Jim Davis

Dallas paper: Ted Cruz broadening appeal beyond those evangelical fringe groups

Dallas paper: Ted Cruz broadening appeal beyond those evangelical fringe groups

Well, at least the Dallas Morning News was kinda nice to Liberty University. In the lede to its story on Ted Cruz in New Hampshire, the newspaper called it a "huge evangelical Christian college." Once upon a time, I believe, mainstream media routinely slapped Liberty with the "F" word: "Fundamentalist."

But the paper doesn't prove its claim that Cruz sounded less evangelical, more secular in his New Hampshire visit to look more like presidential material. It therefore pushes a related stereotype: that Americans don’t particularly like evangelicals.

DMN paints Cruz as a conservative's conservative as well as an evangelical's evangelical. It acknowledges that the evangelical bloc can be active and ardent, but adds that Cruz will have to broaden his appeal to win the White House:

Cruz’s initial focus on the evangelical vote made tactical sense. In a large, splintered Republican field, having a base to build from could be critical. But there’s a pitfall: By focusing so tightly on social conservatives, he could alienate others, ending up with a very enthusiastic sliver of the electorate.
“People I’ve talked to are excited about him. And yet there are some who are nervous, because of what he’s saying,” said Kathleen Lauer-Rago, chairwoman of the Merrimack County GOP.

The story tries to back up the assertion by citing exit polls in 2012, which showed that equal numbers (22 percent) of New Hampshire people are "very conservative" and "born-again Christians."  However, it blurs the fact that "born-again" is not the same as "evangelical," a fact long brought out in Barna polls.

DMN also doesn't report whether the poll said it was the same people in both categories. The most we get is a Cruz supporter who says he and his family are "very conservative" and "conservative Christians." That doesn't prove, of course, that they're all alike.

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Abducted, not forgotten: Media put spotlight back on kidnapped Nigerian girls

Abducted, not forgotten: Media put spotlight back on kidnapped Nigerian girls

What a tragic relief to read mainstream media's stories on Nigeria this week.

Tragic, because more than 200 of the girls abducted from Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram last year still haven't been rescued -- and, as the nation's new president says, may never be.

A relief, because the media remembered the one-year anniversary this week.

Things like that often fade from public view as other stories grab headlines. So the follow-up stories in newspapers like the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and news services like Reuters and CNN, are a genuine service -- both to American readers and to the still-grieving families in Nigeria.

The stories also keep the heat on the nation's authorities not to slack off the fight against the terrorists. But they largely omit the religious element -- a mutant, violent strain of Islam -- that fuels Boko Haram.

The Washington Post's story quickly recaps the kidnap, then the despair that activists are fighting:

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Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

When social media do nothing about terrorism, the critics complain. And when the social media do something, the critics complain.

"Some guys do nothing but complain," as Rod Stewart, well, complained.

But it's true with Twitter's fight against terrorism, according to a New York Times story. The microblog firm just announced it had suspended about 10,000 Islamic State accounts for "tweeting violent threats." It's just a tiny fraction of the estimated 90,000 such accounts linked to Islamic State -- which, the newspaper points out, is also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh -- but it sounds like a decent start.

Users who also oppose ISIS, though, accuse Twitter of a weak p.r. stunt that does nothing to halt the hate online.  The objections, and Twitter's answers, are part of this fairly short, 535-word story.

But the Times takes the risky route of using only unnamed sources for this piece. It also risks imbalance in focusing solely on what Twitter is doing and ignoring the kind of hatred Twitter is trying to stem.

Evidently, the social media giant is increasingly sensitive about its image. According to the Times, the firm has long fought efforts to misuse its system:

The suspensions came against a backdrop of rising criticism that Twitter has allowed the Islamic State to exploit the social network to spread propaganda, glorify violence and seek recruits.
Twitter previously acknowledged suspending as many as 2,000 ISIS-linked accounts per week in recent months.
The Twitter representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, attributed the surge of suspensions in part to a widely publicized effort by ISIS opponents, including some hacking groups and online vigilantes, to expose suspect accounts and report them as violators.

The Times acknowledges a dilemma faced by Twitter, which seeks to promote free speech yet snuff out talk that leads to murder. Curiously, the article doesn't use the term "hate speech," although ISIS' threats would certainly seem to qualify.

I liked the lore in this story, like an alliance of ISIS opponents -- "including some hacking groups and online vigilantes" -- that find and report the online terrorists.  Some of the users worry that the account deletions will make it harder to watch the terrorists, although others applaud Twitter for trying to "deny ISIS a social media platform."

