Baltimore

OK, we will ask: Why isn't Baltmore Sun nailing local angles in DUI Episcopal bishop story?

OK, we will ask: Why isn't Baltmore Sun nailing local angles in DUI Episcopal bishop story?

The case of the DUI bishop is, in one sense, over -- in that Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook is no longer a leader in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. In fact, she is no longer an Episcopal bishop at all, nor is she an Episcopal priest or deacon.

That shoe has dropped and has been covered pretty clearly in the newspaper that lands (for several more weeks) in my front yard near the Baltimore Beltway. But what about the rest of the story?

You see, the timeline that looms behind the story of the rise and tragic fall of Cook -- charged with criminal negligent manslaughter, using a texting device while driving, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and three charges of drunken driving -- reveals that this is actually two or three stories unfolding at the same time. There is more to this than the dominoes that began falling in her career after her car struck bicyclist Thomas Palermo.

First of all, there is the issue of her election as bishop, including the "what did they know and when did they know it" facts about her documented struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Then there is the impact of this case -- financial, legal and professional -- on either the leaders of the local diocese, the national church, or both.

However, if you read The Baltimore Sun coverage of Cook's case, it's hard to know what is going on at the diocese and national levels. Meanwhile, The Washington Post coverage has included developments at all levels -- personal, diocesan and national. Remember this scoop when the Post caught details in a newly released Cook timeline document that were missed by the Sun?

So what is going on here? Why isn't the Sun staff interested in crucial LOCAL details about the fallout from this tragedy?

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Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

Sunday prayers and praise for saints who stood their ground on Baltimore front lines

I ended my "Crossroads" podcast post this weekend with a bit of a challenge to the editors who produce the newspaper that (for a few more weeks) lands in my front yard here next to the Baltimore beltway.

To be precise, I said: "Tomorrow morning -- the Monday following the Sunday sermons about the riots -- I will go to my front yard, pick up the newspaper, open it and look for the religion ghosts. Will the Sun (or anyone else, for that matter) take the time to cover any of these sermons, these prayer rites, these holy moments in the wake of the riots? We will see."

Now, I am sure that my challenge had little or nothing to do with what showed up in the newspaper today (although there is at least one GetReligion reader in the newsroom). However, I am happy to say that The Baltimore Sun team sent several reporters out into the city's pews and came back with an A1 story that noted the political overtones, of course, but stressed basic issues of prayer, worship and faith.

The logical church -- Fulton Baptist Church -- served as the door into the story and then as the exit door as well. This 111-year-old sanctuary has burned in the past and it almost burned again, since it was doors away from the CVS store torched by looters with the whole world watching. Here's the point where the opening anecdote flows into -- of course -- a reference to the political context.

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Looking for pastors on Baltimore front lines and, back at church, on their knees

Looking for pastors on Baltimore front lines and, back at church, on their knees

As you would imagine, I am receiving quite a few emails from friends and readers who are asking variations on this question: What is going on in Baltimore?

A few personal comments: First of all, I have very little experience covering politics and the police beat, the two subjects that, for better and for worse, are currently at the heart of the coverage of this story. Second, I live on the Baltimore beltway south of downtown (in a blue-collar, interracial suburb with roots back to Colonial times) and I am not an expert on urban life in this complex city. I do know that -- as some journalists are noting -- there is a special poignancy to seeing smoke and flames rising from neighborhoods that still haven't recovered from the 1968 riots after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like many locals, I spent hours yesterday watching the news and trying to keep up with the social-media hooks in this story. As of this morning, talk radio is full -- as it was yesterday -- of reports of another wave of "purge" notices calling for more violence this afternoon. True?

Of course, I have been watching and listening as a religion-beat specialist and there has been much to note. Another question people keep asking me is why embattled Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake didn't call for a curfew LAST night. Well, the locals can tell you that Baltimore is a city that doesn't have massive resources and they were stretched to the total limit last night. There weren't enough police and firefighters to go around, on a night with about 140 car fires and major action in neighborhoods in the west and east. Could a curfew have been enforced?

So who was there to respond, until the National Guard and back-up firefighters rolled in from outside of town? If you watched CNN, Fox and other networks last night, you know the answer to that -- clergy and activists from black churches, that's who.

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Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

Baltimore Sun, before the fire began falling, talks to (a few) black pastors about Freddie Gray

It's time to give a salute to The Baltimore Sun for trying to do a timely, highly relevant religion-beat story in the midst the civic meltdown ignited by the still mysterious death of Freddie Gray. If you have a television, a computer or a smartphone (or all of the above) you know that the situation here in Charm City is only getting more complex by the hour.

This past weekend's story -- "What's the role of the church in troubled times? Pastors disagree" -- reminded me of some of the work I did in a seminary classroom in Denver while watching the coverage of the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. Facing a classroom that was half Anglo and half African-American, I challenged the white students to find out what black, primarily urban pastors were preaching about the riots and I asked the black students to do the same with white, primarily suburban, pastors.

The results? White pastors (with only one exception) ignored the riots in the pulpit. Black pastors all preached about the riots and, here's the key part, their takes on the spiritual lessons to be drawn from that cable-TV madness were diverse and often unpredictable. The major theme: The riots showed the sins of all people in all corners of a broken society. Repent! There is enough sin here to convict us all. Repent!

So when I saw the Sun headline, I hoped that this kind of complex content would emerge in the reporting. The African-American church is a complex institution and almost impossible to label, especially in terms of politics. There are plenty of economically progressive and morally conservative black churches. There are all progressive, all the time black churches that are solidly in the religious left. There are nondenominational black megachurches that may as well be part of the religious right. You get the picture.

