Reuters

Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Mainstream media take aim at Tennessee law protecting counselors

Tennessee passed a law this week that allows counselors to refer out a patient based on a counselor's personal beliefs, and news media, of course, are all over it.

The law itself sounds pretty simple: "No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy."

But numerous accounts, like one by Reuters, have been raising alarms: "Tennessee's Republican governor on Wednesday signed a law allowing mental health counselors to refuse service to patients on 'sincerely held principles,' the latest in a string of U.S. state measures criticized as discriminatory against the gay community."

Reuters goes on to quote Gov. Bill Haslam's denial:  "The substance of this bill doesn't address a group, issue or belief system." He compares it to other professionals like doctors and lawyers who may refer a client to common else in case of a conflict of principles. But by then, Reuters has already planted its sarcasm quotes and framed the law as yet another attack on gays.

Lending force to the framing is the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the law assumes "that religion can be used as a free pass to discriminate" -- although religious language has been stricken from the law.

Also instructive are two stories by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. The breaking story quotes Haslam extensively. Three hours later, the follow-up majors on gay objections.

The Washington Post attempts a broader story but fails, starting with the lede: "Tennessee’s Republican governor said Wednesday that he signed a bill into law that allows mental health counselors to refuse to treat patients based on the therapist’s religious or personal beliefs." As you know, the law doesn't mention religious beliefs, although a previous version did.

The Post then throws in an unattributed "sources say" paragraph:

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Stealing magnolias: Journalists join pro-gay groups against Mississippi's religious liberty law

Stealing magnolias: Journalists join pro-gay groups against Mississippi's religious liberty law

Last week, when Gov. Phil Bryant signed its religious freedom law, much of the news about Mississippi has been about reprisals. Business groups have vowed to boycott the Magnolia State. Showbiz figure Ellen DeGeneres swats the state, crying oppression. And Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York has banned "nonessential travel" to Mississippi.

All with mainstream media help -- dare I say encouragement?

Reuters writes up the alliance of business leaders and pro-gay groups urging the state to repeal the new law. First the story sets up Governor Phil Bryant as the whipping boy:

Bryant hailed the statute, the latest in a series of state laws opposed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists, as designed to "protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions ... from discriminatory action by state government."
But top executives from General Electric Co., PepsiCo Inc., Dow Chemical Co. and five other major U.S. corporations, in an open letter, condemned the law as discriminatory. The letter was addressed to Bryant and the speaker of the Republican-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives.

The article is a near-textbook case of slurring by the numbers.

Partial quote in defense of the Mississippi law, with lots of quotes against -- check.

Sarcasm quotes around "religious liberty" bills, with none around "gay rights" -- check.

Ignoring religious leaders' viewpoints -- check.

Saying the law, and similar ones in other states, are "pushed by social conservatives" -- a twofer. There's the aggressive verb "pushed" along with the "conservative" red flag. Liberals, of course, never push. Nor are they identified here, although it should be obvious who is fighting the laws in question.

The main pinch of moderation is when Reuters reports:

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Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

How many gaffes can you pack into the start of a story? In its coverage of Pope Francis' Easter message yesterday, the UK-based Mirror seemed to be trying to find out.

And what a time for sloppy reporting -- the most important holiday on the calendar of the world's largest religion.

Check this out:

Pope Francis says defeat Islamic State 'with weapons of love' during Easter message
Pope Francis has urged the world in his Easter message to use the "weapons of love" to combat the evil of "blind and brutal violence" following the tragic attacks in Brussels.
The Roman Catholic church leader said an Easter Sunday Mass under tight security for tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
After the service, he gave a traditional speech in which he addressed violence, injustice and threats to peace in many parts of the world.
He said: "May he [the risen Jesus] draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

Francis did decry multiple social ills: armed conflicts, "brutal crimes," ethnic and religious persecution, climate change caused by exploiting natural resources, fears of the young and the elderly alike. And yes, he denounced terrorism, "that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

But he said nothing about the Islamic State -- or, for that matter, the acronyms of ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Nor did he tell anyone to use the "weapons of love" in the Middle East conflict.

