Kellerism

That old media-bias question again: What will NPR call someone who performs abortions?

That old media-bias question again: What will NPR call someone who performs abortions?

As your GetReligionistas have explained many times, abortion is an issue that isn’t automatically religion-beat territory. However, most public debates about abortion (and euthanasia) end up involving religious groups and the arguments almost always involve religious language.

Yes, there is a group called Atheists Against Abortion and there are other groups on the religious and cultural left, such as the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians. I was converted to the pro-life position as a young adult through articles at Sojourners, including a famous essay by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But in the mainstream press, liberal pro-lifers hardly exist, if they exist at all. You would never know that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of Democrats (depending on how you word the question) hold positions on abortion that most journalists would call “anti-choice.”

Thus, questions about abortion have long been at the heart of surveys linked to religion and media bias, with journalists, especially in elite urban zip codes, consistently backing America’s current regime of abortion laws to a much stronger degree than the public as a whole. It’s been that way since I started studying the issue in the early 1980s.

If you were looking for a recent Armageddon moment on this topic (other than the current U.S. Supreme Court fiasco), it would have to be the media coverage, or non-coverage, of the criminal activity of Dr. Kermit Gosnell of Philadelphia.

Here at GetReligion, the blogging and chutzpah of M.Z. Hemingway played a key role in forcing debates about that topic out into the open.

In the past week or so, several GetReligion readers have sent me the URL of a commentary at The Daily Beast that ran with this headline: “Leaked NPR Emails: Don’t Call Kermit Gosnell an ‘Abortion Doctor’.”

This piece focuses on one of the key issues raised during the Gosnell trial — what professional title should reporters describe to this member of the abortion industry?

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U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn: Maybe she deserves some balanced press coverage?

U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn: Maybe she deserves some balanced press coverage?

I met Marsha Blackburn about 16 years ago when I was in Nashville on business around 2002, when she was running for a U.S. House seat after six years in the Tennessee Senate.

She won that race and has been on the rise ever since. Now she’s the Republican nominee for an open Senate seat and, Tennessee being the red state that it is, her chances of getting it are good except that she’s running against a very likable former governor.

All sorts of folks are watching this race. Some of the coverage frames this conservative candidate in very predictable ways.

The New York Times also did a piece on her recently but the focus was an odd one. The article was more on what she was not saying than on what she was.

KINGSPORT, Tenn. — Inside the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce one morning last month, a few dozen voters sipped coffee and listened for 45 minutes to Representative Marsha Blackburn tick off all the reasons that this traditionally Republican stronghold in northeastern Tennessee should support her in one of the most high-stakes Senate races this year.

She praised President Trump. She warned of an invasion of liberal policies and a Democratic takeover of committees if Republicans lose the Senate. She stressed securing the border, fighting MS-13 and lowering taxes. She highlighted her work as a Republican House member to “get government off your back.”

But one issue was entirely absent — the one that had made Ms. Blackburn famous in Washington, and infamous in Democratic circles: abortion.

We learn that she’s more into state issues these days; no great surprise in that she’s running statewide. Then we see why the Times is interested in her.

It’s a noticeable shift for a politician who three years ago took an incendiary turn in the nation’s culture wars. Amid a divisive battle over the funding of Planned Parenthood, Ms. Blackburn led a congressional committee investigating allegations that the group had tried to illegally profit from the sale of fetal tissue, which the organization denied. Ms. Blackburn fanned the flames by making the audacious charge that the group was selling “baby body parts on demand.”

It was a particularly ugly chapter in a bitter national debate…The episode gained national attention and cemented Ms. Blackburn’s reputation as a hard-right firebrand.

Let’s see: “Incendiary,” “divisive,” “ugly chapter,” “fanned the flames,” “audacious,” “hard-right firebrand.” I see where this is going.

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Vigano vs. mainstream press? Trying to find bright line between 'news' and 'commentary'

Vigano vs. mainstream press? Trying to find bright line between 'news' and 'commentary'

It's an old question, one that your GetReligionistas have had to ask many times over the past 15 years.

