Catholicism

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

If you were to ask me the easiest part of writing for GetReligion, I would say it is coming up with items for "What is this?" --  the label we give to stories that are presented as hard news, but are so biased as to be indistinguishable from commentary. 

Religion News Service, which lately has unfortunately become a reliable source for "What is this?" items, presents another example of the genre with "Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘Feminized’ church and altar girls caused priest shortage." The story's facts are straight, but the language is charged in such a way that it manipulates the reader into making negative conclusions about the cardinal. 

Understand, I am not denying that many readers could take offense at the cardinal's comments. Personally, I'm with Madeleine Teahan of the U.K. Catholic Herald, who notes the disconnect between his identifying discipline and strength as "manly" qualities while painting men as passive victims of feminists. But if I wanted a commentary on Burke's interview, I would read a story in the "commentary" section of the news outlet (as is Teahan's). RNS, however, markets its piece under the news label (though it did in fact run a commentary on Burke's interview as well; more on that in a moment). 

The first two paragraphs of the story are factual, though there are the little digs that Catholics have grown accustomed to seeing in stories about Burke:

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis’ push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”
Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

Right away, Burke is set in opposition to Pope Francis, who has "demoted" him. Readers are prepared to dislike him before they even read his comments.

 Then the comments come:

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The inky-fingered Dawn

The inky-fingered Dawn

It is a joy and an honor to join GetReligion, as this site has done much to shape my understanding of the dynamics involved in news coverage of religious issues.

I am a very traditional religious believer with a decidedly unorthodox background. I am also a journalist. Put that together and some people think I'm controversial, especially those with long memories who remember when, as a new Christian convert, I was outspoken on issues relating to sexual morality and abortion. Nearly 10 years ago, that outspokenness -- along with an error of misplaced zeal -- lost me a newspaper job, as I'll relate here momentarily.

But here is the bottom line: having put in years in New York City newsrooms, not to mention decades as a rock music historian, I know the value of a free press, and I want to see mainstream journalists produce accurate, fair, balanced reporting on faith issues. That's why I am here at GetReligion.

New York City is in fact my birthplace (technically: Mom was rushed from New Rochelle to a Brooklyn hospital) and raised Reform Jewish -- sort of. Although I was a bat mitzvah, I was also exposed to various New Age practices after my parents' divorce, as my mother explored the Seventies religion smorgasbord.

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Round two: How not to report on a miracle

Being recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church is a difficult process — almost as difficult, apparently, as trying to explain that process in a mainstream new story.

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Catholic or catholic? Or, so that's what catholic means!

A religion writer passed along this piece from the Wall Street Journal with the instruction to pay attention to the 4th paragraph. So let’s do that:

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