Journalism

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

I write more than 200 posts a year for GetReligion.

My pieces range from our bread-and-butter critiques of mainstream news media coverage of religion to our weekly Friday Five columns highlighting each week’s major (or just plain quirky) developments on the Godbeat.

At the end of each year, I’m always curious to see which posts caught the attention of the most readers.

What makes a GetReligion post go viral? In 2017, key ingredients included Joel Osteen, same-sex wedding cakes and the Mark of the Beast. The previous year — 2016 — Donald Trump’s “Two Corinthians,” Merle Haggard’s Church of Christ mama and a rare opening of a Chick-fil-A on Sunday were in the mix.

2018? Well, let’s check out the top five posts for GetReligionista Julia Duin, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself.

We’ll start with Julia, for reasons that will become obvious:

5. How journalists can nail down the rest of the Cardinal McCarrick story – for good

4. Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

3. Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

2. Another #ChurchToo: The Chicago Tribune investigates Bill Hybels in 6,000 words

1. The scandal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and why no major media outed him

See any common thread there? That’s right — McCarrick and the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal were huge news and big traffic drivers to GetReligion in 2018, as was the related #ChurchToo news that also made headlines.

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Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Friday Five: Baby Jesus thefts, 'Charlie Brown Christmas,' Jews help refugees, RNS wins 'Jeopardy'

Most weeks, Friday Five wraps up the week in religion reporting.

But here’s a secret about this week: I’ve been mostly away from my computer screen, celebrating Christmas with my family.

So there’s an excellent chance I’ve missed important and/or interesting news in the world of the Godbeat. In that case, please don’t hesitate to share links in the comments section or by tweeting us at @GetReligion.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In case you missed it in the midst of your own holiday festivities, I wrote earlier this week about the New York Times’ front-page Sunday feature on a national trend of Baby Jesus being swiped from Nativity scenes.

I particularly loved the story’s dateline, which I thought was brilliant: Bethlehem, Pa.

In related coverage, McClatchy had this intriguing headline on the day after Christmas:

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A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

Onions and garlic, slowly simmered with tomatoes and olive oil.

Does that make you hungry? It leaves me salivating. Pour it -- generously, if you don't mind -- over a heaping plate of pasta and I'm your best friend.

Perhaps that’s why I found this story out of India (first sent my way by a friend, N.K.) so interesting. It's about Hindus who reject eating onions and garlic for religiously ascribed health and spiritual reasons.

Moreover, given that it’s the end of the year, I’m also inclined to offer up this story as a metaphor for the world of religion, and its concurrent global political and social machinations, as 2019 prepares to dawn.

But first, here’s a bit of the gastronomical Hindu brouhaha story, courtesy of the liberal-leaning, India-focused news site Scroll.in.

(So you understand: In the Indian numerical system, a lakh equals 100,000; Karnataka is a state in southwest India, and ISKCON is the official name for what Westerners tend to call Hare Krishnas, a modern iteration of an ancient Hindu school of religious thought. Additionally, Ayurveda is an Indian dietary and health care system rooted in early Hindu scripture.)

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which has been providing mid-day meals to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka, has refused to sign a memorandum for 2018-’19 following a directive by the state government to include onions and garlic in the food prepared for the meal, based on recommendations from the State Food Commission.

This is not the first time that the foundation has refused to follow recommended nutritional guidelines in the government scheme. The NGO had earlier refused to provide eggs in the meal saying it can only provide a satvik diet – a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature.

The foundation, an initiative of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON, has a religious prerogative of “advocating a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs” and considers onions and garlic in food as “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”.

Akshaya Patra, which claims to supply mid-day meals to 1.76 million children from 14,702 schools across 12 states in India, has flouted these norms from the beginning of its contract, failing to cater to children from disadvantaged communities, almost all of whom eat eggs and are culturally accustomed to garlic and onion in food.

But why onions and garlic? What do members of this Hindus sub-group know that the cooks of so many other global cuisines don’t or don’t care about? Even Western and natural medicine practitioners say that onions and garlic are particularly good for our health.

So what’s up?

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Merry Christmas to media critics: Elite German reporter visits American heartland and ....

Merry Christmas to media critics: Elite German reporter visits American heartland and ....

The following post doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas.

Well, wait. I can imagine that there are conservative critics of the mainstream press — especially in its most elite forms — who would see the following headline as a kind of Christmas present. And later on in this post, there will be a religion-and-politics angle to this scandal. So hold that thought.

But let’s start with the end of tale, care of this NBC News headline: “German reporter stripped of CNN 'Journalist of the Year' awards for fabricating stories.”

Hey fans of great journalism movies: We are talking about a kind of sequel to “Shattered Glass,” only with a reporter who was working for an elite news publication — Der Spiegel — as opposed to a liberal journal of editorial opinion, commentary and news. Here’s the top of that Associated Press, as featured by NBC News:

BERLIN — A German journalist who was found to have fabricated numerous articles is being stripped of two awards he received in 2014 from CNN International, the broadcaster said Thursday.