Read the following material and ask this question: Is this hard-news writing or editorial commentary? The context -- #DUH -- is that blunt letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. He is the former Vatican ambassador to the United States from 2011-2016 who has accused Pope Francis of taking part in earlier efforts to protect and rehabilitate the fallen Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. 

The headline proclaims: "The Sex-Abuse Scandal Has Come for Pope Francis."

... (T)he pope’s defenders have characterized the letter as a smear against Francis, in part because of Viganò’s past clashes with the pope. The letter reflects the simmering discontent of conservative clergy in Rome, who dislike Francis’s inclination towards reform.

This piece was published by The Atlantic and, thus, it should be read as news analysis. Nevertheless, it helps to pause and consider the meaning of the word "reform," as opposed to "change." If you turn to a typical online dictionary you will find something like this:

reform ... noun

1. the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc.

Thus, Francis is -- on issues such as divorce and many matters of moral theology -- viewed as someone who is working to right what is wrong, to attack those who are corrupt. The use of this term presupposes that Francis is the hero, doctrinally speaking, and his opponents are the corrupt opponents of what is right, good and holy. You get the picture.

Now, what about this language from the Washington Post? News or analysis?

DUBLIN -- Pope Francis has long faced criticism from traditionalists -- a group that includes academics as well as cardinals -- who say the church is too willingly following the whims of the anything-goes modern age. 

Much of the dissent has remained within the Vatican walls, as Francis’s opponents worked to stonewall reforms. 

Is this news or analysis, in the context of a daily newspaper?

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Are Catholic hospitals being deceptive? The New York Times says, 'Yes'

Are Catholic hospitals being deceptive? The New York Times says, 'Yes'

The rush of recent news about sexually abusive priests and erring bishops has moved our critiques of other things Catholic to the side for several weeks.

Thus, I want to flash back and spotlight a story that ran Aug. 10 in the New York Times about Catholic hospitals.

Such hospitals do not offer direct sterilization, abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide. They also don’t do hysterectomies for transgender people and tubal ligations. 

Here, readers learn, Catholic doctrine is not only the enemy but the cause of endangering womens’ lives. The opening salvo, about a hospital refusing to offer what could be life-saving care, is an attention-getter.

After experiencing life-threatening pre-eclampsia during her first two pregnancies, Jennafer Norris decided she could not risk getting pregnant again. But several years later, suffering debilitating headaches and soaring blood pressure, she realized her I.U.D. had failed. She was pregnant, and the condition had returned.

At 30 weeks, with her health deteriorating, she was admitted to her local hospital in Rogers, Ark., for an emergency cesarean section. To ensure that she would never again be at risk, she asked her obstetrician to tie her tubes immediately following the delivery.

The doctor’s response stunned her. “She said she’d love to but couldn’t because it was a Catholic hospital,” Ms. Norris, 38, recalled in an interview.

Experiences like hers are becoming more common, as a wave of mergers widens the reach of Catholic medical facilities across the United States, and the Trump administration finalizes regulations to further expand the ability of health care workers and institutions to decline to provide specific medical procedures for moral or religious reasons.

We learn that one in six hospital patients in the United States is in a Catholic hospital, but that in most cases, it’s tough to learn on the web sites of these hospitals just which services they do not offer.

The article definitely gave both sides their day in court but what struck me was the overall tone of the piece. It was that Catholic hospitals are restrictive places that forbid all manner of services and are deceptive about what they don’t offer, so buyer beware.

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Churches for sale: New York Times visits a sexy former Catholic sanctuary in Quebec

Churches for sale: New York Times visits a sexy former Catholic sanctuary in Quebec

In case you have been on another planet for a year or two, let me state something rather obvious.

Lurking behind all of the confusion about what is and what is not "fake news" (click here for tmatt a typology on that term) is a reality that should concern journalists of all stripes. It is becoming more and more obvious that readers are having trouble telling the difference between hard news and analysis/commentary work.

