Abortion

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Of Catholics, RNS and Zika virus: Questions of original reporting

Like mosquitos that carry the disease, a story by the Religion News Service buzzes with Catholic concerns over how to address the Zika outbreak currently coursing through Latin America. The article strains mightily to provide a many-sided view of the matter, but not always successfully, and not always originally.

The headliner is a warning this week by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras not to use abortion in the fight against the virus.   As RNS says, Zika is a prime suspect in microcephaly, in which children are born with small heads and brains. If a pregnant woman is bitten by a mosquito that's carrying the virus, children may be born with the defect.

Apparently, Maradiaga read someone recommending so-called "therapeutic abortion," or terminating a pregnancy for risk of abnormalities like microcephaly. That freaked him, according to RNS:

"We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion," the cardinal said in his homily, according to Honduran media reports.
"Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist," he said. "Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives."

It hasn't come to that yet, but RNS notes that the World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency. And some Latin American officials have recommended women there to delay pregnancy for up to two years.

RNS is right to highlight his words; as it says, he is a top adviser to Pope Francis as well as chief shepherd of Honduras. It could have added that Maradiaga was also considered a papabile, or papal candidate, in 2005 and 2013. That's especially rarefied atmosphere.

But the cardinal'ss comments were just the first few paragraphs of this article -- what we in journalism call a shirttail lede -- for a more indepth treatment:

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Keeping up: Journalism word games, slogans, euphemisms and misdirections

Keeping up: Journalism word games, slogans, euphemisms and misdirections

Journalists’ need to nurture professional skepticism should apply to the latest partisan lingo.

Examples from showbiz and advertising are legion. Are drivers of cars other than Subarus unloving? If a TV drama announces that the events and characters are totally fictional, the viewer automatically thinks “this story must be about real events and characters. Otherwise why the disclaimer?”  

Public discourse on politics, morals and religion is full of such word games, slogans, euphemisms and carefully calculated misdirections. 

In politics, during the Great Depression conservatives coined a classic still with us, the “right to work law,” which actually means the “right to refuse union membership or dues-paying,” and in reality “the right to have a weak union.” Ask your Guild rep. The Jan. 17 New York Times Magazine ran down the ways different eras have proudly embraced or shunned “progressive” and “liberal.”  “Left-leaning” becomes cautious journalistic usage when “liberal” is a slur. Has “socialist” suddenly become benign now that 43 percent of Iowa Democrats accept that label? 

In other up-to-the-minute canons, oppressive-sounding “gun control” is now “gun safety.” Insurgent Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio is magically an “establishment” candidate. In current campaign speak, “amnesty” means whatever immigration policy the other guy wants -- or used to want.  Newswriters are now expected to replace “illegal” immigrant with “undocumented.” 

Turning to moral and sexual conflicts, the Stylebook from The Religion Guy’s former Associated Press colleagues has this stumble (unless it’s been corrected in the latest edition):  “Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice.”

My take: "Anti" sounds negative while “rights” is positive for Americans. Better for journalists to use parallel terms that leaders on the two sides accept as their labels, “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice,” admitting that the latter skirts what action is being chosen. Meanwhile, conservatives borrow that helpful “choice” slogan when it comes to schools.

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Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Yes, this is a post about legal issues linked to the Planned Parenthood videos. But that is not where I want to start.

If you followed the twisting legal arguments surrounding the Westboro Baptist Church protests -- especially the horrible demonstrations at the funerals of military veterans -- you know that most of the headlines focused on freedom of speech.

However, journalists had a lot at stake in this fight, too (whether they felt comfortable about that or not). Why is that? Here is how I described the crucial press-freedom issue in a post -- "Why journalists love Westboro Baptist" -- back in 2010. I asked readers to glance at the coverage of Westboro's arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court and:

Then answer these questions. In addition to telling the story of the grieving family, which is essential, does the report in your local news source tell you (a) that the protests were moved to another location that was not in view of the church at which the funeral was held and that mourners did not need to pass the demonstration? Then, (b) does it note that the grieving father's only viewing of these hateful, hellish demonstrations took place when he viewed news media reports or read materials posted on the church's website? Those facts are at the heart of this case, when you are looking at the legal arguments from a secular, legal, even journalistic point of view. This is why so many mainstream news organizations are backing the church.

