America's bishops take on the porn industry; mainstream media don’t care

America's bishops take on the porn industry; mainstream media don’t care

Pornography reaps $97 billion a year worldwide -- $10-$12 billion just in America -- and the nation's Catholics number more than 66 million. So when the nation's bishops issue a massive new paper on pornography, wouldn't you think news media would listen hard?

But no, most mainstream media's answer seems to be "Yawn." Except for the Catholic press, few outlets showed any interest.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at their second semiannual meeting this year, certainly spared no alarms at the explosion of "hypersexualized" content -- not only videos but movies, music, novels, videogames, "sexting" phone messages, even drugstores, hotel chains, and cable companies.

"In the confessional and in our daily ministry, we have seen the corrosive damage caused by pornography: children whose innocence is stolen; men and women who feel great guilt and shame for viewing pornography occasionally or habitually; spouses who feel betrayed and traumatized; and men, women and children exploited by the pornography industry," says the 32-page paper (.pdf here).

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the committee that did the paper, adds his own ringing quote. As reported by Catholic News Service, Malone calls porn a "particularly sinister instance of consumption" whereby men, women and children "are consumed for the pleasure of others." Adds the 1,200-word CNS story:

"Producing or using pornography is gravely wrong. It is a mortal sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Unintentional ignorance and factors that compromise the voluntary and free character of the act can diminish a person's moral culpability," says the approved version of "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography."

The use of religious terms like "gravely wrong" and "mortal sin" are especially noteworthy. The bishops are stating their belief that porn not only degrades personal dignity but imperils souls. CNS was alert also in spotting the mitigating factors in the study.

And I don’t see that high standard matched in secular media.  As a faithful reader told us, it may fall into our "Got News?" category.

"They certainly noticed the statements on nukes, the economy and gays," Faithful Reader says. "So when the bishops take on a $97 billion global industry, that's not worth looking at?"

But even the few secular reporters who showed up in Baltimore, where the bishops met, gave it only passing mention. The Baltimore Sun did an omnibus advance story, saying the bishops were planning to deal with abortion, marriage, immigration and religious liberty. And the follow-up wasn't much better: two of the 13 paragraphs.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

On Syrian refugees, AP finds it easier to talk about Christians than to them

On Syrian refugees, AP finds it easier to talk about Christians than to them

Ever hear people talk about you while you're standing right there? It comes close to that in an Associated Press story on whether to accept Syrian refugees into the United States.

"Should the U.S. admit Syrians only if they are Christian?" the headline says in Crux, the Catholic newsmagazine of the Boston Globe. AP talks to politicians. They quote government officials all the way up to President Obama. And they major, of course, on presidential candidates who brought up the issue in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.

Who don’t they ask? That's right. Christians. For AP, the religious angle is just a front for politics:

The debate, which cuts straight to the American identity as a refuge, on Monday ranged from whether to only admit Syrians who are Christian to whether to close some mosques. But across the political landscape, caution intensified about vetting Syrian refugees and whether to allow them into the country at all.
GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump suggested in a MSNBC interview that he would “strongly consider” closing some mosques if elected. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the United States should focus on admitting Christians. And GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio for the first time said the United States should no longer accept Syrian refugees because it’s impossible to know whether they have links to Islamic militants — an apparent shift from earlier statements in which he left open the prospects of migrants being admitted with proper vetting.

Oh yeah, something else must annoy you as much as me: when the gossip is vague and inaccurate. What does closing mosques have to do with Christian refugees? Does it sharpen focus to talk about turning away all refugees, Christian or not? And does Bush really want to admit only Syrians who are Christians?

Because that ain't what Bush said, according to AP -- even though the story has Obama saying he did:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

MMA fighter's profile shows fancy footwork, but doesn't score a knockout

MMA fighter's profile shows fancy footwork, but doesn't score a knockout

Holly Holm is a formidable mixed martial arts fighter, skilled with accurate kicks and punches. But the Albuquerque Journal's profile on her lands only glancing blows on her spirituality.

The undefeated 9-0 MMA fighter goes up against champion Ronda Rousey Saturday night for the bantamweight title, and the Journal took the occasion to write a profile on Holm. And it found a good hook: her blend of ferocity and gentleness.

Here's the opening:

Two sides of Holly Holm’s nature were on display in a Houston cage on July 19, 2013.
First, the Albuquerque MMA fighter felled Allanna Jones with a vicious kick to the head. Holm dropped to finish her opponent on the ground, but it wasn’t necessary; Jones was out cold.
Then, instead of celebrating the spectacular victory, a somber Holm knelt on the canvas – waiting for a sign that Jones was going to be OK. Only after Jones stirred did "The Preacher’s Daughter" get to her feet and acknowledge the crowd.

What a great start, hinting at a link between religion and compassion. I wish the story had spelled out that link.

Much of the piece turns on the relationship of father and daughter. A former farm boy and high school football player, John Holm "exudes a certain toughness," the Journal says. Like Holly, his two sons are physically active: wrestling, football, bronco riding.

