World

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

In the bloody Middle East, journalists must strive to use accurate labels

At first glance, there would seem to be little connection between the two items that I want to spotlight in this post. The connecting thread is that, every now and then, people in the public square (including journalists) need to be more careful when assigning labels to some of the key players.

So what happened in the Breitbart headline pictured above -- since taken down -- linked to the speech by Sen. Ted Cruz at the recent "In Defense of Christians" conference, an event focusing, in particular, on the brutally oppressed ancient churches of the Holy Land. Surf a few links in this online search to catch up on this media storm on the political and cultural right.

It's a complicated news story, one that hits home for me because of the years I spent in a majority-Arab Eastern Orthodox parish. Trust me when I say that I understand that some Arab Christians are anti-Israel and I have met some who sometimes veer all the way into anti-Semitism. I understand that some focus their anger on Israel, since it's hopeless to curse the radical forms of Islam that have, over decades and centuries, have inflicted so much pain on their families and communities. I understand that some of the Christians who heard Cruz praise Israel, in the bluntest possible terms, were offended. Read the details and make up your own mind.

Now look at that headline. 

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Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything.

The maxim is as true in acting as it is in writing.

What set Jack Benny (pictured) or Groucho Marx apart from their peers was not the quality of their material, but their delivery. Great comedians, as well as actors, singers, writers and other performers are masters of rhythm and tempo – delivering their lines at the right moment, with the right emphasis that conveys the external and internal meaning of their lines.
 
Timing is also important in journalism. One of the marks of superior journalism is its auricular qualities: It sounds as good as it reads. And there is also the timing of sources and material in constructing a story.  This gratification of eye and ear is what sets the great above the commonplace reporters.

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God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

Some might argue that the war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge ( צוּק אֵיתָן), was the major news story out of Israel this summer.  The seven week military operation launched by the IDF against Hamas certainly was the focus of the majority of news stories. The quantity of stories on a topic, however, is not a reliable gauge as to the importance of an issue. 

In 2008 I was part of the Jerusalem Post’s team covering the Second Lebanon War (albeit in my case as their London correspondent reporting on the European and British responses). That war between Israel and Hezbollah generated a great deal of ink, but that conflict has quickly disappeared from current memories. It was another in an unending series of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and their surrogates. The sharp rise in public displays of anti-Semitism in Europe in the wake of Operation Protective Edge may give this latest war “legs”, but the issues, actors and outcomes have not changed all that much.
 
Were I to add, only partially tongue in cheek, another candidate for the “big” story out of Israel this summer, I would nominate this item in Newsweek

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Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not 'Islamic,' but not everyone agrees

Radical militants and religion: Obama says ISIL is not 'Islamic,' but not everyone agrees

In his prime-time address to the nation Wednesday night on fighting the Islamic State militant group — also called ISIS and ISIL — President Barack Obama declared:

Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not "Islamic." No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

Noting what Obama said, CNN suggested:

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama was trying to make a broader point when he uttered "ISIL is not Islamic," but the four-word phrase could still come back to haunt him.
Critics on Twitter quickly fired off on the President for making the assertion, with many noting that ISIL in fact stands for the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." (CNN refers to the group by the acronym ISIS in its news reports. The group recently started calling itself the Islamic State).

Religion reporter G. Jeffrey MacDonald posed relevant questions that may be helpful for Godbeat pros and other journalists.

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There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

The BBC this week ran an article with the misleading headline "Israeli police bust 'messianic' prostitution ring." 

It's a misleading headline because normally when the word "Messianic" is used in relation to Jews, it refers to adherents of Messianic Judaism -- but that is not the case with the cult described in the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the story does not make this clear.

Some background: Messianic Judaism is a form of Protestant Christianity that strongly identifies with Jewish ritual, prayers, and cultural identity. In other words, Messianic Jews believe the Jewish Messiah has already come, and his name is Yeshua -- Hebrew for "Jesus." (My own faith journey included brief involvement with the Messianic Jewish community.)

The BBC's story, although not identifying the cult as Christian, reinforces the implication that Messianic Jews were behind the prostitution ring when it refers to women being forced by a "messianic sect" to have sex with "non-Jews":

Details have emerged from Israel about a prostitution ring in which Jewish women were allegedly forced into having sex with non-Jews by a messianic sect.

