Yoga, demonology, and the media story

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Last week, I defended National Review and the Daily Caller after Howard Dean asserted that an editor at the former outlet was a “right-wing conservative nutcase” — and that the latter was simply a “propaganda organization.”

Say what you will about TheDC, but breaking news about Michele Bachmann’s migraines, the RNC’s bondage-themed nightclub excursion, and Jon Huntsman’s love letters (to Obama), demonstrates a certain willingness to go after Republicans, too.

Likewise, a recent blog post by NR’s Betsy Woodruff is surely causing Virginia’s Republican nominee for Lt. governor some heartburn today.

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Using Woodruff’s research (she took the time to actually read E.W. Jackson’s 2008 book), New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait penned a post titled, “Virginia Lt. Governor Candidate E.W. Jackson Thinks Yoga Is Satanic.” Likewise, Woodruff’s post spawned an Atlantic column headlined, “GOP Candidate: Yoga Opens You to Satanic Possession.” (There are others, but I noticed these two making the rounds on Twitter.)

The result, of course, is to make Jackson (who already has baggage) look like a weirdo — for advocating what many would consider to be simply Christian orthodoxy.

After all, other religions can celebrate spirituality and be admired for it. But anything associated with Christianity that is in any way mystical or numinous is usually thought to be bizarre or eccentric (unless, of course, it is associated with Madonna — or maybe Ashley Judd.)

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In any event, I’m less interested in the yoga story (which is already getting enough attention) than I am in the media story. On one hand, conservative media outlets (pace Dean and Republican operatives) are not meant to be propaganda operations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been attacked for writing about something that some Republican thought was unhelpful to “the cause” (which usually meant, his cause.) Thus, Woodruff’s post makes it clear she is willing to report on something that very well might hurt a conservative candidate — which might also be defined as … journalism.

But, playing devil’s advocate, here’s the other argument: Woodruff had to know her post could be used by the left for political purposes. Even if she doesn’t have an agenda other than to report information, others do. Besides, there is clearly no lack of mainstream media outlets interested in mocking conservative candidates. Why should conservative donors, investors, or advertisers fund the destruction of one of their own?

It’s one thing for an outlet assumed to be conservative to go after a Republican president for spending too much or for breaking a pledge not to raise taxes. That’s hitting them from the right. But should she be hitting them from the left?

As new media outlets, some of them ideological (and I realize NR has been around a long time) search to find their niche, this is a question worth wrestling with.

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So is there a third way? Maybe. In her post, Woodruff doesn’t editorialize on Jackson’s writings, except to call them “interesting,” and that might have been a mistake.

It was the Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta who actually sought to put things in a bit of context, by including this from R. Albert Mohler Jr.: “There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose….”

It’s probably worth mentioning that Jackson isn’t the first Republican who has confronted such a challenge. Just last summer, Woodruff’s colleague, Katrina Trinko wrote about how Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s having witnessed an “exorcism” might impact whether or not he would be selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate. The piece was titled, “Shock: Jindal Is Religious” and subtitled, “That he had a spiritual experience in college is controversial?”

If Jindal deserved that sort of nuanced treatment, why not Jackson? 

“Shock: E.W. Jackson is Religious!”

Matt K. Lewis