Sex

More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

Thank you to all the readers who helped out by finding working URLs, online and in wayback machines, for the Associated Press story that I referenced -- by memory and in incomplete form -- in my post about what I called the emerging world of "omniscient anonymous" voice journalism.

Here's my theory as to what happened. The story -- "Pope Francis drawing criticism from some conservative Catholics" -- went up on Drudge report an caused so much traffic that Lodi News took it down. Thus, the broken URL for the story.

Now, let me state right up from that I was wrong about the key paragraph in that Associated Press story being an example of "omniscient anonymous" voice reporting. It's a remarkable paragraph, for the other reasons I listed, but it does include a kind of attribution in its interesting reference to "conservative Catholics."

Here is that passage, in context, as it ran at Newsday. Let's work through this, shall we?

Robert Royal, founder and president of the conservative think tank Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that he was "astonished by some of the things he's said about the public order. He's the pope least prepared to do public commentary in about 150 years, and yet he's waded in on Cuba, Scottish independence, Greece, Israel, international economics, etc., in which it's clear he knows very little."

Hit pause for a moment.

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

As long-time GetReligion readers know, I am a conflicted Baylor University graduate. I had great times there and rough times, as well. The later were almost all linked to attempts by student journalists, including me, to do journalism about subjects that cause tension on all campuses (think Penn State), but especially at private, religious colleges and universities.

What kinds of subjects? Well, like sexual assaults. Hold that thought.

These ties that bind have led to lots of GetReligion work because Baylor is frequently in the news. Open the search engine here, enter "Baylor" and you will find pages of material about press coverage of complicated events at my alma mater. Here's how one early post opened:

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world's largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call "Jerusalem on the Brazos." It didn't take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Or how about this language, drawn from one of my national "On Religion" columns?

Every decade or so Baylor University endures another media storm about Southern Baptists, sex and freedom of the press. Take, for example, the historic 1981 Playboy controversy. It proved that few journalists can resist a chance to use phrases such as "seminude Baylor coeds pose for Playboy." ...
I know how these Baylor dramas tend to play out, because in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which students tried to write some dangerously candid news reports. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire.

So now we have another Baylor controversy in the news, potentially a scandal, that involves sin, sex and, wait for it, college football. As you would expect, there has been coverage. But has the word "Baptist" played a significant role? This is an important question, since Baylor has plenty of critics that consider it a hive for right-wing fundamentalists, while others believe it has compromised and modernized too much.

In terms of hard news, the key story is from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

 

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This piece on Episcopal Bishop William Love of Albany contains a big, big, big hole

This piece on Episcopal Bishop William Love of Albany contains a big, big, big hole

Want to see some completely unbalanced reporting in what was, I assume, supposed to be a hard-news story in a mainstream newspaper? Friends and neighbors, this Times Union story -- "Episcopal bishop's opposition to same-sex marriage creates rift" -- about Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany may take the cake.

Right up front, let me note that (a) this was an important story that should have been covered and (b) liberal Episcopalians in this diocese had every right to be outraged by their bishop's rejection of his denomination's somewhat limited embrace of same-sex marriage rites. Their voices deserved to be heard.

Wait, "somewhat limited" embrace? 

Ah, there is the rub. This story completely misses a key element of what the Episcopal General Convention did and did not do on this hot-button issue, a fact that made the final action taken quite unpopular with some -- repeat SOME -- liberal Episcopalians.

The bottom line: There is no way to understand the story in Albany without crucial facts that were omitted from this Times Union report. 

So what's the story? Here is the overture:

Episcopal Bishop William Love's opposition to same-sex marriage in defiance of the recent 78th general convention of the Episcopal Church that affirmed marriage equality has roiled the Albany diocese and caused parishioners to quit the Cathedral of All Saints in protest.
In a July 18 pastoral letter in response to last month's convention and June's historic Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing nationwide rights for same-sex marriage, Love cited a Book of Common Prayer definition of marriage as a "solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman."
Love was among just seven out of more than 100 bishops across the United States who flouted the convention's stance and publicly opposed same-sex marriage.

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Wait! Which religious schools teach what about the moral status of gay sex?

Wait! Which religious schools teach what about the moral status of gay sex?

In recent years, I have been amazed -- when reading mainstream religion-news coverage -- to see basic moral and cultural beliefs that have been around in traditional forms of for millennia described as convictions that belong to "evangelical" Protestants, alone.

I understand what is going on when this happens. It's easier to bash away at televangelists for saying that sex outside of marriage is sin, as opposed to noting that these same beliefs have been articulated by popes, Orthodox rabbis, traditional Muslim leaders and others. Evangelical Protestants are popular enemies. The problem is that this presentation skews the facts of history.