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Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

He did it: Pope Francis used the "G" word -- genocide -- in a centennial Mass yesterday mourning the Turkish killings of nearly 1.5 million Armenians toward the end of World War I.

If only the news reports were as free with two other words: Christianity and religion.

Speculation had grown in stories like this one from the Los Angeles Times, after Pope Francis announced he would say a Mass for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian deaths. Turkey, a pro-western Muslim country, has long denied charges that it committed genocide.

And when Francis used the word in the Mass yesterday, it bore immediate consequences, news media reported -- as in a Reuters story via Al Jazeera.

"Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations in an escalating diplomatic row over Pope Francis' use of the word "genocide" to describe the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I," the lede says. A longer, earlier version of the story says Turkey also called the Vatican ambassador to Turkey for a scolding.

But most mainstream media seem timid in admitting the religious facet of a Muslim empire killing a Christian minority. And when they do get around to that aspect, most bury it in the article.

One of the best backgrounders on the matter is a video by an outfit called Newsy. The brisk, 90-second video touches on the killings, Francis' record on statements about the genocide, and the centuries-old relationship of the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.

Many articles point out that Francis made the Armenian killings the first of three major genocides of the 20th century. The other two, he said, were the Nazi Holocaust and Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union. Turkey objected to the "genocide" label, even though it was used by Pope John Paul II in 2001. The former Ottoman Empire has agreed that thousands of Armenians died in the war, but said that so did thousands of Muslims. Turkey also denies that the deaths were as high as 1.5 million.

But the Reuters articles add the religion angle only through a statement by President Serzh Sarksyan of Armenia:

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Are the pious as undatable as Ned Flanders? Or don’t the reports know diddly?

Are the pious as undatable as Ned Flanders? Or don’t the reports know diddly?

If Ned Flanders got sarcastic, he might say a story in the Telegraph on a recent study of the religious was "diddly-dumb."

The study, by researchers in the U.S., the U.K. and New Zealand, appears to find something hard to disagree with: that popular stereotypes of religion make believers less attractive to others. You know, like the dorky, reverent Ned Flanders in The Simpsons. And yes, the study names the fictional Flanders as an example.

But the newspaper overreaches in implying that the attitudes prevail in all three countries, when the study doesn't say that. The Telegraph stumbles also in meekly repeating the conclusions without asking questions.

The study begins with the unshocking notion of "religious homogamy," which means simply that you prefer people with similar beliefs. It then moves to stereotyping -- asking respondents to rate religious people on qualities like "extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experiences."

The researchers found that that, "true to the stereotype of anally-retentive Christians,"  non-religious participants regarded the religious as closed-minded," even if they aren’t. Says the Telegraph:

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Statuary assault: Papers ponder push for Billy Graham's likeness in Capitol

Statuary assault: Papers ponder push for Billy Graham's likeness in Capitol

Billy Graham has spanned continents, counseled presidents, preached to some 215 million people. And lawmakers are praising one more virtue: He's not Charles B. Aycock.

"Eh?" you may well ask. Well, Aycock was an early 20th century governor of North Carolina and, according to historical accounts, a noted white supremacist. That makes his statue in the U.S. Capitol rather noxious, although it's stood there since 1932.

So, for some Tar Heels, it's time for a change, reports the News and Observer. Hence the move by the state's lawmakers for a marble version of the famous evangelist in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Graham's virtues? Rather scant, according to the newspaper: Graham's "legacy of ministry and charitable work." Also, he's "the least polarizing of all the people who are worthy of consideration."

Well, how nice. An evangelical leader is thought to be non-polarizing. But to ignore the many accomplishments of the modern era's greatest evangelist -- in a newspaper in his home state -- well, in GetReligion terms, it amounts to a haunted house full of religious "ghosts."

The Asheville Citizen-Times mainly quotes the Senate version of the bill:

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Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

I was just about to hand a bouquet to CNN for a sensitive video about the Indiana pizzeria that closed under a barrage of pro-gay hate. But I feel more like serving them bad anchovies after seeing the same kind of shallow, irresponsible coverage in Georgia.

