Yesterday, we published the first half of our Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks, the Christian commentators whose writing is most likely to waste your time. (Click here to read the introduction and the first part.) Today, we continue with the top of the list—the worst of the worst. Enjoy, and let us know who we left out in the comments.

5. David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh

Rush’s younger brother has none of the conservative godfather’s crackling wit or sense of humor. If the parallel conservative media weren’t so generally populated with talentless automatons, we’d say the younger Limbaugh probably would not have a career if he had a different last name. But since he’s a Limbaugh, he’s got to have a platform, and he uses it to constantly reiterate the tired, garden-variety right-wing cant you can find at any conservative blog or Tea Party rally: Obama is a socialist, Obama hates the free market, patriotism is Christian, Sarah Palin is persecuted, and the liberal media is to blame for everything. He once even oxymoronically titled a column “Recapturing Supply Side Coherence,” which would have been great except … it wasn’t ironic. If you want a walking embodiment of conservative epistemic closure who isn’t named Jonah Goldberg, then David Limbaugh is your man. It’s hard to imagine that even people who agree with this stuff don’t get tired of reading it over and over, put exactly the same way every time.

Repeat offenses: Repetition; Obama Derangement Syndrome; America worship; humorlessness; intellectual dullness.

Representative quote:

“Obama let slip his socialist proclivities to Joe the plumber when he denied he wanted to punish wealth and insisted he just wanted to spread the wealth around. Joe was justifiably repulsed by Obama’s cavalier attitude toward the American dream.”

4. L. Brent Bozell III,  Media Research Center

L. Brent Bozell III

L. Brent Bozell III

The nephew of William F. Buckley and son of Catholic conservative activist L. Brent Bozell, Jr., is responsible for a host of ridiculous organizations devoted to policing decency and tracking “liberal bias”: the Parents’ Television Council, the Media Research Center, NewsBusters, and CNS News, to name a few. As recently as this month, his weekly columns were peddling vintage 1990s Christian hysteria about the National Endowment for the Arts and obscenity in art and media. Bozell takes a prurient delight in describing the latest outrages on MTV or at art galleries around the country, delivering graphic details with shock-jock flair. Long after the Christian world in general has admitted the need to get beyond counting swear words in popular entertainment, Bozell keeps it up tirelessly. And the fact that he’s trained as a decency cop doesn’t keep him from offering color-by-numbers political analysis that obsesses over Barack Obama’s “radical left-wing agenda” and “Marxist” advisers. Like Limbaugh, Coulter, and pretty much every other political hack right or left, he’s written the same damn column every week for the past decade. You can safely skip the rest of them without missing a thing.

Repeat offenses: Mind-numbing repetition; Obama Derangement Syndrome; conservative epistemic closure; hysterical, prurient prudery.

Representative quote:

That’s just the beginning. Now a girl, handsomely endowed, takes a batch of pictures of herself wearing only panties. “High art” is how she describes her product. The curator examines her semi-naked pictures, with emphasis on her naked breasts, and deems the display to be “gorgeous.” But what the judges would later describe as “brilliant” is her special touch: setting these pictures next to a black felt-tip pen so the gallery audience could scrawl on them whatever graffiti or obscenities they inspire.

3. Frank Schaeffer, The Huffington Post

Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer

Most of us know what faith crises are like. The son of the evangelical lion Francis Schaeffer, who in his later days became a political hack himself and would probably be on this list were he still alive, might even deserve a bit of slack for his. But Frank has long since burned through any sympathy one might have felt for his childhood as a right-winger, becoming a typical paranoid, frothing Huffington Post blogger with nothing to do but smear Christians and conservatives with acidic bile and conspiratorial rantings. Worst of all, he continues to publicly dispute his own deceased father. Principled political deserters often make powerful critics of their old ideologies, but there’s nothing sadder than watching them become embarrassing mirror images of their former excess. Schaeffer might as well have stayed on the far right if he’s going to keep doing this much violence to public discourse. Far from exorcising personal demons, his naked public rage and awful political writing only keep the family trainwreck hurtling forward.

Repeat offenses: Hateful hyperbole; bad writing; relentless book hawking.

