NPR

Why did Catholic News Service fire its editor? You won't learn much about that from NPR

Why did Catholic News Service fire its editor? You won't learn much about that from NPR

One piece of news that slipped beneath some peoples' notice last week was the quiet exit of Tony Spence, longtime editor of Catholic News Service. CNS is not known as a bastion of liberal thought, so I was surprised to learn the problem here was some tweets that Spence had posted on his personal feed. 

Posting sentiments that cut across the grain of your full-time employer is pretty risky but maybe Spence, 63, felt he had the seniority and stature to speak his mind. But the blogosphere got him, as it tends to do, to the point where his employer could not defend him.

It's a sign of our edgy cyber-times. Read more about it from NPR

 

The director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, a news agency affiliated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has reportedly been pushed out of his position after an outcry over tweets endorsing LGBT rights.
Two prominent Catholic news outlets have reported that Tony Spence resigned this week at the request of an official in the bishops conference.
Spence, who has headed the CNS since 2004, was active on Twitter -- tweeting mostly about news within the Catholic Church, but occasionally sharing stories on the journalism industry, world news and pop culture. He tweeted about sainthood dates, the pope and refugees, Flannery O'Connor's faith and the infuriating failures of the D.C. metro.
But it was tweets about the gender identity legislation in North Carolina and what supporters call the "religious liberties" measure in Mississippi, and related issues of LGBT rights, that reportedly led to his dismissal.

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Your news report on porn addiction is missing a crucial 'M' word — no, not that one

Your news report on porn addiction is missing a crucial 'M' word — no, not that one

"There seems to be a crucial word missing from this report," editor Terry Mattingly said in one of our regular email exchanges among the GetReligion team. "Thoughts?"

OK, I'll play along and click the link.

Interesting:

It’s official: Pornography is a public health crisis. At least in Utah.
The state proclaimed as much Tuesday after Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed off on a resolution that deems pornography “a public health hazard” that can result in wide-ranging harm to individuals and society at large.
“We hope that people hear and heed this voice of warning,” Herbert said at a signing ceremony. “For our citizens know that there are real health risks that are involved and associated with viewing pornography.”

If you're a news junkie, you know that porn has been making headlines — and not just in the religious world — the last few weeks.

Time magazine featured a recent cover story making the case that easy access to explicit images and videos has emasculated an entire generation of young men. Tmatt critiqued that story in a recent post.

Meanwhile, Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service's new national reporter focused on covering Christians and Christianity, wrote about a recent global summit aimed at "setting free" Christians from porn.

But back to the Washington Post story: I kept reading, seeing if I could spot the missing word.

Tmatt gave a hint: "Starts with an 'M.'"

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What media coverage tells us about the (lack of) faith of 'Story of God' host Morgan Freeman

What media coverage tells us about the (lack of) faith of 'Story of God' host Morgan Freeman

A decade ago, in reporting on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I met a couple who survived the storm by escaping to their church's balcony.

This was the lede on the in-depth narrative feature I wrote on Charles and Angela Marsalis:

NEW ORLEANS — "Girl, you better get out of town!” 
Angela Marsalis’ mother made it clear what she thought her daughter should do that weekend as Hurricane Katrina — a Category 5 storm packing 160 mile-per-hour winds — threatened a direct hit on New Orleans. 
In a perfect world, Angela — a substitute teacher who helped each day with an after-school program at church — would have done exactly as her mother urged. She, her husband, Charles, and their boys would have joined the clogged procession of vehicles fleeing the tempest predicted to make landfall Monday morning.
But Charles — who worked 12-hour days on a tugboat yet still volunteered most mornings at a Christian outreach center — had just spent $2,000 to fix the family’s blue 2000 Dodge Caravan, wiping out their bank account.
Jittery over the calamity that could befall the bowl-shaped metropolitan area, Angela begged her husband: “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” 
But her practical side knew they lacked the cash to keep their gas tank full. They simply could not afford to heed the mayor’s mandatory evacuation order. 

Over the last 10 years, I've made repeated trips to New Orleans to update the Marsalises' journey (here, here and here, for example).

Now, the Marsalises are about to be featured on actor Morgan Freeman's "The Story of God," a six-episode series that premiered Sunday night on the National Geographic Channel. 

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Media gag order: In Georgia religious liberty flap, one side is played up, the other shouted down

Media gag order: In Georgia religious liberty flap, one side is played up, the other shouted down

So Georgia passed their hotly debated religious freedom bill, allowing faith-based objections to serving gays. What could be stronger than the voice of the people?

