Memory eternal: Editing out P.D. James the believer and the mystery of the human heart (and soul)

Memory eternal: Editing out P.D. James the believer and the mystery of the human heart (and soul)

If asked to name the work of new fiction (in other words, as opposed to Jane Austen) that I have read in the past few decades that moved me the most, I would without hesitation say "The Children of Men" by P.D. James.

No, I have not seen the movie that is allegedly based on the book because friends who are fierce James fans warned me not to. Why? They said the team behind the movie ripped out the book's gripping Christian foundation, which I have heard referred to as a sci-fi take on the "Culture of Death"  theme in the work of Saint John Paul II.

Here is the last sentence of the book, in which an underground (and very fragile and flawed) circle of Christian believers fight to bring life back into a world that has mysteriously gone sterile: "It was with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with her blood that he made on the child's forehead the sign of the cross."

Now, we are watching a similar editing process take place in some -- repeat some -- of the mainstream media obituaries for one of the most important English writers of the past half a century.

C.S. Lewis said the world didn't need more "Christian writers," it needed Christians who were willing to do the hard work of writing for everyone. That was P.D. James. The great Dorothy L. Sayers considered murder mysteries the perfect form of writing for Christians because they open with an act of undeniable evil (evil exists) and then someone goes into the world seeking concrete evidence of truth (truth exists) in order to produce justice (it is possible to do good in the real world). That's P.D. James, as well.

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AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

AP finds distortions in Boston Globe story on Vatican sex-abuse prosecutor

After I expressed concern that a Boston Globe story on the Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse left unanswered questions, Religion News Service's David Gibson tweeted to GetReligion:

@GetReligion @tweetmattingly Worth checking this out, @nwinfield did some asking around http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Top-US-Jesuit-defends-Vatican-sex-prosecutor-5917303.php …

The Associated Press's Nicole Winfield sought to fill in the blanks from the Globe story and uncovered a significant distortion:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The head of the Jesuits in the United States defended the Vatican's new sex crimes prosecutor Tuesday, saying he had virtually no role in the order's handling of a notorious pedophile now serving a 25-year prison sentence.
The Rev. Timothy Kesicki, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, spoke to The Associated Press after The Boston Globe reported that the prosecutor, the Rev. Robert Geisinger, failed to report the abuser to police when he was the second highest-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago province in the 1990s.
Kesicki said Geisinger only worked for the Chicago province for about 14 weeks, from late December 1994 through March 1995, and never again. He was brought in as a temporary executive assistant to the acting provincial while the regular provincial was in Rome for a big Jesuit meeting. Geisinger had no governing authority and was tasked mainly with maintaining correspondence for his boss, said Kesicki.

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Who rescued Rusty? Art? God? Prison? Dallas newspaper doesn't clear it up

Who rescued Rusty? Art? God? Prison? Dallas newspaper doesn't clear it up

"Lord, have mercy," Leonard "Rusty" Medlock says twice in a profile in the Dallas Morning News. Let's all pray the same as we puzzle over the newspaper's article.

On the one hand, Medlock is quoted several times saying that only God's grace awakened his artistic talent in prison, where he was serving time for a drug conviction. On the other hand, the newspaper says Medlock's very incarceration -- or his own talents -- turned his life around.

This dichotomy starts with the first two paragraphs:

No one has to sell Leonard “Rusty” Medlock on the idea of giving people second chances.
The same situation that threatened to marginalize him in society — a prison term for drug-related felonies — liberated him in a Texas prison.

See it wasn’t God, it was prison that liberated Medlock.

But wait, the headline says: "Set free by art in prison, ex-convict paints a new life for himself." So, it was neither God nor prison, it was art.

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The Aftenposten and abortion in Norway: All the news that's fit to print

The Aftenposten and abortion in Norway: All the news that's fit to print

“All the News That’s Fit to Print” first appeared on the cover of the New York Times on October 25, 1896. The newspaper’s publisher Adolph Ochs adopted the slogan for professional and business reasons.

Ochs wanted to set the Times apart from its more sensationalist competitors, filling the market niche of New York’s quality newspaper. Pursuing high quality journalism not only was a moral good, it could make money also, he believed.

The business model adopted by Ochs and other “quality” newspapers at the start of the 20th Century guided the empirical practices of the mainstream press for most of the last century, though tabloids in the United States and the “red tops” in the United Kingdom have never followed this code.

Over the last 25 years the Ochs model has been challenged by the advocacy press approach, where a newspaper reports on a story from an openly avowed ideological perspective. A French newspaper reader knows that when he reads about the same issue in LiberationLe MondeLe FigaroLa Croix and L’Humanite he will be presented with left, center left, center right, Catholic and Communist perspectives of an issue.