In other words, when push came to shove journalists had to defend their own right to cover these hateful demonstrations. People who thought of themselves as "liberals" kept shooting at Westboro and hitting the First Amendment, instead. As a statement at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press put it, in 2011:

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On abortion coverage: Is the Houston Chronicle capable of listening to both sides?

On abortion coverage: Is the Houston Chronicle capable of listening to both sides?

Early in 2010, I was wandering about my old haunts in Houston’s Eastwood section, which is southeast of downtown. One obvious change was that a new neighbor was moving into a former bank building on I-45, locally known as the Gulf Freeway -- Planned Parenthood, which was expanding into the six-story building.

Local opponents were claiming that Planned Parenthood would be performing abortions through the 24th week of pregnancy, while PP kept saying it’d only do them through the 19th week. Also, the building was Planned Parenthood’s largest U.S. clinic, a distinction many Texans weren’t wild about. And it was in a majority black and Hispanic area, a fact that opponents frequently note when arguing that Planned Parenthood targets minorities. I think they chose that dodgy area of town because it was close to Hobby Airport and nearly across the street from all the co-eds at the University of Houston.

The day I showed up, the protesters weren’t there, so I drove about the building and snapped some photos. Some of my friends still living in the area had protested against the place, which was walking distance from their homes and my old church. Since it was such a huge facility, it’s no huge surprise that an undercover team of pro-life investigators decided to film what goes on there.

Posts by our own Bobby Ross, Jr., talked about the original coverage of the now infamous Planned Parenthood videos last July, plus the current reaction when a grand jury gathered to investigate PP on organ trafficking charges decided instead to indict the two undercover videographers who brought Planned Parenthood’s activities to light.

The bottom line: I want to highlight a story that appeared in the Houston Chronicle that was so one-sided, I’m guessing that the editorial-page team must have moved its operations into the newsroom. It starts thus:

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Media blackout? What media blackout!? Planned Parenthood case is front-page news — this time

Media blackout? What media blackout!? Planned Parenthood case is front-page news — this time

When the secretly recorded Planned Parenthood videos were released last summer, some accused the media of ignoring them.

Others said "thoughtful and substantive coverage" couldn't be rushed.

GetReligion highlighted both arguments in a July 2015 post.

Six months later, nobody's claiming a media blackout this time.

As one GetReligionista put it:

The angle everyone is talking about is the fact that the videos drew almost zero MSM coverage, especially in elite (think NYTs) ink, but the indictment moved as a flash bulletin, with major coverage everywhere....

In case you (somehow) missed the big twist in the Planned Parenthood case, here's the lede from today's Page 1 story in the Houston Chronicle:

A grand jury convened to investigate whether a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic had sold the organs of aborted fetuses on Monday cleared the clinic and instead indicted the undercover videographers behind the allegations, surprising the officials who called for the probe and delighting supporters of the women's health organization.
The Harris County grand jury indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, both of California, on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. It also charged Daleiden, the leader of the videographers, with the same misdemeanor he had alleged – the purchase or sale of human organs, presumably because he had offered to buy in an attempt to provoke Planned Parenthood employees into saying they would sell.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the indictments in a statement, noting the probe had lasted more than two months.
"As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us," said Anderson, a Republican. "All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."

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Define 'hundreds,' please: New York Times does epic job of dissin' March For Life (updated)

Define 'hundreds,' please: New York Times does epic job of dissin' March For Life (updated)

It has become a media criticism tradition, one that dates back to ink-on-paper days before the Internet.

Every year, there is a giant March For Life in Washington, D.C., (and similar marches elsewhere) on or close to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, often under weather conditions that are challenging at best. Rare is the year in which the march is not the largest demonstration of any kind in the nation's capital and it is often two, three or four times larger than any other.

Every year, the mainstream news media all but ignore the event or find some other way to offer coverage that is shaped by a kind of collective journalistic shudder. Remember this classic M.Z. Hemingway GetReligion post about the CBS News slideshow of the march that only included photos of the few pro-abortion-rights demonstrators?

This year's throng was much smaller than normal because of the looming threat of Jonas, the blizzard that began rolling into Beltway land right as the march began. How naive was I? I thought that would be a valid news angle for coverage. How many thousands would manage to show up, with charter bus cancellations and other mass-transportation issues affecting travel?

As always, there is online video -- follow the #CoverTheMarch hashtag to CoverTheMarch.com -- allowing those who are willing to look at the march and judge the numbers for themselves (see the YouTube at the top of this post). As is now the norm, this crowd estimate issue is way too hot for Washington, D.C., police to handle.