But he also set a nurturing example, the article says:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The silent spots speak loudest in NYTimes story on Houston battle

The silent spots speak loudest in NYTimes story on Houston battle

Conservatives used fear-mongering tactics to turn back an equal-rights ordinance in Houston.

What tactics did their liberal opponents use? Oh, who cares?

The New York Times doesn't totally ignore supporters in writing up the referendum to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). But the story does pretty much fixate on who the opponents were, what they did and what the consequences might be. And what the newspaper chose not to say spoke volumes.

A bit o' background from the Times:

The measure banned discrimination in housing, private employment, city contracting and businesses such as restaurants, bars and hotels for 15 protected classes. These included minorities, women, gays and transgender individuals.
Restrooms are not specifically mentioned in the measure, which is why conservatives were accused of fearmongering. Still, it was the ordinance’s supporters, not its opponents, who appeared to first raise the issue of bathrooms last year. A draft of the bill included a section, later removed, that would have let transgender people use the bathroom that best reflected their gender identity. Opponents seized on the issue and never let go.

The article goes way back in sketching out the battle. More than a year ago, Mayor Annise D. Parker and her supporters first proposed the ordinance. Since Parker was the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, they expected smooth sailing.

Meanwhile, the opposition Campaign for Houston was polling various emphases and decided on bathrooms:

This reframing cast the issue as a matter of public safety, with claims that the measure would allow men who were dressed as women or who identified as women to enter women’s bathrooms and attack or threaten girls and women inside. The measure’s critics called it the Bathroom Ordinance and simplified their message to five words: “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

How ironic to see the Times talk about reframing, then saying that opponents "seized" on the issue. The newspaper also frames the story with standard labeling. Various forms of "conservative" were used seven times; "liberal," zero.

Besides "conservatives" and "pastors" -- and in one place, "religious conservatives" -- the Times says the ordinance foes include Ed Young, a Houston pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. It also names Tony Perkins of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. How about the faith of the supporters? Were they all atheists or those multiplying "Nones"? Did any of the four reporters on this story ask?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

UN Human Rights Council silly season continues; journalists look away, again

UN Human Rights Council silly season continues; journalists look away, again

Little more than a month ago I posted a piece here about Saudi Arabia winning a key role at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the world body's very own exemplar of hypocrisy -- where governments run by despots get to shield each other from global scrutiny while drawing attention to those nations they find it convenient to skewer.

That post was written on the occasion of the absolute monarchy's ascendence to the chair of the UNHRC panel that selects investigators to report on allegations of human rights violations made against specific nations. Choose the investigator and you've largely assured that the outcome will be to your liking.

This post is occasioned by last week's UN General Assembly vote that appointed  or reappointed 18 UNHRC members, seven of whom were reelected to serve a second consecutive three-year-term. (The United States, it's second term three-year-term now up, leaves the UNHRC at year's end in accordance with UN term-limit rules.)

The results were largely predictable. Nations with terrible human rights records were added or reelected to the UNHRC. They include Togo, Burundi, Venezuela and United Arab Emirates.

All four nations have been accused by human rights watchdog groups of curbing freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly. Additionally, they've been accused of having government-corrupted legal systems and have voted against UN resolutions meant to aid victims of human rights abuses in various global conflict zones.

But while the Saudi Arabia story received some elite media coverage, the UNHRC election appears to have been largely ignored by American news outlets.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Wait! Did The New York Times just argue that voluntary religious associations are dangerous?

Wait! Did The New York Times just argue that voluntary religious associations are dangerous?

So the New York Times has produced another story in its Beware the Fine Print series and it's must reading for those concerned about church-state issues.

This one -- "In Religious Arbitration, Scripture Is the Rule of Law" -- does a great job of warning American citizens to be careful before voluntarily signing on the dotted line to do business (or working for) companies and institutions that write "Christian arbitration" clauses into their contracts.

What, that's not the point of the story at all. Sorry about that.

Truth be told, I'm having trouble figuring out the bottom line in this long and ambitious story. Clearly citizens have a right to join voluntary associations. Right? And clearly citizens who sign legal contracts -- of their own free will -- should be expected to honor them. Right? This is true even if these citizens change their minds about the doctrines and commitments that they voluntarily agreed to honor at the time they signed on the bottom line. 

I mean, a legal contract is a contract. I think the Times team, in this story, shows that these kinds of voluntary association contracts -- whether among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Scientologists or perhaps even New York Times employees -- can be abused. It's a good thing to warn people to be more careful about fine print. But is that what this story is about? I don't think so. It appears that the Times editors think that putting faith elements in these kinds of voluntary contracts is uniquely evil and dangerous. Really?

