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Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Did you hear about the historic meeting that will occur today between the media superstar Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia? Is there up-front coverage of this in your newspaper this morning?

The meeting is taking place in Havana for the expressed purpose of voicing support for persecuted Christians facing genocide in parts of the Middle East, primarily -- at the moment -- in Syria and Iraq. There is very little that Rome and Moscow agree on at the moment, when it comes to ecumenical matters, but Francis and Kirill are both very concerned about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in that devastated region.

Have you heard about this in major media?

If you are interested, this was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in. I also wrote about the background of this meeting in a previous GetReligion post ("The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting") and in this week's "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate.

Now, call me naive, but I thought that this meeting would receive major coverage. This is, after all, the first ever meeting -- first as in it has never happened before in history -- between the leader of the pope of Rome and the patriarch of the world's largest branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Syria is also in the news, last time I checked. There is a possibility that Americans -- this is a nation that includes a few Christians who read newspapers -- might be interested in a statement by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill on the massacre of Christians in Syria and elsewhere.

I guess I am naive. It appears that the meeting in Cuba today is not very important at all. I mean, look at the front page of The New York Times website.

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Times Journey into Iran: Business-side embarrassment or news conflict of interest?

Times Journey into Iran: Business-side embarrassment or news conflict of interest?

Intimidation works. In fact, it works quite well, and it appears not to matter whether the intended target is a nation, a kid in the schoolyard or a media outlet.

Witness Iran and the case of Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, recently freed after being held by the Iranian government for 18 months.

Martin Baron, the Post editor, says the newspaper will not station another reporter in Iran until the Islamic republic assures the newspaper that any reporter it sends to Tehran will be allowed to function free of government intimidation.

A cautionary word of advice to Marty: Don't hold your breathe.

So not only did Iran get to hold Rezaian as a bargaining chip during the recent nuclear sanctions negotiations, it also rid itself of one more Western journalistic thorn in its side, that being the Post.

As I said, intimidation works quite well. Journalists working in Russia, Mexico, China, Turkey, Egypt, Cuba, Ethiopia, Burundi and a host of other nations know this all too well. It doesn't matter whether the intimidators are government officials or narco criminals.

But here's a question. Is there a moral conflict of interest issue when the business side of a news outlet chooses to cooperate for financial gain with a government that intimidates journalists, both its own citizens and foreign correspondents?

Specifically, I'm referring to those New York Times operated tours to Iran.

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Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

Weekend think piece: The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting

First things first: Click play on the above YouTube. Now begin reading.

As you would expect, I have received quite a bit of email during the past 24 hours linked to my GetReligion post -- "What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq" -- about the mainstream media coverage of the stunning announcement of a Feb. 12 meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Orthodox Church of All Russia.

As you would expect, much of the press coverage has stressed what this all means, from a Roman Catholic and Western perspective.

This is understandable, since there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and Francis is the brightest star in the religion-news firmament at the moment. People who know their history, however, know that this meeting is also rooted in the life and work of Saint Pope John Paul II, who grew up in a Polish Catholic culture that shares so much with the churches of the East, spiritually and culturally.

I updated my piece yesterday to point readers toward a fine Crux think piece by the omnipresent (yes, I'll keep using that word) John L. Allen, Jr. Let me do that once again. Read it all, please. Near the end, there is this interesting comment concerning Pope Francis:

... His foreign policy priorities since his election have been largely congenial to Russia’s perceived interests. In September 2013, he joined forces with Vladimir Putin in successfully heading off a proposed Western military offensive in Syria to bring down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then, Francis and Putin have met in the Vatican and found common ground on several matters, including the protection of Christians in the Middle East and the growing reemergence of Cuba in the community of nations.

This morning, my email contained another essay by a Catholic scribe that I stress is essential reading for those starting a research folder to prepare to cover the meeting in Havana. This is from Inside the Vatican and it is another eLetter from commentator Robert Moynihan.

This piece is simply packed with amazing details about events -- some completely overlooked by the mainstream media -- that have almost certainly, one after another, contributed to the logic of the Cuba meeting between Francis and Kirill.

