That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

Certainly, the plight of Muslims in America is a relevant subject for quality journalism in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

But where is the quality?

When major newspapers decide to delve into that subject matter, I wish they'd do some actual reporting. Real reporting.

Instead, too many stories follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism. The latest example comes courtesy of the largest newspaper in Minnesota, a state I happen to be visiting this week.

In a story headlined "Non-Muslim Minnesotans are donning the hijab to show support," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune muddles through a hodgepodge of sources connected by random facts.

The lede:

Nade Conrad's long black hair disappeared under the cover of a lilac hijab.
"I feel different," she said.
Conrad, who is not Muslim, had donned the scarf to show support for a Muslim friend at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
Such acts of "hijab solidarity" are on the rise.
World Hijab Day, a global event inviting people of all faiths to post pictures of themselves in a hijab on social media, is gathering steam. It was at a World Hijab Day event at Normandale — one of several such events held at Minnesota colleges in early February — that Conrad first tried on a hijab.

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Doctrinal questions? Chicago Catholics have fewer marriages, babies and, well, priests

Doctrinal questions? Chicago Catholics have fewer marriages, babies and, well, priests

The big Catholic news out of the Archdiocese of Chicago -- the nation's third-largest diocese -- has become shockingly normal, perhaps so normal that journalists aren't even asking basic questions about this trend anymore.

The Chicago Tribune put one of the big numbers right up top in its latest report, noting that the Chicago archbishop -- a man closely identified with the tone of the Pope Francis era -- is now facing a crisis that will literally cost him altars. How many churches will he need to shutter? The current estimate is 100.

It's hard to keep Catholic church doors open without priests:

A radical overhaul in the nation's third-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese could shutter many of the Chicago church's houses of worship by 2030 as it reckons with decaying buildings and an expected shortage of priests, the church's chief operating officer confirmed Friday.
Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich told priests and advisers in meetings in recent weeks that the shortage -- an estimated 240 priests available in 2030 for the archdiocese's 351 parishes -- could necessitate closings and consolidations. The archdiocese governs parishes in Cook and Lake counties.

So what are the basic questions here? Yes, obviously, there is the question Catholic leaders have been asking for several decades: Where have all the seminarians gone? Why is a larger church producing fewer priests?

Looking at the hard-news coverage of the Chicago crisis, other questions leap to mind (or to my mind, at least). People keep saying that the "demographics" of the church have changed. This is true, but that only raises more questions that link demographics and doctrine. Hold that thought.

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Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

Listening to D.C. debates: Who speaks for Southern Baptists?

A constant commandment for journalists is to “assess thy sources.”

The running debate on “what is an evangelical,” so pertinent for newswriters during this presidential campaign, involves “who speaks for evangelicals” and consequently “who speaks for the Southern Baptist Convention”? The sprawling SBC is by far this category’s  largest U.S. denomination, with 15.5 million members, 46,000 congregations, and $11 billion in annual receipts.

As noted by Jonathan Merritt in Religion News Service, the issue has been pursued with a vengeance by Will Hall, the new editor of the state Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana. Hall targets as unrepresentative the denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and its president since 2013, the Rev. Russell D. Moore, 44, who’s the Southern Baptists’ prime spokesman on moral and social issues in the public sphere.

An editorial by Hall charged that Moore’s dislike for presidential candidate Donald Trump in particular “goes beyond the pale, translating into disrespect and even contempt for any Christian who might weigh these considerations differently” while Moore otherwise “has shown apparent disdain for traditional Southern Baptists.”

Moore is certainly outspoken about Trump. In a New York Times op-ed last Sept. 17, he said evangelicals and other social conservatives who back the billionaire “must repudiate everything they believe.”  He joined the 22 essayists in the “Against Trump” package in the Feb. 15National Review. Moore said with Trump, “sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power” that religious conservatives should view as “decadent and deviant.”

