Do journalists (and the public, for that matter) still separate news and opinion?

Do journalists (and the public, for that matter) still separate news and opinion?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, we know that it is now August. However, there is no Aug. 1 in the calendar of the SquareSpace software we use to publish this blog. Think "Twilight Zone."

 

Pick a poll, pretty much any poll, and you will see that public trust for the work of journalists today is lower than low.

OK, how about Gallup in 2014, a poll indicating the key trust number -- for newspapers -- was at 22 percent and dropping below previous records? You don't want to know what the numbers were for television news and the Internet.

Of course, there is a degree of public hypocrisy in those numbers. Postmodern Americans claim they want balanced, accurate news and then there is strong evidence that what they really want is opinion and news that backs their own views. It is rare to see a deep, balanced, nuanced news story trending on Twitter.

So should journalists stop trying? Should mainstream news outlets simply let their freak flags fly and stop trying to do fair and accurate coverage of causes they believe are, using this phrase in as nonsectarian a way as possible, of the Devil? Using terms from journalism history, should journalists give up on the American model of the press and go back to a European, advocacy model?

That was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast chat with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in), spinning off my recent GetReligion post about a New York Times article in which gay-rights activists reached out, through a formal letter, to Pope Francis seeking a face-to-face media event during his upcoming visit to the media centers of the American Northeast. As always in the Kellerism age, there was zero evidence that the world's most powerful newspaper made any attempt to seek the input of pro-Catechism Catholics when reporting this story, even when discussing events and doctrines on which there are myriad points of view to consider.

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Did GOP candidates really avoid moral and religious talk when courting black voters?

Did GOP candidates really avoid moral and religious talk when courting black voters?

If you follow trends among African-American voters, you know that they tend to be more conservative on moral and social issues than other key players in the modern Democratic Party coalition. There have been some small shifts among younger African-Americans on issues such as abortion and gay rights, but the basic trends can still be seen.

So, African-American voters are more culturally conservative than most other Democrats, but they have remained very loyal when venturing into the voting booths -- especially in the Barack Obama era.

But one other factor should be mentioned. If Republicans are going to find any black voters that are willing to cross over and ACT on their more conservative values, it is highly likely that those voters will be found among those who frequent church pews. That isn't surprising, is it?

Thus, I would like GetReligion readers to dig into the following Washington Post story that focuses on attempts by GOP candidates -- including Dr. Ben Carson -- to recruit some additional black voters to their cause. The headline gives zero clue as to what this very long political story is about: "Clinton takes a swipe at Jeb Bush’s ‘Right to Rise.' "

What are readers looking for?

Well, personally, I find it interesting that the story contains, as best I can tell, zero references to religious, moral and cultural issues. Even in the material from Jeb Bush. Even in the references to the remarks of Carson, who is, of course, an African-American religious conservative who rarely gives a speech without talking about social issues.

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Next in the Sexual Revolution news: movement to legalize polygamy and 'polyamory'

Next in the Sexual Revolution news: movement to legalize polygamy and 'polyamory'

It didn’t take long. 

Four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s epochal 5-4 decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, a Montana threesome applied for a polygamous marriage license. If denied, the trio intends to file suit to topple the law against bigamy. Husband Nathan Collier was featured on “Sister Wives,” so “reality TV” now meets legal and political reality.

More significant was a July 21 op-ed piece in The New York Times, that influential arbiter of acceptable discourse and the future agenda for America's cultural left. University of Chicago law professor William Baude, a “contributing opinion writer” for the paper, wrote, “If there is no magic power in opposite sexes when it comes to marriage, is there any magic power in the number two?” To him, “there is a very good argument” that “polyamorous relationships should be next.”

Baude was a former clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, who warned against precisely that possibility in his opinion for the court’s four dissenters. Baude observes that tacticians needed to downplay the polygamy aspect that could have harmed the same-sex marriage cause, but with the Supreme Court victory this next step can be proposed candidly.

The savvy Washington Post had a solid polygamy analysis soon after the Court’s ruling.

