The Briefing 11-17-17
Tags: Abortion, Audio, Journalism, Justice League, Linda Greenhouse, NFL, Planned Parenthood, Roger Goodell
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, November 17, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see one of the nation's most influential journalists claim that her donations to Planned Parenthood didn't affect her coverage of the Supreme Court, even other journalists aren’t buying it; we’ll understand how the mainstream media lost the monopoly; we’ll ask whether the NFL is taking a political turn; and we’ll come to understand why our fascination with superheroes reveals our hunger for a Savior.
One of the nation’s most influential journalists claims donations to Planned Parenthood didn’t affect her coverage of Supreme Court
Over the course of her 40 year career with the New York Times, reporter Linda Greenhouse wrote an estimated 2,800 articles, most of them about law and the U.S. Constitution, most importantly, the United States Supreme Court. For about three decades Linda Greenhouse was the primary New York Times reporter for the nation's highest court. In more recent days, she has written a couple of pieces for the opinion pages of the New York Times. Back in October she wrote an article an opinion article, entitled,
“On Contraception: It’s Church Over State.”
We discussed that article on The Briefing. In the article she complains about the Trump Administration's reversal of the Obama administration's so-called contraception mandate without adequate exclusions or religious ministries and organizations. Greenhouse was complaining about the Trump Administration action indicating, as you heard the argument in the headline, that it was a victory of religion over constitutional rights. That was her argument. Even more recently, in Sunday's edition of the New York Times she wrote another opinion piece entitled,
“The Worrisome Future of Abortion Rights.”
Again, she makes a complaint against the Trump Administration, in this case against the US Department of Justice, arguing that the Department of Justice had absolutely no business interfering with what she saw as the clear constitutional right of a 17-year-old, undocumented immigrant in US custody to demand and to gain an abortion.
At this point, the most important thing to recognize about those two articles, both of them very pro-abortion, is the fact that they did appear in the opinion section of the New York Times. But for over 30 years, indeed, for virtually 40 years, Linda Greenhouse didn't write for the opinion pages she wrote as a news reporter. Now, in a way that would certainly not please her, she has become the news herself. Just consider this article that appeared in recent days of the Washington Times by reporter Bradford Richardson,
“The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was the chief Supreme Court reporter at The New York Times for 40 years has admitted to making monthly donations to Planned Parenthood while working at the newspaper of record.”
Richardson went on to write, and I quote,
“In her new book, Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between, Linda Greenhouse says her financial support for the abortion giant had no bearing on her impartiality as a journalist.”
In Greenhouse’s words,
“'It was important to me to write a check every month and sign my name. … It was the signature of a citizen. The stories that appeared under my byline, on abortion and all other subjects, were the work of a journalist.”
From a Christian worldview perspective, the most important thing for us to understand here is that by this controversy we are now all the sudden gaining crucial insight into how the news actually gets to us, or for that matter, how the news about the US Supreme Court got to the American public in the New York Times for over 30 years. Richardson turned to the published ethical guidelines for reporters for the New York Times, where, as he writes,
“According to the newspaper’s ethical guidelines, employees are prohibited from giving money to political candidates, but are permitted to make ‘modest’ contributions to,”
Again, I quote,
“organizations that are unlikely to generate news of interest.”
Here's the big point: That is absolutely irreconcilable with regular donations to Planned Parenthood. There is no wild imagination that could state that Planned Parenthood fits within the definition of an organization that is unlikely to generate news of interest. More crucially, Planned Parenthood repeatedly came before, well you know it already, the United States Supreme Court. In one of the most significant abortion decisions of the time when Linda Greenhouse covered the court and concerning a decision that she covered extensively, Planned Parenthood is actually not only a party to the lawsuit, it was also in the name of the Supreme Court decision.
The New York Times guidelines also state, and I quote,
“Staff members should think carefully about their own contributions to various causes, bearing in mind the need for neutrality on divisive issues.”
