NPR

NPR road trip to study bizarre citizens of North Dakota feels like a visit to the zoo

NPR road trip to study bizarre citizens of North Dakota feels like a visit to the zoo

Last week, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast the results of their recent road trip through North Dakota, one of a decreasing number of states (currently at 13) with laws opposing same-sex marriage. (Many more states had them, but courts have struck them down). In interviews around the southeastern corner of the state, reporters talked with people who were pro and con on homosexual marriage.

NPR pitched this series as “People thinking out loud about gay rights and same sex marriage.” In other places on their web site, they said it was about “religion and gay rights in North Dakota.”

In their intro, NPR quoted a Gallup poll as saying North Dakota is the ‘least gay’ state in the country at 1.7 percent of the population identifying themselves as homosexual. Washington, DC, by the way, was the ‘most gay’ in terms of people who self-identify as such at 10 percent.

The series explains itself as follows:

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Religious freedom: Charlotte Observer actually asks the religious some important questions

Religious freedom: Charlotte Observer actually asks the religious some important questions

What?? A daily newspaper quoting ministers on a state religious freedom bill? Cue Tchaikovsky!

No, wait. The Charlotte Observer does quote two pastors about North Carolina's proposed law, a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But one is on their radar because he ran for the Senate last year. And the other is apparently the loyal opposition.

The fast-moving bill is similar to those that have drawn fire in Arizona, Indiana and elsewhere. Supporters say they are attempts to shield religious people from unwarranted government coercion. Opponents say they're ruses to legalize discrimination against gays.

It's a clear religious and moral issue. Unfortunately, most of the Charlotte Observer article quotes business, government, political and even sports groups like the NCAA -- a stable familiar to anyone who has followed the ongoing battle over Indiana's version of RFRA. The effect is largely like hearing people talk about you while you're standing right there.

Roughly a fifth of the 1,100-word Observer article chronicles economic jitters, based on blowback from businesses after Indiana passed its RFRA. The story grants two paragraphs to American Airlines, which hints that it will use its influence against the North Carolina bill, as it did against a similar bill in Arizona.

The Observer article does some things going for it. For one, it shuns the "scare" or "sarcasm" quotes around "religious freedom," as we've seen in many media -- even the otherwise classy NPR -- in covering the new law in Indiana.

The newspaper also balances its quoted sources. It cites Gov. Pat McCrory and a state senator against the bill, then two legislators who favor it. The Observer checks in with the state's American Civil Liberties Union but also with an opponent, the North Carolina Values Coalition.

For the pro-RFRA pastor, the Observer allows two partial quotes:

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NPR's new religion correspondent reports on 'extreme anti-theism' as possible motive in Muslim deaths

NPR's new religion correspondent reports on 'extreme anti-theism' as possible motive in Muslim deaths

Welcome to the Godbeat, Tom Gjelten!

Gjelten made his debut this week as NPR's new religion correspondent.

The veteran journalist previously served as national security and international affairs correspondent there. 

He joined NPR as labor and education reporter in 1982 and later did international reporting stints as the Latin American correspondent based in Mexico City and the Central Europe correspondent based in Berlin.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who spent more than a decade covering religion for NPR, was a favorite of your GetReligionistas. According to Facebook, she's now working on a book on how to do midlife well.

Gjelten's first piece as religion correspondent concerns the case of three young Muslims who were gunned down in Chapel Hill, N.C., last week. (See previous GetReligion posts related to that case here and here.)

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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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What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

About a third of a century ago, back when I was doing graduate work in mass communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I started calling up editors and asking them a simple question: Why doesn't your newsroom -- mostly newspapers, back then -- do more to cover religion news?

These interviews ended up being part of my graduate project, which was edited down and ran as a massive cover story -- "The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets" -- at the professional journal called The Quill

Editors gave me all kinds of reasons for their limited coverage of the Godbeat, but there were two reasons that I heard more than any other:

(1) Religion news is too boring (and no one wants to cover it).

(2) Religion news is too controversial (and causes our readers to get too riled up and they write too many leaders to the editor).

And there you had it: The world was just full -- too full, it seemed -- of boring, controversial religion stories. Between the lines, these journalists seem to be saying that religion was boring to THEM, yet they could not figure out why THEIR READERS seemed to care so much about it. Thus, the strange blend of boredom and controversy.

