Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Planned Parenthood reporting 'done right' -- the name on this byline won't surprise you

Yes, Sarah Pulliam Bailey used to write for GetReligion. 

Yes, we're biased when it comes to her important work for the Washington Post. 

Yes, it's awkward when we start praising a friend and former colleague. (We've admitted as much.) We know that you know that we know that you know that.

But no, that's not going to stop us from calling attention to a story Sarah wrote this week related to the Planned Parenthood videos:

Antiabortion activists see new undercover videos of Planned Parenthood as their biggest opportunity since the 2011 Kermit Gosnell trials to energize support for the issue.
Planned Parenthood, which many antiabortion activists see as the face of abortion, has long been under attack, but the videos have set off renewed debate over its federal funding.

In fact, we're not the only ones who were impressed. Tom Breen, a former Associated Press newsman who did excellent work on the Godbeat, tweeted:

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New York Times on the Planned Parenthood videos: It's all politics, politics, politics

New York Times on the Planned Parenthood videos: It's all politics, politics, politics

Media coverage of the Planned Parenthood-undercover-abortion-videos matter has been underwhelming to say the least. However, this week there have been a few more articles out there about the controversy -- plus a third video.

The latest non-news news is that Planned Parenthood has actually asked the media to back off from the story and to date, I've seen no media organizations tell PP to go take a hike. Just before Planned Parenthood's request came this New York Times story about how Republicans are taking advantage of it all.

WASHINGTON -- Rick Perry’s voice softens when he talks about the joy he gets from looking at his iPad and seeing “that 20-week picture of my first grandbaby.” Marco Rubio says ultrasounds of his sons and daughters reinforced how “they were children -- and they were our children.” Rand Paul recalls watching fetuses suck their thumbs. And Chris Christie says the ultrasound of his first daughter changed his views on abortion.
If they seem to be reading from the same script, they are.
With help from a well-funded, well-researched and invigorated anti-abortion movement, Republican politicians have refined how they are talking about pregnancy and abortion rights, choosing their words in a way they hope puts Democrats on the defensive.
The goal, social conservatives say, is to shift the debate away from the “war on women” paradigm that has proved so harmful to the their party’s image.
Democrats were jolted by the latest and perhaps most disruptive effort yet in this line of attack by activists who want to outlaw abortion: surreptitiously recorded video of Planned Parenthood doctors casually discussing how they extract tissue from aborted fetuses.

Once again, we have a story that uses the much-maligned Planned Parenthood videos as a segue into what many reporters *really* think the debate is all about -- politics and politics alone. No religious beliefs. No convictions about the science issues involved. 

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LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

LGBT activists send message to Pope Francis; so does The New York Times (again)

Once upon a time, journalists had a simple device that they used to signal readers when experts and insiders on one side of a story were not interested in taking part in a public debate about their work or their cause.

When dealing with a Catholic controversy, for example, journalists would write a sentence that went something like this: "A spokesperson for the archbishop said he could not comment at this time." Or perhaps this: "The (insert newspaper name here) made repeated attempts to contact the leaders of (insert name of activist organization here) but they declined to comment at this time."

In other words, it was clear that newspapers thought that readers -- if they were going to trust the content of a hot-button story -- needed to know that reporters and editors offered shareholders on both sides of the issue a chance to offer their take on key facts. It was important for readers to know that journalists were not interested in writing public-relations pieces for a particular cause.

The bottom line: Have you ever noticed that people on both sides of complicated or emotional stories almost always have different takes on the meaning of key events and quotations?

That was then. Today, there are journalists who clearly think that this kind of extra effort in the name of balance, accuracy and fairness is no longer a good thing when covering stories that touch on key elements of their newspaper's doctrines. This leads us, of course, to yet another five-star example of "Kellerism" -- click here for background -- in New York Times coverage of Pope Francis.

As is the norm, the story begins with a very emotional and complex anecdote about Catholic church life in which, it appears, there was no attempt whatsoever to talk to people on the other side.

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The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

The Atlantic locks in on that 'secret Catholic' subplot in the Jamestown reliquary mystery

It's rare to write about the same news topic twice in the same day, unless it's one of those hot-button topics that's driving people crazy on social media. That's a sobering thing to say, but there you have it.

However, I am truly fascinated with the depth of the questions being raised in early discussions of the silver box recently unearthed by the Jamestown Rediscovery team. This morning I raised some questions about a massive Washington Post piece on this topic and now, lo and behold, The Atlantic has posted a report on the same topic.

