George Conger

Islam, media self-censorship, The New York Times and beyond

Islam, media self-censorship, The New York Times and beyond

Cowardice, political correctness, or social constraints? What lays behind the phenomena of self-censorship in the media these days?

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Tom Gross argues that the refusal by The New York Times to come clean on the targets of militant Islam is a congenital defect. Inconvenient facts simply do not appear in reports in The Times if they conflict with its worldview.

Commenting on the Gray Lady’s coverage of the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, Gross writes:

At the present time, over a dozen hours after other media (such as The Guardian) reported prominently on the specifically anti-Semitic nature of [the Feb. 14] attack in Copenhagen and on the fact there was a Bat Mitzvah going on in the synagogue while it was being attacked (with over 80 people including many children inside), the lengthy report on the New York Times website on the Copenhagen shootings doesn’t mention the word “anti-Semitism” once. Instead New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger writes in his piece “anti-Muslim sentiment is rising in Europe.”

Nor does The New York Times mention the bat mitzvah.

There are not so many Jews in Denmark and not many bat mitzvahs -- it seems the terrorist had done his research carefully. Yet the New York Times website home page says, at the time of writing, that the shooting was “near a synagogue.” No, it wasn’t near a synagogue. It was at a synagogue. The synagogue was the target. Which is why a Jew guarding the synagogue was shot dead.

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The press coverage down in Alabama: We're all Hegelians now

The press coverage down in Alabama: We're all Hegelians now

Talk of history is all the rage these days. The “wrong side of history” has become a cliché used by everyone from President Barack Obama to advocates of same-sex marriage, usually to condemn those who do not believe as they do.

Little is new in our world, especially ideas. In an influential 1989 article published in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?”, Francis Fukuyama argued the advent of Western liberal democracy represented the end-point of human society. He did not mean a catastrophic end, but rather the culmination or highest point in its development. History would go on, but there would be no significant change in the economic, political and intellectual bases of the world order.

Fukuyama noted the most influential proponent of this world view had been Karl Marx. At one time declaring a belief in history was tantamount to calling oneself a Communist, or in polite society, a materialist.

Later that night they talked about it again. Leamas brought it up — he asked her whether she was religious. "You've got me wrong," she said, "all wrong. I don't believe in God."

"Then what do you believe in?"

"History."

He looked at her in astonishment for a moment, then laughed.

"Oh, Liz … oh no. You're not a bloody Communist?" She nodded, blushing like a small girl at his laughter, angry and relieved that he didn't care.

From "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" by John le Carré (1963) p 37.

Fukuyama observed that the “concept of history as a dialectical process with a beginning, a middle, and an end was borrowed by Marx from his great German predecessor, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.”

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There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

There Pope Francis goes again: Madonna of the rabbit

Pope Francis’ remark about Catholics breeding like rabbits is a joy.

Just when I reach the point of indifference and exhaustion with religion reporting, the pope breathes life into journalism. He makes me laugh. What a grand fellow he is, and a misunderstood one.

The casual comment given to the press during his flight home from Manila has sparked great press interest. One might have heard the rabbit remark from Ian Paisley and other hard-nosed Protestants a generation ago. Today such comments are heard in the last bastions of anti-Catholic prejudice: the faculty lounge and press room.
 
Reuters has a nicely written report on Francis and rabbits, which summarizes the story and the difficulties of reporting on Pope Francis. He combines high and low culture in his comments, mixing pastoral and theological categories, church and secular language. The problem for reporters is discerning into which category to place his words.
 
The Reuters piece begins:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) -- Catholics should not feel they have to breed "like rabbits" because of the Church's ban on contraception, Pope Francis said on Monday, suggesting approved natural family planning methods.

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Saith The Economist: The Church of England is (all together now) not dead yet

Saith The Economist: The Church of England is (all together now) not dead yet

There was a time in my youth when no party was complete without someone reciting lines from the 1975 film comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

For my generation, that movie's catchphrase “Bring out your dead!” is the verbal equivalent of Proust’s madeleine, evoking powerful memories of things past. I once even heard Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, obliquely refer to that classic line in a press conference.

The “Bring out your dead!” movie scene begins with John Cleese carrying over his shoulder an old man dressed in a nightshirt. He starts to place the old man into a cart carrying victims of the plague. Eric Idle is the driver.

All together now.

Cleese: Here's one.
Idle: Ninepence.
Old Man: I'm not dead!

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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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