Kellerism

NPR's Diane Rehm enters right-to-die debate, with 'Kellerism' assist from Washington Post

NPR's Diane Rehm enters right-to-die debate, with 'Kellerism' assist from Washington Post

Any list of National Public Radio superstars would have to include Dianne Rehm, who is, of course, a commentator and, thus, someone who is perfectly free to speak her mind. Her decision to use her clout on behalf of the "death with dignity" cause -- that's physician-assisted suicide, for those on the other side -- is a newsworthy development in this national life-issues debate.

So let's be clear that this post is not about Rehm and her right to speak out on this subject. It's about a Washington Post feature story -- yet another example of "Kellerism" evangelism -- about Rehm's highly-personal and passionate campaign on this hot-button issue. For a quick refresher on that "Kellerism" term, click here and especially here.

The key to the story is the pact that the 78-year-old Rehm had with her late husband, John, to help him die. She was not legally able to do that, as he neared the end of his fight with Parkinson's Disease. The Post report notes:

The doctor said no, that assisting suicide is illegal in Maryland. Diane remembers him specifically warning her, because she is so well known as an NPR talk show host, not to help. No medication. No pillow over his head. John had only one option, the doctor said: Stop eating, stop drinking.
So that’s what he did. Ten days later, he died.

The religion theme?

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The press coverage down in Alabama: We're all Hegelians now

The press coverage down in Alabama: We're all Hegelians now

Talk of history is all the rage these days. The “wrong side of history” has become a cliché used by everyone from President Barack Obama to advocates of same-sex marriage, usually to condemn those who do not believe as they do.

Little is new in our world, especially ideas. In an influential 1989 article published in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?”, Francis Fukuyama argued the advent of Western liberal democracy represented the end-point of human society. He did not mean a catastrophic end, but rather the culmination or highest point in its development. History would go on, but there would be no significant change in the economic, political and intellectual bases of the world order.

Fukuyama noted the most influential proponent of this world view had been Karl Marx. At one time declaring a belief in history was tantamount to calling oneself a Communist, or in polite society, a materialist.

Later that night they talked about it again. Leamas brought it up — he asked her whether she was religious. "You've got me wrong," she said, "all wrong. I don't believe in God."

"Then what do you believe in?"

"History."

He looked at her in astonishment for a moment, then laughed.

"Oh, Liz … oh no. You're not a bloody Communist?" She nodded, blushing like a small girl at his laughter, angry and relieved that he didn't care.

From "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" by John le Carré (1963) p 37.

Fukuyama observed that the “concept of history as a dialectical process with a beginning, a middle, and an end was borrowed by Marx from his great German predecessor, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.”

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'Kellerism' comes to Alabama same-sex marriage wars, care of a political blast by New York Times

'Kellerism' comes to Alabama same-sex marriage wars, care of a political blast by New York Times

Heads up. We have a "Kellerism" reference on another blog today, including a shout-out for a GetReligion response.

But before we get to that, we need to look at what's going on down in Alabama right now, including that New York Times report that proclaimed:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Amid conflicting signals from federal courts and the chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, some Alabama counties began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Monday in a legal showdown with echoes of the battles over desegregation in the 1960s.
In major county seats like Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville, same-sex couples lined up outside courthouses as they opened and emerged smiling after being wed.

As you would imagine, in the newspaper of record's own words, its "reporters have fanned out across Alabama to explore and explain how the same-sex marriage process is playing out in a handful of locations." The commitment is obvious and demonstrated at length.

Later in the story readers are told, with a hint of religion language thrown in:

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U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage: Baltimore Sun offers a very, very, simplistic report

U.S. Supreme Court and gay marriage: Baltimore Sun offers a very, very, simplistic report

As so often happens here in Beltway land, our nation's principalities and powers -- when dealing with subjects that are both momentous and highly divisive -- strategically drop major news stories into the fading hours of Friday afternoons, as journalists and other chattering-class folks exit their offices.

Saturday newspapers and broadcasts are, of course, the thinnest of the typical news week. Even the Sunday newspapers are dominated by major stories and packages submitted by reporters earlier in the week.

Thus, elderly GetReligion readers who pay money for analog news (thus providing most of the funding for independently reported news and information in this land) ventured into their front yards this morning and retrieved bundles of ink and dead-tree pulp that led with wire-service or bureau reports about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to address the national legal status of same-sex marriage.

