Ethics

'Kellerism' case on the conservative -- even Chick-fil-A eating -- side of news business?

'Kellerism' case on the conservative -- even Chick-fil-A eating -- side of news business?

Every now and then, I hear from a GetReligion reader who asks a variation on the following question: "How come you never write about cases of Kellerism in conservative media?"

Note that -- if you follow the logic of this statement -- the assumption is that we are constantly writing about examples of Kellerism (click here and here for the roots of this GetReligion term) in "liberal" media.

Actually, our goal here is to write about news coverage in mainstream media. So by definition, "Kellerism" is when mainstream newsrooms publish stories about controversial issues -- almost always about issues of religion, morality or culture -- and do little or nothing to fairly and accurately represent the views of one side in the debate, which the editors have clearly decided in advance is wrong.

Thus, you can't have Kellerism in an op-ed column, an editorial essay or a story in an advocacy publication like The New Republic, Rolling Stone or at MSNBC.com (unless they run an Associated Press report, or similar material). The same thing is true on the political and cultural right. When I ask upset readers to send me URLs for their "conservative" Kellerism nominees, they always send me commentary items from Fox News, National Review, the op-ed pages at The Washington Times or similar locations.

I tell them the same thing I tell conservative readers who are complaining about "bias" in editorials on the left: Commentary writers and scribes in advocacy newsrooms are PAID to openly slant their coverage. This is why their organizations exist.

However, the other day I saw a mainstream Associated Press story (origins at The Daily News in Murfreesboro, Tenn.) that covered what I am sure would have been a controversial event for many readers in America. It's safe to say that some readers considered this story offensive, especially since it took place in a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Times Journey into Iran: Business-side embarrassment or news conflict of interest?

Times Journey into Iran: Business-side embarrassment or news conflict of interest?

Intimidation works. In fact, it works quite well, and it appears not to matter whether the intended target is a nation, a kid in the schoolyard or a media outlet.

Witness Iran and the case of Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, recently freed after being held by the Iranian government for 18 months.

Martin Baron, the Post editor, says the newspaper will not station another reporter in Iran until the Islamic republic assures the newspaper that any reporter it sends to Tehran will be allowed to function free of government intimidation.

A cautionary word of advice to Marty: Don't hold your breathe.

So not only did Iran get to hold Rezaian as a bargaining chip during the recent nuclear sanctions negotiations, it also rid itself of one more Western journalistic thorn in its side, that being the Post.

As I said, intimidation works quite well. Journalists working in Russia, Mexico, China, Turkey, Egypt, Cuba, Ethiopia, Burundi and a host of other nations know this all too well. It doesn't matter whether the intimidators are government officials or narco criminals.

But here's a question. Is there a moral conflict of interest issue when the business side of a news outlet chooses to cooperate for financial gain with a government that intimidates journalists, both its own citizens and foreign correspondents?

Specifically, I'm referring to those New York Times operated tours to Iran.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

South Carolina caucus: Post and Courier tells us more about GOP than Democrats

South Carolina caucus: Post and Courier tells us more about GOP than Democrats

Gotta pinch myself sometimes when I read the respectful treatment this year for evangelicals -- especially in matters like the Wisconsin caucus last week. And in a more recent advance in the Post and Courier for the South Carolina vote.

The story not only takes a courteous tone, but shows a seasoned view on politics and religion around the state. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. But it's sharper on the Republican/evangelical side than the Democratic/mainline side. Especially when it comes to black churches.

Just as New Hampshire polls as the least religious state, "almost 80 percent of all voters identify as Christians" in South Carolina, the Post and Courier says. "And what they hear in the pews often affects what they do at the polls." With that terrain established mapped out, we're prepared for the broad outlines:

On the GOP side, evangelical voters make up a super-majority of the party’s base, and they are attuned to where candidates stand on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. However, experts note they don’t always settle on a single candidate who they feel best advances their cause.
The state’s black voters make up most of the Democratic Party’s base, and for them, churches have served as a galvanizing force to advance civil rights and other shared goals.

We read a short advance on a Faith and Family rally at Bob Jones University, to be attended by all the GOP candidates except Donald Trump. Oran Smith, director of the sponsoring Palmetto Family Alliance, reveals a surprising paradox: Because of the very dominance of evangelicalism in South Carolina, "they are more apt to consider economic and security issues along with social issues."

Another deft touch: The Post and Courier says Smith holds a degree in political science from Clemson University -- then quotes a sitting political science professor at Clemson for some valuable background:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

The Zika virus is all over the news, right now, so it isn't surprising that journalists are looking for other news stories they can connect to it.

