Jon Meacham, Newsweek Editor to Religious Right: Bring It On!

Jon Meacham’s ascension to the editor’s chair at Newsweek has marked a very noticeable trend toward turning it into Opinion Week (or OpEdWeek). Its cover stories are often not investigative news pieces, but long editorials. This week, religion reporter Lisa Miller uncorked "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage," and Meacham's Editor's Note dared the religious right to protest, like President Bush egging on the terrorists to "bring it on." Meacham clearly sees his magazine as a crusading progressive weekly:

The reaction to this cover is not difficult to predict. Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their "agenda," a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and e-mails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion. (As it has been with reform in America from the Founding forward.)

The NEWSWEEK Poll confirms what other surveys have also found: that there is a decided generational difference on the issue, with younger people supporting gay marriage at a higher rate than older Americans. One era's accepted reality often becomes the next era's clear wrong. So it was with segregation, and so it will be, I suspect, with the sacrament of marriage.

Translation: We are the dreamers and makers of history. Religious conservatives are troglodytes on the wrong side of history. This conclusion reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s 1982 Harvard Educational Review article where she argued marriage was an example of a rights-depriving institution like slavery and the Indian reservation system. Meacham’s ending could be read to suggest that "the sacrament of marriage" belongs on the ash heap of history alongside segregation as a "clear wrong."

The other jaw-dropping paragraph for the religious right is this very liberal passage about the Bible:

No matter what one thinks about gay rights – for, against or somewhere in between – this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt – it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

Put aside politics for a moment, and let’s take as an example the Christian belief that Jesus is God. On that point, would Meacham write that to argue that this is so "because it is in the Bible is intellectually bankrupt"?

Perhaps Meacham falls back on this argument because suggesting the Bible backs gay marriage is like saying the Whole Earth Catalog was an advertisement for Big Oil and the plastics industry.

As a liberal Episcopalian, Meacham began his Editor’s Note by lashing out against "Rev. Robert Duncan and other leaders of the conservative forces of reaction" is his faith tradition, and ended up suggesting that it’s "unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition" that anyone would mistake the Bible as a book anyone would "resort to" as an authority. Meacham suggested the conservative "forces of reaction" were like the Devil, or to be more generous, like slavery advocates and segregationists:

Briefly put, the Judeo-Christian religious case for supporting gay marriage begins with the recognition that sexual orientation is not a choice – a matter of behavior – but is as intrinsic to a person's makeup as skin color. The analogy with race is apt, for Christians in particular long cited scriptural authority to justify and perpetuate slavery with the same certitude that some now use to point to certain passages in the Bible to condemn homosexuality and to deny the sacrament of marriage to homosexuals. This argument from Scripture is difficult to take seriously – though many, many people do – since the passages in question are part and parcel of texts that, with equal ferocity, forbid particular haircuts. The Devil, as Shakespeare once noted, can cite Scripture for his purpose, and the texts have been ready sources for those seeking to promote anti-Semitism and limit the human rights of women, among other things that few people in the first decade of the 21st century would think reasonable.

Mollie Z. Hemingway at the Get Religion blog is stunned at all of Meacham's dismissive notes about the "unserious" conservative argument:

Meacham’s note is an unserious response to conservative Christian views or conservative political views related to homosexuality. He assumes that Miller in any way understands Scripture when her piece was riddled with obvious errors. He compares world-wide, millennia-long support for heterosexual marriage with the post-Civil War anomaly of racist marriage laws (What I have called the Loving Corollary to Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies)...

What a scold. And the fact that, as a progressive, he seemingly doesn’t realize he’s a scold makes it so much worse. Has he ever spoken with a conservative? Does he know anyone who disagrees with his religious views from a more orthodox perspective? Doubling down on Miller’s hackery with this arrogant editor’s note reveals that Newsweek is willing to sacrifice everything from factual accuracy to basic civility in service to its agenda. And if the word “agenda” isn’t appropriate, it’s only because it understates what we’re dealing with.

Read everything she's written on this. Mollie's even harsher about the Lisa Miller cover story:

It is no exaggeration to say the piece was an embarrassment. My analysis of the belly flop is here. On a radio show yesterday, the host asked me whether the piece was more offensive to my sensibilities as a journalist or a Christian. I went with "journalist" since the piece wasn’t anywhere legitimate enough, theologically speaking, to be considered seriously. As a journalist, it violated almost every rule in the book. It failed to accurately represent the viewpoint being scrutinized. It was riddled with errors. It was driven by emotion. More than a few journalists -- one at a competing weekly news magazine -- wrote to me yesterday asking, "Where was her editor?"

Answer: he was right there, loving every line of it.

[Photo from Meacham's blog on The Daily Beast]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis