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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Fighting Boko Haram: 'Ghosts' haunt otherwise fine New York Times report

Fighting Boko Haram: 'Ghosts' haunt otherwise fine New York Times report

Applause for the New York Times for keeping an eye on Nigeria, which has been struggling for years with Boko Haram terrorists. But the clapping is a bit muted because of the religious "ghosts" in the latest story.

As the most populous nation in Africa -- the Times puts it at 190 million -- Nigeria can be seen as a bellwether for the rest of the continent. And rather than a dry recital of official stats and statements, the 1,370-word Times story captures the dread under which many Nigerians live:

DAKAR, Senegal — A sense of fear nags at Hauwa Bulama every time she leaves home.
She worries that suicide bombers might be lurking at the vegetable stand where she shops for her six children. They could turn up at the hospital where she takes her relatives. Any woman in a hijab could have a suicide belt under her clothes, she fears. The frequent public announcements to avoid crowded areas in her northern Nigerian city only heighten her anxiety.
"You are always afraid," said Ms. Bulama, who lives in Maiduguri, a frequent target of the ruthless Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram. "When you take your child to be immunized, you don’t know who is seated next to you. You don’t know who is hiding what."
For Ms. Bulama and countless others in northern Nigeria and across the Lake Chad region, the victories scored by President Muhammadu Buhari’s multinational campaign against Boko Haram since taking office in May have mattered little to their daily lives.

The article acknowledges that the government of President Buhari has killed many Boko Haram fighters and shrunk their areas of control. An international fighting force, which includes Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon -- with armored vehicles from the United States -- has pushed back and scattered the terrorists. Buhari has even boasted that "technically we have won the war."

Yet the conflict has created more than 2.4 million refugees, the Times reports. The 200-plus schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 are still missing, a clear sign of poor intelligence gathering. And the suicide bombings have continued -- two more in the last two weeks.

The newspaper praises Buhari for replacing ineffective army commanders and moving headquarters into the battle zone of northeastern Nigeria. But rebuilding the military will take money, something in short supply in the wake of the slump in oil prices.

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Jew attacked because of his kippah -- why do few media want to know what that is?

Jew attacked because of his kippah -- why do few media want to know what that is?

Why wear a kippah? What does the Jewish skullcap mean?

In France, one meaning is "walking target," as an attack on a Jewish teacher in Marseilles shows.  

The brutal machete attack has prompted a public debate among Jewish leaders over whether to stop wearing the traditional headgear in public. Beyond that, however, media accounts seem to lose interest.

Here are some of the horrendous details, as reported in the International Business Times:

A teenager who attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in France claimed he acted in the name of the Islamic State (Isis/Daesh) group, authorities said. Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin confirmed the stabbing was anti-Semitic and involved some degree of premeditation.
The victim, a 35-year-old teacher at the Franco-Hebraic Institute in the southern city, was on his way to work on 11 January when the boy of Turkish Kurd origins charged him from behind.
The youth, who will turn 16 next week, first slashed the man's shoulder and then went after him as he fled. The teacher eventually fell on to the ground and fought off a second attack using his arms, legs and a holy book, Robin said.
The assailant dropped the weapon and ran away before being caught by police some 10 minutes later. Upon arrest he invoked Allah and IS also telling officers that "the Muslims of France dishonour Islam and the French army protects Jews".

You could hardly ask for stronger religious angles in a news story: jihadism, anti-Semitism, marking an enemy by his religious garb, use of a holy book as a shield. Even the machete recalls the half-dozen hacking attacks on secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

But like IBTimes, most media ignored or downplayed the religious facets. They didn’t even ask about the "holy book" used as a shield by the teacher. Among the very few that did was Yahoo News; it says the book was a Torah, a collection of the first five books of the Bible -- the basis of Jewish law and theology.

More typical is the account by the BBC:

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Bacon at a mosque: media don’t get to the meat of a Florida vandalism case

Bacon at a mosque: media don’t get to the meat of a Florida vandalism case

Which is worse -- a machete or slabs of bacon? No, that's not one of those riddles you'd hear in, say, philosophy class or late at night in a bar. It's a question posed in stories about vandalism of a Florida mosque.

