Republicans

Hurrah! New York Times spots a religion ghost in Nebraska drive to kill death penalty

Hurrah! New York Times spots a religion ghost in Nebraska drive to kill death penalty

I groaned when I saw the following New York Times headline on yet another story about a political battle -- one that some would call a "culture wars" skirmish -- out in middle America, the land of red zip codes.

The headline said: "Conservative Support Aids Bid in Nebraska to Ban Death Penalty."

I assumed, of course, that the story would focus on the fiscal and legal side of the term "conservative," ignoring the fact that there are conservative people (my hand is raised as a pro-life Democrat) who believe that all human life is sacred, from conception to natural death -- even when a jury assembled by the state approves the killing.

You see, some doctrinally conservative people -- but certainly not all -- don't want to give that kind of power to the state, fearing human error and injustice linked to race and social class. As St. John Paul II once noted:

"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made ... for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

This is, in other words, a story with strong religious themes it and that part of the debate must be covered. I kind of assumed the Times would miss that, but I was wrong. This may be evidence that the Times team does a better job covering this kind of moral, religious and cultural issue (a) when it does not involve the Sexual Revolution, (b) when the conservatives involved happen to agree with the Times editorial page and (c) well, I can't think of a good (c) option.

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Curious about the religion of the 2016 presidential candidates? Check out RNS' impressive '5 faith facts'

Curious about the religion of the 2016 presidential candidates? Check out RNS' impressive '5 faith facts'

Did you know that Hillary Clinton "was, is and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist?"

Did you know that even as governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee "maintained his pastoral instincts, sometimes contacting members of his Southern Baptist church when he learned of a death in their families?"

Did you know that Ben Carson is "a twice-baptized Seventh-day Adventist?"

You knew all of those things — and much more — if you've been following Religion News Service's "5 faith facts" series on the declared candidates.

I really like RNS' "5 faith facts" format.

In this listicle age of journalism, it's an interesting and informative way to report on the candidates' faith. Plus, for a wire service such as RNS, it presents value-added content that news organizations can use either by itself or as a sidebar to other major coverage. I definitely intend to save the links for future reference.

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There's cheese, but where's religious beef in New York Times story on Scott Walker and Paul Ryan?

There's cheese, but where's religious beef in New York Times story on Scott Walker and Paul Ryan?

In the mid-1980s, I played tuba in the band, edited my high school newspaper and donned an ugly maroon McDonald's uniform at night and on weekends.

I never worked so hard as I did sticking buns in the toaster, dropping frozen patties on the grill and arranging condiments on thousands of cheeseburgers, Quarter Pounders and Big Macs.

I definitely earned my minimum wage of $3.35 an hour and was elated when I got a 50-cent raise to $3.85 after just a few months.

In a recent story, The New York Times highlighted two other men in their mid-40s who gained real-world experience under the Golden Arches.

You may have heard of them.

The lede:

DELAVAN, Wis. — Who could have guessed in the mid-1980s, at a pair of otherwise forgettable McDonald’s restaurants some 20 miles apart, that two bushy-haired teenagers working the burger grills would become Wisconsin’s most powerful Republicans?
Scott Walker, 47, now the governor and a likely presidential candidate, was a record-setting track star with a mean mullet when he donned the McDonald’s uniform — black pants, white shirt, long black tie — to make Big Macs here in his hometown.
Paul D. Ryan, 45, now a powerful United States representative who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012, suited up with something greater in mind in nearby Janesville: operating the front register. One dark day, though, Mr. Ryan’s manager told him that he lacked the “interpersonal skills” to deal with customers — and into the kitchen he went.
Mr. Walker tells that story of a young Mr. Ryan to virtually every Republican crowd he meets as he prepares for his campaign for president, sprinkling his biography with some of the gold dust Mr. Ryan has accrued as a favorite of conservatives — and as the better-known name, from his three months as Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Keep reading, and the Times indicates that Walker and Ryan have a bond that goes beyond McDonald's burgers and Wisconsin cheese.

Yes, there's a religion angle:

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Speaking of 'so-called values issues,' let's stop editorializing by saying 'so-called'

Speaking of 'so-called values issues,' let's stop editorializing by saying 'so-called'

Warning: We're about to talk nerdy, as my friend Kenna Griffin puts it on her excellent "Prof KRG" blog for journalists.

The key point of today's post: In journalism, words matter.  

That's why I raised a stink not long ago over use of the term "controversial" to describe the religious freedom law that made headlines in Indiana.

And it's why I'm going to nitpick language in a USA Today story this week on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee facing competition for evangelical voters.

The timely lede:

WASHINGTON — When former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee ran for president eight years ago, he scored a surprising upset in the opening Iowa GOP caucuses by appealing to the state's evangelical voters.
This time, he'll have a lot more company.
On Tuesday, Huckabee, 59, formally announced his bid for the Republican nomination in 2016 from his hometown of Hope, Ark. He portrayed himself as an economic populist, a protector of Social Security, a defender of Israel and the scourge of Iran. A former Southern Baptist minister and Fox News talk-show host, he also touched on issues that particularly resonate with many conservative Christians, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, his support of religious freedom laws and his concern about the country's moral standards.

