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Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Think piece for a sobering day: 'The Forward' dissects New York Times coverage of Israel

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, an event that -- to my surprise -- is getting very little coverage in the mainstream press on this side of the Atlantic.

Why is that? Any theories?

Perhaps the coverage will be tomorrow, focusing on news events linked to the anniversary. Maybe.

Anyway, this made me think about a piece of journalism-related material that I had hoped to post this past weekend in one of my usual "think piece" slots, but other news jumped ahead in my priorities.

While there is, let me stress, no direct connection between the issue of Holocaust coverage and current debates about coverage of Israel, I thought that this piece from The Forward was very interesting.

I don't know about you, but I often get tired of the usual left vs. right debates in politics, media, religion and culture. In this case, we have a liberal Jewish publication offering a serious critique of the newspaper -- The New York Times, of course -- that serves as holy writ for the cultural left. The headline: "The New York Times and its Israel Bias --The Gray Lady's Blind Spot."

This piece, in turn, opened with a Times hook -- a column by Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in response to waves of letters from readers about this topic.

The key is a topic that your GetReligionistas hear about all of the time from our readers: How are people supposed to believe that the EDITORIAL perspective shown in social media and columns is completely separated from the worldview that drives the hard-news coverage in the same publication?

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Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Once again, we are seeing the dreaded orange jumpsuits on our television screens during the news. Once again, it appears that we have an Islamic State video threatening the lives of hostages, if a Western power does not give the terrorists what they want.

This time, it's Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is facing the threats made by the YouTube-seeking terrorist with the British accent.

And who are the two hostages? What are there stories and, this time around, will journalists dig into the poignant details?

In The Washington Post, readers were told early on:

Japanese officials declined to discuss whether they would consider paying for the release of the hostages: journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and self-styled military consultant Haruna Yukawa.

The Post team doesn't tell us much about Goto, but is truly interested in the details of the story behind the "self-styled" -- what a loaded term -- military consultant.

Goto, 47, a well-respected Japanese journalist, was last heard from Oct. 24. He had told friends he was traveling to Kobane, a flashpoint town on the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is unclear exactly where he was kidnapped while covering Syria’s multiple conflicts.

And Yukawa? That's another story:

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Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

Associated Press serves up Pope Francis for dummies: Affirm the doctrines, ignore the rules?

As he so often does, Deacon Greg Kandra looked at a news story about the Catholic church and summed it up in a crisp one-liner, a skill honed to a fine edge during his quarter of a century with CBS News. At his "The Deacon's Bench" blog (must reading for journalists on the Godbeat) he proclaimed: "BREAKING: The pope is still Catholic."

Pope Francis is Catholic? As opposed to what?

That's a big issue in the mainstream press, these days. Kandra's ironic headline pointed readers toward this Associated Press report from the recent papal stop in the Philippines, which began like this:

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception, using a Friday rally in Asia's largest Catholic nation to urge families to be "sanctuaries of respect for life."
Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued the Philippines for decades and urged officials to instead work to end its "scandalous" poverty and social inequalities during his first full day in Manila, where he received a rock star's welcome at every turn.

The "sanctuaries" quote led into a very interesting passage that deserves close attention. You see, it is one of those doctrine-affirming statements that Francis often makes, yet these affirmations tend to draw minimal mainstream media coverage, especially in comparison with the waves of coverage that have followed some papal remarks that, when edited, seem to undercut orthodoxy.

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Preacher Terry Jones -- yes, him again -- on burning scriptures, crispy fries and free speech

Preacher Terry Jones -- yes, him again -- on burning scriptures, crispy fries and free speech

Want to take an interesting and, frankly, rather surprising trip to the front lines in the post-Charlie Hebdo wars over the First Amendment?

Well, the Washington Post offered exactly that in its recent feature story updating the tale of the Rev. Terry Jones -- he isn't granted "the Rev." in this story for some strange reason -- the Florida preacher globally known for trying to burn Korans. The video above is a flashback, of course, to a previous blast of coverage.

What did Jones do to merit coverage, once again? The lede is dead perfect:

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the week began, there was Terry Jones, infamous burner of Korans and the No. 2 target on an al-Qaeda hit list, in plain sight at a Florida mall. Around the world, millions were mourning victims of the massacre in Paris who included another target on the hit list, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, but Jones was at the food court in DeSoto Square running his french fry stand.
The canned music, the display at Vitamin World -- this was the landscape of America’s most brazen offender of Islam, working the counter at Fry Guys Gourmet Fries with a 9mm strapped to his ankle. ...
The 63-year-old preacher has faced hundreds of death threats. He’s got a $2.2 million bounty on his head from the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But until the attacks in Paris, few knew he had just opened a business at a struggling mall on U.S. 41 in Bradenton. When fears of global terrorism were once again stoked, Jones moved back into crusade mode. Fry Guys became a strange pulpit of defiance and chili cheese dogs, and people came to see him for both.

