That can’t possibly be true, I said to myself, and of course it’s not true. By the next morning, the newsmagazine had appended a correction:
Correction: This article’s headline originally stated that People of Praise inspired ‘The Handmaid's Tale’. The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work. A New Yorker profile of the author from 2017 mentions a newspaper clipping as part of her research for the book of a different charismatic Catholic group, People of Hope. Newsweek regrets the error.
In journalism, there’s a name for this kind of correction. It’s called a bullshit correction. The only person who did her job correctly was the headline writer, who accurately condensed the thesis of the piece into a phrase. The mistakes were layered into the article itself, which Newsweek altered without calling the changes to the reader’s attention. There is a name for this, too, but I won’t repeat it here. The whole thing was a cupcake-size version of the Covington disaster, in which liberal journalists were so willfully blind to their own deep biases that they smeared an adolescent who was guilty only of smiling in an enigmatic and uncomfortable way.
Caitlin Flanagan: The media botched the Covington Catholic story
Times are hard and talent is expensive, but the mistakes in this piece were so obvious that we may only ascribe them to rank incompetence. That such a calumny should have been based on one reporter’s misreading of a New Yorker profile in which the subject “mentions” a “newspaper clipping” about an entirely different religious group being “a part”—and not the whole—of her “research” means you’re in uncharted territory. I myself have traveled this unmapped region, because I used to teach seventh-grade English; that is, I am familiar with the challenge of supporting a strongly held claim with weakly grasped nonfacts.
It was a useless story in so many other ways. There wasn’t a single word on Barrett’s position on the Devil’s Triangle. And couldn’t the writer have placed a call to judicial expert Alyssa Milano? The incident fed into the “fake news” narrative and the suspicion that liberals disdain Christians—by being news that was fake and by betraying an obvious animus toward Christians.
Is Barrett’s religious faith pondered in her heart or made evident in her approach to the law? Answering that requires the labor-intensive task of actually learning something about her. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Barrett does belong to People of Praise, which is not my kind of thing—and it’s probably not your kind of thing either, as there are estimated to be only about 1,700 or so members. The group was founded in 1971, six years after Vatican II had reduced many of the strictures by which Catholics were meant to live their lives, unintentionally creating a void in the religious experience of many faithful. For some, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal filled that void, replacing the rigidity of pre–Vatican II Catholicism with the kind of ecstatic worship style of Pentecostals, including gifts of prophecy and of glossolalia. Although most People of Praise members apparently identify themselves as Catholics, the group has several practices that fall outside present-day Catholic doctrine, and—as far as I can tell—considers itself ecumenical.