Has the Associated Press hierarchy officially changed its style for references to 'God'?

Has the Associated Press hierarchy officially changed its style for references to 'God'?

Flash back with me, if you will, to my recent GetReligion "guilt file" post on the religious-liberty showdown between an Assemblies of God chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, and the principalities and powers at the modern U.S. Navy.

There was a reference in the Military Times account to a Navy document listing the chaplain's offenses, one of which was that he:

Told a female that she was "shaming herself in the eyes of god" for having premarital sex.

I raised a style question about that claim, asking if the lower-case "g" on the reference to "god" represented a change in news style for Gannett or if the modern Navy has now changed to using lower-case references to the Deity.

After posting that, I had a kind of nagging sensation that I was forgetting something. Perhaps there was another news item related to this Godtalk issue buried even deeper in my massive folder of GetReligion guilt material?

Sure enough, there was, one dating back to the Academy Awards coverage. A film critic friend of mine sent me this note:

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Covering religion news events in foreign lands? Think location, location, location

Covering religion news events in foreign lands? Think location, location, location

Writing about events in a foreign land? Then keep in mind this retailing truism: Location, location, location. In journalese, that might read, what seems an obvious choice in one place can look illogical and even dangerous somewhere else.

When speaking religion journalese, that means Nigerian Anglicans are different from New York City Episcopalians, Baltimore Roman Catholics diverge from their co-religionists in Rio de Janeiro, and American-born Muslims do not think exactly like the Muslims of Saudi Arabia.

Likewise, the politics and beliefs of American Jews do not necessarily equate with the politics and beliefs of Israeli Jews. Assuming they do says more about the journalist than it does the subject.

Which brings me to last week's Israeli election that saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reelected, and handily so.

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That Indiana 'religious freedom' bill just got even more controversial, and don't forget the scare quotes

That Indiana 'religious freedom' bill just got even more controversial, and don't forget the scare quotes

CNN did not get the memo.

I voiced concerns Wednesday about the prevalence of the term "controversial" in news coverage of that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week.

Specifically, I questioned whether that overused modifier — which the Associated Press Stylebook says to avoid — favors the opposition in a debate pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But Wednesday night, a GetReligion reader alerted me that CNN had ignored my advice.

"Note the tweet and lede of this story," the reader said. "Incredible."

The tweet.

The lede:

Washington (CNN) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of "religious freedom."
The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — and just a year after Pence and socially conservative lawmakers lost their first policy battle against gay Hoosiers. In 2014 they had sought to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriages — but were beaten back by a highly-organized coalition of Democrats, traditionally right-leaning business organizations and fiscally focused supporters of Pence's predecessor, former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.
This year, though, the Republican-dominated state House and Senate both approved the "religious freedom" bill, and Pence plans to sign it into law in a private ceremony Thursday, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
If Pence decides to mount a dark horse presidential bid -- which looks increasingly unlikely as candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker court the same supporters he would need -- the "religious freedom" bill could give him a boost among GOP primary voters, especially in socially conservative states like Iowa.

Did you count the number of times the CNN political reporter used scare quotes on "religious freedom" in those first four paragraphs? (Three times, in case you didn't.)

Of course, the journalistic problem with the lede is the blatant editorialization favoring one side.

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M.Z. Hemingway unloads on news coverage of 'religious liberty,' while tmatt debates one detail

M.Z. Hemingway unloads on news coverage of 'religious liberty,' while tmatt debates one detail

What we have here, gentle readers, is a take-no-prisoner headline, care of GetReligion emeritus M. Z. Hemingway at The Federalist.

You were expecting someone else?

Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell

Oh my, and if that isn't enough, there is this rather blunt -- some would say "brutal" -- subtitle to finish the job:

Most Reporters Are Simply Too Ignorant To Handle The Job

Now, if you have not read this long and very detailed piece yet, then head right over there and do so. But as you read it I want you to look for the one very important point in this article with which I want to voice my disagreement. No. It's not the George Orwell quote. That one was on the target, methinks.

Read it? Now, let's proceed.

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Christians in Syria: Los Angeles Times runs powerful, tragic report

Christians in Syria: Los Angeles Times runs powerful, tragic report

How often does news really terrify you? Not just worry or concern, but ... well, like it affected a woman in this story out of Syria?

As Islamic State militants closed in on her village, Asmar Jumaa, an Assyrian Christian, couldn't shake a terrifying thought.
"I remembered what they did to the Yazidi women," said Jumaa, 22, recalling the fate of thousands of female adherents of the ancient sect kidnapped last summer when the Sunni Muslim extremists swept through northern Iraq. "I didn't want that to happen to us."
She and eight family members, mostly women, were among several thousand Assyrian Christians who fled in late February as the militants advanced into dozens of largely Christian villages along the Khabur River in eastern Syria.

If only the international community paid as much attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East as some media, like the Los Angeles Times, have done lately. If nations with a conscience were stirred to action a year or two ago, people like those in this indepth story might not be living in fear.

The article focuses on the purge of Christians along the Khabur River, who lived among Muslims and Yazidis in eastern Syria. The Times gets on the ground in Sheikhan, Iraq, and tells the story through the Jumaa family.

