Abortion

Mirror-image news: SMU activists suffer attack which draws zero news coverage

Mirror-image news: SMU activists suffer attack which draws zero news coverage

Let's play the mirror-image news game again, shall we? Click here for previous examples.

As always, the goal is to look at a story that received next to zero attention, or perhaps received waves of attention, and then try to imagine what would have happened if a few details were switched and journalists were dealing with a different issue on the opposite side of America's so-called culture wars.

This time around, let's say that the AIDS memorial quilt was displayed in Dallas in a high-profile location that would be sure to generate lots of attention -- like the center of campus at Southern Methodist University. Then, during the middle of the night, a pack of counter-protesters descended on this display and attacked it, doing major damage.

Would this story have received major coverage in local media, such as The Dallas Morning News? We will take into account the fact that displays of the AIDS quilt have been going on for decades and, thus, the event itself may not have been a major news story. But would an attack on the quilt be news?

It's safe to say that this attack would have drawn coverage. Correct?

Now, let's flip the news mirror around and consider these details from a story published by the alternative -- yes, conservative -- LifeNews.com website. The headline: "Pro-Abortion Students at SMU Vandalize Display of 3,000 Crosses to Remember Aborted Babies."

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Amid a barrage of slanted reporting, a smart, helpful take on religious freedom legislation

Amid a barrage of slanted reporting, a smart, helpful take on religious freedom legislation

Missouri. Georgia. North Carolina. Mississippi. Tennessee. Louisiana. 

Those are just a half-dozen of the states where recent legislation pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom has produced high-profile debates.

As any casual reader of GetReligion knows, much of the major media coverage has been incomplete and slanted (read: left leaning), with a few notable exceptions.

Most of our critiques focus on easy-to-spot crimes: The failure to give both sides a voice. The bias that using scare quotes shows. The editorialization that occurs via framing. 

Journalism 101 stuff, in other words.

So many news organizations struggle to cover this subject matter at even a basic level (much less provide context that includes, say, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act). Given that low bar, we are even more surprised when we come across a story that truly advances the topic in an insightful way.

Enter religion writer Kelsey Dallas of the Deseret News National:

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That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

That's Amoris: Media scramble to cover big release of Pope Francis letter on family

Wow, they didn’t rely on clichés.  Major media scrambled today after Pope Francis pulled off a Friday surprise, releasing his eagerly awaited statement on the family. And they didn’t fall back on the tried-and-untrue "Who am I to judge?" and "Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition, saying that …"

Well, most didn’t. More on that later.

The book-length, 256-page Amoris Laetitia makes for hefty weekend reading, and church officials are calling for careful consideration. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said today:

Amoris Laetitia is unusual for its size – more than 250 pages – and the Holy Father himself cautions us to read it with patience and attention.  This is sound guidance, especially in the scramble that always takes place to stamp a particular interpretation on important papal interventions.  My own more developed thoughts will be forthcoming.  In the meantime, we can be thankful for the Holy Father’s thoughts on an issue of real gravity.  Nothing is more essential to any society than the health of marriage and the family.

In the letter, Francis strikes balance between law and grace, restating both church doctrine and an understanding of what contemporary families go through. In turn, media seem to take a sympathetic view of the document -- for now, at least.

Despite a tight deadline, the Washington Post produced an almost feature treatment:

He called for divorced and remarried Catholics to participate more fully in church life. But he closed the door on gay marriage. He quotes Jorge Luis Borges and Jesus Christ. There is an entire chapter on love.
But more than anything, Pope Francis’s long-awaited document on family life, released Friday by the Vatican, amounts to an exultation of traditional marriage while recognizing that life, in his own words, isn’t always “perfect.” Yet rather than judging, he commanded, the church should be a pillar of support.

WaPo sees an ambiguity in Francis' words on divorced and remarried Catholics. It says he maintains that some are living in an “objective situation of sin,” but " he seemed to suggest that such cases should be studied and ruled on one by one."

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The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

The Los Angeles Times on abortion: Does media bias bother anyone any more?

