In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

The Associated Press Stylebook — the Bible of American journalists — has this entry on use of the term "so called":

so called 
(adv.) so-called (adj.) Use sparingly. Do not follow with quotation marks. Example: He is accused of trading so-called blood diamonds to finance the war.

After reading the AP's latest story on some consumers' boycott of Target over its transgender bathroom policy, I'm thinking the wire service might want to use "so called" a little more sparingly. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let me back up and remind readers of what I said about the editorialized nature of "so called" nearly a year ago.

Back in the present: GetReligion earlier highlighted media coverage of the #BoycottTarget petition that has — as of this moment — close to 1.2 million signatures.

In that post, I suggested:

Here's what I'd love to see: an actual person who signed the petition quoted and given a chance to explain why. (Or maybe even more than one!)

So let's check out the AP story, starting at the top:

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AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

AP report shows that college 'lifestyle' and doctrinal covenant issues are here to stay

I have met more than few students during my life -- which has included on-campus visits to at least 50 Christian colleges and universities -- who enrolled in a school without knowing much of anything about its doctrinal and denomination ties that bind.

In some cases, their parents did all of the homework and background reading and the student wasn't really part of the process. In other cases, it appeared that parents who were marginal believers or even secularists simply wanted to send their child to "a safe place."

Did they read the fine print when they signed on the bottom line? Did they sweat the details in the school's student handbook or the lifestyle-doctrinal covenant? Did they make an informed decision and truly commit themselves to the school's mission? In some cases -- not really.

I bring this up because clear, articulate, honest doctrinal statements are becoming more and more important, in an age in which the U.S. government seems determined to substitute "freedom of worship" for the Constitution's commitment to the "free exercise" of religious beliefs. For example, consider the lines drawn in the Health and Human Services mandate language between churches and other doctrinally defined ministries and schools.

This leads me to an important Associated Press story from the other day that religion-beat journalists (ditto for those covering politics) will want to read. This is the rare story that will please LGBT activists and, while AP writers may not have realized it, it will also (behind the scenes, maybe) please the leaders of some proudly conservative religious schools. Here's the overture:

BOSTON -- Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark is pushing legislation she says will help members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community make more informed decisions about college.

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Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Why a pastor who served as St. Louis Cardinals' chaplain was fired by his megachurch

Back in March, I critiqued a newspaper profile of the St. Louis Cardinals' team chaplain — a pastor named Darrin Patrick.

My review focused on the lack of details concerning Patrick's actual faith and church background.

Well, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed up that earlier feature with an in-depth story on Patrick today.

The new piece made the front page, but it's not positive news.

The lede:

ST. LOUIS — Shepherding a megachurch is tied in many ways to America’s celebrity culture. There’s a push for big-stage events and around-the-clock access through social media to a pastor’s life and thoughts.
It’s a formula that amplifies the message and multiplies the flock, in congregants who show up on Sunday for worship and in tens of thousands more followers online.
High visibility can also set pastors on a correction-course with humility that evangelical Christians call getting right with Jesus.
The Rev. Darrin Patrick, 45, of Webster Groves, is one of the latest on such a path. Elders at The Journey, a popular megachurch he founded with his wife in 2002, fired him a few weeks ago for what they viewed as pastoral misconduct.
Among the allegations:
• Lack of self-control.
• Manipulation.
• Misuse of power.
• History of building an identity through ministry and media platforms.
• Not adultery, but “inappropriate meetings, conversations and phone calls with two women.”
Reached by telephone, Patrick said he didn’t have more to say other than what The Journey outlined in a three-page letter to members, heavily footnoted in Scripture.
“I have four kids, little kids,” Patrick said, voice cracking. “I am trying to protect my family and figure this out.

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Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

The Atlanta Journal Constitution raises Deep South, Civil War-era caricatures in its weekend story on cultural stresses in Tennessee.  And it does so in almost a robotic, paint-by-the-numbers style.

The article strains mightily to contrast urbane, liberal city dwellers with backward, "ignorant" -- yes, one source uses that word -- country folk. It takes a patronizing attitude toward these yahoos and pits people on the street against scholars and think-tankers. It even compares so-called "bathroom bills" in some states with "White" and "Colored" signs from segregation days.