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Planned Parenthood video dismissed: Washington Post goes after 'anti-abortion-rights advocates'

Planned Parenthood video dismissed: Washington Post goes after 'anti-abortion-rights advocates'

When opponents strike a telling blow, don't counterattack directly. Instead, hit back at the attackers. This is the mainstream media's stratagem for dealing with the series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials talking about making money with aborted baby parts.

You may recall Newsweek's hit piece, which focused largely on video maker David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress. Well, here we go again with the Washington Post fixating on three women in Congress who are leading the drive to defund Planned Parenthood. The story, part of the Post's column The Fix, sets up the mini-dossiers with paragraphs like this:

GOP leaders are smartly letting women in Congress lead the way. Male lawmakers dominate both the party's congressional contingent and the two bills introduced this week to defund the organizaton, but anti-abortion-rights advocates are hoping these three Republican women become the movement's faces.

The article gives a nod to the video and its outflow: "Incensed anti-abortion-rights advocates are raising questions about whether Planned Parenthood broke any federal laws related to late-term abortions and selling fetal tissue. The organization maintains it hasn't done anything wrong, and the videos are out of context."

But then the piece quickly gears up to its main aim of scrutinizing the Congresswomen who dare break ranks with their sisters in denying abortion rights. It does so with a laundry list of familiar devices.

Like in the paragraph highlighted above. Males "dominate" the party in Congress, as if they don't among Democrats; check out this graph in an earlier Fix. But the men are "letting" women lead. And they're "smart" to do so. You know, hide the basic maleness of opposition to abortion.

If you buy all that, you're nicely softened up for other ruses.

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Mormons, Southern Baptists and the new math facing the Boy Scouts of America

Mormons, Southern Baptists and the new math facing the Boy Scouts of America

When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist kid in Texas, it was almost unheard of for a healthy Southern Baptist congregation not to have a Boy Scouts troop for boys in its neighborhood. At the same time, almost all of these churches had a Royal Ambassadors program, a Southern Baptist-sponsored project built completely on biblical themes and promoting national and international missions work.

In other words, while the RAs were covering openly Christian material, the Boy Scouts were viewed as a semi-secular, but faith-friendly, organization that would not conflict with what the church was teaching.

That was a long, long time ago. I was shocked -- as the gay Boy Scouts coverage began to rise two or three years ago -- to discover that only 4,000 or so Southern Baptist Churches in America still had Boy Scout troops.

I thought of those numbers when reading a very interesting comment, by a long-time reader who is a Mormon, on Bobby's recent survey of coverage of the Boy Scouts vote to allow noncelibate gays to hold leadership roles in local troops, while also allowing religious groups to opt out of that change. John Lambert wrote:

In this article we learn that one of the LDS Church's issues is that outside of the US there are very few places it has managed to set up a working relationship with the boy scouts.
On the other hand, journalists have to bear in mind that the LDS relationship to the boy scouts is different than some groups. The LDs Church uses the boy scouts as the activity arm for the Aaronic priesthood. It is intertwined with the religious mission of the Church very deeply.

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European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

European 'shadow council' calls for Catholic doctrinal evolution on sex and marriage?

One would think that a major gathering of progressive Catholic leaders, a choir of voices seeking major changes in ancient church doctrines on marriage and sexuality, would draw lots of coverage from the mainstream press.

Yes, readers will obviously need to keep their eyes on the work of some of the official journalistic voices of the Catholic left. And it might pay to set a Google News alert for the following terms -- "Pontifical Gregorian University," "German," "French," "Swiss," "family" and "divorce." Including the loaded search term "shadow council" is optional.

So, what's up? Flash back to the news about the strangely under-covered May 25  gathering of progressive European Catholic bishops and insiders (including journalists) to discuss proposed changes in doctrines linked to marriage, family and sexuality. What happened? It's hard to say, since many of the journalists did not report about the event that they attended.

Now, Andrea Gagliarducci of the conservative Catholic News Agency, has a report online based on the texts of some of the "interventions" presented behind those closed doors.

This sounds like news to me. Yes, it's one take on these materials and the lede is pushy. However, this is why it's important for the mainstream press to dive in and -- trigger warning -- do some basic journalism, talking to articulate, qualified voices on both sides of the current doctrinal warfare over sexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Read on.

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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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