Catholicism

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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European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

One would think that a major gathering of progressive Catholic leaders, a choir of voices seeking major changes in ancient church doctrines on marriage and sexuality, would draw lots of coverage from the mainstream press.

Yes, readers will obviously need to keep their eyes on the work of some of the official journalistic voices of the Catholic left. And it might pay to set a Google News alert for the following terms -- "Pontifical Gregorian University," "German," "French," "Swiss," "family" and "divorce." Including the loaded search term "shadow council" is optional.

So, what's up? Flash back to the news about the strangely under-covered May 25  gathering of progressive European Catholic bishops and insiders (including journalists) to discuss proposed changes in doctrines linked to marriage, family and sexuality. What happened? It's hard to say, since many of the journalists did not report about the event that they attended.

Now, Andrea Gagliarducci of the conservative Catholic News Agency, has a report online based on the texts of some of the "interventions" presented behind those closed doors.

This sounds like news to me. Yes, it's one take on these materials and the lede is pushy. However, this is why it's important for the mainstream press to dive in and -- trigger warning -- do some basic journalism, talking to articulate, qualified voices on both sides of the current doctrinal warfare over sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Read on.

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LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.

When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."

In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.

The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?

That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.

As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.

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The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

It's rare to write about the same news topic twice in the same day, unless it's one of those hot-button topics that's driving people crazy on social media. That's a sobering thing to say, but there you have it.

However, I am truly fascinated with the depth of the questions being raised in early discussions of the silver box recently unearthed by the Jamestown Rediscovery team. This morning I raised some questions about a massive Washington Post piece on this topic and now, lo and behold, The Atlantic has posted a report on the same topic.

The Post piece pivoted on a question: Is the small silver box, containing human bones, found buried with colonial leader Gabriel Archer a reliquary or not? If it is a reliquary, in the ancient Christian sense of that word, then what saint or martyr were some of the colonialists venerating in this manner? 

Now editors at The Atlantic -- based on interviews with some of the same experts -- have published a lengthy piece that appears to be much more certain about several key facts. Check this out:

After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.

“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”

If that box is what Horn, in this new interview at least, seems certain that it is, then there are logical conclusions that can be drawn. Big ones.

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Colonial Jamestown reliquary: Secret Catholics or Protestants 'venerating' bones of saints?

Colonial Jamestown reliquary: Secret Catholics or Protestants 'venerating' bones of saints?

I love a good mystery hidden in the mists of history and it goes without saying that is doubly true of a mystery with a strong religion hook. So the Washington Post team had my my full attention when it pushed out an online promotion for a fascinating feature story about some of the latest finds in the Jamestown Rediscovery project.

The key: Researchers found a small silver box containing what appear to be human bones, with what they believe is the letter "M" inscribed on the cover. Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

JAMESTOWN, Va. -- When his friends buried Capt. Gabriel Archer here about 1609, they dug his grave inside a church, lowered his coffin into the ground and placed a sealed silver box on the lid. ...
The tiny, hexagonal box, etched with the letter “M,” contained seven bone fragments and a small lead vial, and probably was an object of veneration, cherished as disaster closed in on the colony.
On Tuesday, more than 400 years after the mysterious box was buried, Jamestown Rediscovery and the Smithsonian Institution announced that archaeologists have found it, as well as the graves of Archer and three other VIPs.
“It’s the most remarkable archaeology discovery of recent years,” said James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery, which made the find. “It’s a huge deal.”

OK, but what was this small silver box? The story says it was probably an "object of veneration," but are we talking about some form of link to ancestors? The Post team, interviewing the experts, immediately locks into a crucial religious element of this mystery -- but misses some key questions and historical details.

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From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

At the time of 9/11, I was living in South Florida and attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in which the majority of the members were, by heritage, either Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time hearing the details of their family stories -- about life in the old country and the forces that pushed them to America.

The key detail: It was never easy living in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire era, even when times were relatively peaceful. While it was easy to focus on the horrible details of the times of intense persecution, it was important to realize that Christians and those in other religious minorities had learned to accept a second-class status in which they were safe, most of the time, but not truly free.

In other words, the Good Old Days were difficult, but not as difficult as the times of fierce persecution, suffering and death.

