Reader Meter: Pink taxis anyone? Or how about religion instead of faith?

Taxis and religion were on the minds of Post readers during this week between Christmas and New Year’s. And perhaps because of the holidays, people were in a charitable mood as well, sending in thanks for several recent stories in The Post.

Let’s hail the taxis first. After D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), introduced a taxi industry overhaul bill, and put out an online survey to get riders’ input, the ombudsman received letters on her idea to paint all D.C. cabs a single color to enhance recognition and uniformity.

The most entertaining and cheeky letter I received on this was from a Northern Virginia reader, Jordan A. Ryan, who said the cabs should all be painted, uh, breast-cancer pink. You know, that bright pink seen on the breast-cancer awareness ribbons, t-shirts, charity walks, coffee and whatever else. Here’s what Ryan said:

“The taxi cabs should be a shade of pink: Breast-cancer pink to be particular. Before you roll your eyes, not only is this color non-threatening but it stands out just as well if not better then the typical ugly yellows and oranges.” And, Ryan suggested, let’s set aside 1 percent or heck, even a half percent of revenue from taxi fares to go to some form of relief for breast cancer.

The feeling in the city would be different with all the pink taxis rolling around, “more accepting,” Ryan wrote and “Money will be being raised for a worthy cause, and everyone wins — politicians, the cab drivers, and the everyday Washingtonian.”

It may seem silly, this pink idea—just think of the late-night talk show jokes — Washington Code Pink, the girlie city, and probably worse. But honestly, why not? It would be distinctive, funny, and probably safer for the cab drivers.

A lot of readers wrote in about Melinda Henneberger’s Dec. 23 story on Newt Gingrich’s conversion to Catholicism, the third Christian denomination the former Speaker of the House has practiced in his life. Most readers liked the story, a few quibbled, and one reader commented separately on the whole notion of journalists using “faith-based” as an adjective in stories about politics and government.

“I propose a New Year's resolution for you, namely to insist that The Washington Post stop using the phrase ‘faith-based’ to describe political events unless they are quoting [someone using the phrase,]” wrote D.C. reader Michael Rosenthal.

He goes on to say that faith-based has largely come to mean Christian-themed events, charities or rallies, largely associated with Republicans and conservatives, and that it implies that adherents of other faiths aren’t included.

“A similar objection might be raised to the use of ‘values’ as a descriptor of political events or candidates,” Rosenthal added. “In any case, they invite invidious comparison with others, suggesting either that they lack faith or lack values or both.”

I think Rosenthal is right. On first glance, the term faith-based seems a neutral descriptor for something that grows out of religion. I went through a host of recent Post stories in which this phrase appeared. In the vast majority of cases, the word “religious” fits as a perfect substitute, is more neutral, shorter, less awkward, and doesn’t’ imply whether The Post, or any journalist, knows the depth of a person’s or organization’s faith.

As a journalist, I can tell when something is religious, or religiously themed, but I can’t determine the depth of anyone’s faith.

A “faith-based” organization is a religious organization. “Gingrich is running an overtly faith-based presidential campaign” is the same as saying Gingrich is running an overtly religious presidential campaign. Faith-based charities running government-funded social programs are the same as religious charities running government-funded social programs. When we mean religion or religious, let’s say so. When it’s Christian, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim, let’s be specific, and use the fuzzy “faith-based.” Okay, sermon over.

Finally, readers not only sent in praise for Henneberger’s story on Gingrich’s Catholicism, they also like Peter Whoriskey’s Dec. 27 story on the increasing wealth of members of Congress relative to that of average Americans and Annie Gowen’s Dec. 22 story on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s efforts to remake the Sunflower State into a limited-government, Tea-Party model. Good, solid, insightful reporting on all three stories, said readers, and I agree. 

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