Politics

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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Did GOP candidates really avoid moral and religious talk when courting black voters?

Did GOP candidates really avoid moral and religious talk when courting black voters?

If you follow trends among African-American voters, you know that they tend to be more conservative on moral and social issues than other key players in the modern Democratic Party coalition. There have been some small shifts among younger African-Americans on issues such as abortion and gay rights, but the basic trends can still be seen.

So, African-American voters are more culturally conservative than most other Democrats, but they have remained very loyal when venturing into the voting booths -- especially in the Barack Obama era.

But one other factor should be mentioned. If Republicans are going to find any black voters that are willing to cross over and ACT on their more conservative values, it is highly likely that those voters will be found among those who frequent church pews. That isn't surprising, is it?

Thus, I would like GetReligion readers to dig into the following Washington Post story that focuses on attempts by GOP candidates -- including Dr. Ben Carson -- to recruit some additional black voters to their cause. The headline gives zero clue as to what this very long political story is about: "Clinton takes a swipe at Jeb Bush’s ‘Right to Rise.' "

What are readers looking for?

Well, personally, I find it interesting that the story contains, as best I can tell, zero references to religious, moral and cultural issues. Even in the material from Jeb Bush. Even in the references to the remarks of Carson, who is, of course, an African-American religious conservative who rarely gives a speech without talking about social issues.

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Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Yes, Sarah Pulliam Bailey used to write for GetReligion. 

Yes, we're biased when it comes to her important work for the Washington Post. 

Yes, it's awkward when we start praising a friend and former colleague. (We've admitted as much.) We know that you know that we know that you know that.

But no, that's not going to stop us from calling attention to a story Sarah wrote this week related to the Planned Parenthood videos:

Antiabortion activists see new undercover videos of Planned Parenthood as their biggest opportunity since the 2011 Kermit Gosnell trials to energize support for the issue.
Planned Parenthood, which many antiabortion activists see as the face of abortion, has long been under attack, but the videos have set off renewed debate over its federal funding.

In fact, we're not the only ones who were impressed. Tom Breen, a former Associated Press newsman who did excellent work on the Godbeat, tweeted:

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New York Times on the Planned Parenthood videos: It's all politics, politics, politics

New York Times on the Planned Parenthood videos: It's all politics, politics, politics

Media coverage of the Planned Parenthood-undercover-abortion-videos matter has been underwhelming to say the least. However, this week there have been a few more articles out there about the controversy -- plus a third video.

The latest non-news news is that Planned Parenthood has actually asked the media to back off from the story and to date, I've seen no media organizations tell PP to go take a hike. Just before Planned Parenthood's request came this New York Times story about how Republicans are taking advantage of it all.

WASHINGTON -- Rick Perry’s voice softens when he talks about the joy he gets from looking at his iPad and seeing “that 20-week picture of my first grandbaby.” Marco Rubio says ultrasounds of his sons and daughters reinforced how “they were children -- and they were our children.” Rand Paul recalls watching fetuses suck their thumbs. And Chris Christie says the ultrasound of his first daughter changed his views on abortion.
If they seem to be reading from the same script, they are.
With help from a well-funded, well-researched and invigorated anti-abortion movement, Republican politicians have refined how they are talking about pregnancy and abortion rights, choosing their words in a way they hope puts Democrats on the defensive.
The goal, social conservatives say, is to shift the debate away from the “war on women” paradigm that has proved so harmful to the their party’s image.
Democrats were jolted by the latest and perhaps most disruptive effort yet in this line of attack by activists who want to outlaw abortion: surreptitiously recorded video of Planned Parenthood doctors casually discussing how they extract tissue from aborted fetuses.

Once again, we have a story that uses the much-maligned Planned Parenthood videos as a segue into what many reporters *really* think the debate is all about -- politics and politics alone. No religious beliefs. No convictions about the science issues involved. 

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LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.

When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."

In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.

The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?

That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.

As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.

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Boy Scouts, church-based troops and the threat of lawsuits — about that big vote on gay leaders

Boy Scouts, church-based troops and the threat of lawsuits — about that big vote on gay leaders

Could the Boy Scouts of America's decision to accept gay leaders hasten the exodus of troops sponsored by conservative religious groups?

Could traditional believers who maintain ties with the Boy Scout face lawsuits if they limit scoutmaster roles to heterosexuals?

Those questions gain prominence in the aftermath of Monday's big vote.

The New York Times' latest lede is simple and to the point:

The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
But the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.

