Race

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

Your weekend think piece: M.Z. spots religion wrinkle (sort of) in #RaceTogether campaign

You can take M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion (although I am still struggling to get used to that), but it does appear that you can't take those GetReligion instincts out of Mollie the journalism critic.

Consider for a moment what is actually going on in this recent short written by the GetReligionista emeritus over at The Federalist. It focuses on that whole Starbucks (with help, believe it or not from USA Today) #RaceTogether campaign that has been getting so much mainstream news ink and commentary lately. Here's the headline on her piece: "With Race Together, Starbucks Is Using Worst Of Evangelical Practices."

Evangelicals? Wait for it.

Now, lots of that commentary has been either nervous or critical or both. Is it really a good idea for a major corporation to try to push its customers -- people who just trying to mind their own business while buying a cup of overpriced coffee -- into a hot-button conversation that may or may not be constructive in the long run?

Still, Starbucks is one of those urban prestige brands that must be taken seriously buy the press. Right? Mollie's insight, if you read between the lines, was to ponder what kind of press reception this campaign would have received if attempted by another institution on another hot-button topic. What kind of reception would, let's say Hobby Lobby, have received with a #TalkMarriage campaign or even a safer #TalkParenting effort?

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Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters gets an A for spotting an emergency chaplaincy team by the Billy Graham organization in Ferguson, Mo. For execution, though, Reuters gets a C-minus at best.

Mainstream media ignored Graham's Rapid Response Teams, which sped to the city twice -- first after the shooting of teenager Michael brown, then after two police officers were shot. Someone at Reuters evidently saw the same and assigned the story. But between the motion and the act, as T.S. Eliot said, falls the shadow: in this case, a shadow of clichés and vagaries.

The article does get some things right. As Reuters reports, the chaplains talked people down, both among the police and the protestors. They grabbed a woman away from an angry crowd. And they even won over a gang leader, who lent them her protection while they ministered on the streets.

Reuters also cites some helpful numbers: 1,800 volunteer chaplains, who have "chalked up more than 250 deployments, from tornadoes and hurricanes to shootings." If only the rest of the story was like that.

Instead, it too often tosses in a stock word or general phrase in place of actual reporting. For instance:

Soon, uniformed Graham chaplains emerged from the mobile conference room parked across the street, talking people down and even dragging a woman by the wrist from an angry crowd.
Over the course of the day, the chaplains invited people into the truck, offering snacks and prayer.

What were people doing? Shouting? Throwing things? What did the Graham people say to talk them down? What was the crowd threatening against the woman? And why her?

And that's just one paragraph. Elsewhere in the story, we get:

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Paging Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The ghost that, with race, still haunts Baltimore

Paging Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The ghost that, with race, still haunts Baltimore

There has been, in the past week or two, a ripple of discussion in journalism circles (start with Rod Dreher) about the book "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis," by liberal Robert D. Putnam. With good cause, methinks, because -- tragically -- the roots of poverty in this prosperous nation in a topic that is relevant year after year.

The big question remains the same: Is this cultural crisis best discussed in terms of economics and politics, or culture and even morality? Here is moral conservative Ross Douthat, in The New York Times:

The American economy isn’t performing as well as it once did for less-skilled workers. Certain regions ... have suffered painfully from deindustrialization. The shift to a service economy has favored women but has made low-skilled men less marriageable. The decline of unions has weakened professional stability and bargaining power for some workers.
And yet, for all these disturbances and shifts, lower-income Americans have more money, experience less poverty, and receive far more safety-net support than their grandparents ever did. Over all, material conditions have improved, not worsened, across the period when their communities have come apart.

Over on the left, at Slate, there is this timely headline:

Yes, Culture Helped Kill the Two-Parent Family. And Liberals Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Admit It.

All of this discussion, of course, can be seen as intellectual ripples from a Big Bang nearly 50 years ago -- the social sciences research of the great Democratic Party statesman Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York (a frequent topic of GetReligion discussion). He said that America was entering an era in which racism would remain a force in American life, but that the primary cause of poverty would be linked to the destruction of the two-parent family. The key factor: Who has a father and who does not.

This leads me to a massive front-page feature in The Baltimore Sun focusing on recent arguments about the impact of racism here in Charm City.

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What are the odds? Dr. John Willke as seen by his foes (and a few pro-lifer friends)

What are the odds? Dr. John Willke as seen by his foes (and a few pro-lifer friends)

Before we consider the mainstream news obituaries for the man who, for millions of activists, is best known as the father of the modern pro-life movement, let's pause and consider the top paragraphs of The New York Times obituary for one Margaret Sanger.

TUCSON, Ariz., Sept. 6 -- Margaret Sanger, the birth control pioneer, died this afternoon of arteriosclerosis in the Valley House Convalescent Center. She would have been 83 years old on Sept. 14. ...
As the originator of the phrase "birth control" and its best-known advocate, Margaret Sanger survived Federal indictments, a brief jail term, numerous lawsuits, hundreds of street-corner rallies and raids on her clinics to live to see much of the world accept her view that family planning is a basic human right.
The dynamic, titian-haired woman whose Irish ancestry also endowed her with unfailing charm and persuasive wit was first and foremost a feminist.

