Jim Davis

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

The Atlanta Journal Constitution raises Deep South, Civil War-era caricatures in its weekend story on cultural stresses in Tennessee.  And it does so in almost a robotic, paint-by-the-numbers style.

The article strains mightily to contrast urbane, liberal city dwellers with backward, "ignorant" -- yes, one source uses that word -- country folk. It takes a patronizing attitude toward these yahoos and pits people on the street against scholars and think-tankers. It even compares so-called "bathroom bills" in some states with "White" and "Colored" signs from segregation days.

How else to read paragraphs like:

Across the country -- the South in particular -- a wave of bills, proposals and court fights in recent months are again ramping up the culture wars. The measures come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a decision many religious conservatives see as an assault on their beliefs.

And:

The South finds itself in the middle of that conflict. It’s a place where city folks may have a decidedly different take on social issues than their peers in the country, a region where progressive notions rub up against more traditional, conservative values.

For context, the article brings Georgia's"religious liberty" bill -- complete with sarcasm quotes -- vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. There's also Gov. Bill Haslam vetoing a bill to make the Bible the state book in Tennessee, then signing a bill to let counselors refer out people who conflict with their "sincerely held principles" -- yes, more sarcasm quotes -- to reject gay, lesbian, transgender and other clients. Would it be better for these religious counselors to handle these cases, even though they have a clear conflict of interest?

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Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Tennessee passed a law this week that allows counselors to refer out a patient based on a counselor's personal beliefs, and news media, of course, are all over it.

The law itself sounds pretty simple: "No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy."

But numerous accounts, like one by Reuters, have been raising alarms: "Tennessee's Republican governor on Wednesday signed a law allowing mental health counselors to refuse service to patients on 'sincerely held principles,' the latest in a string of U.S. state measures criticized as discriminatory against the gay community."

Reuters goes on to quote Gov. Bill Haslam's denial:  "The substance of this bill doesn't address a group, issue or belief system." He compares it to other professionals like doctors and lawyers who may refer a client to common else in case of a conflict of principles. But by then, Reuters has already planted its sarcasm quotes and framed the law as yet another attack on gays.

Lending force to the framing is the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the law assumes "that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate" -- although religious language has been stricken from the law.

Also instructive are two stories by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. The breaking story quotes Haslam extensively. Three hours later, the follow-up majors on gay objections.

The Washington Post attempts a broader story but fails, starting with the lede: "Tennessee’s Republican governor said Wednesday that he signed a bill into law that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist’s religious or personal beliefs." As you know, the law doesn't mention religious beliefs, although a previous version did.

The Post then throws in an unattributed "sources say" paragraph:

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Did Washington Post run a sensitive profile, or just transgender propaganda?

Did Washington Post run a sensitive profile, or just transgender propaganda?

Ever notice how mainstream media tend to use the word "truth" as "a strong belief in our subjective viewpoint"? The Washington Post did it with a profile headlined "Truth and transgender at 70: A story of enduring love."

The enormous, 2,700-word profile was the first in a two-parter on Dr. Bill Rohr and surgeon Marci Bowers, whose surgery turned him into Kate Rohr. The articles show great sensitivity and telling detail. They also take such a hard-sell tone, they miss a list of questions, many of them religious in nature.

In a familiar script, Post tells how Rohr always felt different but submerged it for fear of censure. This self-repression also, of course, meant hiding his felt identity while attending church with his parents.

So he endured, through a childhood that was confusing and a puberty that was torture. He felt hormones "ravage" his body, turning him unmistakably male. He avoided looking at himself in a mirror, even to comb his hair. But in every other way, he tried to be the best, most typical boy he could be. Growing up in the suburban hamlet of Fanwood, N.J., he played sports and studied hard, and even though he believed God was deaf to his prayers, he dutifully sat next to his parents in church every Sunday.

This would have been a good place to check with the folks in Fanwood. What did his former classmates notice? How about his brothers? And former fellow congregants? Maybe his pastor, if still alive? We're not even told the church's name or denomination.

And do the Rohrs attend worship anywhere now? Did they ever? Many churches accept LGBT people, starting with the United Church of Christ four decades ago. The list now includes mainline Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Did the family try any of them?

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Telling you what to think: Tampa Bay Times cranks up crusade on Christian clubs in schools

Telling you what to think: Tampa Bay Times cranks up crusade on Christian clubs in schools

It's an increasingly common habit -- a bad one -- to mix news with commentary. But the Tampa Bay Times yesterday was especially blatant, starting with the headline: "What about the coaches?"

