US News responds: Fact-deficient ranting about Catholics in public life is “fair commentary”
posted at 5:56 pm on January 11, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
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.