Accuracy in Media

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller waded into the GOP presidential candidate debate with his column today in the Sunday Times magazine, centering on asking them tough questions about their faith.

But Keller stumbled out of the gate by trying to draw an analogy between believing in space aliens and a candidate’s religious beliefs:

If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan?

This would be a little bizarre if Keller was trying to write an honest analysis of the GOP candidates religious views, but he then went on to point out what he felt were less than mainstream beliefs of the Republican front-runners.

Keller said he didn’t care whether Romney wore “Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans,” or whether the church’s founding prophet practiced polygamy, etc… If he didn’t care then why bring it up?

Romney wasn’t alone, as Keller also took pokes at Michele Bachmann’s and Rick Perry’s brand of Christian evangelism:

From Ryan Lizza’s enlightening profile in The New Yorker, I learned that Michele Bachmann’s influences include spiritual and political mentors who preach the literal “inerrancy” of the Bible, who warn Christians to be suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians, who believe homosexuality is an “abomination,” who portray the pre-Civil War South as a pretty nice place for slaves and who advocate “Dominionism,” the view that Christians and only Christians should preside over earthly institutions.

From reporting in The Texas Observer and The Texas Monthly, I learned about the Dominionist supporters of Rick Perry, including a number of evangelists to whom Perry gave leading roles in his huge public prayer service, called the Response, early this month.

Why the interest in the candidates religious beliefs? Apparently Keller is concerned that Romney, Bachmann and Perry will place more fealty to the Bible or Book of Mormon than the Constitution, though none of them has ever made a statement, to my knowledge, that this would be the case should they be elected president.

Keller has sent a questionnaire to candidates and here are just a few of the questions he asked them:

** (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in  practice?

** If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?

** What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

** Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?

Romney, Bachmann and Perry aren’t the only GOP candidates but they seem to be the ones that Keller is most interested in, because of their religious beliefs, which he clearly sees as a threat should any one of them manage to become president.

Missing from this discussion of religious beliefs is President Obama. Even if Keller thinks that Obama has already answered questions regarding his faith, it seems only fair that he should be asked the same questions as the other candidates, so that Keller’s readers can make a fair comparison.

But that wasn’t Keller’s goal. He wanted to equate these Republican candidates, who have a religious base of support behind them, as being similar to people who believe in space aliens in an effort to discredit them in voters’ minds and make Obama seem like the only logical choice for president.

This may work for the loyal liberal readers of the Times, but to everyone else it’s just another hatchet job on conservatives by the Gray Lady.

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