Clearly we have a problem. Here you have 2,015 lectures given by Linda Greenhouse at Harvard University, now transformed into this new book just recently released, in which she clearly and adamantly defends the fact that she was a regular monthly donor to Planned Parenthood, and she goes on to argue, straightforwardly, that she was, as a donor, just an American citizen, but as a reporter she was a very ethical journalist. She says there was no tie or impact between her donations to Planned Parenthood and her coverage, even of abortion, before the US Supreme Court. Now it's one thing for, for instance, a conservative newspaper like the Washington Times to complain about this particular ethical lapse, but it’s not just conservative media, it’s not just the New York Times; the Washington Post, in more than one article over the course of several years, has been rather repeatedly pointing to the ethical lapses in terms of journalism of the Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times.
In just recent weeks, Eric Wemple, writing for the Washington Post tells the story this way, and I quote,
“Linda Greenhouse has nothing to hide with respect to her charitable activities. Writing in her new book … the former New York Times reporter notes that she wasn’t content to allow Planned Parenthood to deduct a monthly contribution from her bank account.”
Again in her words,
“It was important to me to write a check every month and sign my name.”
Wemple then cited again where she said,
“It was the signature of a citizen. The stories that appeared under my byline, on abortion and all other subjects, were the work of a journalist.”
She went on to say,
“If anyone ever thought those failed to measure up to professional standards, they never told me or anyone else.”
How does Whipple respond to that? Well, consider this. He writes,
“That’s one heck of an internal firewall. Skeptics of Greenhouse’s remarkable ethical divisibility are already speaking up.”
He cites Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada who said,
“Rather than meld her identities, she dons or sheds them whenever convenient.”
I turned to Greenhouse’s new book myself, and even in just the introductory pages, on page 7, we find a sentence like this where she asked,
she puts that word in quotation marks,
“with its mantra of ‘fairness’ and ‘balance,’”
again, those are put in quotation marks,
“too often inhibit journalists from separating fact from fiction and from fulfilling the duty to help maintain an informed citizenry in a democracy?”
Now, notice what we really have here in just that one sentence. We have a veteran journalist for the New York Times, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, the main interpreter of the US Supreme Court for over three decades for the nation's most influential newspaper in just a single sentence throwing overboard the journalistic categories of objectivity, fairness, and balance.
But there's more. In her book, she points back to 1989 when she joined, she said, some college classmates and half a million other people,
“in a march for reproductive rights on the national mall.”
“It was an early experience of accidental activism as well as an early encounter with journalism ethics under outside pressure.”
As she tells the story, she turned down journalistic credentials, but here we need to note, she was nonetheless a journalist, and, not only that, one of the most important and influential journalist for the New York Times. She covers abortion amongst many other controversial issues — she calls them morally salient issues — but here she doesn't apologize for the fact that she marched in a pro-abortion march. What happened next is really interesting. Editors of the Washington Post found out that some of their employees had marched in the pro-abortion march. Their response? Well, the editor and publisher of the Washington Post then barred those employees from any future coverage of abortion as an issue in the Washington Post. The word got to the editor of the New York Times, Howell Raines. She then writes,
“Raines summoned me to his office, letting me know in not quite so many words, the time had come to take a bullet for the newspaper and say I was sorry to have made a mistake. I wasn't sorry,”
“and I didn't think I'd made a mistake. The person I felt sorry for was Raines,”
who she writes was,
“unable to summon the will to defend me to an executive editor who just as clearly was not going to allow himself to be seen as less ethical than his opposite number at the Washington Post.”
Max Frankel, then the executive editor of the New York Times, looking back at the controversy wrote,
“Linda Greenhouse, our brilliant Supreme Court reporter, failed at first to see why I objected to her participating in a Washington parade in support of abortion rights. She thought her anonymous appearance in a huge crowd was not the same as signing her name to a petition.”
“I argued that it was no different than wearing a silent campaign button to a White House press briefing.”