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Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

Making mass murder personal: The Pakistani newspaper Dawn finds a way with '144 Stories'

In the midst of humdrum life here and entranced as we were by Lady Gaga’s stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the opening of the Super Bowl, we often forget how the other half lives many time zones away.

A recent piece in the Los Angeles Times reminded us of a place where schools are a death trap and the martyrs tend to be in their teens.

What Malala Yousafzai went through in 2012 is something other kids are still living through. Every now and then, this madness makes headlines.

On Jan. 20, the Taliban did a raid at a university in Charsadda, northwest Pakistan, that left 21 people, mostly students, dead. It’s hard to imagine the depth of insanity that propels grown men to mow down defenseless girls and boys, but that’s life today in that tense, often splintered, Islamic republic.

The Times reminded us that the security crisis in Pakistan is not going away and how schools and universities are “soft targets” for the Taliban, which strikes at will.

So, how do you keep reporting on a place where massacre follows massacre?

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Hillary Clinton takes to Flint, Mich., pulpit, and New York Times brings its King James language

Hillary Clinton takes to Flint, Mich., pulpit, and New York Times brings its King James language

I traveled to Flint, Mich., over the weekend to report for The Christian Chronicle on that city's lead-tainted water crisis.

While meeting with a source Sunday afternoon, she mentioned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had come to Flint that day to speak at a black Baptist church. We decided to swing by the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church, and I snapped a picture of Clinton leaving that I posted on Instagram.

Since I didn't actually hear Clinton speak, I was curious what she said and checked the news coverage — my GetReligion antenna up and ready to spot any holy ghosts.

Clinton's description of the poisoned water in Flint as "immoral" was the soundbite that caught the media's attention — and rightly so.

This was the lede from NBC News:

FLINT, Michigan — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for "action now" to combat the toxic water crisis here Sunday in a speech to a packed congregation.
"This has to be a national priority," Clinton said at the House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church. "What happened in Flint is immoral. The children of Flint are just as precious as the children of any part of America."

And from the Detroit Free Press:

FLINT — Solving the problems of contaminated water in Flint has to remain a local, state and national priority for the foreseeable future, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told city residents gathered in a Baptist church Sunday afternoon.
"Clean water is not optional, my friends. It’s not a luxury," she said. "This is not merely unacceptable or wrong. What happened in Flint is immoral. Children in Flint are just as precious as children in any part of America."

So was there any spiritual component to Clinton's remarks at the church? We noted last month that Clinton, a United Methodist, doesn't often discuss her faith on the campaign trail.

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Vice Sports lets Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., preach about Cam, sports and maybe even God

Vice Sports lets Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., preach about Cam, sports and maybe even God

Unless you have been on another planet, you are aware that the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl L.

You also probably know that National Football League MVP Cam Newton was sacked six times, knocked down a dozen-plus times and ended the game in a state of frustration and even rage. This followed, of course, weeks of public discussion of whether many fans don't approve of his joyful, edgy, hip-hop approach to celebrating life, football, his team and his own talents.

This led to the press conference from hell, when Newton -- forced by the NFL to take questions in the same space, within earshot, of the Broncos' victory pressers -- had little to say, while his eyes said everything. A sample:

What's your message to Panthers fans?
"We'll be back."
Ron [Rivera] said Denver two years ago had a tough time and they bounced back. Do you take that to heart?
"No."
Can you put a finger on why Carolina didn't play the way it normally plays?
"Got outplayed."
Is there a reason why?
"Got outplayed, bro."

You get the idea. With that as a backdrop, let's move into GetReligion territory -- in the form of a long, long Vice Sports piece by Eric Nusbaum about the Newton family and, especially, a Sunday morning spent listening to the superstar's Pentecostal preacher dad, Bishop Cecil Newton, Sr., of the Holy Zion Center of Deliverance. The headline: "The House that Built Cam."

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About that church girl on The Voice: Might faith have something to do with her music?