So who ended up in the Sun, talking about the sobering lessons to be learned in the Freddie Gray case, in a story published just before the protests turned violent?

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Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'

Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'

There is this old-school saying in journalism that I have, on occasion, been known to quote to the editors of The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that currently lands in my front yard: "All news is local."

In other words, when major news is happening somewhere in the world, it is perfectly normal for journalists to seek out ways in which this news is affecting people in the community and region covered by their newsroom. If a tsunami hits Southeast Asia, journalists in Baltimore need to find out if anyone from their city was killed or if anyone local is gearing up to take part in relief efforts for the survivors.

All news is local. Thus, I was not surprised when the Sun team produced a story focusing on local relief agencies that are active in the regions being affected by the brutal rise of the Islamic State.

Alas, I was also not surprised when the Sun newsroom -- as it has done in the past -- missed a major local angle in the story, and a very intense, emotional angle at that. Hold that thought.

The story starts off with the giant relief agency that simply must be covered:

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Paging Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The ghost that, with race, still haunts Baltimore

Paging Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The ghost that, with race, still haunts Baltimore

There has been, in the past week or two, a ripple of discussion in journalism circles (start with Rod Dreher) about the book "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis," by liberal Robert D. Putnam. With good cause, methinks, because -- tragically -- the roots of poverty in this prosperous nation in a topic that is relevant year after year.

The big question remains the same: Is this cultural crisis best discussed in terms of economics and politics, or culture and even morality? Here is moral conservative Ross Douthat, in The New York Times:

The American economy isn’t performing as well as it once did for less-skilled workers. Certain regions ... have suffered painfully from deindustrialization. The shift to a service economy has favored women but has made low-skilled men less marriageable. The decline of unions has weakened professional stability and bargaining power for some workers.
And yet, for all these disturbances and shifts, lower-income Americans have more money, experience less poverty, and receive far more safety-net support than their grandparents ever did. Over all, material conditions have improved, not worsened, across the period when their communities have come apart.

Over on the left, at Slate, there is this timely headline:

Yes, Culture Helped Kill the Two-Parent Family. And Liberals Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Admit It.

All of this discussion, of course, can be seen as intellectual ripples from a Big Bang nearly 50 years ago -- the social sciences research of the great Democratic Party statesman Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York (a frequent topic of GetReligion discussion). He said that America was entering an era in which racism would remain a force in American life, but that the primary cause of poverty would be linked to the destruction of the two-parent family. The key factor: Who has a father and who does not.

This leads me to a massive front-page feature in The Baltimore Sun focusing on recent arguments about the impact of racism here in Charm City.

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The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The U.S. Catholic bishops are meeting in Baltimore and, as you would expect, the coverage -- so far -- has been framed in terms of the the liberal, friendly, compassionate agenda of Pope Francis and the nasty, legalistic, orthodox point of view of the bishops who are "culture warriors" on abortion, marriage, religious liberty, etc.

The top of this Associated Press report is perfect, in terms of capturing this framework:

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are gathering at a moment of turbulence for them and the American church, as Pope Francis moves toward crafting new policies for carrying out his mission of mercy -- a prospect that has conservative Catholics and some bishops in an uproar.
The assembly ... comes less than a month after Francis ended a dramatic Vatican meeting on how the church can more compassionately minister to Catholic families.
The gathering in Rome was only a prelude to a larger meeting next year which will more concretely advise Francis on church practice. Still, the open debate at the event, and the back and forth among bishops over welcoming gays and divorced Catholics who remarry, prompted stunning criticism from some U.S. bishops.

Actually, that is the top of an earlier version of the AP story, recovered via Wayback Machine. That text is now missing and the current version of that AP story, at the same URL, can be found by clicking here. There are some interesting differences ...

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Baltimore Sun covers prayer rite for Iraq, without noticing absence of Eastern churches?

Baltimore Sun covers prayer rite for Iraq, without noticing absence of Eastern churches?

If you have been looking at the big picture in Iraq and Syria, you know that one of the key elements of the Islamic State's rise to power has been its horrific persecution -- slaughter, even -- of the religious minorities caught in its path, as well as Muslims who disagree with the ISIS view of the faith and the need for a new caliphate. 

All of that is horrible and needs continuing coverage. However, the crushing of the ancient churches located in the Nineveh Plain region is a truly historic development, a fact that has begun to bleed into the mainstream-news coverage.

Many religious leaders are concerned and are crying out (click here for New York Times op-ed by major Jewish leader) for someone to do something to help the churches of the East, who have worshipped at now-crushed altars in their homelands since the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Needless to say, I was not surprised to pick up The Baltimore Sun and see a front-page feature on a major interfaith prayer service addressing this crisis. Alas, I was also not surprised to see a huge, glaring hole in this report.

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Ghosts in Baltimore's bloody, troubled, doomed 'Murder Mall'

Ghosts in Baltimore's bloody, troubled, doomed 'Murder Mall'

Another long road trip.

Thus, another big stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers waiting in my comfy reading chair. It's tough work, but somebody's got to do it.

We will get back to crime reports and Charm City in just a moment, after I try to explain why one crime story -- out of many -- caught my eye during my blitz through the newspapers that collected during my week-long road trip into the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

You see, this particular article contains absolute zero references to God, religion, faith, worship or prayer -- topics that often show up in Sun reports about murders and violence.

Why is that? Why did I see a GetReligion angle here? A "ghost" even?

You see, it is very common for Godtalk to show up in the language of ordinary people in the aftermath of crimes in the most troubled neighborhoods in our city. They pray for peace in the city. They crowd into churches for funerals in which ministers talk about sin and guilt and redemption and hope. Reporters, every now and then, quote these voices.

This makes sense.

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