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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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Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

Latest murders in Pakistan: News reports are deep and thorough

One of the most heinous in a long string of religious murders in Pakistan -- the torture and burning of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a Christian couple -- gets some well-deserved attention from several news outlets.

The coverage includes a satisfying amount of background and explanation. You need it after you read the mind-stopping facts.

From  CNN's report:

Fifty people have been arrested in connection with this week's killing of a Christian couple who were beaten and pushed into a burning kiln in eastern Pakistan, a police official said Thursday.
Investigators believe the 50 were part of a mob that killed the couple Tuesday after the pair were accused of desecrating the Quran, said Bin Yameen, a police official in the Kasur District in Punjab province.
Police said the attack in the village of Kot Radha Kishan came after a local mullah declared the couple were guilty of blasphemy.
The mob allegedly marched to the couple's home, broke down their door, dragged them outside, beat them and threw them into the brick kiln where they both worked.

The crime sounds even more heinous if it's true, as several reports say, that it was instigated by a religious leader -- and that the mosque announced the accusation through loudspeakers.

You can see the story evolving from a few days ago, when the BBC said only 43 were arrested. The BBC also says the couple were beaten to death before being thrown into a kiln. As we've read, CNN says the two were burned alive.

The New York Times adds the name of one of those arrested in its story on the killings -- and says that "the clerics of several mosques" were also among them.

The Wall Street Journal  adds further background,  identifying the Masihs as "bonded laborers in a brick factory" in Punjab. The Journal also reveals that the couple had a dispute with the factory owner over money they owed him. It was after then that the factory's staff accused Masih of burning pages of the Quran.

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Religious liberty in Idaho: Going to the chapel, and we're going to get married ... maybe

Religious liberty in Idaho: Going to the chapel, and we're going to get married ... maybe

Earlier this month, I dinged Reuters for a "two-sided news story" that really only told one.

I argued that the piece on "a new battleground of religious freedom" was framed almost entirely from the perspective of same-sex marriage activists.

This week, Reuters reported on two Idaho pastors opposed to gay marriage:

(Reuters) - Two pastors in Idaho, who fear they could be penalized for refusing to perform newly legal gay marriages at their private wedding chapel, have filed a lawsuit, saying an Idaho anti-discrimination law violates their right to free speech and religious liberty.
Donald and Evelyn Knapp, who run the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d'Alene, are asking a federal judge to temporarily bar the city from enforcing a local ordinance that bans discrimination tied to sexual orientation in businesses that are used by the public, their attorney said on Monday.
The couple, both ordained Christian ministers, say that under the ordinance, they could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine each time they decline to wed same-sex couples in line with their religious beliefs.
"The government has no business compelling ministers to violate their beliefs and break their ordination vows or risk escalating jail time and fines," said the Knapps' attorney, Jeremy Tedesco.

Alas, Reuters does a much better job this time of fairly representing the arguments of those with religious freedom concerns.

What's missing? Once again, it's the other side.

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'Bucket list baby' inspired prayers, compassion and sensitive coverage

'Bucket list baby' inspired prayers, compassion and sensitive coverage

Shane Francis Haley's life lasted less than four hours, cut short by a birth defect. Yet he and his parents reached hundreds of thousands of people through social media -- people who were first touched by the "bucket list" of experiences they gave their son before he was ever born.

That's one marvel of the drama that played out in Media, Pa., as Jenna and Don Haley updated their 700,000 Facebook friends over the prenatal months. Another marvel: the simple news narratives -- including Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor -- that told the story without adding some religio-socio-politico-economic payload.

With a story about a doomed infant, it's almost too tempting to resist the urge to add tear-jerking prose. Remarkably, the writers of these stories do resist. In the best tradition of journalism, they let the details carry the emotional weight. Closest to any gimmicky writing is the headline on the Monitor article: " 'Bucket list baby' inspires thousands. Here’s what his parents did."

When the Haleys heard the diagnosis of anencephaly -- in which the baby lacks part of its brain and skull -- they knew it was a death sentence for Shane. Yet instead of planning an abortion, or sinking into grief or rage at God, the parents went through a "nine-month bucket list," as the Monitor dubs it: giving their son the time of his life before he was even born.

From the Monitor's account:

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Caste in India reporting: Did a politician play Reuters for a fool?

Caste in India reporting: Did a politician play Reuters for a fool?

Did a politician play Reuters for a fool last week, using claims of religious bigotry toward India's untouchables (Dalits) to bolster his political fortunes?

