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Press: HTB church-planter tipped for the White House

12 November 2021


THE best religious story of the week was buried in the Financial Times, which had a profile of Glenn Youngkin, the multi-millionaire Republican who unexpectedly won the governorship of Virginia on a 12-per-cent swing against the Democrats last week. To do this, he had to transform his image from city slicker — he’d worked for the Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm — to just plain folks like the voters.

“Months after leaving Carlyle, in July 2020, Youngkin launched his bid for Virginia governor, using his sizeable wealth to hire political consultants and produce a slick PR campaign that depicted a down-to-earth dad preaching ‘common sense’ conservatism. The one-time executive swapped his suits for fleece gilets and khaki trousers and clinched his party’s nomination in May.

“The evangelical Christian, who colleagues say kept his religious convictions closely guarded at work, began speaking openly of his faith, sharing how his beliefs deepened while attending Holy Trinity Brompton in London. Youngkin and his wife later set up a parish modelled after HTB in McLean, Virginia, called Holy Trinity Church.”

Earlier in the story, it says: “Wearing a navy blue suit and red tie, the Republicans’ man of the moment greeted supporters and clapped in time with the music, pausing to point one finger to the heavens and mouth the lyrics: ‘you know it’s a must, gotta have a friend in Jesus’.”

Ross Douthat, a genuine conservative bewildered and horrified by Donald Trump, immediately plugged Mr Youngkin as a possible presidential candidate in his New York Times column. That would make the Revd Nicky Gumbel the most influential Anglican spiritual leader in the United States. This would actually be pretty good news. If American white Evangelicalism were more like HTB and less like, well, itself, the world would surely be a better place.


WHY is the FT such a good paper? It’s certainly the best left-wing paper in Britain today. This isn’t just because of the “How To Spend It” supplement, which is guaranteed to provoke revolutionary fervour in anyone who earns as little as a Tory MP, or even (and I’m told they exist) less than a mere MP. But its reports on injustice avoid the silliness and self-righteousness that mar much of The Guardian’s coverage. It’s not written for people who take up positions, but for those who take decisions, and this shows.

Take, for instance, the feature-writer Henry Mance’s piece on climate change: “I’m not going to Glasgow. I won’t be listening to David Attenborough, eating canapés with Leonardo DiCaprio, or watching my train be diverted via Llandudno. I’m OK with that, because climate action is not reserved for masters of the universe. It’s the one thing over which Jeff Bezos will never have a monopoly. If you’re tired of world leaders not doing more, don’t sigh at their ineptitude; show them how it’s done.

“The cynics are wrong. In an emergency, you make every call you can. Changing your behaviour makes you happier, because it helps you grasp an otherwise frightening reality. Greta Thunberg was miserable until she took up activism and her family embraced low-carbon living. When I gave up meat, I found more satisfaction in food, because I felt part of the solution.”


FOR really bad journalism, consider Ozy Media, an American enterprise. Pooja Bhatia, who had been The Economist’s Haiti correspondent, worked there for some years. Her diary essay in the London Review of Books is great fun.

“I had started my career in newspapers in the late 1990s, when the prospect of earning a decent living wasn’t risible, and watched as Craigslist ate the classifieds, corporations consolidated the local and mid-size papers, private equity firms bought the corporations and stripped them for parts, and major papers shuttered their foreign bureaus. The internet was still cratering everything.

“Ozy’s cofounders . . . had no idea just how labour intensive it is to source, report, write and edit. Breaking news was out of the question, incompatible with the ‘new and next’ ethos. Investigations were too expensive; hot takes and memes too cheap. Writers were squeezed to produce three or four features a week, a workload Watson [the charismatic founder] claimed was insignificant; he refused to concede, to me at least, that there was any trade-off between quality and quantity.

“This view of ‘content’ as a fungible slurry went right through the enterprise: when our stories didn’t find an audience, Watson’s usual response was that we needed more of them. Not more staffers, not better marketing or distribution; just more stories, and smarter ones, and probably sensational headlines, too.”

The end, when it came, was more compelling than any story Ozy ever broke: when the company was trying to raise another $40 million from Goldman Sachs, one of the co-founders, Samir Rao, pretended on his phone to be a YouTube executive who could validate Ozy’s claims about the size of the audience. When the deception was discovered, Google, which owns YouTube, called in the FBI. But it was not until the story was published in the New York Times six months later that the company collapsed.

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