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WLW Host Ignorant of Religion

By Ben L. Kaufman · June 22nd, 2011 · On Second Thought

Racism and rants on talk shows at WLW (700 AM) are bred in the bone but morning host Doc Thompson raised the standard for anger and ignorance when he derided Goshen College’s decision to bar “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the college’s sports events.

I could almost hear the spittle when he referred to Goshen’s “liberal arts” or “art professor” but what struck me most was his willful ignorance of what it means for Goshen to be a Mennonite school.

Mennonites are an historic “peace church,” sharing that tradition with Quakers, the Amish and others. I say “willful ignorance” because Goshen’s website would've explained that to anyone concerned with facts. Or as a revered editor of Britain’s Guardian, Charles Prestwich Scott, summed up his newspaper's values: "Comment is free but facts are sacred.”

That our national anthem celebrates the battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 might have something to do with Goshen’s decision. The college said it was too war-like.

Coincidentally, an online NPR story about the Goshen decision included this from Carlos Romero, executive director of the Mennonite Education Agency:

“Goshen College has been and remains a ministry of Mennonite Church U.S.A. with an enduring peace tradition. The board's decision reflects a belief that faith and honoring country can co-exist without disturbing higher allegiances to God . . . "

No one has to agree with Goshen’s decision, but to demonize a religious institution for trying to align its practices and beliefs is contemptible.

Thompson’s callers were no better, joining him in deriding the Mennonites for a lack of patriotism. My guess is that these Know-Nothings never have benefited at home from Mennonite disaster aid or in battle from a medic who was a Mennonite (or any other) conscientious objector. 

On the chance that WLW listeners also read CityBeat, I asked Rich Preheim, director of the Mennonite Church U.S.A. Historical Committee, about his peace church’s roles in public life.

Before the draft ended, Preheim said, “Some Mennonites did choose non-combatant service, but it was officially discouraged, since it was considered to still be part of the war effort. Instead, starting with World War II and continuing through the Vietnam War, there existed a program (or programs, to be precise) of alternative service, which gave conscripted conscientious objectors options to joining the armed forces. Some of those assignments definitely put the men in harm’s way, and several lost their lives.”

However, “It’s probably safe to assume that no conscientious objectors volunteers for military service today, just like it would probably be safe to assume that no vegan volunteers to eat at McDonald’s . . . The end of the draft did not mean the end of alternative service programs, although they are now generally called voluntary service (VS) programs. Note that I can speak authoritatively about the Mennonites, not the Quakers, Church of the Brethren or other groups,” he added.

“The creation of those legal and acceptable alternatives to military service had a remarkable and unintended benefit. It fostered a service ethic that remains quite strong. During World War II, as conscripted men went off to work as orderlies in mental hospitals, fought forest fires in Montana, served as subjects in medical experiments, and other assignments, Mennonite women also wanted to serve.

“So the church developed more comprehensive programs to allow women and also undrafted men to serve. Like the men who were drafted and did their obligatory military stint, voluntary service became a sort of rite of passage for many Mennonite young adults. It’s an ethos that is still quite vibrant and made manifest in a variety of ways today. The type of work VS'ers do ranges from agronomy in Bangladesh to teaching elementary school on a Hopi reservation in Arizona. There are even Mennonite service programs especially for senior citizens.

“In short, before there was the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, there were Mennonite programs. And we still have them. Unlike the draft.

“Note that this is all post-World War II. During World War I, where there were no such alternative service options, many conscripted Mennonites and our religious cousins, the Amish and the Hutterites, refused to do military service and were subsequently treated horrendously in the (prison) camps. Two Hutterites actually died at Leavenworth because of the treatment they received.

“Add to that a couple of centuries of persecution, including the execution of thousands, by ‘enlightened’ European civil authorities and our perspectives on national identity and faith should be more understandable.

“That doesn’t mean we’re anarchists.

We generally pay our taxes, participate in civic organization(s) and do what good and responsible citizens do. Some Mennonites are even politically active, from the school board and local governments all the way to Washington. A Mennonite is the Obama-appointed director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under the Department of Homeland Security. But we are pretty cognizant of the pitfalls of nationalism.”

Curmudgeon notes:

• Ann Thompson was named Best Reporter by the Ohio Associated Press. Thompson reports daily for WVXU (91.7 FM) news and produces Focus on Technology for its Cincinnati Edition program. The station said AP recognized her "Great energy for weighty stories ... and (the) wonderful ability to let the story tell itself..."

• Recently resigned Congressman Anthony Weiner is a putz. Pronouncing his name “weener” with a smirk isn’t much better. I like “whiner.”

My problem isn’t with this latest libidinous New Yorker or his tumescent penis. Rather, it’s how this arouses the news media and distracts them from what the public really needs to know.

Moreover, the Internet-fed fuss over his sexting degrades the word “scandal.” A scandal is Bush lawyers justifying torture, the Pentagon’s abuse of returning soldiers, or Republicans applauding low wages that shift the costs to address hunger (Food Stamps and WIC) and illness (Medicaid) to taxpayers.

Even Weiner’s lying isn’t the kind of scandal John Profumo provoked in the House of Commons when he lied abut a relationship with call girl Christine Keeler. No one would have cared much if he’d admitted it, but men of his class didn’t lie when caught.

So much for men of Weiner’s class.

A photo of the outline of his penis under his shorts is less awesome than most ads for men’s briefs in mainstream publications. I don’t know what else he sent out but if that’s what he’s bragging about, there’s a scandal.

Poor judgment? Yes. Lying to cover up? Yes. Neither disqualifies anyone from leadership of our nation. Adulterer Newt Gingrich wants to be president. Why not? He hasn’t killed anyone in a duel yet. Media fascination? Yes. But why? Weiner is pretty tame stuff compared to what some kids send each other on their cellphones.

