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Posts Tagged ‘Cathleen Falsani’

Two alumni react to Politics and Religion discussion

Posted by Daniel Everson on September 12, 2008

After the Futures Forum discussion on Politics and Religion—God in the White House, held Thursday morning at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, I spoke with two alumni, Mary McHaney Bebout and Courtney Long James, who attended the session. Below are some of their thoughts.


Why did you choose to come to this particular presentation?

CLJ: Probably because of my own personal faith and my interest in how it is covered in the media—and whether it’s fairly covered. Also … as a media buyer for an ad agency, I place media on Beliefnet (the web site for which panelist Dan Gilgoff serves as political editor). They’re one of my clients. So it was interesting to actually see a face and a name.

MMB: It was something my daughter really wanted to see, and I, too, am interested in how faith is covered in the media. And as a lawyer and former journalism student, I always had an interest in political news coverage. And I wanted to see what they would have to say about the election and how faith issues have played a huge role.


What did you think of the presentations (given by Gilgoff and Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani)?

CLJ: I thought it was fascinating. I thought it was varied. I thought they had very interesting information for us. I thought they had good dialogue between one another, and you could tell they had a lot of respect for each other, which was interesting. They weren’t afraid to answer any questions. They were very open.

MMB: At first I was disappointed that the original panelists were not able to show. We went to school with Major Garrett (of FOX News, originally scheduled to moderate the session). So we would have liked to see him. … But I thought the coverage was excellent, very professional. … And then I learned more about this center for religious studies (the Center on Religion & the Professions), which I don’t remember even hearing about when we were in school. … So I thought that was interesting, that there are classes (about religion reporting) that students can take.


What about the questions and discussion portion of the seminar?

CLJ: I thought that people asked some amazing questions. I thought it was very interesting in this discussion on religion and politics and faith that someone would ask a question that was so obviously very biased. It was full of hate, the way she said, “How could creationism be taught in the 21st Century?” I thought that was amazing.

MMB: I thought one of the best questions was from a student (Laura Kebede), the one about the Rick Warren forum. I thought it was fabulous. I thought it was terrific, and it was raised not by some alum or a person in the media, but a student. And I thought that was the best question that was asked.

CLJ: I agree, that was a great question, very timely. I probably could’ve sat in there for another hour. I found it to be that interesting. Obviously, as they mentioned, by the size of the people that were in the room—that it was standing room only—it was something that a lot of people are thinking about and are interested in learning more about.

MMB: Not only that, I think we’re now going to change our schedule and go to the next session that has to talk about faith.


If there are one or two things that you take away from this discussion and the presentations, what would that be?

CLJ: Mine would be that, as a person of faith, I felt that they were very good at reminding me how important it is to be open and understanding of other people’s faith and to not immediately jump to conclusions and labels. I felt it was a very good reminder to be respectful of other people’s faith, whether it’s something you believe in or not. It’s important to hear what people have to say. You don’t have to necessarily agree with them, but that’s part of what’s great about this country is that we have the opportunity to speak of our faith and our religion freely.

MMB: There are three things that hit me. First was the comment that was made (by Gilgoff) that American elections are now won or lost on character. I thought that was a very good point. The second thing that I thought was interesting was, now, our culture has changed or our society’s expectation has changed to the extent that you can no longer take the old-line view and say, “My faith is personal and I want to keep it quiet.” Now, really it’s a requirement, I think, based on what I heard today, for all candidates to be out there, very transparent and open about what they believe. And then they’re judged by the American public about their beliefs. I thought that was an interesting shift. … Then the third thing that I thought was fascinating is that it sounds like faith coverage is going to be most accessible on the Web. I haven’t ever blogged on Beliefnet, but now I probably will.

CLJ: I would be interested to ask (Gilgoff) a question: did any of the faith issues … become so important when we all walked through the Clinton era, where this man was obviously a churchgoer with his wife? … But yet the whole character issue came up as, “Wait a minute, who is this man really? What does he really believe in?” And I just wonder how that played into, all of a sudden, people talking about faith, what’s real and what isn’t, what is really personal, and the whole character issue. … Actually, as an evangelical, I have voted all over the spectrum, because I look at character more than I look at just specific religious preferences.


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Politics and Religion – God in the White House

Posted by Julie Willbrand on September 12, 2008

During Debra Mason’s opening Thursday morning in the Reynolds Journalism Institute, she thanked Dan Gilgoff and Cathleen Falsani for being willing to come speak on such short notice after the original two guests “backed out.”  Though they were they replacement speakers for the forum, I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job discussing the issue at hand.