The Post piece pivoted on a question: Is the small silver box, containing human bones, found buried with colonial leader Gabriel Archer a reliquary or not? If it is a reliquary, in the ancient Christian sense of that word, then what saint or martyr were some of the colonialists venerating in this manner? 

Now editors at The Atlantic -- based on interviews with some of the same experts -- have published a lengthy piece that appears to be much more certain about several key facts. Check this out:

After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.

“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”

If that box is what Horn, in this new interview at least, seems certain that it is, then there are logical conclusions that can be drawn. Big ones.

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Is China's economic imperialism a religious issue and, thus, a story for religion scribes?

Is China's economic imperialism a religious issue and, thus, a story for religion scribes?

Four years ago while vacationing in the Central American nation of Belize I noticed that the preponderance of grocery stores in the coastal and interior towns I visited were operated by Chinese immigrants. How come?

Few of the adults appeared to speak any Spanish or English, Belize's two most important languages, indicating to me that they were recent immigrants. Their children, it seemed, handled all their business translation needs, a not uncommon occurrence among first-generation immigrants everywhere.

I concluded that Belize, a small, seemingly unimportant geopolitical player with a polyglot population and limited infrastructure, had become another object of Chinese government economic imperialism meant to gain influence and create financially dependent allies across the developing world.

China, as one New York Times writer put it, engages big time in "buying loyalty." It does so by showering needy governments with loans and investments and sending its people to establish economically Important footholds.

I may be reaching here, but my gut tells me that, given China's miserable human rights record -- and in particular its treatment of religious movements -- that Beijing's ever-spreading tentacles is an issue to which American religious groups should be paying more attention.

Yes, that means that this is also a topic to which religion-beat journalists should be paying more attention.

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Welcome back, Qatar: Al Jazeera sets standard for reporting Mennonite gay issues

Welcome back, Qatar: Al Jazeera sets standard for reporting Mennonite gay issues

Here's a modern paradox: One of the best examples of the American Model of the press, as tmatt calls it, is the Arab news service Al Jazeera. A good example is its indepth on the struggle of Mennonites with gay issues.

"As I've come to expect as standard for Al-Jazeera, they dig deep and quote lots of different viewpoints on this issue, and look at a particular group that is not high in the public conversation," says a Faithful Reader who tipped us off to this story.

The reader is right. Al Jazeera, based in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar but boasting a dozen U.S. bureaus, writes sensitively about all sides in the debate. The 1,800-word story starts with a man who feels torn between his attraction for other men and his love for the church.

Then it neatly summarizes a paradox:

The Mennonite church – often vocal on peace and social justice issues – won’t perform his vows and views his sexuality with a wary eye. Though often viewed as a church of old-fashioned, plain-dressed pacifists who live agrarian lives much like the Amish, the reality is that "Plain" and horse-and-buggy Mennonites comprise only about one percent of the church. 
The rest of the church, a Protestant Anabaptist sect founded during the Reformation in the 1500s, uses varying degrees of modern technology. And most adherents wear modern clothing. What unites all factions of the church is a commitment to pacifism and social justice. And it’s those very traits that are also threatening its unraveling, as the church – and the rest of America – comes to terms with recent progress in the fight for LGBT civil rights.

The article gives us a peek at the recent annual conference in Kansas City of the Mennonite Church U.S.A., which failed to yield an agreement on the LGBT community. The delegates simply admitted there was no consensus, then tabled discussion for another four years. In protest, some members -- in a group called "Pink Menno" -- stood with duct tape over their mouths, the story says.

Another good explainer:

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'Book of Mormon' opens in Salt Lake City to a sold-out crowd and fair coverage by AP

'Book of Mormon' opens in Salt Lake City to a sold-out crowd and fair coverage by AP

My wife and I saw "The Book of Mormon" musical when it came to Oklahoma City last year.

I had heard songs on the soundtrack and read news stories about the production, so I was curious.

I laughed a lot and squirmed a lot, too: Going in, I probably was naive. I'm one who tends to avoid even R-rated movies, so the extreme crudeness — language, sex objects, etc. — caught me off guard.

"The Book of Mormon" is back in the headlines this week, which is no surprise given where it's being staged.

