Ethics

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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CNN continues ratings countdown to the death of young Brittany Maynard

CNN continues ratings countdown to the death of young Brittany Maynard

Let's face it. At this point CNN owns the Brittany Maynard "death with dignity" story. At this point, we are watching the final steps by in her pilgrimage to Nov. 1.

As always, when the rules of "Kellerism" journalism are being followed (click here for background on this salute to former New York Times editor Bill Keller), there is no need for any other point of view on this highly divisive issue. It would be hard to do otherwise, when the story literally began with the 29-year-old Maynard writing an exclusive essay for CNN.

This short update is the latest:

Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life, has checked the last item off her bucket list. She visited the Grand Canyon last week.
"The Canyon was breathtakingly beautiful," she wrote on her website, "and I was able to enjoy my time with the two things I love most: my family and nature."
Photos showed her and her husband standing on the edge of the canyon, hugging and kissing. 

But in real life, there is pain on the other side of these kinds of moments.

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'Bucket list baby' inspired prayers, compassion and sensitive coverage

'Bucket list baby' inspired prayers, compassion and sensitive coverage

Shane Francis Haley's life lasted less than four hours, cut short by a birth defect. Yet he and his parents reached hundreds of thousands of people through social media -- people who were first touched by the "bucket list" of experiences they gave their son before he was ever born.

That's one marvel of the drama that played out in Media, Pa., as Jenna and Don Haley updated their 700,000 Facebook friends over the prenatal months. Another marvel: the simple news narratives -- including Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor -- that told the story without adding some religio-socio-politico-economic payload.

With a story about a doomed infant, it's almost too tempting to resist the urge to add tear-jerking prose. Remarkably, the writers of these stories do resist. In the best tradition of journalism, they let the details carry the emotional weight. Closest to any gimmicky writing is the headline on the Monitor article: " 'Bucket list baby' inspires thousands. Here’s what his parents did."

When the Haleys heard the diagnosis of anencephaly -- in which the baby lacks part of its brain and skull -- they knew it was a death sentence for Shane. Yet instead of planning an abortion, or sinking into grief or rage at God, the parents went through a "nine-month bucket list," as the Monitor dubs it: giving their son the time of his life before he was even born.

From the Monitor's account:

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Rabbi comes out! Washington Post is first with the shocking non-news!

Rabbi comes out! Washington Post is first with the shocking non-news!

How newsy is something if everyone knows about it and agrees with it?

That's the unasked, unanswered question in a breaking story in the Washington Post, in which a leading D.C.-area rabbi announces -- drum roll -- that he's gay.

These days, coming-out stories are about as unusual as entering-rehab stories. But here goes the Post:

The leader of one of the Washington region’s most prominent synagogues on Monday came out as gay, telling his thousands of congregants in a brutally personal e-mail that a lifelong effort to deny his sexuality was over and that he and his wife of 20 years would be divorcing.
“With much pain and tears, together with my beloved wife, I have come to understand that I could walk my path with the greatest strength, with the greatest peace in my heart, with the greatest healing and wholeness, when I finally acknowledged that I am a gay man,” Rabbi Gil Steinlauf wrote to members of Adas Israel Congregation, in Northwest Washington.

The announcement follows activities by Steinlauf including the first gay wedding in that synagogue and an article in a Jewish newspaper called "The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage." The 800+ -word Post story reports also that Steinlauf has been nudging his movement, Conservative Judaism, to embrace same-sex couples. And the rabbi's coming-out gets a nod from two top officials of the synagogue.

So, um, where is the news? Apparently it's the e-mail that the rabbi sent to all 1,420 households in his congregation. The  e-mail tells of a struggle with homosexuality going back to childhood.

He married his wife, Batya, "out of a belief that this was the right thing for me," Steinlauf says in the email.  He doesn't say how long she's known, or whether they discussed the effect of his double life on their three teenage children. He just calls her a "wonderful woman" who has "supported me through this very personal inner struggle that she knew to be the source of great pain and confusion in my life over decades."

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WaPo blog announces a new good (i.e. liberal) South Africa mosque

WaPo blog announces a new good (i.e. liberal) South Africa mosque

No one expects tons of original reporting in a blog like Ishaan Tharoor writes for the Washington Post. But when five sources are patched together in a 382-word post -- and any actual reporting isn't evident -- the result can be, well, patchy.

