Ethics

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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Un-hampered reporting: Al-Jazeera runs sensitive feature on laundry ministries

Un-hampered reporting: Al-Jazeera runs sensitive feature on laundry ministries

"Washing your sins away" is a common phrase, but a church coalition has taken that a step further -- by doing laundry for the poor. The project, Laundry Love, is told in a sensitive, multisourced story in, of all places, Al-Jazeera.

The story is rich in quotes and atmosphere, allowing many of the principals tell their own story. It even pulls the curtain back from an area we thought we knew:

HARBOR CITY, Calif. — From the Pacific Coast Highway exit off the freeway in Harbor City, it is impossible to miss the towering exhaust stacks of the Phillips 66 petroleum refinery and the mammoth cranes of the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. This is working-class L.A., 21 miles away and a world apart from the velvet-roped wonder of Tinseltown.
Across PCH from a payday loan shop and next door to a trailer park, King’s Laundry seems an unlikely vessel for hope in difficult times. But on a Thursday night in December, as a cheerful crowd of more than 100 men, women and children gathered in a parking lot to enjoy hot dogs, hearty soup and Christmas tunes played live by a church band, hope was exactly the thing on offer — in the form of free loads of laundry, courtesy of the volunteers who donate money, labor and laundry soap at Harbor City’s twice-monthly Laundry Love event.

Al-Jazeera neatly explains the genesis of Laundry Love: an appeal from a homeless man for clean clothes. “If I had clean clothes I think people would treat me like a human being," he said. It says the scheme works by partnering local churches with local Laundromats for the periodic wash-ups.

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Maryland drama: An Episcopal bishop, her DUI record, a dead cyclist and the 'above reproach' debates

Maryland drama: An Episcopal bishop, her DUI record, a dead cyclist and the 'above reproach' debates

Let's call it the "shoe on the other political foot" argument.

How many times have you heard media critics argue that a particular media outlet -- The New York Times is the villain of choice for the right and Fox News for the left -- might have covered a story or have covered said story more intensely if the sin or crime in question had been committed by a leader on the opposing side?

It's a popular argument, quite frankly, because it is often a valid argument. Why did so many newsroom feminists cut President Bill Clinton so much slack? Why do some conservatives still think Rush Limbaugh belongs in the choir of cultural conservatives?

The same thing happens with ecclesiastical shoes on the feet of powerful sinners. But this syndrome is not taking place, at the moment, in mainstream coverage of the tragic auto accident in which Episcopal Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook of Maryland hit and killed 41-year-old cyclist Thomas Palermo, a father of two. Driven by powerful early coverage in The Baltimore Sun and follow-up work at The Washington Post, this story is now being pushed past the ugly details and into larger questions, both legal and theological.

The key questions: Was this a hit-and-run accident? What caused the bishop to hit a bike in such an open piece of road, with excellent sight lines? Should an earlier DUI -- involving alcohol and marijuana -- have prevented her selection as a bishop? Here is the gripping top section of the major Sun report:

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Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

It is getting harder and harder to explain to many GetReligion readers why we see a bright red line between basic hard-news journalism and advocacy/analysis journalism.

In the latter, select journalists are allowed to make obvious leaps of logic, to use "editorial" language that passes judgment, to lean in one editorial direction (as opposed to being fair to voices on both sides) and to use fewer attributions telling readers about the sources that shaped the reporting. In other words, analysis writing offers a blend of information and opinion. Reporters who are given the liberty to do this tend to be experienced, trusted specialty reporters.

In the past, editors tended to be rather careful and let readers know what they were reading -- flying an analysis flag or logo right out in the open so that readers were not confused. (For example, I am a columnist with the Universal syndicate. By definition I do analysis writing every week.)

The problem is that the line between hard news and advocacy journalism is increasingly vanishing and editors have stopped using clear labels. Your GetReligionistas are constantly sent URLs for stories that are clearly works of advocacy journalism, in which no attempts have been made to quote articulate voices on both sides of hot-button issues, yet they are not clearly labeled as analysis. We are left asking, "What is this?"

Want to see what I mean?

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Do evangelicals mistreat gay children? AP weighs viewpoints, but not evenly

Do evangelicals mistreat gay children? AP weighs viewpoints, but not evenly

Small but increasingly connected knots of conservative Christians are advocating a new approach to homosexuality, says a well-done feature from the Associated Press.

Well done, as in more than 10 quoted sources and nearly 1,400 words. Well done, as in talking to educators and institutional leaders, not just aggrieved activists. And well done, as in showing a variety of approaches to church leadership, and the variety of responses from gay activists.

The article, by veteran religion writer Rachel Zoll, is less confrontational than suggested by the headline: "Evangelicals with gay children speaking out against how churches treat their sons & daughters." You could get that impression if you stopped after the first four paragraphs. If you continued with the other 22 paragraphs, you'd get a different view.

It does start by retelling the case of a 12-year-old dying of a drug overdose when so-called "reparative therapy" failed to quell his gay impulses. But it adds some qualifiers, starting with the parents of the suicidal boy:

"Parents don't have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child," said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. "They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child."
It's not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents have only recently started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.

The article shows a lot of research in piecing together the various trends and incidents related to gays and evangelicals. It does include the headliners like the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who won his case in a Methodist church court case. Also Alan Chambers, who closed his Exodus International and apologized for pushing reparative therapy, a psychological process that claims to cure homosexuality.

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Serving God with mammon: 'Fortune' examines the faith of CEOs

Serving God with mammon: 'Fortune' examines the faith of CEOs

God and gold are usually a forbidden blend, but they combine in one of the premier journals of business and finance in a Fortune story on spirituality among CEOs of major corporations.

The story starts with Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, saying he considers his homosexuality "among the greatest gifts God has given me" -- then notes that Cook is "not forthcoming beyond that statement about his religious beliefs," probably fearing judgment about going public with those beliefs.

Then Fortune provides a great "nut graph":

Most CEOs, in fact, keep their faith squarely out of the workplace, according to Andrew Wicks, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “They specifically hide their religious faith, precisely because they fear people making a big deal out of their religious views,” said Wicks, who teaches a course called “Faith, Religion, and Responsible Decision Making.”
But Wicks says being open about faith is actually important because it is a powerful aspect of how business leaders define themselves.

Whatever else this 2,800-word article is, it ain't narrow. Besides Christians, it features Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu CEOs. And among the Christians are a Catholic, a Lutheran, a United Methodist and a Southern Baptist.

After an intro, the article is broken up into mini-profiles between about 280 and 450 words each. Business journal that it is, Fortune starts with each person's name and the stock performance of his/her company. For instance, Indra Nooyi's name is followed by "PepsiCo (#43)  PEP 0.75%."

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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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