Mollie Hemingway

Journalism and blasphemy: Can The New York Times cover Charlie Hebdo images with words, alone?

Journalism and blasphemy: Can The New York Times cover Charlie Hebdo images with words, alone?

So who is forgiving who and for what?

In the world of religion, and human rights, there is one story out there that must be discussed today and that's the post-massacre issue of Charlie Hebdo. The problem, of course, is that print journalists are trying to discuss a visual image -- yet their decision to show, or not to show, the image itself is affecting their coverage.

The New York Times -- one of the key players in this debate -- has a lengthy report on this subject that, to be blunt, quotes an admirable array of experts on what the cover may or may not mean. It's a fine story, in many ways. However, as GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway notes with near fury at The Federalist, where's the art? We'll be back to that in a minute.

Here is how the Times states the crucial issue: What does the cover say?

The cover shows the bearded prophet shedding a tear and holding up a sign saying, “I am Charlie,” the rallying cry that has become synonymous with support of the newspaper and free expression. Above the cartoon on a green background is the headline “All is forgiven.”
While surviving staff members, at an emotional news conference, described their choice of cover as a show of forgiveness, most Muslims consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous. Moreover, interpretations quickly swirled around the Internet that the cartoon also contained disguised crudity.

So forgiveness mixed with, yes, blasphemy. I would also like to raise another question: While the "All is forgiven" statement is not in a thought balloon, is it completely clear who is being forgiven and who is doing the forgiving?

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Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Can you hear the clock ticking as our culture veers toward open warfare?

Can you hear the shopping malls preparing their displays, the lawyers preparing for combat, the atheists preparing their posters for protests, the spin-zone Fox opinion writers preparing their scripts?

Here comes the War on Christmas 2015.

The Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway –GetReligionista emeritus – knows what is coming and jumped into the fray early, but not on the subject of Christmas alone.

Right up front, let me stress that I realize that her recent piece at The Federalist, "Forget The War On Christmas, The War On Advent Is Worse" was not a journalism piece. However, it was an essay with implications for how journalists can (I would plead "should") think about one angle of the Christmas coverage that is to come. Thus, I thought I would share a piece or two of it.

There are some potential angles in this piece for journalists thinking about Christmas Wars coverage.

Angle No. 1: When does Christmas actually begin? In the culture? In the Christian tradition, as opposed to the "American" tradition, the shopping mall tradition?

Angle No. 2: At what point are ordinary Americans already swamped with stuff that is allegedly linked to Christmas?

Angle No. 3: Does any of this have anything to do with religious faith and practice?

Here is M.Z. getting rolling:

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Jump in the WABAC Machine: NYTimes buried Jesus way back in 1997?

Jump in the WABAC Machine: NYTimes buried Jesus way back in 1997?

There has been quite a bit of reaction online, as you would expect, to the GetReligion-esque takedown that the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway wrote for The Federalist about that New York Times travel piece that -- in the print edition -- said the following:

Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty.

The piece was later changed in the online edition, with "is" changed to "was" in keeping with, well, the crucial doctrine at the heart of global Christendom -- the Resurrection. The Times team did not, however, deign to publish a formal correction (and I just checked the online text again).

If you read the comments on several different posts on this topic -- M.Z. and Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher, for example -- you know that many readers were convinced that this was a tempest in a teacup about a mere typo that just slipped past the world-class copy desk at the world's most powerful newspaper.

Here at GetReligion, reader Tom Hanson offered this example of that line of thinking:

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Revenge of GetReligion MZ: Concerning the NYTimes effort to bury Jesus

Revenge of GetReligion MZ: Concerning the NYTimes effort to bury Jesus

How does that song go? "There she goes, there she goes again"?

Obviously, you can (sadly) take the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway out of GetReligion, but you cannot take the GetReligion DNA out of her (thank goodness) in her work with The Federalist

Case in point: If you get religion-beat pros together, we often end up sharing hilarious (laugh to keep from crying, actually) examples of mistakes that news organizations make when attempting to cover religion news. Click here for a USA Today op-ed piece that I wrote on this topic long ago.

Mollie likes to play this game, too, and specializes in hunting for the most prestigious prey -- mistakes in The New York Times. You'd be amazed how often basic mistakes on Christian history and doctrine show up in those holy pages.

Take, for example that travel story that ran last week under the headline, "Hoping War-Weary Tourists Will Return to Israel."

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So long, GetReligion

It was about eight years ago exactly when I surprised Terry Mattingly by shouting his name as I encountered him on the street. His visage was familiar to me because I’d grown up reading him in “the Rocky” — the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado. My parents had always encouraged my siblings and me to read the newspapers and I devoured both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News every day. Front page to last page. I was interested in journalism from a young age, starting a newspaper at my elementary school and eventually editing the Yearbook at my high school in my junior and my senior year.

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Cheesiest Godbeat write-up of the year?

Via the Deacon’s Bench comes this example of how not to write a story about a scandal involving a Roman Catholic priest. Deacon Greg Kandra’s piece is headlined “Great moments in journalism: priest fathers a child, newspaper smirks.” He thinks it’s so cheesy that the journalists should get remedial training.

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The warning in the atheist pastor story

The New York Times today has a piece headlined “Minister Admits Overstating Her Credentials,” an update of sorts to the previous week’s fluffy profile of a mainline pastor (“After a Crisis of Faith, a Former Minister Finds a New, Secular Mission”) that began:

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Generic 'God talk' or something more?

Well here’s a pretty good example of what appears to be the failure to get religion details into a story. Here’s the top of the story from Yahoo! sports:

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Pod people: Religion and mass shootings

The Crossroads podcast this week was devoted to discussion of covering shootings. And in the time since the horrible shooting in Washington, D.C., took place, we now have reports of another horrific mass shooting in Kenya. There is some amazing journalism being done as this massacre unfolds. I’d recommend reading this New York Times interview of Tyler Hicks, a photographer who ran into the mall as thousands fled. The pictures that accompany the piece will make you gasp and cry, so be forewarned. But I think there is an argument to be made that we should see these images and have the appropriate reaction to them.

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