Journalism

How does the Washington Post frame its gay-marriage story? Take a guess

How does the Washington Post frame its gay-marriage story? Take a guess

The Washington Post plays a classic Frame Game in its advance story yesterday on the Supreme Court's plans to consider making same-sex marriage a basic right.

Ostensibly, the story is about "High stakes as Supreme Court considers same-sex marriage case," as the headline reads. But it's written almost entirely from the viewpoint of gay marriage and its earnest advocates, who simply want their rights. Proponents of traditional marriage, meanwhile, are reduced to stark cutouts, good for little more than background and foils for the "right" side.

Consider the lede:

When a federal judge declared same-sex marriage legal in Florida earlier this year, it should have changed the way Bruce Stone does his job. The estate-planning attorney had for years helped gay couples patch together legal documents to try to approximate some of the protections enjoyed by heterosexual spouses.
But with the Supreme Court about to decide later this year whether that court decision and others ought to stand, Stone isn’t taking any chances. He is still writing up those power-of-attorney forms and setting up trusts out of state, and he has some stark advice for his gay clients: “Do not get married here in Florida.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over whether gay couples have a constitutional right to get married. But if the court rules against that right, the ability to decide reverts back to the states, and Florida and others might just slam the door.

This article bears several marks of issue framing:

* The American Civil Liberties Union is named without any labeling, but Liberty Counsel "defends conservative Christian values."

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Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

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Washington Post on GOP speeches: Sharp on spotting holes, weak on filling them

Washington Post on GOP speeches: Sharp on spotting holes, weak on filling them

Gotta hand it to the Washington Post. They got it right, right in the headline: "Lots of prayer but not many specifics at GOP summit in Iowa."

A dozen Republican presidential hopefuls came under the Post's microscope in its coverage of the GOP's Iowa blitz. They talked vaguely about social values and how their faiths sustain them. But seldom did they connect the two as public policy. And the Post, unfortunately, didn't press them.

Too bad, because the lede was pretty promising:

WAUKEE, IOWA — Religious liberty came up again and again as potential Republican presidential candidates gave stump speeches in a packed suburban mega-church on Saturday night. Many in the crowded field have struggled to find just the right way to discuss controversial social issues -- like immigration, abortion and income inequality -- without hurting their chances of becoming the next president.
Looming over the broad proclamations of the need to protect religious views is the national debate about the balance between reducing discrimination and upholding religious freedom, sparked by a controversial Indiana law signed this spring. But, as with other issues, most politicians did not get into specifics on how to strike that balance.
Doing justice to everyone in the crowded field, as the article aptly calls it, is a tough job for less than 900 words. But the Post manages by nimbly picking representative quotes from the candidates.

Mike Huckabee says the nation is "criminalizing Christianity." Ted Cruz decries "religious liberty under assault at an unprecedented level." Both Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal say they'd attend a same-sex wedding of a loved one, even though they oppose the practice themselves. Scott Walker reads a favorite devotion, and Rick Perry tells what his Christian faith means to him.

Whether it's true or not that the Indiana law spawned the religious campaign talk, that law is one of three current events the Post works into the story. The others are President Obama's negotiations with Iran and the Supreme Court's plans to start deliberating tomorrow (Tuesday) whether same-sex marriage is a matter of constitutional right or state law.

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Traditional marriage champion gets respectful profile in Washington Post

Traditional marriage champion gets respectful profile in Washington Post

Champagne glasses might well have been clinking at the Heritage Foundation on April 15. That's when the Washington Post ran a massive, 2,250-word profile on the foundation's rising young star, Ryan T. Anderson -- in largely favorable terms.

Anderson, a research fellow at Heritage, cuts against the stereotype of a white-haired conservative repeating stale arguments. The 33-year-old scholar is making a bright, deep mark in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. And the Post is unsparing in its compliments:

His appeal in part owes something to counter-programming. A Princeton graduate with a doctorate in economic policy from Notre Dame, his views are at odds with other elite academics with whom he has so much in common. They are the opposite of those in his demographic. A devout Catholic, he nonetheless believes it a losing argument to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage on religious or moral grounds.
Also in his favor: He’s telegenic, an enthusiastic debater, and he can talk for hours.