How else to read paragraphs like:

Across the country -- the South in particular -- a wave of bills, proposals and court fights in recent months are again ramping up the culture wars. The measures come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a decision many religious conservatives see as an assault on their beliefs.

And:

The South finds itself in the middle of that conflict. It’s a place where city folks may have a decidedly different take on social issues than their peers in the country, a region where progressive notions rub up against more traditional, conservative values.

For context, the article brings Georgia's"religious liberty" bill -- complete with sarcasm quotes -- vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. There's also Gov. Bill Haslam vetoing a bill to make the Bible the state book in Tennessee, then signing a bill to let counselors refer out people who conflict with their "sincerely held principles" -- yes, more sarcasm quotes -- to reject gay, lesbian, transgender and other clients. Would it be better for these religious counselors to handle these cases, even though they have a clear conflict of interest?

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A great loss for old New Yorkers; a greater loss for Serbian Orthodox believers at Pascha

A great loss for old New Yorkers; a greater loss for Serbian Orthodox believers at Pascha

If you have seen images of the fire that gutted the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava in New York City -- with the flames blasting through the rose window -- then you know why onlookers described this as a scene from hell.

In terms of the news coverage, this was a pretty straightforward story that metro-desk journalists know how to cover. You get quotes from eyewitnesses, you nail down the details from the proper city authorities and that is pretty much that.

A reader asked for my reactions and, frankly, I didn't think there would be much that was worthy of comment, in terms of journalism. I could offer my reactions as an Orthodox believer, of course.

This morning, however, I saw the two-story package in The New York Times and there are several points I would like to make -- about the bad and the good.

As you would expect, the Times team made it very clear this building was a historic and beloved landmark in the city, offering an entire sidebar on the sanctuary's history -- stressing that it once was an Episcopal chapel created by the historic Trinity Church congregation in lower Manhattan. In other words, this wasn't just a New York landmark. This was a landmark of "old" money New York. In the past, this was a church that really mattered.

But the coverage did not slight the Serbians who have called the church their spiritual home for decades. However, there is evidence in the main report that some members of the Times team may not have understood all of the details provided by the Orthodox witnesses.

Here is the my main point: The story does not include details of the Easter -- the Orthodox call this greatest of all feasts "Pascha" -- services that took place in the hours before the blaze.

Why is this crucial? To be blunt, the church would have been full of hundreds of people with candles.

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Washington Post looks at the Harris Wofford love story, but ignores a big Catholic ghost

Washington Post looks at the Harris Wofford love story, but ignores a big Catholic ghost

I realize that my reading habits are not those of your typical American news consumer. In addition to a heavy, heavy daily dose of the offerings of major newspapers and the websites of broadcast operations, I frequent many alternative sites linked to religious groups and commentators.

In other words, I am reading people who share GetReligion's obsession with the religion angles behind the headlines. I'm out there looking for religion "ghosts," of course.

This means that I first ran into news about that interesting wedding announcement by former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford -- made public in a New York Times commentary piece -- on an alternative Catholic news and commentary site, before I saw the mainstream coverage.

The headline on this piece by former CBS Evening News producer Greg Kandra (now the Catholic deacon blogging at "Headlines and Homilies") jumped on the religion angle: "At 90, Harris Wofford -- Former Senator and Catholic Convert -- Announces He’s Marrying a Man."

Does the "Catholic" angle really matter, in this case?

Let's look at the Washington Post coverage before we make a call on that question. Here is the overture. Prepare for some intense DC Beltway name dropping.

Harris Wofford, a former Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, John F. Kennedy’s presidential assistant on civil rights and an intimate of Martin Luther King Jr., will wed at his Foggy Bottom apartment Saturday before a gathering of family and friends. Dinner is to follow at a neighborhood Italian restaurant.
The groom is 90.

The other groom, Matthew Charlton, is 40.

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If it's May 1, it must be Beltane; The Oregonian takes a nice, clean look at pagans

If it's May 1, it must be Beltane; The Oregonian takes a nice, clean look at pagans

About 25 years ago, I covered a meeting of pagans –- or witches –- or maybe it was both, for The Houston Chronicle. They were decked out in all manner of robes, rabbits foot talismans and jewelry.  What struck me about this particular group was how most of the believers seemed to be aging hippies.  

