Politics

RNS on Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini and a Los Angeles tent revival that changed history

RNS on Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini and a Los Angeles tent revival that changed history

It's a question I have heard outsiders ask quite a few times during my 40 years or so in the news business: How do journalists produce those long, deep feature obituaries so quickly after the death of a major newsmaker?

The answer, of course, is that these lengthy obituaries are written far in advance and then quickly updated when the subject of the profile passes away. This puts reporters in an awkward position, since they often need to call experts and insiders for comment on the meaning of a famous person's life and work, even though this person is still alive.

So when do journalists start producing this kind of feature package? Basically, the more famous the person the earlier newsroom prepare for their deaths. I am sure that The Los Angeles Times already had something ready when superstar Robin Williams died, because of his stature and his history of struggles with drugs and depression.

All of this is to say that major newsrooms have had obituary features ready about the Rev. Billy Graham since -- oh -- 1955 or so. I know that I worked on some Graham obit materials for The Rocky Mountain News (RIP) back in the 1980s. I have known, for several decades, the basic outline of the "On Religion" column I plan to write about his legacy.

You can hear the ticking of this clock in a new Religion News Service feature written by Godbeat veteran Cathy Lynn Grossman, which focuses on the 1949 event when Graham's path cross that of another major figure who is currently in the news -- Louis Zamperini.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

Several years ago, I attended a forum here in Beltway territory about religion and politics, featuring a presentation by one of the official voices of the Democratic Party establishment -- E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post op-ed page. This was about the time that he released his book "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right."

During the question-and-answer session, I identified myself as someone who grew up as a moderate or conservative Democrat in Texas, back when that was the dominant political worldview in that state. In other words, this was before the whole red zip codes vs. blue zip codes phenomenon was identified, also famously symbolized by the "Jesusland vs. The United States of Canada" cartoon.

I asked Dionne if Gov. Mike Huckabee was nothing more than an "ordinary pre-Roe v. Wade populist Southern Democrat." This would explain, for example, why a secular libertarian like Rush Limbaugh detests Huckabee so much. 

Dionne thought about it for a second and replied that it would be very hard to argue against that thesis.

This brings me a piece that ran recently on the McClatchy wire -- "Democrats are all but extinct in the South." This news story was, timed, I am sure, to be relevant after the long-awaited fall of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the last Democratic senator in the old South (or as many journalists prefer to say, the old Confederacy).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for The Washington Post to believe it, too? 

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classic model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem." My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete or lacking in context. Could it have been written from an editorial mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, it does appear that Americans lack faith in politicians who lack faith

Yes, it does appear that Americans lack faith in politicians who lack faith

The intriguing question of atheists who seek public office in America is currently being fictionalized on the TV drama “The Good Wife,” which achieves decent ratings though viewers never know when an episode will start because CBS won’t plan around Sunday football games. Lead actress Julianna Margulies has scooped up award after award for her portrayal of Alicia Florrick, the estranged but never-quite-divorcing wife of the Illinois governor.

At the moment, the atheistic Alicia (Margulies herself is quoted as saying “I’m not really religious”) is running for chief prosecutor of Chicago. The Constitution says in article 6 that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” but that law doesn’t control individual voters’ choices.

During the 2012 campaign, Gallup asked whether respondents would vote for “a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be” an atheist. Only 54 percent said yes, the lowest standing of any group, compared with 58 percent saying yes for a Muslim, 68 percent for a gay or lesbian, 80 percent for a Mormon, and virtually total acceptance for a Jewish, Hispanic, Catholic, female, or black president.  In 1958, only 18 percent would vote for an atheist. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

According to most news reports about the U.S. Supreme action involving Peggy Young and her case against the United Parcel Service -- such as the CBS News clip atop this post -- this was a pretty standard battle focusing on "women's reproductive rights." 

Most of these stories seemed to have been produced with a template. This was all business as usual, in other words. But was that the case at the court?

Listeners who tuned in the NPR report on the case heard the same oh-so-familiar storyline -- but with one brief reference to a twist in the plot. 

The online version of the NPR story began like this. Can you spot the religion ghost in this lede?