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Flawed Pew survey question produces flawed answer on how many Israeli Jews want Arabs kicked out

Flawed Pew survey question produces flawed answer on how many Israeli Jews want Arabs kicked out

A Pew survey released last week had all the ingredients for another damning story about Israel and its Jewish citizens. Nearly half of Israeli Jews surveyed, Pew reported, said they favored the expulsion or transfer of Arabs out of Israel.

Given the superficial manner in which most news media, American and otherwise, cover the extraordinarily complicated, and sadly dehumanizing and deadly, Middle East -- and its long-running Israel-Palestinian subplot in particular -- the Pew story seemed a natural headline-grabber.

It turned out to be otherwise. Nonetheless, it did underscore the importance of raising journalistic red flags when reporting on dumbed-down, highly generalized and potentially inflammatory survey questions that purport to accurately measure real-world complexities.

Let's start with these telling New York Times stories about the survey. Click here to read the first one. Then click here to read the second.

Why are they telling?

Because The Times'  initial Web offering was a standard wire service report that led -- predictably -- with the international red-meat angle, the more easily written expulsion aspect that, given the hostility to Israel in much of the world, was virtually assured of gaining wide play.

But also because the second piece, written by a Times' Jerusalem bureau staffer that ran in the dead wood edition the following day, buried the expulsion angle and led instead with the more complicated to report survey results dealing with the deep religious and political rifts within Israeli Jewish society.

The expulsion angle wasn't mentioned until the eighth paragraph.

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Yo, journalists: Mother Teresa would be quick to explain that she cannot perform miracles

Yo, journalists: Mother Teresa would be quick to explain that she cannot perform miracles

Now it's on the calendar. The "saint of the gutters" will, on Sept. 4 -- the eve of the anniversary of her death in 1997 -- become a Catholic saint. The tiny nun who millions hailed as "a living saint" will officially become St. Mother Teresa.

Obviously, this announcement by the pope required journalists to describe the somewhat complicated process that led to this moment. Thus, this assignment -- trigger warning! -- required descriptions of complicated doctrinal concepts such as "prayers" and "miracles."

The key word you are looking for, as you scan the mainstream media coverage, is "intercede."

However, if you want to see a perfect example of HOW NOT to describe this process, note this passage from USA Today:

She was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II after being attributed to a first miracle, answering an Indian woman's prayers to cure her brain tumor, according to the Vatican. One miracle is needed for beatification -- described by the Catholic Church as recognition of a person's entrance into heaven -- while sainthood requires two.
Francis officially cleared Mother Teresa for sainthood on Dec. 17, 2015, recognizing her "miraculous healing" of a Brazilian man with multiple brain abscesses, the Vatican said.

Note that we are dealing with paraphrased quotes. Did an official at the Vatican actually say that Mother Teresa, on her own, "healed" these two people? Or did the Vatican say that they were healed by God after believers asked Mother Teresa to pray for them, to "intercede" with God on their behalf?

Here is the key doctrinal fact that journalists need to grasp in order to get this story right: Saints pray. God heals.

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Bait and switch? Contradictory Iran election coverage still has an uncertain ending

Bait and switch? Contradictory Iran election coverage still has an uncertain ending

Which faction came out on top in the recent Iranian elections? Was it the "reformists"?  The "moderates"? Or was it the hardline clerics who run the Islamic republic and get to decide who is allowed to stand for election?

I ask because it remains difficult, some two weeks after the late February balloting, to tell from a face-value reading of the various media reports just who emerged victorious in the voting for both the nation's unicameral parliament and its clerical consultative body. The latter officially (if not necessarily in reality) has a hand in selecting Iran's all-important supreme leader.

This election muddle underscores how essential it is for journalists to weigh voting results firmly in the context of the nation involved. Confusion is bound to follow when imprecise political labels -- such as reformists or moderates -- are borrowed from Western discourse to simplify complicated foreign political intrigues for American media followers.

The muddle also serves to underscore the dangers inherent in jumping to sweeping conclusions based on initial returns.

