Jim Davis

Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Our GetReligion guru, tmatt, likes to complain how news media talk about "generic Christians" in the Middle East. Well, much of the coverage of Saturday's mass murder in Kenya goes one further -- making the victims into generic "non-Muslims."

Here's the lead of the widely used version by the Associated Press:

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, Al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said.
Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, a survivor told The Associated Press.

AP later says the killers "separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims  — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest." Their source for much of this? A "non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera [who] survived the attack." (Emphasis mine.)

The Los Angeles Times account follows suit in 800 distressingly vague words.  It says the killers "separated Muslims from non-Muslims," then shot the latter. Even when giving background -- saying the attack "follows the pattern of previous terror attacks in Kenya in which Muslims have been spared" -- it's fuzzy on Muslims as opposed to whom.

If the victims' religion made a difference, what was it? Buddhism? Hinduism? The answer should be obvious  to anyone who checks a database like the World Factbook by the CIA: 82.5 percent of Kenyans are Christian. While the nation also includes people of "traditionalist" faiths, and 2.4 percent are "nones," it's safe to say the main targets last weekend were Christians.

Especially when the Times quotes an Al-Shabab spokesman using the term "crusaders":

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When they want your head: Veteran journalist tells risks of Middle East reporting

When they want your head: Veteran journalist tells risks of Middle East reporting

At some point, reporters in the Middle East stopped covering murders and started getting murdered.

Jeffrey Goldberg remembers the turning point in Before the Beheadings, aptly named article in The Atlantic. Goldberg once enjoyed his dangerous beat, covering terrorism and religious wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.  

At least he did, until the danger spread to reporters like himself -- a danger that preceded the killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff this year:

The attacks of 9/11 weren’t the decisive break in the relationship between jihadists and journalists. It was the decision made by a set of extremists in Pakistan to kidnap the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002 that represented a shift in jihadist thought. To his kidnappers, Pearl was not a messenger to the outside world, but a scapegoat to be sacrificed for the sins of his fellow infidels. Murder was becoming their message.

Goldberg describes the paradoxical sense of danger and safety in reporting on various jihad groups. He writes about interviewing terrorist leaders on willingness to use nuclear bombs if available, and on how one even thought the Jews were "from Satan." But the jihadis gave safe passage to reporters, even Jewish ones like Goldberg, in order to tell their stories via news media.

Goldberg describes one such meeting, with Pakistani terrorist Fazlur Rehman Khalil:

I had glimpsed a treacherous and secret subculture, and I was happy, because a reporter’s deepest need is to see what is on the other side of a closed door. In exchange, I would tell people in the West about Khalil and his beliefs. I was appalled by his message, and I wanted readers to understand the horror of it. But Khalil believed he was doing good works, and he wanted the world to celebrate his philosophy. Back then, the transaction worked for both parties. Today, when I think about the meeting, I shudder.

He relates a fellow journalist's attitude: “I used to tell people that as a reporter for an American news organization, it was like we were wearing armor. “People just didn’t go after American reporters.”

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Murder in the synagogue: Newspapers excel in coverage, not on analysis

Murder in the synagogue: Newspapers excel in coverage, not on analysis

When people hack, stab and shoot their way into a synagogue -- especially in Jerusalem, a nexus of three world religions -- you can expect a second wave: of news coverage. The killings of Jews at prayer in Jerusalem set a tragic yet vital instance of the value of news media in a world where some want to kill a few of us and blind the rest.

Pretty much all of the accounts are loaded with gory details -- as frankly, they should after such a gory event. The New York Daily News, with its tabloid heritage, was ready to tell the brutal story of meat cleavers and guns:

About 25 people were praying in a synagogue when the Palestinians burst inside screaming “God is great!” in Arabic and began killing.
“I saw people lying on the floor, blood everywhere,” survivor Yosef Posternak told Israel Radio. “People were trying to fight with (the attackers), but they didn’t have much of a chance.”
The carnage ended when three Israeli traffic cops responding to the scene opened fired on the intruders and killed them in a wild gun battle.

With a well-warranted warning of "graphic images," the Daily News also posted a photo of a tefillin-wrapped arm lying in a pool of blood, and the corpse of one of the attackers, stripped to his underwear to make sure he wasn't wearing a bomb.

Like other newspapers, the article includes other clashes -- but the Daily News also ran a photo of a three-month-old baby who was killed in October when a terrorist ran over her stroller.

The New York Times  went for irony, juxtaposing the sense of the sacred with the desecration of murder in a holy place:

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CBS loves NFL veteran's potato farm; his Christian beliefs, not so much

CBS loves NFL veteran's potato farm; his Christian beliefs, not so much

Can a ghost haunt a football field or a potato farm? Yes, if spiritual motives make you leave one for the other -- and a news report skims over those motives.

