ISIS keeps torturing and killing Christians: Why is this merely 'conservative news'?

ISIS keeps torturing and killing Christians: Why is this merely 'conservative news'?

If you follow religion news at the global level, then you know that the Internet era has led to the rise of many alternative wire services, most of which produce news stories that are mixed with material advocating the views of the sponsors.

You can take the advocacy stuff or leave it. What matters to journalists is whether the editors of this material have a reputation for getting their facts right when to comes to dates, names, institutions and sources.

You see, the issue isn't whether these "news reports" can be printed in the mainstream press. The issue is whether there is material in them that mainstream journalists can verify and use as the starting point for their own independent reporting.

The Assyrian International News Agency is one such wire service and it is especially crucial to us (I am an Eastern Orthodox layman) with a special interest in the horrors that continue to unfold for Christians in the ancient churches of the Middle East. Here is a chunk of a recent AINA report:

Twelve Christians have been brutally executed by the Islamic State, including the 12-year-old son of a Syrian ministry team leader who had planted nine churches, because they refused to renounce the name of Jesus Christ and embrace Islam. The martyrs were faithful to the very end; right before one woman was beheaded by the terror group, she appeared to be smiling slightly as she said, "Jesus!"

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News hooks: Religion, politics and war and joining the home team's cheering squad

News hooks: Religion, politics and war and joining the home team's cheering squad

Organized religion can support personal piety very nicely. Ditto when it comes to performing good works. But then there's the flip side. Religion can also serve as a fig leaf for nationalism, political schemes and militarism. 

We see this last dynamic at work today primarily within the Islamic world. However, it's certainly not confined to Islam. And its certainly not just a contemporary phenomenon. (Check your Bible, Qur'an or any number of history books about Europe, Asia and the Americas for ample examples.)

Moreover, we know the damage done by these dark-side impulses can linger in religious memories for decades and even centuries. And not just in connection with today's headline grabbers, such as when Islamists refer to Christians as crusaders. They're also there behind the scenes, providing the heat for simmering historical conflicts that can flare up without clear warning.

Take Japan's refusal to fully face up to it's shameful treatment of the so-called "comfort women," a euphemism for the women from occupied nations that World War II-era Japan forced into sexual slavery. (I'll get back to this below.)

What I view as the downside of organized religion is, I'm sure, no surprise to anyone who reads GetReligion.

However, it's always worthwhile to remember how easy it is for organized religions -- as well as the journalists who cover them -- to become part of the the home team cheering squad.

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Beleagured Jehovah's Witnesses in South Korea get sympathetic treatment in New York Times

Beleagured Jehovah's Witnesses in South Korea get sympathetic treatment in New York Times

Jehovah’s Witnesses are notoriously tough to interview.

They didn’t used to be. Back in the late 1980s while I was on the religion beat at the Houston Chronicle, I arranged for myself and a photographer to follow a team work its way, door by door, through a certain posh neighborhood. Other than the fact they tried to convert me and we got into an argument as to whether Easter should be a Christian festival, it was an enlightening time. I was amazed at how rude people were to these visitors and how many doors were literally slammed in their faces.

But in 2012, when I assigned students in my religion journalism class at the University of Maryland to find a JW team to follow around, I learned that no Witnesses could talk with us now unless their New York headquarters allowed them to. And I could never get anyone from New York to answer my calls.

Which is why this New York Times story of the horrors that Witnesses face when refusing military service in South Korea was a real coup.

No doubt the Witnesses over there talked because they wanted to get word out about how bad things truly are in the Land of the Morning Calm. When reading this story, just take into account that it's unusual to get Witnesses to cooperate much with the media. The article starts out with:

SEOUL, South Korea -- Since he was a teenager, Kim Min-hwan knew he would have to make a choice: abandon his religious convictions or go to prison.

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Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister

Say what!? Associated Press quotes a gay-rights activist, calls him a Baptist minister

If you quote a gay-rights activist at a protest, what should you call him?