In one video, CNN takes a close look at Memories Pizza in Indiana and interviews the owner, and looks into how this matter of individual rights mushroomed into verbal violence. In the other video (shared with us by a reader who calls herself TheAnchoress), a CNN reporter ambushes five florists in rural Georgia with a "gotcha" question: "If you had gay customers come in here to buy flowers, and they said, 'We want you to come do our commitment ceremony' -- marriages are not allowed in this state yet -- would you do it?"

But OK, the nice one first. CNN's follow-up tells some of the travails of the O'Connor family after they gave their opinion on catering gay weddings.

"Social media unloaded on the pizzeria ... many too vulgar to share," CNN says. The network also reports the tweet by one Jessica Dooley to burn the place down. Adds the network: "Detectives who investigated have recommended charges of harassment, intimidation and threats."

The story also highlights tweets and Facebook posts in support of the pizza parlor. One calls the harassment "cyber bullying" and a "lynch mob." Another says how ironic it is to threaten in the name of tolerance.

CNN then reports on a GoFundMe campaign to compensate the O'Connors for their loss: donations of $842,387 in three days.  The network also does an on-air interview with Lawrence Billy Jones II, a commentator on the Dana Loesch Show, who launched the fund drive.

In the accompanying video, CNN's Brooke Baldwin asks Jones if the O'Connors would, indeed, decline to cater a gay wedding. He says they would, but he's allowed to qualify that they would serve gays who sat down in their restaurant.

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For Washington Post, Indy law is all business -- except for those who favor it

For Washington Post, Indy law is all business -- except for those who favor it

Religious freedom laws are bad for business. That's the upshot of the Washington Post's Monday indepth on the new, much-debated law there.

The story highlights Hoosier hand-wringing over what might happen, without really nailing down how widespread the anxieties are. And it takes a sympathetic tone toward gays and their friends, but stiffly proper toward those who favor the new law.

A caveat: I am not talking about about the law itself. That matter turned moot yesterday, when Gov. Mike Pence signed a package of changes in the law, banning discrimination based on "race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service." Besides, my focus here, as in other GetReligion pieces, is mainstream media coverage of religious and moral issues.

And with few exceptions, the Post article fall short. For one, it starts and ends on the side of those who wanted to change or repeal the law:

INDIANAPOLIS — At Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company, a sign taped to the front door says, “WE SERVE EVERYONE,” inviting out-of-towners of all sexual orientations to enjoy an organic mocha latte.
At Silver in the City, a downtown gift shop, Kristin Kohn quickly sold out of rainbow-themed T-shirts with the words: “We like you here.” And at Chilly Water Brewing Company about a mile from Lucas Oil Stadium, home to this weekend’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, owner Skip DuVall assured customers that no one — gay or straight — would be denied a pale ale.
“This thing is suicide,” DuVall said of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a new state law that many view as a license to discriminate. “It makes us look bad. Real bad.”

The story bears several marks of an attempt to demonstrate a trend without showing actual numbers:

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Religious freedom: Charlotte Observer actually asks the religious some important questions

Religious freedom: Charlotte Observer actually asks the religious some important questions

What?? A daily newspaper quoting ministers on a state religious freedom bill? Cue Tchaikovsky!

No, wait. The Charlotte Observer does quote two pastors about North Carolina's proposed law, a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But one is on their radar because he ran for the Senate last year. And the other is apparently the loyal opposition.

The fast-moving bill is similar to those that have drawn fire in Arizona, Indiana and elsewhere. Supporters say they are attempts to shield religious people from unwarranted government coercion. Opponents say they're ruses to legalize discrimination against gays.

It's a clear religious and moral issue. Unfortunately, most of the Charlotte Observer article quotes business, government, political and even sports groups like the NCAA -- a stable familiar to anyone who has followed the ongoing battle over Indiana's version of RFRA. The effect is largely like hearing people talk about you while you're standing right there.

Roughly a fifth of the 1,100-word Observer article chronicles economic jitters, based on blowback from businesses after Indiana passed its RFRA. The story grants two paragraphs to American Airlines, which hints that it will use its influence against the North Carolina bill, as it did against a similar bill in Arizona.

The Observer article does some things going for it. For one, it shuns the "scare" or "sarcasm" quotes around "religious freedom," as we've seen in many media -- even the otherwise classy NPR -- in covering the new law in Indiana.

The newspaper also balances its quoted sources. It cites Gov. Pat McCrory and a state senator against the bill, then two legislators who favor it. The Observer checks in with the state's American Civil Liberties Union but also with an opponent, the North Carolina Values Coalition.

For the pro-RFRA pastor, the Observer allows two partial quotes:

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