I thought about that this week when "Crossroads" podcast host Todd Wilken and I were talking about that controversial speech that President Barack Obama gave at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

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Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

Press covers another 'women's reproductive rights' case, but most miss the unusual (thus, newsy) pro-life angle

According to most news reports about the U.S. Supreme action involving Peggy Young and her case against the United Parcel Service -- such as the CBS News clip atop this post -- this was a pretty standard battle focusing on "women's reproductive rights." 

Most of these stories seemed to have been produced with a template. This was all business as usual, in other words. But was that the case at the court?

Listeners who tuned in the NPR report on the case heard the same oh-so-familiar storyline -- but with one brief reference to a twist in the plot. 

The online version of the NPR story began like this. Can you spot the religion ghost in this lede?

Women's reproductive rights are once again before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Only this time, pregnancy discrimination is the issue and pro-life and pro-choice groups are on the same side, opposed by business groups.

In other words, the big news here is that very unusual coalition created by this case. What's that all about? Who is involved on the pro-life side of that equation and why? 

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Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's many wives

Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith's many wives

Nearly three weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune's Godbeat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack reported on a new Mormon essay concerning church founder Joseph Smith taking multiple wives.

A few days after that (right after reporting on Mormon undergarments), The Associated Press jumped on the story.

But not until this week did The New York Times put the story on its front page with this headline:

It's Official: Mormon Founder Had Many Wives

Apparently, when the Times declares news "official," it becomes much bigger news — because suddenly the story is everywhere.

It's time for another "big news report card," and I'm in a relatively generous mood when it comes to today's grades.

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No pepperoni, plenty of ghosts: Generic Christians open a pizza cafe as a vague 'experiment of faith'

No pepperoni, plenty of ghosts: Generic Christians open a pizza cafe as a vague 'experiment of faith'

It's not as if NPR totally ignores the religion angle in a recent feature on a Cincinnati-area pizza cafe that "has a big heart."

In fact, that angle appears way up high in the 1,200-word piece:

Here's what might have sounded like a pretty shaky business plan for a neighborhood pizza cafe: "We'll only be open one day a week. Won't do any advertising. No prices on the menus. We'll serve mostly what we grow in the garden – and no pepperoni. And we'll look on this work as an 'experiment of faith.'"

That's what Erin and Robert Lockridge said two years ago, when they decided to open a pizza place called Moriah Pie in Norwood, a small town part of greater Cincinnati.

The better days in Norwood, an old neighborhood of two-story houses with porches, came to a close in 1989 when the Chevrolet plant shut down. But an empty, dusty café was waiting on a street corner, and Lockridges decided to start making pizzas there.

These two shared an interest in urban farming and had been working together in Norwood. Robert was what he calls a "parish farmer" sponsored by a church. On their honeymoon, driving from Novia Scotia to Maine, they talked about what might come next.

"We stopped at ... Eastport and we camped that night, and the next morning went to a very local diner," recalls Erin. It was a busy place. And in that Maine diner, the newly married Ohio couple could see their path ahead.

"We watched all the locals come in and get their breakfast and we watched the way that the waitress behind the counter tended to all these people," Erin says, "And it was really beautiful to watch her 'cause she was very aware of everybody there. She was almost like a pastor to them."

Just in those first six paragraphs, NPR makes reference to an "experiment of faith," to Robert Lockridge's work as a "parish farmer" and to a waitress who "was almost like a pastor." 

But as the reader who provided the tip on this story pointed out, "This one's kind of like the generic Christian laundry stories, only with pepperoni."

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Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

A decade ago, while working for The Associated Press in Dallas, I wrote a feature on frequent-flier rabbis.

I was reminded of that story when I came across an NPR report this week on "roving rabbis."

NPR's descriptive lede: 

Mountains and forests surround the little town of Show Low, Ariz. It's home to only 10,000 people, but the heavily Mormon community is still the biggest place for more than hour in every direction.
It's not the kind of setting that typically fosters a thriving Jewish community — which is exactly why Hasidic rabbinical students Zalman Refson and Yaakov Kaplan are here.
Residents of the rural West have historically relied on the talents of people passing through — traveling doctors, traveling circus performers and traveling preachers. So-called roving rabbis like Refson and Kaplan are carrying on that tradition, meeting rural Jews who otherwise might rarely interact with others of their faith.
They're two of the hundreds of rabbinical students who travel to rural places all across the globe each year. These roving rabbis make these journeys in the name of Chabad, a movement within Orthodox Judaism.
Young, bearded and dressed in black pants and long-sleeved white shirts, even in the Arizona heat, the two men stick out in Show Low. Kaplan says being a roving rabbi is all about helping Jews reconnect to their faith.

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