The Louisville Courier-Journal describes the Rev. Maurice Blanchard as "a gay-rights activist." 

Blanchard appears pretty high up (the sixth paragraph, to be precise) in this Courier-Journal report:

As a youth growing up in an evangelical household in North Carolina, Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten said he got some firsthand experience with "conversion therapy" when, as an adolescent, he came out as gay.
His parents sent him to a religious counselor to try to eliminate "my sinful desires," an experience that left him depressed, isolated and, at times, suicidal.
"It's an experience I still have scars from," he said.
Monday, Guldenschuh-Gatten, 32,  joined about 40 others in front of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to protest a three-day conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors on homosexuality and transgenderism.
Organized by the Fairness Campaign, protesters prayed and held signs opposing what they call misguided efforts at counseling based on the belief homosexuality and transgenderism are wrong or sinful. It prompted horn honks and shouts of support  from drivers passing by the bucolic seminary grounds on Lexington Road.
"This is absolutely and utterly wrong," said the Rev. Maurice Blanchard,  a gay-rights activist in Louisville. "It's spiritual abuse, that's what it is."

Like the Courier-Journal, The Associated Press turns to Blanchard as a go-to source among the protesters.

Before we consider the AP's approach to Blanchard, though, here's the AP's newsy lede:

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Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology -- and the lives of women

Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology  -- and the lives of women

No matter what else is going on in the world, the Islamic State is still out there attacking cities and seizing territory, constantly striving to create its new version of a heaven on earth, which in this case is called a "caliphate."

By definition, a caliphate is an Islamic state led by a "caliph." So what precisely is a "caliph"?

A typical definition offered by a Western dictionary defines this term as:

* an important Muslim political and religious leader
* a successor of Muhammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islam -- used as a title

So a caliph is both a political and religious leader, quite literally a man who is claiming to be a "successor of Muhammad."

Now, with that in mind let's look at a key passage in a new Washington Post story -- " 'Till Martyrdom Do Us Part" -- about the lives of woman inside the territory controlled by ISIS. This includes women who have volunteered to be part of the Islamic State, as well as those who have been kidnapped. This story is part of an ongoing Post series about life inside the caliphate.

Let me stress that this feature is quite well reported, which is amazing in light of the restraints under which reporters are working when attempting to cover the Islamic State. Much of the attributed information is based on ISIS social media and, I found this amazing, Skype conversations with people living inside the caliphate.

Then there is this summary material that serves as a kind of thesis statement:

In the Islamic State’s ideology, a woman’s place is in the home, tending to her husband and producing children.

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Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

The Times of Israel and the Israeli government went GetReligion on two networks -- BBC and Al-Jazeera -- for their mishandling of an attack on Jews in Jerusalem and the counterattack by Israeli police.

The drama began on Saturday evening, when a teen stabbed three people in Jerusalem, killing two and wounding the third.  Police shot the attacker at the scene. BBC then outraged many Israelis, including Israeli media, with its headline: "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two." Sounded like the shooting had nothing to do with the attack. And that it mattered that the shooting victim was Palestinian but not that the stabbing victims were Jews.

After a public outcry, the news network changed its headline several times, but only drew more ire. The headlines weren’t cited in the Times, but they were by a group called BBC Watch, to which the article gave a link.

BBC's second headline was better but still tone deaf: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City 'by Palestinian.' " Looked like sarcasm quotes, meant to cast doubt.

Third try: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City by Palestinian," no quote marks.

Fourth try was the charm: "Jerusalem: Palestinian kills two Israelis in Old City."

BBC Watch still expressed ire: "In other words, professional journalists supposedly fluent in the English language had to make three changes to the article’s headline in not much more than an hour." The organization also faults BBC for not reporting that Hamas and Fatah praised the dead stabber, Mahannad Halabi. (Then again, neither does the Times of Israel in the story above.)

