Terry Mattingly

Here we go again: What does 'moderate' mean in today's Syria warfare?

Here we go again: What does 'moderate' mean in today's Syria warfare?

Several years ago, I was asked to travel to Prague to speak to the newsroom staff at Radio Liberty. The topic: Efforts to improve news coverage.

However, once I was there it became clear to me that some members of the staff wanted me to discuss a much more specific topic. Thus, I ended up in a small room with a circle of Muslim journalists linked to radio broadcasts into Afghanistan and surrounding regions. The key question: Why do American journalists insist on using "fundamentalist" and "moderate" as labels to describe Muslims, since these are terms never used by members of that faith? Don't they know these labels are offensive?

One journalist said, and I paraphrase: Do Americans basically use "fundamentalist" to describe Muslims that they don't like and "moderate" to describe Muslims that they do like?

I said: "Yes." What to do? Instead of accepting these labels, I urged them to try to use quotes that showed where different Muslim leaders stood in relation to the issue or issues being covered in a particular story. Show the spectrum of belief, in practice.

Oh, and I also read the following passage from that famous "Preserving Our Readers' Trust" self study of The New York Times self study published in 2005 (and quoted many times here at GetReligion):

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Writing about religion news: Getting past Ben Bradlee's 'SMERSH' verdict

Writing about religion news: Getting past Ben Bradlee's 'SMERSH' verdict

If you were looking for a quote that perfectly captured the attitude that crusty old-school newspaper editors used to have about religion news (see my 1983 Quill cover story on life in that era), then here it is.

And let's face it, the fact that the quote comes from an NPR piece about the death of the legendary editor Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post -- the ultimate symbol of the politics-is-the-only-reality school of journalism -- just makes it more perfect.

"Major regional newspapers mimicked the format he devised for the Post, with a Style section devoted to features involving politics, regional personalities, celebrity and popular culture and highbrow culture alike. He also insisted on a high profile for beats on the subjects he vigorously and vulgarly called "SMERSH -- science, medicine, education, religion and all that s - - -" -- the subjects from which Bradlee personally took little enjoyment."

So the low-prestige beats were covered, but were not on the radar of the powers that be that ran the big-city newsrooms of that day. This is precisely what I used to hear from the Godbeat scribes who were weary veterans in the 1980s, at the time I hit The Charlotte Observer and then The Rocky Mountain News.

Of course, it is also important that one of the key players who helped create the current religion-news marketplace -- in which, all too often, politics defines what is real and religion is essentially emotions and opinion -- is Beltway matriarch Sally "On Faith" Quinn, who was the talented and high-profile wife of Bradlee's mature years.

This brings me to two items of religion-beat news for the day, both care of friends of this weblog. 

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Modern Girl Scouts for a modern age: What about God, country and great outdoors?

Modern Girl Scouts for a modern age: What about God, country and great outdoors?

The red numbers in a recent Associated Press report on the life and health of the Girl Scouts are pretty blunt. It's rare, these days, to see these kinds of crunch paragraphs right at the top of a report -- literally.

For the second straight year, youth and adult membership in the Girl Scouts has dropped sharply, intensifying pressure on the 102-year-old youth organization to find ways of reversing the trend.
According to figures provided to The Associated Press, the total of youth members and adult volunteers dropped by 6 percent over the past year -- from 2,994,844 to 2,813,997. Over two years, total membership is down 11.6 percent, and it has fallen 27 percent from a peak of more than 3.8million in 2003.
While the Girl Scouts of the USA have had an array of recent internal difficulties -- including rifts over programming and serious fiscal problems -- CEO Anna Maria Chavez attributed the membership drop primarily to broader societal factors that have affected many youth-serving organizations.

In other words, how do you keep them down on the farm (or at a campground) digging in the dirt (even when the goal is to earn environmental badges) after they have seen edgy fashion sites on their smart phones and tablet computers? 

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None dare call it 'free speech'? Who actually used the term 'hate speech'?

None dare call it 'free speech'? Who actually used the term 'hate speech'?

This is a strange one.

In the following Philly.com story, it's hard to tell if we are dealing with with an ordinary advocacy journalism, or an outbreak of religion-specific "Kellerism" (click here for background), or maybe a case of a sloppy journalist, or two, not being specific enough in noting the origin of a particularly loaded phrase -- "hate speech."

As a former GetReligionista said, when sending in the URL for this one:

Did the judge call it "hate speech" or is the reporter deciding/siding with one side? I honestly can't tell...

Me neither, to be blunt. So here is the top of the story:

A controversial group of black street preachers who spew hate speech at whites, Asians, gays, women and some blacks they find objectionable, has a right to continue preaching, the state Superior Court has ruled.

