Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Off The Mark, Completely

Tom Shales had a lot of things to say in his column of January 5 about Britt Hume of Fox News, and none of it good.

Hume has shocked the sensibilities of much of the media elite and drawn considerable criticism for a remark (video below) he made about Tiger Woods on the January 3 Fox News Sunday. A panel discussion typically closes out the program and host Chris Wallace asked the panelists to give their "fearless predictions for 2010." The first category was politics and the second, entertainment. Then, after Wallace turned to Hume and said "sports, Britt," the veteran newsman responded

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. I think 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 the scandal- the extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is 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."

Shales complains that Hume

doesn't really have the authority, does he, unless one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize?

Witnessing to one's faith is not a requirement of Christianity and if it were, most Christians, reluctant to make enemies of individuals to whom they speak, would not remain as Christians. But as for Hume, or any other Christian, having no right- or "authority"- to "proselytize," some fellow reportedly exhorted his followers to

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you....

You may not believe that actually happened- but Britt does, and his "authority" comes from a pretty high source.

Shales demonstrated not only intolerance toward his target, but also of a whole class of people- ironic of his charge that Hume "dissed about half a billion Buddhists." Not content to quote Hume as saying at the 2008 Republican National Convention "I'm 65, for God's sake," the critic later quoted him as saying at the convention "I'd like to walk away while I'm still doing okay and not have people say 'he was fading.'" It was Shales' cute way of saying "He's old- he says stupid things."

Intolerance for the aged- or what Shales believes is old-age- not surprisingly segues into a kind of elitism. Hume, he writes (or types), "seemed so bolstered by Christianity that he just had to go tell it on the mountain." That would be a backhanded swipe at "Go Tell It On The Mountain," traditionally referred to as "an old Negro spiritual" but also a classic Christian hymn. Continuing to apply religious terminology, Shales warns Hume not "to turn a bully pulpit into a pulpit, period" and instead "First off, apologize. You gotta." Not can or should but "you gotta." Presumably, because "I said so and I'm Thomas Shale." Shales counts the remark among the "looniness" and "madness" he has found among those with whom he disagrees.

Shales claims Hume "should do it ('spreading what he considers the gospel') on his own time, not try to cross-pollinate religion and journalism and use Fox facilities to do it."

As individuals- but not, one would expect, a Washington Post reporter- often do, Shales confuses opinion with objective news reporting. The remark came not during a straight news segment or an interview, but during a panel discussion. Participants are expected to give their opinion. That could be why when Shales argues "Hume knocked his fellow 'Fox News' panelists for mortified loops," he seemed to be imagining a reaction- a reaction which did not ensue, but which Shales believes, oh, they must have been having.

All of this is unimportant- at least compared to the charge that Hume "dissed about half a billion Buddhists on the planet with the remark, 'I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.'" If the Fox newsman had intended to insult Buddhists, that would have been clearly wrong. If he had inadvertently made an inaccurate comment that insulted Buddhists, that would not have been as egregious as intending to offend- but still improper.

But where is the claim, by Shales or any other critic, that Buddhism "offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith?" Nowhere, apparently. If Buddhism did "offer the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith," it would be almost unforgivable that Shales and others didn't cite inaccuracy as the basis of their criticism. And it appears, further, that any concept of forgiveness and redemption in Buddhism is unlike that in Christianity.

That doesn't make Buddhism wrong, or right. But it does make what Hume said accurate; and his advice to Tiger Woods stands as his opinion, wise or unwise. His remarks were highly unusual for national television, but hardly worthy of distortion, ridicule, or derision.

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