Pod people: Religious liberty, inflammatory quote

On this week's Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I talked about media coverage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting. That coverage was the topic of a post I wrote earlier this week in which I criticized The New York Times' approach.

The post generated quite a bit of discussion, much of it actually related to journalism (smile). A few readers pointed out something that I did not: the Times' use of square quotes around "religious liberty," both in the headline and the lede.

Read John said:

I got my back up at the scare quotes in the headline, which struck me as tendentious. It casts the Bishops as dishonest aggressors rather than defenders of their liberty.

Jerry N. agreed:

I think the scare quotes in the Times headline undermine the bishops from the start; it’s similar to MSM coverage of “conscience” legislation re. healthcare providers.

Todd and I discussed the role of headlines in helping — or hindering — a newspaper's credibility. I noted that reporters usually don't write their own headlines, although in this case the Times headline ("Bishops Open 'Religious Liberty' Drive) accurately reflected the body of the story.

Also on the podcast, Todd asked me about my post on The Oklahoman's coverage this week of the Oklahoma City Council approving a measure designed to protect gay and lesbian city employees from discrimination. In that post, I objected to my local newspaper (where I worked as a reporter and editor for nine years) quoting a pastor claiming gays commit half of murders in large cities. The paper provided no context to verify or refute the claim. I wrote:

That’s it!? With that kind of statement, don’t readers deserve to know the specific, unedited words that the pastor used?

In the comments section, reader GZeus noted that the full text of a letter the pastor sent the council was posted on the church website. The letter includes this full quote:

Judge John Martaugh, Chief Magistrate of the New York City Criminal Court, stated, “Homosexuals account for half of the murders in large cities.” (Kaifetz, J. "Homosexual Rights Are Concern for Some," Post-Tribune, 18 December 1992.)

Plug that quote into Google, and you'll find that it has had a long shelf life among certain anti-homosexual forces. But tracking down any evidence to back up the claim is much more difficult. Another blogger notes, too, that "account for" makes it unclear whether homosexuals are the victims or the perpetrators.

Anyway, check out the podcast.

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