NPR

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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Suds in the bucket: More on dirty laundry and faith-based outreach

Suds in the bucket: More on dirty laundry and faith-based outreach

In a post last month titled "Can a laundromat replace the traditional church?" I reviewed an NPR story out of California.

I ended that critique like this:

How exactly is the laundromat an alternative to church? Are there any spiritual aspects to the ministry — such as praying or reading the Bible? Does (organizer Shannon) Kassoff really come to the laundromat instead of going to church, or is the interviewee speaking metaphorically?
NPR does not provide answers to such basic questions — leaving the reader's (or listener's) clothes dripping wet after a half-done wash cycle.

My sarcastic tone drew the attention of my friend Dawn Shelton, who attended Oklahoma Christian University with me and later worked in broadcast media. 

Dawn's basic question to me: Couldn't you be nicer?

"NPR did a faith-based story. BOOM," Dawn wrote in a message that she gave me permission to share. "I loved it when I heard it on the air. I imagine the number of Christians in the entire NPR outfit is close to ZERO."

In other words, people of faith should be happy that NPR attempted a religion story but not expect too much out of it.

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Agitprop from NPR? Concerning Evangelical culture wars in Brazil

Agitprop from NPR? Concerning Evangelical culture wars in Brazil

Is National Public Radio (NPR) biased? 

Ask its supporters -- many of whom are on the political left in the United States -- and they will tell you the publicly funded network is a model of balance and journalistic integrity. Ask its critics -- many of whom are on the political right – and they will tell you it is hopelessly biased in support of progressive causes.

An August 1, 2014, story on the network’s All Things Considered show on the influence of America and evangelicalism on Brazilian politics gives credence to conservative claims of bias. It is hard not to see this NPR story as being anything other than mendacious agitprop. Unbalanced, lacking in historical and legal context and factually challenged -- this story is a mess.

The charges of bias at NPR are not new.

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On planned Noah's Ark theme park, NPR doesn't tell the hull story

On planned Noah's Ark theme park, NPR doesn't tell the hull story

NPR raises an eyebrow but mostly keeps an even keel in a report on a tax break for a planned creationist theme park in Kentucky. But the shallow draft of the story is less a voyage than a day cruise.

Answers in Genesis, which opened its dino-friendly Creation Museum in 2007 in Petersburg, Ky., now wants to build a fullsize replica of Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel. For this so-called Ark Encounter, the state tourism board approved $18 million in tax breaks, though the state legislature still must ratify it.

The primeval story of a world cataclysm, and one man's effort to obey God through it all, has long captured people's imagination -- the epic film Noah,  released in March, has earned $359 million worldwide thus far. But NPR's focus is on the government's role in what it calls a "controversial" project.

Yet this article, part of NPR's  breaking news section called "The Two-Way," is a very brief 417 words and offers little background. Ken Ham, head of Answers in Genesis, is mentioned high in the story, yet he's never quoted directly. He's cited mainly for having debated Bill Nye, the so-called Science Guy, on creation versus evolution.

And that recap, in shipping terms, lists a little:

The debate, which was streamed live online, pitted Ham's biblical literalism, which among other things includes the belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, against Nye, who argued for Darwinian evolution.

Apparently, NPR thought biblical literalism needed spelling out, but Darwinian evolution was self-evident. Nor does the article quote Ham or anyone else connected with the project.

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Can a laundromat replace the traditional church?

Can a laundromat replace the traditional church?

Loads of Love, just one of the popular laundry ministries organized by churches across the nation, involves a whole lot of quarters — and conversation.

In Texas, the United Methodist Church's Arlington Urban Ministries program has operated a laundromat ministry since 1997. In Charlottesville, Va., the Belmont Baptist Church has offered the needy access to washers and dryers, free detergent and laundry supplies since 2010. In Portland, Ore., volunteers with the Eastside Church of Christ began going into laundromats in 2010 as "a coin-friendly way to share Christ."

