Pope Francis in South Korea: Broad variety of coverage

Pope Francis in South Korea: Broad variety of coverage

How do you get the New York Times interested in Protestants?

Easy. Quote the Protestants freaking out over a visit by the Pope Francis. In classic form, the newspaper uses a single source to explore (exploit?) differences among Christians as Francis prays for peace and unity there.

It's one of more than 3,900 articles on the first pope to visit Korea since John Paul II in 1989.

It's also an extreme example of the antagonistic coverage the church gets from American reporters, according to an article by Father Thomas Reese in the National Catholic Reporter.  Reese complains that while obsessing over abortion, gay marriage and birth control, reporters have been ignoring other actions of the American bishops -- such as their stances on the environment, disarmament, immigration reform and peace in the Middle East.

That sounds really, really serious, when this Reese piece is actually quite hilarious, which is why religion-beat pros have been chattering about it for days. This is your chance to hear (read, actually) a priest respond "Go in peace" after a journalist curses.

But back to the pope and South Korea. We'll get to the Times'  behavior later. Fortunately, other stories show some lucid, literate coverage.

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Your weekend think piece: It's time for our politicians (and journalists) to get religion

Your weekend think piece: It's time for our politicians (and journalists) to get religion

Yes, this post is about an op-ed piece from an advocacy publication.

However, every now and then your GetReligionistas share material of this kind when it has obvious relevance to debates about the quality of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press, here in America and abroad. This Damian Thompson piece from The Spectator (hat tip to Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher) is precisely that kind of think piece.

The context, of course, is the wave of persecution and violence in Syria and Iraq, with the Islamic State leading the charge. The U.S. government experts watched and watched and watched (thank you, Kristen Powers) as this tsunami of blood rolled over the land, affecting all kinds of religious minorities, including Christian communities with roots all the way back to the early church fathers.

Why the delay? Partially, it was a matter of politics. The right wants to blame President Barack Obama for literally everything that is going on. The left still wants (with just cause, in my opinion) to keep bashing the culture-building dreams of President George W. Bush, who was absolutely convinced that Western democracy works for everywhere, for everyone, even without that whole Bill of Rights thing going on.

Thompson's thesis is quite simple: Our elites just don't get religion.

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Pod people: Vigils, protests and church activism in wake of #Ferguson

Pod people: Vigils, protests and church activism in wake of #Ferguson

As the nation's spotlight stays focused on Ferguson, Mo., your friendly GetReligionistas remain interested in religion story angles and, yes, even ghosts.

In this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the chaos and protests in that St. Louis suburb since a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

A few religion angles have crossed our radar, such as this Huffington Post report.

But beyond the coverage I highlighted Thursday, few strong #Ferguson faith angles seem to have emerged. Not that Godbeat pros such as Sarah Pulliam Bailey — a former GetReligion contributor who now serves as a national correspondent for Religion News Service — haven't tried.

So far, the Ferguson religion coverage has been about "vigils and protests and church activism," Sarah said in response to a question from me. She added: "I feel like the media have been pulled in so many different directions this week: Robin Williams, Ebola, Iraq, Israel, Ferguson, Pope Francis in South Korea. I think it's been hard to drill down and get good reporting on all of the stories."

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The master sergeant, Obama, Chick-fil-A and missing details about religion

The master sergeant, Obama, Chick-fil-A and missing details about religion

First things first: Yes, I know that people who volunteer to join the military need to realize that they are surrendering some of their First Amendment rights.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting issues linked to politics and, yes, religion in the recent Military Times article about the retired master sergeant who has filed a lawsuit claiming that toward the end of his 15-year service in the U.S. Army Band he was "systematically persecuted by a politically correct cabal."

The key is that Nathan Sommers claims that the leaders who controlled his career -- leading to a sub-par job evaluation and a shove out the exit door -- consistently "tried to censor his speech and mock his religious beliefs.”

So, what are the crucial details that a journalist would need to include in this piece in order to cover this man's claims in an accurate and fair manner?

At the very least, we need to know some specific details about his political beliefs and speech. But the most controversial angle here is the religion hook. That is essential. We need the details.

GetReligion readers will not be shocked to learn that the Military Times team does a good job with the political material. Religion? Not so much.

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In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

In Iraq and Syria, the main good news is the growing quality of the (bloody) coverage

The monstrous, history-making events in northern Iraq can overwhelm reporters and audiences alike, as our own tmatt noted a few days ago. But rather surprisingly, coverage has broadened in breadth and depth and enterprise.