The article is the third in less than a week on Christian clubs like Young Life, First Priority and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and their activities in public schools. The Times pretty agrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation's complaint to Hillsborough County Public Schools: Adults were evangelizing on campus through the clubs, thus breaching the constitutional separation of church and state; and school officials, including coaches, were letting them. Also, a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes had two misdemeanor convictions on his record.

All of that is more than fair game for a newspaper to check out. And in fairness, it talked to David Gaskill of FCA, in a story on Thursday. That’s an improvement over January, when the Times talked to the accusers but none of the defenders.  

But it's hard to read yesterday's story as anything more than a j'accuse, when it starts with:

A complaint alleging illegal activities on the part of a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes did not just point the finger at self-styled campus minister David Gaskill.
It also named -- sometimes with photographic evidence -- coaches who either invited Gaskill to lead the students in prayer or participated with them. Those named in the complaint include Freedom High School football coaches Todd Donahoe and Cedric Smith; Tampa Bay Technical High School wrestling coach Edward Bayonet, Freedom girls basketball coach Laura Pacholke, Wharton High School wrestling coach David Mitchell and Middleton High School baseball coach Jim Macaluso.
Will the district investigate these coaches too?

The article gives the answer immediately: "They will not." Instead, they and other school employees who work with volunteers will get training on adherence to the First Amendment. A school board member adds that FFRF is "very happy with the district's response."  So why were the coaches the focus of the lede? Is this something like gospel shaming? (And why didn’t the Times ask FFRF if they really are satisfied?)

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For new 'bathroom law,' Charlotte Observer masks an opinion piece as a news story

For new 'bathroom law,' Charlotte Observer masks an opinion piece as a news story

The Charlotte Observer is straying again -- allowing opinion-driven pieces to wander into its news sections. This time it's on House Bill 2, a North Carolina law that took effect March 23.  

The law excludes sexual orientation from anti-discrimination laws, including municipal ordinances. It also declares that people must use school and governmental bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender, whatever their claims of gender identity.

You can see how that would upset LGBT groups, as well as companies that want to seem egalitarian. But that doesn't mean the Observer should tilt a news story to favor them.

We'll start with the "Duhh" headline: "NC Gov. Pat McCrory says it’s unfair to compare HB2, religious freedom bills. Critics disagree." By definition, critics always disagree.

The Observer then quotes McCrory's interview on NBC's Meet the Press, but only as a setup for a sermon to repeal the law:

In defending House Bill 2, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has said the controversial legislation has been unfairly compared with "religious freedom" legislation that is now law in Mississippi, and nearly passed in Georgia and Arizona.
McCrory has said HB2 isn’t perfect, but he has cast it as more benign than the religious freedom legislation introduced in other states.
"This was not a religious freedom bill," McCrory said on "Meet the Press" Sunday. "We have not had any religious freedom bill introduced in the state of North Carolina. One reason is because I’m governor."
But some say HB2 does more to limit the rights of LGBT people.

Let's also note those sarcasm quotes around "religious freedom," which has become a favorite dash of hypocritical propaganda in mainstream media. Hypocritical, because such articles never treat the phrase "LGBT rights" or "transgender rights" with the same narrow-eyed skepticism. Propaganda, because they seldom use any neutral phrase such as religious exemption -- a suggestion made earlier this month by Prof. Mark Silk of Trinity College.

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'Jesus man': Franklin Graham backs Phil Robertson prayer and Charlotte Observer growls

'Jesus man': Franklin Graham backs Phil Robertson prayer and Charlotte Observer growls

Oooooooo, two trigger words: "Jesus" and "man." That brought the usual howls of outrage from the likes of the New York Daily News, which said Robertson "goosed at least half the country" with his prayer. And from the Sporting News, which said that allowing Robertson's prayer made NASCAR "look like a confederacy of dunces."

We could ask: When you request a public prayer from a backwoods fundamentalist supporter of Ted Cruz, what did you expect? But more disappointing to me is how the otherwise responsible Charlotte Observer held up for derision not only the prayer, but evangelist Franklin Graham for defending it.

In an article mysteriously bearing the byline of Godbeat pro Tim Funk, the Observer first joins those who read a ton into Phil's prayer:

Robertson, who has endorsed Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for president, would seem to have ruled out a Democrat in his prayer: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a Methodist but not a man, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a man but not a Christian (he’s Jewish).
Various racing writers criticized Robertson for using his prayer before the Texas Motor Speedway’s Duck Commander 500 to further his own political agenda.
"There are Democrats who enjoy NASCAR," wrote one of them, Associated Press auto racing writer Jenna Fryer. "Jews and atheists and women, too."

Then the article segues into a kind of syllabus of errors, protesting the religio-political pronouncements on Graham's Facebook page. It tells how Graham defends a 1994 federal crime bill, criticizes Bruce Springsteen for canceling a concert in Greensboro, and endorses a bill in Alabama to recognize the fetus as a person.

