A 30-ring circus | WORLD
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A 30-ring circus

Tribulations and trials highlight a fortnight’s news 

Impeachment hearings play in a pub in Portland, Maine. Robert F. Bukaty/AP

A 30-ring circus
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During the 1970s, former advertising executive Jerry Mander wrote about the early days of television, when only three channels existed: “It was as if the whole nation had gathered at a gigantic three-ring circus. Those who watched the bicycle act believed their experience was different from that of those who watched the gorillas or the flame eater, but everyone was at the same circus.”

The first two weeks of November felt more like a 30-ring circus in American news and politics, but many viewers watching the same act in the same ring weren’t seeing the same thing.

As televised impeachment hearings began, American opinion appeared divided along political lines.

President Trump maintained that his scrutinized phone calls with the Ukrainian president had been “perfect.” Some Republicans agreed, but others might have resonated with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s opinion: It’s not a good practice for a U.S. president to ask a foreign government to investigate an American, “but I don’t see it as impeachable.”

Democratic presidential candidates faced pressure to render ironclad verdicts, and some candidates who also serve as senators seemed to have decided pre-trial: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the impeachment inquiry should proceed quickly because Trump is “probably the most corrupt president in the modern history of this country.” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., put it simply: “Dude gotta go.”

Trump mulled testifying in writing, and he drew big crowds on the campaign trail. At a rally in Louisiana, he told a crowd that “evangelical leaders” had called to tell him: “The church has never been more energized as it is right now because of what they are trying to do to our president. Ever.”

If that’s true, it’s tragic.

Many evangelicals do support Trump and his policies, but if evangelical advisers are telling the president that political concerns should energize churches more than the Holy Spirit’s work of saving sinners through the cross of Christ for the glory of God, they’re dangerously misleading him (and themselves) about God’s purposes for the church.

Trump’s Louisiana rally wasn’t enough to sway voters to oust Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards a few days later. The incumbent governor won his contest against a Republican challenger in the Deep South state on Nov. 16.

Pundits parsed what the Republican loss might mean for 2020 elections, but Edwards’ victory might also signal something else: Democrats should pay more attention to pro-life candidates. In May, Edwards signed a bill aimed at banning abortion after an unborn baby reaches six weeks in the womb.

But on Nov. 18, one Democratic group rebuked such laws instead of learning from Edwards. The Democratic Attorneys General Association—a national committee for state attorneys general—announced it will refuse to endorse or assist any candidate who does not publicly support abortion.

Meanwhile, a federal jury in California ruled against pro-life activist David Daleiden for publicly exposing abortion.

After a six-week civil trial, the jury said Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress broke the law by secretly recording Planned Parenthood officials callously describing abortion procedures and discussing the sale of unborn baby parts. The price Daleiden could pay for his efforts to expose the industry: as much as $2.3 million in damages.

Exposure of a different kind embarrassed a major television network in November: A leaked video showed ABC News anchor Amy Robach complaining that the network had refused to run her reporting on Jeffrey Epstein years before he was charged with sex trafficking of minors. (Epstein died in his prison cell in August.)

Caught on a hot mic between tapings, Robach told someone off camera: “I’ve had this [Epstein] story for three years. We would not put it on the air.” ABC later denied Robach’s claims, and the anchor walked back her comments.

Cultivating journalistic judgment starts long before editors and journalists are faced with a high-stakes national story, but that seemed lost on some college newspaper editors.

Editors at The Daily Northwestern profusely apologized for their paper’s coverage of a speech by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at Northwestern University on Nov. 5. (Some students protested Sessions’ appearance.) Among the paper’s offenses: Reporters used a student directory to text sources and ask for interviews in advance.

If that sounds like basic news gathering, the editors lamented: “We recognize being contacted like this is an invasion of privacy.”

Meanwhile, some of the current and former editors of The Harvard Crimson joined a petition demanding the paper apologize for its coverage of a student rally calling for the abolition of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

The paper’s offense? A reporter asked ICE officials for a comment. (A student group complained that contacting ICE could harm undocumented students on campus.)

The Crimson’s president, Kristine E. Guillaume, explained the paper seeks comments from all subjects in an article. That’s Journalism 101, but Harvard’s undergraduate student government voted to support the petition to protest the paper for trying to get both sides of a story. (Ironically, ICE didn’t respond to the paper’s request for comment.)

It’s best for journalists (and readers) to learn early that covering the circus of news can be stressful, but it’s ultimately more stressful to back down from doing it properly.

WORLD’s editor in chief Marvin Olasky has recounted the story of John Stubbes, who faced true stress after writing a pamphlet criticizing Queen Elizabeth in 1579: Officials cut off his right hand. Olasky notes that the Christian writer under duress “set the pattern of respecting those in authority over us, while exposing their unbiblical actions.”

Stubbes reportedly pulled his hat off with his left hand and cried: “God save the Queen.”

Jamie Dean

Jamie is a journalist and the former national editor of WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and also previously worked for The Charlotte World. Jamie resides in Charlotte, N.C.


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