At least two things: Pro sports magnates and mainstream media. Together, they're shouting down the opposition in a drive to get Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill.

Team associations, like the NFL and NCAA, threaten boycotts. Team owners preach equality and tolerance. Religious voices -- except for one exception, which we'll mention later -- essentially get a gag order.

Typical for much of the coverage is yesterday's Washington Post story:

The NFL issued a stern warning Friday to the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta, a reminder that if a "religious liberty" bill is signed into law by the governor, it could affect whether the city is chosen to host a Super Bowl.
The bill states that, with few exceptions, the government may not "substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a law, rule, regulation, ordinance or resolution of general applicability." It would also protect faith-based groups from penalties if, in the absence of contracts, they refuse to provide "social, educational or charitable services that violate such faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief." Those groups would also be protected if they chose not to hire an employee whose religious beliefs are in contrast with the organization’s.
The purpose of the bill, which has gone from the state legislature to the governor, is, according to one legislator, to provide a response to the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. The NFL joined hundreds of businesses in Georgia that see it as discriminatory.
"NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites."

The Post goes on like that for 1,200 words. It adds rebukes from the NCAA and from Atlanta teams the Hawks, the Braves and the Falcons. They all recite similar scripts about tolerance, equality, diversity and welcoming everyone.

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Private religion? It's time for reporters to ask factual questions about candidates' faith

Private religion? It's time for reporters to ask factual questions about candidates' faith

When I was working my way into journalism, soon after the cooling of the earth's crust, the primary argument editors used when justifying thin coverage of trends and events linked to religion was that this faith was a private matter and, thus, not news.

Then Jimmy Carter started talking about being "born again" and the Religious Right emerged and things changed. Everyone knew that politics was real. Thus, it follows that religion must be real to the same degree that it affects politics.

When I was doing my University of Illinois graduate project (click here for The Quill cover story) I talked to scores of editors and asked why journalists tended to avoid covering religion news. I heard two answers over and over: (1) Religion is too boring and (2) religion is too controversial.

There's the rub, I have said ever since: There are just too many boring, controversial religion-news stories out there and they don't seem to want to go away.

In this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), Todd Wilken and I talked about that old "private religion" argument and how it faded over the years. These days, however, political-beat reporters face another question: If major figures in the public square keep talking about their faith and their religious convictions, to what degree should journalists investigate those claims?

In other words, to be blunt, why not ask politicians who keep talking about their faith some specific questions? Such as: "Where do you worship?" "Who is your minister?" "How often do you attend?" "Can we see tax records about your charitable giving?" "Who are the religious authors and thinkers who have most influenced your beliefs and actions?" I could go on.

In other words, if a public figure often says that he/she is an evangelical, or a Catholic, or whatever, can reporters ask for some journalistic material to support that statement?

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NPR puff piece on transgender church leaves lots and lots of predictable gaps

NPR puff piece on transgender church leaves lots and lots of predictable gaps

Recently, I wrote about one unusual congregation (Mark Driscoll's Trinity Church) starting up in Phoenix and now here's another, at the opposite end of the theological pole. The United Church of Christ is one of the country’s most liberal Protestant denominations and one of their clergy seems to have found a way to minister to transsexual youth. This NPR piece is on the church he started back in 2009 that has, to one degree or another, taken off.

I think it’s fine to spotlight unusual ministries. What I have a problem with is when the presentation is totally uncritical. That is, the people who attend this church are always loving. The families they come from -- and other Christians -- are always hateful. There are no complex details.

It starts thus:

Some churches have become inclusive of gays and lesbians, but for transgender people, church can still feel extremely unwelcoming. A congregation in Phoenix is working to change that by focusing on the everyday needs of its members — many of whom are homeless trans youth.
It starts with a free dinner every Sunday night with donated homemade and store-bought dishes.

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Young anti-terrorist Muslims: NPR says why they do what they do (But what do they do?)

Young anti-terrorist Muslims: NPR says why they do what they do (But what do they do?)

In a kind of techno-jiujitsu, younger American Muslims have started using the same social media as ISIS terrorists -- in their case, as a counter-weapon.

This is the kind of enterprise reporting at which NPR often excels. Alas, that is not the case with the shallow, incomplete report that ran this week on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Nearly all the trendy elements are there. You’ve got a little-reported interface of two socially hot topics, religion and terrorism. You have the coveted demographic of American millennials. And you’ve got Facebook and other forms of new media -- more familiar each year, but still radiating a cachet.

All the story lacks is what these young anti-terrorism Muslims are actually doing, when they do what they do. Isn't that rather basic information to include in a story of this kind?

