The test of a first-rate intelligence, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas and still function.
With that in mind, I wonder why the Indianapolis Star columnist Erika Smith can't accept the fact that, while she supports gay marriage as a black woman, not all black people share her view -- and that especially includes the black clergy members she pointed a fiery finger at in her column earlier this week.
She is "astounded" by their hypocrisy and asks, "Why would a group of people who have experienced discrimination and been second-class citizens want to wish the same on other Americans?"
I can answer that. Because their belief system is different from Erika Smith's. Because they are Bible-based Christians favoring a literal interpretation of the Bible. Anyone who fails to understand the power of that worldview will never understand fundamental Christianinity, or for that matter Islam. Failure to understand "the other" is a big mistake when chastizing "the other."
One reason Indiana was successful in paring back HJR-3 and holding off a referendum vote (perhaps killing the issue entirely) is, in my view, the strategy of Freedom Indiana, which has a platform of respecting other points of view, assuming the best and not the worst about those with whom one disagrees and working slowly and judiciously to try to win hearts and minds.
I was going to let this go, but a letter to the editor today, commenting on Smith's stance, was so right-on that I wanted to weigh in. Here is the gist of what Richard Rowlinson of Fishers argues, under a headline, "Ministers are free to hold religious beliefs."
First, "I really have no problem with people making an argument for or against gay marriage. Civilized and reasoned debate should be a cornerstone of American society.
"Unfortunately, progressives have become incrasingly uncivilized and irrational when faced with arguments that counter their 'world view'...
"In Smith's world, anyone who doesn't think like a progressive, especially if they are black, is a hypocrite."
Religion is a strong molder of belief systems, probably as much as race. Rather than call out black religious conservatives for being hypocritical, why not get on with the business of accepting where they are coming from and embracing the notion, as Fitzgerald said, that there is merit in holding two contradictory ideas in one's head. I.e., I support gay marriage; I accept that not everyone believes as I do, because not everyone has had the same life experiences as I have.
I am amused by the Indianapolis Star's effort to generate sweetness and light in the world, especially (and only) when it comes to mean online comments directed at its fragile staffers.
The premise is something like: the Internet allows people the freedom to be jerks. But don't be a jerk. Remember, reporters are "real people" and it's nice to be nice, so if nothing else, you can always say, "your hair looks nice." Dont be mean to us!!!
As so many have already said in comments on the Star's website regarding this campaign: "Lame."
Worse. Are we talking about delicate hothouse flowers here, or paid intrepid reporters for a metropolitan daily who should be impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous readers?
I was once a columnist at the Star. I got my share of mean and hateful comments. As my onetime boss Ted Daniels said once about the features department of which he was editor: "We want to get angry letters. It shows people are reading us and talking about us."
I had been on the columnist beat less than a week when a male caller left this message on my phone: "Ruth. You're fat. You're dumb. And you're a dickhead."
Charming. Fortunately, back in my day, reporters -- even women!!!! -- had thick skins and big shoulders, apparently. I thought the reader's feedback was hilarious, filed it away in my mental notebook as a classic and went on to write and get more insults, as well as an occasional attagirl.
Briefly, when you have a big public forum -- in other words, when you are writing for a newspaper -- you are ideally going to generate buzz. A columnist in particular has a wide berth to speak his or her mind, and that includes writing a rant.
Readers are allowed to rant right back.
And since we stil have free speech, and not santitized "nice" speech, readers are going to call reporters names and insult them in a variety of ways. No matter how cute and sweet and nice and girly the reporters really are.
Of course it's mean to insult someone. But in the big bad world of journalism and daily life, it happens. Get over it.
And be glad someone is reading your drivel.
The Roman Catholic Church is in need of a good public relations agency in Indiana.
The issue is the Catholic priest from Gary, Ind., the Rev. Michael Maginot, who performed a so-called exorcism in a home in Gary where a mother claimed demons had possessed her three children, aged 7, 9 and 12.
This story was Page 1 news in the Indianapolis Star Jan. 26. Since then, it has been gobbled up by tabloid press around the world, and it has of course attracted the usual vultures: TV types who have signed on the mother -- and shockingly, the priest -- for more publicity. Yes, a Catholic priest, himself a canon lawyer, has cut a money deal for appearing in more sensationalized TV accounts of this wretched, silly and highly manipulated story.
A friend, the Rev. Marie Siroky, a United Church of Christ (UCC) pastor and a former Catholic nun, now lives in Northwest Indiana, after residing in Indy. She too has taken an interest in this story.
As a representative of a religious group, with more than a passing understanding of the Catholic Church, she shared with me her indignation at the flippant reporting by the Star and, even more, the frivolous, shallow and media-savvy approach taken by the priest.
Rev. Maginot was not born yesterday; he is a grey-haired canon lawyer in the church. Before this splash, his claim to fame in 2004 was legally protecting Catholic priests who stand accused of a crime; he himself argued against submitting to a criminal background check in his diocese for all priests, and he refused such a check. The bishop's intent was to weed our sex offenders or other criminals.
But here he is now, on the national stage, bringing shame to the faith. Even the Catholic and conservative Bill O'Reilly challenged the priest on O'Reilly's show, hammering home that Father Maginot HAD NEVER EVEN MET THE CHILDREN yet still performed an exorcism. He did have permission from the bishop for the exorcism; he appealed once, was denied, and appealed again, and the exorcism request was granted.
