George Conger

The protest beat at The New York Times? Silence from Paris

The protest beat at The New York Times? Silence from Paris

News reports on political demonstrations and protest marches have kept the New York Times busy this past week.

In the print and on the web it has run a least three dozen articles on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, while also covering civil rights protests in Ferguson, Mo., student protests in Egypt, pro-Kurdish protests in Ankara, and Shia protests in Yemen.

Perhaps this surfeit of protests was what led the Times to ignore demonstrations in that far off place called France. 

Paris police reported that over 78,000 “pro-family” demonstrators (organizers claim several hundred thousand) marched through Paris on Oct. 5, 2014, with tens of thousands marching in support in Bordeaux, denouncing the Socialist government’s support for same-sex marriage and IVF and surrogacy rights for same-sex couples.
 
The marches have dominated the headlines of the French newspapers and animated political discourse. The Friday before the rally organized by the Manif Pour Tous coalition, Prime Minister Manuel Valls caved into one of the groups key demands.

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Why the press silence about persecution by radical Islamists in the West?

Why the press silence about persecution by radical Islamists in the West?

The harassment of Christians of Middle Eastern extraction in the West by immigrant Muslim extremists appears to be one of the unexplored angles in the unfolding Islamist story.

While the press is quick to run stories warning of a backlash against Muslims in the West in response to the actions of their coreligionists here and abroad, we seldom see serious reporting on incidents that are happening in Europe, America and Australia.

A wire service story from the AAP (Australian Associated Press) run by the Guardian last week left me frustrated by its lack of detail. The story entitled “Two teens charged after death threats allegedly screamed at Christian school” reported:

Two teenagers have been charged after death threats were allegedly screamed at a Christian school in Sydney’s west. A 14-year-old was in the front passenger seat of a red hatchback when he allegedly began yelling abuse outside the Maronite College of the Holy Family in Harris Park on 16 September. Onlookers said the boy and the car’s driver threatened to “kill the Christians” and slaughter their children while brandishing an Islamic State flag out the window.

The article goes on to say the two were arrested, but offers no further details. What is the Maronite College of the Holy Family? Who attends this school? Who made these remarks? 

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Caste in India reporting: Did a politician play Reuters for a fool?

Caste in India reporting: Did a politician play Reuters for a fool?

Did a politician play Reuters for a fool last week, using claims of religious bigotry toward India's untouchables (Dalits) to bolster his political fortunes?

Comparing stories released the same day by Reuters and The Hindu on reports that Hindu priests cleansed a temple defiled by a visit from a lower caste politician suggest Reuters may have been too quick to see religious motivations at work in what was a political story.

Newspapers often suffer from a journalistic schizophrenia when reporting on religion. Either they ignore the faith element in a story entirely, or they are too deferential to religion and religious leaders, taking at face value their truth claims. This article from Reuters exhibits the second tendency -- when religion is offered as the motivation for an action, it stops asking questions.

The Reuters story entitled “Indian temple 'purified' after low-caste chief minister visits” opens with the statement:

The government in India's northern state of Bihar has ordered an investigation after reports that a Hindu temple was cleaned and its idols washed after a visit by the state's chief minister, who belongs to a lower caste community. Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, a member of the Musahar community, said he had been told the shrine in Bihar's Madhubani district was "purified" after he visited it last month.

The story then quotes Manjhi as saying:

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Outing Britain's gay (whatever that means) Anglican bishops

Outing Britain's gay (whatever that means) Anglican bishops

The Daily Telegraph ran a story this week under the headline “One in 10 Church of England bishops 'could be secretly gay' -- says bishop” that suggests the term means an individual who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex and who acts upon those attractions. Yet in the context of the story it could just as well mean an individual who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex but who lives a celibate life.

Temptation is not sin, the Church of England teaches. It is immoral to act upon homosexual desire, but the desire itself is not immoral.