Oh, and the Observer also notes Graham's support of a North Carolina law branded a "bathroom bill" by opponents. The law declares all government lockers and restrooms, including schools, to be used by people of their biological gender. It sparked anger in Charlotte for overturning that city's LGBT ordinance.

This is all written up as if it's freakish to see someone write his beliefs on Facebook. And it was all in a newspaper article labeled only "Religion" -- not "Opinion" or "Commentary" or any other warning to "Brace yourself for 700 words of my views."

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'Like a beautiful dream': Francis' rescue mission for Syrian refugees gets graceful coverage

'Like a beautiful dream': Francis' rescue mission for Syrian refugees gets graceful coverage

Pope Francis surprised news media yet again when he flew back from an ecumenical meeting last weekend with 12 new passengers: three families of Syrian refugees.

Francis said the Vatican would sponsor the families and get them settled in Italy, in a clear object lesson for other nations.  And the lesson was not lost on mainstream media, which covered the story with grace, sensitivity and intelligence. At least, when they got over being caught off guard again.

Francis came to the Aegean island of Lesbos to visit refugees from the war-ravaged Middle East along with two Eastern Orthodox leaders: Bartholomew I, patriarch of all Orthodoxy, and Ieronymos II, the archbishop of Greece.  But as NBC News and other media report, the pope got a last-minute idea to do more: to sponsor three families directly and set an example for the world.

Says NBC:

The religious leaders had lunch with eight refugees to hear their stories of fleeing war, conflict and poverty and their hopes for a better life in Europe. Then they prayed together, tossing a floral wreath into the sea in memory of those who didn't make it.
The pope vowed to continue helping refugees.
"Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such," he tweeted Saturday.

Video clips tell the story even more vividly. One from Euronews shows a man falling at Francis' feet, sobbing "Thank you, thank you." On CNN, a little girl clutches his ankles, apparently in overwhelming gratitude. He then gently lifts her to her feet.

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Baby steps: AP shows improvement in reporting religious-objections bill in Missouri

Baby steps: AP shows improvement in reporting religious-objections bill in Missouri

Well, it appears that a mainstream journalist went out and found one minister to quote in religious liberty story.

They usually don’t quote any in news articles like these. So an Associated Press article on a new religious-exemption bill in Missouri is a tiny step in the right direction.

The piece, carried by the Charlotte Observer, reports the new storm a-brewing over a religious objections bill in that state. The top of story focuses on a business-heavy backlash:

More than 60 businesses including some of Missouri's biggest corporate names joined a coalition opposed to state legislation that would protect businesses objecting on religious grounds to same-sex marriages, the latest sign of a backlash against such proposals across the country.
Agricultural giant Monsanto, prescription drug benefits manager Express Scripts, and pet food maker Nestle Purina are among employers to join the recently formed Missouri Competes, according to gay rights advocacy group PROMO, which released the list just hours before a House committee heard testimony from business, sports and religious groups. Dozens crammed in the Capitol basement for the late-night hearing.
The formation of the coalition comes amid business pushback to legislation in other states protecting those opposed to gay marriage.

The article has much to recommend it. AP quotes an equal number of sources on each side. It uses terms like religious-objections legislation instead of the usual "religious freedom," in sarcasm quotes.  

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Strike up the banned: The Bible is among the most-challenged library books, RNS reports

Strike up the banned: The Bible is among the most-challenged library books, RNS reports

Secularists often chide evangelical Christians for nursing a persecution complex, but you know the old saying: Just 'cause you're paranoid …

And the paranoids among us won't be reassured by a new report thatthe Bible was one of the most challenged books in libraries last year.

The holy book, says the Religion News Service, sits among other books that many church people would reject:

(RNS) What does the Bible have in common with "Fifty Shades of Grey" or one of John Green’s best-selling young adult novels?
For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bible made the list of the American Library Association’s 10 most frequently challenged books last year.
The 2015 list was released Monday (April 11) as part of the ALA’s 2016 State of America’s Libraries report. It includes books that have drawn formal, written complaints from the public because of their content or appropriateness, according to the ALA.
The Bible, which came in at No. 6, was challenged for its "religious viewpoint," the ALA said.

The story reveals a trend since 2009 of growing complaints about books in libraries that contain "religious viewpoints," the article says. Sounds like the RNS writer, Emily McFarlan Miller, asked some penetrating questions.

What about before 2000? Well, back then, most complaints were about "sexually explicit material, offensive language or being unsuitable for the intended age group," the article says. Today, the growing edge is over religious content.

From the list, though, ALA seems to include sexuality in what constitutes a religious viewpoint:

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