CBS News did something like that in one of its On the Road segments. Steve Hartman found Jason Brown cheerfully bending his back over sweet potatoes instead of flattening opponents for the St. Louis Rams.

Hartman was curious about a number of things. How Brown could leave a $37 million NFL contract for 1,000 acres in North Carolina. Why he worked hard for his crop, then gave it away to food pantries. How he even learned to farm.

What the report didn't ask was why Brown changed his lifestyle so radically. It drops a few hints, like "FirstFruits Farm," the name of Brown's literal digs. Another hint:

"When you see them pop up out of the ground, man, it's the most beautiful thing you could ever see," said Brown. He said he has never felt more successful.
"Not in man's standards," said Brown. "But in God's eyes."

But those hints slip in and out of the report, like ghosts floating through the walls.

CBS does link to Brown's FirstFruits Farm, which explains it all in telling detail. Like this section:

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AP feature says Hanukkah is beginning to look a lot like Christmas

AP feature says Hanukkah is beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It's gone way beyond old-timey "Hanukkah Bushes" decorated like Christmas trees. Now, reports the Associated Press, Hanukkah includes items like Kippah Kantor, Mensch on a Bench, house decorations, even boxes of Hanukkah chocolates.

"Pinterest and Etsy are loaded with blue-and-white Hanukkah crafts like wreaths and stockings," says the deftly written feature for the holiday, which starts this year at sundown Dec. 16. "There are Hanukkah greeting cards, cookie cutters, and even tree ornaments shaped like the three symbols -- Stars of David, menorahs and dreidels -- that scream 'Hanukkah!' amid a sea of holiday merchandise adorned with Christmas trees and Santas."

The story's Star (of David) is the Mensch on a Bench doll, imitating the Yule-themed Elf on the Shelf. As AP relates, creator Neal Hoffman raised $22,000 on Kickstarter last year; now he's producing 50,000 Mensches for stores like Target and Toys R Us. I recognized a South Florida news station on a collection of TV reports Hoffman linked from his website.

Oy. The traditional eight nights of quiet family gatherings -- those are starting to look like the Ghost of Hanukkah Past. Maybe Steven Spielberg's next movie should be Dreidels of a Lost Art. Or, as tmatt once quipped, "It's beginning to look a lot like Hanukkah." 

But as a rabbi tells AP, it's not the first time Jews have drawn from the surrounding culture. He says latkes, the potato pancakes that are a favorite Hanukkah treat, come from eastern Europe. The dreidel itself comes from Germany, he adds.

But why Hanukkah, a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar? For answers, AP turns to someone who's written a whole book on the holiday:

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Nurses and Ebola: MSNBC story tells a story of faith and courage

Nurses and Ebola: MSNBC story tells a story of faith and courage

"MSNBC can do a decent religion story? Miracles do happen," a friend of GR said in a tip about an article on nurses volunteering to fight Ebola.

And the tipster is right. For a company whose founder called church a waste of time -- as Bill Gates did in 1997 -- MSNBC has produced a remarkably sensitive, respectful story on nurses' preparations to work in Ebola-stricken Liberia.

The article packs a lot in its 1,289 words. It updates us on the quarantine controversy -- the rush of states to isolate medical workers on their return from treating Ebola patients. It's full of touching personal details on the two women who are about to leave for western Africa. And it presents an unflinching, unapologetic look at the faith that drives them to risk their lives.

MSNBC's writer clearly liked Megan Vitek, her friend Sara Phillips and their well-wishers. She notes that Vitek's home, and that of her friends, is dubbed the "Scooby Doo Mansion." She tells of Vitek visiting an apartment building and greeting an inflatable Headless Horseman dummy. It's a clever device to show the contrast with where she's going. 

Here's the lede:

Before she left town on Sunday, there were a few things that Megan Vitek, a nurse, needed to get done: Return a big serving bowl to a relative, eat a scone from her favorite coffee shop in Washington, D.C., and pick up 25 pairs of goggles to protect her team from Ebola in Liberia.

But Vitek isn't cast as a Pollyanna or proselytizer. She is instead portrayed as humble, matter-of-fact, perhaps pushing away the enormity of what she's about to confront:

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Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

One of the most heinous in a long string of religious murders in Pakistan -- the torture and burning of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a Christian couple -- gets some well-deserved attention from several news outlets.

The coverage includes a satisfying amount of background and explanation. You need it after you read the mind-stopping facts.

