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Do journalists (and the public, for that matter) still separate news and opinion?

Do journalists (and the public, for that matter) still separate news and opinion?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, we know that it is now August. However, there is no Aug. 1 in the calendar of the SquareSpace software we use to publish this blog. Think "Twilight Zone."

 

Pick a poll, pretty much any poll, and you will see that public trust for the work of journalists today is lower than low.

OK, how about Gallup in 2014, a poll indicating the key trust number -- for newspapers -- was at 22 percent and dropping below previous records? You don't want to know what the numbers were for television news and the Internet.

Of course, there is a degree of public hypocrisy in those numbers. Postmodern Americans claim they want balanced, accurate news and then there is strong evidence that what they really want is opinion and news that backs their own views. It is rare to see a deep, balanced, nuanced news story trending on Twitter.

So should journalists stop trying? Should mainstream news outlets simply let their freak flags fly and stop trying to do fair and accurate coverage of causes they believe are, using this phrase in as nonsectarian a way as possible, of the Devil? Using terms from journalism history, should journalists give up on the American model of the press and go back to a European, advocacy model?

That was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast chat with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in), spinning off my recent GetReligion post about a New York Times article in which gay-rights activists reached out, through a formal letter, to Pope Francis seeking a face-to-face media event during his upcoming visit to the media centers of the American Northeast. As always in the Kellerism age, there was zero evidence that the world's most powerful newspaper made any attempt to seek the input of pro-Catechism Catholics when reporting this story, even when discussing events and doctrines on which there are myriad points of view to consider.

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Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

I imagine that faithful GetReligion readers noticed that in the past I have paid very close attention to the story of the DUI Episcopal Bishop in Maryland -- now simply Heather Elizabeth Cook, after she was defrocked.

It was, after all, a local story since I was living in Maryland at the time. This was also a story with the potential to have a strong impact on regional and national leaders in the Episcopal Church, even if Baltimore Sun editors didn't seem all that interested in that side of things.

With the trial ahead, it is also clear that this story is not over. Several Maryland Episcopalians and former Episcopalians kept raising an interesting question: If it is true that Cook was drunk AND texting, might she have been doing church business on a work cellphone when she struck and killed that cyclist? If so, what are the implications for the shrinking Maryland diocese?

Then there is the issue of the Episcopal Church and its love/hate relationship with alcohol. This is the stuff of cheap humor (insert joke about four Episcopalians here), but it is also a serious topic linked to substance abuse and people in power looking the other way. 

So during the recent Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City, the Cook case made it impossible for church leaders not to talk about alcohol. To their credit, it appears that they took this issue fairly seriously. With gay-marriage rites in the news, however, the coverage of the topic was light.

Thus, I want to point readers toward a major feature story on this topic that ran in The Deseret News. It is somewhat awkward to do this because it was written by former GetReligionista Mark Kellner, who now works on that newspaper's national religion desk. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Besides, how can you pass up a story with an anecdotal, on-the-record lede as devastating as this one?

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UPDATED: MZ's requests for a Planned Parenthood related New York Times correction

UPDATED: MZ's requests for a Planned Parenthood related New York Times correction

The Planned Parenthood fetal-tissue story rolls on in alternative media, with a second undercover video (unedited version here) offering some interesting headline hooks, for those with the stomach to use them.

One key word is "Lamborghini."

The hot phrase for the day is "less crunchy."

Will journalists be willing to interview Planned Parenthood defectors on some of these issues?

A day or so after the first David Daleiden video production surfaced, featuring a Planned Parenthood leader named Dr. Deborah Nucatola, I asked a basic question. If the first reports, mostly in conservative media, were based largely on the press materials circulated by the Center for Medical Progress, I wondered to what degree the mainstream news stories that were eventually published would center on the public-relations DNA of Planned Parenthood.

Now, a website called (C.S. Lewis trigger alert!) TheWardrobeDoor.com has noted an interesting problem at the end of a New York Times report in which Planned Parenthood leaders warn their supporters in Washington, D.C., that more videos are on the way. This passage, featuring Planned Parenthood lawyer Roger K. Evans, is at the very end of the report.

