Sarah Posner is a propagandist, not a journalist.
Last week I wrote about how pre-existing narratives can actually becloud our vision of contemporary events, rather than elucidate them. Of course, in some sense, we all have pre-existing narratives or else it would be impossible to place data in context, impossible to make sense of the world or bring our different sets of beliefs and experiences into some kind of coherence. But, anyone wishing to be intellectually honest must be aware of the down-side of pre-existing narratives, the way they can miss nuance, dismiss alternative arguments and frustrate the possibility for political resolution.
This capacity of both possessing and questioning one’s assumptions is especially important for those of us engaged in journalism, and even more especially for those of us journalists engaged in expressing opinions about public matters, and more especially still is this the case for those of us journalists who offer opinions in the hyper-politicized, hyper-polarized culture we inhabit in the U.S. in 2012. “It is doubtful that an extremely activist political culture can also be a heavily deliberative one,” writes University of Pennsylvania Professor Diana Mutz, and so while sharp elbows are fine, and political effects to be considered, a journalism that is not concerned with elevating discourse, uninterested in sorting through data to find the truth of something, and incapable of questioning it’s own presuppositions is no journalism at all. It is propaganda.
Here is the opening paragraph from Ms. Posner’s post at Religion Dispatches about the USCCB’s document on religious liberty last week:
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Posner’s tendentiousness leads her into some curious intellectual territory. She accuses the bishops of “court-snubbing,” and that “the decisions of the courts are not respected by the Bishops, but rather dismissed out of hand as further evidence of discrimination against them.” This is curious. It should come as no surprise that many Americans have questioned judicial decisions in the past. Why should court decisions be viewed as sacrosanct? I wonder if we might have Ms. Posner’s thought on, say, Bush v. Gore or Citizens United? The long history of the nation includes many instances when a prior court decision was subsequently over-ruled by the courts: Should Thurgood Marshall have simply “respected” Plessy v. Ferguson or should he have dismissed it out of hand as further evidence of discrimination?
Even when Ms. Posner finds herself in agreement with the USCCB, she is so uncomfortable with that fact she dissembles and exposes her journalistic sloth. She writes:
First of all, no one said the religious liberty implications of these laws was their most noxious feature. But, had Posner taken the time to do a bit of research – and she could have done it all online – she might have discovered that the USCCB showed how its religious liberty concerns are related to the spate of anti-immigrant laws in its amicus brief against the Arizona anti-immigrant law in ways that are entirely analogous to the USCCB’s opposition to the HHS mandates. But, why permit anything like an inconvenient truth destory one’s narrative?
Yes, I use the term “inconvenient truth” advisedly. Posner’s writing are to the debate about religion and politics what global earming deniers are to the debate about climate change. Any argument, any data point, that conflicts with her interest or her prejudice cannot cause her to reflect, still less to reconsider, her views. She knows what she knows, even if she knows nothing else. Her writings are pure propaganda. It is a strange career choice for someone who styles themselves as an open-minded liberal.