Weekend think piece: Mark Silk on Augustine, 'economia,' repentance and Greece

Weekend think piece: Mark Silk on Augustine, 'economia,' repentance and Greece

Time for a "think piece" trip into the tmatt folder of GetReligion guilt. Two weekend birds with one shot, in other words.

As you would expect, in recent weeks I have had quite a few people ask me what I think of the Greek debt crisis and, in particular, whether I -- as an Eastern Orthodox layman -- see any religion "ghosts" hiding in this major global news story.

The short answer is "no." The longer answer is that I have sense -- in the muddy details of this crisis -- a kind of cultural clash between Greece and the European heartland, especially Germany. But what is the religious content there?

That's hard to nail down. I mean, the typical crisis report usually has a passage or two that sounds like this, drawn from a recent New York Times report:

Many Greeks have taken Germany’s resistance personally, plastering walls with posters and graffiti denouncing what they see as the rigidity of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. ...
What many outsiders view as the rigidity of Ms. Merkel and Mr. Schäuble is widely viewed within the country as the best way to resolve the Greek debt crisis and ensure the stability of the European currency used by 19 nations.
“There are clear rules, and anybody who doesn’t stick to the rules cannot be an example for others,” Julia Klöckner, a senior member of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said in an interview Thursday.

And so forth and so on. There isn't much Godtalk in that passage, is there?

Lo and behold, a recent Religion News Service commentary by Mark Silk -- "The moral theology of the Greek crisis" -- nailed down the vague ideas that I have had in recent weeks about this drama.

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Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

Planned Parenthood video: Stage 3 news offers voices of reason vs. politicians

I've been in New York City the past day or so taking part in a conference focusing on Plato, Augustine, Machiavelli and Obergefell. Sort of.

I haven't really had time to dig into the whole Planned Parenthood video media storm, but have followed some of the debates (hello @MZHemingway, hello @spulliam). In a way, the entire affair has followed a very familiar pattern.

Stage 1: Activist group on the cultural right releases advocacy journalism piece making strong claims that clash with the views of most mainstream journalists and focus on charges that are almost impossible to verify in a matter of Internet minutes.

State 2: Mainstream press either (a) ignores the story or (b) says that the heart of the story is something like "right-wing group's video goes viral in conservative media, leading to outrage among sane people who support the abused liberal group." How many headlines did you see with that tone?

Stage 3 is where we are now. Many, but not all, elite publications are covering the story, in part because the offended group -- Planned Parenthood in this case -- has put out a press release and started returning calls from journalists. The story is now legit.

This leads to another formula that has been seen many times in the past: Short restatement of right-wing accusations, followed by lengthy coverage of the response from liberal group, followed by -- here is the key -- lots and lots of reactions from Republican lawmakers courting the religious- and values-voter base, which means this whole affair is simply a matter of politics.

Business. As. Usual. #MovingOn.

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Aborted baby parts for sale: Did journalists drag their feet on Planned Parenthood story?

Aborted baby parts for sale: Did journalists drag their feet on Planned Parenthood story?

By now, you've seen THE VIDEO.

It's been the talk of social media, particularly among pro-life advocates, for a full day now.

Given the subject matter, it's no surprise that GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway — now a senior editor with The Federalist — has been all over the issue.

Six hours after the video began making waves, Mollie wrote at The Federalist:

This is a story that requires thoughtful and substantive coverage. That the media are beginning by ignoring it is not a good sign that they have learned a single lesson from crapping the bed with their coverage of the monstrous abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

But can "thoughtful and substantive coverage" be produced immediately? While understanding Mollie's frustration, I sympathize, too, with the perspective of another former GetReligionista: Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

On Twitter, Sarah made the case that, hey, real reporting takes a little time:

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Baltimore Sun still ignoring obvious national Episcopal Church story in its own back yard

Baltimore Sun still ignoring obvious national Episcopal Church story in its own back yard

Obviously, my personal relationship with The Baltimore Sun has changed in the past few weeks.

As I sit here at my home office desk, looking out into an East Tennessee forest, I no longer have a copy of the Sun sitting nearby, retrieved from my front yard. Every few days, I get one of those computer-driven emails from the Sun circulation department proclaiming, "We want you back!" or words to that effect. I filled out my ex-subscriber online feedback form the other day and it was totally about cyber-issues, without a single question on news content.

Nevertheless, I am trying -- sorting through the online summaries and waves of pop-up ads -- to keep up with some of the important, ongoing religion stories in Maryland.

Take, for example, the obvious Baltimore angles in the national Episcopal Church gathering out in Utah. I have been looking for references to two important Episcopalians -- former bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook and current Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton. You just know that Episcopalians have been talking about the DUI bishop case and the state of legal affairs in Maryland. Right?