A few months ago, the Episcopal News Service reported on "Laundry Love" ministries involving some of that denomination's California churches. A video posted on the Episcopal Church's website earlier this month highlighted Laundry Love as "modern day footwashing."

This week, Laundry Love made its way to NPR.

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Middle East stories: The territory includes religion

Middle East stories: The territory includes religion

Terrorists may have declared a new Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, but coverage of their actions is all over the map. Some media fixate on the land or tribal alliances. Some dig into history or listen to Washington. Few look at religious roots of the conflict.

The new angle is that the leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has rebranded his jihadist group the Islamic State and declared the birth of a modern-day caliphate, an old-fashioned transnational kingdom ruled by Islamic law. Since the caliphate was run by the Sunni branch of Islam, religious and historical currents clearly underlie the announcement.

Unfortunately, many reports keep those currents way under the surface.

Typical of the brisk-but-shallow approach is that of the Washington Post.Here's how they styled the new events:

BAGHDAD — The extremist group battling its way through swaths of Iraq and Syria declared the creation of a formal Islamic state Sunday, building on its recent military gains and laying down an ambitious challenge to al-Qaeda’s established leadership.

In an audio statement posted on the Internet, the spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria announced the restoration of the 7th-century Islamic caliphate, a long-declared goal of the al-Qaeda renegades who broke with the mainstream organization early this year and have since asserted control over large areas spanning the two countries.

The Associated Press, to my surprise, did a little better in their story on the rebranded ISIS. The article spells out the Islamic State's actions in classic shariac terms:

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NPR asks Vatican experts to discuss hopes of the Orthodox

Try to imagine a story about crucial, tense talks between Democrats and Republicans that only offered material drawn from interviews with Republicans, even when talking about the beliefs and aspirations of the Democrats. Try to imagine a report about, oh, talks between liberal Episcopalians and conservative Anglicans that only featured commentary from one side or the other (actually, in some mainline publications that’s pretty easy to imagine). Or how about a pre-Super Bowl story that tried to cover the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams in the big game, but only talked to experts skilled in covering one of the teams or only talked to the coaches on one team. Can you imagine veteran journalists doing that?

This brings me to a report by NPR superstar Sylvia Poggioli that ran, online, under this headline: “The 1,000-Year-Old Schism That Pope Francis Seeks To Heal.”

Hear me now: This is not a fatally flawed news story, although some of the information is rather shallow. For example, any discussion of attempts to heal the painful schism between the ancient churches of East and West simply has to begin with, or at least mention, the efforts of St. John Paul II and this issue was a high priority for Pope Benedict XVI as well. NPR didn’t need to get these two popes into the headline, but one sentence in the story itself? That’s a must.

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Baptists 'unofficially' changing doctrine on homosexuality?

Southern Baptist leaders are seeking a “softer approach on homosexuality,” reports National Public Radio’s ”All Things Considered.” While noting that “the country’s largest protestant (sic) group … still preaches that marriage can only be between one man and one woman,” NPR points to a recent, vaguely identified meeting of pastors to back up its headline:

The Southern Baptist Convention held a gathering of pastors at its Nashville headquarters in April. For an organization that has previously used opposition to gay marriage as a rallying point, statements here from church leaders, like Kevin Smith of Kentucky, shocked the auditorium of pastors into silence.

“If you spent 20 years and you’ve never said anything about divorce in the church culture, then shut up about gay marriage,” Smith said.

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NPR stumbles on GOP and Darwinian orthodoxy

Here’s a shocker, but not really. More Democrats than Republicans believe in evolution, or so says a survey from the Pew Research Center. Overall, Pew says: …six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that ‘humans and other living things have evolved over time,’ while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that ‘humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.’ The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

The predictable party gap seems of interest to many, though mostly political pundits.

National Public Radio is not content to leave speculation to mere political bloviators, however, and trumpets the change in party affiliation of creationists as a major political issue:

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