A huge variety of outlets -- from Time to Vox  to Fox to the BBC to The Guardian to Al-Arabiya  to the New York Daily News -- have weighed in with coverage, analysis and background. They're not all equally good, of course.

An outstanding example of perspective is in the Washington Post, where veteran reporter Terrence McCoy examines the reasons for the brutal, merciless warfare waged by the Islamic State. He cites several sources who say that the crucifixions, beheadings and mass killings are no mere battlefield excesses -- they were planned as tools to paralyze some people, polarize others.

One of the more fearsome excerpts:

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Catholic school students 'forced' to study their faith, says Globe & Mail

Catholic school students 'forced' to study their faith, says Globe & Mail

"Catholic schools force students to study religion despite court order," says the Toronto Globe and Mail.

That's not an op-ed. It's the headline of a hard-news article by education reporter Kate Hammer that gives ample voice to disgruntled parents of students at Ontario Catholic schools while failing to solicit comment from those on the other side of the issue.

The story begins:

Catholic schools in Ontario are requiring students to take religious courses despite a recent court decision that ruled they can’t be forced to attend.
In multiple correspondences reviewed by The Globe and Mail, Catholic school board officials from across the province have denied requests from Catholic high-school students that they be excused from religious studies on the basis that their parents are Catholic school ratepayers.

Yes, I know that line about "Catholic school ratepayers" is confusing to an outsider. It has to do with the fact that Catholic schools in Ontario are fully funded by the state. Bear with me and all will be made clear.

First, let's look at the "multiple correspondences" that the article cites to back up the lead. It seems that at least three parents provided the Globe and Mail  with the letters they received denying their requests to exempt their children from religion courses. The article gives no indication of how the newspaper came to receive correspondence from all three at the same time. Did they put out a call for such information? Was the story given to them by some sort of advocacy organization?

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NYTimes Metro desk probes some of the church-state ties that bind

NYTimes Metro desk probes some of the church-state ties that bind

I continue to field questions about the meaning of the term "Kellerism," which is well on its way to entering the GetReligionista dictionary. To catch up on that debate, surf this collection of links or, in particular, read this earlier post.

The bottom line: "Kellerism," a direct reference to you know who saying you know what, is deliberate advocacy journalism in coverage of hot-button stories linked to religious, moral and cultural issues. The key is that The Times, as an institution, has never formally stated that its commitment to accurate, balanced coverage has been edited in this manner. This is a selective bias.

However, some recent trends at The Times may require a slight tweaking of my definition. It appears that "Kellerism" primarily kicks into play in stories addressing issues linked to the world's most powerful newspapers's defense of sacred doctrines linked to the Sexual Revolution. Long-suffering religious believers who continue to follow the newspaper day after day may have noticed that its Metro desk is producing some very interesting and fair-minded coverage of religion.

Consider the recent news feature that ran under the headline, "De Blasio’s Prekindergarten Expansion Collides With Church-State Divide."

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Amen to this question: 'What the hell is happening in Ferguson, Mo.?'

Amen to this question: 'What the hell is happening in Ferguson, Mo.?'

In Ferguson, Mo. — dubbed "Baghdad, USA" by The Huffington Post and labeled a "A CITY ON EDGE" in a banner headline by today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch — Wednesday's arrests of two prominent journalists for the apparent crime of doing their jobs caused a Twitterstorm.

The social media outrage produced some, um, religious overtones.

"What the hell is happening in Ferguson, Mo.?" asked The Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride.

Those of us who write for GetReligion are religion journalists. But first of all, we are journalists. As such, I can't help but say "Amen!" to the question by McBride, a leading expert on media ethics.

Seeing photos like the Associated Press image tweeted by the Chicago Sun-Times, it's difficult to imagine that the scene unfolding in suburban St. Louis is actually happening right here in the United States of America.

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God, Ebola, postmodern journalism and Nigeria

God, Ebola, postmodern journalism and Nigeria

The Ebola epidemic has produced mixed bag of reporting from the Western press. With 961 dead and almost 2000 cases reported in West Africa as of August 8, the deadly hemorrhagic fever has been covered in “on the spot”, “man in the street”, “news analysis” and science/health reports.

Some of the stories have been over the top and some quite good -- but few have looked at the epidemic from the point of view of those living in West Africa. The theme and tone of stories printed by The New York Times, for example, is American, secular and condescending. It presents the story through the filter of Western sensibilities and attitudes.  The religion angle to this story, when mentioned, is cast in post-Modernist or secularist terms: Africans are rubes who need guidance from America.

Criticism of the reporting on the “international health emergency” -- so described by the World health Organization -- has begun to appear. 

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