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David, Meet Brit

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Tiger Woods has all but disappeared from the news in recent weeks, displaced by stories about health care legislation, late night comedy, and the earthquake in Haiti. Before the golfer dropped out of the headlines, however, Fox News’ Brit Hume went on television to offer Tiger some advice:

Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person, I think is a very open question, and it’s a tragic situation with him. He’s lost his family, it’s not clear to me whether he’ll be able to have a relationship with his children, but the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal, the extent to which he can recover, it seems to me, depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist, I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith, so my message to Tiger would be “Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.

Hume’s comment spread quickly, and responses were negative. Ezra Klein, a Washington Post blogger, found the statement “offensive”:

Imagine if a Jewish commentator had taken to national television to say that a popular Christian adulterer should really consider converting, because “the Christian faith’s emphasis on forgiveness provides an ethical get-out-of-jail-free card that contributes to these sorts of transgressions.” Or if a Muslim suggested that a Protestant cheater should consider a conversion to a “rules-based religion. Christianity, sadly, erred when it focused on man’s relationship with God rather than God’s laws for man.”

In either case, said commentator would resign within a day or two. But Hume will certainly survive this controversy. Remember that next time someone complains that we’ve lost our identity as a Christian nation. Frankly, we haven’t lost nearly enough of it.

Taking Klein’s invitation to imagine, I don’t think any of these statements, including Hume’s, are offensive. There may be some sense in which these statements would be inappropriate because they came from a news journalist, but Klein more appropriately asks us to consider the statements as being those of “commentator[s].” Commentators engage in editorializing– there is little doubt that this is what happens on cable news networks— especially those individuals not in traditional newscaster roles.

As long as these statements (Hume’s and those Klein proposed) are genuine, meaning that the speaker is honest, meaningful, and desirous of the outcome behind the means prescribed, we should not find them objectionable. We should not be surprised that Hume, (presumably) a Christian, thinks that the tenets of his religion offer a positive, redemptive path for Tiger. If Hume is genuine in offering these observations, why should we reject him? His critique of Buddhism may ring uninformed, but in general, one ought to be able to speak frankly about other religions, and to the point here, Hume’s critics have seized on the core of his statement, not his remarks about Buddhism. This same line of thinking applies with equal force to Klein’s imagined commentators. In the public forum, honesty should guide our discourse, whether we’re talking about policy, religion, or sports.

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Categories: Current, Discourse, Poll, Sports
  1. jjm
    February 1, 2010 at 9:18 am

    In your analysis, much hinges on Hume’s genuineness. Given the ways in which television networks market themselves to target audiences, it seems fair to call his sincerity into question, at least insofar as it is part of a broader institutional insincerity.

    Given the possibility that journalism could become more than just a public forum, and might also operate as an educative civic project, intelligent dialogue is a reasonable goal. You imagine a community engaged in such dialogue (and yet still committed to their beliefs) when you take Klein’s thought experiment literally, rather than rhetorically. Journalism should facilitate such dialogue, rather than promoting myopia.

    • AD
      February 1, 2010 at 11:25 am

      Genuineness is important, and as with most of the posts here, I’ve violated Kant’s categorical imperative and used Hume as a means to the end of illustrating a larger position.

      I acknowledge in this post and others, and again here, the deficiencies of cable news networks. Perhaps he was insincere and just wanted to drive ratings. This wouldn’t undermine the broader point that enters with the inclusion of Klein’s examples: assuming genuineness, these statements are not objectionable.

      I do take Klein’s invitation literally insofar as I use the same word (“imagine”), but I also take it seriously. To take it rhetorically would be to accept his premise and its conclusion uncritically. I agree with him that the two statements he provides are of a kind with Hume’s, but I take his invitation as an opportunity to state a different conclusion: assuming genuineness, there’s nothing wrong with any of these statements.

      Whether speech is part of an educative civic project or “just a public forum” does not immediately strike me as important. Enforcing a journalistic barrier seems overly formalistic when it comes to deliberative, public discourse. A news-editorial conduct distinction within journalism makes sense as a matter of professional standards. Those who do editorialize, like those who advocate policy, should be free to do so on genuine grounds.

  2. jjm
    February 1, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    AD, I compliment: your blog performs a dialogue absent from Hume’s original statement, and therefore stands as a better model for deliberative discourse than Fox News.

    Furthermore, speech is always a performance, and (at least a small) a degree of formalism is important in deliberative public discourse. Deliberation implies formalism.

    Genuineness is another matter — and requires a precision perhaps impossible for language. At the least, genuineness seems difficult to verify. What you’re arguing for seems like a kind of charitable interpretation based on intent, along with a commitment to legitimate disagreement.

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