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.

“Dear Mike Pence: The real persecution of Christians isn’t here in America”

Pence Liberty

This was just published at the Washington Post.  Thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey for asking me to write it today:

Vice President Pence on Saturday warned the graduating class of Liberty University to be prepared to suffer for their faith. “The truth is,” he told an audience of over 40,000 attending the commencement ceremony, “we live in a time when the freedom of religion is under assault.”

Pence said that Liberty graduates should expect to be “ridiculed” for their biblical beliefs, much in the same way that his wife, Karen Pence, was criticized for taking a job teaching art at a Christian school that opposed same-sex marriage.

Pence needs some perspective.

According to one estimate, in 2016, a Christian was killed for his or her faith every six minutes. Today, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is rampant, especially in the Middle East. The Islamic State has forced nearly 5 million Syrian Christians to flee for their lives.

Read the rest here.

The “Bottomless Pinocchio”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive in Rihad, Saudi Arabia,

The Washington Post Fact Checker has introduced a new dishonesty rating custom-made for the Trump era: the “Bottomless Pinocchio.” The newspaper says the new tier will be issued to politicians who “repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.” In order to be awarded the Bottomless Pinocchio, the claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from the Fact Checker, and must have been repeated 20 times. Fourteen statements made by Trump already qualify for the list—no other politician has yet been given the dubious honor. In an article announcing the introduction of the new level, the  condemns Trump and says: “He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.” The most repeated falsehood so far, according to the Fact Checker, is Trump’s assertion that his tax cut was the biggest in history, followed by his exaggerations of the size of U.S. trade deficits.

Source

The Morning Headlines are Back!

newspaper-1075795_960_720

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.

Tweet of the Day

 

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.

Eugene Robinson’s African-American History Collection

Eugene_Robinson_by_Gage_SkidmoreYou read him in The Washington Post and see him on MSNBC, but did you know journalist Eugene Robinson and his wife, artists Avis Collins Robinson, have an amazing collection of African-American artifacts.

Read about it here.

Although it’s hard to have “favorites” among artifacts that represent a tragic history, Robinson said one that always sticks out in his mind is a document for the sale of a young girl. “Repellant objects are important. They’re a reminder of where we were, of our recent past, where we must never go again,” he said. “These are people’s lives. That brings it home to me. We talk about slavery as a historical fact, but we have to think about the individual.” But the larger picture is equally important. “The class of objects points out the extent to which slavery provided a foundation for the US. It wasn’t just a Southern phenomenon. The textile mills in Massachusetts, for example, where did that cotton come from? The South.”

Read the entire piece at Hyperallergic

 

“Rank Hypocrisy”

Roy Moore,Patricia Jones

Marc Fisher of The Washington Post recently asked me for some thoughts on Roy Moore.  Here is a taste of his piece “For some evangelicals, a choice between Moore and morality.”

Evangelicals are not alone in shifting their view of the role moral character should play in choosing political leaders. Between 2011 and last year, the percentage of Americans who say that politicians who commit immoral acts in their private lives can still behave ethically in public office jumped from 44 percent to 61 percent, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/Brookings poll.During the same period, the shift among evangelicals was even more dramatic, moving from 30 percent to 72 percent, the survey found.

“What you’re seeing here is rank hypocrisy,” said John Fea, an evangelical Christian who teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. “These are evangelicals who have decided that the way to win the culture is now uncoupled from character. Their goal is the same as it was 30 years ago, to restore America to its Christian roots, but the political playbook has changed.

“With Donald Trump, the playbook faced its greatest test because he was not a man of character that evangelicals could embrace, but many did anyway. In the Roy Moore situation, very much like Trump’s Access Hollywood situation, they’ve decided that the need to keep the Senate justifies embracing someone whose behavior they would universally condemn,” Fea said. “I wish I could tell you there was some interesting theological distinction here, but it’s all just politics. It is a form of moral relativism.”

Read the entire piece here.

How Do We Fix American Democracy?

The Washington Post has collected thirty-eight thinkers to answer this question.  They are: Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein, Gish Jen, Yuval Levin, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Jessica Hische, Ann Patchett, R.R. Reno, Kristen Henderson, Alec MacGillis, Milton Glaser,  Amy Sullivan, Ibram X Kendi, Lanhee Chen, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Steve Penley, Avik Roy, Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Francis Collins, Rita Dove, Nate Powell, Cathy Young, Dani Rodrik, Arlie Russell Hochschild, John McWhorter, Gail Anderson, Joan Williams, Elaine Kamarck, Farah Pandith, Eric Posner, George Lois, George Takei, Domingo Martinez, Suzy Hansen, Suzanne Nossel, Johnalynn Holland, Julian Krein, Moises Naim, and Carl Gershman.

Some of the suggestions include:

“Cultivate National Gratefulness”

“Revive Human Decency”

“A Grass-Roots Revolt Against Fake News”

“End American Arrogance”

“Require Everyone to Vote”

“Stop Obsessing About White Privilege”

“Redefine the Flag”

“Push for Civil Rights Education”

“Teach Critical Thinking”

“A Constitutional Amendment on Equality”

“Ignore the Cultural Elite”

“One Month Without Social Media”

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson is Doing Theology from the Pages of *The Washington Post*

c0d8e-gersonThe election of Donald Trump has really lit a fire under Michael Gerson.  His columns on the POTUS do not mince words.  He is speaking with a prophetic Christian voice and we need him to keep writing.

But this post is not about one of Gerson’s Trump columns.  Rather, I want to bring your attention to his piece written in the wake of the Vegas tragedy.  As I read this column I wondered at what point we should start calling Gerson a public theologian.

Here is a taste:

That said, I do come at these events from a religious perspective, as some of the victims surely did, and as some of their loved ones surely do. The Christian faith involves a whisper from beyond time that death, while horrible, is not final — that the affirmations of the creeds and the inscriptions on tombstones are not lies. And for many, this hope is a barrier against despair.

Yet faith also encompasses something deeper and more difficult — what theologian Jurgen Moltmann has called “God’s terrible silence.” In that silence, only the scarred God, the weak and victimized God, the God of the cross seems to communicate. Not in words, but in a shocking example of lonely suffering. Christians turn to a God who once felt godforsaken, as all of us may feel in the nightmare of loss.

At this type of moment, even those with tenuous ties to religion offer their thoughts and prayers. But how should we pray? Concerning grief, as many can attest, it is not strength or struggle that matters most; it is perseverance. And that is as good a thing to pray for as any, for those who cannot see a future without their friend, without their child. Our attention is temporary; their suffering will not fade easily, if ever.

Read the entire piece here.

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.