George Conger

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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Journalists go rabbit hunting while covering news about Catholic doctrine

Journalists go rabbit hunting while covering news about Catholic doctrine

Who gets to define Catholic doctrine? That should be an easy one -- the Catholic Church defines doctrine for itself through its catechism, liturgy and through the statements of its magisterium.

This truism gets tricky for newspapers when individuals who are Catholic make claims about Catholicism that do not square with the church’s formal teachings. It is the problem of self-definition. I may believe myself to be the pope and call myself the true Bishop of Rome, but does that make it true?

Newspaper reports of female Catholic priests or of same-sex Catholic blessings are being faithful to the facts when they stated the participants claim to be Catholic and that their actions are in accord with Catholic teachings (or should be in accord if the teachings were only brought up to date). Yet these assertions conflict with the truth claims of the institutional church.

These Pontius Pilate-like musings were prompted by an article in the Limerick Post about animal cruelty and Catholicism. The story entitled “Anger over priest’s ‘offensive’ blessing of coursing club grounds in County Limerick” has animal rights activists defining the church’s teaching on animal cruelty. 

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Heavens above! Doing a good job of covering a British religion survey

Heavens above! Doing a good job of covering a British religion survey

Reporting on religion surveys can be a perilous business, but journalist Jonathan Wynne-Jones shows how the job can be done well.

His article in The Independent titled “Two per cent of Anglican priests don't believe in God, survey finds” invites the reader into the story with a catchy lede, yet it offers a sober and balanced interpretation of the results.

Some expecting a story bashing the Church of England might cry foul, and claim Wynne-Jones was engaging in a bait and switch -- offering a story that appeared to confirm the pottiness of the local vicar. But he reports the situation has improved -- that the Church of England clergy are becoming more robust in their faith, not less.

The story opens with a strong rhetorical flourish:

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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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