Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

Turkey and that 'genocide' -- Armenian anger, Erdogan's denial, Obama's silence

The British tabloids are not known for nuance and this Daily Mail piece on Turkey's continued denial that "genocide" accurately describes what happened to its Armenian population in the early 20th century -- an event officially commemorated this week -- is no exception.

"Genocide of the Christians: The blood-soaked depravity exceeded even today's atrocities by Islamic State -- now, 100 years on Turkey faces global disgust at its refusal to admit butchering over a MILLION Armenians," screamed the Mail's wordy online headline.

No beating around the bush here, is there? American-style journalistic even-handedness? Forget about it. Hyperbole? For sure.

"Global disgust" is a bit much when the criticism appears limited to Western sources. Worse than the Islamic State? Pardon me if I decline to compare an historical atrocity with an ongoing one. (Though I will say that the Daily Mail piece fails to note that while Armenians are of course Christians, they're generally Orthodox Christians. That detail hints at historical context you can't expect all readers to know.)

You could argue that citing a story's sensationalist tabloid treatment is manipulative. I'll cede that. But then there's Pope Francis and the European Union. Both also found it necessary in recent days to speak out on what they unequivocally view to be a clear case of genocide -- the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, the precursors to today's Turkish republic. Germany, home to a Turkish immigrant population estimated at more than 3 million, has signaled it, too -- in addition to its stand within the EU -- will begin to apply the term "genocide" to this historical tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reacted strongly to all this.

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Abducted, not forgotten: Media put spotlight back on kidnapped Nigerian girls

Abducted, not forgotten: Media put spotlight back on kidnapped Nigerian girls

What a tragic relief to read mainstream media's stories on Nigeria this week.

Tragic, because more than 200 of the girls abducted from Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram last year still haven't been rescued -- and, as the nation's new president says, may never be.

A relief, because the media remembered the one-year anniversary this week.

Things like that often fade from public view as other stories grab headlines. So the follow-up stories in newspapers like the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and news services like Reuters and CNN, are a genuine service -- both to American readers and to the still-grieving families in Nigeria.

The stories also keep the heat on the nation's authorities not to slack off the fight against the terrorists. But they largely omit the religious element -- a mutant, violent strain of Islam -- that fuels Boko Haram.

The Washington Post's story quickly recaps the kidnap, then the despair that activists are fighting:

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Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

Pope mourns Armenian genocide, but media downplay religious angle

He did it: Pope Francis used the "G" word -- genocide -- in a centennial Mass yesterday mourning the Turkish killings of nearly 1.5 million Armenians toward the end of World War I.

If only the news reports were as free with two other words: Christianity and religion.

Speculation had grown in stories like this one from the Los Angeles Times, after Pope Francis announced he would say a Mass for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian deaths. Turkey, a pro-western Muslim country, has long denied charges that it committed genocide.

And when Francis used the word in the Mass yesterday, it bore immediate consequences, news media reported -- as in a Reuters story via Al Jazeera.

"Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the Vatican for consultations in an escalating diplomatic row over Pope Francis' use of the word "genocide" to describe the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman forces during World War I," the lede says. A longer, earlier version of the story says Turkey also called the Vatican ambassador to Turkey for a scolding.

But most mainstream media seem timid in admitting the religious facet of a Muslim empire killing a Christian minority. And when they do get around to that aspect, most bury it in the article.

One of the best backgrounders on the matter is a video by an outfit called Newsy. The brisk, 90-second video touches on the killings, Francis' record on statements about the genocide, and the centuries-old relationship of the Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.

Many articles point out that Francis made the Armenian killings the first of three major genocides of the 20th century. The other two, he said, were the Nazi Holocaust and Stalin's purges in the Soviet Union. Turkey objected to the "genocide" label, even though it was used by Pope John Paul II in 2001. The former Ottoman Empire has agreed that thousands of Armenians died in the war, but said that so did thousands of Muslims. Turkey also denies that the deaths were as high as 1.5 million.