The Sun team did, leaning on Associated Press wire copy, run a short story about the election of the church's new presiding bishop, noting a strong Baltimore connection. That little story began like this:

The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, the first African-American to lead an Episcopal diocese in the southerm United States and a former rector in Baltimore, will become the first black presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

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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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Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Got style?

In a couple of recent posts, I've delved into the nitty-gritty of religion news writing.

In one post, I focused on the specific language used in a USA Today story on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

In another post, I tackled the subject of scare quotes — a term that is familiar to regular Get Religion readers.

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss both those posts. Click here to tune in.

Besides addressing those posts, my interview with Wilken turns into a conversation about another recent post — this one on the use of the adjective "controversial" in journalism.

Trust me, it's fascinating stuff.

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'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

'Physician-assisted suicide' gets scare quotes, but 'aid-in-dying' doesn't. Why?

Let's talk scare quotes for a moment.

Regular GetReligion readers know what we mean when we use that term.

But in case you're new to this nerdy journalism site focused on mass media coverage of religion news, click here to review past examples.

I bring up this topic again today because of a note I received from a regular reader, who opined:

Notice how whenever the Left invents a new phrase, the media adopt it immediately and uncritically, while well-known, long-understood and uncontroversial words and phrases get scare quotes? Oh, of course you do.
"Aid-in-dying" gets no scare quotes, while "religious freedom" always does? 

The reader included a link to a San Francisco Chronicle story.

Actually, the Chronicle lede does include scare quotes — just not around the phrase 'aid-in-dying":

SACRAMENTO — The California Medical Association has become the first state medical association in the nation to drop opposition to what has long been known as “physician-assisted suicide,” it said, acknowledging a shift in doctor and patient attitudes about end-of-life and aid-in-dying options.

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Controversy over Serra sainthood: Not all media settle for reporting

Controversy over Serra sainthood: Not all media settle for reporting

Ever hear people arguing past each other? Each makes seemingly good points, but doesn't answer those raised by the other.

If they only had someone -- oh, like a reporter, for instance -- to put some questions to them. Then, they could understand each other, and the rest of us could understand them both.

Mainstream media fill that function -- partly -- with the fallout over Pope Francis' speech about Junipero Serra this past weekend. Francis praised the 18th century California missionary, scheduled for sainthood in September, as a "founding father" of American religion. Reporters also looked up historians and Indians who branded his work genocidal.

But how the articles treat and background the speech varies vastly.

For some reason, the Associated Press ran two stories on the topic, and on the same day -- Saturday. One is AP's typical overly brief item that raises more questions than it answers.

That story first has Pope Francis praising Serra's "zeal"; then it quotes a native American leader who says the missionary "enslaved converts" and tried to destroy Indian culture. Here's the run-on lede:

Pope Francis on Saturday praised the zeal of an 18th-century Franciscan missionary he will make a saint when he visits the United States this fall but whom Native Americans say brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity.

AP then quotes Ron Andrade, who fires several salvos like:

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Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

Tweet revenge: New York Times reports Twitter's efforts to keep out ISIS

When social media do nothing about terrorism, the critics complain. And when the social media do something, the critics complain.

"Some guys do nothing but complain," as Rod Stewart, well, complained.

But it's true with Twitter's fight against terrorism, according to a New York Times story. The microblog firm just announced it had suspended about 10,000 Islamic State accounts for "tweeting violent threats." It's just a tiny fraction of the estimated 90,000 such accounts linked to Islamic State -- which, the newspaper points out, is also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh -- but it sounds like a decent start.

Users who also oppose ISIS, though, accuse Twitter of a weak p.r. stunt that does nothing to halt the hate online.  The objections, and Twitter's answers, are part of this fairly short, 535-word story.

But the Times takes the risky route of using only unnamed sources for this piece. It also risks imbalance in focusing solely on what Twitter is doing and ignoring the kind of hatred Twitter is trying to stem.

Evidently, the social media giant is increasingly sensitive about its image. According to the Times, the firm has long fought efforts to misuse its system:

The suspensions came against a backdrop of rising criticism that Twitter has allowed the Islamic State to exploit the social network to spread propaganda, glorify violence and seek recruits.
Twitter previously acknowledged suspending as many as 2,000 ISIS-linked accounts per week in recent months.
The Twitter representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons, attributed the surge of suspensions in part to a widely publicized effort by ISIS opponents, including some hacking groups and online vigilantes, to expose suspect accounts and report them as violators.

The Times acknowledges a dilemma faced by Twitter, which seeks to promote free speech yet snuff out talk that leads to murder. Curiously, the article doesn't use the term "hate speech," although ISIS' threats would certainly seem to qualify.

I liked the lore in this story, like an alliance of ISIS opponents -- "including some hacking groups and online vigilantes" -- that find and report the online terrorists.  Some of the users worry that the account deletions will make it harder to watch the terrorists, although others applaud Twitter for trying to "deny ISIS a social media platform."

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