George Conger

For journalists, grammar is always important: Episcopal vs. Episcopalian in Breitbart

For journalists, grammar is always important: Episcopal vs. Episcopalian in Breitbart

I am a great fan of the Breitbart website. It is a fresh and vibrant addition to the stable of online news portals.

Also, Breitbart London is one of my daily reads, and I am a fan of the site's editor James Delingpole -- one of the sharpest minds with one of the sharpest pens writing today.

The brand has grown in recent years, branching out from its base of political and media reporting. Over the past year it has made a strong showing in religion reporting and commentary. Delingpole’s Dec. 30 opinion piece entitled “Pope embraces the Green Religion” is wicked (and fun).

However, the venture into religion reporting does produce the occasional misstep. A piece entitled “Maryland Diocese admits female bishop ran over and killed cyclist” makes some beginner's mistakes in its report on Bishop Heather Cook (pictured).

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Sitting down with the would-be assassin of St. John Paul II

Sitting down with the would-be assassin of St. John Paul II

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested after he returned to the scene of his May 1981 crime -- the attempted assassination of St. John Paul II. On Dec. 27, Agca attempted to place flowers on the grave of the late pope, and shortly thereafter was taken into custody by Italian immigration authorities for having entered the country illegally.

This interview does a fine job in reporting on an individual who might be crazy.

It presses and pushes Agca to explain his contradictions and places his claims in context -- testing them against provable facts -- yet it does not belittle or minimize his importance. The reader is allowed to judge the merits of Agca’s claim that he was God’s agent. 

There is no “snark” here. No cleverness, no sarcasm and no ignorance. La Repubblica has done a first-rate job.

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Le Figaro finds that pope Francis may have lost his touch

Le Figaro finds that pope Francis may have lost his touch

Only a very few journalists working in the field of religion reporting today consistently produce quality work distinguished by a pleasing and fluid skill with language, a deep knowledge of the field, discrimination, and a maturity of insight that enables the journalist to offer just the right remark or vignette that takes a story a level beyond reporting to journalism.

Jean-Marie Guénois, Le Figaro’s religion reporter, is just such a craftsman. His reports from Pope Francis’ trip last month to Strasbourg to address the European parliament have been the most well rounded, considered and intelligent of the reports I have read of this event.

A great deal has been written about what the pope said on November 25 when he addressed the European Parliament -- and most of what has been written is of high quality. The BBC, New York Times, the wire services, and major European newspapers have accurately conveyed the concerns Francis has for Europe.

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Hezbollah, Israel, media silence and the PCUSA

Hezbollah, Israel, media silence and the PCUSA

Nowhere has it surfaced in mainstream American press that an Israeli civil rights organization filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS, accusing the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) of violating its tax-exempt status through overt political lobbying, and by violating US anti-terror laws through links with Hezbollah.

Reports have been printed in the religious press (Jewish and Christian), but save for English-language stories in Israeli press, Arutz Sheva 7 and the Jerusalem Post, this story has not captured the interests of editors. 

Perhaps the extensive coverage of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant lobbying against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Houston sermon scandal has satiated the editors' appetites for First Amendment church/state stories. But it remains odd nonetheless that no one else is discussing a politics-and-religion story that has arisen this time from the “left."

What has been written is pretty good, however. The Jerusalem Post story is a well-crafted piece that shows how one writes a story when one side will not play ball, the reporter has limited information, and is working within space and deadline constraints.

(As an aside, I wrote for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years as one of their London correspondents, but am not now affiliated with the newspaper and do not know the author of the article in question.)

The kernel of the various stories comes from the same, not very well written, press release

Where the Jerusalem Post stands out is in the value it added to the press release. It begins its story in a matter-of-fact tone.

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The Huffington Post offers a surprisingly nuanced look at a celibate priesthood

The Huffington Post offers a surprisingly nuanced look at a celibate priesthood

Without looking -- who would you suppose would do a better job in reporting on the gay subculture among Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland? The Belfast Telegraph or The Huffington Post?

One was named the Best Regional Newspaper of the Year in 2012 by the Society of Editors and has print run of approximately 100,000. The other is an online news aggregator and blog that also runs additional news content. One is steeped in the traditions of Anglo-American journalism while the other pursues an advocacy approach to news – with the dividing line between opinion and reporting sometimes blurred.

An observer of the Ulster newspaper scene might hesitate before awarding the prize to the Belfast Telegraph, for it along with the News Letter are “Unionist” newspapers, while the third daily, the Irish News, is a “Nationalist” newspaper. Perhaps a residual anti-Catholic sentiment might creep into the Belfast Telegraph’s reporting?

The two outlets treatment of the same story may surprise some, for in its coverage of a recent book on clerical celibacy in the Irish Catholic Church, the Huffington Post is less shrill, more nuanced, and finely balanced.  No, really.

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Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for The Washington Post to believe it, too? 

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classic model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem." My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete or lacking in context. Could it have been written from an editorial mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here?

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Fox News tries its hand at Vatican watching

Fox News tries its hand at Vatican watching

Fox News has waded into the murky waters of Catholic news analysis, seeking to explain to its viewers (and readers on its website) the church's battles over liberalizing its moral teachings.

It is encouraging to see a secular news outfit address these issues. Fox understands that these issues are of interest to its viewers. The conservative demographic that is the core of its viewership is also likely to find favor with the opinions proffered. Yet, the fulcrum of the argument in this piece is based upon an erroneous supposition.

The story entitled “Cardinal's demotion helps Pope Francis quell 'conservative backlash' -- for now” is founded on the notion that Cardinal Raymond Burke was dismissed from his post as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura as a consequence of his vocal opposition to calls for a change in church teaching backed by Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family. 

Fox posits a cause and effect, but its theory is not supported by the facts.

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The Aftenposten and abortion in Norway: All the news that's fit to print

The Aftenposten and abortion in Norway: All the news that's fit to print

“All the News That’s Fit to Print” first appeared on the cover of the New York Times on October 25, 1896. The newspaper’s publisher Adolph Ochs adopted the slogan for professional and business reasons.

Ochs wanted to set the Times apart from its more sensationalist competitors, filling the market niche of New York’s quality newspaper. Pursuing high quality journalism not only was a moral good, it could make money also, he believed.

The business model adopted by Ochs and other “quality” newspapers at the start of the 20th Century guided the empirical practices of the mainstream press for most of the last century, though tabloids in the United States and the “red tops” in the United Kingdom have never followed this code.

Over the last 25 years the Ochs model has been challenged by the advocacy press approach, where a newspaper reports on a story from an openly avowed ideological perspective. A French newspaper reader knows that when he reads about the same issue in LiberationLe MondeLe FigaroLa Croix and L’Humanite he will be presented with left, center left, center right, Catholic and Communist perspectives of an issue.

In and of itself, such an advocacy approach is not a bad thing.

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Asahi Shimbun offers a lovely report on the making of saints

Asahi Shimbun offers a lovely report on the making of saints

The Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), one of Japan’s five national newspapers with a circulation of roughly 8 million, ran a story this week that could serve as an example of how to report on religion for an audience unfamiliar with a complicated topic.   

The article entitled “Vatican to beatify Christian warlord Takayama Ukon" reports that the Catholic Church is expected to recognize as “blessed” a 16th Century warlord who converted to Christianity. 

Writing for a Japanese, and presumably highly secular audience, the Asahi Shimbun’s correspondent Hiroshi Ishida has crafted a lovely little story that succinctly tells, the who, what, when, where and why -- and leaves out any editorializing, preaching or “snark”.

The article opens:

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