Two men and two women are being detained on suspicion of exploitation.

Police say the victims were brainwashed into believing that having sex with non-Jews would "save the Jewish people and bring about redemption".

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The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes' front page

The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes' front page

A photo of a crowd at what appears to be a rock concert dominates the front page of today's New York Times.

No, the image has nothing to do Apple's U2 album giveaway, although the Irish rock band makes a cameo appearance at the end of the Times'  Page 1 feature on a "megachurch with a beat."

I'll make a few constructive criticisms (that's why they pay me the big bucks, after all), but it's a solid story overall with a terrific, colorful lede:

LOS ANGELES — A toned and sunburned 32-year-old Australian with the letters F-A-I-T-H tattooed onto his biceps strode onto the stage of a former burlesque theater here and shouted across a sea of upstretched hands and uplifted smartphones: “Let’s win this city together!”
The crowd did not need much urging. Young, diverse and devoted to Jesus, the listeners had come to the Belasco Theater from around the city, and from across the country, eager to help an Australian Pentecostal megachurch that is spreading worldwide establish its first outpost on America’s West Coast.
The church, Hillsong, has become a phenomenon, capitalizing on, and in some cases shaping, trends not only in evangelicalism but also in Christian youth culture. Its success would be rare enough at a time when religion is struggling in a secularizing Europe and North America. But Hillsong is even more remarkable because its target is young Christians in big cities, where faith seems out of fashion but where its services are packing them in.
Powered by a thriving, and lucrative, recording label that dominates Christian contemporary music, it has a vast reach — by some estimates, 100,000 people in the pews each weekend, 10 million followers on social media, 16 million albums sold, with its songs popping up in churches from Uzbekistan to Papua New Guinea

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What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

From time to time, I receive private emails from readers who think this website's insistence that mainstream journalists need to cover both sides of doctrinal debates between Muslims is, to be blunt, just a clever way of bashing Islam.

Why else should journalists, for example, need to listen to and then quote what Islamic State leaders have to say about the role of women or the need for tough blasphemy laws in the modern world? We already know the radicals are wrong, so why be guilty of "false balance" and accurately quote what they are saying?

Why indeed? I would argue that journalists cannot cover the facts in these stories -- such as the gruesome executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- without quoting the religious language in these religious debates. The bottom line: It is not prejudice against Islam to cover both sides of crucial debates between Muslims.

This brings me to the end of that stunning column today by David Brooks of The New York Times, the one about the powerful theological symbolism involved in beheading someone.

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Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Patience, boss. The mainstream press got to the story on day two.

GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, questioned Wednesday why major media outlets seemed to be ignoring the Jewish faith of Steven Sotloff, the latest journalist executed by Islamic State militants.

While tmatt said he could understand withholding that incendiary detail while radical Islamists held Sotloff, he asked:

However, why — now — is the faith element of this tragedy not relevant to editors at CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.? Why isn't this part of the basic factual material at the foundation of this tragic story?

But it didn't take long for that basic factual material to start making its way into mainstream news accounts. Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein was among those who jumped on the story.

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What is this? The Daily Beast rolls on with its 'bedroom' jihad updates

What is this? The Daily Beast rolls on with its 'bedroom' jihad updates

Here is a question that your GetReligionistas have often debated among ourselves in the past: When it comes to basic questions about journalism, what is The Daily Beast? Is it an openly progressive advocacy publication, something along the lines of Rolling Stone or Salon (or The New York Times on issues of moral theology)?

Part of the problem is a matter of labeling. There are advocacy sites, on the political right as well as the left, that do plenty of valid work when it comes to reporting news. But when readers call up these sites, it's hard to know what is what. Maybe editors should color code the graphics? Something like blue graphics for advocacy and red for news at liberal sites and the other way around at conservatives sites?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately because of the ongoing Beast coverage of the issue of Islamic State leaders openly recruiting women from the West to join in what some have called "bedroom radicalism" or even "bedroom jihad." The latest report along these lines is pretty straightforward, when it comes to describing the case of 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood of suburban Glasgow:

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