Politico's Ben Smith gets defensive

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Yesterday, Media Matters noted that Politico's Ben Smith followed in the footsteps of his colleagues Jonathan Martin and Carol Lee in noting that Barack Obama has not attended church since being elected president without noting that President Bush rarely attends church.

Today, Smith responds ... sort of:

John Judis and Media Matters make much of a short blog item I did noting that Obama's schedule hasn't included church visits.


If nothing else, the tone of the responses reflect how defensive the left still is on faith. The Media Matters post was four times longer than my item, and I don't really think that a single story and a blog item constitute "such a big deal."

It is pretty much impossible to deny that you're being defensive without appearing defensive, so I'll leave it to readers to decide whether that adjective fits our post.

For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that "the left" is "defensive ... on faith." Here's what Ben Smith misses: In this case, at least, "the left" is "defensive" because journalists like Ben Smith are unfairly advancing the false caricature of progressives as lacking faith. Smith and his Politico colleagues are going out of their way to point out that Barack Obama, a Democrat and a person of faith, has not attended church in the past few weeks - while ignoring the fact that President Bush, a Republican and a person of faith, rarely attends church.

If "the left" is being "defensive," it is because Ben Smith and others at the Politico are giving them reason to defend themselves. For Smith to sneer that liberals are being defensive after he gives them reason to be literally adds insult to injury.

In defending his, and his colleagues', focus on Obama's church attendance, Smith wrote: "Obama doesn't seem to consider his faith private: He talked about it all the time on the campaign trail, wrote about it in searing detail, and campaigned on it before Rick Warren's megachurch in a forum broadcast live on CNN. ... So it doesn't seem particularly unreasonable to note his habits of observance."

But Media Matters didn't say it was unreasonable to note Obama's "habits of observance." We pointed out that Smith and his colleagues failed to note that Bush - who also cannot be said to have behaved as though he "considers his faith private" -- has rarely attended church over the past eight years.

It doesn't seem particularly unreasonable to expect a reporter who purports to compare the church attendance of Bush and Obama to note the infrequency of Bush's attendance over the past eight years.

Which is probably why Smith chose not to even try to defend himself on this point. He didn't even acknowledge that point - the entire point of Media Matters' item - even exists. He offered no explanation or defense of his decision to omit the information that Bush rarely attends church. Indeed, he neither quoted nor responded to a single word of Media Matters' critique. He simply sniffed that the Media Matters post "was four times longer" than his item.

If nothing else, the tone of Smith's response reflects how defensive some journalists are when their shoddy and one-sided reporting is demonstrated.

I'll save Smith the trouble of counting words: This particular post is more than twice as long as his post. I'll be happy to make my next post on this topic shorter -- if Smith makes his next post better.

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