The starting point -- the old saw that all Muslims get blamed for the actions of a tiny few -- threatens at first to sink the story into mediocrity:

Tired of being called a terrorist, Ranny Badreddine, a youth from Evansville, Ind., joined other young teens to create World Changers, an initiative that uses the cyberspace to combat misconceptions about Islam.
"Kids have to be worried about...going outside and being scared that someone is going to beat them up because they're Muslim," Badreddine says. "As a 13-year-old kid, I don't want to live my life being scared of Americans trying to hurt me because of what I am and my religion."
Many younger American Muslims say their parents and grandparents have long been reluctant to speak out and risk drawing attention to themselves. But Badreddine and his peers want to take a different approach. They want to use technology to push back against what they see as false portrayals of Islam.

The scapegoating complaint is hardly news anymore.

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WWJD: Here's a high-profile spokesman for that government effort to reduce America's food waste

WWJD: Here's a high-profile spokesman for that government effort to reduce America's food waste

"That shalt not toss food."

That was the headline on an NPR report this week on the government enlisting religious groups to help fight America's food waste:

Separation of church and state? When it comes to fighting food waste, the U.S. government is looking to partner up with the faithful.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday launched the Food Steward's Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. It's one piece of the agency's larger plan to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
"We can make leaps and bounds in this process if we tackle this problem more systemically and bring a broader number of stakeholders to the table," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tells us. By engaging religious communities, she says, "we are tapping into incredibly motivated and dedicated people."
Food waste connects to the core values of many faith communities, particularly helping the poor and feeding the hungry, McCarthy notes.
As we've reported, more than 1,200 calories per American per day are wasted, according to U.S. government figures. Loss occurs on the farm, at the retail level and in homes. We consumers often toss out foods because they've passed their sell-by date — but are still just fine to eat — or because we buy more than we can eat before it goes bad.

The Atlantic's Emma Green, who writes on religion and other topics, quipped:

Only at NPR would a piece on govt/faith partnerships to stop food waste start w/: "Separation of church and state?"

I wanted to make sure I understood Green's point, so I asked her about it. She explained:

Oh! It just struck me as funnily skeptical -- it's the lede, implying that church/state separation is the most important issue.

Gotcha!

Overall, I found the story fascinating and was impressed by the breadth of sources — from Pope Francis to evangelical and mainline Christian groups to Jewish and Muslim organizations. NPR even cites action on food waste by a program "founded by the leader of Sufism Reoriented, an American spiritual order."

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Fighting Boko Haram: 'Ghosts' haunt otherwise fine New York Times report

Fighting Boko Haram: 'Ghosts' haunt otherwise fine New York Times report

Applause for the New York Times for keeping an eye on Nigeria, which has been struggling for years with Boko Haram terrorists. But the clapping is a bit muted because of the religious "ghosts" in the latest story.

As the most populous nation in Africa -- the Times puts it at 190 million -- Nigeria can be seen as a bellwether for the rest of the continent. And rather than a dry recital of official stats and statements, the 1,370-word Times story captures the dread under which many Nigerians live:

DAKAR, Senegal — A sense of fear nags at Hauwa Bulama every time she leaves home.
She worries that suicide bombers might be lurking at the vegetable stand where she shops for her six children. They could turn up at the hospital where she takes her relatives. Any woman in a hijab could have a suicide belt under her clothes, she fears. The frequent public announcements to avoid crowded areas in her northern Nigerian city only heighten her anxiety.
"You are always afraid," said Ms. Bulama, who lives in Maiduguri, a frequent target of the ruthless Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram. "When you take your child to be immunized, you don’t know who is seated next to you. You don’t know who is hiding what."
For Ms. Bulama and countless others in northern Nigeria and across the Lake Chad region, the victories scored by President Muhammadu Buhari’s multinational campaign against Boko Haram since taking office in May have mattered little to their daily lives.

The article acknowledges that the government of President Buhari has killed many Boko Haram fighters and shrunk their areas of control. An international fighting force, which includes Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon -- with armored vehicles from the United States -- has pushed back and scattered the terrorists. Buhari has even boasted that "technically we have won the war."

Yet the conflict has created more than 2.4 million refugees, the Times reports. The 200-plus schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 are still missing, a clear sign of poor intelligence gathering. And the suicide bombings have continued -- two more in the last two weeks.

The newspaper praises Buhari for replacing ineffective army commanders and moving headquarters into the battle zone of northeastern Nigeria. But rebuilding the military will take money, something in short supply in the wake of the slump in oil prices.

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