Now here is the question: Might the gatekeepers of news back in 1966 have considered -- at the very top of the story, in the lede -- making some kind of reference to famous Sanger quotations about race and eugenics drawn from her public writings and remarks? You know, such as this passage on the negative effects of excessive philanthropy:

Our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying … demonstrates our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism …

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Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Dear Time editors: Why couldn't Obama talk about his liberal Christian faith in 2008?

Well, here is a real shocker. Not.

Still, this Time headline is precisely the kind of thing that creates water-cooler buzz here inside the D.C. Beltway:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

The key words in this story are, of course, "misled," "conceal," "modified," "evolving" and "deception." The word "lied" is not brought into play. Here is the top of the story, leading up to the soundbite that everyone will be discussing:

Barack Obama misled Americans for his own political benefit when he claimed in the 2008 election to oppose same sex marriage for religious reasons, his former political strategist David Axelrod writes in a new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,’ ” Axelrod writes.
“I’m just not very good at bullshitting,” Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.

Now, three cheers for the Time team for using quoted material that cited the specific hook -- it's a religion hook, of course -- that led to this political decision.

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Your weekend think piece: Concerning the ratio of Paris coverage to that of Boko Haram

Your weekend think piece: Concerning the ratio of Paris coverage to that of Boko Haram

I am not a Calvinist, but it became very clear this past week that my "think piece" entry this weekend was predestined to be about this question: Why did the Charlie Hebdo massacre receive so much more coverage than the massacre of thousands of Christians and moderate Muslims in Nigeria?

On Twitter, I tried to point this out with a simple appeal: #IAmANigerianChristian. There weren't many takers.

How bad was this latest wave of death and destruction by Boko Haram? By the end of the week, GetReligion readers were sending in URLs about the fact that the best way to assess the damage was through satellite images. Check this out in The New York Times:

DAKAR, Senegal -- Thousands of buildings were burned, damaged or destroyed in northern Nigerian towns in recent days when Boko Haram militants stormed through, using scorched-earth tactics against civilians, according to a new analysis of satellite images by human rights groups.
In a succession of attacks, fighters from Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group that has gripped northern Nigeria and battled the government for years, have swept through a cluster of villages along the shores of Lake Chad in a “systematic campaign of arson directed against the civilian population in the area,” according to Human Rights Watch.
About 57 percent of one town, Doro Gowon, the location of a now-destroyed military base, appears to have been leveled, probably amounting to several thousand residential and commercial structures, Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International, which has also analyzed the satellite images, said Thursday that about 3,100 buildings in the town had been damaged or destroyed, demonstrating a “deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt-out ruins.”

How bad was it? Eventually, journalists were so tired of hearing questions about the imbalance between the coverage of these two big stories -- almost always framed as lots of coverage of white, French secularists vs. minimal coverage of black, Nigerian Christians -- that some journalists began to fight back.

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A flawed, sadly one-sided longread about the lives of Oral and Richard Roberts -- that is still worth reading

A flawed, sadly one-sided longread about the lives of Oral and Richard Roberts -- that is still worth reading

First things first. I have done my share of work, as a reporter and as a mass-media professor, with faculty from a wide range of Christian colleges and universities. Perhaps this is why I have heard of Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

However, if you are interested in the history of religion on America, there is also a good chance that you know about Evangel, because, as its website notes:

Evangel University, the first Pentecostal liberal arts college chartered in America, opened its doors on September 1, 1955.

Why bring this up? I imagine that, out in the congregation of GetReligion readers, there are others who follow the @Longreads list that promotes lots of amazing journalism that is written in, well, a "longreads" feature style. It's a must-follow for anyone who teaches or practices journalism (or does both at the same time).

Well, the other day @Longreads alerted me to a feature story about a topic that has long interested me -- the status of the kingdom of one of North America's most interesting evangelists and broadcasters, the late Rev. Oral Roberts. The article ran at This Land Press, under the headline: "The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty." (Interview with author Kiera Feldman here.)

This is an article worth reading, especially if -- like me -- you worked your way through that great media firestorm in the 1980s that many called "Pearlygate." I have also spoken on the campus in recent years.

Still, there are holes and a few flaws in this feature and some major missed opportunities.

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Atlanta fire chief fired: New York Times uses 'antigay' label, while Washington Post listens to one side, on key facts

Here is a question for reporters covering the big story down in Atlanta, where Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Rescue Department Chief Kevin Cochran after he published a book in which it appears that he affirmed centuries of orthodox Christian doctrine on sex and marriage.

There are several issues to examine in some of the main reports, but let's start with the headline in The New York Times: "Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views."

This raises a crucial question linked to the labeling of religious believers in this day and age. For example: Is Pope Francis "antigay"? This is, of course, the leader of a church that affirms, in its most bulletproof volume of doctrine:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. ... Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Is that statement officially "antigay," which would make those who affirm the Catechism officially "antigay"? Ditto for millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others who embrace traditional, orthodox versions of their faiths.

In other words, at the level of headlines, when are believers being "anti" one thing, as opposed to being "pro" something else?

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