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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


Drowning Belief in a Pool of Ink
The Los Angeles Times’ Assault on Christianity
[Carol Platt Liebau] 10/20/03   

This is the first in a series of occasional pieces exploring the relationship between religious faith and California institutions.

Seventeenth century English physician, philosopher and writer Sir Thomas Browne once observed that, “Things evidently false are not only printed, but many things of truth most falsely set forth.” Never do Browne’s words ring truer than upon examining the treatment of Christian religion by the Los Angeles Times – just over the last two weeks.

Most recently, the Times lobbed a grenade at people of faith with its overheated coverage of remarks by Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin, who has been nominated to the post of Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. The provenance of the hit piece itself is remarkable – author and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt first reported this week that the Times provided NBC News with its “scoop” on General Boykin for broadcast the night before its front page article ran.

Speaking in churches and on behalf of faith-based ministries, General Boykin reportedly characterized the United States as a “Christian nation,” invoked its Judeo-Christian roots, and opined that radical Muslims hate America because we are “a nation of believers.” For this, General Boykin is an “intolerant extremist,” according to Times military analyst William Arkin, writing on the op/ed page.

Never mind that Boykin restricted his criticisms to anti-American Islamic militants, comparing them to violent “hooded Christians” (apparently a reference to the Ku Klux Klan). And never mind that Boykin affirmed that “I have spent 32 years fighting so that every American can believe whatever they please,” according to a contemporaneous newspaper account of one of his talks. For William Arkin – and presumably the Los Angeles Times – Boykin’s willingness to testify to his own Christian faith and belief in Jesus, and to criticize radical Islam, renders him unfit for his post. Only “closeted” believers need apply.

It’s impossible to verify the accuracy of Arkin’s account in the Times, as no transcript of Boykins’ remarks has been released; and clearly, the tone and the “page one” placement of the Times’ news story about the matter do suggest the existence of at least one “intolerant extremist” – but it’s not General Boykin. Incidentally, one doubts that such an epithet would ever be applied to any Muslim, however radically anti-American, in the pages of the Los Angeles Times.

Such hostility to Christians is not restricted to the Times’ news or editorial pages. In the “Beliefs” section of its October 11 edition, the Times ran a piece about Jerry Jenkins, a former newspaper sportswriter and author who now pens Christian fiction – and who co-authored the best-selling “Left Behind” series, which fictionalizes a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation. In doing so, it quoted a review of the immensely popular series that ran in its own pages earlier this year, written by one Zachary Karabell:

Had these [Left Behind] books simply found a small niche audience, we could ignore them as cultural flotsam, no more or less disturbing than "Guns & Ammo" magazine, militia survival guides and the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult. But the “Left Behind” series is not a fringe phenomenon, and the story is not treated as fiction by many of its readers.

One need not have read the books – or subscribe to a fundamentalist interpretation of theology – to find this review as ignorant as it is offensive. Fundamentalist Christian belief is cherished by many solid, mainstream Americans and serves as the impetus for countless acts of kindness and charity throughout this country – and it certainly doesn’t merit contemptuous comparison with militia movements or a suicide cult. What’s equally noteworthy is the tone of urgency and dread on the part of the review’s author – he’s apparently appalled that the struggle of good and evil portrayed in the novels might be taken seriously by readers. One wonders whether last summer’s high-prestige novel “The Da Vinci Code” – which likewise mixes fact and fiction, and takes massive liberties with Christian faith (asserting, for instance, that Jesus was not, in fact, the son of God) – elicits similar concerns.

In an interview on “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” in December of 2001, Times religion writer Larry Stammer noted that there are “600 distinct religious expressions in the city of Los Angeles alone,” and remarked that “a newspaper's job is really to try to understand how those values influence the larger culture.” If this is a mission that the Times truly takes seriously, it is an unequivocal failure. The paper’s lack of understanding of conservative Christians is matched only by its scorn for them – and its evident fear that they will exercise any influence whatsoever on the “larger culture.”

Unfavorable coverage of Christianity is not new, and it’s certainly not restricted to the pages of the Los Angeles Times. But the fact that many believers have come to expect unfair treatment at the hands of the elite media is no reason to accept such prejudice with nary a word of complaint. As they peruse the pages of the Times, Christian believers find themselves marginalized, patronized, and misunderstood – when they’re not overlooked entirely. And through its coverage of Christianity, the Los Angeles Times – through either shocking ignorance or outright malice – repeatedly distorts the beliefs that the faithful hold most dear.

That’s not a situation that should be ignored . . . it’s an injustice that should be remedied.

Coming soon: The Ninth Circuit, the Pledge of Allegiance and the role of “civic deism” in American life.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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