Dan Gilgoff, the political editor of BeliefNet.com and author of The Jesus Machine, spoke first.  His brainchild, the God-o-meter (say “god-Ah-muh-ter”) is featured on BeliefNet.  Gilgoff discussed the way the 2004 presidential race “really set the stage” for the current one.  When George Bush was elected in 2000 but lost the popular vote, one of the main conclusions drawn was that too many white evangelicals stayed home from the polls.  Thus, the Bush Campaign hired Ralph Reed in 2004.  Reed had birthed the Christian Coalition in the mid-nineties.  As a result of his efforts and use of “church tribes” to sign up voters, it’s estimated that 350,000 of the volunteers that constituted the Bush/Cheney army were evangelicals. 

“When you juxtapose {this} with what John Kerry did, or failed to do, in 2004 in those terms… it’s breath-taking,” Gilgoff said.  The Kerry Campaign only hired a religious outreach director six months before Election Day, and the choice, Mara Vanderslice (who had previously worked for Howard Dean) was a controversial choice.

Gilgoff continued by discussing how the Democratic Party had learned from its mistakes.  He cited the examples of Barak Obama hiring a Catholic director and publishing Christian literature in the South, as well as personally calling BeliefNet, Christian Broadcasting Network, and Christianity Today (“the very publication that John McCain had snubbed the year before”) for interviews.  McCain’s campaign, on the other hand, was beginning to crumble.  Gilgoff shared that in a personal interview with McCain, McCain had stated “this was a Christian nation and a Muslim would be less fit to serve.”  Although the McCain Campaign called back the morning before the interview went live, Gilgoff still remembers it as indicating “not necessarily any antipathy toward religious voters, but more of a clumsiness.”

After Gilgoff came Cathleen Falsani, religious columnist for the Chicago Sun Times.  Her second book, Sin Boldly:  A Field Guide to Faith, was just released this month.  Falsani also writes a blog called “The Dude Abides,” and it is here that we can still access her famous interview with Barack Obama in 2004.  “When he was running at this juncture… we were still really deciding, is it BarACK, BEARack…” she quipped.  

Falsani went on to discuss the interview and how impressed she was with Obama’s straightforward manner and the fact that he came sans groupies to their informal interview over coffee on Michigan Avenue those four and a half years ago. 

She continued by pointing out the current “Jesus-Off” we’re seeing in our country today.  “We have four Christians running, and they’re each pointing saying, ‘You’re not really a Christian or not enough or you don’t know the secret handshake.’  And it’s just really fascinating,” she said.

“And now with the hockey mom on the scene,” she continued, referring to Sarah Palin, “I can’t wait to see how this throws down as we get more information on her.”  This served as a good segway into a Q & A session, which concluded the forum.

Cathleen Falsani looks on while Dan Gilgoff discusses his role as political editor of BeliefNet.com during the "Politics and Religion - God in the White House" futures forum Thursday morning.

Cathleen Falsani looks on while Dan Gilgoff discusses his role as political editor of BeliefNet.com during the "Politics and Religion - God in the White House" futures forum Thursday morning.



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VIDEO: Politics and Religion—God in the White House

Posted by Daniel Everson on September 11, 2008

Guest panelists Dan Gilgoff (of Beliefnet.com) and Cathleen Falsani (of the Chicago Sun-Times) spoke at the discussion titled “Politics and Religion—God in the White House,” part of Thursday’s Futures Forum. The discussion, held in room 100-A of the new Reynolds Journalism Institute, was co-sponsored by the Center on Religion & the Professions (CORP) and the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA). Debra Mason, director of CORP and executive director of RNA, introduced the panelists and the topic before Gilgoff and Falsani presented. Following their speeches, Mason moderated a question-and-answer session that covered topics such as the role of faith in Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination for vice-president, the Rick Warren forum, and the future of religion reporting. Below are video clips from the beginning of the discussion.


The first clip gives a panoramic view of room 100-A, with only standing room available minutes ahead of the discussion. During the Q&A session, one attendee suggested that the full seminar room signified Americans’ strong interest in the role of faith in politics.


In the second video, Mason discusses CORP, RNA, and the rationale of holding a discussion on politics and religion.


In the next clip, Mason delivers a brief history of American reporting on politics and religion, dating back to President Jimmy Carter’s announcement in 1976 that he was a born-again Christian.