Representative quote:

“Christians who believe that the Bible is without error and internally consistent are the victims of an ancient elitist cover-up. An ‘inerrantist’ is someone who believes that the Bible is without error in everything that it affirms. Stark exposes the circularity of such ‘Bible-is-without-error’ fundamentalist ‘logic.’ He calls out the double standards Evangelicals employ when defending their doctrines. Stark shows how the doctrine of biblical inerrancy actually works against Evangelicals, by undermining basic theistic tenets such as free will and divine sovereignty.”

2. Joseph Farah, WorldNetDaily

Joseph Farah

Joseph Farah

Farah and his hysterical right-wing website need no introduction. A skilled demagogue and a relentless opportunist who makes millions stoking Birther conspiracies, Tea Party paranoia, and cultural resentment, Farah may be the most unforgivable Christianist in the world. When he says, for example, God gave him the “clarity of mind and discernment“* to drop Ann Coulter from a WND conference after she decided to give a fairly hostile speech at a gay conservative conference—a convenient fight that brought massive publicity to WorldNetDaily—it’s hard to know if he is really a poisonous bigot or a greedy sleazeball.

To his credit, Farah did break with conservative orthodoxy and come out strongly against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But in general, he believes in whatever is good for his bottom line, and in scaring as many unstable people as he can into parting with their money via the innumerable financial scams he promotes on WND. All of this somehow is promoting the cause of Christ on Earth, who as Farah would say, left behind more evidence of his birth than Barack Obama. Not that we need their word, but when conservative überhack Andrew Breitbart thinks you’re nuts and Ann Coulter calls you a “fake Christian,” you must be a pretty bad person.

Repeat offenses: Right-wing fanaticism; Zionism; America worship; Islamophobia; homophobia; brazen dishonesty; aggressive shamelessness.

Representative quote:

What God cares about is spelled out with great care and specificity in the Bible. He cares about sin – which He defines. Nowhere in the Bible does God characterize the failure to ‘recycle’ as a sin. Nowhere in the Bible does God characterize using the world’s minerals and natural resources as a sin. Nowhere in the Bible does God characterize the creation of carbon as sin.

1. Dinesh D’Souza, The King’s College

Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D'Souza

Indian-born Dinesh D’Souza’s path to prominence blazed through virtually every bastion of the conservative movement: first the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review, then the Reagan administration, then the American Enterprise Institute and later the Hoover Institution. The fact that these institutions do not typically produce America’s brightest scholars, though, is beside the point. By all accounts, D’Souza has a first-rate mind and a passionate debating style; many observers felt he held his own debating God with Christopher Hitchens in 2008.

That intellect makes D’Souza’s writing career all the more upsetting. His early books trumpeted the signature grievances of 80s and 90s conservatism: the injustice of affirmative action and black people’s blame for their own cultural condition. (“The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well,” D’Souza wrote in one infamous line.) His dubious arguments quickly made him a laughingstock among mainstream intellectuals and critics. But that wasn’t a provocation for the man who once led the invasive, pesky Dartmouth Review. The next political subject he attempted—a backhanded defense of the 9/11 terrorist attacks—earned him scathing reviews from conservative critics as well. The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 accused American liberals of creating a sexually licentious, secular culture by which radical Muslims are rightly offended. National Review said the book was “seriously misguided,” and the Weekly Standard called it “seriously wrong and foolishly divisive.”

That brings us to this year, when D’Souza unleashed his latest idea on the American media: a hare-brained theory about Barack Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonialism,” expounded upon in a Forbes cover story, a Washington Post op-ed, and another massive book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage. The tome centered on a wild accusation that the president learned virulent anti-American views from his father, a thesis unsupported by even the most cursory survey of Obama’s biography or scholarship. D’Souza’s factual, historical, and logical mishaps were immediately and viciously tallied by scores of conservative commentators, including Daniel Larison, Heather Mac Donald, Andrew Ferguson, Ramesh Ponnuru, and the Economist. Larison called it “the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written,” while the Weekly Standard headlined its review, “The Roots of Lunacy.” D’Souza refused to budge.

It’s hard to attribute Dinesh D’Souza’s fantastic despicableness to simple opportunism; he may be the Kitty Kelley of academia, but he clearly believes in his own horseshit. And that’s why he’s the number one Christian hack with a job right now: he’s buried his brain so deeply in movement partisanship that he can believe something everyone on his own side thinks is madness. Despite his popular works of Christian apologetics, no believer can trust a man so deeply invested in perpetuating dishonesty. And because conservatives and Christianists always believe themselves to be under siege, his mind is closed to being persuaded out of his pernicious mission.

