Kellerism

'Kellerism' case on the conservative -- even Chick-fil-A eating -- side of news business?

'Kellerism' case on the conservative -- even Chick-fil-A eating -- side of news business?

Every now and then, I hear from a GetReligion reader who asks a variation on the following question: "How come you never write about cases of Kellerism in conservative media?"

Note that -- if you follow the logic of this statement -- the assumption is that we are constantly writing about examples of Kellerism (click here and here for the roots of this GetReligion term) in "liberal" media.

Actually, our goal here is to write about news coverage in mainstream media. So by definition, "Kellerism" is when mainstream newsrooms publish stories about controversial issues -- almost always about issues of religion, morality or culture -- and do little or nothing to fairly and accurately represent the views of one side in the debate, which the editors have clearly decided in advance is wrong.

Thus, you can't have Kellerism in an op-ed column, an editorial essay or a story in an advocacy publication like The New Republic, Rolling Stone or at MSNBC.com (unless they run an Associated Press report, or similar material). The same thing is true on the political and cultural right. When I ask upset readers to send me URLs for their "conservative" Kellerism nominees, they always send me commentary items from Fox News, National Review, the op-ed pages at The Washington Times or similar locations.

I tell them the same thing I tell conservative readers who are complaining about "bias" in editorials on the left: Commentary writers and scribes in advocacy newsrooms are PAID to openly slant their coverage. This is why their organizations exist.

However, the other day I saw a mainstream Associated Press story (origins at The Daily News in Murfreesboro, Tenn.) that covered what I am sure would have been a controversial event for many readers in America. It's safe to say that some readers considered this story offensive, especially since it took place in a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

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How to write a perfect 'Kellerism' story about a complex debate in Catholic news

How to write a perfect 'Kellerism' story about a complex debate in Catholic news

The other day a Catholic who is a longtime GetReligion reader, and a media professional, sent me a note to say that he had spotted a perfect example of the "Kellerism" worldview that is blurring the line in some elite newsrooms between hard-news coverage and unbalanced, advocacy, editorial analysis.

This particular story wasn't in The New York Times. Instead, it ran on the Crux website that The Boston Globe operates to cover Catholic news. That caught me off guard, since anyone who reads this weblog knows that the Crux team runs lots of fabulous stuff and is usually quite careful when it comes to marking news as "news" and analysis as "analysis."

Before we dissect this news report a bit, let's take a short refresher course on "Kellerism.."

The term is a nod to the statement by Bill Keller of The New York Times, days after he left the editor's chair, that his newspaper had been committed to balanced coverage on matters of politics -- but not on moral, cultural and religious issues. Click here for more on that and here's a link to the video of the event in Austin, Texas.

The bottom line: Why should journalists do fair, accurate coverage that shows respect for traditional religious believers whose ancient views are clearly wrong, according to the modern doctrines affirmed by the priests of Kellerism? Why cover two points of view when one is right and the other is wrong?

This particular Crux story focused on a hot news topic -- whether Catholic institutions have a right to employ only people who affirm (or do not publicly attack) the doctrines of the faith. The headline: "Rally planned to support fired gay church worker in Maryland."

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Justice Roy Moore: Latest gay marriage ruling draws personal cheap shot from CBS

Justice Roy Moore: Latest gay marriage ruling draws personal cheap shot from CBS

I’ve been following the career of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for some 18 years, ever since I visited him at the Etowah County courthouse in the summer of 1997. He was a circuit court judge at that point and he had posted copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls of his courtroom plus he opened all court sessions with prayer. One might think that anyone standing trial there would want all the inspirational help they could get, but the American Civil Liberties Union sued him for the prayers and for posting the commandments.

Moore fought them off and in 2000 ran an uphill battle to become the state’s chief justice. His victory didn’t get much publicity because of the Bush vs. Gore battle that dominated the news at the end of the year. However, he was removed from office in 2003 but reelected to the position nine years later.

The story of all that has been told elsewhere but one thing Moore has made clear during his entire career is his opposition to anything having to do with gay marriage. Last February, one day before a federal court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Alabama, he instructed his probate judges to disregard the ruling. This created quite a bit of confusion, as you can imagine, and we took a look at the mainstream news coverage of that here.

Moore was overruled by the feds, yet this week he again issued an order to probate judges not to conduct homosexual marriages on the grounds that a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court from last March is still in effect.  I spent part of Wednesday scrutinizing several national newspapers’ coverage of this latest move and have been amazed at how all of them quoted Moore’s opponents without even an attempt to balance the story.

Again, as my colleague Jim Davis has already noted, this is nothing new when it comes to reporting on Moore. Apparently this is a story in which there is only one point of view worthy of accurate, informed coverage.

