Again, no one has to agree with those who thought the promo was out of place. But remember last weeks New York Times survey; 70 percent of people surveyed said they were very or somewhat concerned that television, movies and popular music were lowering moral standards in this country. Given that general cultural framework, its bizarre when liberals seem to suggest that no one could have found that promo offensive until they were prompted by slick interest groups. Rich and Follman may as well live on the moon. Theres a word for their instinct: delusional.
No one has to agree with those who thought the promo was out of place. But this episode defines a basic problem for some libs and some Democrats (again, no Dem pol would ever engage in the clowning displayed in Richs piece). Heres the problem: How do you run a party for the average person if you neither like nor respect average people? If youre so repulsed by their values and reactions that you pretend they cant possibly exist?
According to the Times survey, 70 percent of American people share a concern about media morality. No one has to agree with that view, but its absurd to pretend that these people dont exist, as Rich and Follman seem eager to do. By the way, whats the real irony for off-the-shelf liberals when they decry the reactions of average Americans? Here it is: When liberals assail those who complained about that promo, they take the side of millionaire ABC moguls who decided to run that stupid promotion so they could afford their third Mercedes. These liberals arent simply trashing average people; theyre throwing in with the fakes and the phonies who currently run our Big Dumb-Ass Networks. But oh, what kind of liberalism is this which goes from bad to worse?
BROOKS (11/30/04): Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.We agree that Falwell and Sharpton brought little of value to the discussion. But well have to hold that great journalist label for Russert. The discussion he ran was quite disjointed, and he displayed a tendency weve recently discussed—a reluctance to challenge religious figures when their political presentations dont seem to make sense.
Inviting these two bozos onto Meet the Press to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D.H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.
Consider a question Russert posed to Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, who should be punished for illegal abortions? Land gave a standard, puzzling reply—only the doctor should be prosecuted:
RUSSERT (11/28/04): If abortion is outlawed in the state and abortions are performed by a doctor in that state, whos prosecuted? The doctor?Weird. No one would argue this position if a mother hired a hit-man to kill a six-month old child. If abortion is murder, and a mother requests one, why isnt the mother a murderer too? The question simply begs to be asked, but Russert wasnt up to the challenge. Result? About ten minutes later, Land said this:
LAND: The doctor.
RUSSERT: The mother?
LAND: I see mothers as victims. Ive worked in crisis pregnancy centers. I've counseled women who'd had post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome. When an abortion takes place, there are at least two victims, the mother and the unborn child. I would prosecute the doctors.
LAND (11/28/04): Were in church on Sunday night. The point is—you know, look. [Sharpton] said we shouldn't impose values on others. Look, when a mother has an abortion, she is imposing her values on an unborn child. And it is always a fatal imposition because the baby dies.Earlier, the mother in an abortion case was a pitiable victim who shouldnt be punished. Now it turned out that such a woman was imposing her values on an unborn child—and it is always a fatal imposition. How do these outlooks hang together? We cant tell you—because Russert didnt ask. As weve noted, Big Journalists tend to avert their gaze when religious figures make odd presentations. Maybe Land could have explained his twin views. But Russert didnt bother to ask.
FALWELL: Amen. Amen.
Of course, Russert was shallow and empty on every topic, producing a worthless, disjointed discussion. At one point, he even indulged in a bit of clowning about—what else—Desperate Housewives:
RUSSERT (11/28/04): Two interesting developments over the last month or so. A report came out that the state with the lowest level of divorce is Massachusetts. The states with the highest level are the so-called Bible Belt in the South.Snore. Russert was running with that trope from last Mondays New York Times, pretending to be amazed by the fact that people in the red states watch Desperate Housewives too. Of course, the program is only watched by 20-25 million people in a nation whose population is close to 300 million. Most people in the South dont watch the program. Luckily, the much-reviled Falwell turned out to be brighter than Brooks much-admired great journalist:
SHARPTON: Thats because they watch Desperate Housewives.
RUSSERT: Also Desperate Housewives, a widely viewed television series, particularly in the South. Why is it that the red states—
FALWELL (continuing directly): Because the South doesn't belong to the New Testament church anymore than the North.Duh. Ive never watched it, Falwell said. But then, most people have never watched it, in every region of the country. Russerts premise was utterly pointless—but the premise came from the New York Times, so all great journalists knew to use it. Soon, Russert was wasting everyones time with another pointless premise:
FALWELL: We have a responsibility to preach the Gospel. But I would take that poll a little further. Among born-again, Bible-believing Christians who take the Bible as the word of God, you'll find those stats are non—
RUSSERT: They don't watch Desperate Housewives?
FALWELL: I hope they don't.
LAND: I don't.
FALWELL: I have never watched it and I've—
LAND: We're in church on Sunday night.
RUSSERT (11/28/04): On Desperate Housewives—Newsweek says that the creator of Desperate Housewives is a conservative, gay Republican.Russert never asked a question about this new premise. But why should anyone be surprised if Desperate Housewives is written by a Republican? In that famous exit poll, only a third of Bushs voters said that they voted on moral values. Not every Republican is socially conservative. Everyone on the planet knows this, but Russert raised the pointless point anyway—and once again, Falwell and Land were brighter than their great host.
SHARPTON: That's what I was going to say. Do you find that—
FALWELL: Well, the fact that he's a gay Republican means he should join the Democratic Party.
RUSSERT: Conservative, gay Republican.
LAND: Obviously a fiscally conservative gay Republican, not a socially. Not socially. Not socially.
Brooks complained that Falwell and Sharpton lowered the intellectual discourse on Sunday. Wed have to suggest that a certain great journalist beat his two guests to the punch.
MORE GREAT JOURNALISM: But then, less-than-great journalism is the norm when Big Major Pundits limn the religious. Consider Brooks discussion of John Stott in this mornings column. If evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose, Brooks writes. Shouldnt, then, the gentlemans views be subject to normal analysis?
Wed like to know more about Stotts views. But Brooks doesnt seem to be up to the task. In paragraph 10, he describes Stotts thinking:
BROOKS (11/30/04): Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes:Stott doesnt believe that truth is plural? We dont really know what that means. Nor do we understand the murky but pleasing phrase, relativizing good and evil. And Stott doesnt believe that truth is something humans are working toward? We especially dont understand that claim. Indeed, we dont understand it because we read paragraph 8, in which Brooks seemed to say something different:
''It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ.
BROOKS (11/30/04): There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing ''thoughtful allegiance'' to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously.Say what? If Stott is constantly probing the mysteries of Christ and exploring paradoxes, what does it mean when were told, two paragraphs later, that he doesnt believe that truth is something humans are working toward? Please note: This isnt a criticism of Stott, a man whose views may make perfect sense. Its a criticism of the great journalists who pen pleasing twaddle about public religion. In what way is Gods revelation complete if Stott has to struggle to figure it out? There are real oppositions between faith and reason, but well-mannered journalists—scribes like Brooks—seem to know not to point this fact out.