Repeat offenses: Right-wing fanaticism; psuedo-scholarship in defense of outrageous, false theses; petulance and partisanship in response to critics; Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Representative quote:

“Obama supports the Ground Zero mosque because to him 9/11 is the event that unleashed the American bogey and pushed us into Iraq and Afghanistan. He views some of the Muslims who are fighting against America abroad as resisters of U.S. imperialism. Certainly that is the way the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi portrayed himself at his trial. Obama’s perception of him as an anticolonial resister would explain why he gave tacit approval for this murderer of hundreds of Americans to be released from captivity.”

*This article originally stated Farah said God told him to drop Coulter from the WND event. It has been updated to reflect Farah’s statement more precisely.

About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to The Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks, #5-1

  1. Steve in Toronto says:

    All I can say if you think Frank Schaeffer is a bad writer you have not read Portofino
    Steve in Toronto

  2. Thanks for posting this. It’s better we out “our own” before someone else does. I like your term Christianism or Americoloatry. I’d ove if you wrote more about that. I found the original thread in regards to Glenn Beck. I think more people need to examine their faith and parse what’s theology and what’s culture posing as theology. I realize this is in response to the Salon article. But please, post a list of the good ones before I despair of any good Christian commentators. Thanks again.

  3. fivebares says:

    “Far from exorcising personal demons, his naked public rage and awful writing only are only keeping the family trainwreck hurtling forward as the world looks on.”

    I post this not because I’m calling you out for adding the extra “only” in a segment that mentions bad writing, but because I hope to save you from the barrage of disparaging comments you’re sure to receive from fundie haters if you leave that typo in there. :) Much love!

  4. fivebares says:

    “Far from exorcising personal demons, his naked public rage and awful writing only are only keeping the family trainwreck hurtling forward as the world looks on.”

    I post this not because I’m calling you out for adding the extra “only” in a segment that mentions bad writing, but because I hope to save you from the barrage of disparaging comments you’re sure to receive from fundie haters if you leave that typo in there. :) Much love!

  5. fivebares says:

    “Far from exorcising personal demons, his naked public rage and awful writing only are only keeping the family trainwreck hurtling forward as the world looks on.”

    I post this not because I’m calling you out for adding the extra “only” in a segment that mentions bad writing, but because I hope to save you from the barrage of disparaging comments you’re sure to receive from fundie haters if you leave that typo in there. :) Much love!

  6. Mac says:

    While I can agree that some of these guys are indeed corrosive to the Church, the smugness that is becoming more and more evident in your writings makes it almost impossible to take seriously. In cased you missed it in your hipster haze, you actually called Francis Schaeffer a “right wing political hack.” That’s just sad and irresponsible writing. While basking in your liberal christian sunshine, that high horse that liberal/postmodern/whatever you’re calling yourselves on these days is going to bring you down just as hard as the uber conservative crowd that’s crashing and burning now.

    • Mac, I’m afraid you’re reading a lot into what I wrote that isn’t there. I didn’t judge the totality of Francis Schaeffer’s output as “right wing political hackery.” I said that in his later years he became a political hack, which I don’t think anyone can dispute. I passed no judgment whatsoever on Schaeffer as a thinker/intellectual; I observed that toward the end of his life, be became hysterical and threw his hat in with conservative politics.

      Further, while I can’t stop you, I do wish you’d refrain from calling me “liberal” or “postmodern.” The former is reductionist and inaccurate, and the latter is downright false.

      • Philip Wade says:

        I’m not begging to label you, David, but how do you term to your beliefs or point of view? You have identified yourself with the left in these two posts, but you say it’s inaccurate to call you a liberal. How would do label yourself accurately? And out of curiosity, how do you define “postmodern”?

        • Phillip,

          I don’t recall ever identifying myself with the left; I just said I was not conservative.

          But here’s the deal with liberal. In most people’s minds, left-wing=liberal=Democrat. If I call myself a “liberal,” casual readers assume I support the Democratic Party, which would often times be wrong. “Left-wing” also involves a lot of historical and political baggage I don’t associate with in any way. So while if I was forced to put myself somewhere on a binary American spectrum, I would be a liberal, I find the label pretty reductive. (Properly, “liberalism” is a Western, free-market economic worldview, so in that vein every American who isn’t a member of the Communist Party is a liberal.) So yeah. I’m okay with the New Deal welfare state, support universal healthcare, am not angry about my level of taxation, believe rich people should be taxed way more than they are, etc. That probably makes a liberal in most people’s minds, and that’s okay, though I will have to dispute them if they call me a Democrat.