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Pope Francis offers press a few in-flight words on journalism ethics (think 'Kellerism')

Pope Francis offers press a few in-flight words on journalism ethics (think 'Kellerism')

As seems to be the norm in this papacy, some of the most quotable remarks by Pope Francis came in his now obligatory chat with the press on the flight back to Rome after his visit to Africa. Click here for a full text, care of the Catholic News Agency.

This time, there were several hot topics to choose from, starting with the pope's statement that "Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," including in Catholicism. (Clearly popes are not required to follow the Associated Press Stylebook.)

Then there were his latest words on global climate change, in which the pope noted: "We are at the limit of a suicide, to say a strong word."

However, Pope Francis also talked about another topic that is sure to be of interest to GetReligion readers and, so far, these words have not been given much attention in the mainstream media. This is interesting, since the work -- and value -- of the mainstream press was the topic the pope was asked to address.

The context was clear: The legal tensions between the Vatican and the media, in the wake of the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal. For background, please note the interesting John L. Allen, Jr., Crux analysis of this case: "Why a criminal trial for leaks could boomerang on the Vatican." Allen notes, concerning a Vatileaks trial:

It could have a chilling effect on its relationship with the media. To state the obvious, acquiring information that institutions don’t want you to have and then making it public is a fairly good working definition of what reporters do for a living, and trying to criminalize that activity isn’t exactly a prescription for détente. ...
The Vatican’s Promoter of Justice insisted the charges aren’t about publishing confidential material, but the way the journalists obtained those materials, including whether untoward pressure was applied. But most observers will likely still see the process as payback for spilling the Vatican’s secrets.

In that context, Pope Francis was asked during his latest in-flight presser:

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AFP serves up some Kellerism: Getting hitched, sort of, as a threesome in Brazil

AFP serves up some Kellerism: Getting hitched, sort of, as a threesome in Brazil

Every now and then, I run into what appears to be a piece of GetReligion writing, only it isn't here at GetReligion.

It's no surprise when you see this from former GetReligionistas such as the Rev. George Conger, M.Z. Hemingway or Mark Kellner. But what about this piece -- "AFP on 3-Woman Marriage: Using News for Propaganda" -- by one Tom Hoopes at the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, Kansas?

Truth be told, this is a basic paragraph-by-paragraph story dissection, as practiced here on many occasions by Hemingway or, long ago, by the blog's co-founder, Doug LeBlanc (whose name remains in our contributors list because I refuse to remove it, since he's still out there helping behind the scenes).

As it turns out, Hoopes spent a decade as executive editor of The National Catholic Register and had some experience as a mainstream journalist and political press secretary, as well.

So what is he up to in this blog item? Let's look at a few pieces of this:

Fisking is a now-rarer art from the early days of blogging, kept nobly alive as by Father John Zuhlsdorf, whose blog ... helps us see what everything really says.
But when I read a story from Agence-France Presse news agency about the debut of court-sanctioned polyamory, I couldn’t resist using the “Zisking” style of emphasis and added comments. ...
Rio de Janeiro (AFP) -- Three’s a crowd? Not in Brazil, where three women have defied deeply conservative trends in Congress and wider traditional mores by celebrating a polyamorous civil union. [Not long ago, President Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage. Now, suddenly, you need to be in the grip of “deeply conservative trends” to be against multiple spouses?]

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Pope Francis exits U.S. stage: Time for thumbsuckers explaining what it all meant

Pope Francis exits U.S. stage: Time for thumbsuckers explaining what it all meant

The pope has come. The pope has gone. Now it is time for mainstream journalists to tell us what it all meant, to show readers the big picture and to reveal larger truths about what Pope Francis said and, maybe, even about what he should have said.

There's more to this process than news, of course.

About a decade ago, New York Times editor Bill Keller -- yes, the man who soon after his retirement offered the "Kellerism" doctrines -- told an audience of young journalists that his newspaper had changed its credo. He told them: "We long ago moved from 'All the News That's Fit to Print,' to 'All the News You Need to Know, and What It Means.' "

The theologians at the great Gray Lady got started even before the pope was gone, offering a "thumbsucker" analysis piece on Sunday A1 (even thought it was not labeled "analysis") that said the "pastoral" tone used by Pope Francis was a loss for conservatives, who wanted him to defend doctrine. The Times team did note that the pope offered no comments that supported the doctrinal left, either. Thus, the bottom line: Compassion is the opposite of doctrinal orthodoxy. Click here for my earlier post on that.