But the Reuters articles add the religion angle only through a statement by President Serzh Sarksyan of Armenia:

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Religious liberty war moves to Louisiana, with press still struggling with basic facts

Religious liberty war moves to Louisiana, with press still struggling with basic facts

Let's flash back for a moment to my recent post that ran under the headline, "No thanks for the Memories story: Journalism basics at stake in Indiana pizza war."

In it, I gently praised a Reuters report for noting that -- for supporters of Religious Freedom Restoration Act principles -- there is a difference between justifying open discrimination against a class of individuals and allowing religious believers a chance (repeat, a chance) to defend themselves in cases caused by a rare act of conscience clearly linked to religious doctrines in their faith traditions.

That Reuters report began like this:

(Reuters) A small-town, family-owned pizza restaurant in Indiana has aroused social media outrage after telling a local TV station it would support the state’s recently passed religion law by refusing to cater gay weddings.

Once again, the Memories Pizza owners had stressed that they had no intention of ever refusing service to gays and lesbians who ordered pizza. Instead, they said that -- for doctrinal reasons -- they would say "no" if faced if faced with a case (theoretical, of course, since this had never taken place) in which someone asked them to cater a dinner linked to a same-sex marriage rite. People serve pizza at wedding receptions all the time, apparently.

Once again let me stress: Journalists do not have to agree with this distinction between the justification of consistent discriminatory actions and the possible defense of rare acts of religious conscience.

However, journalists do need to know that this argument is a crucial element of these debates and know how to accurate describe this distinction for readers.

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Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

Whatchamacallit: Media struggle to describe religious freedom laws in Indiana, Arkansas

According to something called the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. (I don't see any specifics on the almost-a-word that is not a full word, but presumably, it's missing 20 percent of its letters.)

Not so fast, says Oxford Dictionaries' website, which suggests there's "no single sensible answer" to the question because "it's so hard to decide what actually counts as a word":

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don't take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

With all those word choices, you might think that finding just the right one to use in any given situation wouldn't be too difficult (right, Mark Twain?).

Yet major news organizations have struggled with how to describe those much-discussed Religious Freedom Restoration Act measures in Indiana and Arkansas — background here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here if you somehow missed our previous posts on this topic.

Early in the Indiana fight, the catchphrase "controversial religious freedom bill" prevailed — as we pointed out, questioning whether the adjective "controversial" slanted coverage toward opponents. We also pointed that the Associated Press Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — recommends avoiding that term.

Throughout the flurry of news coverage, the newspaper at the heart of Hoosier headlines — the Indianapolis Star — has insisted on putting scare quotes around "religious freedom."

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No thanks for the Memories story: Journalism basics at stake in Indiana pizza war

No thanks for the Memories story: Journalism basics at stake in Indiana pizza war

As the Indiana firestorm continues, we are seeing some evidence that news organizations are beginning to weigh some of the fine details.

Maybe. The key is recognizing the tensions between legal efforts to defend gays and lesbians from open discrimination and those attempting to establish rare, tightly defined freedom of conscience rights to protect orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and others whose beliefs, and those long advocated by their faiths, conflict with same-sex marriage. Once again, it's crucial for journalists to accurately quote leaders on both sides of this debate, as well as the traditional First Amendment liberals who are caught in the middle.

This short piece in Time -- yes, it's about Memories Pizza -- is a perfect example of what is going on. Read carefully.

An Indiana pizzeria remained closed on Wednesday, embroiled in a national debate after its owners said they would not cater gay weddings because of their religious beliefs.
“I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” co-owner Crystal O’Connor told TheBlaze TV. “We’re in hiding basically, staying in the house.”
The Walkerton, Ind., pizza parlor is the first business since Indiana passed the highly controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act to publicly cite religious beliefs as justification to refuse a service to the LGBT community.

The crucial word, the tiny sign of progress, is the word "a" in the phrase "justification to refuse a service to the LGBT community."

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Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Just what's so 'controversial' about that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week?

Today's word of the day: "controversial."

If you've seen the headlines, ledes and tweets related to a religious freedom bill passed by Indiana lawmakers this week, you've likely seen that adjective attached to it.

