Politics

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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In reporting on Baptists, bootleggers and beer, why not talk to some actual Baptists?

In reporting on Baptists, bootleggers and beer, why not talk to some actual Baptists?

There's an old joke that Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don't recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith, and Baptists don't recognize each other at the liquor store.

I thought about that tidbit of religious humor this week as I came across news reports on a study related to Baptists, bootleggers and beer.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist brews up this witty take on the controversy:

In Georgia, you can buy apples where they grow apples, and onions where they grow onions. You can buy rugs where they make rugs, and newspapers where they make newspapers.
Sometimes, you can even buy laws where they make laws. But under no circumstances can you buy beer where they make beer.
In the recently ended session of the Legislature, a new generation of craft beer brewers attempted to update one of the most restrictive alcohol sale laws in the nation. They were treated to a drubbing of humiliating proportions.
The best they could do was legislation that permits breweries to offer free beer to visitors who pay to tour the facilities.
The defeat was entirely predictable. In fact, not only did Stephan Gohmann see it coming, the University of Louisville professor of economics wrote a paper on the phenomenon, published days after our General Assembly exited.
Craft breweries in Georgia and the rest of the South, Gohmann posits, have run afoul of the “Baptists and bootleggers” relationship that has defined the politics of alcohol in the region since the days of Prohibition.
“Why Are There So Few Breweries in the South” appeared last week in the academic journal “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice.”

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Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear those same-sex marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Proponents of redefining marriage are confident they’ll win in June. If so, that will be a decisive -- and divisive -- juncture for organized religion in America and frame competing religious liberty claims the media will be covering in coming years.

A previous Religion Guy Memo advised journalists to examine  the “friend of the court” briefs in these historic cases. The religious arguments for traditional marriage are familiar,  perhaps especially for GetReligion readers. But now that all the briefs are filed, newswriters should consider the somewhat less publicized religious argument on the opposite side.

The key brief comes from the Episcopal Church’s bishops in these four states (.pdf here) with the president of the Episcopal House of Deputies, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Judaism’s three non-Orthodox branches, a dozen pro-gay caucuses and 1,900 individuals.

Though there’s strong religious support for marriage traditionalism, these gay-marriage proponents insist they’re also part of the religious “mainstream,” noting that the United Church and Unitarians stem directly from New England’s Puritans and Pilgrims. The Episcopalians likewise have colonial roots. The brief also cites recent ideological support from the large Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church (USA), though they didn’t join the brief.

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Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'

Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'

In the media storm over a religious freedom law passed in Indiana, the Washington Post repeatedly used the term "controversial" to describe the measure (examples here, here and here).

However, the Post prefers other words to characterize a gay rights bill passed in Utah, including "landmark" and "historic."

In a story this week, the Post goes behind the scenes of the legislative compromise in Mormon-dominated Utah.

The lede:

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s historic compromise aiming to balance gay and religious rights had yet to be unveiled, but on that fateful night last month, it was already unraveling.
A handful of legislators and other negotiators were seated around a squat wooden table in the blue-and-gold Senate lounge, struggling to resolve the remaining — and seemingly irreconcilable — differences between gay rights activists and the influential Mormon Church. Tempers were flaring.
“The tornado and hurricane and typhoon arrived in that room that night and the wind was blowing, and the tree of our whole effort was down at 45 degrees,” recalled Sen. Jim Dabakis (D), the state’s only openly gay legislator.
But the two sides, drawing on an unlikely trust nurtured during years of quiet rapprochement, were able that night to reach a breakthrough.
Within days, they sent a bill to the state legislature — and a message to a politically riven nation that compromise was possible, even on one of the most divisive social issues, even in one of its most conservative states.

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In Tennessee, is the Bible up there with 'Rocky Top,' salamanders and tulip poplars?

In Tennessee, is the Bible up there with 'Rocky Top,' salamanders and tulip poplars?

The Bible is making headlines in the Bible Belt.

In Tennessee, lawmakers are debating whether to make the Holy Bible the official state book.

And what a fun discussion it is:

A bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee isn't very "respectful" in the view of Gov. Bill Haslam.
The Tennessee Attorney General also thinks the bill, set for a vote Tuesday morning in the House, may be unconstitutional.
"The governor doesn't think it's very respectful of what the Bible is," said David Smith, a Haslam spokesman.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of an opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery. The AP writes that Slatery believes the bill would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions.
Slatery's office hadn't widely released the opinion as of Monday evening.
Haslam, who is an elder at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, echoes concerns of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and other legislative leaders about the bill. Ramsey and Norris said they revere the Bible, but they thought including it in the list of official state items along with the catfish and "Rocky Top" is offensive.
"I mean the Bible is my official book, it is. It shouldn't be put in the Blue Book with 'Rocky Top,' salamanders and tulip poplars. I'm sorry; it just shouldn't," Ramsey recently told reporters.

Can we go ahead and nominate Ramsey for "Quote of the Year?"

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News about 'conversion' therapies for gays? As usual, one side gets to offer its views

News about 'conversion' therapies for gays? As usual, one side gets to offer its views

Several readers have written to ask me what I thought of the recent news stories linked to President Barack Obama's endorsement of government bans on so-called "conversion" therapies for various sexual orientation and behavior issues.

