Podcasts

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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Concerning green frogs, fish stories and Christians who keep falling for faux news

Concerning green frogs, fish stories and Christians who keep falling for faux news

Long ago, when I worked on The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette copy deskthe news editor quickly discovered there was one unpleasant newsroom task for which I was uniquely qualified, as a Southern Baptist preacher's kid and would-be religion-beat professional.

Every now and then an angry reader would call and accuse the newspaper of being prejudiced against all religious people or of deliberately screwing up facts in a story about religion. You might say that some readers were convinced that the editors simply did not "get religion."

However, there was a problem. Even when these readers had a valid point to make -- especially concerning errors -- they tended to go completely over the top in their criticism of the staff at the newspaper. In voices that would get more and more enraged, they seemed determined to accuse the editors of sins against God, as opposed to sins against the standards of journalism.

The news editor would bite his tongue and try to listen, as people accused him of taking orders directly from Satan. But after awhile he would roll his eyes, place his hand over the telephone mouthpiece and stage whisper across the news desk, "Mattingly, there's another GREEN FROG on line one. You take this call."

"Green frogs," you see, were religious folks who basically hated journalism.

Now, this unique newsroom term came up this week in the GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast, which focused on my recent "On Religion" column about why religious believers seemed determined to fall for every piece of fake news, or "fish story," that rockets across cyberspace. Click here to listen to my latest chat with host Todd Wilken.

There is a connection, you see, between that "green frog" phenomenon and the tendency for believers to fall for what the online Evangelical maven Ed Stetzer calls "faux news."

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Campus ministry: Last shot at focusing on Catholic 'nones' before the exit door?

Campus ministry: Last shot at focusing on Catholic 'nones' before the exit door?

On one level, this week's GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast is about young Catholics, Confession and campus ministry, using my Universal Syndicate column from this past week as a starting point.

But "campus ministry," narrowly defined, is not what this podcast is about.

What host Todd Wilken and I ended up discussing (click here to tune that in) was a much broader topic. The key is that my column grew out of a very specific statistic that I saw in a blog post by Marcel LeJeune, who is assistant director of the massive campus ministry program at St. Mary's Catholic Center across from Texas A&M University. He wrote:

We know that of those that no longer identify as Catholic 79% do so by the age of 23 (Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, Page 33). So, young adults should be the focal point of our efforts and if we want to get even more narrow, then the best way to influence young people is to start with the most influential ones in their age group, the leaders. Most who end up becoming influential leaders will go to college. Finally, since 90% of Catholic college students go to non-Catholic schools, we MUST focus our energies on continued growth and dynamic evangelization in campus ministries at non-Catholic schools (mostly public).

Now, that reference to young Catholics leaving the church by age 23 made me, as a journalist, think -- yes, here we go again -- about one of the interesting wrinkles in that "Nones on the Rise" study back in 2012, by the Pew Research Center. Let's jump back in time to a column I wrote about that:

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Back to the Islamic Caitlyn Jenner and the man behind the Planned Parenthood videos

Back to the Islamic Caitlyn Jenner and the man behind the Planned Parenthood videos

On this week's episode of "Crossroads, the GetReligion podcast, " host Todd Wilken and I discussed the Sacramento Bee's less than sparkling coverage of the man behind the Planned Parenthood videos (who grew up in their back yard, making this truly a local-angle story) and the Los Angeles Times's discovery of a Muslim woman who has become a man. Please click here to tune that in.

Not surprisingly, the key figure in the trans Muslim story lives in San Francisco, which is where I -- as I write this -- have been for the past few days attending a conference of journalism professors known as the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). 

Today I moderated a panel of scholars who were discussing how journalists used to put scare quotes about "Islamophobia" and how increasingly they are not.

This is, of course, a sign that they believe such a phobia is real and not something dreamed up by Muslim apologists. It also implies that this is not a subject worth debating. That's how "scare quotes" work, after all. 

One Muslim professor listening in said that no matter what the story, Muslims -- like Mormons -- are always treated as the "other" -- part of a group that's not quite normal.