Just over 25 years ago, the Los Angeles Times’ media writer, David Shaw, did a four-part series on media bias covering abortion. This landmark effort, by a reporter who didn't hide his support for abortion rights, took 18 months and involved 100 interviews with journalists and activists on both sides. It concluded that there was consistent mainstream-media bias favoring the abortion-rights side.

For an elite mainstream news publication to admit that fact was unusual, to say the least.

More than two decades and numerous court rulings later, the Times has come out with another package on abortion, but this time it’s an investigation into how the Center for Medical Progress did a lot more coaching with their undercover agents on how to get Planned Parenthood officials to make inflammatory statements than was first thought.

The Times had student journalists with an investigating reporting program at University of California at Berkeley help them with the research. It begins thus:

She was subdued and sympathetic on camera. Her recollections of collecting fetal tissue and body parts from abortion clinics in northern California lent emotional force to the anti-abortion videos that provoked a furor in Congress last summer.
In footage made public last July, Holly O’Donnell said she had been traumatized by her work for a fetal-tissue brokerage. She described feeling “pain ... and death and eternity” and said she fainted the first time she touched the remains of an aborted fetus.
Unreleased footage filed in a civil court case shows that O’Donnell’s apparently spontaneous reflections were carefully rehearsed. David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who made the videos, is heard coaching O’Donnell through repeated takes, instructing her to repeat anecdotes, add details, speak “fluidly” and be “very natural.”

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Why ask doctrinal questions? Well, do you want to cover debates about religion or not?

Why ask doctrinal questions? Well, do you want to cover debates about religion or not?

I realize this may sound like a rather obvious question. However, after 40 years of religion-beat work (in one form or another) I still think that it's relevant.

The question: To cover religion news events and trends, does it help if journalists know enough about religion to ask detailed questions about, well, "religion"? When I say "religion" I am thinking about details of doctrine, tradition and history.

In other words, when covering Iraq over the past decade or two, would it have helped to know the doctrinal differences between Sunni Muslims and the Shiites? If covering debates between members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and traditional Christians, would it help to know something about the doctrine of God and the Holy Trinity? If covering debates about citizenship in Israel, do you need to know something -- doctrinally speaking -- about Reform Judaism and its emergence out of Orthodox Judaism in Europe?

This topic came up in this week's "Crossroads" podcast because of the recent GetReligion post about a nasty split inside a "Lutheran" megachurch in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, in the heart of what has long been known as the "Lutheran Belt." Click here to tune that in.

The problem was that a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press never got around to telling readers which brand of Lutheranism was found in this specific megachurch. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star Tribune report clarified this big denominational question in its lede and in a follow-up paragraph a few lines later.

Did this picky detail really matter? Only if readers wanted to know what the fighting was actually about.

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Hey journalists: Name a mainstream pro-life leader who didn't pound Trump the other day

Hey journalists: Name a mainstream pro-life leader who didn't pound Trump the other day

OK, raise your hands if you are surprised that Citizen Donald Trump appears to have had zero serious contact with the Right to Life movement, in either its conservative or progressive forms.

Ironically, the main people who know how tone-deaf he is on life issues are people who are actually in the movement. People outside the movement may actually think that Trump's verbal misadventures on MSNBC the other day raised edgy and important issues.

So here is another way of looking at this: Raise your hands if you are surprised that the Associated Press team put someone on this story who appears to have had zero contact with the pro-life movement and, thus, had no idea what that movement actually believes on issues linked to women who have had abortions?

Check out the top of this stunningly unbalanced -- the word "blind" would be a kind way of stating things -- AP report on the Trump fiasco:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Frustrated Republicans grappled with new fears about Donald Trump's impact on their party Wednesday, as the billionaire businessman's campaign rivals targeted his punitive plan for fighting abortion and extraordinary defense of his campaign manager, who police say assaulted a female reporter.
Concern rippled through Republican circles nationwide, yet few dared criticize the GOP front-runner directly when pressed, leery of confronting the man who may well lead their election ticket in November.
Their silence underscored the deep worries plaguing the party's leaders -- particularly its most prominent women -- who are growing increasingly concerned that a Trump presidential nomination could not only cost the 2016 election but also tarnish the party brand for a generation of women and young people.

