times journalists.

TimesBut an existential threat is already apparent: many Americans won’t believe a thing either newspaper says, no matter how great the accuracy, attention to detail, or fair-mindedness. The sharp uptick in Times and Post readership may obscure a larger cultural change. The unequivocal evidence of Russian involvement in the presidential campaign exemplifies the state of play. In June, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed that more than half of those surveyed believe that the Russians interfered in the presidential election, with about one-third believing it influenced the outcome, and more Americans buying Comey’s explanation of his dismissal than Trump’s. But half think the press has been overly dramatic and irresponsible in its Russia-related coverage, with two-thirds of Republicans simply not believing that the Russians interfered at all, despite evidence assessed by four different U.S. intelligence services. Dig deeper and you find that, while 89 percent of Democrats believe in the importance of the media’s “watchdog” role, only 42 percent of Republicans do, according to the Pew Research Center. It is the widest gap that Pew has ever seen. What’s astonishing is that in early 2016, according to Pew, Democrats and Republicans essentially agreed on the role of the press, with Republicans (77 percent) actually outpacing Democrats (74 percent) in their support.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Nicholas Kristof to Tim Keller: “Am I a Christian?”

22cb0-kristof-new-184Today Nicholas Kristof devoted his New York Times column to a conversation with Tim Keller, prominent evangelical minister and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  The title of the column is “Pastor, Am I a Christian?

Kristof is not the first New York Times columnist who seems to be on a spiritual journey that involved a consideration of Christianity. His colleague David Brooks has also talked openly about such a journey.

Kristof’s conversation with Keller is one of the most openly religious pieces I have ever read in The New York Times.  

Here is a taste:

Kristof: Tim, people sometimes say that the answer is faith. But, as a journalist, I’ve found skepticism useful. If I hear something that sounds superstitious, I want eyewitnesses and evidence. That’s the attitude we take toward Islam and Hinduism and Taoism, so why suspend skepticism in our own faith tradition?

Keller:  I agree. We should require evidence and good reasoning, and we should not write off other religions as ‘superstitious’ and then fail to question our more familiar Jewish or Christian faith tradition.

But I don’t want to contrast faith with skepticism so sharply that they are seen to be opposites. They aren’t. I think we all base our lives on both reason and faith. For example, my faith is to some degree based on reasoning that the existence of God makes the most sense of what we see in nature, history and experience. Thomas Nagel recently wrote that the thoroughly materialistic view of nature can’t account for human consciousness, cognition and moral values. That’s part of the reasoning behind my faith. So my faith is based on logic and argument.

In the end, however, no one can demonstrably prove the primary things human beings base their lives on, whether we are talking about the existence of God or the importance of human rights and equality. Nietzsche argued that the humanistic values of most secular people, such as the importance of the individual, human rights and responsibility for the poor, have no place in a completely materialistic universe. He even accused people holding humanistic values as being “covert Christians” because it required a leap of faith to hold to them. We must all live by faith.

Kristof: I’ll grudgingly concede your point: My belief in human rights and morality may be more about faith than logic. But is it really analogous to believe in things that seem consistent with science and modernity, like human rights, and those that seem inconsistent, like a virgin birth or resurrection?

Keller: I don’t see why faith should be seen as inconsistent with science. There is nothing illogical about miracles if a Creator God exists. If a God exists who is big enough to create the universe in all its complexity and vastness, why should a mere miracle be such a mental stretch? To prove that miracles could not happen, you would have to know beyond a doubt that God does not exist. But that is not something anyone can prove.

Science must always assume that an effect has a repeatable, natural cause. That is its methodology. Imagine, then, for the sake of argument that a miracle actually occurred. Science would have no way to confirm a nonrepeatable, supernatural cause. Alvin Plantinga argued that to say that there must be a scientific cause for any apparently miraculous phenomenon is like insisting that your lost keys must be under the streetlight because that’s the only place you can see.

Read the entire column here.

Quote of the Day

From the editorial board of The New York Times:

The Carrier deal stands as an interesting argument against longstanding Republican economic orthodoxy.  In making the deal, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have embraced the idea that government does indeed have a role to play in the free market.  They intervened, and as a result, 800 people will keep their jobs.  If they applied the same interventionist approach to other labor issues–raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime pay come to mind–millions of working people might actually stand a chance.

Voices from a Trump Rally

A couple of things about this New York Times video:

  1. It contains a lot vulgarity.  If this kind of language bothers you please do not watch it.
  2. People interested in thinking critically about what they are about to see should raise a few questions.  Do the people in this video portray the majority of Trump supporters or the general culture of the campaign?  How was this source edited? What is the relationship between the people shown in the video and the actual rally?(What is the context?)

 

That Time I Scooped *The New York Times*…

…and got no credit for it.  (OK–that  sounded pretty whiny, but I think I am going to stick with it).

Yesterday I broke the Donald Trump “conversion” story here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  (Actually, the pastor Michael Anthony broke it and Charisma magazine may have posted the story around the same time that I did).

One of the people who retweeted my post was New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel:

Gabriel took the news to the pages of The New York Times here.  My post is now, with the exception of my commentary, no longer relevant.

Of course there are no footnotes in journalism, but perhaps Gabriel could have thrown a bone (in the forms of a link or reference in the piece) to a small, hard-working blogger! 🙂

Wendell Berry Talks to *The New York Times*

BerryThe agrarian novelist Wendell Berry is featured in the most recent “By the Book” series at The New York Times.  Here is a taste of his interview:

What books are currently on your night stand?

