Terry Mattingly

Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an event that -- to my surprise -- is getting very little coverage in the mainstream press on this side of the Atlantic.

Why is that? Any theories?

Perhaps the coverage will be tomorrow, focusing on news events linked to the anniversary. Maybe.

Anyway, this made me think about a piece of journalism-related material that I had hoped to post this past weekend in one of my usual "think piece" slots, but other news jumped ahead in my priorities.

While there is, let me stress, no direct connection between the issue of Holocaust coverage and current debates about coverage of Israel, I thought that this piece from The Forward was very interesting.

I don't know about you, but I often get tired of the usual left vs. right debates in politics, media, religion and culture. In this case, we have a liberal Jewish publication offering a serious critique of the newspaper -- The New York Times, of course -- that serves as holy writ for the cultural left. The headline: "The New York Times and its Israel Bias --The Gray Lady's Blind Spot."

This piece, in turn, opened with a Times hook -- a column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in response to waves of letters from readers about this topic.

The key is a topic that your GetReligionistas hear about all of the time from our readers: How are people supposed to believe that the EDITORIAL perspective shown in social media and columns is completely separated from the worldview that drives the hard-news coverage in the same publication?

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Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Do Mormons now officially have local 'pastors,' simply because Romney once said he had been a 'pastor'?

Mitt Romney is in the news again, which means it's time for people to argue about whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, well, you know, normal and safe and whatever.

This leads us to a really interesting question linked to a New York Times piece that ran the other day: Is it a mistake when journalists print a factually inaccurate statement about a religious believer, yet there is evidence that they were quoting -- without saying they were quoting -- the believer himself?

The discussion starts here:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.
Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.
Three years ago, Mr. Romney’s tortured approach to his religion -- a strategy of awkward reluctance and studied avoidance that all but walled off a free-flowing discussion of his biography -- helped doom his campaign. (The subject is still so sensitive that many, including the prominent Republican, would only discuss it on condition that they not be identified.)

Veteran religion writers will spot the problem quickly: Mormons don't have "pastors," if that noun is a reference to ordained clergy who work for the church as their calling and vocation.

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Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Now here is an interesting thing to ponder. What we have here is a Baltimore Sun story about a controversy in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland that does not appear, at first glance to have anything to do with evolving sexual ethics or alcohol. The latter, of course, is a reference to the various charges brought against Bishop Heather Cook, including multiple charges of drunken driving, after the car that she was driving veered into a popular bike lane and hit a cyclist, killing a 41-year-old father of two.

No, this story has to do with a shrinking parish and conflict about the sale of a valuable piece of property that includes a church sanctuary. Thus, what we have here is a Baltimore-area story linked to a much larger national and even global trend about what religious leaders can do with properties held by flocks that are, to be blunt, not producing their fair share of converts and/or babies.

The issue, of course, is whether the Sun editors know about this demographics-is-destiny connection and whether they want to cover it. It is clear, however, that they know their local diocese has major financial problems (even before the DUI bishop case) and that the parishioners at the tiny Church of the Ascension allege that their property is being sold, against their will, because of that. Thus, readers are told:

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Frame game returns: Yes, yet another blast of biased language on abortion and politics

Frame game returns: Yes, yet another blast of biased language on abortion and politics

This past week, on the day of the annual March For Life, I wrote a post that raised a few questions about how The Washington Post team framed debate about the GOP retreat (surprise, surprise) on a bill that would have protected unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy, right on the front door of viability if born prematurely.

Yes, I just used that wording again, to help underline the obvious.

... You saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.
That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate. ...
Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate?

That post was noted and, for the most part applauded, by the online site for the National Right to Life News -- which wasn't so sure that words such as "protect" and "expanded" were, as I put it, "loaded."

