The Gray Lady's Gospel Crusade by Terry Mattingly

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Wed May 9 01:01:46 EDT 2001

The Gray Lady's gospel crusade

By Terry Mattingly

 Dr. Warren Hern had "just finished performing an abortion for the last
patient of the morning" when he heard that James Kopp had been arrested
in France for the 1998 murder of a Buffalo, N.Y., abortionist.

Readers of the New York Times learned this symbolic detail in an op-ed
piece entitled "Free Speech that Threatens My Life" in which Hern
attacked the fiercest critics of his late-term abortion practice in
Boulder, Colo. His column followed an editorial restating the paper's
unwavering support for abortion rights, which underscored a page-one
story about the arrest.

This three-punch combination several weeks ago indicated that the Times
wanted newsmakers and opinion shapers to realize that this was more
than an abortion story. This was a parable about the meaning of life
and truth. An earlier profile of the anti-abortion extremist in the
newspaper's Sunday magazine made that absolutely clear.

"The question of Kopp's innocence or guilt is finally less absorbing
than the consequences of his search for a higher good, sure and
unchanging, to sustain him in a fallen world," concluded David Samuels.
"It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us
inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have
found them are crazy."

So take that, Pope John Paul II. And you too, Billy Graham.

This remarkable credo was more than a statement of one journalist's
convictions, said William Proctor, a Harvard Law School graduate and
former legal affairs reporter for the New York Daily News. Surely, the
"world that most of us inhabit" cited by Samuels is, in fact, the
culture of the New York Times and the faithful who draw inspiration
from its sacred pages.

"It is rare to see a journalist openly state what so many people at the
Times seem to think," said Proctor, whose book "The Gospel According to
the New York Times" analyzes themes in more than 6,000 articles from
the past 25 years. "But it's true. They really are convinced that the
millions of people out in Middle America who believe that some things
are absolutely true and some things are absolutely false are crazy and
probably dangerous, to boot."

Proctor, meanwhile, is absolutely convinced that this affects the
newspaper's work on moral and theological issues, ranging from abortion
to education, from the rights of unpopular religious minorities to
efforts to redefine controversial terms such as "marriage" and

But critics are wrong if they claim that the New York Times is a
bastion of secularism, he stressed. In its own way, the newspaper is
crusading to reform society and even to convert wayward
"fundamentalists." Thus, when listing the "deadly sins" that are
opposed by the Times, he deliberately did not claim that it rejects
religious faith. Instead, he said the world's most influential
newspaper condemns "the sin of religious certainty."

"Yet here's the irony of it all. The agenda the Times advocates is
based on a set of absolute truths," said Proctor. Its leaders are
"absolutely sure that the religious groups they consider intolerant and
judgmental are absolutely wrong, especially traditional Roman
Catholics, evangelicals and most Orthodox Jews. And they are just as
convinced that the religious groups that they consider tolerant and
progressive are absolutely right."

Naturally, believers in the flocks that are ignored or attacked tend to
get mad and many try to ignore the Times. This is understandable, said
Proctor, but precisely the opposite of what they should do. He urges
the newspaper's critics to pay even closer attention to what it
reports, while contrasting its coverage with a variety of other wire
services and publications -- across the political and cultural

Trying to avoid the New York Times is like fighting gravity, said
Proctor. It is the high church, the magisterium, for the artists,
journalists and thinkers that shape popular culture.

"If people tune all that out," he said, " how are they going to know
how to defend their own beliefs? People need information and they need
discernment. The first part of that statement is just as important as
the second part. ... What are you going to do, try to pretend that news
and information don't matter?"

 Terry Mattingly ( is senior fellow for journalism at the
Council For Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. He
writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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