My father’s much-marked Bible (King James Version), which I keep there for companionship and to read; Volume 1 of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which I enjoy partly for the luxury of reading in no hurry, for I probably will never finish it; also “Venerable Trees,” by Tom Kimmerer, about the surviving trees of the original savannas or woodland pastures of Kentucky and Tennessee.

What was the last great book you read?

“Out of Africa,” by Isak Dinesen, no doubt a “great book,” also a good book. The book I recently read that I most needed to read was “Art and Scholasticism,” by Jacques Maritain.

Read the whole interview here.  Berry didn’t give The Times much to work with.   Classic.

The Kiss of Death for John Kasich

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Poor John Kasich

He just got endorsed by The New York Times.  Here is a taste of the Times editorial:

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, though a distinct underdog, is the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race. And Mr. Kasich is no moderate. As governor, he’s gone after public-sector unions, fought to limit abortion rights and opposed same-sex marriage.

Still, as a veteran of partisan fights and bipartisan deals during nearly two decades in the House, he has been capable of compromise and believes in the ability of government to improve lives. He favors a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and he speaks of government’s duty to protect the poor, the mentally ill and others “in the shadows.” While Republicans in Congress tried more than 60 times to kill Obamacare, Mr. Kasich did an end-run around Ohio’s Republican Legislature to secure a $13 billion Medicaid expansion to cover more people in his state.

“I am so tired of my colleagues out here on the stage spending all their time talking about Barack Obama,” he told a town hall crowd in New Hampshire. “His term is over.” Mr. Kasich said recently that he had “raised the bar in this election. I’ve talked about hope and the future and positive things.” In this race, how rare that is.

I am sure that Trump, Cruz, Rubio and others will exploit this in the next few weeks.  (The New York Times, of course, is a liberal newspaper).  But there are many more moderate evangelicals and Republicans, especially those who are fed up with the divisiveness of our political culture, that might see the Times endorsement as a positive sign.

It is also worth noting that many American voters are not voting in the closed (registered party members only) primaries and caucuses.  These independent voters, especially the moderate ones, may be attracted to a Kasich candidacy.  Unfortunately these voters may never get a chance to vote for the Ohio governor in the general election.

Kasich will need to come out of the GOP primary season on top and that will be very difficult.

Deconstructing Catholic Liberal Theologians

Some of you have been following the Ross Douthat vs. liberal Catholic theologians debate over who is the most qualified to write about the Catholic Church.  Check out our coverage here and here.

Recently Kenneth Woodward, the dean of religion journalism and the longtime religion writer at Newsweek, chided these progressive theologians for their elitism and their inability to articulate their position clearly.

Here is a taste of his piece at First Things:

…Because the flare-up touches on who is qualified to write about matters Catholic, I took interest. After all, I was no more qualified as Newsweek’s religion editor than is Douthat as a columnist for the Times: neither one of us has a degree in theology, which seems to be what the Catholic scholars are demanding. Or are they?
For me, it is the second of the letter’s four sentences that is troubling. This, the key accusatory sentence, is so bumbling in construction that any effort at exegesis has to take it in parts. Part one reads: “Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject…” What exactly is the subject he is not qualified to write about? He has has already published a very substantive journalistic book on Catholicism that has been generally well received by Catholics of various stripes. If the subject is Catholic sacramental marriage, he is a husband and a father, an experiential credential that some of his academic critics, being priests, do not. If nothing else, it gives him a personal stake in the outcome of the church’s deliberations.
It is hard not to conclude from the way this sentence begins that what the offended scholars mean by “professional qualifications” is a doctorate in theology or in some degree kindred to “the sacred sciences.” But neither did G. K. Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, or Thomas Merton, I believe. What they did is read widely and write well. A doctorate is the one credential Douthat’s critics own that he does not. This smacks of the academic virus that Frank O’Malley, my old English professor at Notre Dame, identified as “PhDeism”—i.e. credential worship. It is the virus that, in another context, Christopher Lasch lamented as inciting “the tyranny of experts” and is akin to what led Kierkegaard to observe that “a roomful of experts is only a crowd.”
But then if a doctorate were required of journalists, there would be no writers, editors or columnists (save one) at the New York Times. Real journalists do not even get PhDs in journalism, thank God, just as real journalists do not drink bottled water.
The rest of this sentence reads thus: “…the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism is.”
It is hard to know what this sentence is trying to say. Does it refer to Douthat’s political conservatism or his conservative Catholicism? If it means that he views the recent synod on the family as a contest between liberal and conservative factions—well that “narrative” unfortunately has governed what every reporter and pundit has employed this and every other discussion of Catholic issues and events since Vatican Council II. And it certainly applies to the polarity that Catholic theologians have themselves exhibited time and again when gathered in solemn assembly. Unfortunately. And it is the only way the New York Times can understand what is going on in the church.
If it is a fumbling way of saying that popes (especially Francis) are above “political” maneuvers like so many other bishops, tell it to Robert Mickens or, for that matter, Garry Wills, whose narratives are as “politically partisan” as that of Douthat. Why target Douthat, and for that matter, why post this complaint to the Times? Which brings me to the letter’s last sentence.
Read the rest here.