Tasty Tidbits 8/31/11 Journalism Supplement

  1. NYT gets a well-deserved reaming.
  2. Title of the Hatchet Job.
  3. Free speech erosion in Minnesota.
  4. Journalistic half truths.


Bill Keller’s Sunday New York Times piece, “Asking Candidates Tough Questions about Faith,” was so odious, dismissive and smug that he’s been getting well-deserved dental colostomies* daily.

No doubt a choir somewhere is shouting “Amen!,” or whatever a secularist choir shouts when fired up, but not yet anywhere I visit.

(* Dental colostomy is my coinage for “chewing a new ______,” a crude expression for severe criticism that, accordingly, shall never pass my chaste fingertips.)


I’m a big fan of DaVinci’s Notebook’s Title of the Song because of it’s brilliant parody of formulaic pop love songs.

I suppose the difference between journalism and creative writing is that the former is, of necessity and perhaps by definition, a bit formulaic. But some formulae are trite to the point of concealing how deep a story really is. Terry Mattingly at GetReligion.org describes a recent podcast:

But what this discussion is really about was my snark attack on a form of journalism that really gets under my skin. It’s the story that looks balanced, but really pits faith-based quotes on one side against supposedly fact-based quotes on the other — with no real interaction between the two sides. The idea seems to be that progressives are smart and religious traditionalists are, well, not so much dumb (that would be judgmental), but sadly naive.

In reality, it the questions — including valid questions — raised by the critics of this ministry who are quoted by CNN are never really answered. Readers cannot even tell if the questions were ever asked, with the criticized having a chance to offer (or not offer) fact-based answers to their critics.

In the post, I argued that this format looks like this:

* Evangelicals describe their ministry, which centers on faith in the Bible, etc.

* A smart critic from a name-brand university or seminary, speaking on behalf of the vague and omnipresent “many religious scholars,” says that the leaders of the ministry are simplistic and naive in their approach to the Bible and the issues at hand.

* More commentary from the evangelical ministry leaders, but without any direct response from scholars on their side of the biblical issues to the comments of the brilliant name-brand scholar from secular and/or liberal Christian academia.

* More commentary from another critic of the ministry with roots in name-brand academia who does similar work (in this case with believers wrestling with pornography) and believes the evangelicals are naive and simplistic.

* Final faith-based words from the evangelicals, once again with no responses to the issues raised by the critics.

Facile pigeonholing of “Faith-based versus fact-based” is the core of this journalistic sloth, I think.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for what have had our fill of humiliation. Our soul is fed up with the scornful reproof of the wealthy, and the disparaging of the proud.

Psalm 122:3-4 (Miles Coverdale translation, according to the Septuagint numbering of the Psalms, from A Psalter for Prayer, Holy Trinity Publications, Jordanville, NY (2011)).


Free speech is being eroded in America. A Minnesota Court of Appeals opinion has upheld a money judgment against a blogger whose truthful blog caused, and probably intended to cause, someone to get fired. Eugene Volokh explains why that’s wrong.


The truth can hurt legitimately. But the absence of lies doesn’t necessarily constitute true truth. Truthful information can’t be misleading, as a guest blogger at Volokh Conspiracy shows.

Bon appetit!