          And where to start on “postmodern.” I am inherently post-modern in that I was born after the modern era, and in some ways I can’t help being shaped by the hubris and excesses of modernism. But I would never embrace “postmodernism” as a philosophy or label myself that way. It’s true most people my age are in a position of looking past modernity, but that doesn’t mean I reject modernity or embrace some sort of squishy anti-modern belief system. I think we all want to try to re-humanize modernity the best we can, while accepting that it’s here to stay.

          Does that help at all?

          • Philip Wade says:

            Thanks, David. I was thinking primarily of what you said about Jim Wallis when I said you identified yourself with the left, and you’re right, despite the classic definition of “liberal,” I would consider you a liberal for the views you’ve stated (using the modern American political definition). I heartily disagree with that position, but I won’t burn anyone at the stake for it. I appreciate your thoughts on “postmodern.” Perhaps I’m loose with words, but I don’t mind being called that, particularly in the face of the hyper-modernism posed as postmodern in some churches.

            I still don’t know if a list like this is helpful, even in venting. Individual critiques may have worked better, and you would have caught flak for more specific things. I am discouraged by your summary of Dinesh D’Souza. I’ve heard only some of his good stuff, not the other things. As a conservative, I’ll say I don’t give Farrah or Bozell the time of day. Are you planning a list of 10 greats in Christian media?

          • Absolutely — I’m working on it right now. If you have any suggestions, feel free to share.

          • Philip Wade says:

            Marvin Olasky should be considered, in part because his influence may be far greater than the reach of his own articles.

          • Timothy Dalrymple says:

            David, I’m glad to hear that you’ll be writing a “Ten Best” as well. I was going to suggest it. I would think about (if you’ll pardon ending a sentence in a preposition): “Who is writing on politics and faith, whether I agree with them or not, in the way I would like to see more of?”

            I want to think about that question as well. I’d like to encourage a different kind of discourse on faith and politics than the kind that predominates now. And part of that, I think, involves identifying and supporting those who are doing it right.

          • Mark P says:

            Your “worst” list has been dominated by political concerns. Political media (mediums, I mean) by their very natures encourage hackery, partisanship, short-shrifting, and hysteria. Certain long-form platforms are moderately immune, but only somewhat so. So if the “best” list remains primarily in terms of politics, I do not know how you’re going to make your selections. I can’t think of ten political media figures of any stripe I especially admire. It’s something akin to saying, “Name the ten-best lobbyists…”

            And this is especially so if you’re going to talk about nationally known figures, who generally becomes figures through the aforementioned hysteria and partisanship.

            I will be amazed, in other words, if you can find ten political pundits–atheist, Muslim, Christian, otherwise–who are nationally known AND respectable.

            And if you’re going to broaden your scope beyond politics, strictly speaking, than I think the “worst” lists need reworking.

          • Philip Wade says:

            You know, Mark, it would be worth reading an article on how hard it is to come up with a best list, if they can’t pull one together. When I was thinking about it, I didn’t know who were believers. Is Thomas Sowell a believer? Is he in Christian media? There are pastors and teachers I can think of, but are they in Christian media? I doubt it, but I don’t have to make up this list.

          • Mark P says:

            Yeah, agreed. I will be impressed if David and company can pull it off.

            It just seems that successful punditry is an inherently hackish pursuit. If the success of Fox News has taught us anything, it’s that considered, prudent, and charitable conversation does not sell.

            This isn’t an Americans-only deal, right? And how famous? I’m thinking these people have to have fairly significant national reputations (hence eliminating the folks at Front Porch Republic and the Imaginative Conservative and, heck, Patrol).

            I’ll take a stab at what the Patrol list will look like, broken down

            Of those politically conservative (by American standards anyway), I’m guessing you get Marvin Olasky and James Davison Hunter [so long as you can separate (which you should) his use of “compassionate conservatism” from the (as I understand it) bastardized version that Bush and friends embraced]

            And then there’s Philip Blond, who isn’t exactly conservative by American standards, but he’s certainly not liberal by any standard.