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And in the end, some Vatican synod news reports hint that 'sin' exists after all

And in the end, some Vatican synod news reports hint that 'sin' exists after all

I promise -- honest -- that the following post is not a covert Sunday school lesson. You see, I have a journalistic reason for taking us into the Gospel of St. John, chapter 8.

As you read the following passage, journalists, try to figure out who might be who, in terms of interpreting the Vatican synod that has dominated the Godbeat this week. The story begins with Jesus arriving at the Jewish Temple in the morning:

... (All) the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. 
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 
Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

Now, the reason I brought this up was because a reference to this passage showed up -- imagine that -- in the New York Times story about the end of the synod.

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WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

When you hear or read the words "Orthodox rabbi," what is the image that immediately pops into your mind's eye?

Right. That would be this one (mandatory click).

The problem is that, in this day and age, there are many different brands of "Orthodox rabbis," running from progressive Orthodox rabbis to, well, orthodox and ultra-orthodox Orthodox rabbis. The public may or may not know all of that, however.

Thus, when covering a story about a rather sleazy sex scandal linked to an Orthodox rabbi, it is very important -- especially in Washington, D.C., for reasons we will discuss -- for journalists to provide enough factual information to erase the Woody Allen movie stereotypes and let readers know what brand of Orthodox Judaism is involved, this time around.

This is precisely what Godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein did in her first Washington Post story about what could be called mikvah-gate.

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As the Vatican turns: Dramatic talks about faith and family get soapy

As the Vatican turns: Dramatic talks about faith and family get soapy

Trust me, I am well aware that there are plenty of Catholic GetReligion readers who do not understand my consistent appreciation for the work of reporter and columnist John L. Allen, Jr., formerly of the liberal National Catholic Reporter and now the ringmaster at the new Crux site at The Boston Globe. It's really quite simple: He constantly reports tons of on-the-record information, even when he is writing prose that is clearly labeled "analysis."

Now, let me end this crazy day in Catholic news land -- click here for Dawn's earlier piece -- by pointing readers toward the sources and URLs contained in two rather dispassionate pieces of Allen analysis. It's hard to get more blunt than this:

ROME -- Every day, the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, a summit of 260 bishops and other participants convened by Pope Francis, seems more and more like a daytime soap opera. Today brought more surprising turns on multiple fronts.
For one thing, the bishops made the unprecedented decision to release internal reports of small group discussions about a working document released Monday that became a sensation due to its positive language about same-sex unions, couples who live together outside of marriage, and others in “irregular” situations.
The reports photograph a vigorous debate within a divided synod, with one camp seemingly embracing a more positive vision of situations that fall outside the boundaries of official Catholic doctrine, and another clearly alarmed about going soft.

And the perfect, killer quote for a synod on family issues?

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Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

I have said this many times, but I have nothing but admiration for the reporters who work in war zones and in lands ravaged by disasters of all kinds.

It's hard enough for reporters, when covering complex issues, to do adequate background research and keep their facts straight -- even under the best of circumstances. My church-state issue file folder (yes, materials on dead tree pulp) is almost 40 years old. I have hundreds of similar files and I need them.

So imagine that you are in Liberia and trying to cover the Ebola outbreak, with all of its scientific, political, medical, ethical and legal implications. Yes, and issues of racial equality and economic justice. Yes, and there are religion ghosts, as well. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of face-to-face reporting at scenes in the heart of the crisis?

Thus, the first thing I want to say about a recent Washington Post report (headline: "Liberia already had only a few dozen of its own doctors. Then came Ebola") is that it is stunning and a must-read look at the lives of those with the courage to walk the halls of hospitals and treat the sick and dying in Monrovia, Liberia. How, exactly, does one take careful interview notes when wearing a full-protection hazmat suit?

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For those paying close attention: 'Tone' of this Vatican rough draft may sound familiar

For those paying close attention: 'Tone' of this Vatican rough draft may sound familiar

Let's pause for a second and think of the many different Catholic camps -- we will leave the secular world out of this for a moment -- that exist when discussing a subject as complex as the moral status of sexual activity outside of marriage. I hope that this will help us dissect the celebratory coverage of the current Vatican talks on family issues.

This typology is my own (reminder: I am Eastern Orthodox, not Catholic) based on my observations of Catholic debates and media coverage of them.

* First of all, there are Catholics who believe that the church has been far too quiet in defense of its own teachings on sexuality. They note that, at the crucial level of local pulpits, Catholics hardly ever hear controversial teachings discussed, let alone defended. People need to hear the bad news before it becomes the Good News, in other words.

* Then there are Catholics who truly believe that, when viewed as a whole, the church's teachings are fine, but that the hierarchy has done a terrible job of presenting them in public. Bishops have talked only about sin, with little to say about confession, repentance, grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing and salvation (in other words, the entire world of the Sacraments).

Let's pause for a second and look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in its specific language about homosexuality (and read it all, not just the "intrinsically disordered" part).

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