Moreover, I can't help but wonder whether there's an element of wishful thinking is also at play here. After all, I think most Americans, and the media they follow as well, would love to see Iran become more open to the West and tone down its anti-Western rhetoric and actions now that its nuclear agreement has been signed.

Some examples of what I mean:

Example A is this early election results story from the BBC, which includes this far too premature declaration: "This stunning election result will make a difference in Iran's engagement with the wider world."

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Crucial missing 'a' in this debate: Did Pope Francis judge Trump's soul or his behavior?

Crucial missing 'a' in this debate: Did Pope Francis judge Trump's soul or his behavior?

If I was a headline writer in a major newsroom right now, looking at the tsunami of social media and news reports about the dynamic duo of Pope Francis and Billionaire Donald Trump, I would be very worried about writing something definitive that contained the article "a."

What am I talking about?

Let's take some of the early headlines on this showdown in the public square. The New York Times, in a very typical wording, offered: "Pope Francis Suggests Donald Trump Is ‘Not Christian’."

An early Reuters report offered this headline: "Pope says Trump 'not Christian' in views, plans over immigration."

Would it have been different if these early headlines -- with a telltale "a" -- had reported that the pope said "Trump is 'not A Christian' " because of his views on immigration and the Mexico-United States border?

In other words, was the pope making a judgment on the state of the GOP candidate's SOUL or stating that he believes Trump is not behaving like a Christian? This is picky, yes. But it's a crucial point.

That Reuters' report, for example offered this summary right up top:

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is "not Christian" because of his views on immigration, Pope Francis said on his way back to Rome from Mexico.

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Viagra humor and simplistic journalists: Pssst, it really is OK to quote both sides on abortion

Viagra humor and simplistic journalists: Pssst, it really is OK to quote both sides on abortion

A pro-abortion lawmaker in Kentucky thinks she's pretty funny.

And apparently, so do the media.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, NBC News, Reuters and the Washington Post are among news organizations highlighting a bill that Rep. Mary Lou Marzian filed poking fun at pro-life advocates.

The lede from Reuters:

A Kentucky lawmaker fed up with anti-abortion laws in her state has introduced a bill that would require men seeking erectile dysfunction drugs to visit a doctor twice, get a note from their wives and swear on the Bible to be faithful.
Representative Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville who has been a lawmaker for 22 years, told Reuters on Monday the bill is symbolic but she is glad that it has gotten attention because she is trying to make a point about government intrusion.
"My point is to illustrate how intrusive and ridiculous it is for elected officials to be inserting themselves into private and personal medical decisions," Marzian said by telephone.

How did pro-life folks respond? Ha ha ha ha ha. Reuters doesn't bother to quote anyone but Marzian. (Didn't you get the old memo about pro-abortion bias seeping in the news?)

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Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Rome meets Russia: Media bury role of persecution in historic summit (# LOL update)

Did you hear about the historic meeting that will occur today between the media superstar Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Moscow and All Russia? Is there up-front coverage of this in your newspaper this morning?

The meeting is taking place in Havana for the expressed purpose of voicing support for persecuted Christians facing genocide in parts of the Middle East, primarily -- at the moment -- in Syria and Iraq. There is very little that Rome and Moscow agree on at the moment, when it comes to ecumenical matters, but Francis and Kirill are both very concerned about the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in that devastated region.

Have you heard about this in major media?

If you are interested, this was the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in. I also wrote about the background of this meeting in a previous GetReligion post ("The 'Passion' that looms over the historic Rome-Moscow meeting") and in this week's "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate.

Now, call me naive, but I thought that this meeting would receive major coverage. This is, after all, the first ever meeting -- first as in it has never happened before in history -- between the leader of the pope of Rome and the patriarch of the world's largest branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Syria is also in the news, last time I checked. There is a possibility that Americans -- this is a nation that includes a few Christians who read newspapers -- might be interested in a statement by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill on the massacre of Christians in Syria and elsewhere.

I guess I am naive. It appears that the meeting in Cuba today is not very important at all. I mean, look at the front page of The New York Times website.

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