But the point being made now is that in 2015 when Linda Greenhouse gave those lectures and now in 2017 when the book of those lectures is published, Linda Greenhouse is telling us, she's telling the whole world, that she wasn't sorry, and, for that matter, here you see the fact that Howell Raines and Max Frankel, the editor and executive editor of the New York Times, well they evidently did not understand what they were dealing with when they were dealing with Linda Greenhouse.
Now, again, from a worldview analysis perspective, what we’re really looking at here is the fact that this is a reminder that human beings produce virtually every communication we will receive by the media. Human beings are reporters and editors, human beings with their own worldview, their own prejudices, their own ideological assumptions, and their own positions on policies, some of the most controversial issues of the day. In this case, with Linda Greenhouse, the most important issue, apparently, was the question of abortion. Now one of the other problems we face is that when you look at the mainstream media there are very few conservatives in the journalistic core, the worldview of the elite journalists is almost comprehensively secular and extremely liberal. On questions of abortion I think it's quite fair to say you’d be hard-pressed to find a pro-life reporter identified openly as pro-life at almost any major American newspaper.
Finally, let’s just summarize all this by saying that it’s one thing for conservatives in the United States to complain about the liberal media, but in this case, we don't have a conservative complaint, we have a liberal boast. You gain all the confirmation you need, not by looking at the new stories about Linda Greenhouse, but by simply reading her book where she tells her own story in her own words.
How the mainstream media lost the monopoly
I want to tie that to another article, this one did run in the Washington Post on November 6, it’s by Margaret Sullivan; again, a veteran journalist. The headliner article is,
“Good Work is Muted by the Mistrust Machine.”
She's talking about the fact that so many people in America don't trust the mainstream media, and, for that matter, they don't trust their journalistic ethics. But the most important thing in this insightful article by Margaret Sullivan is where she writes this, and I quote,
“When there's no agreed-upon reality — no Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America — we’re all in trouble.”
She went on to say,
“The feeling of mistrust and disagreement on facts is backed up in terms of [surveys of public opinion].”
But it's her statement where she says,
“When there's no agreed-upon reality — no Walter Cronkite as the most trusted man in America — we’re all in trouble.”
Now, I can remember the day when Walter Cronkite was described often as the most trusted man in America. I can remember when the mainstream news that came to virtually all of us, to every household in America, came mostly from ABC and NBC and CBS News. We do live in a very different world now, rather than just having three major television networks, we have an entire universe of networks, digital media, well, we have just about every kind of news source you could imagine or invent. And it does lead to a certain amount of chaos. It does lead to a certain unfortunate fluidity in terms of even the national conversation in terms of facts, but the point is this, the old mainstream media monopoly is broken, it's broken and gone forever. There's a downside to that to be sure, but as Linda Greenhouse’s new memoir reminds us, there’s certainly an upside as well.
Is the NFL taking a political turn?
But next, while we’re thinking about major centers of influence in American society, even on major cultural and moral issues, one of the most overlooked sectors is one that doesn't have anything directly to do with politics or journalism, but rather professional sports. Jason Whitlock writing recently in the Wall Street Journal asked the question,
“Is Roger Goodell Deliberately Pushing the NFL Leftward?”
In his analysis, Whitlock, who’s identified as cohost of “Speak for Yourself” on Fox Sports, he makes very clear that there's ample documentation that Roger Goodell, whose father was a rather liberal United States Senator, is indeed, in terms of documentation, he is indeed taking the NFL leftward, but the important thing for our recognition is that this means using the NFL in its prominent place in American society in order to move that society leftward in a more socially liberal position as well. Whitlock points out that several of the NFL leaders have complained that Roger Goodell is in some sense ineffective, but Whitlock says the bigger danger is that he’s actually effective. Whitlock then writes, and I quote,
“Remember that the NFL was cultivated into prominence by Pete Rozelle, a pro-war conservative. In the 1960s, Rozelle hired a World War II veteran-turned-filmmaker, Ed Sabol, to produce highlights, commercials and documentaries that marketed the sport as patriotic and militaristic. Sabol’s NFL Films,”
“made football feel more American than baseball.”
