What the heck is wrong with the media? Why do they insist on making every story fit a certain storyline? Like the one about the contrite politician who didn’t mean the offensive things they said. A politician says something stupid, and the follow-up headlines will insist that the politician either clarified or apologized for their statement, whether or not the article actually reflects such an action on the part of the politician.
Like with the recent flap regarding Congresswoman Katherine Harris’ recent comments she made in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness regarding her position on the separation of church and state. Namely, that she’s confident that there shouldn’t be one. And as was to be expected, a tepid correction has been issued, which will surely be followed by an apology and possible token act of contrition, if this initial “correction” doesn’t stop the matter. I’m sure there’s a playbook you can buy which details the exact timing of how all this will play-out.
But as is usually the case, these apologies and corrections are often not nearly as apologetic or corrective as the headlines would have us believe. The headline of this article is titled: Harris clarifies comments on religion, but as is too often the case, the clarification aspect of all this is a bit on the light side, to say the least.
Here are the only two lines of this “clarification”, which don’t get mentioned until the second half of the article:
Harris' campaign released a statement Saturday saying she had been "speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government."
The comments reflected "her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values," the statement said, adding that Harris had previously supported pro-Israel legislation and legislation recognizing the Holocaust.
Well that clarifies everything! Harris had said that the separation of church and state is a lie, that God wanted Christian laws and chooses our rulers, and that “if you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”
That sounded pretty straight forward, while this “clarification” sounds less so. I’m not sure if that first paragraph is an explanation that she was just pandering to a Christians, or if they’re just trying to deceive us regarding what Harris said. Because there is a huge difference between telling Christians they can be involved in government, a concept that no one has denied, and the idea that God picks our rulers and that it’s sinful to elect non-Christians.
And really, there are only two ways that this first paragraph counts as a clarification. Either she’s admitting that she was just pandering to Christian voters, or she’s admitting that we weren’t supposed to hear what she said. And it’s probably both. She was pandering to Christian voters and she didn’t want the other voters to know about it. I’m not sure why Republicans keep thinking that their message is only going to their target audience, but it might have something to do with Bush’s ability to do so.
But the only way that this is an honest clarification is if we’re assuming that Harris was just pandering. Because it’s not an excuse just because we weren’t supposed to hear it. That just emphasizes the problem and suggests that Harris is a liar, as well as a religious bigot. And while that might be the case, I have a hard time imagining that this is the message she’s trying to say.
So we’re really left with the extent of this clarification being that she’s admitting that she was purely pandering. Either saying these things to impress her Christian audience, or perhaps explaining why Christians need to vote for her. I’m not sure if Harris’ opponent is non-Christian, but I kind of doubt it. But still, I could imagine that this was purely a marketing decision. But if that’s the case, we really need some more clarification. It’s the only good justification she has, and yet it’s one that I’m sure she’s not willing to make.
Screwing the Jews
And then there’s the second paragraph. That’s perhaps even flakier. Because that “if you’re not electing Christians” line seems pretty straight-forward. And yet the implications of dismissing the separation of church and state would be pretty damaging to non-Christian religions. Perhaps Harris hasn’t thought this through all the way, but if Christians are expected to enact laws according to their religious beliefs, the Jews are going to get screwed. As will just about any other religious minority. That’s just an undeniable fact, no matter how often you support Israel or recognize the Holocaust.
Equally bad is the idea that the Christian god is picking our rulers; an absurd idea which most obviously isn’t happening. Because if it was, none of this would even be an issue. Because God would be picking the rulers. Sure, perhaps Harris is of the opinion that the Christian god loves the Jews too, and wouldn’t screw them over (unless he needed to). But I’m not so sure that all Jewish people would be particularly soothed by that.
And of course, that doesn’t cover any of us atheist-types at all. Apparently, Katherine doesn’t think too highly of my ability to self-govern or my right to government representation. As if our Creator hadn’t bestowed us with as many inalienable rights as our Founding Fathers had imagined. And needless to say, the idea that God is picking our rulers pretty much does away with the whole concept of freewill, which is usually the only reason cited for why evil exists in the world.
What She Said
Now perhaps Harris really did more clarifying than we were told in the article. Perhaps she really didn’t mean what she said. I can’t imagine how that could be, as her words sounded pretty straight forward. But maybe it’s possible. But even if it is, that’s not reflected in the article. So the headline shouldn’t insist that she clarified anything unless she really did. Which she didn’t. Again, her only real defense could be that she was purely pandering to her audience. And were she to admit that, it would be a clarification.
But all we got instead is an insult to our intelligence. It’s again that blanket concept that the politician didn’t say anything offensive and that any comment should automatically be construed in the “good” way. That’s a common joke I make, to rudely insult someone and then insist immediately afterward that I meant it in the “good” way. But it is just a joke, just like Katherine Harris’ clarification.
But for those multitudes who get their main news based on headlines, all of that would be lost. This was just as good as if she really did have some good explanation for her wacky statements, and that goes to explain why so many bad politicians can get away with bad things. Because journalists and editors are too busy trying to fit each story into a storyline, rather than just reporting what they see.
And even those folks who actually read the article are likely to be influenced by that headline to putting her words into a different context. Because she didn’t really clarify anything. It was really more of a defense of what she said. And that would be the better context to read her words in.
Of course, I myself am having a hard time figuring out what the proper headline should have been. Would “Harris defends comments on religion” sound too wrong? That’s the closet I could come up with, and would be the least misleading. And rather than believe that something had been murky about her initial comments which had now been clarified, readers would have realized that she had stood behind her words, which she just hadn’t meant for us to read. It’d be the truth. But somehow, that just doesn’t fit into the news story we were supposed to read.