Clearly, the rise of the Islamic State has created a new crisis, one that is truly historic in scope -- especially in the Nineveh Plain. The drive to eliminate Christian populations in a region that has been their home since the apostolic era raises all kinds of questions about religious freedom, as well as questions for the USA and other Western states to which these new martyrs will appeal for help.

In recent years, human-rights activists have asked when this phenomenon would receive major attention in elite American newsrooms. The coverage has, in recent years, been on the rise. That said, a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine feature on this topic must be seen as a landmark.
The epic double-decker headline proclaimed:

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.

There is much that I want to praise in this piece. It's a must-read piece for everyone who cares about religion news in the mainstream press.

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B-I-B-L-E with a lowercase 'b': Hey Wall Street Journal, what's up with that?

B-I-B-L-E with a lowercase 'b': Hey Wall Street Journal, what's up with that?

Pop quiz for GetReligion readers: Without checking your handy-dandy Associated Press Stylebook, pick the proper journalistic style for the following terms:

1. Is it Scripture or scripture when referring to religious writings of the Bible?

2. Is it Bible or bible when referring to the aforementioned writings?

3. Is it Mass or mass when referring to the Catholic religious observance?

I'll provide the answers soon, but all three questions figure in a Wall Street Journal report today on tearful farewells at Roman Catholic churches in New York:

Parishioners of the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints in Harlem openly wept at Mass on Sunday as the sounds of the choir lifted up to the soaring ceilings.
Rosalind Maybank, president of the usher board, broke into tears as she thanked congregants for spending one last Sunday “with your family.”
“It’s very hard, but the love that we share among each other will always be with us no matter where we go, whatever church we go to,” said Ms. Maybank, 68 years old, as sunlight poured in through the stained-glass windows. “Family is always together, forever.”
The final Sunday services for thousands of area parishioners marked another step in the broad, controversial reorganization of the Archdiocese of New York parishes. Across a region stretching from Staten Island to the Catskills, 368 parishes are set to merge into 294, effective Aug. 1.

The WSJ story prompted this very GetReligion-esque note from a friend:

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Is it the job of the media to advocate for fired gay employees? RNS says yes

Is it the job of the media to advocate for fired gay employees? RNS says yes

 

When should an organization take a stand as to the morals and character of its leaders? 

This question has been the stuff of lawsuits taken all the way to the US Supreme Court and debates in churches as to whether their clergy should be divorced, gay or have been convicted of drunk driving. It’s been the informal chatter  for years that a good percentage of Catholic clergy are gay, but as long as they didn’t broadcast the fact it was a live-and-let-live situation between the priest and his bishop. 

Now things are changing because the legal climate is changing. The U.S. Justice Department is stressing that religious liberties -- think the Health and Human Services mandate wars -- are linked to strong denominational ties linked to clear statements of doctrines. In Christian schools and non-profit groups, that means clear doctrinal covenants and, thus, bishops are starting to let dissenters go. 

In reaction, one RNS news story openly bemoans this fact. A July 20 piece starts thus:

(RNS) In May, the Rev. Warren Hall was abruptly dismissed from his position as the popular campus chaplain at Seton Hall University in New Jersey because the Catholic archbishop of Newark said his advocacy against anti-gay bullying, and his identity as a gay man, undermined church teaching.
Now Hall has written to Pope Francis asking that when the pontiff visits the U.S. in September, he speak out against such actions because they are “alienating” gay Catholics and the many others who support them.

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Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

July 16 was the 70th anniversary of a world-changing event; the testing of the world’s first atomic bomb in a New Mexico desert. It would be less than a month before two such bombs would be released in the skies over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

If any event had grave moral consequences, it was this one. But the silence of any kind of faith-based element to this anniversary in the media is profound.

There are, of course, some bizarre God-connections to this event. The site of  the test was called “Trinity” supposedly after a John Donne sonnet, although no one really knows the origin of the name. It seems odd that a core Christian doctrine about the nature of God is attached to something connected with mass death.

Hinduism gets a role here too. When the main bombs went off in Japan, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the California physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his work on the Manhattan Project, spouted Vishnu’s famous quote from the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Yet, in the coverage I scanned that ran on the day of the anniversary, there was more about "atomic tourists" noting the anniversary than anything about religion.

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