The Media, Flyover Country, Betsy DeVos, The New Yorker, And The Truth

Jane Mayer published what is known in the journalism business as a “hit piece” in The New Yorker on Betsy DeVos

Along the way, however, as Mayer illustrates yet again why people ignored her class in this election, she also illustrated how utterly disdainful they are toward what they really do regard as “flyover country”—that great swath of the U.S. between Manhattan and Santa Barbara—but also how utterly disinterested they are in the truth. Mayer knows her job: to reinforce what her readers already believe to be true. So insulated is she that, when confronted by evidence to the contrary about basic facts (what is) she cannot accept the evidence. She knows a priori that she cannot have erred.

 

On Wednesday of this week, Jane Mayer published what is known in the journalism business as a “hit piece” in The New Yorker on Betsy DeVos, whom president-elect Trump has nominated to become the Secretary of Education. Mayer begins “dirtying up” DeVos right away by positioning her as an insider and a member of the hated “donor class” (and thus a contradiction of Trump’s “outsider” campaign theme). She notes DeVos’ connections to the Koch Brothers and some of the travails of the DeVos family going back to the Regan administration. Most all of this is standard DC-NYC corridor stuff. It is intended to comfort the readers of the New Yorker that yes, they were right to vote for Secretary Clinton, yes, the bad people are now in charge.

Along the way, however, as Mayer illustrates yet again why people ignored her class in this election, she also illustrated how utterly disdainful they are toward what they really do regard as “flyover country”—that great swath of the U.S. between Manhattan and Santa Barbara—but also how utterly disinterested they are in the truth. Mayer knows her job: to reinforce what her readers already believe to be true. So insulated is she that, when confronted by evidence to the contrary about basic facts (what is) she cannot accept the evidence. She knows a priori that she cannot have erred.

How do I know this, the reader might reasonably ask? Because I saw it with my own eyes on Twitter. At 7:59PM James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, posted a quotation from Mayer’s article in which Mayer wrote that the DeVos family belongs to the “deeply conservative Dutch Reformed Church and has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.” Smith responded to this sentence by writing, “Stopped reading at this sentence which is a factual embarrassment twice over. So much for fact checking.” Mayer replied 8 minutes later confirming that Smith teaches at the college from which DeVos graduated and asking “what are the errors?” Smith informed her that there is no such denomination (at least since the mid-19th century) in the U. S. and that she is not a member of a Reformed Church. She is, in fact, a member of Mars Hill Bible Church, founded by Rob Bell. Smith explained that DeVos is a member of the Christian Reformed Church, regarded by some evangelicals as liberal (his language) and that she does not question the separation of church and state.

To this Mayer replies, “those are both matters of opinion, not fact, ergo, incorrect to suggest fact checking issue.” Arguably, the latter might a matter of opinion but the former is a matter of simple fact. Either DeVos is a member of Mars Hill or she is not. Either there is an American religious denomination “Dutch Reformed Church” or not. In fact, as noted already, there is not. There was a church in the Netherlands, the Hervormde Kerk (Reformed Church). When members of the Hervormde Kerk emigrated to the American colonies c. 1710, they were known as the Dutch Reformed Church and later, in 1867, as the Reformed Church in America. In 1857, those Dutch Reformed immigrants who had begun to arrive in 1848, split from the Dutch Reformed Church/RCA to form the Christian Reformed Church. The DeVos family has long been associated with the Christian Reformed Church. These are historical facts. They are not matters of opinion or interpretation. Remarkably, Mayer replies to Smith’s Twitter-length (140 character) clarifications by challenging his church history! She writes, “The Dutch Reformed Church was her denomination for years, then merged, split and renamed itself 2004.” I pay reasonably close attention to these things and I have no idea what she is saying.

Twitter is public and other readers began to chime in with clarifications. To be sure, to be in one of these discussions can be a bit overwhelming and Mayer did acknowledge the clarification regarding the DRC/RCA but she clings to other errors of fact. Again, I know this because it is published for every English-reading person to see for himself. As of this morning, so-called “Black Friday,” the article still says:

The DeVos family belongs to the deeply conservative Reformed Church in America, and has pushed for years to breach the wall between church and state on education, among other issues.* (The Washington Post reports that Betsy DeVos has been an elder at Mars Hill, a nondenominational megachurch in Grand Rapids.)

There is one note of correction, as is common in reputable publications, but the note is irrelevant.

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