Thus, I flinched the other day when I read a Salt Lake City Tribune report, picked up by Religion News service, about a Princeton Review ranking of campuses of higher learning that are opposed to recent trends in gay rights. Here is the top of the story. If you are holding a beverage, please set it aside to protect your screen and keyboard.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Brigham Young University remains one of the most hostile campuses in the country for gay and transgender students, according to an annual college ranking list.
But the private university does not top the list of LGBT-unfriendly schools. In fact, it came in sixth in a list of 10, mostly religious, schools. Grove City College (Grove City, Pa.) a Christian liberal arts school of 2,500 students. and Hampden-Sydney College, an all-male liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Hampden Sydney Va., came in first and second.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but that acting on it is.

And? And? Isn't that an accurate description of the beliefs of millions and millions of other believers in a host of different traditions? 

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Post offers faith-free report on alleged rape at famous pre-Ivy boarding school

Post offers faith-free report on alleged rape at famous pre-Ivy boarding school

Obviously, pre-Ivy League prep schools such as St. Paul's in Concord, N.H., have their share of traditions. One of the buzz-worthy and truly distressing Washington Post stories of the week so far focused on the tradition of the "senior salute" at this elite campus, in which senior men compete to see who can sleep with as many younger girls as possible.

How elite? The Post report notes that a year on the 2,000-acre campus costs $55,000-plus and other media outlets put the figure at more than $60,000. Alumni include legions of executives, Pulitzer winners, three major candidates for the presidency, ambassadors, various members of Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry and legions of clergy, including a former Episcopal Church presiding bishop. Oh, and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.

The chapel is really beautiful, too, which is fitting for a school with a strong religious history. Hold that thought. 

So what happened when senior Owen Laurie met with that 15-year-old girl in an attempt to add her name to his online "score" spreadsheet? Laurie insists that he did not sleep with her. Drawing on information from The Concord Monitor, the Associated Press, The Boston Globe and other sources, the Post noted:

According to the affidavit obtained by the Monitor, Labrie sent the freshman girl a “senior salute” e-mail asking her to “hook up” with him four days before graduation. She initially declined, but then agreed on the understanding that “hook up” referred to kissing. Two days later, on May 30, 2014, Labrie allegedly took the girl to the top of the school’s math and science building.
They kissed, then Labrie allegedly began to pull off her underwear. She resisted several times and twice told him “no,” according to the affidavit.

Laurie denies having sex, but the sexual-assault nurse at the local hospital claims otherwise. The media description of the critical encounter also includes a strange and fascinating statement:

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NPR files a toothless story on fired, pregnant professor suing Christian college

NPR files a toothless story on fired, pregnant professor suing Christian college

For those of you who’ve never signed up to work at a religious school, such entities make it very plain before you work there that certain behavior is expected. 

We are talking, of course, about ink-on-paper doctrinal and lifestyle covenants. Whether it’s drinking alcohol, smoking, drinking coffee (in the case of Mormons) or having sex outside of marriage, certain expectations are made very clear to you before you sign a contract to work in this voluntary association, which is what a private school is, of course.

NPR just did a story on one college professor who didn’t get that message.

A former professor at Northwest Christian University in Oregon is suing the school for allegedly firing her for being pregnant and unmarried, violating the faith-based values of the institution. She says it's discrimination.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: Now a story about a professor in Oregon who says when she told her employer she was pregnant, she got a pink slip instead of congratulations. That's because she worked at a Christian school and because she's not married. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Coty Richardson spent four years teaching exercise science at Northwest Christian University. She says she loved in the small classes at the school in Eugene, Ore., and she loved its values and caring environment…
JOHNSON: But Richardson says that tolerance was put to the test earlier this summer when she told her boss she was pregnant.

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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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An ISIS 'Theology of Rape' — strong New York Times story retreats from Quran details

 An ISIS 'Theology of Rape' — strong New York Times story retreats from Quran details

It would be hard to imagine a story much more hellish than the lengthy New York Times piece that is racing around the Internet today that ran under this blunt headline: "ISIS Enshrines a
Theology of Rape."

However, it is the second piece of the double-decker headline that will be the most controversial and discussed part of this piece: "Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery in conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool."

The bottom line: To make that statement, the Times team needs to show readers specific references in the Quran, by quoting them, and then show proof of how ISIS leaders are interpreting those passages, perhaps through a lens from earlier expressions of the faith. It would then help, of course, to show how mainstream Islamic scholars, and experts outside of Islam, read those same passages today.

The Times gets most of that done and must be praised for making the effort. It is interesting, however, that the weakest parts of the piece concern the actual contents of the Quran and the doctrines being debated. The piece is stronger -- brutally so -- when dealing with the people. 

The Times claims that this "theology of rape" essentially begins on Aug. 3, 2014, with the invasion of the Yazidis communities on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. Among those captured, men and older boys were forced to prostrate and then were sprayed with machine guns. Women and younger children were separated and carried away in trucks, with other goals in mind. Much of this reporting is based on documentation gathered by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

This brings us to the thesis passage of this massive news feature:

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets. ...
A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.
A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous. 

In other words, rape is a form of spiritual discipline when the woman being raped is part of a religion that is considered heresy. Or, as a young girl described what happened before and after she was raped:

“He kept telling me this is ibadah,” she said, using a term from Islamic scripture meaning worship.

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