Someone took a machete to the Masjid al-Mumin building in Titusville, near the Kennedy Space Center. The vandal used the weapon to hack at lights, windows and security cameras, then scattered raw bacon around the front door. Some cameras still worked, though: Police arrested one Michael Wolfe from surveillance images.

It's just one of a rash of vandalism against mosques around the U.S. since recent jihadi attacks like the massacres in Paris and San Bernardino. The interesting thing about the Florida incident is what the stories chose to lead with -- and whether they grasped the effect of the crime.

Among the more sensationalistic was the Religion News Service, which ran a USA Today story and headlined it "Man accused of swinging machete through Florida mosque." The original headline was a milder "Man accused of vandalizing mosque, leaving bacon." But both versions don't neglect the blade, saying Wolfe "is accused of slashing his way through the mosque, shattering lights, windows and cameras with a machete."

An official from the Council on American-Islamic Relations ties the two offenses together:

"People are afraid to take their children back to the mosque ... a machete was used," said Rasha Mubarak, the advocacy group's Orlando regional coordinator.  "They know we don't consume pork. This is something that those who are Islamaphobic tend to bring up or use."

A gold star to the story for adding this background: "Eating pork — including bacon and ham — is prohibited in the Quran. The Bible's Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy also forbid it." Pretty impressive for a secular newspaper.

The article borrows heavily, of course, from coverage in Florida Today, its affiliate in east-Central Florida. That newspaper quotes Muhammad Musri, who oversees 10 mosques in the area and, it says, has often done interfaith work:

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Reuters offers strong take on ISIS fatwa on sex slaves (Daily Beast attempts to punt)

Reuters offers strong take on ISIS fatwa on sex slaves (Daily Beast attempts to punt)

If you were picking the top religion news story of 2015 and you were looking at the whole world -- as opposed to, let's say, culture wars in the United States -- then it was hard to avoid the mayhem unleashed by the Islamic State.

That was certainly my take, as I stressed in last week's "Crossroads" podcast.

That was, apparently, how the Associated Press saw 2015 as well. This was the year that ISIS touched lives and headlines all over the world.

NEW YORK (AP) -- The far-flung attacks claimed by Islamic State militants and the intensifying global effort to crush them added up to a grim, gripping yearlong saga that was voted the top news story of 2015, according to The Associated Press' annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.
The No. 2 story was the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that led to legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. But several of the other stories among the Top 10 reflected the impact of the Islamic State, while another group of major stories related to the series of mass shootings in the United States.

One of the big ISIS questions, frequently discussed here at GetReligion, is this: What drives this violent and radical movement? When ISIS leaders describe the "why" in the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of their story, what do they talk about? Are they driven by "ideology," "theology" or a theocratic ideology built on a foundation of their own twisted take on Islamic theology?

To understand ISIS journalists have to deal with the religion component in these stories. We have to understand what ISIS is saying about Islam and why many Muslims agree with them, while many more fiercely disagree.

This brings me to that Reuters exclusive again about ISIS and its -- literally -- theology shaping the treatment of sexual slaves. This was strong stuff and, once again, the key was that members of the Reuters team actually read what ISIS leaders were saying about their own work. The headline: "Exclusive -- Islamic State ruling aims to settle who can have sex with female slaves."

In addition to the word "theology" in the lede, the key word used in this piece -- multiple times -- is "fatwa."

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When Donald Trump proposes banning Muslims, five crucial sources to quote

When Donald Trump proposes banning Muslims, five crucial sources to quote

I keep thinking Donald Trump will smile like the Devil and admit his entire presidential campaign is an elaborately orchestrated "Punk'd" prank on the American public.

Until then — and as long as The Donald remains, somehow, a serious Republican contender — journalists must take him and his crazy statements/antics seriously.

The latest from The Onion — er, The Associated Press:

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Donald Trump called Monday for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," an idea swiftly condemned by his rival GOP candidates for president and other Republicans.
The proposed ban would apply to immigrants and visitors alike, a sweeping prohibition affecting all adherents of Islam who want to come to the U.S. The idea faced an immediate challenge to its legality and feasibility from experts who could point to no formal exclusion of immigrants based on religion in America's history.
Trump's campaign said in a statement such a ban should stand "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." It said the proposal comes in response to a level of hatred among "large segments of the Muslim population" toward Americans.
"Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life," Trump said in the statement.

