POLL QUESTION: Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bushs judicial nominees?After asking that vague-and-therefore-loaded question, the Posts page-one headline thundered the news: Filibuster Rule Change Opposed. Lets face it—if youd asked that question ten other ways, you would have gotten ten other results. This was exceptionally bad poll reporting—so bad that Brent Bozell got it right!
THROUGH THE TUBE DARKLY: Refresh us—when exactly did Meet the Press become an openly Catholic program? Last Sunday, for the third time in the last five weeks, Tim Russert devoted his entire show to a religious discussion. Early on, Russert popped this question to Father Thomas Bohlin, U.S. vicar of the conservative Catholic group, Opus Dei:
RUSSERT (4/24/05): Father John McCloskey, who was also an Opus Dei with you, was on this program. He has a Web site where he predicted basically in 2030 that the number of Catholics would go from 60 million to 40 million; almost a smaller and purer church. Is that, do you think, the vision of our pope? [Russerts emphasis]No, Russerts emphasis didnt make sense, but it was quite pronounced. Moments later, we heard from Joseph Bottum, one of two other guests whose bull-dog conservatism made Bohlin seem like a poodle. Bottum responded to the claim that the Catholic hierarchy needs to consult with Joe Sixpack more often:
BOTTUM: I'm not sure that there's any solution in all of that... I'm not sure it's any solution to the problem the church faces addressing the concerns that arise in a democratic experiment like the United States. We have characteristic abuses, as I said, that are going to happen in these places. And the church needs to be to some degree countercultural, to stand against that and to speak out and say, "We can't kill our babies."Did we say conservative? Yes, when Bottum discussed the characteristic abuses that occur in these places, he was referring to democracies—to places like the U.S.!
Question: Were we the only ones who gazed with surprise at Sundays Meet the Press discussion? Who wondered what this odd debate had to do with the American news agenda? Who wondered why we were hearing this on NBCs one weekly news hour?
SISTER MARY AQUIN ONEILL: I'm grateful for an opportunity to return to the question of truth. Truth is another name for God and so it cannot be something that we possess. It's something that we hope to dwell within. The truth is always larger than we are, greater than we are. And it is not something that we can attain by ourselves.Say what? ONeill seemed like a very nice person, but were we the only ones wondering why this rumination was occurring on Meet the Press, which was once a well-known news show? In fact, we found ourselves puzzling again and again as the conversation veered into the weeds. For example, why was Father Joseph Fessio, siting in Rome, saying this on a one-time news program?
FESSIO: The point is if Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the church, if God has sent his son to us as a man to unite himself in a marital act, a nuptial act to his whole people, to make us one flesh and one body with him, there's something very deep and mysterious about that. It's what the church has always taught is that, not that men are better than women, not that men should be given more honor than woman, but that men image forth the bridegroom because Christ is essentially someone who's married to us, and therefore you can't have a woman who gives that iconic image of Christ who's the bridegroom of the church.But why exactly is that the point on a weekly news program? And why exactly was this a topic for such a weekly show:
ONEILL: Frederic Herzog wrote many years ago that the two things that distinguish Catholicism are the sacraments and the Blessed Mother, Mary. They are both under siege right now. And the sacraments are in trouble because we don't have ministers. That's the question for me. We must find a way to solve that. The people are hungry for the sacraments, and without the sacraments, we don't have the church.Thats a perfectly fine conversation—but what was NBC News presenting it? ONeill continued, but what was the connection between her rumination and the traditional Meet the Press?
ONEILL: I believe that one of the most important things for this church now is to really act on Christici Fidelis Laici, where we were told there's a complementarity between the laity and the ordained. Complementarity means one cannot trump the other. And so, in all the questions that the church faces, the lay-people and their experience and their insights have to have an equal place at the table with those who are ordained.Of course, you know how these news shows can be. Once one guest opines about Christici Fidelis Laici, everyone has to spout off:
BOHLIN: I think there's another way of looking at this whole issue, which is the way that John Paul II has looked at it, coming out of Christici Fidelis Laici, the great document on the lay-people in the church, which is that, really, talking about priests, bishops, Catholic professionals, is talking about an infinitesimal portion of what the church is, and really, the forefront of the battle of the church is waged by every baptized person. And that's what's has to be—that's the battle. That's where the battle is, where those people are.For ourselves, we dont have a view on this great document. Meanwhile, why would the Meet the Press audience have a dog in the following hunt?
RUSSERT: But if you're a sacramental church, you need priests to administer the sacraments. And if there's a shortage of priests, what do you do?Why cant our pope just figure it out, then tell us what we should do in these places? In the meantime, why couldnt Russert spend a few minutes on the actual news, which might affect the actual American people, the people who live in such lands?
But enough of the negative! In the good news department, the very umble Parson Meacham was there, preaching the gospel according to Newsweek:
MEACHAM: If you are a person of faith, particularly in the United States, you live in hope. You live in the hope that one day there will be a God who will wipe away all tears from your eyes and there'll be no more pain, an image from Revelation that's drawn from Isaiah. And if people of faith are to play a role in the public square, they must, I believe—a humble layman's opinion—they must practice humility and be—understand that the peace of God does passeth all understanding and that no one has, I believe, a monopoly on truth.Of course, this umble layman is always inspiring. Just consider this earlier bite, where he umbly impressed with his detailed knowledge of every known item of scripture:
MEACHAM: You know, in the words of the Elizabethan Prayer Book, we are all seeking the means of grace and the hope of glory, and the road by which we—the road we take to attempt to do that can be different and obviously have been throughout history. I would draw a distinction between the teachings of the church and ultimately the broader force of Christianity. There is a sense, I think, of—as God said to Job in the Old Testament in the longest sustained monologue from the Lord in the Bible, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" So he should not be presuming to act as though we know everything and that we understand all truth.Lets face it—Meacham really isnt the man to be talking about longest sustained monologues. Or, as we normally paraphrase Meacham, Blah blah blah blah harrumph zzzzzzz.
