tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Articles show why I’m skeptical of the things I read in the newspapers

I am skeptical of much of what I read in the newspapers because I am so often unable to determine the motives behind the publication of certain stories. The motivation to publish a page one story, for example, should be obvious to the reader. The story should describe an important, obviously newsworthy, event or issue. The gossip and speculation and hearsay should be reserved for columns appearing deep within the newspaper. But increasingly, I find that the front page is barely discernable from most poorly written editorial pages.

To provide examples, consider two front page stories that appeared over the weekend: one on Saturday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the other on Sunday in the New York Times.

The Start Tribune article was about domestic troubles Alan Fine had with an ex-wife 11 years ago. Fine is the Republican candidate for the Fifth District congressional seat in Minnesota. The Fifth District is overwhelming populated with Democrats and Fine has virtually no chance of winning the open seat against state legislator Keith Ellison, who is running with the DFL endorsement.

I cannot figure out why the Star Tribune ran this article. The article focuses on a 1995 domestic violence charge made by his wife at the time. She dropped the case against him, and two years ago, Fine had the record expunged. So why is an argument between a husband and wife who eventually divorce worthy of a front page story? No case was ever tried and all we have is a ‘he said, she said’ account from more than a decade ago. I would be happy to read articles about real political issues, but I don’t believe any of my fellow voters in the Fifth District care about Fine’s marital troubles.

I think, although I can’t be certain, that the Star Tribune’s reason for running the story appears in the last paragraph, where it says “Fine has repeatedly said ‘character matters’.” So I get the sense that the newspaper is calling Fine a hypocrite. But I really have to laugh at that. Of course character matters. Is the newspaper telling us that Ellison thinks character doesn’t matter? And if that’s really the point of the story, then why isn’t the lead something like: Congressional candidate Alan Fine’s comments about character mattering are hypocritical, unconfirmed events from 11 years ago suggest.

As for the New York Times, the Old Gray Lady ran a story about religious organizations getting exemptions from certain state and federal laws. It is an absolute non-story that was started above the fold on page one and jumped inside where the remainder of the copy took up two entire pages.

The article starts by describing two day care facilities in Alabama. One is subject to inspection and regulation, the other, which is affiliated with a church, is not. The tedious article goes on to note that churches get tax breaks unavailable to typical commercial businesses. There is absolutely no news here. Any commercial business that competes with a non-profit entity is well aware of the inequities.

One paragraph in the article: “These organizations and their leaders still rely on public services – police and fire protection, street lights and storm drains, highway and bridge maintenance, food and drug inspections, national defense. But their tax exemptions shift the cost of providing those benefits onto other citizens…”

Wow. Are they actually saying that it is wrong for Americans who don’t pay taxes to enjoy these services? There are thousands of low-income people in Minnesota who don’t pay income taxes who enjoy all of these things and no one has any problem with that. And if it is the fact that churches are specifically exempt from paying taxes rather than unable to because of their limited means, consider the many very profitable credit unions across the country that enjoy all these benefits and pay no income tax. Only a small group of citizens, mostly made up of bankers, complain about that.

The Times never comes out and says it, but I think they are implying that churches should not get these breaks. I think they see it as a violation of the constitution which guarantees the separation of church and state. I am not aware of anyone who sees it that way, except people who are openly hostile to organized religion. Remember, people came to North America in the first place to get away from oppressive government regimes that tried to interfere with the practice of religion.

So the New York Times story just doesn’t make any sense. Their motivation for running this story is very unclear and leaves me only to speculate. This piece just makes the newspaper look hostile to organized religion.

1 comment:

Emerson Twain said...

Good call on both counts. The newspapers you cite are for bobble-heads with nose rings. Fine will get my vote, regardless of the clattering coming from Portland Avenue.