Yes, that is loaded language, in mainstream media. Thus, let me note that my point was not that I wanted mainstream reporters to replace biased pro-abortion-rights language with language that favored those who oppose  abortion and/or favor expanded restrictions on late-term abortions. No, I wanted journalists to stop and think about the language that they were using and to think strategically about how they could frame this issue in a way that was accurate, fair and balanced for believers on both sides of this hot-button issue.

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What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

A hearty "Amen!" in this corner for the key points in Mark Silk's Religion News Service take down of a really, really strange Time magazine interpretation of a poll on the Bible and religion.

Let's let the man preach:

This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.
OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?

Silk, with justification, notes that this interpretation slants everything away from cultural Catholicism and in the Bible-driven direction of Protestantism and, especially, evangelical Protestantism. That's accurate. However, I would argue that Time missed at least two other crucial points in this tone-deaf piece.

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The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

Week after week they march (or liturgical dance) foward, leaving in their wake a river of YouTubes and mainstream media reports.

Oh, and Associated Press style questions: Are they the "Women Priests," the "WomenPriests" or the "Womenpriests"? At some point, will they be the "Womynpriests"? Right now, at the official site, it is "Womenpriests."

Your GetReligionistas have written quite a bit about this tiny movement because the mainstream media have spilled oceans of ink on coverage of it. Also, the Womenpriests denomination -- and coverage thereof -- really gets under the skin of Catholics who read this blog.

Yes, I just referred to the Womenpriests as a new denomination, because historically that is what this is. This is a new Protestant denomination and the ordination of these women is totally valid to the people who are members of this flock, along with the rites they perform. The problem, of course, is that many reporters continue to refer to these women as Roman Catholic priests -- because they say that they are.

Well, in terms of Catholic tradition, you can't be a Catholic priest unless the Catholic pope says you are a Catholic priest. Ditto for major-league shortstops. You can't say that you are the shortstop for the New York Yankees unless the Yankees have hired you to play shortstop.

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Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Once again, it's time to talk about the many symbolic modifiers and verbs that offer clues to how journalists frame coverage of you know what. Consider, for example, the top of that Washington Post news report about Republicans backing away from a strategically timed vote on a bill that would protect unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy.

Now, you saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.

That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate, here on Jan. 22nd.

Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate? Let's look at the top of that Post report:

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Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Once again, we are seeing the dreaded orange jumpsuits on our television screens during the news. Once again, it appears that we have an Islamic State video threatening the lives of hostages, if a Western power does not give the terrorists what they want.

This time, it's Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is facing the threats made by the YouTube-seeking terrorist with the British accent.

And who are the two hostages? What are there stories and, this time around, will journalists dig into the poignant details?

In The Washington Post, readers were told early on:

Japanese officials declined to discuss whether they would consider paying for the release of the hostages: journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and self-styled military consultant Haruna Yukawa.

The Post team doesn't tell us much about Goto, but is truly interested in the details of the story behind the "self-styled" -- what a loaded term -- military consultant.

Goto, 47, a well-respected Japanese journalist, was last heard from Oct. 24. He had told friends he was traveling to Kobane, a flashpoint town on the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is unclear exactly where he was kidnapped while covering Syria’s multiple conflicts.

And Yukawa? That's another story:

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Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

As he so often does, Deacon Greg Kandra looked at a news story about the Catholic church and summed it up in a crisp one-liner, a skill honed to a fine edge during his quarter of a century with CBS News. At his "The Deacon's Bench" blog (must reading for journalists on the Godbeat) he proclaimed: "BREAKING: The pope is still Catholic."

Pope Francis is Catholic? As opposed to what?

That's a big issue in the mainstream press, these days. Kandra's ironic headline pointed readers toward this Associated Press report from the recent papal stop in the Philippines, which began like this:

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception, using a Friday rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.

The "sanctuaries" quote led into a very interesting passage that deserves close attention. You see, it is one of those doctrine-affirming statements that Francis often makes, yet these affirmations tend to draw minimal mainstream media coverage, especially in comparison with the waves of coverage that have followed some papal remarks that, when edited, seem to undercut orthodoxy.

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