Religious Affair", Religion in the News, Spring 1999
"Race and Disgrace",
Religion in the News, Fall 1998
Fear to Tread", Religion in the News, Summer 1998
in this issue:
From the Editor:
Sacred is as Sacred Does
Palestinians and Israelis:
Rites of Return
Palestinians and Israelis:
Ten Issues to Keep an Eye On
What Would Moses Do?:
Debt Relief in the Jubilee Year
Faith in Justice:
The Ashcroft Fight
Left Behind at the Box Office
The Voucher Circus
by William K. Piotrowski
"It began as a cloak-and-dagger affair, with the Rev.
Jesse Jackson and Karin Stanford quietly traveling together and slipping into each
others hotel rooms," Bryan Smith of the Chicago Sun-Times reported
January 19, a day after the story of Jacksons love child broke. "In time, it
became an open secret within the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition."
As Mark Jurkowitz of the Boston Globe wrote a week
later, it was something of an open secret within the mainstream press as well. Chicago
Tribune Washington bureau chief James Warren told Jurkawitz he first heard the story a
year earlier. "I made a whole bunch of calls and couldnt confirm it to my
satisfaction," Warren said.
Had he been able to, would the Tribune have broken the
story? Well never know. This scoop belonged to the National Enquirer, the
nonpareil supermarket tab with the resources and moxie to legitimize the illegitimate.
Jackson himself responded instantaneously. "This is no
time for evasions, denials or alibis," he said in a public statement. "I fully
accept responsibility, and I am truly sorry for my actions." Saying that he loved his
little daughter "very much," he announced that he had also accepted
responsibility "for her emotional and financial support."
Armed with the Enquirers leg work and
Jacksons admission, the New York Daily News Dave Saltonstall led the
mainstream press into this most recent revelation of a moral leaders clay feet: Yep,
Jesse Jackson had indeed fathered an out-of-wedlock child with the 39-year-old former
director of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Washington office in May 1999. Now the "open
secret" was no kind of secret at all, and the predictable media firestorm ensued.
The chasm that this admission appeared to open between
Jackson words and Jackson deeds created the opportunity for an editorial lynchingand
there was no shortage of those who seized it. For more than a week, opinion writers,
op-edifying professors, and ordinary citizens filled news and editorial columns across the
nation with their moral assessments. After toting up the reams of copy, it can fairly be
said that accusations of hypocrisy outweighed all other reactions by roughly 2 to 1.
"Jacksons claim to leadership is gone,"
pronounced the Boston Herald January 19. "It is time for him to leave the
stage and leave the job to those with the moral authority and the real devotion to
community to accomplish it." The Sun-Times also joined the no-mercy bandwagon:
"Jackson has held others to the highest and most stringent standards, delivering his
judgments often in harsh and very memorable phrases. Having been on the receiving end of
his wrath, we know how uncompromising and unforgiving Jackson can be in his judgments. Now
it is obvious Jackson has not lived up to the high standards he insisted upon for
Wrote syndicated columnist Clarence Page, "First to
evaporate is Jacksons credibility as a moral icon and role model for young people.
School principals, for example, will think twice before inviting him to address their
students." Or as Harlem resident Maxine Jones told the Daily News, "He
sits up there talking about wearing a condom and abstinence and hes doing worse than
the teenagers. Im so disappointed."
What gave this tale of hypocrisy its special piquancy was
Jacksons role as spiritual advisor to the First Family after President Clinton
fessed up to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in August 1998. For those counting
months, it quickly became apparent that Jackson fille was conceived at just about
the time Jackson père was counseling the Clintons and telling the media how the
president had caused his family "disappointment, embarrassment, shame."
Indeed, the Enquirer published a photo of Jackson and
the pregnant Stanford visiting with Clinton in the Oval Office prior to his impeachment
"The clerics defense of Clinton was part of the
web of deception that surrounded the president," huffed conservative pundit Cal
Thomas in a January 19 column. "It showed that even while Jackson was engaged in the
very activity in which Clinton busied himself, he was willing to mortgage whatever
credibility he had and heap shame on the God he was supposed to be serving in order to
provide spiritual cover for Clinton."
To be sure, there were voices raised in support of
Jacksonespecially from politicians, who knew whereof they spoke. And for her part, Sun-Times
columnist Mary A. Mitchell spread the burden of guilt around: "Now people are
debating whether Jackson is a hypocrite. If he is, then we all are hypocrites. We created
an image of Jackson that was never quite true. Jackson didnt appoint himself a moral
leader. We did, even though we were aware of his shortcomings."
But this was definitely the minority view. Hypocrisy, said La
Rochefoucald, is the homage vice pays to virtue. And when vice is a prominent religious
leader, its an homage the news media never tire of piling on.
Religious Affair", Religion in the News, Spring
"Race and Disgrace", Religion
in the News, Fall 1998
"Where Preachers Fear to Tread",
Religion in the News, Summer 1998