Here at GetReligion, we advocate a traditional American model of the press in which reporters quote key sources, refrain from editorializing (such as calling Trump an idiot, as a blogger like me might do) and letting readers judge the facts for themselves.

In the case of Trump's Muslim proposal, here are five crucial voices that news reports would do well to reflect:

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Pope Francis offers press a few in-flight words on journalism ethics (think 'Kellerism')

Pope Francis offers press a few in-flight words on journalism ethics (think 'Kellerism')

As seems to be the norm in this papacy, some of the most quotable remarks by Pope Francis came in his now obligatory chat with the press on the flight back to Rome after his visit to Africa. Click here for a full text, care of the Catholic News Agency.

This time, there were several hot topics to choose from, starting with the pope's statement that "Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions," including in Catholicism. (Clearly popes are not required to follow the Associated Press Stylebook.)

Then there were his latest words on global climate change, in which the pope noted: "We are at the limit of a suicide, to say a strong word."

However, Pope Francis also talked about another topic that is sure to be of interest to GetReligion readers and, so far, these words have not been given much attention in the mainstream media. This is interesting, since the work -- and value -- of the mainstream press was the topic the pope was asked to address.

The context was clear: The legal tensions between the Vatican and the media, in the wake of the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal. For background, please note the interesting John L. Allen, Jr., Crux analysis of this case: "Why a criminal trial for leaks could boomerang on the Vatican." Allen notes, concerning a Vatileaks trial:

It could have a chilling effect on its relationship with the media. To state the obvious, acquiring information that institutions don’t want you to have and then making it public is a fairly good working definition of what reporters do for a living, and trying to criminalize that activity isn’t exactly a prescription for détente. ...
The Vatican’s Promoter of Justice insisted the charges aren’t about publishing confidential material, but the way the journalists obtained those materials, including whether untoward pressure was applied. But most observers will likely still see the process as payback for spilling the Vatican’s secrets.

In that context, Pope Francis was asked during his latest in-flight presser:

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An Advent miracle? Check the fine details in the baby in a Queens manger story

An Advent miracle? Check the fine details in the baby in a Queens manger story

Why a purple towel?

If you have followed the news online in the past day or so, you have probably seen reports about the newborn baby that was left -- umbilical chord still attached -- in a manger scene inside a church in Queens.

It has been interesting to follow the coverage as it developed, with a strong burst of holiday sentiment from news producers everywhere who have been quick to proclaim, "It's a Christmas miracle!"

Ah, but there are some intriguing fine details in this story that are worth pondering. Let's start with an early Reuters report, as circulated by Religion News Service. This is pretty much the whole story:

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A newborn with his umbilical cord still attached was found lying in a manger at a New York church, police said on Tuesday.
At Holy Child Jesus Church in the borough of Queens on Monday, the custodian found the crying infant wrapped in towels in the indoor nativity scene he had set up just before his lunch break, a New York police spokesman said.
Father Christopher Ryan Heanue, one of the priests at the church, said he and others placed a clean towel around the baby while waiting for paramedics to show up.
“The beautiful thing is that this woman found in this church -- which is supposed to be a home for those in need -- this home for her child,” Heanue said, referring to the person he assumes left the baby there.

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Big news report card: Grading coverage of Houston's defeated ordinance on gays, transgenders

Big news report card: Grading coverage of Houston's defeated ordinance on gays, transgenders

If you're a news — or culture war — junkie, you already know the outcome of Tuesday's hotly contested municipal battle in Houston.

Voters in the Texas city of 2.2 million people soundly rejected — or as The Associated Press described it, failed to approve — the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, dubbed "HERO."

As The Wall Street Journal reported:

HOUSTON — In a victory for social conservatives, voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to extend nondiscrimination protections to gay and transgender people.

For insightful analysis of the decision from the right, check out Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher's American Conservative post titled "Houston: Ladies Rooms Are For Ladies." For a left-leaning take, consider Atlantic writer Russell Berman's piece on "How Bathroom Fears Conquered Transgender Rights in Houston."

Here at GetReligion, we focus on promoting good, old-fashioned journalism that is fair, accurate and complete.

To that end, let's grade some of the major coverage of Tuesday's vote:

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