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US News responds: Fact-deficient ranting about Catholics in public life is “fair commentary”

posted at 5:56 pm on January 11, 2014 by

US News and World Report editor Brian Kelly finally responded to an avalanche of criticism over Jamie Stiehm’s hyperbolic rant about Catholics on the Supreme Court and in public life with … a non-sequitur. Kelly shrugs this off as a service to diversity, and doesn’t bother to address the chasm between Stiehm’s commentary and the facts, nor her outright and blanket hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in public life.

Here it is in its entirety:

Perceived bias on the court is a legitimate issue that U.S. News & World Report has covered for many years, from many perspectives. Our Opinion section has published pieces on the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage from all sides of the debate and, just this week, included pieces from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of New York and Concerned Women for America. We are committed to publishing a diversity of views on a variety of topics. Jamie Stiehm’s piece is within the bounds of fair commentary. We have run letters rebutting the piece and will continue to feature a diversity of opinions on this topic and others.

“Fair commentary”? Well, okay, let’s just stipulate up front that “fair commentary” has a wide breadth. No one (well, few anyway) argued that Stiehm should be somehow gagged for her comments. The question for US News was why they chose to run it. After all, they didn’t have to publish it, and the decision was made anyway to run it. Why? Kelly essentially avoids the question by claiming diversity, which is ironically exactly what Stiehm was arguing against.

The entire basis for the essay was factually wrong; all Justice Sonia Sotomayor did was issue a very temporary stay on the HHS contraception mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor, which isn’t at all meaningful in terms of the case and had nothing to do with the rest of the Catholics on the Supreme Court. Using that as a springboard, Stiehm them conjured up a Catholic conspiracy involving something called “the meddlesome American Roman Catholic Archbishops” (apparently unable to Google the USCCB) who “seek and wield tremendous power and influence in the political sphere” to impose a “Vatican hegemony.” Most ridiculously and without a single citation, she then asserts Thomas Jefferson as a model for her Know-Nothingism, even though Jefferson himself is on record in his own hand arguing that government should not interfere with the religious practices of nuns in the very manner which Stiehm desires here.

The question for Kelly was how all of that got past editors to make it onto the virtual pages of US News. Kelly offers a “diversity of opinions” smokescreen that tells us nothing. That’s too bad, but it’s not unexpected after seeing Stiehm’s ignorant screed appear there in the first place.

Deacon Greg Kandra, who spent as many years at CBS as a journalist as Kelly did in other places, is appalled:

Oh.  Glad they cleared that up. We will eagerly await, then, thoughtful and penetrating essays in the pages of U.S. News & World Report that belittle Jews, mock Muslims, sneer at African Americans, taunt gays and deride any chosen ethnic, racial or religious minority. …

[W]here do they draw the line? At what point does “fair comment” become, in their eyes, unfair? When do they say “Enough”?

As part of the U.S. News & World Report editorial policy, it is clearly acceptable for a writer on their site to denigrate, insult, and mock an entire class of people, purely because of their religion. 

How much further do they intend to go?

It will be illuminating, and depressing, to find out.

Elizabeth Scalia wonders, too. After reconstructing Stiehm’s work to hit at other religious groups and ethnicities (a must read), The Anchoress then makes the real point:

I am going to make a good-faith assumption that Mr. Kelly did not attempt that little exercise before handing down the statement. Had he done so, I find it very difficult to believe that he (or op-ed page Managing Editor, Robert Schlesinger) would still think it fell “within the bounds of fair commentary.”

Or, perhaps they would, and if so they need to admit it. Their readership certainly deserves to know what they stand for, and if U.S. News is going to embrace such a radical editorial policy, they might as well put it out there and say, “yes, we would be just as content with Stiehm’s column if she had expressed exactly these sentiments about Lesbians, or Jews, or African Americans, or Gay men, or Muslims, because we agree that there are some kinds of people who simply should not be trusted to participate in American governance, and it’s time to stop being so politically correct and say it.”

That would almost be refreshing, truth be told.

Until, of course, people understood that this is how jackboots are constructed.

Even with that, one can argue that all of this kind of hateful speech falls into the bounds of “fair commentary” in terms of First Amendment speech. That’s absolutely correct. But if you pay people to write it and then put it on your pages, and especially when it is as ignorant and factually risible as Stiehm’s piece, then that says something about the publication itself and the editors who green-light such material. Especially when they turn out to be somewhat pusillanimous in addressing the real controversy and instead cloak themselves in “diversity” to duck how such a bigoted essay like this saw the light of day under their banner.