            I’m guessing the rest will be politically liberal: John Milbank, Tony Campolo, Stephen Colbert. Some emergent church folks. Brian McClaren, Shane Claiborne, Derek Webb (not really emergent, but gets lumped in). Something like that.

            Frankly my own list wouldn’t look too different.

            I’d drop the emergent people–though if we were evaluating these people as of, like, 2005, I might include Claiborne (whose Irresistible Revolution is almost irresistible if quite, quite flawed) and Derek Webb (who I still respect, but whose commentary about the church has gotten increasingly combative and acidic…).

            I would include Olasky, Hunter, Blond, Milbank, perhaps Colbert, maybe even Campolo.

            I’d add Wendell Berry, although he might be too obscure. He’s not famous, but he does have a much, much wider reputation than I think many people realize. Richard White, an extremely important and extremely liberal environmental historian, calls Berry the person who has most significantly wrestled with the combination of work and environmentalism. So Berry pops up in a number of circles, including some highly liberal, green-party-leaning ones.

            And if you include Berry you might could include John Lukacs too. He’s not a pundit, though he’s written punditry in the NY Times (insulting the tendency of American presidents since Reagan to play at military, for example), the American Scholar, and other places. And a number of his books, most notably Democracy and Populism and A New Republic directly address American politics and culture in ways that could fit.

            But you’ll note that Berry and Lukacs are, despite being gigantic figures in their own right, not national or popular figures by most standards.

            I’m sure I’m missing some obvious ones.

  7. Matt says:

    Mac said: “While I can agree that some of these guys are indeed corrosive to the Church, the smugness that is becoming more and more evident in your writings makes it almost impossible to take seriously.”

    Unfortunately, Mac followed up this valuable reaction by resorting to the terms “hipster,” “liberal,” and “postmodern.” I will invoke none of these, and hopefully thereby give David no reason to protest my terminology. But I think Mac’s first point stands. The ethos of this piece feels to me reactionary and smug, even cruel. (I recognize that this is a subjective judgment, but I’m not the only one who’s made it.)

    Look, I understand that these guys aren’t doing Christianity or American culture any good. I understand that they’re dishonest and infuriating. And I even understand the allusion to the Salon piece. But if you want Christians and America to get out from under the culture war, it’s no good fighting fire with fire. Your inflammatory rhetoric is only perpetuating the type of media environment that gives these guys jobs in the first place. If you’re that must smarter and more subtle than them, prove it. Take the higher ground. Lose the anger and focus on more productive things.

    You guys do culture stories so well. (I’m thinking in particular about a piece on the dangers of cosmopolitanism from a year or so ago.) I’d far rather be reading that sort of subtle discussion of cultural trends than another dismissive recitation of the wrongs done by Culture Warriors.

    • Well said. On one hand I admire Patrol’s obvious writing talent and intellect. On the other, I think it often goes to waste on inflammatory and unhelpful hyperbole. After this article, for example, I’m at a loss for who David thinks IS worth reading (besides himself), or what concrete opinions he actually holds about the topics in question. Though good points were certainly made, it seemed to amount to the usual “Other Christians are stupid and I don’t like them.”

    • Matt,In general, I believe you are completely right. “Fighting fire with fire” typically does no good, and that these sorts of conversations have to be way de-politicized before they will ever become productive. I realize that and strive for it, even though in a relentlessly political cultural environment/news cycle, it’s often profoundly difficult.That said, I have some objection to the “leave them alone and get on with doing something productive” argument. I think it betrays something of a weak stomach for passionate argument and for calling things what they are. There’s this idea out there that, whether in politics or the Church, anger is always discrediting, that expressing outrage automatically places one on the fringe. But whether they are moderate American citizens who want things done or moderate Christians who are sick of what passes for religion in this country, it surprises me that a lot more people aren’t angry. I realize railing and attacking and bemoaning grows insufferable and, again, is generally counterproductive. But I’m not going to apologize for the occasional vent against people who truly deserve it. I need it personally, and, in an age of suffocating cant and hackery, sane readers need it, too.

  8. Eric Miller says:

    I enjoyed Alex Pareene’s Salon piece on pundits, and your riff is good too. But I guess I’d be more interested in reading about the 10 bestChristian commentators. Maybe you could do this in a follow-up. Who do you like, and why do you like them?

  9. klatu says:

    Bring two thousand years of ‘Christian’ theo-idiocy crashing down. Easier done than said!

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