More trouble at the Star: Page 1 prayer anti-Semitic? 'Bad thelogy,' says Ryerson

Dateline: Wed 21 Jan 2009

Blog reader Mary Anne Butters was a reporter, mostly in the women's department of the Indianapolis Star, from 1965-1972. She's well-informed about the politics that once dominated the newspaper, as well as its current challenges.

Like many of us, Butters now spends a fair amount of time obsessing over what's gone bad with newspapers and what the future holds. She recently emailed exec editor Dennis Ryerson of the Indianapolis Star with three concerns: whether or not the Star is being 'dressed to kill' and is therefore shedding assets so it can go up for sale; circulation practices in rural areas (where she lives); and the significance of "The Prayer"...that's the one, for a change, on Page 1 ("Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.") She focused on that Page 1 prayer because the other prayer -- the one on A2 that was killed, then resurrected -- was in the news, but nobody seemed to say a peep about the Big Prayer on the front page.

All her observations are quotable, but for today, we're going to stick with the issue of the prayer, simply because it's a fascinating little aside about both the Star's history -- seemingly anti-Semitic at high levels -- and its current lackluster leadership.

Butters' beef? The Page 1 prayer was written by St. Paul to stick it to Jews. Here is what she says in an email to Ryerson. Keep reading, because following her concerns is Ryerson's typically lame explanation:

"If you have a reporter with a few minutes, (ha!)" Butters says to Ryerson, "you should research the real meaning of the scripture under The Star's flag. The Apostle Paul wrote that verse to exhort Jews to abandon Moses' law in favor of the Spirit, Jesus Christ, whose believers will discover freedom from oppressive Jewish law!

"Paul trashed Moses and Jews throughout this chapter then announced a whole new judicial system along about 0050 A.D. in Corinth. According to the Living Bible: II Cor. 3:17: 'The Lord is the Spirit who gives them life, and where he is there is freedom from trying to be saved by keeping the (Jewish) laws of God." I'm guessing that scripture was the one aspect of the lock-tight Pulliam

trust that ECP's (Eugene C. Pulliam's) grandchildren didn't bust," Butters concludes.

Ryerson's response:

"From: Dennis Ryerson Jan. 13, 2009

"Interesting observations, Mary Anne...the prayer decision (ulp) was local, between the publisher and me. (Referencing the original decision to eliminate the A-2 prayer).

"I've had several theologians tell me that the page-one verse isn't just inappropriate for us; it's bad theology. But it was a strong statement of belief

from Gene Pulliam during the Cold War hysteria of the 50s. I confess that I'd rather not have it; I don't think it's our purpose. But I think there'd be pickets in front of our building if we removed it.

Dennis"

More thoughts from Mary Anne, regarding the return of the A2 prayer and life in general:

"It seems only right that a handful of readers should make editorial content

decisions: as restoring the prayer to A2! More than 20 % of the editorial is PROVIDED by readers, so why not editorial judgment? Conversations, the op ed page, IndyTalk, Let It Out, business section press releases, and PAID obits... all provided by readers, not journalists. The Star is becoming a chat room."

Now, my input: I've always been fascinated by the Star's bygone days, and the charge of anti-Semitism hit a nerve. When I first started working there, part-time on the copy desk, I wrote a headline that had the word 'Jew' in it, as in "Jews celebrate Passover." The slot man, the late Dutch Eggert, threw it back at me. "You have to rewrite it," he said. "Mr. Pulliam doesn't like the word 'Jew' in a headline."

Huh? Dutch amplified: "He doesn't like the word 'snake' either. No snakes and no Jews."

So I asked Butters if she could comment; was there an anti-Jewish sentiment at the Indianapolis Star under the Pulliam leadership? Again, her answer..and for those not in the know, Broadmoor Country Club is a largely Jewish club, created because other clubs would not admit Jews as members:

"About the Page 1 scripture: Broadmoor Country Club members were not on Eugene C's 'A List" of socially prominent folks, worth of Society news. You probably don't remember the huge Section Page of eight socially prominent brides who were featured every Sunday. The Old Man would not allow women of color nor Jews on Page One of the Society page. We women reporters demanded a change in that. Myrta (Pulliam, Gene Junior's daughter) was a big help. She actually agreed to join The Guild, until Grandpa threatened to cut her out of the will. Yeah, ECP was a racist and an anti-Semite. (Brides of color HAD to be dummied below the fold with a maximum 9 pica-wide photo.)

"BTW, I've stirred up a little tempest at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation

regarding the Page 1 scripture, just for fun. And, to enrich Dennis' workaday

life.

I'm a bad pussy cat."

This may seem like digging up old bones to many blog readers. Still, the Star not only retains its A2 prayer, but also runs what may be a truly historically offensive Page 1 Bible verse.

In the big scheme of things, this may not be a huge deal. But it once again illustrates what Mary Anne argues: the paper lacks gravitas. It is, indeed, a chat room....and iin fact, truth be told, it has a rather strange history.

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