Plenty of people — Ed Morrissey and Mollie Hemingway anomg them — have neatly dissected New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller’s perfect storm of ignorance and bias when it comes to the religious beliefs of those running for the GOP presidential nominee. Keller identified Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum as “all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity,” when Santorum is Catholic, Bachmann is Lutheran, and Perry is a Methodist. Keller hauls out the boogeyman of “dominionism,” when none of his targets are dominionists, and so on. The response (such as it is) to this criticism by Keller and the rest of the establishment media is nearly as telling as the original smears.
On Twitter, Keller had two responses to his critics. First, Keller noted that he was not seeing any quarrel with the basic point that we should ask candidates about their faith. I certainly have no quarrel with that point. In 2008, I wrote about Barack Obama’s decades-long membership in a church based on black liberation theology and his decades-long relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and criticized the establishment media for not treating Obama the way JFK or Mitt Romney were treated on faith issues.
However, this merely underscores the major criticism lodged against Keller, which was that the New York Times avoided giving Obama scrutiny on faith issues. Keller’s second response was that the NYT was “late to Rev. Wright in ’08, but we got there, and did it well.” This response is dishonest or delusional, possibly both. When a political controversy erupts in March 2008 and the NYT does not give it proper news coverage until September 2008, getting there late is bad coverage. Would Keller defend covering a hurricane six months late? Please. Nor was the quality of the NYT coverage good, by the standards Keller now thinks should be applied, asking none of the sort of questions Keller now thinks should be asked. Indeed, Keller’s response on this point is particularly embarrassing once you learn that the NYT actually covered Obama’s relationship with Rev. Wright in April 2007, reporting:
It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign. He began his presidential announcement with the phrase “Giving all praise and honor to God,” a salutation common in the black church. He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and often talks about biblical underdogs, the mutual interests of religious and secular America, and the centrality of faith in public life.
With hindsight, it is easy to imagine how Obama could distance himself: by relying on the establishment media generally, and the NYT in particular, to mostly look the other way at the crucial moment.
It is worth noting — as Ed Morrissey and Lisa Miller did — that the NYT’s Keller is hardly alone in falsely playing the “Crazy Christian” card. Similarly erroneous, x-degrees-of-separation journalism has been committed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, NPR’s Fresh Air, Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker and Michelle Goldberg, a senior contributing writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. From there, the bogus story gets treated as a serious topic of discussion at forums including the WaPo, CNN and USA Today.
Thus does the establishment media function the way Hillary Clinton once claimed the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy operated. Thus does the establsihment media again operate with the sort of “epistemic closure” that the Julian Sanchezes, Conor Friedersdorfs and Andrew Sullivans of the world are so quick to condemn in the conservative media (when they aren’t busy ignoring Sullivan’s obsession with the status of Sarah Palin’s uterus). Ironically, Sullivan has been foaming at the mouth about “Christianism” for years.
Indeed, almost all of those soooo concerned about bogus memes circulating in a conservative echo chamber will never treat Rachel Maddow the way they treat Glenn Beck. (Indeed, they won’t blink over the fact that a religious left activist — the Rev. Al Sharpton — now hosts a show on MSNBC.) They will never view NewsBeast the way they view WorldNetDaily. They will never compare Bill Keller to Sean Hannity — and rightly so. After all, Hannity correctly identified the theology of Obama’s longtime church and interviewed Rev. Wright. Hannity committed more actual journalism on this subject than Keller did. More self-aware lefties in the media, like TNR’s Jonathan Chait, should take note that this is another example of the magical thinking of liberals.