Then came the Star and the subsequent TV/let's make a deal frenzy.
On Feb. 7, Rev. Siroky contacted the docese of Gary to ask pertinent questions and voice her concerns. Here is some of what director of communications, Debbie Bosak, said in response, speaking on behalf of the bishop, the Rev. Dale Melczek.
"Father Maginot did not request nor would he have received permission to sign a 'movie deal' had he sought permission from the bishop. The official stance of the diocese from the beginning is that this is to be considered the performance of a very private ministry and, as such for reasons of confidentiality, we could not and would not comment or enter into any public discussion of the matter. Bishop Melczek first read about the movie contract and all the other media hype in the newspaper at the same time as everyone else."
Ms. Bosak goes on to explain that Catholic priests are assigned certain duties, but what they choose to do with their free or private time is up to their discretion. She acknowledged that the priest did receive permission to perform the exorcism in 2012, then adds:
"...beyond that, why Father Maginot decided going so public with the story is puzzling and disappointing to us all."
It is indeed puzzling, disappointing and very frustrating to many Catholics as well.
And back to the original question: why would the Indianapolis Star -- as O'Reilly says, the state's largest newspaper -- go tabloid? Obviously the three children, with the family having been under investigation by the Department of Child Services, have been under enough stress. Why do even more harm?
A side issue, but a critical one regarding the newspaper's decisions: Rev. Sirokey and I agree that there is historically very little understanding of Catholicism in what I call the Bible Belt of Central Indiana. The newspaper has nobody covering religion/faith now, as far as I can tell. So given the paper's worldview, it perhaps makes sense for the Star to run with a story like this.
However, what makes no sense is irreponsible reporting as well as irresponsible actions by the priest.
The two parties are tied together. Both are at fault.
My friend and fellow journalist Jim Hopkins is closing down Gannettblog after 7 years of ferocious bulldog journalism, having kept a heroic and credible watch on Gannett Corp. as only a former investigative reporter/business reporter for USA Today could do.
First, a note of thanks to Jim and gratitude for his tireless enthusiasm. He covered Gannett like a blanket; he smothered those mothers in HQ when they tried to put their PR spin on things, and instead he gave us scintillating, wise and hard analysis. Thanks also to his readers, who were prolific with tips about the goings-on in Gworld.
His comments about shutting the blog appared yesterday on Facebook, as well as on his site.
Here's the juice:
"...with the purchase of 20-station TV company Beloin late December, Gannett is no longer the same company. Corporate projects broadcasting will eventually account for more than half of all earnings; throw in digital, and the figure is forecast to rise even higher. In other words, Gannett is now a TV giant with a side interest in newspapers, its mainstay business since 1906, when Frank Gannett founded the company with a single daily in Elmira, N.Y.
"Gannett is also a much smaller enterprise. It has eliminated more than 20,000 jobs since the workforce peaked at 53,000 in 2003. Revenue fell to $5.2 billion last year vs. a record $8 billion in 2006. GCI shares trade for $28 vs. an all-time high of $90 in 2004.
"And now Wall Street is raising pressure on Corporate to spin off the troubled newspaper division. I had much of this in mind in early December, when I wrote about Gannett's digital efforts in a lengthy post that also serves as a history of this blog."
So what I am haring is Gannett as a newspaper enterprise is pretty much history.
So it goes.
All that said, good luck to the courageous reporters still left telling good, accurate and truthful stories. Especially, good luck to Hopkins, because he did that job both at Gannett and as an outside force.
The Indianapolis Star's Jan. 26 Page 1 story, "The exorcisms of Latoya Ammons," while it certainly attracted major media attention, is journalism at its worst -- exploitative, manipulative and sadly, an ideal example of why reporters at the newspaper need strong, thoughtful editors.
First, the family is clearly troubled, as the reporter made note, based on files from the Department of Child Services. The mother, who claims her children were possessed by demons (especially the most vulnerable, the 7-year-old), had been investigated in the past for neglect of her kids' education for not having them in school regularly. This happened twice, in 2009 and 2012.
A child psychologist observed that the youngest child tended to act possessed whenever he was challenged, redirected or asked questions he did not wish to answer. The psychologist said, "This appears to be an unfortunate and sad case of a child who has been induced into a delusional system perpetuated by his mother and potentially reinforced" by other relativews. The problems are behavioral, no spiritual or demonic.
The "haunted" Gary home where demons allegedly were spreading oil and causing a child to climb walls had been lived in previously with no complaints; nor do the current tenants have problems, said the landlord.
Perhaps the most egregious twist is the involvement of a Catholic preist from the Gary diocese, the Rev. Mike Maginot, who has already signed a TV deal (as has the mother).
We don't know too much about this guy, except that he resisted a criminal background check required of all priests in his diocese on the grounds it was too intrusive. Exorcisms are rare in the Catholic church, and even rarer when a priest is a publicity hound. What his motivations are, God only knows. Unlike the family, he was not subjected to a psychological evaluation.
The children are the victims in the case, and not of demons, but of an irreponsible mother, grandmother and other adults who, for monetary gain, have attempted to create a frightful belief system in their lives.
The Star should not have touched this stoy with a 10-foot pole blessed by holy water.
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