That point escapes theTelegraph, which reports that in a forthcoming book the Bishop of Buckingham Dr. Alan Wilson charges his episcopal colleagues with hypocrisy for opposing same-sex marriage even though a dozen of them are “gay.”
 
The article quotes him as saying:

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Say what? The Catholic church now officially backs same-sex unions?

Say what? The Catholic church now officially backs same-sex unions?

Sometime -- was it this summer when I was away? -- homosexual acts lost their sinful character according to the Roman Catholic Church.

Surprised? So was I when I read an article published on Sept 15, 2014, in Brazil’s largest daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

True, the article Mais tolerante igreja cobra compromissos de candidates is in the paper’s Elections 2014 section. It looks at the interplay of politics and religion in the forthcoming presidential elections and not at the moral doctrines of the church. However, some of the assertions made by Folha de São Paulo presume that change is in the offing, if not already here.
 
Folha de São Paulo is not unique in assuming that a change is in the air. 

From the beginning of his papacy Francis has had an unusual amount of support from journalists in the secular press, who have contrasted his comments on morals with his predecessor. However, comments to reporters in the back of airplanes do not define doctrine and not everything a pope says or does is assumed to be without error.

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Oh yes, there are sacred cows in news reporting about India

Oh yes, there are sacred cows in news reporting about India

India’s minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, has grasped the third rail of Indian politics, launching a sectarian attack on Muslims and Christians for their treatment of cows.

Or has she? India’s press has not quite made up its mind as to whether Ms. Gandhi is pushing animal rights, corruption, terrorism or religion. And, from what has been printed so far in the major dailies, the press does not want to find out.
 
In the political jargon of the Anglosphere, the “third rail” of politics is THE issue politicians avoid discussing. In America the third rail (named for the high voltage power line that provides power for trains and subway cars) is social-security reform. For Australia it is asylum seekers, while in Britain the big three (Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats) do not discuss Muslim immigration and multiculturalism.
 
In India the third rail is religion in public life, or looked at from a different perspective, the secular state. 

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Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything.

The maxim is as true in acting as it is in writing.

What set Jack Benny (pictured) or Groucho Marx apart from their peers was not the quality of their material, but their delivery. Great comedians, as well as actors, singers, writers and other performers are masters of rhythm and tempo – delivering their lines at the right moment, with the right emphasis that conveys the external and internal meaning of their lines.
 
Timing is also important in journalism. One of the marks of superior journalism is its auricular qualities: It sounds as good as it reads. And there is also the timing of sources and material in constructing a story.  This gratification of eye and ear is what sets the great above the commonplace reporters.

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God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

Some might argue that the war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge ( צוּק אֵיתָן), was the major news story out of Israel this summer.  The seven week military operation launched by the IDF against Hamas certainly was the focus of the majority of news stories. The quantity of stories on a topic, however, is not a reliable gauge as to the importance of an issue. 

In 2008 I was part of the Jerusalem Post’s team covering the Second Lebanon War (albeit in my case as their London correspondent reporting on the European and British responses). That war between Israel and Hezbollah generated a great deal of ink, but that conflict has quickly disappeared from current memories. It was another in an unending series of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and their surrogates. The sharp rise in public displays of anti-Semitism in Europe in the wake of Operation Protective Edge may give this latest war “legs”, but the issues, actors and outcomes have not changed all that much.
 
Were I to add, only partially tongue in cheek, another candidate for the “big” story out of Israel this summer, I would nominate this item in Newsweek

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That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

Christmas has come early for the Australian press. The case of Gammy, the child born with Down syndrome to a surrogate Thai mother on behalf of an Australian couple, is everything an editor would desire during the dull news days of August.

This gift keeps on giving.

A very bad thing has happened. The press knows it. We readers know it. 

Yet no one appears to have explained why this is wrong. Is this another example of viewing the world from an Anglo-American mindset?  Or are there universal values and ethical considerations that do not need to be explained?

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