Update: Let’s not forget that Stiehm was also attacking Sotomayor — very prematurely at best — for having a “diverse” opinion from what Stiehm considers the legitimate “sisterhood.” Her attack on Sotomayor was in part a demand that the Justice rule on the basis of her gender and what Stiehm considers the only legitimate opinion that an XX chromosome can carry. So much for diversity.

Update: Time to ask US News’ advertisers whether they want their names on this product? One commenter on Stiehm’s piece seems to think so:

I have notified both Weightwatchers and American Express that I will not be purchasing their products if they continue to advertise alongside articles such as this. This article is representative of poor journalism, and of a person who is not interested in the quality of her profession. Shame on you Jamie Stiehm and US News World Report.

Maybe the two can at least ask Kelly to address the real issue.

Update: Breitbart’s Debra Heine rejects this explanation, too:

It’s good to know that US News considers blatant Anti-Catholicism simply “diversity of views.” Would this same publication run an oped by Fred Phelps, or David Duke, or Anjem Choudary?

Debra notices, as I have, that the commenters on Kelly’s non-sequitur aren’t buying it either.

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Comments

Allowing this to pass and not demanding heads gives folks the confidence to assert that this sort of thing is acceptable, and eventually it becomes the prevailing wisdom. Your previous post said:

It’s better to focus on and rebut the ignorance and bigotry, and then let that speak for itself in the marketplace.

To which I responded:

Actually, the best way to inculcate values against bigotry is to ensure that there are real repercussions for it. Indulging market fetishism every chance you get regardless of moral context is plain dumb. The “market” has previously allowed a European population to concentrate its fire on Jews before, which eventually culminated in this little-known event called the Holocaust.

It’s best to stamp out this kind of garbage ASAP. This is where bringing pressure to bear and shaming your opposition is very useful. If you let it pass it just becomes considered “fair commentary.”

Stoic Patriot on January 11, 2014 at 6:04 PM

I don’t see this as “letting it pass.” It’s the demands to fire Stiehm, who’s not even an employee at US News or Creators, that lets Kelly off the hook by talking about “diversity of opinion.” The issue here is the editorial decision to run the piece filled with errors and bigotry, and I’m calling Kelly out for not answering for it. I don’t see that as “letting it pass” — I see it as “staying on point.”

Ed Morrissey on January 11, 2014 at 6:10 PM

So US News & World Reports is going to hire David Duke next?

rbj on January 11, 2014 at 6:15 PM

Christ and his Apostles warned that Christians would always be persecuted, lied about and vilified. Their only counsel was to count your blessings. Being LDS, I’ve been through this question many times and all you can refuse to take the bait.

flataffect on January 11, 2014 at 6:24 PM

Ed Morrissey on January 11, 2014 at 6:10 PM

I still think that’s weak sauce. You’re seeking polite debate regarding the internal logical consistency of US News’ arguments. That’s perfectly fine for well-intentioned academic debate, but it doesn’t achieve the desired cultural change of making this sort of bigotry unacceptable.

A true shaming means compelling your opponent into taking action acknowledging that they were wrong, and then to make amends (a secular equivalent of Confession). In this instance, I’d think that a proper shaming of Stiehm, US News, and Creators would be to:

1.) Demand an apology from Stiehm, and repeatedly denounce Stiehm as bigoted at every opportunity and in every column. She shouldn’t be able to show her face on the street without having to run inside for cover.
2.) Demand that US News & Creators condemn Stiehm’s column, insist that they publish a note that the column does not reflect the views of US News, and have US News issue a formal apology for their lapse in judgment in ever publishing it
3.) Target US News & Creators’ business contacts and pressure them into cutting ties with these organizations until they do as you demand

That’s the cutthroat way of handling this, and the cutthroat way works better than rational debate. Rational debate only works on the rational, and the rational don’t espouse this kind of garbage to begin with.

Stoic Patriot on January 11, 2014 at 6:28 PM

I’m so old I can remember when the U.S. News & World Report wasn’t a joke. And, it was actually in print.

bw222 on January 11, 2014 at 6:39 PM

James Mooney, who studied the Cherokee Indians in the 1880s, wrote: “When we are willing to admit that the Indian has a religion which he holds sacred, even though it be different from our own, we can then admire the consistency of the theory, the particularity of the ceremonial and the beauty of the expression.”