For example, consider the New York Times piece that ran with this headline, "Where Churches Have Become Temples of Cheese, Fitness and Eroticism."

At the top of this piece is this label -- "Montreal Dispatch."

Now, is that part of the headline or is that a clue to readers that this is some kind of ongoing analysis feature in which the reporter is going to be given more freedom, when it comes to using loaded language and statements of opinion?

I'll confess that I don't know. I do know that this feature is an amazing example of the GetReligion truism "demographics shape destiny and doctrine does, too." It's a great story and one that will, at this moment in time, cause further pain for Catholic readers. But there is one, for me, disturbing passage that I want journalists to think about, a bit. Hold that thought.

At the center of this piece is the sanctuary known as Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours -- which was once a Catholic parish in Montreal. Here is a long, but essential, summary of the changes that have taken place there.

The once-hallowed space, now illuminated with a giant pink chandelier, has been reinvented as the Théâtre Paradoxe at a cost of nearly $3 million in renovations. It is now host to, among other events, Led Zeppelin cover bands, Zumba lessons and fetish parties. ... And it is one of dozens of churches across Quebec that have been transformed -- into university reading rooms, luxury condominiums, cheese emporiums and upmarket fitness centers.

At another event at the church, devoted to freewheeling dance, dozens of barefoot amateur dancers filled the space and undulated in a trance-like state in front of its former altar amid drums and chanting.

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Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

Surprise: Washington Post covers only one side of Episcopal Church prayerbook debate

One of the central truths of religion-beat life is very hard to explain to editors, who primarily award news-value points based on whether a story is linked to partisan politics (these days, that means Donald Trump) and/or sexuality.

However, people who sweat the details at pew level know that, if you want to cause mass confusion (no pun intended), then what you need to do is change the hymnals and liturgical rites used by the faithful.

While this reality affects several flocks, Episcopal Church battles over The Book of Common Prayer have drawn the most ink in the past. The relatively modest coverage of recent debates among Episcopalians over same-sex marriage rites and the gender of God was probably a sign of how much the liberal Protestant brand has faded, in terms of providing sure-fire news hooks. Many journalists may be waiting for the upcoming United Methodist showdown.

However, the Washington Post, to its credit, did offer modest coverage of recent Episcopal Church efforts to further modernize the denomination's worship. As is usually the case, the Episcopalians managed to move forward -- in terms of progress for the doctrinal left -- while being careful at the same time, so as not to frighten elderly donors.

If you were a secular editor who didn't know the players and the rules of the Episcopal game, what would you make of this story's overture?

After more than a week of debate among church leaders about whether God should be referred to by male pronouns -- and about the numerous other issues that come up when writing a prayer book -- the Episcopal Church has decided to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that Episcopalian worshipers hold dear.

The question now is when it will happen.

At the denomination’s triennial conference ... leaders considered a plan that would have led to a new prayer book in 2030. They voted it down.

“There’s no timeline for it,” said the Very Rev. Samuel Candler, chair of the committee on prayer book revision. “There’s no A-B-C-D plan. ..."

So, did the convention vote to create a new prayerbook, complete with gender-neutral language for God and official same-sex marriage rites, or not?

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Concerning NPR, 'green frogs,' Humanae Vitae and the Vatican family life conference

Concerning NPR, 'green frogs,' Humanae Vitae and the Vatican family life conference

Does anyone remember my "green frog" image from a few years back?

That old post opened with a flashback to my days long ago at the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, in that amazing university town in the middle of the kingdom of Illinois farm country.

I was a brand-new journalist -- working as a copy editor and, yes, the paper's part-time rock columnist. However, the news editor knew that I grew up as a Texas Baptist preacher's kid and that I was active in a local Southern Baptist church, of the "moderate" stripe. Thus: 

Every now and then an angry reader would call and accuse the newspaper of being prejudiced against all religious people. ...  Even when these readers had a valid point to make -- especially concerning errors -- they tended to go completely over the top in their criticism of the staff at the newspaper. In voices that would get more and more enraged, they seemed determined to accuse the editors of sins against God, as opposed to sins against the standards of journalism.

