NPR

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

Global warming: Media rush to interpret what pope says, even before he says it (Updated)

You may have heard of a spinning storm like Tropical Storm Bill -- but have you ever seen the spin before the storm?

You have if you’ve read much about Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. It hasn't even come out yet -- it's scheduled to be released today -- but already, tongues are waggin' and tweets are twittering.

Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," is supposed to balance reflections on science, economics and compassion for the poor surrounding climate change. But the message is already in danger of being drowned out by spin doctors, both liberal and conservative -- and anger over media that leaked a version of the document.

Among the cheerleaders is the Los Angeles Times' breathless advance piece. The story throws a bone to conservatives who think the encyclical could "roil the American presidential race by injecting religion into the already contentious politics of global warming." But all the direct quotes go to liberals who applaud what they think Francis is about to say (remember, the letter hasn't even come out yet!).

And the newspaper's own attitude is evident from this:

Viewed by some as a bold act by the pope to sway opinion on a controversial issue, the encyclical in many ways reflects a movement that has been growing for decades, sometimes on the margins, with some Catholic and Christian academics and individual church leaders and congregations increasingly making “creation care” a theological pursuit and a central ministry. In some cases, the approach has helped churches reconnect with people who felt Catholicism and other denominations had become too concerned with divisive cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Many of those groups believe they have a formidable new ally.

Reuters chimes in, saying how "keenly awaited" has been the encyclical, which is "destined to become a signature document of his papacy."

Reuters puts Francis on the side of the angels, aka scientists:

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NPR fumbles on Jeb Bush's religious beliefs — or was that Jeb's fault?

NPR fumbles on Jeb Bush's religious beliefs — or was that Jeb's fault?

In its look at the religious appeal of Jeb Bush -- or lack of it -- NPR mentions "religious" or "religion" four times.  But the depth in examining that faith is ectoplasmically thin.

And maybe that's the candidate's fault.

The story, occasioned by Jeb's presidential campaign speeches around Iowa, contrasts his vague, general religious talk with the spot-on evangelical language of George W. Bush 16 years prior. Jeb, who formally threw his hat into the presidential race today, is weighed in the balance and found wanting.

"Jeb Bush is certainly a deeply religious man — and he shares his brother's conservative views on key social issues," the article says. "But despite that, many religious voters view the former Florida governor with suspicion."

NPR never really says how he's "deeply religious," though.

Sitting in on a campaign stop in Dubuque, Iowa, NPR says Jeb's only religious remarks sounded like an "afterthought at the end of his remarks":

"Gosh, what was it, twenty years ago I converted to Catholicism," Bush said, "It was one of the smartest things I've done in my whole life."
Bush went on to say, "I believe that it is the architecture that gives me the serenity I need, not just as a public leader or in life. It gives me peace. It allows me to have a closer relationship with my creator."
It was a firm statement of belief. But it was considerably different than the almost evangelical way George W. Bush spoke about his faith during his first presidential campaign. At the Iowa Straw Poll in the summer of 1999, the future president was cheered when he said, "America's strongest foundation is not found in our wallets. It is found in our souls."

Granted, Jeb was speaking at a Catholic liberal arts college, so maybe he felt he could talk in abbreviations. But maybe NPR could have asked specifics. Maybe. There's no indication they did. Or whether there was a press conference. Would have been good to know.

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Prayer, Franklin Graham, gay marriage: Washington Post runs a decent piece

Prayer, Franklin Graham, gay marriage: Washington Post runs a decent piece

However the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage, your rights -- a reader's rights to fair, untainted information -- are respected in a new Washington Post story.

The Post tells about on Franklin Graham urging prayer to change the minds of Supreme Court justices -- and it shows no obvious scorn and little slant:

During the same weekend that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over the wedding of a same-sex couple, evangelist Franklin Graham was writing a prayer to change her mind on same-sex marriage.
“As the Supreme Court continues to deliberate over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage,” Graham wrote in a Facebook message, “let’s pray that Justice Ginsburg’s eyes would be opened to the truth of Scripture and that she would not be deceived by the arguments of those who seek to impose their ‘new morality’ on our nation.”

The time peg, course, is the pair of cases about same-sex marriage being considered by the high court. One case asks whether gay marriage is a constitutional right. If they decide no, they’ll then judge the other case, on whether such marriages performed in one state must be recognized in every other state.

As the newspaper notes, the campaign shows that the conservative side still has some fight left in it:

As many conservative evangelical leaders work to anticipate the potential fallout from any decision from the court that would be unfavorable to their stance on the issue, Franklin Graham’s popular Facebook prayers are evidence that others believe the fight is hardly over, even as the case sits in the hands of the justices. A spokesman for Franklin Graham could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Post explains that Ginsburg is just one of several left-leaning judges for whom Graham is recommending prayers. She was singled out because she presided over that wedding in Washington on Sunday, specifying "the powers vested in her by the Constitution." That's according to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, cited by the Post.

But Graham is asking also for prayers for Justice Elana Kagan, who also seems to favor same-sex marriage. He asks for prayers for Justice Samuel Alito, who appears to oppose the practice, to "stand strong for what we know is God's unchanging truth." And he recommends praying that Justice Anthony Kennedy will "realize the folly" in changing the traditional definition of marriage.

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Native Hawaiian protesters get a pass in NPR story about Mauna Kea fracas

Native Hawaiian protesters get a pass in NPR story about Mauna Kea fracas

Every so often, there are articles that cause a sense of journalism whiplash and this is certainly one of those.

Here is an NPR story on a group of Hawaiians who are camped out atop Mauna Kea, the dominant volcano on the island of Hawaii. Claiming an allegiance to the pagan gods and goddesses said to inhabit the area, the leaders of this group do not understand why there has to be a 14th astronomical observatory on this peak.

Although there’s been local media reports about this controversy -- which has erupted six years after construction was approved by the Office for Hawaiian Affairs -- National Public Radio appears to have been the only national medium that has reported on the fracas.

The bottom line: Notice the lack of snark here and the respect paid to the beliefs of the devotees.

In Hawaii, a battle is going on over the future of a mountaintop. Native Hawaiians say it's sacred ground, while astronomers say it's the best place in the world to build a massive, 18-story telescope.
This is not simply a story of religion versus science. Activists consider the construction of a giant telescope on the island of Hawaii to be a desecration of their sacred land.

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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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