It’s a sad state of affairs when we find more sympathy and understanding towards the religious beliefs of others in the writings of a nineteenth century anthropologist than in the words penned by a twenty-first century editorialist.

radjah shelduck on January 11, 2014 at 7:03 PM

As part of the U.S. News & World Report editorial policy, it is clearly acceptable for a writer on their site to denigrate, insult, and mock an entire class of people, purely because of their religion.

Just don’t deny or critique Global Warming.

rrpjr on January 11, 2014 at 7:12 PM

Yeah, this is not about Stiehm being “silenced” or “fired” or whatever. It’s about the blatantly false statements made…and the tone of those statements. It’s a gutter-level “hate piece” really. Again, I can’t figure how the editors let that garbage get published at all…even as an op-ed.

JetBoy on January 11, 2014 at 7:22 PM

Step 1 is media and politicians demonizing a group as not being authentic member of the country and cane be trusted.

Steps 2 through the typical end goal are why I stockpile ammunition. My Polish and Irish ancestors had to flee from bigoted jackboots. I’m not sure where I’d flee too. And putting on the red crown isn’t so bad a fate.

Spade on January 11, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Once more I suspect we see the hot-house culture of the newsroom at work. Like the infamous “10:10″ ad campaign, nobody who reviewed the column ahead of publication saw anything wrong with it it because they agreed with what it said. In the newsroom, such opinions just aren’t controversial, and if you think they are, you must be one of those Bitter Clingers From Flyover Country and the Enlightened Elite wish you would just f**king drop dead, already.

I doubt that it is any more complex than that. And if so, it is just one more example of how the “Fourth Estate” is full of supposed journalists who have a deep-seated loathing of the public they supposedly serve. Which fits very well with their abject and fawning worship of the “ruling class” they are supposed to be the watchdogs over.

They have their own reality in The Only Places That Matter, and nobody else is invited.

clear ether

eon

eon on January 11, 2014 at 9:46 PM

Keep speaking up and harness the power of free markets.

And blessed are you when people say false things against you.

22044 on January 11, 2014 at 10:07 PM

Keep speaking up and harness the power of free markets.

And blessed are you when people say false things against you.

22044 on January 11, 2014 at 10:07 PM

That made me think of the hymn, “Be Not Afraid”, one of my favorites, along with “Lift High The Cross”.

Ward Cleaver on January 11, 2014 at 11:24 PM

Jamie Stiehm’s piece is within the bounds of fair commentary

The Stiehm “op-ed” was a stupid piece, wrong on the facts and chock full of the bigotry that “progressives” claim to abhor. Stiehm is obviously an idiot who fancies herself as an “intellectual” – seriously, she got Jefferson totally wrong, and does not seem to have any idea why nuns don’t need contraception.

But this “defense” is downright scary. What would it take to be “outside” the bounds of “fair commentary”?

SubmarineDoc on January 11, 2014 at 11:54 PM

I’m Catholic and I know I deserve all the abuse. I will read 3 US News articles and say a Hail Mary for my sins.

2Tru2Tru on January 12, 2014 at 2:08 AM

That’s the cutthroat way of handling this, and the cutthroat way works better than rational debate. Rational debate only works on the rational, and the rational don’t espouse this kind of garbage to begin with.

Stoic Patriot on January 11, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Dude, you’re talking to a Republican, rational debate and caving are all they know.

Spliff Menendez on January 12, 2014 at 9:32 AM

I’m so old I can remember when the U.S. News & World Report wasn’t a joke. And, it was actually in print.

bw222 on January 11, 2014 at 6:39 PM

There was a time – long, long ago – when U.S.News & World Report was actually considered the most unbiased, fairest – even most conservative – source of news among the weekly news magazines.

That, however, was a really long time ago. It’s a sad thing to see how low they have sunk.

Solaratov on January 12, 2014 at 10:12 AM

US News responds: Fact-deficient ranting about Catholics in public life is “fair commentary”

Ed Morrissey on January 11, 2014 at 5:56 PM

.
Why stop at and/or with US News and World Report ?

Or the “subject of the Catholic Church ?

I’ll slightly alter the headline, to make it accurately “all inclusive.”
.
US News responds (any media outlet you care to name): Fact-deficient ranting about Catholics in public life any damned subject we please is “fair commentary”

listens2glenn on January 12, 2014 at 1:39 PM

As part of the U.S. News & World Report editorial policy

…they used to be conservative!…they ALL go to shit eventually!

KOOLAID2 on January 13, 2014 at 2:28 PM