New York Times unveils the lies and scams of fortunetelling -- or does it?

New York Times unveils the lies and scams of fortunetelling -- or does it?

It's nice when a newspaper answers its own questions so fast, even leading with a quote it repeats right away. Like when the New York Times ran a gleeful expose' on psychics, fortunetellers and others around the city. But the Times leaves other big questions unanswered.

The article is meant to show that the diviners are increasingly giving up and fessing up that it's all a scam. But the article doesn't prove the point -- either that it's all "baloney" or that growing numbers of psychics are coming clean.

Here is how the 1,100 words start:

Is it real? Or a bunch of baloney? It’s a question New Yorkers and visitors to the city may ask themselves when they pass any of the seemingly countless storefront fortunetellers.
Celia Mitchell, 38, was pointedly asked that exact question last year: “What is the psychic business? Is it real, or a bunch of baloney?”
She answered, “It’s a scam, sir.”
“The whole thing is a scam?”
“Yes.”

Mitchell thereby "joined a very specific group: convicted psychics who, seeking an early release from prison, sit for interviews before the parole board," the Times says. Specific and limited, although the newspaper says "that number may soon grow."

In the article, Mitchell is one of four psychics who admit fakery to parole boards. She took $159,205 to banish a "dark spirit." Another psychic admitted telling customers what they wanted to hear.  A third got people to pay her to buy "charms and rituals," according to a previous Times story. Still another is charged with promising to reunite two lovers, even though the woman was dead.

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#RNA2015: Yes, Peter Smith wins again as Religion Newswriters Association honors best of the Godbeat

#RNA2015: Yes, Peter Smith wins again as Religion Newswriters Association honors best of the Godbeat

We don't play favorites here at GetReligion.

OK, sometimes we do — such as where Pittsburgh Post-Gazette religion writer Peter Smith is concerned.

When it comes to quality journalism on the religion beat, a Peter Smith byline generally is a slam dunk.

So we weren't surprised over the weekend when Smith won the Religion Newswriters Association's first-place award for religion reporting at metropolitan newspapers.

Again.

The Pittsburgh writer was just one of a number of Godbeat all-stars who received recognition at the RNA's annual awards banquet in Philadelphia (see the full list of winners).

You can find links to all the winning stories on RNA's website. 

Smith's first-place entry included his in-depth project on immigrant religion — the subject of a 5Q+1 interview last November.

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There he goes again? Pope Francis sends 'apostolic blessing' to gay writer and her family

There he goes again? Pope Francis sends 'apostolic blessing' to gay writer and her family

At various times and in many different ways, priests bless things.

Most notably, at the end of a liturgy, the priest blesses the whole congregation -- pretty much no matter who is out there in the pews or what these people may or may not have done. Priests have been known to entire bless crowds at other public events.

It's a blessing. Priests give out lots of them. So does the pope, come to think of it..

Most importantly, it's not the moment at the end of Confession when, after hearing the penitent confess his or her sins, the priest extends his hand over the person's head and says:

ABSOLUTION
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.
The penitent answers: Amen.

This brings us to yet another one of those moments when Pope Francis takes an action that shocks people in the mainstream media, even though it is not all that shocking to people who are active in the Catholic Church.

Wait, is The Daily Beast mainstream media? Well, this particular story is pretty straightforward news, so let's go for it since it has the key information in one chunk. We'll jump in at the summary material:

The latest in a long list of dust-ups came this week when Francis apparently gave his blessing to Francesca Pardi, a children’s book author who happens to be lesbian and who has a title on the list of banned books in the Venice school district that has sparked a feud between Venice mayor Luigi Bugnaro and the likes of Elton John. 

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More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

Thank you to all the readers who helped out by finding working URLs, online and in wayback machines, for the Associated Press story that I referenced -- by memory and in incomplete form -- in my post about what I called the emerging world of "omniscient anonymous" voice journalism.

Here's my theory as to what happened. The story -- "Pope Francis drawing criticism from some conservative Catholics" -- went up on Drudge report an caused so much traffic that Lodi News took it down. Thus, the broken URL for the story.

Now, let me state right up from that I was wrong about the key paragraph in that Associated Press story being an example of "omniscient anonymous" voice reporting. It's a remarkable paragraph, for the other reasons I listed, but it does include a kind of attribution in its interesting reference to "conservative Catholics."

Here is that passage, in context, as it ran at Newsday. Let's work through this, shall we?