In fact, St. Paul said, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face. Now, I am known in part, soon I will be known in full." So we are all on a journey. St. Augustine defined this as the soul's journey back to God. And my sense is, the more that Benedict XVI can speak in the spirit of the past week as opposed to the past generation, he will become a force for at least an ecumenical spirit if not reconciliation.
American news culture has been changing fast over the course of the past dozen years. And make no mistake—you already live a vastly different media world from the one you once inhabited. In 1999 and 2000, the press corps changed our political history by its coverage of a White House election. Just last week, they reached the point where they put the worst on Times cover, pretending they couldnt find her mistakes and acting like her nasty insults have all been offered in good fun. Now, Meet the Press seems to be evolving into some sort of religious broadcast. On NBCS cable sister, meanwhile, religious war has become a constant theme, with Friar Buchanan glowering darkly. (Read Monday evenings transcript, for example.) Last week, an entire segment on Scarborough Country ran above a chyron which glumly said: COMING HOLY WARS.
We thought Sundays Meet the Press was just about the oddest news show weve ever seen. This would have been an abstruse discussion had it occurred on an actual Catholic channel. Occurring instead on Meet the Press, it seemed to continue the puzzling slide that is being driven by Russerts bad judgment.
RUSSERTS ENDLESS BAD JUDGMENT: Russert began his religious shows in the aftermath of September 11. And on Meet the Press, religious meant Republican. Here was Russerts overview for that Christmas 2001 program:
RUSSERT (12/23/01): You are looking at rescue workers at Ground Zero in New York City, until September 11, the site of the World Trade Center. Now, only a Christmas tree stands tall. We will always remember that day, and this morning we reflect on the emotional, and spiritual, and philosophical lessons and challenges that all seem to emanate from September 11.Two Republicans—and a cardinal. Even Fox isnt that fair-and-balanced! But then, he did the same thing the next year:
With us on this Christmas weekend, three very special guests: the first lady of the United States, Laura Bush; the archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; and the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani.
RUSSERT (12/22/02): Our issues this Sunday: On this Christmas weekend, a conversation with first lady Laura Bush, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Washington's archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, about faith, hope, and heroism.If its faith, hope and heroism, it must be Republican! On the 2001 show, by the way, Giuliani unveiled his still-evolving tale about how glad he was on September 11 that God had made George W. Bush president. And the unctuous underling had more on the topic: And I do think, Mrs. Bush, that there was some divine guidance in the president being elected. I do.
By Christmas 2003, Tim had figured out that he could even include a famous Dem when he pondered the virtues:
RUSSERT (12/28/03): Good morning. And on this holiday weekend, we set aside partisan political debates and try to find common ground on the virtues of sharing, teaching, volunteerism and patriotism. And joining us on this Sunday morning are two women from two of America's most prominent political families: the first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, and the daughter of the 35th president of the United States, Caroline Kennedy. Welcome, both.It only took three years to figure it out! But who know? Maybe Big Russ stepped in.
YOU REALLY CANT MAKE THIS CLIP UP: Go here for the video clip NBC is offering from this Sundays show. Synopsis? Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Provost, Ave Maria University, says those who disagree with the pope are not loyal to God.
ALL RELIGION, ALMOST ALL THE TIME: Russert introducing his all-religion all-the-time programs:
RUSSERT (3/27/05): Our issues this Easter Sunday—a special edition, Faith in America. With us: the author of "No god But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam," Reza Aslan; the author of "Can God and Caesar Coexist?," former congressman, Father Robert Drinan, S.J.; the author of "Real Homeland Security: The America God Will Bless," Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; the first Jewish American to be nominated for vice president of the United States, Democratic senator from Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman; the author of Newsweek's cover story, "How Jesus Became Christ," managing editor Jon Meacham; and the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It," Reverend Jim Wallis.Luckily, nothing else has occurred in the world over the past five weeks.
RUSSERT (4/3/05): Our issues this Sunday—the life and death of Pope John Paul II. How will history remember him? With us, Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Reverend Thomas Reese of the Society of Jesus, author of "Inside the Vatican," Margaret O'Brien Steinfels of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. Monsignor John Strynkowski, rector of St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn. And what now for the Catholic Church? With us, Judge Anne Burke, former chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board, Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Chester Gillis of Georgetown University and author of "Roman Catholicism in America" and Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek magazine.
RUSSERT (4/24/05): Our issues this Sunday—this morning, Pope Benedict XVI at his inaugural Mass. And yesterday, meeting the press [video]. What now for the Catholic Church and Catholic politicians in the United States? With us: Father Thomas Bohlin, U.S. Vicar of Opus Dei; Joseph Bottum, editor of "First Things" and contributor for The Weekly Standard; Thomas Cahill, author and historian; E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post; Father Joseph Fessio, who studied under Joseph Ratzinger; Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek magazine; and Sister Mary Aquin O'Neill of the Mt. St. Agnes Theological Center for Women.
By the way, does Meacham have tape of Brian Williams rolling his eyes at a NASCAR event? Every time NBC discusses the faith, the most umble parson is piously there. Or, as we typically paraphrase Meacham, Blah blah blah blah blah plop fizz.