Monday's lede from the Washington Post:

A controversial religious freedom bill that would protect business owners who want to decline to provide services for same-sex couples was passed by Indiana’s State House today, the latest in a larger battle over same-sex marriage and rights.
The bill reflects a national debate over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination. The question of whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies has been a flashpoint as part of a larger debate over same-sex marriage. For instance, the bill would protect a wedding photographer who objects to shooting a same-sex wedding.
The Indiana House voted 63 to 31 to approve a hot-button bill that will likely become law, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he plans to sign the legislation when it lands on his desk. The state Senate’s version of the bill would prevent the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s exercise of religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest and is doing so in the least restrictive means.
Supporters say the measure supports religious freedom while opponents fear discrimination against LGBT people. The push towards this kind of legislation comes as same-sex marriage becomes legal across the country. In September, a federal court ruling struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Indiana and other states.

We've previously tackled the typical journalistic framing on this topic (e.g., is "deny service" or "refuse service" really the right way to describe a baker who declines to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Or does such wording favor one side of a debate pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom?).

Rather than revisit that issue again today, my question relates to the framing of the bill as "controversial."

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News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

News story or editorial? Reuters reports on that bill to eliminate all marriage (licenses) in Oklahoma

In 2001, I became an ordained minister. Sort of.

I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman at the time and wrote a column about my experience:

It says so right there on the certificate with the official gold seal: "Reverend Bobby Ross."
My license from the Universal Life Church in Billings, Mont., came with a note that said, "Thank you for your purchase and God bless."
The best part: This high honor cost me only $29.95.
That's about the same amount Judas Iscariot accepted to betray Jesus Christ, as my friend Glover Shipp pointed out.
Perhaps, though, Shipp is looking at this the wrong way. He's assuming that anyone who offers to make you a "LEGALLY ORDAINED MINISTER in 48 hours!!!!" is a scam artist.
On the other hand, think of all the good I can do now.

Among the good that my ordination allowed me to do: perform weddings. (Sadly, no one ever asked me to provide that service.)

My column noted:

In Texas, your pet hamster can perform a wedding. But before you help someone say "I do" in Oklahoma, you must file credentials with the county clerk.

That piece was written 14 years ago, and I have no idea whether Texas law remains the same. So if you decide to exchange vows in the Lone Star State, you might check with proper government authorities before getting your hamster involved.

I thought about my quickie ordination this week as I read a Reuters editorial — er, news story — on an Oklahoma bill to eliminate government-issued marriage licenses.

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Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters reports on Graham outreach in Ferguson but falls back on clichés

Reuters gets an A for spotting an emergency chaplaincy team by the Billy Graham organization in Ferguson, Mo. For execution, though, Reuters gets a C-minus at best.

Mainstream media ignored Graham's Rapid Response Teams, which sped to the city twice -- first after the shooting of teenager Michael brown, then after two police officers were shot. Someone at Reuters evidently saw the same and assigned the story. But between the motion and the act, as T.S. Eliot said, falls the shadow: in this case, a shadow of clichés and vagaries.

The article does get some things right. As Reuters reports, the chaplains talked people down, both among the police and the protestors. They grabbed a woman away from an angry crowd. And they even won over a gang leader, who lent them her protection while they ministered on the streets.

Reuters also cites some helpful numbers: 1,800 volunteer chaplains, who have "chalked up more than 250 deployments, from tornadoes and hurricanes to shootings." If only the rest of the story was like that.

Instead, it too often tosses in a stock word or general phrase in place of actual reporting. For instance:

Soon, uniformed Graham chaplains emerged from the mobile conference room parked across the street, talking people down and even dragging a woman by the wrist from an angry crowd.
Over the course of the day, the chaplains invited people into the truck, offering snacks and prayer.

What were people doing? Shouting? Throwing things? What did the Graham people say to talk them down? What was the crowd threatening against the woman? And why her?

And that's just one paragraph. Elsewhere in the story, we get:

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