A Biomax representative at least once was admitted by Planned Parenthood employees to “a highly sensitive area in a clinic where tissue is processed after abortion procedures,” Mr. Evans wrote. Another time, a Biomax representative asked about the racial characteristics of tissue provided to researchers; anti-abortion activists have often alleged that Planned Parenthood engages in “genocide” of African-American babies. And Biomax proposed “sham procurement contracts,” offering one clinic $1,600 for a fetal liver and thymus, Mr. Evans said.
In the video, Dr. Nucatola says that clinics charge $30 to $100 for a specimen. Mr. Evans, in his letter, noted that she also said 10 times during a two-and-a-half-hour lunch that the charges were for expenses, not profit. But, he added, those statements were not included in the initial nine-minute video. Mr. Daleiden released what he called the full recording last week after Planned Parenthood complained of selective, misleading editing.

So what is the problem?

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Washington Post essay: Yo! You fundamentalist wackjobs! No quotes for you!

Washington Post essay: Yo! You fundamentalist wackjobs! No quotes for you!

As faithful readers of GetReligion know, the Associated Press has a very sane and logical stance on the use of the explosive word "fundamentalist."

We have quoted this Associated Press Stylebook policy so many times here that I really feel like there is no reason to print this again. Right?

But, just to be careful, let's look at that once again. Journalists, let us attend:

“fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.
“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”

Before we get to an amazingly candid recent use of this term in The Washington Post, let's pause once again to reflect on the following wisdom from one of America's top scholars on religion and philosophy, drawn from one of my "On Religion" columns ("Define fundamentalist, please").

Trust me, this material will be relevant a few paragraphs from now. Why do journalists misuse this term so often?

The problem is that religious authorities -- the voices journalists quote -- keep pinning this label on others. Thus, one expert's "evangelical" is another's "fundamentalist." ...
Anyone who expects scholars to stand strong and defend a basic, historic definition will be disappointed. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame once quipped, among academics "fundamentalist" has become a "term of abuse or disapprobation" that most often resembles the casual semi-curse, "sumbitch."

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RIP John S. Carroll: Author of classic memo defending old-school, balanced journalism

RIP John S. Carroll: Author of classic memo defending old-school, balanced journalism

The late John S. Carroll was known, among American journalists, as a strong advocate of investigative journalism, a famous Vietnam War correspondent, a White House beat reporter, a great headline writer and, in the end, a man who was willing to be shown the exit door at The Los Angeles Times rather than obey a Tribune Co. order to radically cut his staff.

Carroll was an old-school American journalist, by all accounts, who led The Baltimore Sun before heading to Los Angeles. He also spent time as the metro editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, among his many jobs in the top ranks of his craft.

The Sun began its obituary like this:

John S. Carroll, former editor of The Baltimore Sun and The Los Angeles Times who became a seminal figure in American journalism and operated on the principle that no detail was too small when it came to producing a great newspaper, died Sunday at his Lexington, Ky., home of a rare, non-treatable disease. Mr. Carroll was 73.

Here at GetReligion, however, Carroll is remembered for another reason -- one that I should have mentioned 11 years ago in our "What we do, why we do it" overture on Day 1. It was Carroll who, in 2003, wrote a memo to his staff about media bias that inspired me to start thinking about creating a site about the mainstream press and its struggle to, well, "get religion."

The memo -- dated May 22, 2003 -- focused on the editor's concerns about media bias in a Los Angeles Times story focusing on debates about alleged links between induced abortions and breast cancer. Carroll sent the memo to his section editors, but the full text soon surfaced in The LA Observer. Here is the heart of the letter.

The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring "so-called counseling of patients." I don't think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it "so-called," a phrase that is loaded with derision. 

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Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Anyone who has ever taken the time to read the first essay published at this blog more than 11 years ago -- "What we do, why we do it" -- or who knows how to use a mouse and a search engine well enough to reach Wikipedia knows that one of my closest friends in journalism is a writer whose byline, back when she was a nationally known religion-beat professional, was Roberta Green.

Roberta and I were on the beat during the same era, primarily when I was at The Rocky Mountain News and she was at The Orange County Register. Then, in the pre-Internet era, she vanished from the beat when she married someone she met in a church Bible study. Our paths crossed again a few years later, at a Columbia University conference on religion-news issues, linked to the famous Freedom Forum study called "Bridging The Gap (.pdf here)."

As it turned out, Roberta had married a philanthropist named Howard Ahmanson, who at times has been a controversial figure in Southern California cultural and political life. At this point, I will simply say that if you want to know more about his evolving views on a host of subjects, you should check out his blog -- "Blue Kennel." For those who know political symbolism, it's logical to note that blue kennels might house blue dogs, a label Ahmanson embraced a few years ago when he left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat.