This past week, I received several notes from readers about the following Washington Post "Inspired Life" feature. One came with the traditional trigger warning: "Have tissues ready."

The reader could have added this warning: "Prepare to read about a powerful human drama that is haunted by a religion ghost." The headline: "What this amazing mom of two girls with microcephaly has to say about Zika scare." Here is the classic feature-story overture:

Gwen Hartley’s 19-week sonogram was normal. Her baby girl, her second child, was going to complete her storybook life. She’d married her high school sweetheart, they already had a healthy son, a house and a dog.
When Claire was born, Hartley looked adoringly into her daughter’s big eyes and remembered thinking that she’d forgotten how tiny a newborn’s head was. Then the doctors whisked her baby away. Something was wrong. Something that couldn’t be fixed.

After a series of misdiagnoses, the Hartleys, of Kansas, were told Claire had microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes babies to have extremely small heads and brains, and, in her case, made it unlikely she would live beyond a year. Almost five years later, Claire was defying the odds and, although she couldn’t speak or walk or even sit upright, she was a happy and vibrant child. The Hartleys felt ready to get pregnant again.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Essay on CNN.com asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Yes, this is a post about legal issues linked to the Planned Parenthood videos. But that is not where I want to start.

If you followed the twisting legal arguments surrounding the Westboro Baptist Church protests -- especially the horrible demonstrations at the funerals of military veterans -- you know that most of the headlines focused on freedom of speech.

However, journalists had a lot at stake in this fight, too (whether they felt comfortable about that or not). Why is that? Here is how I described the crucial press-freedom issue in a post -- "Why journalists love Westboro Baptist" -- back in 2010. I asked readers to glance at the coverage of Westboro's arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court and:

Then answer these questions. In addition to telling the story of the grieving family, which is essential, does the report in your local news source tell you (a) that the protests were moved to another location that was not in view of the church at which the funeral was held and that mourners did not need to pass the demonstration? Then, (b) does it note that the grieving father's only viewing of these hateful, hellish demonstrations took place when he viewed news media reports or read materials posted on the church's website? Those facts are at the heart of this case, when you are looking at the legal arguments from a secular, legal, even journalistic point of view. This is why so many mainstream news organizations are backing the church.

In other words, when push came to shove journalists had to defend their own right to cover these hateful demonstrations. People who thought of themselves as "liberals" kept shooting at Westboro and hitting the First Amendment, instead. As a statement at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press put it, in 2011:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Separation of mosque and state: In covering anti-Shariah bill, media muddy issues

Separation of mosque and state: In covering anti-Shariah bill, media muddy issues

Those intolerant South Carolinians have gotten a lot of people upset -- in a lot of lands -- starting with their home state press. A bill in the state house would ban use of the Islamic legal code known as Shariah, an issue that has been thrashed out in at least 16 other states. In this edition, though, most media have produced biased, fragmentary coverage. They’ve also given the most space to the protesters.

The apparent start was a story in the Columbia Post and Courier on Friday:

COLUMBIA — A national group that lobbies for Muslim civil liberties asked the S.C. Legislature on Friday to drop a bill that would ban Sharia law from being used as a defense in state courts, saying it is unconstitutional.
Council on American-Islamic Relations attorney William Burgess said the bill violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause on religion because it is designed to attack Muslim religious principles.
Sharia law is the legal framework where the public and some private aspects of life are regulated under legal systems based on Islam.
“This legislation is very similar to the Oklahoma anti-Sharia constitutional amendment that was struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause in a federal court challenge brought by CAIR,” Burgess wrote.

At least they took a stab at defining Shariah. But it doesn't clarify why anyone would find Shariah objectionable.

The Post and Courier quotes the CAIR letter that cites the Oklahoma case, in which a federal judge ruled the anti-Shariah law breached the separation of church and state.  Finally -- at the end of the article -- the newspaper allows Rep. Chip Limehouse, the bill sponsor, to give an example of what the bill might prevent: “(With this law) an attorney can’t go into state court and say that the defendant that beat up his daughter for going on a date with a non-Muslim was within his rights according to (Sharia law)." But Limehouse doesn't get to answer Burgess' assertion that the bill is unconstitutional.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A flag on the pray: Florida media cover prayer controversy at public stadium

A flag on the pray: Florida media cover prayer controversy at public stadium

Football players pray all the time -- especially in a school like Cambridge Christian in Tampa -- but what if their headmaster wants to do it over the loudspeakers of a publicly-owned stadium?

Cambridge is "tackling" that issue, as Florida media put it, after being denied the right to pray at a championship game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando last December. Local media are hot on this story, yet they leave several questions unsettled.