He went on to say that Sable's work was
“so critical to the league’s wild growth that in 2011 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. … By contrast,”
“a year ago Mr. Goodell hired a Democratic political strategist, Joe Lockhart, as the NFL’s executive vice president of communications. Mr. Lockhart, best known as President Clinton’s press secretary for two years, also worked for Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry.”
That pedigree is not so much just the issue, as is the documentation that under Lockhart and Goodell, the NFL has been oddly enough taking political positions on issues that do not apparently have anything to do with football.
Writing for USA Today, Glenn Harlan Reynolds, who is a law professor at the University of Tennessee, makes the observation about the NFL, but also about other aspects of elite culture. He writes about the virtue signaling that is now taking place virtually anywhere you look in terms of those cultural elites. He then writes this,
“A century ago, America had different, overlapping ruling classes with different values: Corporate moguls seldom sought the approval of press barons who seldom cared what academics thought about them and vice versa. Now,”
he says, however,
“they’re all cut from the same cloth, which makes this phenomenon much more pronounced, and much more dangerous.”
Now we have, he says, a unified ruling class that is unified in terms of a very secular and progressively socially liberal worldview. The cultural elites, as professor Reynolds says, are very much committed, ideologically, they say, to diversity, and, yet, when it comes to the intellectual elites, they have their own very, very clear diversity problem.
Why our fascination with superheroes reveals our hunger for a savior
Finally, I have been this week in Providence, Rhode Island for meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society, but in the very same facility there's a different convention: Comic-Con — a convention of comic strips. And at the very same time, today is the release of a major motion picture known as “Justice League.” Brian Truitt, writing at USA Today explains,
“A Herculean effort was needed to bring Justice League to the screen, with ups and downs along the way. Still,”
“Superman's got jokes. The biggest DC Comics superhero movie to date,”
“which arrives in theaters Thursday night, navigated family tragedy, historically bad reviews and a change in filmmakers.”
I'll admit right up front that I don't know much about comic books, these characters or the story line, but it was interesting to hear the actor who plays Superman say,
“it’s important to me that every aspect of Superman is represented in an honest and true way to the nature of why he was created in 1938.”
The reporter then goes on to tell us,
“In comic-book lore, the Justice League didn’t come together until 22 years later to take down a giant interstellar starfish. When that villain comes up in conversation, it’s clear [that the producers are] already thinking sequel: ‘Shout out to Starro the Conquerer and let him know we’re still coming for him, should he ever choose to invade Earth once again. We’ll give him a sharp punch to the thorax.’”
Now, I'll admit that I’m already lost in terms of that storyline. I'll admit, I really never even knew of a giant interstellar starfish. But the reason I'm talking about the Justice League today is primarily because of a comment in this USA Today article by Ben Affleck who plays Batman. He said this,
“Part of the appeal of this genre is wish fulfillment: Wouldn’t it be nice,”
“if there was somebody who can save us from all this, save us from ourselves, save us from the consequences of our actions and save us from people who are evil?”
Yes, indeed, wouldn't it be nice. Of course, Christians looking at this understand that here you have a straightforward cry for what can only be answered by the gospel of Jesus Christ. There's absolutely nothing wrong with G-rated entertainment based upon imaginary superheroes. That is indeed a form of very understandable human wish fulfillment. But my heart was genuinely moved by seeing that actor, Ben Affleck, suggest that it would really be nice to think that there
“was somebody who can save us from all this, [someone who could] save us from ourselves,”
and then in the most incredibly specific language he said, someone who can
“save us from the consequences of our actions.”
But the world and all we sinners will not be saved by a superhero, only by a Savior.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’m speaking to you from Providence, Rhode Island, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.