The paper notes the kidnapping of hundreds of Christians from the Khabur area, either by the Islamic State or the al-Qaida-lined Nusra Front. The Times even tacitly acknowledges its own lack of follow-up, along with that of other media:

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The Los Angeles Times does a number on Chief Justice Moore of Alabama

The Los Angeles Times does a number on Chief Justice Moore of Alabama

I first met Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore back in 1997 on a drive through Gadsden, a sleepy southern burg 56 miles north of Birmingham. Moore was only a circuit judge back then but he’d already gotten famous for refusing to take down a plaque from his courtroom walls that listed the Ten Commandments. I expected some hayseed country judge; what I found was a very sharp guy who could recite lengthy passages of law by heart and was obviously meant for greater things. Eighteen years later, he’s at the heart of a battle over whether state judges should grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the state constitution forbids it.

The Los Angeles Times recently weighed in on the debate through the eyes of a probate judge caught in the middle of the federal-state tussle. Its take on the situation was so one-sided, it fell over about halfway through. It starts:

About 9 o'clock the night of Feb. 8, Judge Tim Russell felt his phone vibrate, which seemed strange at that hour. It was his work phone.
He and his wife, Sandy, had just finished the long drive from Birmingham, Ala., where they visited family, back home to Baldwin County, on the Gulf of Mexico. While she readied for bed, he stood reading an email from Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court.
In less than 12 hours, Russell and other county judges were to start granting marriage licenses to all couples, whether gay or straight.
Russell finished reading the message and held it out to his wife.
"My God," he said.
Russell lives with one foot in the past and one in the present, and talks as easily about either.
Driving to lunch recently, he casually recalled his maternal grandmother of 13 generations ago, Rebecca Nurse. She was hanged in 1692 for practicing witchcraft, and became a central character in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible."
The modern relevance of that story isn't lost on Russell. "I think a great deal about our freedoms," he said.
Religious freedoms, he said. And also equality under the law.

So here we have the Salem witch trials brought up as a hint of the direction where religious belief can go.

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Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Today's word of the day: "controversial."

If you've seen the headlines, ledes and tweets related to a religious freedom bill passed by Indiana lawmakers this week, you've likely seen that adjective attached to it.

Monday's lede from the Washington Post:

A controversial religious freedom bill that would protect business owners who want to decline to provide services for same-sex couples was passed by Indiana’s State House today, the latest in a larger battle over same-sex marriage and rights.
The bill reflects a national debate over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. The question of whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies has been a flashpoint as part of a larger debate over same-sex marriage. For instance, the bill would protect a wedding photographer who objects to shooting a same-sex wedding.
The Indiana House voted 63 to 31 to approve a hot-button bill that will likely become law, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he plans to sign the legislation when it lands on his desk. The state Senate’s version of the bill would prevent the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and is doing so in the least restrictive means.
Supporters say the measure supports religious freedom while opponents fear discrimination against LGBT people. The push towards this kind of legislation comes as same-sex marriage becomes legal across the country. In September, a federal court ruling struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and other states.

We've previously tackled the typical journalistic framing on this topic (e.g., is "deny service" or "refuse service" really the right way to describe a baker who declines to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Or does such wording favor one side of a debate pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom?).

Rather than revisit that issue again today, my question relates to the framing of the bill as "controversial."

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Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Time to take a quick dip into my folder of GetReligion guilt, where some important stories have been calling for my attention. In particular, I wanted to note that debates about military chaplains, always a controversial church-state subject, have flared up once again in the news.

At the center of the debate this time around is Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a chaplain who has in the past handled the rather difficult challenge of keeping up with Navy SEAL units. Now, a Military Times article notes that he may be tossed out of the Navy after 19 years for "allegedly scolding sailors for homosexuality and premarital sex." Readers are told:

Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" letter on Feb. 17 after his commanders concluded that he is "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his current assignment at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.
Modder denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the dismissal with attorneys from the Liberty Institute, which advocates for religious expression in the military and in public institutions. Modder has served more than 19 years and could lose his retirement benefits if the Navy convenes a board of inquiry and officially separate him before he completes 20 years of service.

As often happens in these stories, the crucial question of what actually happened in these encounters between the chaplain and the soldiers making complaints is hard to discern, since the details all come from the accusers. Also, military chaplains treat the details of these one-on-one encounters as completely confidential (even chaplains who are not in traditions that include Confession).

Thus, the Gannett newsroom notes that the Navy's letter of complaint included offenses such as:

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5Q+1 interview: Daniel Burke on CNN Belief, 'The Friendly Atheists Next Door' and the next big religion story

5Q+1 interview: Daniel Burke on CNN Belief, 'The Friendly Atheists Next Door' and the next big religion story

Daniel Burke is religion editor for CNN.

His mission: to cover the faith angles of the day's biggest stories.

Before joining CNN two years ago, Burke spent seven years with Religion News Service, where he covered everything from Amish funerals to the Zen of Steve Jobs. 

He earned master's degrees in journalism and comparative religion from Columbia University.

"Before that, I went to Georgetown University, where a course on 'The Problem of God' set me on the path to religion reporting," he wrote on his LinkedIn page.

In a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion, Burke discussed CNN Belief, his 10,000-plus-word longread on "The Friendly Atheists Next Door" and what he sees as the next big religion story.

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