Let me be clear: Other than labeling Jones a "fundamentalist" and moving on, this article isn't all that interested in why the man does what he does and believes that he believes. However, it does offer a surprisingly evenhanded slice of life involving people who are attracted to his public agenda.

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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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The new (actually rather old) debate: Is it really time for French Jews to flee? Why?

The new (actually rather old) debate: Is it really time for French Jews to flee? Why?

Several times during my years working as a religion-beat reporter in mainstream newsrooms, I heard editors, usually with a moan, say something that sounded like this: "Why in the %*&# is it taking so $%^*&@# long for the leaders of (insert name of religious group here) to make up their mind about whether or not to (make a historic change in this or that doctrine or rite, usually in the name of cultural relevance, often linked to the Sexual Revolution)?"

The problem, of course, was that I had been saying things like: This is a major story. Big issues are at stake and we need to cover it, because XYZ could happen." Then, as often happens, the religious group's leadership would settle for some kind of tiny, subtle victory, after realizing that it was too risky to make a major change and, thus, there were no big headlines.

The bottom line is that radical changes take place very slowly in institutions that are hundreds or thousands of years old and lots of money, property, power and, for many people, eternal truths are at stake. If you are going to cover religion, you have to be patient enough to cover big changes that are taking place over time. This is not a beat for people with short attention spans. I like to say that covering religion news is rather like covering politics and opera at the same time.

This brings us, of course, to the truly historic story unfolding in Jewish neighborhoods in France, where Jews are hitting the exits.

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Correction? Associated Press misses a key detail in story about canonization of Joseph Vaz of Sri Lanka

Correction? Associated Press misses a key detail in story about canonization of Joseph Vaz of Sri Lanka

Papal tours are, in many ways, the Olympics of the religion-news beat and, in each and every one, there are complicated stories that require even the most experienced of reporters to improve the quality of their research folders.

And so it is with the Associated Press team that cranked out a "Pope Watch" feature the other day on some of the colorful details of the Pope Francis visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. This version ran in The New York Times.

In one case, the editors got a bit too eager to find yet another example of this charismatic, superstar pope being willing to push traditions aside and do his own thing. This led to a mistake that I hope they correct.

The subject is the canonization of the Blessed Joseph Vaz as Sri Lanka's first saint. The background on Vaz notes that:

... He was actually born an Indian in 1651 in what was then the Portuguese colony of Goa. Vaz spent 23 years ministering to the Catholic community in Sri Lanka, sometimes working in secret because of the threat of persecution by the island's Dutch rulers, who were die-hard Calvinists.

Note the persecution reference.

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Three things I liked about The Washington Post's story on French Muslims torn by 'I am Charlie' slogan

Three things I liked about The Washington Post's story on French Muslims torn by 'I am Charlie' slogan

In an excellent story on French Muslims, The Washington Post introduces readers to a different side of Paris. 

The Post steps off the beaten path of reporting in the wake of last week's terror attacks and ventures into a heavily Muslim suburb.

Here's the nut graf (aka the summary up high that tells readers why they should care):

Within France’s Muslim community of some 5 million — the largest in Europe — many are viewing the tragedy in starkly different terms from their non-Muslim compatriots. They feel deeply torn by the now-viral slogan “I am Charlie,” arguing that no, they are not Charlie at all.
Many of France’s Muslims — like Abdelaali (a 17-year-old high school senior) — abhor the violence that struck the country last week. But they are also revolted by the notion that they should defend the paper. By putting the publication on a pedestal, they insist, the French are once again sidelining the Muslim community, feeding into a general sense of discrimination that, they argue, helped create the conditions for radicalization in the first place.

This story succeeds on at least three levels.

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Journalism and blasphemy: Can The New York Times cover Charlie Hebdo images with words, alone?

Journalism and blasphemy: Can The New York Times cover Charlie Hebdo images with words, alone?

So who is forgiving who and for what?

In the world of religion, and human rights, there is one story out there that must be discussed today and that's the post-massacre issue of Charlie Hebdo. The problem, of course, is that print journalists are trying to discuss a visual image -- yet their decision to show, or not to show, the image itself is affecting their coverage.

The New York Times -- one of the key players in this debate -- has a lengthy report on this subject that, to be blunt, quotes an admirable array of experts on what the cover may or may not mean. It's a fine story, in many ways. However, as GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway notes with near fury at The Federalist, where's the art? We'll be back to that in a minute.

Here is how the Times states the crucial issue: What does the cover say?

The cover shows the bearded prophet shedding a tear and holding up a sign saying, “I am Charlie,” the rallying cry that has become synonymous with support of the newspaper and free expression. Above the cartoon on a green background is the headline “All is forgiven.”
While surviving staff members, at an emotional news conference, described their choice of cover as a show of forgiveness, most Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous. Moreover, interpretations quickly swirled around the Internet that the cartoon also contained disguised crudity.

So forgiveness mixed with, yes, blasphemy. I would also like to raise another question: While the "All is forgiven" statement is not in a thought balloon, is it completely clear who is being forgiven and who is doing the forgiving?

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