Despite this compromise, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization anyway. Its stance surprised many and raised questions about whether other conservative sponsors, including the Roman Catholic Church, might follow suit.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”

But in what seems to be a trend lately, the Times had to run a correction on its original story (click here to see the previous versions)

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From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

From the good old days to the hellish ISIS days for Christians in Middle East? Really?

At the time of 9/11, I was living in South Florida and attending an Eastern Orthodox parish in which the majority of the members were, by heritage, either Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time hearing the details of their family stories -- about life in the old country and the forces that pushed them to America.

The key detail: It was never easy living in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire era, even when times were relatively peaceful. While it was easy to focus on the horrible details of the times of intense persecution, it was important to realize that Christians and those in other religious minorities had learned to accept a second-class status in which they were safe, most of the time, but not truly free.

In other words, the Good Old Days were difficult, but not as difficult as the times of fierce persecution, suffering and death.

Clearly, the rise of the Islamic State has created a new crisis, one that is truly historic in scope -- especially in the Nineveh Plain. The drive to eliminate Christian populations in a region that has been their home since the apostolic era raises all kinds of questions about religious freedom, as well as questions for the USA and other Western states to which these new martyrs will appeal for help.

In recent years, human-rights activists have asked when this phenomenon would receive major attention in elite American newsrooms. The coverage has, in recent years, been on the rise. That said, a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine feature on this topic must be seen as a landmark.
The epic double-decker headline proclaimed:

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?
ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.

There is much that I want to praise in this piece. It's a must-read piece for everyone who cares about religion news in the mainstream press.

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Did The Tennessean mean to capture a key nuance in the post-Obergefell debates?

Did The Tennessean mean to capture a key nuance in the post-Obergefell debates?

If you set out to pick a state that was the opposite of my old state of Maryland, in terms of politics and culture, it would have to be Tennessee, where I live now.

Maryland is a historically Catholic state that has evolved -- other than in some rural corners and in most African-American church life -- into an archetypal Blue State.

Meanwhile, the political history of Tennessee has been rooted in a populist and often culturally conservative brand of Democratic Party politics, until the rise of the modern Republican Party. I mean, as a U.S. senator, Al Gore had an 84 percent National Right to Life approval rating. East Tennessee has always been heavily Republican, dating back to the Civil War in some parts of the mountains. But these are not, as a rule, Republicans who automatically hate the government. Can you say Tennessee Valley Authority?

This brings me to an interesting story that ran the other day in The Tennessean, the historically liberal Gannett newspaper in Nashville, the state capital. Whether the editors knew it or not, this story contains material that describes one of the key religious liberty debates taking place -- but rarely covered by journalists -- after the 5-4 Obergefell ruling backing same-sex marriage.

As you would expect, there are Republicans in Tennessee who pretty much want to blow up the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, the story notes early on:

Many Tennessee Republicans aren’t hiding their anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage across the country.
They're adamant they need to respond, either in a way they feel will champion states' rights or religious liberties. Some lawmakers want the state to consider allowing employees who object to same-sex marriage to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

There is that big idea yet again, that citizens who oppose same-sex marriage want the right to -- vaguely defined -- "refuse to serve same-sex couples." Hold that thought.

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Yes, we saw that rather stunning Gawker quote about God and the mainstream press

Yes, we saw that rather stunning Gawker quote about God and the mainstream press

For years, I have heard religious leaders -- yes, most of them conservative types -- ask reporters whether or not they go to church. It's not a nice question and, I would argue, it's not the right question to ask if the goal is to understand why the mainstream press struggles to cover religion news.

The goal of this question, essentially, is to show that an unusually high percentage of the scribes and editors in newsrooms are godless heathens who hate religious people. Now, I have met a few of those heathens in newsrooms, but not as many as you would think. I've met my share of "spiritual, but not religious" journalists and quite a few religious progressives. I once heard a colleague quip that the only place that the Episcopal Church's "Decade of Evangelism," in the 1990s, was a success was in newsrooms.

As I have said before on this blog, there are plenty of non-believers who do a fine job covering religion news. Then again, I have met believers who could not report their way out of a paper bag.

No, the question religious folks should be asking journalists -- when reporters are sent to cover religion events -- is this: How long have you covered religion news and what did you do,  professionally and/or academically, to prepare for this work? In other words, stop asking journalists religious questions and start asking them journalism questions.

If you want to see a "Do you go to church?" train wreck, then check out the following commentary (and then some) from Hamilton Nolan at Gawker that as been making the rounds.

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