Robert Royal, founder and president of the conservative think tank Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that he was "astonished by some of the things he's said about the public order. He's the pope least prepared to do public commentary in about 150 years, and yet he's waded in on Cuba, Scottish independence, Greece, Israel, international economics, etc., in which it's clear he knows very little."

Hit pause for a moment.

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?

Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?

DALE’S QUESTION:

I am no longer sure which Bible to use. I currently have the New American Standard Bible. How accurate is this? What are your thoughts on the New English Translation? 

Note: This is a direct response to our immediately preceding Religion Q & A : "Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?"

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

There are so many different English translations in today’s alphabet soup of a marketplace that Dale’s dilemma is common. Other responses to the August 16 Religion Q & A show there’s considerable anxiety out there, but the Religion Guy reassures readers they can rely upon any of the modern mainstream translations. That includes Dale’s NASB and NET. Not to say there aren’t important variations in wording that today’s Bible readers should know about and ponder, so it’s good to have a couple or three translations handy. And one blessing of our Internet age is that you can compare 52 English translations, verse by verse, at that familiar website -- www.biblegateway.com.

Loose paraphrases like “The Living Bible,” “The Message,” or J.B. Phillips’ elegant “The New Testament in Modern English” are valuable for fresh thinking and enjoyable reading. But they aren’t Bibles. Then we have actual Bibles that are not paraphrases but lean toward “dynamic equivalence” translation that aims at clear comprehension and flow of thoughts. That’s an OK choice but serious students and seminarians, at least, should own a translation with more literal renderings of the original Greek and Hebrew such as Dale’s NASB (more on that version below).

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Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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Global religious freedom: Watchdog is threatened, and only religious media notice

Global religious freedom: Watchdog is threatened, and only religious media notice

It's a definite "Got News?" item when religious news outfits report the appeal of a major human rights watchdog to stay alive -- and almost no one else notices.

World magazine and Baptist Press this week wrote up a letter signed by 86 religious liberty advocate surging Congress to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF, a semi-official organization that monitors how nations treat those of various faiths, was born by an act of Congress in 1998, but its mandate runs out on Sept. 30.

Both stories are spot-on in highlighting the need for such a voice. USCIRF is the group that releases an annual report on the state of religious freedom worldwide, red-lighting "Countries of Particular Concern." The reports, and interim statements, are often quoted in media reports on human rights.

The story by World, an evangelical newsmagazine, is the more political of the two:

WASHINGTON—A coalition of international religious freedom groups is urging the Senate to approve a six-year reauthorization for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and reject attempts to cripple the organization.
Eighty-six partners of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable this week delivered a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which currently is weighing two drastically different visions for USCIRF. The letter noted the authors agree on “very little” theologically, but they agree religious freedom strengthens cultures, stabilizes democracies, and is “the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon.”
“The most effective way to ensure the continuity of USCIRF’s essential mandate to protect and promote religious freedom worldwide is for the Senate to pass, in a timely fashion, S. 1798,” the groups wrote to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the Foreign Relations chairman, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member.

World's article also does us the service of linking to the International Religious Freedom Roundtable letter itself. And World identifies who filed S. 1798: Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican candidate for president.

The Baptist Press version stars Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, part of the Southern Baptist Convention -- saying he "and his allies" with the Roundtable put out the letter:

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Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

It's time for another weekend of preseason National Football League games -- those meaningless revenue generators in which the league's top players try to get ready for the new season, while doing everything they can (praying even) not to get hurt.

This brings us, whether most sports reporters know it or not, to centuries of debates about the sovereignty of God.

Yes, one of the hottest topics in sports news this past week (click here to scan the nearly 2,000 news articles) was whether Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin was crazy when he said superstar Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury had something to do with God's plan for his life. Looking at this from the viewpoint of Packer fans, you could even say this was another one of those stories that centered on "theodicy" questions (previous GetReligion discussions here) about why God allows evil to exist.

From a journalism perspective, what this sad case study demonstrates is that there are times when it is simply wrong to yank one tiny simplistic soundbite out of a long, complex quotation about a complex topic.

Here is the top of an ESPN feature examining the wreckage in this case:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin defended himself ... after his comment about the injury to Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and the will of God caused a backlash in social media.
Quin, when asked ... about Nelson's injury, said he respected Nelson and hated to see him hurt. But as part of the answer, Quin also said "God had meant for Jordy to be hurt." The comment was part of a bigger answer on what Quin believes about how and why injuries happen. ...

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