It reminded me of my Society for Creative Anachronism days where we all ran about in medieval dress, using modes of speech rich with “prithee sir” or "wouldst thou, fair knight, pour me a class of wine?" The costumes didn't change the fact that there were a lot of lecherous guys there who used the occasion to hit on me and my friends.

I still took a second look at the beautifully written Oregonian story on Beltane, the May Day feast celebrated by a pagan group in Portland that is very big on costumes. It’s not always easy to get the trust of groups involved in Wicca or Druids or other earth religions, so it’s saying something that this group allowed a reporter into their midst.

Jonathan Levy was bored. His girlfriend was busy with National Novel Writing Month. He sulked. "Make friends," she said, shooing him away.
The reasonable step, he notes with a laugh, would have been to join a kickball team or volunteer crew or any one of Portland's many social organizations. Instead, he launched a new religious congregation for neo-pagan Druids.

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Front-page profile of a hip youth pastor: Is it the journalism or the theology that's shallow?

Front-page profile of a hip youth pastor: Is it the journalism or the theology that's shallow?

Ah, the hip youth pastor.

He's got tattoos. He's got cool music. He's got a neat way of making old Bible stories new, such as referring to the woman who tried to seduce Joseph as "Hot-iphar."

And on Sunday, one such pastor made a splash on the front page of the Dallas Morning News.

Yes, the News — which no longer employs a full-time religion writer — devoted its Page 1 centerpiece and 1,500 total words to this profile:

With lines out the door and bouncers handing out wristbands, the Wednesday night gathering seemed more like a trendy nightclub opening than a church service.
Hundreds of students packed the youth center of River Pointe Church, about 30 miles southwest of Houston, for the weekly service of The Take. They sang along to high-energy songs about Jesus and pulled out their phones to take photos and send Snapchat messages.
“I’m at the take where ru”
“The take is lit!”
In a small green room backstage, 34-year-old Landon Pickering monitored the mood in the auditorium to make sure the focus was on faith, not just fun.
Pickering is a Keller-based youth leader who helps congregations like River Pointe develop programs that get young people flocking to church. He studies brands like Apple, Nike and Red Bull to learn how to attract young audiences. He keeps on top of the latest trends in fashion, music and social media to engage kids and bring them to Christ.
Pickering’s appearance — with ripped jeans, tattooed arms and slick hair — is more pop star than preacher. Last year he was a cover model for The Dallas Morning Newsfashion magazine FD and dubbed the “holy hunk.” His events give away the freshest Nikes as door prizes and play the hottest Drake beats in the vestibule before services.

By my sarcasm up top, you might surmise that I wasn't totally thrilled by the piece. You'd be exactly right.

But here's the thing: I'm not entirely sure whether it's the theology or the journalism that bothers me. Honestly, it's probably a combination of the two.

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Hey AP: Did you really mean to state, citing no source, that the Holy Fire rite is a fraud?

Hey AP: Did you really mean to state, citing no source, that the Holy Fire rite is a fraud?

The world's Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrated Pascha (Easter) this weekend, a full month later than Western churches this year. This is one of those exotic dates on the calendar that usually draws a little bit of coverage in the mainstream press.

At the very least, journalists spend a few lines trying to explain the mysteries of the ancient Julian calendar and why all those people with candles were marching around in the middle of the night singing (in the haunting Byzantine chant tone 6) the following, in English or the language of a particular parish's ethnic roots:

Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, the Angels in Heaven sing.
Enable us on Earth to Glorify Thee in Purity of Heart.

In recent years, there has been a growing news-media awareness of the ancient "Holy Fire" rites in Jerusalem, which offers journalists an annual chance to wrestle with claims of the miraculous. My theory is that this news story has, in part, been gaining some traction because of smartphone videos being posted on YouTube each year.

So here is the top of a typical short Associated Press report this time around, with one line that jumped out at me. See if you can spot it.

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Thousands of Christians have gathered in Jerusalem for an ancient fire ceremony that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection.

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