My problem with the Los Angeles Times story (which hasn't attracted any comments as of yet) wasn't about fear of Muslims, it more had to do with handling a transgender Muslim with such kid gloves that she/he was spared the normal tough questions a reporter should be asking.

Sound familiar?

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Do journalists (and the public, for that matter) still separate news and opinion?

Do journalists (and the public, for that matter) still separate news and opinion?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, we know that it is now August. However, there is no Aug. 1 in the calendar of the SquareSpace software we use to publish this blog. Think "Twilight Zone."

 

Pick a poll, pretty much any poll, and you will see that public trust for the work of journalists today is lower than low.

OK, how about Gallup in 2014, a poll indicating the key trust number -- for newspapers -- was at 22 percent and dropping below previous records? You don't want to know what the numbers were for television news and the Internet.

Of course, there is a degree of public hypocrisy in those numbers. Postmodern Americans claim they want balanced, accurate news and then there is strong evidence that what they really want is opinion and news that backs their own views. It is rare to see a deep, balanced, nuanced news story trending on Twitter.

So should journalists stop trying? Should mainstream news outlets simply let their freak flags fly and stop trying to do fair and accurate coverage of causes they believe are, using this phrase in as nonsectarian a way as possible, of the Devil? Using terms from journalism history, should journalists give up on the American model of the press and go back to a European, advocacy model?

That was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast chat with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in), spinning off my recent GetReligion post about a New York Times article in which gay-rights activists reached out, through a formal letter, to Pope Francis seeking a face-to-face media event during his upcoming visit to the media centers of the American Northeast. As always in the Kellerism age, there was zero evidence that the world's most powerful newspaper made any attempt to seek the input of pro-Catechism Catholics when reporting this story, even when discussing events and doctrines on which there are myriad points of view to consider.

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So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

So that beach guy doing a Facebook selfie? Add a beard and he's an ISIS warrior

Earlier this week, I pled with readers to pay attention to Washington Post feature about the problems -- that seems like such a weak word in this case -- the Islamic State is causing for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other companies in the freewheeling world of social media.

What's at stake? Well, obviously, there are thousands and thousands of lives at stake. The future of ancient Christian communions are at stake, along with other minority religious groups in the Nineveh Plain and elsewhere in the region.

Oh, right, and the First Amendment is at risk, too. That's all.

I'm happy to report that readers responded and, apparently, passed the URL for that post (here it is again) around online, because it was one of our most highly read articles so far this month. Thank you. It will not surprise you that this topic also served as the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast, as well. Click here to tune in on that discussion.

Now, several times during the discussion, host Todd Wilken asked me what I think social-media professionals should do in this situation. What should First Amendment supporters do, as ISIS keeps managing to stay one or two steps ahead of attempts to control their use of technology to spread both their images of violence and, in some ways even worse, their emotionally manipulative and even poetic messages that target the emotions and faith of potential recruits to their cause?

The bottom line: I have no idea. This is one of those times when free speech liberals, such as myself, face the negative side of the global freedoms that digital networks have unleashed in the marketplace of ideas. How do you ban twisted forms if Islam, when other forms of this world faith use the same terms and images in different ways? How can a search engine detect motives and metaphors?

And what about the ability of individual ISIS members to use social media, while acting as individuals? I mean, look at this amazing, horrifying case as reported in The Daily Mail!

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How did 'Christian' — as an adjective in mass media — come to mean shallow and lousy?

How did 'Christian' — as an adjective in mass media — come to mean shallow and lousy?

On one level, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is a follow-up discussion of my recent blog here about the New York Times article that, allegedly, tried to look for Jesus at Comic-Con 2015. That event in San Diego is, as I described it in my discussion with Todd Wilken, the great annual gathering of the pop-culture tribes for a "sacred dance" of hero worship and, of course, marketing.