About that church girl on The Voice: Might faith have something to do with her music?

Anyone who follows GetReligion knows that I am really into music of just about every kind (basically everything except opera and pop-country). I have never, however, been a fan of the whole world of reality TV.

So you put the two together -- pop music and reality TV -- and I would much rather cue up something from my massive Doctor Who library.

However, I do live in East Tennessee and was pretty hard not to notice, in the newspapers at least, when a show like The Voice got down to the final two singers and both of them were from here in the Hills. The winner of season nine was Jordan Smith, from down the valley at Lee University, and the runner-up was a young woman from Knoxville named Emily Ann Roberts.

Now, if you follow those polls to determine America's most religious or "Bible-minded" cities, then you know that Knoxville is not exactly Portland, either Maine or Oregon. Thus, it didn't take a doctorate in sociology to figure out that, here in Dolly Parton territory, young Roberts has spent some time singing in church.

This showed up -- in the vaguest possible terms -- in a recent Knoxville News-Sentinel update on her life and work after the finale of The Voice.

This was not a hard puzzle to figure out, folks. Let's start right at the opening:

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South Carolina caucus: Post and Courier tells us more about GOP than Democrats

South Carolina caucus: Post and Courier tells us more about GOP than Democrats

Gotta pinch myself sometimes when I read the respectful treatment this year for evangelicals -- especially in matters like the Wisconsin caucus last week. And in a more recent advance in the Post and Courier for the South Carolina vote.

The story not only takes a courteous tone, but shows a seasoned view on politics and religion around the state. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. But it's sharper on the Republican/evangelical side than the Democratic/mainline side. Especially when it comes to black churches.

Just as New Hampshire polls as the least religious state, "almost 80 percent of all voters identify as Christians" in South Carolina, the Post and Courier says. "And what they hear in the pews often affects what they do at the polls." With that terrain established mapped out, we're prepared for the broad outlines:

On the GOP side, evangelical voters make up a super-majority of the party’s base, and they are attuned to where candidates stand on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. However, experts note they don’t always settle on a single candidate who they feel best advances their cause.
The state’s black voters make up most of the Democratic Party’s base, and for them, churches have served as a galvanizing force to advance civil rights and other shared goals.

We read a short advance on a Faith and Family rally at Bob Jones University, to be attended by all the GOP candidates except Donald Trump. Oran Smith, director of the sponsoring Palmetto Family Alliance, reveals a surprising paradox: Because of the very dominance of evangelicalism in South Carolina, "they are more apt to consider economic and security issues along with social issues."

Another deft touch: The Post and Courier says Smith holds a degree in political science from Clemson University -- then quotes a sitting political science professor at Clemson for some valuable background:

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Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

The Zika virus is all over the news, right now, so it isn't surprising that journalists are looking for other news stories they can connect to it.

This past week, I received several notes from readers about the following Washington Post "Inspired Life" feature. One came with the traditional trigger warning: "Have tissues ready."

The reader could have added this warning: "Prepare to read about a powerful human drama that is haunted by a religion ghost." The headline: "What this amazing mom of two girls with microcephaly has to say about Zika scare." Here is the classic feature-story overture:

Gwen Hartley’s 19-week sonogram was normal. Her baby girl, her second child, was going to complete her storybook life. She’d married her high school sweetheart, they already had a healthy son, a house and a dog.
When Claire was born, Hartley looked adoringly into her daughter’s big eyes and remembered thinking that she’d forgotten how tiny a newborn’s head was. Then the doctors whisked her baby away. Something was wrong. Something that couldn’t be fixed.

After a series of misdiagnoses, the Hartleys, of Kansas, were told Claire had microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes babies to have extremely small heads and brains, and, in her case, made it unlikely she would live beyond a year. Almost five years later, Claire was defying the odds and, although she couldn’t speak or walk or even sit upright, she was a happy and vibrant child. The Hartleys felt ready to get pregnant again.

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