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What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

What brings Rome and Moscow together at last? Suffering churches in Syria, Iraq (updated)

It is certainly the most important story of the day for the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians. Yes, even bigger than the announcement -- with the lengthy fast (no meat, no dairy) of Great Lent approaching -- that Ben & Jerry's is poised to begin selling vegan ice cream.

I am referring to the announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Any meeting between the pope and the patriarch of all Russia would be historic, simply because the shepherds of Rome and Moscow have never met before. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

The big question, of course, is: Why are they meeting? What finally pushed the button to ease the tensions enough between these two churches for their leaders to meet?

In terms of the early news coverage, the answer depends on whether you are one of the few news consumers who will have a chance to read the Reuters report, being circulated by Religion News Service, or one of the many who see the Associated Press story that is, I believe, deeply flawed. Alas, the majority of news consumers will probably see a shortened version of the AP report and will be totally in the dark about the primary purpose of this historic meeting.

So here is the top of the Reuters report:

MOSCOW -- The patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church will take part in an historic first meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff on Feb. 12 because of the need for a joint response to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Orthodox Church said.
Senior Orthodox cleric Metropolitan Hilarion said that long-standing differences between the two churches remain, most notably a row over the status of the Uniate Church, in Ukraine. But he said these differences were being put aside so that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis could come together over persecution of Christians.

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Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Elite newsrooms avoid 'liberal' issues, as Obama visits mosque with an interesting past

Present Barack Obama's visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, located in the old Catonsville suburb, was an event that was both important and symbolic for a number of reasons.

For starters, violence linked to the rise of the Islamic State, as well as acts of terrorism inspired by radicalized forms of Islam, have become a bloody normality in world headlines during the years of the Obama presidency. President Obama has attempted to maintain what his supporters argue is a graceful, calm stance on these trends in an attempt to avoid pouring gasoline on the flames. His critics insist that he has chosen blindness, for motives that remain unclear.

Oh, and then there are those bizarre numbers that keep showing up in polls whenever Americans are asked if they believe Obama is, in fact, a Muslim (despite his adult conversion into a liberal, oldline Protestant band of faith).

Thus, the speech at the Baltimore-area mosque received major coverage, as it should. Most of the coverage did a good job of covering, in glowing terms, the content of the Obama message (full text here). What puzzled me, however, was the lack of attention focused on the location. This left me -- as usual -- puzzled about current trends in "liberal" and "conservative" journalism. Hold that thought.

This passage in The Washington Post report captured the mainstream media tone:

The historic 45-minute speech at a large, suburban Baltimore mosque was attended by some of the country’s most prominent Muslims. In what appeared to be a counter to the rise in Islamophobia ...

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Boko Haram strikes again, in attack that burns generic children alive in their huts

Boko Haram strikes again, in attack that burns generic children alive in their huts

 It's a logical question: At this point, does it really matter whether the children burned alive in the latest Boko Haram attack were Muslims or Christians?

On one level, the answer is clearly, "no." It's clear that the forces of Boko Haram -- now loyal to the Islamic State caliphate -- kill anyone who stands in the way of their movement. Perhaps it doesn't matter whether those dying are crying out to Jesus or to Allah.

Yet I would like to argue that this detail does matter. At the very least, I think it is significant that editors at the Associated Press -- who prepare the copy read by most consumers outside of elite news markets -- think that readers do not want to know that detail.

Stop and think about that. America contains a significant number of Christians. If those who died were Christians, are we to assume that many readers would not want to know about these new martyrs and confessors, some of them children?

However, if you look at the images, it certainly appears that the village burned in this attack was a majority Muslim community. I would argue that it is just as important for American news consumers to be reminded -- again and again -- that Boko Haram is slaughtering just as many Muslims, if not more, than Christians. Why? We will come back to that.

I read the following AP report all the way through before it hit me that the identity of the victims was left completely and utterly vague, as if this fact didn't matter. Here is how the report opens:

A survivor hidden in a tree says he watched Boko Haram extremists firebomb huts and heard the screams of children burning to death, among 86 people officials say died in the latest attack by Nigeria's homegrown Islamic extremists.

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On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

On same-sex unions in Italy: What did Pope Francis say and when did he say it?

GetReligion readers: Please help me out on something. I am somewhat confused. Maybe.

