Terry Mattingly

Looking for spiritual ghosts, as the Ben Bradlee story moves to National Cathedral

Looking for spiritual ghosts, as the Ben Bradlee story moves to National Cathedral

Of course Ben Bradlee was raised as an Episcopalian.

This is Washington, D.C., and he was one of the giants of the city, a titan from his days consulting with (and covering) John F. Kennedy, Jr., to his final years working hard to encourage a new generation of journalists in The Washington Post newsroom as it struggled, like all major media institutions, to enter the uncharted waters of the digital age. He was larger than life and that kind of Beltway story can only end with a funeral in the interfaith, ecumenical, civil-religion holy place called National Cathedral.

The Post team, as it should, has pulled out all the stops in its eulogies for Bradlee, with untold inches of type -- analog and digital -- and numerous multi-media features. And the role of religion? Let's just say that the liturgical elements of this drama didn't go very high in the story. Here is the top of the massive Style section feature on the funeral:

Following a small choir’s soft alto affirmation of America’s beauty, the organ swelled, and the people joined in, and the national hymn that Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee chose for his own funeral filled the cathedral, its pews lined with the powerful and the ordinary.
Then a prayer, and two sailors delivering a taut flag to the editor’s widow, and a bugler sounding taps from high in the Gothic rafters, and then, because this was Mr. Bradlee who was being celebrated, a sharp break from the stately and solemn: The band struck up Sousa’s jaunty “The Washington Post” march and Ben Bradlee left the building as he had departed his newspaper on so many nights through the 26 years he led it: electrifying the room just by sweeping through it.

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CNN continues ratings countdown to the death of young Brittany Maynard

CNN continues ratings countdown to the death of young Brittany Maynard

Let's face it. At this point CNN owns the Brittany Maynard "death with dignity" story. At this point, we are watching the final steps by in her pilgrimage to Nov. 1.

As always, when the rules of "Kellerism" journalism are being followed (click here for background on this salute to former New York Times editor Bill Keller), there is no need for any other point of view on this highly divisive issue. It would be hard to do otherwise, when the story literally began with the 29-year-old Maynard writing an exclusive essay for CNN.

This short update is the latest:

Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life, has checked the last item off her bucket list. She visited the Grand Canyon last week.
"The Canyon was breathtakingly beautiful," she wrote on her website, "and I was able to enjoy my time with the two things I love most: my family and nature."
Photos showed her and her husband standing on the edge of the canyon, hugging and kissing. 

But in real life, there is pain on the other side of these kinds of moments.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

I would have thought that, in the wake of the recent media storm about the Synod on the Family, almost anything that Pope Francis said in public on that topic would be big news in the mainstream press.

Turns out, that is not the case. But I will plunge on. 

What if Pope Francis -- media superstar, par excellence -- even said something blunt and controversial about the meaning of a word like "family"? What if, in said quote, he even used a typically earthy Francis term like "bastardized"? Surely that would draw coverage?

With all of that in mind, consider the top of this Vatican City report from the Catholic News Agency (as opposed to The New York Times, NPR, Comedy Central or something mainstream):
 

In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience. He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed. He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

OK, that was blunt. Did he get into any specifics?

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Baltimore Sun offers another look at generic faith of a key Raven player

Baltimore Sun offers another look at generic faith of a key Raven player

Anyone who is following the Baltimore Ravens knows that one of the most controversial issues looming over the NFL has been the suspension of superstar Ray Rice after a videotaped episode of domestic violence.

Behind the scenes, the team scrambled to replace its star running back. Out of nowhere, journeyman Justin Forsett has emerged as one of the feel-good stories of the year, with the tailback's yards-per-carry average ranking as one of the best in football (even though he is 5-feet-8, 197 pounds).

The Baltimore Sun ran a lengthy profile of Forsett last week and, lo and behold, a major theme in the story was his strong but totally vague faith. GetReligion readers who are into sports, and there are a few of your out there, will remember that the Sun has, in recent years, been amazingly consistent in its approach to players who are religious believers. The bottom line: All fog, with specific details ignored or buried. Clearly, this has become a newspaper policy.

So what are readers fold about the faith of this crucial Ravens player?

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Your weekend think piece: Interesting historical background about atheists in foxholes

Your weekend think piece: Interesting historical background about atheists in foxholes

Veteran GetReligion readers will know that my academic background is in history, just as much as in journalism and mass media. I have always been fascinated with the history of religion in America (this helps on the religion beat) and, in particular, church-state studies. While doing a master's degree in church-state studies at Baylor University, I focused my thesis research on civil religion in the Vietnam War era.

You can't study church-state issues and a war as controversial as the one in Vietnam without hitting issues linked to conscientious objectors, which leads you into studies of tensions between the military establishment and minority forms of religion. You also end up studying the tensions that have, for generations, swirled around the work of military chaplains.

What a paradox this is. How do people serve in the military without the support of clergy? The idea of a military force without chaplains is hard to contemplate. Yet how do you maintain doctrinal integrity in settings where it is impossible for a wide variety of faiths to be represented? How do you keep a rabbi on a submarine that contains one or two Jews? How do you ask a traditional Catholic soldier to say his confession to a female Episcopal priest?

And what about people who have no faith at all? The absence of faith is, of course, a faith position and these military personnel deserve some kind of support when it comes to stress and conflict over ultimate issues.

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After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

Let's walk into this minefield very slowly and carefully.

This week, "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I talked about the recent Synod on the Family at the Vatican and some of the themes that emerged out of it. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Truth be told, that primarily meant discussing the tsunami of news coverage about a draft report earlier in the week that was hailed by a major gay-rights group, and thus the elite media, as a "seismic shift" in Catholic attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, the divorced, cohabiting couples, etc. By the end of the week, following blasts of input from cardinals and bishops from around the world, the synod's more modest official report placed a heavier emphasis on affirming Catholic doctrine and, thus, drew far less coverage.

Once again, many Catholics were asking a familiar question: Is there some way for the Catholic church to let the public, especially the world's Catholics, hear the full sweep of what the pope is actually saying? The pope keeps talking about sin, penitence, mercy and salvation, with a strong emphasis on the symbols and language of mercy, and elite news headlines usually report him as saying something like, "Who knows what sin is, anymore, let's show mercy -- period."

After that, criticism of what the press reported the pope as saying -- including attempts to note the content and context of whatever Pope Francis actually said -- is hailed in the same news outlets as criticism of the pope or a rejection of his alleged new direction for the church.

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

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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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