Fordham Hosts ‘Sinners and Winners’ Forum in Pope Auditorium


Published: October 2, 2008

On Sept. 16, the “Sinners and Winners” forum was held in front of an audience of more than 400 in the Pope Auditorium of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). The speakers at the forum discussed the role religion has played in media coverage of the upcoming presidential election.

The forum started off with a brief address by the moderator, Ray Suarez, who has worked with CNN and NBC and who is currently a correspondent for NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

The first speaker was Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, an organization that runs polls and researches trends in politics. Kohut voiced his opinion that, although religion has come up as an issue in the current presidential race, religion played a larger role in past elections.  He illustrated this claim by mentioning that the number of voters who view abortion as an “important issue” has gone down since the 2004 election.

The next speaker was Peggy Fletcher, an award-winning writer from Salt Lake City who is the editor and publisher of Sunstone Magazine. She commented on what she called the “Protestant perspective” of the press and how religions that are unfamiliar are scrutinized the closest, often with a negative spin. She highlighted press coverage of Mitt Romney and said she was “appalled” at how he was treated by the press in regard to his faith. “I am not suggesting that religion should be irrelevant to [the candidates’] political profile,” she said. Instead, Fletcher stressed the need for more positive coverage of politicians’ religious values.

Fletcher was followed by Don Wycliff, a journalist who worked for the Chicago Tribune for 15 years.  He compared press coverage of candidates’ religious values to “a trip to the zoo.”  He stated that religion in the press has been reduced to nothing more than a spectacle with no real “appreciation.” Wycliff criticized the “savage way that Jeremiah Wright was treated” in the media. Wycliff defended Wright, and said, “[the negative press coverage] demeaned a good man.  America…prefers religion that is domesticated.”

The final speaker of the night was E.J. Dionne Jr., who teaches at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post.  In his segment, he listed those whom he believes to be “sinners” and “winners” of the current election season. His list of “winners” included Reverend Jeremiah Wright for dealing with public pressure and Mitt Romney for his speech on religious liberty.  On the flipside, the “sinners” list consisted of televangelist Pat Robertson, who he deemed a “false prophet,” and Barack Obama, for his comments on the Pennsylvania mining community.  Obama controversially called western Pennsylvanians “bitter,” saying that they “cling to guns and religion,” according to the Huffington Post.

Olivia Salomon, FCRH ’12, said she enjoyed hearing panelists answer audience questions.

Liz Yaslik, FCRH  ’12, liked hearing the panelists talk “about Obama, and… specific…candidates.”

Raphael Chan, FCLC ’09, said, “It just reaffirmed my views, and in a way [clarified my views], [with] their statistics.”

Salomon said, “My views weren’t changed but they were expanded—I’m open to thought.”

Yaslik added that her views were also “opened up.”

Many students singled out Dionne as their favorite panelist.  Chan said, “I specifically liked E.J., and I am reading [Dionne’s book] ‘Sold Out’…The way he presents himself, it stood out.”

During the event, Dionne touched on the Saddleback Forum, which is classified by CNN as a pastor’s forum attended by evangelical Christians. Dionne asked, “Is that a worthwhile development in our politics?”  Many of Dionne’s other points throughout the night centered on Sarah Palin.  According to Dionne, before Palin entered the race, “We were set up to have a very different religious conversation.”

“You can’t separate religion and politics,” he said.  He emphasized his belief that “a politician has an obligation to explain [his or her] faith,” and how this faith will affect his or her policies, adding, “It shouldn’t bother us that religion matters so much.”