So-called scandals like those involving President Clinton, Wilbur Mills, David Vitter, Mark Sanford, Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Henry Hyde, Gingrich, John Ensign and others have one virtue, however. In this era of diminished journalism, letting their small heads lead their large heads fills broadcast time and newsprint without much journalism.

It’s cheap.

Real scandals take resources to uncover and report. That’s expensive. Think about what it took to reveal the mess at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Or the military’s attempts to duck benefit payments by labeling emotionally distraught soldiers as mentally ill when they enlisted. Or the truth about Pat Tillman’s death at the hands of fellow soldiers.

Think about how long Madoff or Enron went on without regulators or business reporters catching on.

Wiener? He’s not in their league. He’s a putz.

• A blogging acquaintance sent me to the American Institute on Philanthropy’s latest list of top 25 compensation packages. Many are pikers compared to what university execs or coaches are paid, but there was one item that caught my attention: Gail McGovern, President/CEO of the American Red Cross, made $1,032,022, including a one-time reimbursement of $473,570 for relocation costs to work at the national headquarters. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether she’s worth it but WTF did she move that cost almost a half-million dollars? That’s the story.

Streetvibes appears to have recovered its soul. The current edition returns to its emphasis on the homeless, on vendors, on Over-the-Rhine and related subjects. It was so strikingly better that I went to see who was editing. Jen Martin — who succeeded Greg Flannery as editor — no longer is listed as editor and her loathsome column logo of spike heels is gone. Good. Judged by the newspaper's content and its mission to advocate for the homeless, she wasn’t up to the job. Now, no one is listed as editor. The paper is published by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.

• The unsigned editorial in the current Streetvibes argues a good point: Why is Cincinnati turning to the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) for key decisions on how best to serve the homeless? Among other complaints, Streetvibes says 3CDC has a the mission of a developer and it lacks staff experienced in working with the homeless. As I said in the note above, Streetvibes is recovering its soul. What it misses is the irony of moving the homeless from around Washington Park to an industrial site in Queensgate, a decision that treats the homeless and others using social services as redundant bits of obsolete machinery.

Now, if we only could outsource them like so many manufacturing jobs.

• More proof that the world revolves around Cincinnati: A bio on Minnesota Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann says her anti-gay Christian counselor husband, Marcus, has a doctorate in psychology from the Union Institute and University in Walnut Hills.

• Some time ago, I asked NPR if it was a conflict of interest for Dina Temple-Raston to coauthor a book with a top ACLU official. NPR’s ombudsman blew me off. Even though the ACLU is part of her beat, I was assured with a cursory and contradictory email that this is OK.

Recently, Temple-Raston barred a public station from covering a speech for which she was paid by the host organization. Here’s how Poynter’s Jim Romenesko and Darien.Patch.com reported her latest misstep:

The Darien/Norwalk YWCA asked public-access station Darien TV79 to cover NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston‘s talk at its “Women of Distinction” luncheon. Volunteer program director Jim Cameron says he “made the mistake of suggesting to organizers that they clear our videotaping with Ms. Temple-Raston, expecting that a fellow journalist would certainly welcome coverage. Boy, was I wrong.” 

Cameron writes about the NPR reporter’s ban on television coverage: “You cannot promote your private, paid speaking business on the basis of your NPR work and then pretend that your comments are somehow private. Nobody came to pay $85 to hear you as an individual. They came to bask in the glory of your media aura. If you brand yourself as part of NPR, your remarks should be open to public coverage. I’m guessing that you would tolerate no less in your own journalistic endeavors, would you?”

Temple-Raston responded with this email: “Together with the organizers, I requested that my remarks not be filmed during this private luncheon. I do take the point made by this reporter, and would just say in this instance, I didn’t want the added distraction of TV cameras.”

The Daily Beast website notes another sticky conflict of interest, this one involving David Pogue, whom the it calls “an incredibly popular technology columnist and one of the most influential gadget gurus in the world.” It says Pogue has a column in The New York Times, TV gigs on CNBC, CBS, and PBS, and 1.3 million Twitter followers. The Daily Beast added that he “can drive sales of a new gizmo with a few exuberant words or crush a company’s dreams with a thumbs-down on a new product.”

That’s fine. The Beast, however, also says, “Pogue has been dating Nicki Dugan, a vice president at OutCast Agency, a San Francisco PR firm that represents top tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Cisco, Netflix, and Yahoo, since last year. (On April 24, things between them had grown serious enough that Dugan announced their relationship on her Facebook page.)

“During the time they’ve been involved, Pogue has written articles about OutCast clients and their competitors without disclosing his personal connection to a senior staffer at the firm.

Pogue’s editor at The New York Times, Damon Darlin, says that Pogue told him about the relationship last December. “He was concerned that there might be a perception of a conflict of interest, so we went over it,” says Darlin, adding that he determined that as long as Pogue didn’t write about companies that Dugan personally represents, there would be no problem. Darlin says he also asked OutCast not to pitch stories to Pogue. “People have romances all the time,” says Darlin. “He hasn’t written about any companies that she is representing.”

The Beast wrote, “Still, the fact that Pogue frequently wrote stories of great importance to his girlfriend’s firm without disclosure makes some familiar with the details uncomfortable. An in-house tech company public relations executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of rankling Pogue, says the issue is more about disclosure than bias. ‘What he’s saying is, “Just trust me. I don’t need to tell you anything. Just trust me.” But hiding this is a mistake. Pretending it doesn’t matter is a mistake. Perception is reality.’ The executive criticized ‘his potential inability to make a distinction between what he thinks is OK and what the rest of the world does.’”



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