In a statement to The Associated Press, CNN International said the independent panel of judges who awarded Claas Relotius the Journalist of the Year and Print Journalist of the Year awards four years ago decided unanimously to remove them following revelations about his fraud.

German magazine Der Spiegel, where Relotius worked as a freelancer and later full-time, said Wednesday that he had fabricated interviews and facts in at least 14 articles.

The publication, one of Germany's leading news outlets, said the 33-year-old had committed journalistic fraud "on a grand scale" over a number of years, including fabricating elements of an article about an American woman who he said volunteered to witness the executions of death row inmates.

Now it’s time for the flashback to a feature at Medium that got lots and lots of attention — in America and, perhaps, in Germany. The headline: “Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town.”

The key is that one of the most celebrated newsrooms in Europe decided to probe the dark heart of Middle America in the age of Donald Trump. You know: How do solid, faithful, ordinary Americans in the heartland make peace with their support for a demon? That sort of thing.

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Call the police: Baby Jesus has been stolen — and The New York Times has a compelling story about it

Call the police: Baby Jesus has been stolen — and The New York Times has a compelling story about it

I’m in Texas at my Mom and Dad’s house as I type this — about to enjoy a festive Christmas Eve breakfast with chocolate syrup and pancakes, white gravy and biscuits, sausage, bacon and assorted other fixings.

My wife, two of my children, my brother, sister, my sister-in-law and various nephews and a niece will join me in line as we start our Christmas celebration by eating way too much.

I mention the above mainly because it’s all I can think about at the moment, but also because it may help explain why this post will be pretty quick and to the point.

I’ve got somewhere else to be, don’t you know.

Seriously, I want to highlight two New York Times stories real briefly this morning — both about nativity scenes, but one a much more compelling read than the other.

The first story was featured on Sunday’s front page with the headline “Cameras, Bolts and an Elusive Goal: To Sleep in Heavenly Peace.”

It’s a creative, timely piece about a national trend of baby Jesus being swiped from Nativity scenes nationally, and the dateline — the setting for the story — is pure brilliance:

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Away in a manger on Bethlehem’s public square, a woman approached a statue of the baby Jesus one dark, December night. Then she stole it.

The theft, from a Nativity scene outside City Hall, raised alarm in this eastern Pennsylvania city that shares a name with the real Jesus Christ’s birthplace.

When the missing baby Jesus was found, it had been damaged, and Bethlehem’s police chief had to glue its leg back on. Then the city took action, positioning a concealed security camera exclusively on baby Jesus and assigning police officers to monitor the footage. In the two years since, the statue has been left at peace, asleep on the hay as the camera, nicknamed the “Jesus cam” by some residents, rolls.

“If anybody looks real close, they’ll see a crack in his leg,” said Lynn Cunningham, a leader of the local chamber of commerce.

Such manger larceny, in glaring violation of the Eighth Commandment, is also part of a sad national trend. This year, thieves have raided Nativity scenes in Tennessee, West Virginia, Minnesota and plenty of other places, and made off with Jesus figurines (and sometimes Mary and a donkey, too).

In terms of clever writing, there are nice touches throughout. As for religion, the reporter doesn’t neglect it, including lines such as this:

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Friday Five: New NYT religion writer, Illinois priest abusers, suicide homily, Godbeat on YouTube

Friday Five: New NYT religion writer, Illinois priest abusers, suicide homily, Godbeat on YouTube

In case you missed it on social media, there’s big news this week concerning the Godbeat at The New York Times.

Laurie Goodstein, who since 1997 has — as a newsroom press release put it — “owned the religion beat at The Times, covering it with smarts, passion and a commitment to accountability and understanding,” is taking on a new role. She’ll become a deputy international editor.

The name of Goodstein’s successor will be familiar to regular GetReligion readers: It’s Elizabeth Dias, whose stories we have praised often.

My first reaction to that news was, “Isn’t Dias already a Times religion writer?” But actually, her previous title was faith and values correspondent, focused on the religion angle of politics.

Congratulations to both Goodstein and Dias!

Who will move into the faith and values correspondent role? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

Congratulations to both Goodstein and Dias!

Who will move into the faith and values correspondent role? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

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Concerning that priest's offensive funeral remarks on suicide, it's true that what he actually said matters

Concerning that priest's offensive funeral remarks on suicide, it's true that what he actually said matters

Thank you, GetReligion readers, for pointing out something I missed!

I wrote Monday about the viral USA Today story on a priest’s jarring homily after a teen died by suicide.

My main journalistic point was that the Catholic Church’s actual beliefs concerning suicide should have been an important part of the story. However, I was so focused on that point that I failed to notice something else that is equally crucial.