Here Mason introduces the two guests and briefly discusses their writings. Gilgoff and Falsani stepped in for the three scheduled panelists (Major Garrett of FOX News, Sally Quinn of the Washington Post, and Steve Waldman of Beliefnet.com), none of whom were able to make it to the Centennial celebration.


Lastly, in this clip Gilgoff presents his Beliefnet.com blog, the God-o-Meter, which aims to measure Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain’s religious outreach successes and failures on the campaign trail.

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Politics and Religion: God in the White House

Posted by Bill Prosecky on September 11, 2008

I have to admit, when I first walked into Room 100A of the Reynolds Journalism Institute this morning, I had no idea what to expect.  I knew that the “title” of the seminar was “God in the White House”, but I was not sure where that discussion was going to go.  Weren’t God and presidential politics supposed to be completely independent subjects?  Because it is such a divisive issue, shouldn’t religion be kept out of important political decisions?  These were all questions that I was hoping to have answered.

The first guest to speak at the event (of course, after Debra Mason, the host, introduced the thing) was a man named Dan Gilgoff, the Politics Editor for beliefnet.com, a site that rates the presidential candidates on their overall effectiveness in dealing with religion as a political issue.  One of the first points Gilgoff brought up was one that really got my attention and gave me a firm understanding of where the rest of the seminar was going to go.  He pointed out that while most political candidates (and people, in general) believe that religion should be solely a personal issue, one must also recognize the fact that when a candidate for office, especially a presidential candidate, declares him or herself to be a member of a particular religion, this has an effect on the way certain citizens may cast their vote.  Gilgoff pointed out that one of the main reasons George W. Bush lost the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election was because over 4 million white Evangelicals did not turn out to vote (in pre-election polls, Bush had won this vote handily).  Karl Rove, a former Bush adviser, was really the first one to highlight this discrepancy in the amount of support for Bush and the voter turnout.  The Bush campaign came to the conclusion that they had not done enough to reach out to certain religious groups, especially Evangelicals.  While most Evangelicals did support Bush, for most of them, he had not convinced them enough to make them turn out to vote.

From the 2000 election on, religion has become one of the focal points of political campaigns.  It should not be assumed that religion was not a major issue beforehand, but that Bush’s loss of the Evangelical vote in 2000 was the main cause for the establishment of religious outreach groups as vital parts of campaign teams.  Mr. Gilgoff also highlighted the fact that in 2004, while Bush’s campaign put together a marvelously organized and efficient religious outreach program, John Kerry had failed to do so.  Kerry preferred the “old-time” (i.e. pre-2000) approach of avoiding journalists who asked him for his take on religion.  He chose to keep religion a personal issue, and, while this may seem to have been a noble choice on paper, it was one of the key reasons why he lost the 2004 presidential election.  Gilgoff pointed out detail that I found very interesting, and that was that even though John Kerry was himself a Catholic, in the 2004 election, he lost the Catholic vote.  One only has to look at this piece of information to begin to understand the need for campaign teams to establish well-organized religious outreach groups.

Religion, however, is not all good when it comes to politics, as Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out.  Falsani, who spoke after Gilgoff, pointed out the fact that religion often gets twisted and used against politicians.  The point must be made that sometimes religion can go too far when it comes to political campaigns.  In 2004, Falsani interviewed Barack Obama, who was then not even a member of the US Senate yet, and not nearly as well known as he is now.  The interview is still posted online on Falsani’s blog site (falsani.blogspot.com), and she says that she still receives frequent comments and questions from viewers about Obama’s true faith.  While Obama is, in fact, a born-again Christian, many people still e-mail Falsani with questions as to whether or not he is a Muslim, or about his ties to such controversial ministers as Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger.  While many of the comments Falsani received were, as she claimed, ridiculous and unfounded, the fact that people actually still care about an interview Obama did in 2004 just goes to show the importance of religion in the political world.  While it is important for campaigns to have religious outreach programs, when a candidate’s faith becomes a mainstream news headline, then the issue has been taken too far.

As I said before, when I came into the seminar I had no idea what it was going to be like or what kinds of subjects were going to be discussed.  Before I listened to Mr. Gilgoff and Ms. Falsani, I had never thought about how a candidate’s faith affected voters.  How do the minds of the voters change when a candidate declares that he is a Catholic, or a born-again Christian, or a Muslim?  How will this affect the votes he receives?  These were questions that I, and, I presume, many people have not really thought about when we discuss presidential candidates.  Religion is a very sensitive issue to a lot of people in this country, and I now believe that it is because of its sensitive nature that it must be handled effectively by all political candidates who would like to have any hope of winning elections.

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