Dan Levin of the New York Times doesn’t like the suggestion that he’s got an ax to grind with Christian schools. Levin, who covers the youth beat for the Newspaper of Record™, recently
Solicitation of this kind is one clue that a reporter from the media has already allowed his agenda to write the story. When a reporter asks his readers to send in material for an upcoming article, you can bet that the article’s tone, slant, and message have already been determined. This is especially true when the journalist doing the solicitation writes for an outlet like the Times. He knows what type of people will respond just as his readers know what kind of material he wants to receive.
That’s what it sounded like to me. Is that what Levin meant?
The #exposechristianschools hashtag he spoke of recently proliferated when the Washington Post discovered that the Second Lady, Karen Pence, works as a part-time art teacher at a Christian school in Virginia that maintains a code of conduct prohibiting homosexual behavior and homosexual advocacy. Somehow this became
There’s absolutely nothing scandalous about a Christian school having a code of conduct, nor is there anything scandalous about Mrs. Pence, who is a Christian, choosing to work there. If reporters wanted to write about a real scandal, they might want to cover the youth-targeted homosexual recruitment and indoctrination efforts that are sweeping the nation. For more on that, see
or the Harvey Milk state holiday that California public school students are forced to suffer through, named of course for the
The Covington Catholic media firestorm that displaced “art-teachergate” seemed to be tinged with the same anti-Christian bigotry that had been directed at Karen Pence. We soon learned that Covington Catholic was just brimming with — gasp! — “homophobia.” Whatever
It’s therefore quite understandable that media critics would be skeptical of a New York Times reporter who wants to write a story about Christian schools. It smells like a hatchet job. Dan Levin quickly explained
that it was not his intention to “expose” Christian schools himself, but merely to write about #exposechristianschools as a trending hashtag.
No agenda here! Just trying to cover a story.
That might be a little more convincing if “art-teachergate,” “Covingtongate,” “valedictoriangate,” and the hashtag in question hadn’t been contrived media creations. Here was a media figure intending to produce yet more media coverage about this month’s media creations. And we’re supposed to believe that he’s merely reporting on a cultural trend from a distance.
My suspicion is that Dan Levin had already written the story in his mind, he just needed quotes to fill in the blanks. “Teachers told me only Christians can go to heaven!” “Someone measured my skirt!” Etc., etc.
Now that Levin has been called out for his agenda, he is working to counteract the impression that he is part of the #exposechristianschools movement he intends to write about. One look at his Twitter feed
shows me that he changed his tune quite a bit after the internet backlash he received about his original solicitation. Now he retweets lots of young people who say that they had excellent experiences in Christian schools, whereas prior to January 24, he retweeted nothing but anti-Christian bile. Someone got exposed here but it wasn’t Christian school
Dan Levin strikes me as a very typical reporter. He seems to have an agenda but is unwilling to admit it even to himself. But who would? The “A” word sounds so sinister.
This is where cognitive dissonance kicks into high gear. Reporters who know darned well that they have agendas must rationalize to themselves why they should be allowed to cover stories that they clearly cannot distance themselves from emotionally. The process of rationalization begins with the assumption that a good agenda shouldn’t really be called an agenda because agendas are, by definition, bad. So, a reporter who merely wants to advance “civil rights” or protect our air and water cannot be guilty of pushing an agenda … can he?
Yes, he can.
The first problem with this rationalization is that agendas are not bad by definition; they are bad by connotation
. Good or bad, an agenda is still an agenda and it should still be checked at the newsroom door. Agendas spawn biases, and biases warp stories.
See the Covington Catholic kerfuffle for a good example of that. The story was just too good to check. Young white men from Kentucky, who attend an all-boys Catholic school, wearing MAGA hats, attending a pro-life rally, encounter an American Indian who at least claimed to be a Vietnam veteran. There are just so many reasons for liberal reporters to despise these kids that the story practically writes itself.
Of course the Covington boys acted like louts — and racists too! Reporters who had been conditioned to see American Indians as the ultimate victim group took all of Nathan Phillips’s lies at face value. They checked nothing and they did no legwork to track down other videos that might have provided some much-needed context. If they had, they would have seen that the boys themselves were accosted by not one but two
The second problem with this rationalization is that everyone thinks his own agenda is good. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have adopted it as his own. If only bad agendas can truly be called agendas, then only the other guy can possibly have one.
Consider for a moment the now disgraced Mary Mapes. She is the former “60 Minutes” producer who lost her job over forged National Guard memos that she intended to foist on the American people in the heat of the 2004 election campaign. According to Mapes’s father, Don Mapes,
she “went into journalism with an ax to grind, that is, to promote feminism — radical
feminism, I might say — and liberalism.”
The way Don Mapes talks about “radical feminism,” it sounds like a very bad thing. I happen to agree. But would Mary Mapes and her journalistic colleagues agree? They might prefer the term women’s rights
but I doubt that they would shy away from pushing their agenda under a name of their choosing.
And what about her other agenda: liberalism? To most liberals I’ve ever met, liberalism isn’t a bias or even a political orientation — it’s just common decency. Is that really an “agenda?”
Why yes, it is. And it’s this agenda that got Mary Mapes in so much trouble. Memogate was the crazy but true story of a network news department gone mad with confirmation bias. Mapes & Co. knew in their heart of hearts that Bush had gone AWOL and nothing could change their minds. This was particularly important during the 2004 election campaign when the foremost issue was the Iraq War. They wanted so badly to get the word out, to sway public opinion, and to turn an election, that they didn’t seem to notice that military memoranda that were supposedly written in 1973 were clearly composed using Microsoft Word!
This didn’t stop Mapes from writing on page twenty of her book, “Journalists should do their best to set aside personal views when doing their jobs, and that’s what I’ve always done in trying to meet the highest standards of fairness and accuracy.”
Did Mary Mapes have an agenda? Of course she did! She was practically working as an adjunct to the Democratic Party, hence her unscrupulous coordination
with John Kerry’s campaign manager, Joe Lockhart. But her agenda was, in her mind at least, the very best that a person could have. So why sully it by calling it an agenda?
The media in this country are basically incorrigible. The root of their problem is their incessant pushing of personal agendas, which they would be loath to admit even having if called by their proper name. So, they churn out garbage stories with disturbing regularity. Rather than informing the public with dispassionate professionalism, they crusade for causes that they hold dear. Until the journalism profession starts upholding some professional standards, I don’t see anything changing.