From  CNN's report:

Fifty people have been arrested in connection with this week's killing of a Christian couple who were beaten and pushed into a burning kiln in eastern Pakistan, a police official said Thursday.
Investigators believe the 50 were part of a mob that killed the couple Tuesday after the pair were accused of desecrating the Quran, said Bin Yameen, a police official in the Kasur District in Punjab province.
Police said the attack in the village of Kot Radha Kishan came after a local mullah declared the couple were guilty of blasphemy.
The mob allegedly marched to the couple's home, broke down their door, dragged them outside, beat them and threw them into the brick kiln where they both worked.

The crime sounds even more heinous if it's true, as several reports say, that it was instigated by a religious leader -- and that the mosque announced the accusation through loudspeakers.

You can see the story evolving from a few days ago, when the BBC said only 43 were arrested. The BBC also says the couple were beaten to death before being thrown into a kiln. As we've read, CNN says the two were burned alive.

The New York Times adds the name of one of those arrested in its story on the killings -- and says that "the clerics of several mosques" were also among them.

The Wall Street Journal  adds further background,  identifying the Masihs as "bonded laborers in a brick factory" in Punjab. The Journal also reveals that the couple had a dispute with the factory owner over money they owed him. It was after then that the factory's staff accused Masih of burning pages of the Quran.

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What is this? Problems with that Asheville witchcraft story? Let's spell them out

What is this? Problems with that Asheville witchcraft story? Let's spell them out

It's anniversary time, folks -- time to look back a week on that folk religion known as witchcraft and its New Year celebration, Samhain, last Friday.

Our "patriarchal religions" perverted that ritual for honoring the dead into Halloween, of course. Luckily, via a tip from a GR reader, we have an article out of the Citizen-Times in Asheville, N.C., to remind us of the "deeply spiritual" witches that observe it.

Nope, that's not a snark. Here's what photojournalist Katie Bailey of the Citizen-Times writes after sitting in on the vigil:

A dark room and candles were the only thing I expected when I arrived at the Ancestor Ritual held by Mother Grove Goddess Temple in the parish hall of All Soul's Church on Oct. 23.

But the celebration of Samhain was much more than a ceremony for the dead. It was a deeply spiritual event where people opened themselves to mourning and to learning from their deceased ancestors and loved ones.

Oh, and my use of "witch" is not a jab either. "The word 'witch' has been given a very bad name by the patriarchal religions in this country," Byron Ballard, the high priestess of the temple, is quoted as saying. "We need to take back 'witch.' "

Written as a first-person newsfeature, the story is partly a first-grade lesson on what witches say about themselves -- something that would have been cutting-edge coverage in say, the 1980s. Then it segues into subjective feelings, then ends with advocacy something like those midterm campaign ads we all endured.

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Brittany Maynard: Much of suicide coverage was gamed and manipulative

Brittany Maynard: Much of suicide coverage was gamed and manipulative

Yes, Brittany Maynard killed herself on Saturday. But you'd never know it from much of the coverage. Some media say she simply died, or chose when to die. Some say she "ended her life." Few say she committed suicide.

This blog item is not about the pros and cons of killing yourself when you see no hope. By all accounts, Maynard went through a process of reasoning almost as anguishing as the strokes and headaches that signaled the advance of her brain cancer.

No, this isn't about that at all. It's about what mainstream media do, versus what they're supposed to do. They are supposed to inform us, help us understand. They are not -- despite what you hear and read almost daily -- supposed to tint the content to manipulate you toward their opinion.

So you have the  New York Times saying Maynard "ended her life" and wanted to "choose when to die."

Much of her rationale was cloaked in the "choice" and "rights" language of the pro-gay and pro-abortion movements -- and the Times follows suit:

Ms. Maynard defended her right to decide.

I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity,” she wrote on the CNN website. “My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice?”

The  Times also gives the lion's share to Maynard's thoughts and feelings, as well as her campaign with Compassion & Choices -- which the newspaper calls, not a pro-suicide organization, but an "end-of-life rights advocacy group." It adds a single paragraph acknowledging that "death with dignity" laws are opposed by "many political and religious organizations."

The language is more direct in the Washington Post story, which is twice as long as well. It says she "took lethal drugs prescribed by her physician on Saturday and died."  It later says she decided on "doctor-assisted death."

The Post also reports criticism by National Right to Life, which called Compassion & Choices "ghoulish" for using Maynard's death to pitch for donations. NRTL also asserts that "once the principal (sic) is established, the ‘right’ to be ‘assisted’ expands to a whole panoply of reasons none of which are about terminal illnesses."

NBC News repeats the litany of Maynard "ending her life on her own schedule." It includes tweets on both sides, but they're weighted toward the pro-Maynard. It also reports a doctor's accusation that she was being "exploited" by Compassion & Choices. And it links to a seminarian with the Diocese of Raleigh -- himself a patient with incurable brain cancer -- who says life is still worth living, though his comments are cut short.

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