Brisk-reading despite its length, the article follows Anderson to a debate at the University of Colorado’s law school. It tells how Piers Morgan and Suze Orman ganged up on him. And it reports how MSNBC's Ed Schultz had Anderson's mike cut off in frustration.

WaPo also scans Anderson's arguments for traditional marriage: some of them garden-variety conservative, such as "sexual complementarity" and the state's interest in caring for children; some of them more novel, such as the assertion that "my definition of marriage is allowed in the Constitution":

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New York Times goes to the zoo and reports on those strange Southern animals who oppose same-sex marriage

New York Times goes to the zoo and reports on those strange Southern animals who oppose same-sex marriage

It's Homer Simpson vs. The Professor as The New York Times this week pretends to provide a balanced report on opponents of same-sex marriage in North Carolina.

The online headline of the Times story that appeared on the newspaper's front page Thursday proclaims:

Opponents of Gay Marriage Ponder Strategy as Issue Reaches Supreme Court

But don't let the headline fool you. 

Supporters of a traditional biblical view of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman actually play only bit parts in this slanted report (Kellerism, anyone?) in which backwoods simpletons square off against sophisticated experts from elite universities. (Too bad there aren't any smart people to interview on the traditional marriage side.)

No, the top quote isn't a hick declaring that "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," but it's close:

EDEN, N.C. — John G. Kallam Jr., 67, carries a worn black Bible and another copy on his iPad, and believes Scripture is unequivocal.

“Sodom and Gomorrah, that story alone tells you what God thinks of same-sex marriage,” he said. “God said that homosexual behavior is a sin and that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Like three-quarters of the voters in rural Rockingham County, he checked “yes” in the 2012 plebiscite when North Carolina joined some 30 other states in adopting constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. “I breathed a sigh of relief,” he recalled.

But last October, Mr. Kallam was stunned when a federal judge overturned the ban.

An appointed county magistrate, Mr. Kallam was obligated to perform civil marriages. So he resigned, one of six in the state who stepped down to avoid violating their faith.

Keep reading, and opponents of same-sex marriage — including Kallam — are presented as angry and resentful, although the newspaper provides no quotes or evidence to back up its usage of those terms.

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Whoa! Is 'brunch' an urban sacrament for child-free hipsters, 'nones' and Jews?

Whoa! Is 'brunch' an urban sacrament for child-free hipsters, 'nones' and Jews?

So a reader sent me this URL the other day that took me to a typically hip Washington Post feature about the lives of the shiny elect in this newspaper's prime demographic -- the young, mostly white, single people in the power elites that run the nation's capital.

The note said this was prime GetReligion territory. The headline: "How brunch became the most delicious -- and divisive -- meal in America."

Say what? I read a few paragraphs into this long feature and then set it aside. I just didn't "get" it, I guess.

But the second time through it I started seeing the key points in the piece. The bottom line: Brunch is, in a mild sort of way, a culture wars thing. It's a near-religious rite on Sunday mornings that stresses where you are and what you are doing, as well as where you are NOT and what you are NOT doing.

Brunch is a secular sacrament? Read carefully:

... Interest isn't universal. A review of Google search data ... shows how heavily talk about brunch is concentrated around the coasts -- and how barren the Midwest brunch scene is. Any Midwesterner who tells you otherwise is likely an outlier, an urban transplant.
"Cultural trends tend to go from the coasts to the center," said Farha Ternikar, the author of Brunch: A History. "The Midwest is slower on food trends with the exception of Chicago."

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Churches into condos: Great story, but where did the people in the pews go?

Churches into condos: Great story, but where did the people in the pews go?

Location, location, location.

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed a news trend -- stories about urban churches being closed and going up for sale? Try to imagine the property values involved in that wave of change that's hitting the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. How many angels live in the air-rights space over some of those prime addresses?