The Associated Press reports:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The biting satirical musical that mocks Mormons received a rousing reception Tuesday in its first-ever showing in the heart of Mormonlandia, kicking off a sold-out, two-week run at a Salt Lake City theater.
The audience cheered wildly as the Tony Award-winning "The Book of Mormon" began, with the show's gleefully naive missionaries singing in front of a backdrop of the Salt Lake City skyline and Mormon temple that resembles the real one just two blocks away.
They laughed loudly as the jokes played out, many touching on Mormon lingo and culture that is intimately familiar in Utah. Some of the most raucous applause came during a scene when an African character sings, "Salt Lake City, the most perfect place on Earth." At the conclusion, attendees at the Capitol Theater crowd gave the actors a standing ovation.
Despite the jokes and jabs that create a caricature of Mormon beliefs, there were no protests outside and no mass walkouts during opening night. The playbill did include three advertisements from the Mormon church, including a picture of a smiling man with the words, "You've seen the play, now read the book."

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Colonial Jamestown reliquary: Secret Catholics or Protestants 'venerating' bones of saints?

Colonial Jamestown reliquary: Secret Catholics or Protestants 'venerating' bones of saints?

I love a good mystery hidden in the mists of history and it goes without saying that is doubly true of a mystery with a strong religion hook. So the Washington Post team had my my full attention when it pushed out an online promotion for a fascinating feature story about some of the latest finds in the Jamestown Rediscovery project.

The key: Researchers found a small silver box containing what appear to be human bones, with what they believe is the letter "M" inscribed on the cover. Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

JAMESTOWN, Va. -- When his friends buried Capt. Gabriel Archer here about 1609, they dug his grave inside a church, lowered his coffin into the ground and placed a sealed silver box on the lid. ...
The tiny, hexagonal box, etched with the letter “M,” contained seven bone fragments and a small lead vial, and probably was an object of veneration, cherished as disaster closed in on the colony.
On Tuesday, more than 400 years after the mysterious box was buried, Jamestown Rediscovery and the Smithsonian Institution announced that archaeologists have found it, as well as the graves of Archer and three other VIPs.
“It’s the most remarkable archaeology discovery of recent years,” said James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery, which made the find. “It’s a huge deal.”

OK, but what was this small silver box? The story says it was probably an "object of veneration," but are we talking about some form of link to ancestors? The Post team, interviewing the experts, immediately locks into a crucial religious element of this mystery -- but misses some key questions and historical details.

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Mormons to the rescue: How to write about sex trafficking but leave out a few details

Mormons to the rescue: How to write about sex trafficking but leave out a few details

A few weeks ago, while scanning a few articles in a print copy of Foreign Policy, my go-to magazine for all things outside U.S. borders, I chanced upon a piece about human trafficking.

I began to read about how a group of Americans in Acapulco posing as sex tourists are really part of something called Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). The piece traces how they’ve invited some pimps and their girls over for an afternoon of fun when suddenly the local police rush in and arrest all the bad guys.

It’s gripping narrative and fun to read. Then the author spins us some background, how “strange bedfellows -- feminists who opposed sex work, politicians from both political parties, and right-wing Christians -- allied behind the cause of defeating modern-day slavery.” A few paragraphs later, it introduces Tim Ballard, the founder of OUR and how he got into the sex trafficking busting business. Then:

Ballard’s Mormon faith also heavily influences his work. “The other option was to face my maker one day and tell him why I didn’t do it,” he says of his decision to start combating crimes against children. Ballard insists that religious belief isn’t a requirement to join OUR but notes that the staff members often pray together. If someone isn’t “comfortable praying,” he says, “they’re not going to be comfortable working with us.” (In a February interview with LDS Living magazine, Ballard was more candid about his faith: He said he launched OUR after being instructed by God to “find the lost children.”)
Responding to the call for a moral crusade, a handful of private organizations have adopted what is now widely known as a raid-and-rescue strategy: identify where people are being sold for sex, send in police to haul them out, and arrest traffickers.
Today, OUR has a full-time staff of 12 people and a stable of trained volunteers, most of them Mormon. They include former military and intelligence officers, nurses and Army medics, cops and martial arts instructors. From small offices in Salt Lake City, Dallas, and Anaheim, California, OUR has coordinated more than a dozen raids in Latin America and the Caribbean. It claims to have saved at least 250 trafficking victims, including 123 -- 55 of whom were children -- in three stings coordinated across Colombia last October.

Screech of brakes. What did the article say? Mormons?

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