However, I don't think anyone expected the headline printed atop the brief March For Life 2016 story that appeared in The New York Times winter storm roundup. The obvious question, since the Times has a massive Washington, D.C., bureau: Was the reporter who wrote this actually at the march? That now-legendary headline:

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Hey reporters: Donald Trump tries to woo Iowa evangelicals, by attending liberal church?

Hey reporters: Donald Trump tries to woo Iowa evangelicals, by attending liberal church?

So you are a billionaire Republican candidate from New York City and your goal is to demonstrate your conservative, man-of-the-people bona fides in the final days before the Iowa caucuses. You know that evangelical Christians are a crucial constituency in this contest, so on Sunday morning you visit a:

(a) Nondenominational megachurch, the kind with a praise band, an altar call at the end of the service, a history of sending people to the "March For Life" and backing centuries of church doctrine on marriage and family.

(b) Southern Baptist congregation that is putting down roots up in the rural, small-town soil of the north.

(c) Conservative Presbyterian Church in America flock, since you have been reminding doubters that you are very, very proud to be a Presbyterian.

(d) Solidly progressive church in the liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that represents almost everything that evangelical voters in Iowa consider dangerous.

The answer for reality-television superstar Donald Trump was (d).

However, perhaps there is another answer. Perhaps it doesn't matter where you go to church since elite reporters won't know the difference (or spend a few seconds online to learn)?

Consider the top of the Washington Post story that ran under this headline: "Trump goes to church in Iowa and hears a sermon about welcoming immigrants."

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Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

Big question: Falwell Jr. is so mad at (fill in the blanks) that he's ready to hug Donald Trump?

I had a strange flashback this week, as I was watching the long, long introduction by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., as he welcomed New York City billionaire and reality-television icon Donald Trump back to the campus of Liberty University.

This flashback took place when Falwell spoke the following words (as I framed them in my "On Religion" for the Universal syndicate):

Trump used blunt words crafted for populists angry about losing and tired of watching politicians break their promises. Claiming outsider status, Trump endorsed their anger.
Yes, Trump is not a Sunday school candidate, admitted Falwell. Then again, he said, "for decades, conservatives and evangelicals have chosen the political candidates who have told us what we wanted to hear on social, religious and political issues only to be betrayed by those same candidates after they were elected."

Read that quote again. Is this tense, even angry Falwell quote aimed at President Barack Obama?

No way. It is aimed at the GOP mainstream. This brings me to the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

That Falwell anger reminded me of what I heard long ago -- 1997 to be precise -- when I served as a commentator for MSNBC during the network's daylong coverage of the "Stand in the Gap" Promise Keepers rally that covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The mainstream journalists who covered that event, as a rule, framed it as a protest against the lifestyle left and President Bill Clinton (and, yes, they thought it may have had something to do with fathers, husbands, families and racial reconciliation).

Seriously? It was news that some cultural conservatives were upset with Clinton?

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New York Times goes looking for 'conservatives' in Big Apple, but ignores pews

New York Times goes looking for 'conservatives' in Big Apple, but ignores pews

To no one's surprise, The New York Times decided to follow up on the Sen. Ted Cruz vs. Donald Trump row over "New York values" and the question of whether many "conservatives" come out of New York City.

But before we get to that story -- "Young Republicans in New York" -- let me make a few comments that are central to my take on this Times feature.

When if comes to "values" issues, not all Republicans are "conservatives." At the same time, not all values "conservatives" are Republicans. There are still a few cultural conservatives in the Democratic Party and many of them are people of color.

Meanwhile, not all religious believers are Republicans or "values" conservatives. It is quite easy, these days, to find young evangelicals who are not "values" conservatives, or at least not on every issue. It is very hard to fit pro-Catechism Catholics into either major political party these days.

To name one specific policy complication linked to this Times story: There are many conservative religious believers who support same-sex marriage, or same-sex civil unions, but also support efforts to protect the First Amendment and the free exercise of religious beliefs in settings outside the doors of religious sanctuaries.

So with all of that in mind, does it surprise you to know that the one and only place the Times team when to find New York City "conservatives" on "values" issues was a political gathering? This is especially tragic in light of the fact that New York City is, these days, a vibrant city in terms of religious congregations appealing to young believers.

But first, here is the overture:

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