The Times team apparently went to this event looking for evidence that the emerging mini-industry of films and television miniseries targeting "Christian" consumers -- in this case, "Christian" clearly means "evangelical" -- just isn't with it, or cool enough, when it comes to competing in the pop-culture major leagues. But that article, I argued, really didn't pay attention to (a) the work of Christians in mainstream media and (b) the ongoing debates, decade after decade, about aith questions raised in franchises such as "Star Wars," zombie movies, the X-Men, Doctor Who, etc., etc., etc.

In the end, the podcast ended up focusing on how the term "Christian" -- used as a adjective for marketing purposes -- has in our times become another way of saying shoddy, cheap, shallow and derivative. This led to some obvious questions.

Was J.S. Bach a "Christian" composer? Is Christopher Parkening a "Christian" classical guitarist?

Was J.R.R. Tolkien a "Christian" novelist?

How about C.S. Lewis? How about Jane Austen? How about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? When Fyodor Dostoyevsky sat down to write, was he thinking to himself, "How can I please the 'Christian' marketplace?" How about Flannery O'Connor? By the way, her work was the subject of my "On Religion" column for Universal this past week.

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#LoveWins #JournalismFails — Some old media-bias battles (think Kellerism) go public

#LoveWins #JournalismFails — Some old media-bias battles (think Kellerism) go public

This was the rare week that my column for the Universal Syndicate grew directly out of what was happening online here at GetReligion. It doesn't take a doctorate in journalism history to figure out the topic for all of the chatter. Correct?

That discussion led to this week's "Crossroads" podcast with the team at Issues, etc. Click here to tune that in.

The whole thing felt kind of hall-of-mirrors meta, with host Todd Wilken and I discussing figures in the mainstream media discussing whether many mainstream journalists had proven their critics right by waving all of those cyber rainbow flags in the heady hours after the 5-4 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

That decision, no surprise, led to a blitz of posts and debates all over cyberspace, including here, here, here, here, here and, especially, here at GetReligion. But the key to podcast was this post -- "From old Kellerism to new BuzzFeed: The accuracy and fairness debate rolls on" -- in which I noted that this new debate about the new news was actual linked to old debates that have been going on for some time.

So have we seen a historic change in American journalism? I still need some help from GetReligion readers trying to parse the following quote from BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, as he defended (click here for transcript) his news site's open celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court decision during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt:

BS: I don’t really think there, I mean, I guess I don’t really think there was much of a controversy, or at least I didn’t see. There were like, I’ve been tweeting with three people today -- Tim Carney and a guy named, just, I mean, but I’m not sure like three or four people make a controversy. But I think we have, we drafted and published a Standards Guide and an Ethics Guide several months ago, and I think we’ve been wrestling with something I’m sure you think about a lot, which is, although I think I probably come down somewhere a bit differently from you, which is you know, is it possible to, look, what is the tradition that used to be called kind of objective journalism, mainstream media journalism, the tradition the New York Times and the Washington Post come out of, which is the tradition I come out of?

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That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

That Billy Graham flashback, again: Campolo, Neff and an open evangelical left

It's an old question, but it keeps coming up here at GetReligion and in many other settings online, in journalism and in academia: What does the word "evangelical" mean?

Is this, as many young people insist (including lots of my students), just another name for white Republicans?

Is this a sociological term, describing a movement of people in a specific subset of conservative Protestantism, one best defined in terms of culture, zip codes and upbringing? 

Is it simply a term that describes a specific marketing niche containing conservative Protestants who consume certain types of media, admire specific religious celebrities and support the same parachurch ministries?

Is this a term with precise doctrinal and historical content, one linked to specific confessions of the faith? If "evangelical" is a term with doctrinal content, who has the ecclesiastical power to define or alter that content?

People were arguing about this issue again, of course, In the wake of the media mini-storm surrounding evangelical activist Tony Campolo's long-awaited open embrace of gay marriage, as a doctrinal statement, as well as political policy. GetReligion readers will not be surprised to learn that this was the topic of my "On Religion" column this week for the Universal syndicate and also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune in the Issues Etc. network version of that program.

For many commentators it was much more significant that recently retired Christianity Today editor David Neff moved to the doctrinal left on gay marriage, in comparison to the rather predictable statement by Campolo. In my column I noted:

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