Ethics

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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Yes, a religion 'ghost' haunts NYTimes feature on Michael Brown Jr.

Yes, a religion 'ghost' haunts NYTimes feature on Michael Brown Jr.

The New York Times produced a long profile on Michael Brown Jr., the young black man shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo. It's a deep, sensitive, nuanced piece -- except, unfortunately, for you-know-what.

The story opens with a tantalizing "ghost": a spiritual experience by Brown, who was laid to rest on Monday:

FERGUSON, Mo. — It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Mr. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.

“No, no, Dad! No!” the elder Mr. Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”

And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.

In the weeks afterward, until his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9, they detected a change in him as he spoke seriously about religion and the Bible. He was grappling with life’s mysteries.

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Ice scream: Boston.com unleashes snark vs. Catholics & others opposing 'Bucket Challenge'

Ice scream: Boston.com unleashes snark vs. Catholics & others opposing 'Bucket Challenge'

Occasionally it happens that a mainstream news organization publishes a story so blatantly biased that it seems incredible it should appear under the label of "news" rather than "commentary." That, I am afraid, is the case with a Boston.com piece on Catholics and others who refuse to support the ALS Association's "Ice Bucket Challenge" because it funds embryonic stem-cell research.

The headline of the article by Boston.com staff reporter Sara Morrison (who calls herself a "noted Internet snark woman")  says it all: "There’s a New Anti-ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge." Normally, your GetReligionistas don't call out reporters by name, but this case is rather obvious.

Right away, according to Boston.com (an online subsidiary of the Boston Globe), the pro-lifers who oppose the viral fund-raising campaign are painted as an "anti-ALS Association" -- as though they were not only against destroying embryos, but were even against the association's mission of curing ALS.

Am I exaggerating? You tell me whether the story's first few paragraphs paint pro-lifers as cold and heartless:

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Devil in the details: Oklahoma religion writer shows how to report a controversy

Devil in the details: Oklahoma religion writer shows how to report a controversy

Devil's advocate? Carla Hinton of The Oklahoman didn't go quite that far in her story about an archbishop versus a Satanist group. But she did talk to both sides and showed how a principled, professional religion writer works.

At issue was a lawsuit by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City to halt a planned "black mass" in a public hall. His complaint was that the mass would include a desecration of the Host, or consecrated Eucharistic bread -- and argued that the bread must have been stolen.

In a couple of crisp paragraphs, Hinton and contributing writer William Crumm lay out the issues:

Coakley is asking the court to require the Oklahoma County sheriff to obtain the Eucharistic host from the Satanist group and deliver it to him as the local leader of the Catholic Church. The lawsuit states that in order for an unauthorized individual to have a consecrated host, he or she would have had to obtain it through illicit means such as “theft, fraud, wrongful taking or other form of misappropriation, either by Defendants or by someone else.”

In the lawsuit, Coakley said the consecrated host — typically a small unleavened wafer of bread — is considered sacred by Catholic Christians. It is an integral part of the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion.

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Pope Francis in South Korea: Broad variety of coverage

Pope Francis in South Korea: Broad variety of coverage

How do you get the New York Times interested in Protestants?

Easy. Quote the Protestants freaking out over a visit by the Pope Francis. In classic form, the newspaper uses a single source to explore (exploit?) differences among Christians as Francis prays for peace and unity there.

It's one of more than 3,900 articles on the first pope to visit Korea since John Paul II in 1989.

It's also an extreme example of the antagonistic coverage the church gets from American reporters, according to an article by Father Thomas Reese in the National Catholic Reporter.  Reese complains that while obsessing over abortion, gay marriage and birth control, reporters have been ignoring other actions of the American bishops -- such as their stances on the environment, disarmament, immigration reform and peace in the Middle East.

That sounds really, really serious, when this Reese piece is actually quite hilarious, which is why religion-beat pros have been chattering about it for days. This is your chance to hear (read, actually) a priest respond "Go in peace" after a journalist curses.

But back to the pope and South Korea. We'll get to the Times'  behavior later. Fortunately, other stories show some lucid, literate coverage.

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Coping with a gay daughter: Nashville Tennessean goes retro

Coping with a gay daughter: Nashville Tennessean goes retro

The Tennessean's feature on a mother's relationship with her gay daughter is a timely, up-to-the-minute feature. Or it would be, if this were the 1980s.

Seriously, how do you run 1,500-plus words on something like this in 2014? A sympathy piece on a devout woman who learns that her daughter is gay, then supports her against the prejudices of her church? A topic that was strip-mined years ago?

Mark Kellner, a friend of this blog, aptly calls this story "GR (GetReligion) bait." All of it is reported from the viewpoint of the mother. Not a word from the father or the son, or the daughter herself. And no one from church -- either the church that the mother attends or the one she left.

Purely from a writing standpoint, I can see why the story would interest an editor. Its terse, taut style would have made Hemingway proud:

Dawn Bennett thought she knew herself.

Wife. Mother of three. Devout Christian.

She thought she knew her daughter.

Guitarist. Softball player. Girl of unfaltering faith.

She didn't really know either.

Raising a gay child has taught her that.

In the six years since 19-year-old Erica Duclos looked into her mother's eyes and spoke openly about her sexuality, Bennett has fought fear, endured questions about God and grace, and struggled toward acceptance.

She loves her daughter, and she loves her God. Every day, her family and her faith collide. But the path forward is less about conflict than fortitude.

A promising lede, to be sure. But it doesn't deliver. Nor, as I've suggested, does it attempt anything like a balance.

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