Blind spot in South Carolina: Revisiting media's (lack of) coverage of faith in police shooting death

Blind spot in South Carolina: Revisiting media's (lack of) coverage of faith in police shooting death

In a couple of recent posts (here and here), we highlighted holy ghosts in media coverage of Walter Scott's police shooting death in South Carolina.

As we pointed out, the faith of Scott's parents was impossible to miss in major network interviews, even as those asking the questions seemed intent on ignoring the religion angle.

Host Todd Wilken and I discussed the coverage in this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast. Click here to tune in.

During that discussion, I mentioned a comment that tmatt made on one of my previous posts. Tmatt pointed to a classic quote from Peter Jennings, the late ABC anchor, about the media's blind spot in such cases. The setting was a 1993 conference on religion and the news at Columbia University in New York.

Tmatt recalled Jennings' observations in a 2005 column:

The anchorman tried to blend in, but a circle formed around him during a break. It was easy to explain why he was there, he said. There is a chasm of faith between most journalists and the people they cover day after day. Six months later, I called him and asked to continue to conversation.
Anyone who has watched television, said Jennings, has seen camera crews descend after disasters. Inevitably, a reporter confronts a survivor and asks: "How did you get through this terrible experience?" As often as not, a survivor replies: "I don't know. I just prayed. Without God's help, I don't think I could have made it."
What follows, explained Jennings, is an awkward silence. "Then reporters ask another question that, even if they don't come right out and say it, goes something like this: 'Now that's very nice. But what REALLY got you through this?' "
For most viewers, he said, that tense pause symbolizes the gap between journalists and, statistically speaking, most Americans. This is not a gap that is in the interest of journalists who worry – with good cause – about the future of the news.

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ISIS silver lining: Can our elites (journalists included) still deny persecution of Christians?

ISIS silver lining: Can our elites (journalists included) still deny persecution of Christians?

If you follow issues of human rights and religious freedom abroad, you will surely recall the recent incident in which the Islamic State released that video showing the execution of 20 Egyptian Coptic believers and one Ghanian man whose identity is harder to pin down. All have been declared martyrs for the faith.

Readers may also recall that there was a bit of controversy when the public statement about this tragedy released by the White House, speaking for President Barack Obama, merely condemned the "despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens."

Citizens? The Islamic State executions had been very specific in saying that their victims were chosen because of their connection to "crusaders," the "hostile Egyptian church" and the "Nation of the Cross."

Citizens?

Now there is this new vision of martyrdom, as noted in quite a few mainstream reports today. This material comes from the veteran correspondent David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times foreign staff, who is known for "getting religion" in the world around him:

The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from affiliates in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.

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Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Kellerism on right? Dialogue with atheist reader about coverage of military chaplains

Your GetReligionistas get quite a few emails from readers that you never hear about "out front" here on the blog. Many are from professionals on the Godbeat and others come from journalists on copy desks and on other beats. All are read carefully and appreciated.

We also have critics, of course, and we pay close attention to them, too, especially the constructive folks who are actually talking about journalism issues, rather than their own pet political or cultural issues. One long-time reader I have always appreciated is atheist Ray Ingles, who makes regular appearances in our comments pages.

The other day he sent me a Washington Times URL for a story on another military-chaplain dispute, with the simple question in the email subject line: "Do you think this was balanced?" The story opened like this:

Soon there may only be atheists in the foxholes.
Christians are leaving the U.S. military or are discouraged from joining in the first place because of a “hostile work environment” that doesn’t let them express their beliefs openly, religious freedom advocates say.

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CNN gets it right (as opposed to Reuters) about Muslim assault on Christians on the high seas

CNN gets it right (as opposed to Reuters) about Muslim assault on Christians on the high seas

There are times when you read an article that is so jaw-dropping shocking that you do a double take.

Then you read it again. And again.

Then you start seeing the same story in other mainstream news outlets and sometimes the facts are there and sometimes they are not. Let's look at several, starting with the CNN report that really grabbed my attention.

I am talking about the CNN piece on the defenseless Christian refugees who drowned Tuesday or Wednesday when Muslims threw them overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Rome (CNN) Muslims who were among migrants trying to get from Libya to Italy in a boat this week threw 12 fellow passengers overboard -- killing them -- because the 12 were Christians, Italian police said Thursday.
Italian authorities have arrested 15 people on suspicion of murdering the Christians at sea, police in Palermo, Sicily, said.
The original group of 105 people left Libya on Tuesday in a rubber boat. Sometime during the trip north across the Mediterranean Sea, the alleged assailants -- Muslims from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal -- threw the 12 overboard, police said.

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Abducted, not forgotten: Media put spotlight back on kidnapped Nigerian girls

Abducted, not forgotten: Media put spotlight back on kidnapped Nigerian girls

What a tragic relief to read mainstream media's stories on Nigeria this week.

Tragic, because more than 200 of the girls abducted from Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram last year still haven't been rescued -- and, as the nation's new president says, may never be.

A relief, because the media remembered the one-year anniversary this week.

Things like that often fade from public view as other stories grab headlines. So the follow-up stories in newspapers like the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and news services like Reuters and CNN, are a genuine service -- both to American readers and to the still-grieving families in Nigeria.