At least the article appears to get the facts straight:

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Can journalists handle questions about Catholic theology linked to LGBT issues?

Can journalists handle questions about Catholic theology linked to LGBT issues?

It's getting to the point where one is tempted to believe that many mainstream journalists simply have no interest in accurately reporting what the Roman Catholic Church, or many other traditional religious institutions, believe when it comes to doctrines linked to homosexual orientation and behavior.

Consider, for example, the top of this Associated Press report -- as posted at NBC News -- about that monsignor who staged a coming-out presser the other day. The headline: "Vatican Fires Gay Priest Who Came Out Before Global Meeting."

First of all, the Vatican doesn't "fire" a priest as a priest. He was fired from his position with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Now, might this priest eventually be "defrocked" for violating this vows? That's another issue altogether.

Anyway, here is the top of this warped little AP story:

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican on Saturday fired a monsignor who came out as gay on the eve of a big meeting of the world's bishops to discuss church outreach to gays, divorcees and more traditional Catholic families.
The Vatican took action after Krzysztof Charamsa, a mid-level official in its doctrine office, came out in newspaper interviews in Italy and Poland saying he was happy and proud to be a gay priest, and that he was in love with a man whom he identified as his boyfriend.

Now, was Charamsa fired because he was gay?

The answer would be "no." The Catholic church does not discipline priests who -- from the church's doctrinal viewpoint -- carry the burden of being sexually attracted to those of the same gender. Temptation is not a sin. The questions in play are (a) has this priest honored his vows of celibacy, (b) does he support the Catholic doctrines and (c) has he taken public actions opposing church doctrines?

So, again, was Charamsa fired because he was gay?

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'Are you a Christian?': Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting

'Are you a Christian?': Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting

Major media went to church Sunday in Roseburg, Ore., to report on the faithful coming together after Thursday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

It's time for a "big news report card" on that coverage.

For this report card, I use three main criteria to grade the coverage, including:

• Actual religion content (does the story reflect real prayers, Scriptures, sermons, etc., or just reference generic assemblies?).

• Below-the-surface reporting (does the story rely on clichés or actually delve into the faith angle and spiritual matters?).

• Compelling overall story (beyond the religion questions, is this a solid piece of journalism?).

Read on to see my grades and brief comments:

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Once again, New York Times reporters travel deep into the mysterious Bible Belt

Once again, New York Times reporters travel deep into the mysterious Bible Belt

When you have read as many mainstream news stories about church-state conflicts as I have, the minute you spot another one your mind begins asking a familiar litany of questions.

Like this one: Will the reporters find anyone to interview on the cultural left, other than an expert linked to the omnipresent Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

I mean, you know that someone from the Freedom From Religion Foundation will appear in the article. This is usually the group that is responding to something that someone in the Midwest or the Bible Belt has done to initiate the conflict that is the hook for the story. So you know that the journalists will have talked -- as they should -- with Annie Laurie Gaylor of the foundation.

But why settle for these two groups over and over, especially when dealing with conflicts in the Bible Belt? Why not seek out church-state professionals who live and work in that region?

This leads to the next question: Who will the journalists from the elite Northeast seek out, when researching the story, to serve as expert voices for the other side, for the cultural conservatives involved in this story? I mean, if journalists doing a story of this kind need to talk to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (and they do) and they need to talk to experts on the church-state left (and they do), then who will they find to serve as experts on the other side, on the cultural right?

News flash! There are plenty of academics and lawyers now who work on what could be called the church-state right. There are even folks in think tanks that are in the middle (#gasp). If journalists are going to talk to the groups on the left (as they should), then they also need to talk to experts on the other side. That would be the journalistic thing to do.

This brings us to rural Georgia (you don't get more Bible Belt than that), where representatives of The New York Times (you don't get more elite Northeast than that) are trying to figure out why the locals -- police in this case -- keep wanting to pull God into public life. Here's the top of the story:


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