Much to the rejoicing of the American populace, the House of Representatives got back to work Oct. 25 when the Republicans finally agreed on a speaker after an agonizing three weeks with no one in charge.
But to read media reports about the new speaker, you’d think the Rev. Jerry Falwell had risen from the dead and was occupying the spot. There’s an evangelical Christian at the podium and that’s red meat for a lot of scribes out there.
Watch the above video and listen to the two anchors scoff at the very idea of monitoring your kid’s internet content. Imagine, they said, being concerned about whether your son is watching porn!
It’s hard not to listen to such repartee without one’s mouth falling open. Youth suicides are soaring; kids are watching stuff online and carrying it out and these folks just think it’s all so ridiculous. I know the parents of a 13-year-old who was into really dark stuff online. By the time they figured out what he was up to, it was too late. They found his body in the garage.
A lot of America does believe in monitoring their kids’ internet viewing, porn included; a concept that some of the media I’ll be discussing cannot comprehend. Some of the most unhinged coverage has come from the Rolling Stone and finally backlash over the Stone’s over-the-top coverage is starting to emerge. More on that in a moment.
At the base of the media hysterics is the news about a father/son arrangement between Johnson and his 17-year-old son to use a shared software program to make sure the other hasn’t been looking at porn. My prize for the most faux rage headline comes from the New Republic:
Mike Johnson and His Son Monitoring Each Other’s Porn Intake Is Worse Than You Think
The House speaker admitted to a wild new detail about his personal life. And it’s a bigger deal than it seems.
First off, this headline is deceptive. What Johnson has said is not that the two of them are perusing dark websites on the sly; the point is neither of them are looking at porn at all. The Federalist pointed out this totally unfair framing, adding that, unless they’re reading the small print, readers will think Johnson is some kind of pervert.
And a bit lower on the page:
From the actual article:
In a newly resurfaced video from 2022, the newly minted speaker admitted that he and his son monitor each other’s porn intake using a third-party subscription software called Covenant Eyes that watches all their electronic devices. For $16.99 a month, the app drafts a habit report and shares it with an “accountability partner,” which in Johnson’s case is his teenage son Jack…
Aside from the weirdness of having your son watch your porn intake — and vice versa — the implications of having one of the most prominent leaders in government under the watchful eye of an intrusive software have not been lost on some, who believe the app could pose a national security risk.
“A US Congressman is allowing a 3rd Party tech company to scan ALL of his electronic devices daily and then uploading reports to his son about what he’s watching or not watching…. I mean, who else is accessing that data?” tweeted the user Receipt Maven, who first resurfaced the video.
Now to Rolling Stone, which I’ve concluded seems to despise every evangelical it covers. After reporting on the Receipt Maven findings, Rolling Stone opined:
Since he was elected Speaker of the House in October, Johnson’s history as a faith-obsessed, election-denying, far-right Christian nationalist has come under the microscope, from his time with the anti-LBGTQ organization Alliance Defending Freedom to his claim that school shootings could be blamed on abortion and teaching evolution.
Oh, the horror.
The Stone put out a barrage of hair-pulling pieces lamenting, among other things, Johnson’s “long crusade against birth control.”
A journalism note: The writer seems clueless as to why Johnson calls the “morning-after pill” an abortifacient. If the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterine wall, then Johnson is correct. Here are some resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for journalists who are interested in doing accurate coverage of that point of view.
In another piece, the Rolling Stone lambasted Johnson for blaming school shootings on schools teaching about evolution and abortion. Sounds horrible, does it not? Read further into the piece and see the actual quotes Johnson had and one can at least see — if not agree with — why Johnson ties teachings about evolution with a sense of life being cheap with no meaning leading to school shooters wanting to kill people.
Johnson’s been on the job less than a month and already he’s being made out to be a real life Fred Waterford: the sadistic villain in “The Handmaid’s Tale” who drowned a cohabitating couple and had one of his wife’s fingers chopped off because she wasn’t submissive enough.
About the “faith-obsessed” part of this equation — here is a far more balanced piece by the New York Times’ Ruth Graham on Johnson’s Southern Baptist roots and how representative of the South he really is.
Mr. Johnson’s sudden ascent last month to speaker of the House, second in line to the presidency, was a surprising turn in a career built quietly in courtrooms, as a lawyer representing socially conservative causes, and through the Louisiana Statehouse and the House of Representatives, to which he was elected in 2016.
Mr. Johnson’s path also wound through conservative evangelical churches and institutions where faith mingles almost inextricably with Republican politics. It is a world that sees him not as an occasional visitor or friendly supporter, but firmly as one of their own.
Notably, it wasn’t a career spent going to the right law schools, clerking for the right Supreme Court justices or working for the right Wall Street law firms in an effort to get into national politics.
Now, as Mr. Johnson becomes arguably the most powerful elected Republican politician in America, many in that world are celebrating the unexpected triumph of a leader with impeccable conservative evangelical bona fides.
“For Southern Baptists it’s like winning the lottery,” said Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Southern Baptists aren’t the only ones rejoicing.
Singer/activist Sean Feucht has an Instagram video showing Mike Johnson taking people into a small chapel inside the Capitol. “We prayed here two months ago that God would reactivate this empty prayer room inside the Capitol,” Feucht wrote. “Then God raised up a speaker of the House who is a man of prayer. He immediately initiated plans to open and use this chapel every single morning.”
All this scrutiny is to be expected, according to the Washington Post since the Speaker of the House is, after all, second-in-line to the presidency.
But the framing is so unfair. I can understand real questions, like the financial ones described in the story linked above. It’s also far game, as tmatt noted the other day, to explore the paper trail on Johnson’s years as an legal activist defending religious liberty and the First Amendment. Was he involved in defending the rights of all kinds of religious minorities?
The bottom line: Efforts to purposely misconstrue someone’s family life and religious beliefs puts the media in the worst possible light and unfortunately makes it extremely difficult for fair-minded journalists to ever get an interview with Johnson in the future.
If you were the current House speaker, would you want to talk with the mainstream press? I wouldn’t.
FIRST IMAGE: Graphic featured at the Covenant Eyes “How it works” page online.