The stories also keep the heat on the nation's authorities not to slack off the fight against the terrorists. But they largely omit the religious element -- a mutant, violent strain of Islam -- that fuels Boko Haram.

The Washington Post's story quickly recaps the kidnap, then the despair that activists are fighting:

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Peace with the aging prog-nuns: Who gets to correct them and about what?

Peace with the aging prog-nuns: Who gets to correct them and about what?

So one of the big stories of the day is this: Did the progressive nuns on the buses win or not?

I would argue that the key to reading the coverage today is linked to two other questions. The key, looking at the stories in the elite publications, is whether these other questions are even asked.

First, what was the dispute actually about? Do the stories contain any reference to the doctrinal issues involved and, especially, was any attempt made to describe them?

Second, did the discussions about what to do with women religious actually move back into the shadows of Vatican and episcopal oversight life, rather than being out in the glare of mass-media who were openly cheering for the progressives? In other words, do the stories mention the small hints in the Vatican actions -- aside from the glowing Pope Francis photo-op -- that this story is not over?

OK, third question: Did some Vatican officials simply decide that these religious orders are aging and dying anyway, so why have a war when demographics will settle the issue?

The Los Angeles Times story is a good place to start, in that it signals its bias right up front, ignores the doctrinal substance, yet also -- by quoting candid liberals -- signals that some prog-nuns are still worried. What does that look like? In the lede, note that the investigation was "controversial" while the content of the orders' theological innovations were not.

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In reporting on Baptists, bootleggers and beer, why not talk to some actual Baptists?

In reporting on Baptists, bootleggers and beer, why not talk to some actual Baptists?

There's an old joke that Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Protestants don't recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian faith, and Baptists don't recognize each other at the liquor store.

I thought about that tidbit of religious humor this week as I came across news reports on a study related to Baptists, bootleggers and beer.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist brews up this witty take on the controversy:

In Georgia, you can buy apples where they grow apples, and onions where they grow onions. You can buy rugs where they make rugs, and newspapers where they make newspapers.
Sometimes, you can even buy laws where they make laws. But under no circumstances can you buy beer where they make beer.
In the recently ended session of the Legislature, a new generation of craft beer brewers attempted to update one of the most restrictive alcohol sale laws in the nation. They were treated to a drubbing of humiliating proportions.
The best they could do was legislation that permits breweries to offer free beer to visitors who pay to tour the facilities.
The defeat was entirely predictable. In fact, not only did Stephan Gohmann see it coming, the University of Louisville professor of economics wrote a paper on the phenomenon, published days after our General Assembly exited.
Craft breweries in Georgia and the rest of the South, Gohmann posits, have run afoul of the “Baptists and bootleggers” relationship that has defined the politics of alcohol in the region since the days of Prohibition.
“Why Are There So Few Breweries in the South” appeared last week in the academic journal “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice.”

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Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

Reporters should ponder what religious left is telling the Supreme Court about marriage

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear those same-sex marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Proponents of redefining marriage are confident they’ll win in June. If so, that will be a decisive -- and divisive -- juncture for organized religion in America and frame competing religious liberty claims the media will be covering in coming years.

A previous Religion Guy Memo advised journalists to examine  the “friend of the court” briefs in these historic cases. The religious arguments for traditional marriage are familiar,  perhaps especially for GetReligion readers. But now that all the briefs are filed, newswriters should consider the somewhat less publicized religious argument on the opposite side.

The key brief comes from the Episcopal Church’s bishops in these four states (.pdf here) with the president of the Episcopal House of Deputies, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Judaism’s three non-Orthodox branches, a dozen pro-gay caucuses and 1,900 individuals.

Though there’s strong religious support for marriage traditionalism, these gay-marriage proponents insist they’re also part of the religious “mainstream,” noting that the United Church and Unitarians stem directly from New England’s Puritans and Pilgrims. The Episcopalians likewise have colonial roots. The brief also cites recent ideological support from the large Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church (USA), though they didn’t join the brief.

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Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'

Why does Washington Post label one religious freedom law 'controversial' and another 'historic?'

In the media storm over a religious freedom law passed in Indiana, the Washington Post repeatedly used the term "controversial" to describe the measure (examples here, here and here).

However, the Post prefers other words to characterize a gay rights bill passed in Utah, including "landmark" and "historic."

In a story this week, the Post goes behind the scenes of the legislative compromise in Mormon-dominated Utah.

The lede:

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s historic compromise aiming to balance gay and religious rights had yet to be unveiled, but on that fateful night last month, it was already unraveling.
A handful of legislators and other negotiators were seated around a squat wooden table in the blue-and-gold Senate lounge, struggling to resolve the remaining — and seemingly irreconcilable — differences between gay rights activists and the influential Mormon Church. Tempers were flaring.
“The tornado and hurricane and typhoon arrived in that room that night and the wind was blowing, and the tree of our whole effort was down at 45 degrees,” recalled Sen. Jim Dabakis (D), the state’s only openly gay legislator.
But the two sides, drawing on an unlikely trust nurtured during years of quiet rapprochement, were able that night to reach a breakthrough.
Within days, they sent a bill to the state legislature — and a message to a politically riven nation that compromise was possible, even on one of the most divisive social issues, even in one of its most conservative states.

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