If you live in New York or Washington, D.C., and truly elite news markets, your front page may feature a staff-written story. But I live in Baltimore and thus, like most of the nation, the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- the ever-shrinking Baltimore Sun -- first ran wire reports and, later, a story from the Tribune chain's Washington, D.C., bureau.

We are going to carefully walk through that bureau report and, as we do, let's look for the views of three major groups of believers who should be represented in the material gathered for this story.

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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An old ghost hidden in details of that New York Times story on shuttered Catholic churches

An old ghost hidden in details of that New York Times story on shuttered Catholic churches

Here is a comment that I hear every now and then, either in private emails or when I meet veteran GetReligion readers out in the wilds of daily life: Why do you make some of the same comments over and over, when critiquing religion news in the mainstream press?

Whenever I hear that I think about one of my favorite college professors back in my days as a history major, who used to note how often the same mistakes happen over and over and over again in history. Are we supposed to stop studying them? And then he would note that he also applied this concept to grading our blue-book tests.

So, yes, here we go again with yet another look at a news report about Catholic church closings.

Right now, the wave of closings and mergers in the Archdiocese of New York are in the headlines and with good cause. For starters, think of this as a real estate story. Can you imagine what the land and the space above some of these properties are worth in the midst of an insane building spree in Manhattan?

Here is a key chunk of this very interesting and detailed story:

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Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

It is getting harder and harder to explain to many GetReligion readers why we see a bright red line between basic hard-news journalism and advocacy/analysis journalism.

In the latter, select journalists are allowed to make obvious leaps of logic, to use "editorial" language that passes judgment, to lean in one editorial direction (as opposed to being fair to voices on both sides) and to use fewer attributions telling readers about the sources that shaped the reporting. In other words, analysis writing offers a blend of information and opinion. Reporters who are given the liberty to do this tend to be experienced, trusted specialty reporters.

In the past, editors tended to be rather careful and let readers know what they were reading -- flying an analysis flag or logo right out in the open so that readers were not confused. (For example, I am a columnist with the Universal syndicate. By definition I do analysis writing every week.)

The problem is that the line between hard news and advocacy journalism is increasingly vanishing and editors have stopped using clear labels. Your GetReligionistas are constantly sent URLs for stories that are clearly works of advocacy journalism, in which no attempts have been made to quote articulate voices on both sides of hot-button issues, yet they are not clearly labeled as analysis. We are left asking, "What is this?"

Want to see what I mean?

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Keep saying this: Politics is all that matters, even when covering Pope Francis

Keep saying this: Politics is all that matters, even when covering Pope Francis

I'm sorry, but it's "Kellerism" time again.

So soon? I am afraid so. This time, the virus hit The Politico in a rare news-feature venture by that politics-equals-life journal into the world of religion news.

The subject, of course, is the political impact of Pope Francis and why he will be good for the Democrats or, at the very least, why he will not have a positive impact on the work of conservative Catholics who in recent decades have pretty much been forced to vote for Republicans.

The double-decker headline says analysis piece from the get-go, even though the piece is not marked as analysis or advocacy journalism: 

How Will the Pope Play in 2016?
Francis’s softer brand of Catholicism kept his bishops out of the midterms -- and they’re likely to tone down their message next time too.

First, if you need some background info on retired New York Times editor Bill Keller and the statements in which he promulgated the "Kellerism" doctrines,  click here.  The key is that "Kellerism" journalism argues that there is no need to be balanced and fair in coverage of news about religion and culture, since urban, sophisticated journalists already know who is in the right on those kinds of issues.

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The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I find it sad, but not all that surprising, that the journalistic virus that your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism" is spreading out of the elite zip codes along the East and West coasts.

Once again, "Kellerism" is a form of advocacy journalism that is practiced by journalists who are working in mainstream newsrooms, as opposed to newsrooms that openly admit that they have a dominant editorial point of view, or template, on many crucial issues in the public square. The term grew out of remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 forum (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. 

Here, once again, is a chunk of an "On Religion" column I wrote about his response when he was asked if -- it's a familiar question -- the Times can accurately be called a "liberal newspaper."

“We’re liberal in the sense that ... liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. ... “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” ...
Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes -- and did even before New York had a gay marriage law -- included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

As I have noted several times, the key words are "aside from." Why use a balanced scale when editors already know who is right?

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