I guess I didn't write about these reports because I assumed, accurately, that the mainstream coverage would be rooted in the new journalism doctrines of "Kellerism," with few if any attempts to explore the views of advocates for secular and religious counselors who support the rights of people to seek out this kind of help.

You may have noticed that, even in these first few lines, I have described these counselors and their work in ways that many readers will consider sympathetic, because I included distinctions that represent the views of some of the people on that side of the issue. In other words, these are subtleties that rarely show up in the news, because mainstream stories rarely explore the views of people on both sides of this fight.

Consider, for example, the lede on the main Washington Post report:

The Obama administration late Wednesday called for a ban on so-called “conversion” therapies that promise to cure gay and transgender people.

What? They forgot to use the phrase "pray away the gay." The key words in that lede are "promise" and "cure." Hang on to that thought.

When it came time to represent the views of these counselors, the Post team used the increasingly familiar tactic of representing the "other side" with a quote from a print source. While story -- as it should -- featured interviews with many experts and activists that backed Obama's action, the "other side" was granted this:

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Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

He did it: Pope Francis used the "G" word -- genocide -- in a centennial Mass yesterday mourning the Turkish killings of nearly 1.5 million Armenians toward the end of World War I.

If only the news reports were as free with two other words: Christianity and religion.

Speculation had grown in stories like this one from the Los Angeles Times, after Pope Francis announced he would say a Mass for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian deaths. Turkey, a pro-western Muslim country, has long denied charges that it committed genocide.

And when Francis used the word in the Mass yesterday, it bore immediate consequences, news media reported -- as in a Reuters story via Al Jazeera.

"Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations in an escalating diplomatic row over Pope Francis' use of the word "genocide" to describe the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I," the lede says. A longer, earlier version of the story says Turkey also called the Vatican ambassador to Turkey for a scolding.

But most mainstream media seem timid in admitting the religious facet of a Muslim empire killing a Christian minority. And when they do get around to that aspect, most bury it in the article.

One of the best backgrounders on the matter is a video by an outfit called Newsy. The brisk, 90-second video touches on the killings, Francis' record on statements about the genocide, and the centuries-old relationship of the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.

Many articles point out that Francis made the Armenian killings the first of three major genocides of the 20th century. The other two, he said, were the Nazi Holocaust and Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union. Turkey objected to the "genocide" label, even though it was used by Pope John Paul II in 2001. The former Ottoman Empire has agreed that thousands of Armenians died in the war, but said that so did thousands of Muslims. Turkey also denies that the deaths were as high as 1.5 million.

But the Reuters articles add the religion angle only through a statement by President Serzh Sarksyan of Armenia:

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How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016? For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

How will U.S. evangelicals affect 2016?  For that matter, what is an 'evangelical'?

With an unusually scrambled Republican presidential campaign heating up, and with so many pious candidates, the usual media thumbsuckers about evangelical Protestants and 2016 are already appearing.

Yes, again.

Somehow, political reporters remain more fascinated with this predictably Republican bloc than non-Hispanic Catholics who will be the biggest religious “swing vote” (as usual),  or Jews, whose lockstep loyalty to the Democrats could be eroded by President Obama’s foreign policy.

Jason Horowitz of The New York Times portrayed evangelical clout in the person of David Lane  of the American Renewal Project. Among other efforts, Lane hopes to recruit 1,000 clergy to run for office in 2016. (How would that impact the quality of sermons and pastoral work in their 1,000 churches?) Horowitz says instead of top-down, publicity-seeking groups like the onetime Moral Majority, Lane is building a “ground-level” network of believers, working “mostly behind the scenes.” 

But are politicized evangelicals a big deal or a blip? The recent feuds over gay marriage and “religious freedom restoration” bills suggest the latter.

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Jousting with The New York Times: Yes, journalism deserves to be taken seriously

Jousting with The New York Times: Yes, journalism deserves to be taken seriously

This week's "Crossroads" podcast was supposed to be about the Indiana wars, but that's not how things turned out. The more host Todd Wilken and I talked (click here to tune in), the deeper we dug into a related topic -- the power of elite media to frame national debates.

Wilken found it interesting that, in an age in which traditional print circulation numbers are in sharp decline, that these publications continue to wield great power. What's up with that?

Here's what I told him, as a door into listening to the whole discussion. Remember that movie -- "Shattered Glass" -- about the ethics crisis at The New Republic, long before the digital wars felled that Beltway oracle? The reason the magazine was so important, a character remarked during the film, was its reputation (especially in Democratic administrations) as the "in-flight magazine of Air Force One."

In other words, the old TNR had very few readers, relatively speaking, but about half of them worked in the White House and in the office of people who had the White House inside numbers on speed dials.

And what about The New York Times, the great matron of the Northeast establishment? Yes, the on-paper numbers are down and there are financial issues. But does anyone believe that -- to name one crucial audience -- the percentage of U.S. Supreme Court clerks who subscribe to the Times has gone down? How about in the faculty lounges of law schools that produce justices on the high court?

In other words, it isn't how many people read these publications, but WHERE people read these publications. We are talking about what C.S. Lewis called the Inner Ring.

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