Looking back in my email files from the past few days, I just reread a New York Times news story that ran under the headline, "Italy Divided Over Effort to Legalize Civil Unions for Gays." This story ran on Sunday, Jan. 24. Let's assume that this means the final edit was on the previous day (knowing that major weekend reports are usually planned days earlier).

OK, then I read a new analysis piece at Crux, written by the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., that ran under the headline, "Pope Francis sends mixed signals on civil unions for gay couples." This story ran on Jan. 27.

Both articles contain lots and lots of information about the complex cultural politics of Italy. I was, of course, primarily interested in what was said about the role of Pope Francis in the public debates about this hot-button issue in this highly symbolic land.

So let's take this in the order that I read these news material. Shall we?

The Times has this to say about papal moves on this issue:

In the past, the Catholic Church would probably have played a major role in opposing the legislation (as happened in France, where Catholic groups tried in vain to prevent passage of the country’s same-sex marriage law in 2013). But in promoting a more merciful, tolerant tone, Pope Francis has discouraged bishops around the world from diving into culture war issues that have alienated some faithful from the church.

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Update from hot world of Bikram yoga, where scandal still haunts a secular savior

Update from hot world of Bikram yoga, where scandal still haunts a secular savior

Once upon a time, many professionals who covered religion in the mainstream press argued that the future of the beat was covering "spiritual" forces in the lives of average people that played the role of organized religions. Even though the "spiritual, but not religious" slogan was overused, in my opinion, this approach was valid for quite a few stories.

There are people for whom running has become their religion. I know people for whom good wine and cooking serve what has to be a sacramental function in their lives. Ditto for some of the semi-religious movies and online games that all but take over the lives of congregations of young males.

This brings me to another activity that, in every sense of the word, is "spiritual" for many of its followers -- yoga. This is especially true when you are dealing with yoga masters who -- even though they insist their work is "secular" -- fill a guru role in the lives of their disciples, promising to help them change their lives in every sense of the word.

Yet, for some reason, many people (including journalists) think it is controversial to talk about the Hindu roots of yoga, perhaps because yoga has its share of Christian critics who see it as a false religion. Christian critics are always wrong, you know, and thus should not be quoted.

This brings us back to a Los Angeles Times update on the alleged sex scandals surrounding the life and work of the yoga superstar Bikram Choudhury. This is one of those stories that, if there is no "spiritual" hook in it, I'd like the Times team to show me why that is true. As I said in an earlier post about coverage of this scandal, "Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga":

... As all modern urbanites and even suburbanites know, yoga has nothing to do with religion. We're talking about secular gurus, secular healing, secular philosophy, secular transformations and, well, secular spirituality?

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Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

Why shout 'Allahu Akbar!' when killing other Muslims? Did journalists answer that question?

The stories have become tragically familiar. A band of jihadists enters a school or some other public facility somewhere in the Muslim world and massacres a large number of people. Mainstream media offer readers a few numbers and a heart-tugging human detail or two.

The latest nightmare unfolded this week in northwester Pakistan. As I read several news reports, a familiar detail was repeated time after time. This led to a question in my mind, one that I think some journalists need to ponder: "Why would radical Muslims shout 'Allahu akbar!' as they massacre other Muslims?"

In other words, if the basic goal in these stories is to provide the "who, what, when, where, why and how" facts, why not pursue the "why" issue? Some of the stories I read took at shot at this ultimate question and others did not.

The first story I saw was in USA Today. This is as close as it came to talking about this "why" issue:

Basit Khan, a computer science student, said he heard the terrorists through the fog and saw them in classroom buildings.
“They were chanting Allahu Akbar (God is great) when they started firing,” Khan said. “There were attackers in the stairwell and we had no arms to counter them. In the Pashto Department and Computer Science blocks, I saw at least three attackers.” ...

And later there was this:

A Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press reported. Mansoor was the mastermind behind the deadly December 2014 attack on the Peshawar school.
A spokesman for the main Taliban faction in Pakistan, however, disowned the group behind the attack. The spokesman, Mohammad Khurasani, said Wednesday’s attack was “un-Islamic” and insisted the Pakistani Taliban were not behind it. Such statements among the Taliban are not uncommon since the group has many loosely linked factions, tje AP reported.
Khurasani said the Taliban “consider the students in the non-military institutions the future of our jihad movement” and would not kill potential future followers.

That was that.

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