Ethics

Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

Hey Washington Post editors: Rick and Karen Santorum are (still) Catholics

A decade ago, the editors of Time magazine decided -- during one of the many "Who the heck are these born-gain people?" moments in the recent life of the mainstream press -- to do a cover story focusing on the 25 most influential evangelical Protestants in American life.

It was an interesting list. However, one name in particular raised many eyebrows -- Sen. Rick Santorum. The issue? Santorum was and is a very conservative Roman Catholic.

This struck me as interesting, so I did some background research on this issue. The consensus was that the Time team realized that Santorum was not a Protestant -- and thus, not an evangelical -- but the larger truth was that he, well, "voted evangelical."

Frankly, I have no idea what that means -- in terms of doctrine. The point seemed to be that "evangelical" was a political term, these days. Moving on.

This brings me to an article that has been in my "GetReligion guilt file" for some time, a stunning recent Washington Post story about Rick and Karen Santorum and what they have learned about marriage, family and faith during the life of their daughter Bella, who was born with Trisomy 18, a usually lethal condition also known as Edwards syndrome, which is caused by a error in cell division.

It's complicated. However, most infants born with this condition -- many parents choose abortion when this defect is detected -- live a few days, weeks or at most months. Bella will soon turn seven.

There is much to praise in this very human and even raw story. However, it is obvious that at the heart of the piece is -- to be blunt -- the right-to-life beliefs that anchor this family. Thus, while dealing with faith issues in many ways, it is very strange that the piece never mentions that the Santorum are, you guessed it, Catholics.

What is the message there?

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Interfaith leaders drone about airstrikes, and media let them

Interfaith leaders drone about airstrikes, and media let them

Military drones got bombarded by a squadron of religious leaders, and the controversy got dutiful coverage.  But it's only a controversy, you know, if people disagree.

On that count, I give a B+ to coverage of the recent Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton University. The media quote the conferees but acknowledge that not everyone sides with them. Who and why, though, isn't always spelled out.

A gold star to the Religion News Service for crisp, wire-style reporting, packing facts and balance in less than 500 words. Here are the first two paragraphs:

For the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, drone strikes kill terrorists before terrorists can kill innocents, and the strikes keep American soldiers out of harm’s way.
But for a group of faith leaders, drones are a crude tool of death that make killing as easy as shooting a video game villain, and they put innocents in harm’s way.

The story has a wealth of details, including the "150 ministers, priests, imams, rabbis and other faith leaders" at the conference. It notes that many of them also met at Princeton in 2006 to denounce American torture against suspects. And it has some stark quotes like one from the Rev. Richard Killmer, project director: "Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war."

RNS also uses the time-honored method of bulleted paragraphs to highlight what the conferees want:

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A tale of three stories: Confusion over same-sex marriage in Alabama

A tale of three stories: Confusion over same-sex marriage in Alabama

Few things, it seems, bring out a newspaper's attitudes like a rebellious state. Three papers produced varying accounts of Alabama's reaction to court orders on same-sex marriage.

And we're not even talking about those bad ol' Eastern liberal rags. We're talking good ol' Sunbelt newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News and the Montgomery Advertiser.

The basic facts are the same: A U.S. District Court judge said Alabama's nine-year-old constitutional amendment for traditional marriage was itself unconstitutional. The state asked for a stay, but the U.S. Supreme Court refused. Then, on the urging of Chief Justice Roy Moore, most probate judges stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.

Now come the different lenses. First up is the Times, which favored colorful writing over consistency:

Like lightning striking a Southern oak, the conflict over gay marriage split the judges of this state Monday.
Some followed the prodding of their own state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who ordered probate judges not to obey a U.S. District Court order striking down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban.
Others agreed with the federal court; they started marrying people in the morning.
Then, there were those who hired their own lawyers — and tried to stand in the middle as best they could.

Trying to grasp that passage is like trying to picture a lightning bolt splitting a tree three ways.

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Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Well, here is a real shocker. Not.

Still, this Time headline is precisely the kind of thing that creates water-cooler buzz here inside the D.C. Beltway:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

The key words in this story are, of course, "misled," "conceal," "modified," "evolving" and "deception." The word "lied" is not brought into play. Here is the top of the story, leading up to the soundbite that everyone will be discussing:

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.
“I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.

Now, three cheers for the Time team for using quoted material that cited the specific hook -- it's a religion hook, of course -- that led to this political decision.

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How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

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Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Seems like everyone is into mergers; why not Catholics? A new Washington Post story surveys the Catholic pro-life movement and concludes that it's merging with other social movements, like homelessness and immigration reform.

The story says the merging is a response to Pope Francis' admonition to stop "obsessing" about abortion. Whether that's true, though, is questionable. More on that later.

For now, some of the good stuff. The article catalogs a buoyant mood among Catholic pro-lifers during the recent March for Life: cataloguing a "belief that U.S. culture is turning in their favor."

Among the perceptive facets are an observation that "the March for Life participants were overwhelmingly young and religious." The article also reports on a separate pro-life march in Southern California, "highlighting not only abortion but also homelessness, foster care and elderly rights."

And here are a nice two "nut" paragraphs:

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Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Gol' durn. Do the mainstream media finally "get" papal coverage?

You no doubt recall the circus after Pope Francis answered a question about gays -- “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” -- a circus that is still ongoing in some outlets. But most journos seem to realize their favorite Catholic has not, in fact, rewritten centuries of teaching on sexuality.

Well, we had another near-viral experience this week, when Francis was flying from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. A French reporter asked about religion and free speech, apparently without mentioning the jihadi massacre of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. According to the much-quoted account in the Associated Press, Francis used the example of papal trip organizer Alberto Gasbarri:

"If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

This time, though, most mainstream media didn't seem to freak. AP noted that Francis has also denounced religious violence as an "aberration" and has called on Muslim leaders to speak out against religious extremism.

The Washington Post folds the AP piece into its own report on Francis' remarks. The newspaper then updated its piece with a Vatican statement:

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A flawed, sadly one-sided longread about the lives of Oral and Richard Roberts -- that is still worth reading

A flawed, sadly one-sided longread about the lives of Oral and Richard Roberts -- that is still worth reading

First things first. I have done my share of work, as a reporter and as a mass-media professor, with faculty from a wide range of Christian colleges and universities. Perhaps this is why I have heard of Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

However, if you are interested in the history of religion on America, there is also a good chance that you know about Evangel, because, as its website notes:

Evangel University, the first Pentecostal liberal arts college chartered in America, opened its doors on September 1, 1955.

Why bring this up? I imagine that, out in the congregation of GetReligion readers, there are others who follow the @Longreads list that promotes lots of amazing journalism that is written in, well, a "longreads" feature style. It's a must-follow for anyone who teaches or practices journalism (or does both at the same time).

Well, the other day @Longreads alerted me to a feature story about a topic that has long interested me -- the status of the kingdom of one of North America's most interesting evangelists and broadcasters, the late Rev. Oral Roberts. The article ran at This Land Press, under the headline: "The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty." (Interview with author Kiera Feldman here.)

This is an article worth reading, especially if -- like me -- you worked your way through that great media firestorm in the 1980s that many called "Pearlygate." I have also spoken on the campus in recent years.

Still, there are holes and a few flaws in this feature and some major missed opportunities.

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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