Comparing stories released the same day by Reuters and The Hindu on reports that Hindu priests cleansed a temple defiled by a visit from a lower caste politician suggest Reuters may have been too quick to see religious motivations at work in what was a political story.

Newspapers often suffer from a journalistic schizophrenia when reporting on religion. Either they ignore the faith element in a story entirely, or they are too deferential to religion and religious leaders, taking at face value their truth claims. This article from Reuters exhibits the second tendency -- when religion is offered as the motivation for an action, it stops asking questions.

The Reuters story entitled “Indian temple 'purified' after low-caste chief minister visits” opens with the statement:

The government in India's northern state of Bihar has ordered an investigation after reports that a Hindu temple was cleaned and its idols washed after a visit by the state's chief minister, who belongs to a lower caste community. Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, a member of the Musahar community, said he had been told the shrine in Bihar's Madhubani district was "purified" after he visited it last month.

The story then quotes Manjhi as saying:

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Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

At first glance, this week's Reuters story on "a new battleground of religious freedom" appears to be a fair and balanced account.

But upon further review, here's the problem: While the story quotes two sides, it really only reflects the perspective of one.

Consider how the story is framed:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - With the U.S. gay marriage battle looking increasingly like a lost cause for conservative opponents, a last battleground may be their quest to allow people to refuse services to gay men and women on religious grounds.
Some conservative groups have seized on what they consider religious freedom cases, ranging from a Washington state florist to bakers in Colorado and Oregon who are fighting civil rights lawsuits after refusing to provide goods and services to gay couples.
"You'll have more instances where religious liberty will potentially come into conflict with this new redefined way of understanding marriage," said Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group established to defend religious freedom.
Campbell represented New Mexico's Elane Photography, a small company that was sued after the owner declined to provide services for a same-sex commitment ceremony.
Such cases, experts said, will likely become more common after action by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts this week extended gay marriage to more than half the states.

Did you catch that? Conservative religious types want to "refuse services" to gays. That's the narrative throughout the story, and certainly, that's how same-sex marriage activists portray the situation.

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How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

"Daily Beast stupidity," said the email's subject line.

"I realize this headline might just be dramatic on purpose, but seriously: The church is not a business or something," the tipster wrote to GetReligion.

The headline in question (cue the dramatic music):

Can These Texas Churches Survive Ebola?

And the subhead:

The virus appears to be contained within a Dallas hospital for now, but concerns are spreading fast through local parishes, where congregants may have personal experience with Ebola’s deadly toll.

Clickbait, anyone?

Granted, we at GetReligion have acknowledged our struggle to determine the dividing line between The Daily Beast's progressive advocacy and its news coverage. In this case, the story — unlike the headline — is actually pretty informational and even-keeled.

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Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

The "Money for Nothing" video accompanying this post has only a tangential connection to the subject matter.

Alas, I'm a child of the '80s, and that three-decade-old hit by the British rock band Dire Straits seemed like a good tune for a Friday afternoon.

As I noted earlier this week, about 300 members of a Chicago church received money for something — $500 each to spend, invest or give away.

In the post, I pointed out that WGNtv.com seemed to bury the lede at the end, reporting with no explanation that the church involved has a $50,000 budget deficit. 

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss the Chicago story. 

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God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

I came across a story about a Chicago church giving away $500 to each of its 300 or so members via CNN's Eric Marrapodi, who, by the way, did an exceptional training session at #RNA2014 on video interview best practices.

Sadly, though, Marrapodi had no tips to improve voices — like mine — made for print. 

But I digress.

The version of the story that Marrapodi tweeted came from WGNtv.com in Chicago:

A Chicago church came into some money following a decades old real estate deal. What to do with the extra dough weighed heavily on the pastor’s mind. Then she decided to do something crazy.
She wanted the church to tithe and give 10% of the money away. That may not sound so crazy, but here’s the hitch, she gave it back — all $160,000 of it–to the congregation. Anyone who is “actively engaged in LaSalle Street Church” got a sizable check. Not $5 or $50 – we are talking $500 a person. Personal checks made out directly to the parishioners to go forth and spend, invest or give away as they see fit. No strings attached.
Pastor Laura, as she’s known, is beaming–ever since she announced to her congregation of 300 back on Sept 7th that they would all get $500 from the church.
“Some started to cry,” she said. “Their mouths started to drop. I started to sweat because it sounded so crazy.”

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