These stories tend to focus either (a) on church politics involving which churches will close and which will stay open or (b) the business deals involved in redevelopment. Both are logical angles for news, yet I have often wondered why journalists are not all that interested in the often painful, poignant and significant stories linked to WHY the churches are closing.

Not all urban churches struggle and die. What are the forces that are at play in these structures, which often have played historic roles in their communities. GetReligion readers will know that, in particular, I am intrigued with the interesting mix of doctrine and demographics that affect many fading Catholic parishes. Demographics is destiny? Ditto for doctrine. You see this in the death of many oldline Protestant churches, as well.

So where are the faithful going? What happened to the families and children in many of these flocks? Among Catholics, what happened to the priests and nuns? Are the families leaving? Shrinking? Non-existent? All of the above?

Look at this new Boston Globe story (a very interesting one, methinks) about some historic churches that are going condo.

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Revving Motor City's front-page engines with a pistol-packing priest and concealed-carry Catholics

Revving Motor City's front-page engines with a pistol-packing priest and concealed-carry Catholics

When a Catholic priest urges parishioners to pack heat and asks a woman afraid of guns, "Well, how do you feel about rape?" it's probably no surprise when he makes the front page.

Such is the case with the Rev. Edward Fride, a Michigan clergyman featured on Page 1 of the Detroit Free Press the last two days.

The lede on the Detroit newspaper's original story:

An Ann Arbor Catholic priest has urged his parishioners to arm themselves and attend classes at Christ the King parish to earn a concealed pistol license (CPL).
In a letter sent to Christ the King parishioners recently, the Rev. Edward Fride explained why he believed it was necessary to get concealed pistol licenses because of recent crime in the area. During a Palm Sunday mass last month, Fride announced that the parish would be holding the CPL class.
When some parishioners questioned the decision, Fride sent out a pro-gun letter titled "We're not in Mayberry Anymore, Toto" – a reference to the 1960s-era Andy Griffith Show and its portrayal of a fictional North Carolina town, as well as Dorothy's dog from the Wizard of Oz.
"It is very common for Christians to simply assume that they live in Mayberry, trusting that because they know the Lord Jesus, everything will always be fine and nothing bad can happen to them and their families," Fride wrote.
"How to balance faith, reality, prudence, and trust is one of those critical questions that we struggle with all our lives. Pretending we are in Mayberry, while we are clearly not, can have very negative consequences for ourselves and those we love, especially those we have a responsibility to protect. If we are not in Mayberry, is there a real threat?"

News of the gun classes did not please Fride's bishop.

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Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

The British tabloids are not known for nuance and this Daily Mail piece on Turkey's continued denial that "genocide" accurately describes what happened to its Armenian population in the early 20th century -- an event officially commemorated this week -- is no exception.

"Genocide of the Christians: The blood-soaked depravity exceeded even today's atrocities by Islamic State -- now, 100 years on Turkey faces global disgust at its refusal to admit butchering over a MILLION Armenians," screamed the Mail's wordy online headline.

No beating around the bush here, is there? American-style journalistic even-handedness? Forget about it. Hyperbole? For sure.

"Global disgust" is a bit much when the criticism appears limited to Western sources. Worse than the Islamic State? Pardon me if I decline to compare an historical atrocity with an ongoing one. (Though I will say that the Daily Mail piece fails to note that while Armenians are of course Christians, they're generally Orthodox Christians. That detail hints at historical context you can't expect all readers to know.)

You could argue that citing a story's sensationalist tabloid treatment is manipulative. I'll cede that. But then there's Pope Francis and the European Union. Both also found it necessary in recent days to speak out on what they unequivocally view to be a clear case of genocide -- the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, the precursors to today's Turkish republic. Germany, home to a Turkish immigrant population estimated at more than 3 million, has signaled it, too -- in addition to its stand within the EU -- will begin to apply the term "genocide" to this historical tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reacted strongly to all this.

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