In and of itself, such an advocacy approach is not a bad thing.

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The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I find it sad, but not all that surprising, that the journalistic virus that your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism" is spreading out of the elite zip codes along the East and West coasts.

Once again, "Kellerism" is a form of advocacy journalism that is practiced by journalists who are working in mainstream newsrooms, as opposed to newsrooms that openly admit that they have a dominant editorial point of view, or template, on many crucial issues in the public square. The term grew out of remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 forum (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. 

Here, once again, is a chunk of an "On Religion" column I wrote about his response when he was asked if -- it's a familiar question -- the Times can accurately be called a "liberal newspaper."

“We’re liberal in the sense that ... liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. ... “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” ...
Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes -- and did even before New York had a gay marriage law -- included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

As I have noted several times, the key words are "aside from." Why use a balanced scale when editors already know who is right?

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Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

Boston Globe story on Vatican prosecutor's alleged failure to report abuse leaves unanswered questions

The Boston Globe ran a story over the weekend alleging that the Vatican's top prosecutor on sex-abuse cases failed to report an abusive priest to civil authorities when he was a high-ranking official in the Jesuits' Chicago Province.

Given the legwork that reporter Michael Rezendes put into culling the sources for the story, the piece is well worth your time, but it leaves some unanswered questions. There's a lot of smoke here, to be sure, but it leaves me with the feeling that the Globe could have gone to greater length to locate the source and extent of the fire. 

Here's the lede, the wording of which suggests some delicate legal vetting:

A prominent American Jesuit recently named by Pope Francis to prosecute priests accused of sexually abusing minors under church law was himself one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years after learning of his long history of sexual abuses, legal documents show.
The Rev. Robert J. Geisinger, named in September as the Vatican’s “promoter of justice,’’ was the second-highest-ranking official among the Chicago Jesuits in the 1990s when leaders were facing multiple abuse complaints against the Rev. Donald J. McGuire, a globe-trotting priest with many influential supporters, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But the Jesuits failed to notify police or take effective steps to prevent McGuire from continuing to molest minors.

Got that? Geisinger was "one of several Catholic officials" who knew about McGuire's abuse but "failed to notify police or take effective steps" to prevent him from re-abusing. What is being suggested is not that he actively sought to cover up, but that he enabled evil to perpetuate by failing to do the right thing.

The story continues:

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'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades? 

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would to experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period. 

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

In all too many weeks, the Saturday “Beliefs” column provides the only coverage of religion in The New York Times. The influential daily’s Nov. 8 item dealt with World, an unusual Christian magazine because it covers mostly general news rather than just parochial topics.  This biweekly for those wanting “Christian worldview reporting that reinforces their core beliefs” has a conservative slant on politics as well as faith.  A recent GetReligion post by our own tmatt, for example, noted his differences with the journalistic philosophy of World Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky. 

Sadly, investigative reporting has suffered greatly with media downsizing and the Times rightly commends that aspect of World’s work. Religious periodicals generally don’t rake muck, especially about folks sharing their ideology.

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What role did clergy play during #Ferguson chaos? If journalists looked, they were there

What role did clergy play during #Ferguson chaos? If journalists looked, they were there

Anyone who has studied the role of religion in American history knows why the voice of clergy have always played such a crucial role in the story of African-Americans in this land.

During the darkest days in the generations after death of slavery, fierce racism continued to prevent all but a few brave blacks from pursuing degrees in law, medicine and other elite fields. The vast majority of those who earned elite degrees served others in black communities and that was pretty much that.

But in the historic African-American churches, men went to seminaries (and among Pentecostals, in particular, women as well) and returned to become the public voices of the people in the pews and on the streets. They were the faces that were turned outward, into society as a whole.

This brings us to #Ferguson, of course, and the coverage of the events after the grand jury report was made public.

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Once again, #Ferguson defies easy analysis but demands solid journalism and context

Once again, #Ferguson defies easy analysis but demands solid journalism and context

Three months ago, the question was: "What the hell is happening in Ferguson, Mo.?"

Here we go again. 

I'm supposed to write a post this morning critiquing media coverage. But honestly, the situation at this point defies easy analysis and understanding.

Daniel Burke, editor of CNN's "Belief Blog," made an excellent point on Twitter: "Journalism, and context, are so crucial." Can our Godbeat friend get an "Amen!?"

I do know that some excellent religion writers are on the scene, including Lilly A. Fowler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who has been tracking the faith angle in Ferguson for months and — after a late night — was back bright and early this morning.

CNN's Eric Marrapodi is in Ferguson, too. 

While his duties extend beyond religion, he's certainly attuned to that crucial angle.

If you see solid religion reporting in Ferguson or come across any holy ghosts, please don't hesitate to let us know — either in the comments section or via @getreligion.

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