The thumb-sucking process continued in American papers yesterday. The Times weighed in, once again, with a piece stressing that the pope showed a "deft touch" when handling issues in American politics (since we all know that politics are what ultimately matter):

... Mostly Francis demonstrated a nuanced political dexterity, effectively sidestepping the familiar framework of American debate while charting his own broader path. He advocated “life” but emphasized opposition to the death penalty, not abortion. He made strong stands for religious freedom -- a major issue for American bishops -- but refocused the concept on interfaith tolerance and harmony.

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Do many reporters get why Kim Davis is in jail? Hint: Investigate Kentucky laws

Do many reporters get why Kim Davis is in jail? Hint: Investigate Kentucky laws

So Kim Davis is in jail, which is the only place -- under current Kentucky laws, apparently -- she can go without giving her signed consent (hold that thought) to same-sex marriages, which she believes she cannot do because of a theological conflict of interest.

So U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning has done the logical thing and locked her up, because -- under the current Kentucky laws -- there is no other way to obey five members of the U.S. Supreme Court and get marriage licenses to same-sex couples in that state.

Here is a crucial question to which I cannot find an answer: Does Kim Davis, under current Kentucky law, have to put her name on a license to make it valid. I ask because Davis is on record as supporting compromises in which gay citizens could receive marriage licenses without a signature from the local clerk or with the signature of another willing clerk appointed by a judge or the state. As I have stated in previous posts, she is willing for licenses to go out, only she refuses to give her consent. She does not want this taking place under her authority, but under the authority of someone else recognized by the state.

However, there is no law allowing that approach in Kentucky, as opposed to, let's say, North Carolina. Right? If Davis was in a different state, she would have other options. That's an important fact in this standoff.

Let's return to The Washington Post coverage, since that has where I have been following these events most closely. There is much to applaud in the story that went live last night, but there are familiar gaps -- even when compared with earlier Post coverage. Let's read and I'll add some comments:

Davis’s decision means the 49-year-old elected public servant will be kept in custody indefinitely as the legal wrangling over her case continues. It also suggests she is willing to martyr herself for her cause, which is the right of public officials to be guided by their personal religious beliefs.

"Suggests" is never a good word in hard-news coverage.

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NPR leaves several big holes in report on non-Catholics struggling with Irish schools

NPR leaves several big holes in report on non-Catholics struggling with Irish schools

On American shores, attending a private religious school is an expensive privilege.

Such schools only accept certain people and tuition per student easily eats up $5,000 or more a year. My daughter was briefly enrolled in a kindergarten at a classical Catholic school and although we were allowed in on the “Catholic rate” versus the extra $3,000 most non-Catholics were charged, the extras really added up. We’re talking uniforms, mandatory contributions to the school operating fund and required volunteer hours by the parent.

But what if the only school available to you was Catholic? That’s what NPR tried to describe in this broadcast

In the U.S., parents who want to give their children a religious education have to pay for it for the most part. In Ireland, it's the opposite -- 92 percent of state schools are run by the Catholic Church. That's even though growing numbers of people in Ireland no longer identify as Catholic. And this is creating new tensions for parents trying to find schools for their kids. Miranda Kennedy has been digging into this from Dublin. ...
MIRANDA KENNEDY, BYLINE: Nikki Murphy is showing me around the small house she shares with her husband, Clem Brennan, and their two young children. She loves their neighborhood. … But when their older son Reuben turned 4, they discovered a problem with their neighborhood.
MURPHY: One huge obstacle is trying to get Reuben into school. Yeah, it's been horrendous.
KENNEDY: Nikki and Clem chose not to baptize their son.

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Time to tackle a question: Does BuzzFeed do basic, hard-news religion news or not?

Time to tackle a question: Does BuzzFeed do basic, hard-news religion news or not?

This past year, I had a student in Washington who was really into BuzzFeed, for many reasons, including lots of valid ones.

Like it or not, she said, the mainstream press was going to have to come to terms with key elements of the BuzzFeed business model, especially the idea of breaking stories down into humorous and entertaining listicles that force profitable mouse clicks. This concept, she added, could save the news industry by helping young readers develop habits of news consumption.

I asked: But what about basic news? How do these digital-era concepts apply to the coverage of daily hard news about topics that, like it or not, are essential to life and public discourse? Her reply was blunt: That doesn't matter since young readers won't read those kinds of news stories anyway.

I was also worried about continuing efforts to erase the line between news coverage and editorial writing, in the snarky new listicles, first-person features and in the waves of "reported blogging" pieces that are spreading through the websites of conventional newsrooms. Oh yes, and things like the Twitter blast at the top of this post.

Then there was that famous statement by BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith (see my post "From old Kellerism to new BuzzFeed") that bluntly stated:

“We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.”

Smith later said, in a Hugh Hewitt interview (transcript here) explained his newsroom's open celebration of the 5-4 Obergefell decision:

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