For the past two decades, Roberta and I (and a host of other journalists and academics) have been involved in many journalism-education projects working with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Global Media Project, Poynter.org, Oxford University Press and now The McCandlish Phillips Journalism Center, a project at The King's College in New York City that honors the legacy of the great New York Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips. My work with GetReligion.org has been part of all of this, for 11 years.

Like I said, these connections were put into print the day this blog opened. Still, I was not surprised when the GetReligion reader named "Jay," or whoever resides at the lambda98 address at Hotmail, had this response to my recent post about GetReligion, Religion News Service and debates about "church" and "state" conflicts in newsrooms.

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What are the biggest Christian flocks in America these days?

What are the biggest Christian flocks in America these days?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What are the major Christian denominations in the U.S.?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Numbers. Numbers. Numbers.

The Pew Research Center snagged some headlines April 2 with projections on world religions as of 2050 that are worth pondering. Among other things, we’re told high birth rates will make world Islam almost as large as Christianity, India will surpass Indonesia as the nation with the biggest Muslim population, Muslims will constitute 10 percent of Europeans, and will surpass the number of religious Jews in the U.S.

Rachael’s question brings us back to the present day, to just the United States, and to Christians only. This has long been an easy topic thanks to the National Council of Churches and its predecessor, the Federal Council, which since 1916 issued yearbooks stuffed with statistics and other information. These annuals became more vital after 1936 when the U.S. Census stopped gathering data from religious groups.  Unfortunately, the N.C.C. hasn’t managed to issue its “Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches” since 2012 due to shrinking staff, budget, and program, and has no firm plans for any future editions. Any volunteers out there to produce this all-important reference work?

Some data were outdated or rough estimates, but it’s what we’ve had and, on the whole, reasonably representative. Here were  “inclusive” memberships for U.S. groups reporting at least 2 million members in that latest and perhaps last yearbook from 2012:

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Pew Forum does its thing again: Gazing into a global crystal ball of religion stats

Pew Forum does its thing again: Gazing into a global crystal ball of religion stats

Pew has spoken. And the world of religious affiliation will be forever changed.

I refer, of course, to last week's blockbuster report from the Pew Forum's Religion and Public Life project on what global religious affiliation might look like in 2050, and, in at least one key indicator, by this century's end (more on this below). I say blockbuster not because of its immediate impact but because of the many interesting projections it contained.

The report's projected changes in religious affiliation harbor potentially monumental geopolitical ramifications. That's why I found it at least mildly surprising that most of the media attention so far has been restricted to first-day stories. Two such examples are here, at Religion News Service, and here, at The New York Times.

But perhaps I should not have been surprised. As a specie we're far more reactive than proactive -- as are the preponderance of our mainstream news providers, trapped as most are in the 24/7 rat race. Excuse me. I meant news cycle. Though I bet think tanks, security agencies, religion watchers, multinational corporations and entrepreneurs, and even some savvy novelists will pore over this report for some time to come.

The report was careful to limit its political projections -- a wise choice, I think, given how iffy this all is -- about the possible consequences of its numerical projections.

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Cheers for Peter Steinfels: A liberal defends both religious liberty and traditional journalism

Cheers for Peter Steinfels: A liberal defends both religious liberty and traditional journalism

If you know the history of mainstream religion-news coverage in the late 20th Century, then you know the byline of Peter Steinfels in The New York Times. As an old-school Catholic progressive, he is now known for his work at Commonweal.

The meltdown in Indiana inspired a piece from Steinfels the other day that GetReligion readers simply must read, from beginning to end. I have literally nothing to say to frame this essay except to say this: What. He. Said.

Here are two key passages. However, like I said, please read it all. The headline: "Any liberals for religious freedom?" It opens like this (with the journalism angle very obvious):

Are there still liberals willing to speak up for religious freedom? I don’t know whether the religious freedom bill passed and signed in Indiana last week -- and now reportedly up for revision -- is a good measure. I do know that, however one precisely balances out the pros and cons of the bill, it does involve religious freedom. 
That was not the perspective of the front-page story in Saturday’s New York Times, which framed the bill as one more tactic for discriminating against gay couples. Conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage were “invoking ‘religious freedom’ as their last line of defense.” ...

The Times news story devoted almost two thirds of its coverage to these critics, far more than to any supporters or to Indiana’s governor.

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