Newsweek’s grand inquisitor

When Howard Fineman asked Dean if he believes Jesus Christ is the son of God and the route to eternal life, campaign reporting reached a brand-new low.

Topics: 2004 Elections, Howard Dean

The media’s increasingly negative coverage of former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s presidential campaign reached a nadir of sorts last week, when Newsweek’s cover package featured an interview that essentially cast reporter Howard Fineman as grand inquisitor and Dean as suspected heretic.

After five straight questions about Iraq and the war on terrorism, Fineman asks Dean, out of nowhere, “Do you see Jesus Christ as the son of God and believe in him as the route to salvation and eternal life?”

Dean, belying his reputation for having a hot temper, gives a low-key reply: “I certainly see him as the son of God. I think whether I’m saved or not is not gonna be up to me.”

The bias Fineman’s question exuded is alarming. No doubt many Christian groups in America would like to ask Dean that question, and they’re entitled to. But Newsweek? To be sure, faith is a relevant campaign issue, as is the question of whether Dean or other Democrats can connect with Christian voters, particularly in the South. But Fineman didn’t merely ask if the Vermont doctor was religious; he phrased his question in a way to root out whether Dean subscribes to a particular kind of born-again Christianity. We’ve reached a new low when reporters are doing the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s work for him.

The interview continues with two more questions:

Fineman: “Do you have a favorite Bible passage or book or theologian?”

Dean: “I like the Book of Job.”

Fineman: “[Laughs.] Does it strike you more personally after this campaign?”

Dean: “I’m feeling a little more Job-like recently.”



So Dean, prompted by Fineman, concedes that the withering attacks upon his candidacy have made him feel more “Job-like.” Newsweek’s editors, instantly misquoting him, put the following headline on top of the article:

“Dean on the heat of battle, Osama bin Laden — and Jesus.” Then, printed in type that’s twice as large as the headline, the subhead: “‘I’m feeling like Job.’”

Readers who merely flip past the interview will see only “I’m feeling like Job,” which, taken by itself, could make Dean seem even more pompous and egocentric than Newsweek and other members of the mainstream media have already painted him to be.

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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