Let's look at some passages to see what the Times folks are trying to say. Here's is how things start:

A few months before he took a toxic mix of drugs and died on a stranger’s couch, Nicklaus Ellison wrote a letter to his little sister.
He asked for Jolly Ranchers, Starburst and Silly Bandz bracelets, some of the treats permitted at the substance abuse program he attended in Florida. Then, almost as an aside, Mr. Ellison wrote about how the Christian-run program that was supposed to cure his drug and alcohol problem had instead “de-gayed” him.
“God makes all things new,” Mr. Ellison wrote in bright green ink. “The weirdest thing is how do I come out as straight after all this time?”
To his family and friends, Mr. Ellison’s professed identity change was just one of many clues that something had gone wrong at the program, Teen Challenge, where he had been sent by a judge as an alternative to jail.

In this case, everything hinges on the phrase "had been sent by a judge."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

For Day of the Dead, mainstream media coverage is moribund

For Day of the Dead, mainstream media coverage is moribund

Folk holidays like the Day of the Dead make a good litmus test for mainstream media attitudes toward religion. A few reports interview adherents and research the spirituality behind the practices.  But most just seem to want to snap photos of the natives.

The two-day event, Nov. 1 and 2, is especially popular in Haiti and Mexico. It's a blend of Catholic and indigenous religion, either praying for the dead or asking the blessings of deities who care for them. 

That's one way to look at it. But for folks at the the Associated Press, these days, it's all about weird people and weird customs:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Revelers streamed into cemeteries across Haiti on Sunday bearing beeswax candles, food offerings and bottles of rum infused with hot peppers to mark the country's annual Voodoo festival of the dead.
At Port-au-Prince's sprawling national cemetery, Voodoo priests and priestesses gathered around a blackened monument that is believed to be the oldest grave. There, they lit candles and stoked small fires as they evoked the spirit Baron Samedi, the guardian of the dead who is typically depicted with a dark top hat and a white skull face.

Most of the story is pretty much in the same vein: Oooo, lookit that (click, click)! And that that (click, click)! 

Unfortunately, most of the "coverage" takes the form of images in "Photos of the Day" galleries. Even in far-off Australia, that nation's ABC News has a brief story with references to "sugar skulls, marigold flowers and other spirit offerings."

Not that AP's piece was a triumph of perceptiveness.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

Rare is the week in which your GetReligionistas do not receive some kind of note from a reader pointing us toward a news report in which there are claims that conservative Christians have suffered some kind of discrimination at the hands of the agents of "political correctness," usually public-school officials.

It's pretty clear that the correspondents are primarily upset about the contents of the story, as opposed to the efforts of journalists to cover it. In other words, these readers want GetReligion to publicize or protest THIS CASE, as opposed to critique the coverage.

Now, don't get me wrong. Often the coverage of these stories is pretty lousy, and that's usually just as true in alternative "conservative" media as it is in the mainstream press.

The basic problem is one that reporters face all the time: Once the conflict begins, public officials tend to stop answering questions and hand things over to their public-relations teams. This leaves journalists with quotes from one side of the story -- the angry activists -- and that's that. Some journalists turn this around and only quote the public officials, thus assuming that the people complaining about discrimination are totally out of line and have no facts on their side.

A classic Catch-22.

Consider this recent story from KHOU about an all-too-typical conflict in a public-school classroom in Katy, Texas:

A Katy seventh grader has some strong accusations. She says her teacher asked the class to deny God exists.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Is European-style, opinion-marbled journalism playing a bigger role in American news?

Is European-style, opinion-marbled journalism playing a bigger role in American news?

I'm often frustrated by one of American journalism's most cherished, but abused, conceits. 

I'm referring, broadly, to "he-said she-said" journalism (HSSS, from here on), the standard news format of contrasting statements meant to convey a sense of fair-mindedness no matter how much stronger, by which I mean believable, one statement is compared to another. It's just so easy to cheat and hide bias and a lack of fairness, even while appearing to do the opposite.

I'm sure you've read an HSSS story with some quote that had you mumbling to yourself, "That's utter crap." Or perhaps you've worded it more strongly? I sure have.

We're taught HSSS in college Journalism 101. It's the mark of "objectivity" (yes, those are scare quotes meant to convey skepticism), the promised redemption of American journalism that never really was and never will be.

Of course, we are talking about a mythical objectivity that represents a kind of blank-slate mental state, as opposed to "objectivity" defined (classic work here, "The Elements of Journalism") in terms of professional standards of accuracy, fairness and respect for the many voices involved in public debates. Those kinds of professional standards are exactly what GetReligion keeps trying to defend.

I struggle with poorly executed HSSS journalism just as "omniscient anonymous voice" journalism bugs GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly. Click here if you need a refresher on his views. He is primarily opposed to hard news newspaper and wire-service journalists -- as opposed to the authors of magazine essays and opinion pieces -- using massive amounts of information and opinion without giving readers any clear indication of where all that material is coming from.

i do not disagree with Terry on that. The raw material leading to journalistic conclusions should be spelled out. Think of it as connecting the dots. Think of it as simple honesty.

Please respect our Commenting Policy