 

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Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Washington Post frames Dr. Ben Carson as that Uncle Tom who lost folks in black pews

Having worked as both a copy-desk editor and as a reporter, I am well aware of the fact that the scribes who write news stories rarely get to write the headlines that, for many angry readers, define the heart of what the stories say.

However, experienced reporters do get to write the vast majority of their own ledes.

So that's what I was thinking the other day when I read the top of that Washington Post news feature about Dr. Ben Carson that angered several GetReligion readers, who sent me emails containing the URL. For starters, there is that headline: "As Ben Carson bashes Obama, many blacks see a hero’s legacy fade." The vague word "many" is always a bad place to start.

Raise your hands, cyber-folks, if you are surprised that scores of black Democrats are upset with Carson. Ditto, of course, for the leaders of African-American churches that march under the banner of progressive politics, progressive doctrines, or both.

Carson is a person who, in addition to his excellence as an world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon, is best understood in the frame work of his religious and cultural beliefs, rather than his political views, strictly defined. Yes, this is one reason that some people -- including some admirers -- think he should not be running for president (as opposed to running for vice president or a chair in the cabinet). Hold that thought.

It is significant, this time around, that the story's lede and summary material has the exact same tone as the headline:

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Changing churches: What's Scott Walker's faith got to do with his Republican presidential creds?

Changing churches: What's Scott Walker's faith got to do with his Republican presidential creds?

As the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination develops, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is making faith-related headlines again.

This time the news has nothing to do with whether Walker thinks President Barack Obama is a Christian.

The New York Times explored Walker's religious background in a front-page story Sunday.

The Times' lede:

DES MOINES — Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, learned a lot about being a politician by going to church.
He was introduced to glad-handing while greeting worshipers beside his father after Sunday services. His confidence as a public speaker began at 2, when he delivered a Christmas greeting from the pulpit, and it blossomed when he preached occasional sermons as a teenager. And now, Mr. Walker’s lifelong church involvement may be a powerful asset as he positions himself to run for the Republican presidential nomination and focuses on early primary and caucus states dominated by evangelical voters.
Already a hero to fiscal conservatives — both the Tea Party base and billionaire donors like Charles G. and David H. Koch — Mr. Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, made his most explicit appeal yet to the Christian right on Saturday before hundreds of social conservatives in Iowa. During his toughest times in office, he said, “What sustained us all along the way is we had people who said, ‘We prayed for you.’ ”

A few days earlier, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel produced its own, even more in-depth portrait of Walker's faith.

 

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Faith of Jeb Bush: Aligned with Catholic hierarchy on most issues, but not on death penalty

Faith of Jeb Bush: Aligned with Catholic hierarchy on most issues, but not on death penalty

If this is Michael Paulson's last hurrah on the Godbeat, it's a good one.

Last week, we lamented the New York Times religion writer's move to the theater beat.

This week, we were reminded why we're going to miss Paulson's expertise and storytelling talents on religion news.

 

Paulson's 2,000-word story on the Catholic faith of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender — appeared on the front page of Wednesday's Times: 

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — He arrived a few minutes early — no entourage, just his wife and daughter — and, sweating through a polo shirt in the hot morning sun, settled quietly into the 14th row at the Church of the Little Flower.
A bit of a murmur, and the occasional “Morning, Governor,” passed through the Spanish Renaissance-style church, with its manicured grounds and towering palms, as worshipers recognized their most famous neighbor, Jeb Bush. He held hands with the other worshipers during the Lord’s Prayer, sang along to “I Am the Bread of Life” and knelt after receiving communion.
“It gives me a serenity, and allows me to think clearer,” Mr. Bush said as he exited the tile-roof church here on a recent Sunday, exchanging greetings and, with the ease of a longtime politician, acquiescing to the occasional photo. “It’s made me a better person.”
Twenty years after Mr. Bush converted to Catholicism, the religion of his wife, following a difficult and unsuccessful political campaign that had put a strain on his marriage, his faith has become a central element of the way he shapes his life and frames his views on public policy. And now, as he explores a bid for the presidency, his religion has become a focal point of early appeals to evangelical activists, who are particularly important in a Republican primary that is often dominated by religious voters.

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'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

'Special pleaders,' church-state issues and the new Republican shape of the U.S. Congress

Good stories lurk in ideology-driven magazines and web sites on the religion beat, perhaps more so than with other fields.

For example, there’s often useful fare blended with the partisanship of Church & State, monthly house organ of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. This lobby and litigator closely monitors those it assails as “far-right religious conservatives,” provides some useful information and is always happy to brief reporters on its side of an issue.

Consider, for example, the cover story in Church & State’s current issue, “New Congress, New Challenges,” by assistant communications director Simon Brown. Republicans rode to victory on “fundamentalist support,” he says, so “2015 could be a cataclysmic year for church-state separation.” 

Stripped of the tendentious rhetoric and alarmism, Brown assembles some good tips.  As he observes, during the next two years the Republican-run Congress may revive hot-button religion bills that previously died in committee or passed  the G.O.P House but not the Democratic Senate. They would:

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Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Once again, it's time to talk about the many symbolic modifiers and verbs that offer clues to how journalists frame coverage of you know what. Consider, for example, the top of that Washington Post news report about Republicans backing away from a strategically timed vote on a bill that would protect unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy.

Now, you saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.

That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate, here on Jan. 22nd.

Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate? Let's look at the top of that Post report:

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