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So what cause brought the Rev. Larry Russell Dawson (with a gun) to the U.S. Capitol?

So what cause brought the Rev. Larry Russell Dawson (with a gun) to the U.S. Capitol?

So here are the basics about that tense drama that unfolded yesterday at the U.S. Capitol, in which a protestor pulled a gun and was shot by police.

The protestor was an African-American pastor who leads a small congregation in Nashville that is highly involved in a specific political cause -- to the degree that it's website includes a video appeal for funds to help him travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby for this cause.

So here is the question you need to ask as you look at the mainstream coverage of this story: What was the cause that, according to this pastor, brought him to the U.S. Capitol? Why wasn't this information included in most of the coverage?

You can look, without success, for that information in The New York Times, in a story that does not even identify the Rev. Larry Russell Dawson as the elder of his church. Ditto for The Los Angeles Times, which did include a brief reference to an incident last fall in which Dawson (no reference to him leading a church) disrupted work in the U.S. House of Representatives by shouting that he was a "prophet of God"? But what else was he shouting about?

The Associated Press "Big Story" report that will appear in most American newspapers included a few additional details, but, once again, omitted the man's church ties and information about the cause that kept bringing him to Washington, D.C.

According to court documents, Dawson was arrested at the U.S. Capitol in October after he stood up and shouted Bible verses in the gallery of the House chamber. An online court record says he was charged with disorderly and disruptive conduct on the grounds of the Capitol and assaulting, resisting or interfering with a police officer. He was also ordered to stay away from the building and grounds.
Dawson did not return for a scheduled hearing in November. In a letter filed with his case, he says he will "not comply with the court order, nor will I surrender myself unto your office."

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Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy!

And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right!

The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier.

For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar.

Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds.

Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin:

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Who gets to define 'sin'? Press caught up in debate over a narrow freedom of 'worship'

Who gets to define 'sin'? Press caught up in debate over a narrow freedom of 'worship'

Long ago, the mid-1980s to be precise, I covered a Colorado dispute involving religious freedom. The spark that lit the fuse was a state tax official's decision to rule that the "worship" that took place inside church doors was "religious," and thus tax exempt, while what happened inside non-profit religious ministries (think day-care centers) was not truly "religious."

This claim produced a scream of legal rage from leaders in religious denominations and groups, both on the left and right. Everyone agreed that state officials had no right to get entangled (there is that word again) in determining what was "religious" and what was not (outside the usual limits of fraud, profit and clear threat to life and health). The state was not supposed to decide that "worship" was religious, while caring for children (and teaching them Bible lessons) was not.

Obviously, America has evolved since then, especially on issues linked to the doctrines of the Sexual Revolution. The latest round of Obamacare debates at the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to have focused on this question: Can churches and other houses of worship decide what is "sin" for members of their voluntary associations, while doctrinally defined ministries and schools cannot make this kind of ruling?

I would add to that last sentence: These religious ministries and schools cannot defend their own doctrines defining "sin," even for employees and/or students who have -- to join this religious association -- voluntarily signed covenants in which they promise to live by these doctrines (or at least not to publicly attack them). In other words, the state now gets to define what is "sin" for these employees/students, not the doctrinally defined ministries and schools they have voluntarily joined.

I cannot find a mainstream news report about this Obamacare debate that even mentions these doctrinal covenants, so it is safe to assume (a) that journalists do not know (or care) that they exist or (b) that the freedom to form voluntary associations no longer applies to religious groups, outside of actual houses of worship.

How do you read this passage from The New York Times, containing a key quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy?

On this point, at least, Justice Kennedy seemed to take the government’s side. “It’s going to be very difficult for this court to write an opinion which says that once you have a church organization” entitled to an exemption, “you have to treat a religious university the same.”

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