Women's reproductive rights are once again before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Only this time, pregnancy discrimination is the issue and pro-life and pro-choice groups are on the same side, opposed by business groups.

In other words, the big news here is that very unusual coalition created by this case. What's that all about? Who is involved on the pro-life side of that equation and why? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

As D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors, where are the opposing religious voices?

As D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors, where are the opposing religious voices?

The Washington Post reported this week on the D.C. Council unanimously banning gay conversion therapy of minors.

The Post boils down the measure this way:

The bill, authored by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), bans efforts by licensed mental health providers to seek to change a minor’s sexual orientation “including efforts to change behaviors, gender identity or expression, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same sex or gender.” It was opposed by the Family Research Council and some religious organizations.
“While steps toward remedying the counterproductive anti-homosexual mindset have been taken,” Alexander wrote, “this measure will serve as a crucial step in that long battle.

Besides highlighting the possibility of legal challenges, the short piece makes room for a quote from a gay-rights group:

In a statement, Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the pro-gay Human Rights Campaign, praised the decision but cast it as incremental step.
“While the LGBT youth in our nation’s capital will soon be protected once this bill is signed into law,” Warbelow said, “HRC is committed to making sure these kinds of protections are secured throughout the entire nation.”

From a journalistic perspective, what's missing?

That would be any explanation of why the Family Research Council and "some religious organizations" opposed the bill. Moreover, the Post fails to identify the organizations with concerns.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Keep saying this: Politics is all that matters, even when covering Pope Francis

Keep saying this: Politics is all that matters, even when covering Pope Francis

I'm sorry, but it's "Kellerism" time again.

So soon? I am afraid so. This time, the virus hit The Politico in a rare news-feature venture by that politics-equals-life journal into the world of religion news.

The subject, of course, is the political impact of Pope Francis and why he will be good for the Democrats or, at the very least, why he will not have a positive impact on the work of conservative Catholics who in recent decades have pretty much been forced to vote for Republicans.

The double-decker headline says analysis piece from the get-go, even though the piece is not marked as analysis or advocacy journalism: 

How Will the Pope Play in 2016?
Francis’s softer brand of Catholicism kept his bishops out of the midterms -- and they’re likely to tone down their message next time too.

First, if you need some background info on retired New York Times editor Bill Keller and the statements in which he promulgated the "Kellerism" doctrines,  click here.  The key is that "Kellerism" journalism argues that there is no need to be balanced and fair in coverage of news about religion and culture, since urban, sophisticated journalists already know who is in the right on those kinds of issues.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

This was certainly the strangest URL anyone sent me this week.

When I saw that an Episcopal bishop had called the president a sodomite I assumed that the problem in this story was that we were dealing with an "Episcopal" bishop -- a leader in some kind of fringe, buy-yourself-a-mitre church -- rather than a real, live leader in the liberal Episcopal Church establishment. As it turned out, the WLRN website was actually writing about a mainstream, and thus culturally liberal, Episcopalian.

So what the heck?

Eventually, this story or essay gets to the point, underneath the headline: "What Bishop Frade May Have Meant When He Called President Obama A Sodomite." But first, the story had to explain that this bishop was actually a good guy.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

It's probably appropriate that I came across the following story via Twitter.

CNN reported:

(CNN) -- Online comments are on the way out.
Influential tech blog Re/code announced Thursday that it has shut off the comment forums on its story pages. Instead, the website is steering commenters to social media.
"We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion," co-executive editor Kara Swisher wrote. "But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful."
The announcement was just the latest in a recent wave of prominent websites removing or significantly scaling back their comment sections. Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times have recently nixed comments.
Fairly or not, comment forums have gained a reputation as a haven for Internet trolls. Several of the sites that have banned comments noted the lack of civility in their decisions.

Back in July, Christianity Today announced that it was dropping comments on some articles.

At GetReligion, we still attempt — as best we can — to moderate comments. However, in my nearly five years of writing for this journalism-focused website, I have noticed a decline in both the number and quality of comments. Often, the best feedback and conversations about GetReligion come via social media.

Please respect our Commenting Policy