The timidity of our press corps

Back during the 2008 campaign for the Presidency, Obama, Biden and McCain all found their religious viewpoints examined in great detail. In March 2008, ABC News felt comfortable covering the religious viewpoints, and specifically the religious advisers of, Democratic primary opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as well as those of John McCain. In September 2007, the Pew Research Center said frankly that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith was held against him to a degree, but in general, the public was inclined to see a mildly-religious candidate as a better one.

Knowledge Resources provides a guide to all of the 2008 candidates' views. Here are some of Sarah Palin's:

Palin’s Pentecostalism and strong social conservatism were among the factors that made her a controversial figure as the election progressed. She spoke about the role her faith played in helping her deal with criticism and her confidence that God would guide the election. She was criticized for stating that U.S. soldiers were on “a task from God” in Iraq, which she later qualified by explaining that she meant that she believes “there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good.” In her interview with Couric, Palin also affirmed her commitment to teaching evolution in school as an accepted scientific principle while allowing for discussion of creationism in classroom debates. However, Palin largely shied away from speaking about religion, discussing her beliefs and their influence on her politics almost exclusively when she was asked about them.

Pentecostalism was developed from 1913 to 1918 and modified in 1946. One of its primary tenets is:

...the Godhead does not consist of three distinct Persons with one substance. Instead, the single Person performs various roles to which He assigns the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As a direct result of this belief, Pentecostalism believe in "Jesus only" baptism and not baptism in the Holy Trinity and they also believe that the speaking of tongues during baptism indicates a "true" baptism. Did the media in general cover these rather unusual beliefs? In September 2008, PBS did a quickie, once-over-lightly survey of Palin's viewpoints, stating only that

Well, we've been reporting that evangelicals and conservative Catholics who were very lukewarm about John McCain have been thrilled with the selection of Sarah Palin, and so they're working harder, and they are energized.

Granted, most of the short piece focused upon how abortion and religion intersected and not upon religion per se. A Columbia Journalism Review piece from the same month goes over the various controversies over religion and Palin that occurred during the campaign and is notable for the fact that it mostly cites blogs and fairly low-profile reporters. The Washington Times and Rachel Maddow are the highest-profile sources that get cited. So no, the media in general did not cover Palin's beliefs the way they did Obama's, McCain's, Clinton's and Biden's.

The same type of shying away from uncomfortable topics is apparent in the media's coverage of race, specifically, in the way that the right wing treats it and our President. That there's racism being expressed by right-wing Republicans and especially by the Tea Party, is getting harder and harder to deny. The blogger Digby says, concerning Sarah Palin's use of the very racially loaded term "half-black":

That Palin would use this particular description in this particular discussion is revealing. Nobody other than right wingers with racist baggage describe him that way. I give her a break simply because I don't think she's sophisticated enough with language to necessarily know what she's saying.

Media Matters surveys the recent racist behavior and speech of prominent right wing figures like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and wonders why their views aren't really being covered by the media. The Washington Post/CNN media critic Howard Kurtz recently spoke about Rush Limbaugh's commentary, but MMFA noted some interesting sides to the story that Kurtz politely overlooks:

But please note the recent race-baiting comments that Kurtz could have highlighted on the same Reliable Sources show -- the ones in which Limbaugh claimed Obama was destroying America on purpose in order to make it pay for its historical sin of slavery and discrimination. Kurtz had nothing to say about the jaw-dropping attack that Limbaugh had made, claiming Obama was some sort of black Manchurian Candidate who ran for office because he hates America and specifically, because he resents white America. I wonder if Kurtz failed to highlight those dark, hateful comments because it would be virtually impossible for anyone to suggest that a case could be made that Limbaugh's race-baiting Obama comments were correct.

The problem appears to be that, as with Palin's apparently-heretical religion, it's simply not possible to really discuss racial issues and how Republicans are talking about them without getting, well, judgmental. Kurtz simply can't quote Limbaugh's more jaw-droppingly outrageous comments without appearing to be taking sides against him.

There are two kinds of objectivity. There is the kind where one holds one's fire and carefully considers both or more sides and then delivers a carefully-considered judgment, a judgment that one can comfortably back up with the facts. Then there's the other kind, where one simply doesn't take any position at all and holds ones' fire indefinitely. When one is asked for an opinion, one mumbles or engages in the equivalent of mumbling by delivering a fuzzy or an incoherent opinion.

Unfortunately, our traditional media press corps appears to have gotten very comfortable with the latter kind of pseudo-objectivity that only appears to be objectivity. I call it cowardice.

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