The Tampa Tribune has produced one of the best stories thus far through its Tampa Bay Online, adding context and digging into legal issues. The lede gets right to it:

TAMPA -- A Christian school in Tampa has signaled it will file a federal lawsuit against the Florida High School Athletics Association after the school’s headmaster was told he couldn’t say a public prayer before a state championship football game.
Administrators from the Cambridge Christian School, a K-12 institution at 6101 North Habana Ave., sent a demand letter to the FHSAA Tuesday with help from the Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm from Texas that specializes in religious liberty rights.
The letter asks for an apology for unlawfully censoring the school’s private speech, as well as formal recognition from the FHSAA that students in Florida schools have a right to pray in public. If the FHSAA doesn’t respond in 30 days, the school will take the issue to Tampa’s federal court.

The newspaper explains that Florida law "deems the FHSAA a 'state actor' prohibited from sanctioning prayer." It says also that the Citrus Bowl is Orlando property and paid for largely with taxes. So I read a variety of sources, including executive director Roger Dearing of the FHSAA, headmaster Tim Euler of Cambridge, lawyer Jeremy Dys of the Liberty Institute, even a place kicker for Cambridge.

Dys' contribution is especially noteworthy. He says the association ruling would set a "dangerous precedent for government censorship of free speech." And the Tribune takes it further:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Charleston paper covers first sermon by Mother Emanuel's new pastor, except for what she said

Charleston paper covers first sermon by Mother Emanuel's new pastor, except for what she said

Mother Emanuel AME Church has been through more than you know, even if you’ve seen many of the news reports about the horrendous shootings of nine members there in June. But yesterday, the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier wisely concentrated on the first sermon of its new pastor.

It's a heartfelt, moody news feature that gets inside the thoughts and feelings of the pastor. But while reminding us of the terrible events that brought the church there, the newspaper somehow leaves out most of what her sermon said.

And that wasn't so wise. From reading the overture to this report, the sermon was supposed to be the main topic of the story. For starters, it has the Rev. Betty Deas Clark "trembling and scared" her first time in the pulpit at Emanuel:

She’d had less than 24 hours to prepare the first sermon she would deliver to her new congregation. She wrote from the heart but agonized over every word -- praying she would be able to minister to the needs of people she had yet to get to know.
It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, addressing a congregation, but there was something different about this time. Maybe it was because members of Mother Emanuel were still healing after the June 17 slaying of nine worshippers during a Bible study by a self-proclaimed white supremacist. Maybe it was because the church had been in a type of “limbo” for more than half a year in the aftermath.
Either way, Clark knew there was one message everyone could relate to: hope.
"In my heart I felt that it was the right word," she said after the church service. "I did not want to dwell too heavily on the past, but I wanted to embrace the reality of the present and the future."

As one nitpick, we'll note that it doesn't say why Clark had less than 24 hours to prepare. The reason is that she was appointed just the previous day; that was explained on Saturday but not in this story. The main question here is: How did she develop the theme of hope? What did she offer to help the congregants move forward? One would assume that this sermon had something to do with a passage of two from the Bible?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Update from hot world of Bikram yoga, where scandal still haunts a secular savior

Update from hot world of Bikram yoga, where scandal still haunts a secular savior

Once upon a time, many professionals who covered religion in the mainstream press argued that the future of the beat was covering "spiritual" forces in the lives of average people that played the role of organized religions. Even though the "spiritual, but not religious" slogan was overused, in my opinion, this approach was valid for quite a few stories.

There are people for whom running has become their religion. I know people for whom good wine and cooking serve what has to be a sacramental function in their lives. Ditto for some of the semi-religious movies and online games that all but take over the lives of congregations of young males.

This brings me to another activity that, in every sense of the word, is "spiritual" for many of its followers -- yoga. This is especially true when you are dealing with yoga masters who -- even though they insist their work is "secular" -- fill a guru role in the lives of their disciples, promising to help them change their lives in every sense of the word.

Yet, for some reason, many people (including journalists) think it is controversial to talk about the Hindu roots of yoga, perhaps because yoga has its share of Christian critics who see it as a false religion. Christian critics are always wrong, you know, and thus should not be quoted.

This brings us back to a Los Angeles Times update on the alleged sex scandals surrounding the life and work of the yoga superstar Bikram Choudhury. This is one of those stories that, if there is no "spiritual" hook in it, I'd like the Times team to show me why that is true. As I said in an earlier post about coverage of this scandal, "Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga":

... As all modern urbanites and even suburbanites know, yoga has nothing to do with religion. We're talking about secular gurus, secular healing, secular philosophy, secular transformations and, well, secular spirituality?

Please respect our Commenting Policy