The news editor would bite his tongue and try to listen, as people accused him of taking orders directly from Satan. But after awhile he would roll his eyes, place his hand over the telephone mouthpiece and stage whisper across the news desk, "Mattingly, there's another GREEN FROG on line one. You take this call."

So that's the origin story for my "green frog" image, related to religion news.

Here at GetReligion, I still hear from "green frogs" all the time. I reject about 75 percent of the offerings to our comments pages and here are the two most common reasons: (1) The comments are not about journalism, but about the reader's own views about religion and, usually, politics. (2) The writer simply has an axe to grind about journalism -- period.

However, every now and then someone sends me a link to a person who has valid points to make about a piece of mainstream reporting and has managed to keep her or his wits while doing so. That brings me to a recent NPR report with this headline -- "50 Years Ago, The Pope Called Birth Control 'Intrinsically Wrong' " -- and an interesting GetReligion-esque take on that story's overture.

So here is the top of that NPR report, complete with its crucial hyperlinks. This is long, but essential to understand what follows:

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New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

Here's something that I didn't know before I read the rather ambitious New York Times feature that ran with this headline: "Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why."

Apparently, if you ask young Americans why they are not choosing to have babies -- even the number of babies that they say they would like to have -- you get lots of answers about economics and trends in what could be called "secular" culture.

That's that. Religion plays no role in this question at all.

For example: In a graphic that ran with the piece, here are the most common answers cited, listed from the highest percentages to lowest. That would be, "Want leisure time," "Haven't found partner," "Can't afford child care," "No desire for children," "Can't afford a house," "Not sure I'd be a good parent," “Worried about the economy," "Worried about global instability," "Career is a greater priority," "Work too much," "Worried about population growth," "Too much student debt," etc., etc. Climate change is near the bottom.

You can see similar answers in the chart describing why gender-neutral young adults are choosing to have fewer children than "their ideal number."

Now, what happens if you ask people why they ARE choosing to have children? If the question is turned upside down, do issues of faith and religion show up?

It's impossible to know, since it appears that -- for the Times team and the Morning Consult pollsters -- religious questions have nothing to do with the topic of sex, marriage (or not) and fertility. Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

So what do Times readers find out about the reasons people give to have more children, even more than one or two? While it appears that no questions were asked about this issue, it's clear some assumptions were built into this story. This summary is long, but essential. Read carefully:

“We want to invest more in each child to give them the best opportunities to compete in an increasingly unequal environment,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and has written about fertility. At the same time, he said, “There is no getting around the fact that the relationship between gender equality and fertility is very strong: There are no high-fertility countries that are gender equal.”


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Fake News? The Economist team doesn't know where Liberty University is located

Fake News? The Economist team doesn't know where Liberty University is located

If you were going to create a Top 10 list of high-quality journalism institutions in our world today, surely The Economist would be in there somewhere.

Now let's put a different spin on that. If you were going to create a list of prestigious publications that do not deserve the label "Fake News," I would imagine that The Economist would make that list.

So what are you supposed to do when you hit the spew-your-coffee moment in this new piece that was published in that elite magazine over in England, the feature that ran under the headline:

Faith and higher education can intersect in many different ways

An ever-shifting relationship between campus and church

The piece opens with a discussion of a recent address at Oxford University by Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, on the subject of academic and intellectual freedom.

Then there is this piece of analysis, which contains the spew-worthy error mentioned earlier. Wait for it.

To some American conservatives, this emphasis on free-ranging inquiry, rather than the axioms of faith, will only confirm what they suspected: that Notre Dame and other historically Catholic colleges are drifting far from their Christian roots and are on the road to becoming virtually identical to secular places of learning. But the real situation is more interesting. In the ecology of American higher education, there are many different relationships with religion. There are zealously Christian establishments like Liberty University in Tennessee, which may be the largest non-profit college in the world, with 15,000 students at its Lynchburg campus and another 110,000 engaged in online learning. First-year students take Bible classes and there is a “code of honour” that bars extra-marital sex.

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