In this case, it's about the so-called Open Mosque that just formed in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The mosque advertises acceptance of anyone without regard to "sect, gender or sexual orientation." This naturally rankles more traditional Muslims, from whom we never hear.

We'll start with the headline, which of course Tharoor may not have written: "A ‘gay-friendly’ mosque just opened in South Africa." As you know by now, the mosque is billed as cutting across several divisions. To make it mainly about gays creates a pinhole view of the story.

But let's hear from the blog post itself.  Here's the top:

The "Open Mosque" is intended a space of worship for all, irrespective of sect, gender or sexual orientation. It is the creation of Taj Hargey, a Cape Town-born academic and cleric based at Oxford University who has long agitated against fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. This new prayer space, open to all, was a direct challenge to the extremists he opposes.

Hargey delivered the sermon, inveighing against the unnecessary divisions between Christians and Muslims, according to Agence France Presse. He blamed "contaminated Saudi money" for promoting "toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam."

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Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

MICHAEL-ANN ASKS:

Businesses like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A overtly follow Christian principles and thus promote Christianity. Is it profitable for them to have this ‘brand,’ or do you think the CEOs have some deeper evangelical goal?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

These two remarkable corporations are the largest in the U.S. that operate on an explicitly “Christian” basis, and both have been in the news lately.

The Hobby Lobby craft store chain won U.S. Supreme Court approval June 30 of the religious right to avoid the new federal mandate to fund certain birth control methods the owners consider tantamount to abortion.

Sept. 8 brought the death of S. Truett Cathy, billionaire founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire. His New York Times obituary said that to some he was “a symbol of intolerance” and “hate.” Such journalistic labeling stemmed from Cathy’s son and successor Dan criticizing same-sex marriage on biblical grounds in 2012. Afterward, the firm cut donations to groups that back traditional marriage. No-one claimed Chick-fil-A discriminates against gays in hiring or customer service.

With both companies, Christian commitment is accompanied by prosperity, and the question suggests their religious image may be calculated for “profitable” advantage. 

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Same-sex marriage decision in Louisiana: With AP, it's a pigment of the imagination

Same-sex marriage decision in Louisiana: With AP, it's a pigment of the imagination

All too often, Associated Press articles look like those paint-by-the-numbers pictures. Especially articles about same-sex marriage, like one this week.

Pro-gay viewpoint? (paint, paint) Got that colored in.

Conservative labeling? (brush, brush) Got that one.

Touch of ad hominem? Got that, too.

This time it was Louisiana's turn, with a U.S. district judge upholding the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

AP follows the template in rendering the decision as "a rare loss for gay marriage supporters who had won more than 20 consecutive rulings overturning bans in other states." Not as, say, a rare victory for supporters of the historic understanding of marriage.

The story also brings out a law professor at Loyola New Orleans, who said "she didn't see the ruling as a significant road block." Even if the ruling is upheld on appeal, it will affect "only" three states -- Texas and Mississippi as well as Louisiana.

In one case, AP even appears to contradict its own cited source. Watch this.


It's likely the Texas case will be the first to go to the 5th Circuit, and cases elsewhere likely will reach the Supreme Court before Louisiana's, said Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. Nevertheless, he said, Feldman's ruling is significant.
"It is important, because Feldman is a very experienced federal district judge, and no other federal judge has ruled that way at the trial level," Tobias said in a telephone interview. Feldman was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

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Intentional omission? The ghost in MSM coverage of reporters held by ISIS

Intentional omission? The ghost in MSM coverage of reporters held by ISIS

The New York Times reports that Shirley Sotloff, whose son Steven Joel Sotloff is a freelance journalist being held by ISIS, says in a video message to her son's captors: 

“As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over,” Ms. Sotloff, a teacher from Miami, says in the video. She explains that she has been studying Islam since his capture, and then urges ISIS’ leader to follow the path of his religion’s founder: “I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book” — a reference to Christians and Jews.
She adds that in her study she has learned that Islam teaches that “no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others.”
“Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government,” she continues. “He is an innocent journalist.”

Note that the story does add that "People of the Book" is ”a reference to Christians and Jews." This is good. In some other media reports online, "Book" has a lower-case "b." What, precisely, is this "Book"?

However, look for mention of Steven Sotloff's specific religion in the Times article -- or in coverage of Shirley Sotloff's video in the Miami Herald, the UK Mirror and other mainstream news outlets -- and you won't find it.

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