That is, USA Today relied on the teen’s parents and other sources to characterize what the priest said. Granted, those critics included the Archdiocese of Detroit.

But still, didn’t the paper’s audience deserve to hear directly from the priest’s homily?

Thomas Szyszkiewicz, a veteran of Catholic media, and others made that point in comments on my original post.

From Szyszkiewicz:

Here's a link to Father LaCuesta's homily: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2018/images/12/16/father.lacuesta.homily.maison.hullibarger.funeral.pdf

That the parents took it as saying their son was a sinner is a sign that they have not heard the basic Gospel message in church for a long time -- because we are all sinners. But if you read this homily directly, then you see that he told the truth about what suicide is and then told them that they can entrust themselves and their son to God's mercy. In fact, I believe he seriously misinterpreted that famous passage from Romans 8 ("What can separate us from the love of Christ?") but he did so favoring the mercy of God for their son. That the parents thought they could tell the priest what he could preach on is really presumptuous and that USA Today didn't challenge the parents on why they thought they could tell the priest what to preach on is ridiculous.

The great canon lawyer Ed Peters writes about this here: https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/god-bless-fr-lacuesta/

This is not a situation that any priest wants to be in, but telling the family all fluff and puff isn't doing them any great service and Father LaCuesta seems to have told the truth on many levels. Too bad USA Today didn't see it that way.

Certainly, Szyszkiewicz’s opinions on the content of the priest’s homily and the parents’ response to it are just that — his opinions.

But it’s also true that what the priest actually said is highly relevant to news coverage.

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Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

Another strong EU anti-Semitism warning. And yes, journalists should keep covering this story

My wife was born in Israel and most of her extended family still lives there. We have several close friends living there, plus I also have journalist friends and acquaintances in Israel.

It’s wonderful to have so many people I care about in a nation to which I’m deeply connected. However, this means that when we visit, which is often, we generally have a packed schedule. This leaves us little down time for rest and seeking out new experiences, even when we’re there for a couple of weeks or more.

So for that we schedule stopovers in Europe, either going or coming. Just the two of us and a rented car, exploring and hanging out where our interests take us, including  beautiful and nourishing environments. We're also drawn to Jewish historical sites, old synagogues and the like.

We’re now thinking about another trip to Israel this spring or summer. But this time, we’re considering skipping our usual European respite. Why? Because of the increasingly overt anti-Semitism.

We have no desire to either experience it anew or spend our money in societies where the dislike of Jews and Israel are menacingly on the rise.

A disturbing survey, released just last week, by the European Union on the growing insecurity of the continent's Jews — and their increased desire to emigrate — prompted our reevaluation. Here’s part of how Bloomberg reported the survey's chief findings.

Insecurity fueled by anti-Semitism prompted a growing number of British, German and Swedish Jews to consider leaving their countries, according to a landmark survey conducted by the European Union.

Nine out of every 10 Jews sense anti-Semitism is getting worse with some of the most acute concern registered in northern Europe, according to the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. The survey is the largest of its kind worldwide and polled more than 16,000 Jews in 12 countries.

“Mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU,” said Michael O’Flaherty, the Irish human rights lawyer who runs the Vienna-based agency. “Across 12 EU member states where Jews have been living for centuries, more than 1/3 say that they consider emigrating because they no longer feel safe as Jews.”

Concerns over safety are prompting Jewish communities in some of the EU’s biggest economies to question whether they should remain, according to the data. In Germany, their share soared to 44 percent from 25 percent six years ago.


The BBC ran its online story on the survey under the headline, “Anti-Semitism pervades European life, says EU report.”

Let that sink in for a moment. “Pervades.”

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Sign of @NYTimes? So someone sent a mysterious tweet about Strasbourg attack ...

Sign of @NYTimes? So someone sent a mysterious tweet about Strasbourg attack ...

Since Day 1 of this here blog, or soon thereafter, your GetReligionistas have reminded all readers infuriated by headlines that reporters rarely, if ever, get to write these punchy, essential graphic introductions to their stories.

Mad about a headline? Take it to an editor.

But what about Twitter messages that — in an attempt to create heat that inspires online clicks — actually twist or mangle the contents of a news story? Who is to blame, when there is confusion in the cloud of digital media that now surrounds essential, core news stories?

That happened the other day in the wake of the tragic terrorist attack on the famous Christmas marketplace in Strasbourg, France. We will get to the actual story in a second. But first, here is the content of the tweet “from” The New York Times that started a mini-storm on Twitter.

It Remains Unclear What Motivated The Gunman Who Opened Fire At A Christmas Market In Strasbourg, Officials Said, As The Police Continue An Intensive Search For The Attacker

So what is the problem?

Some readers found it strange that there was confusion — at the Times or anywhere else — about the motives of an attacker who shouted “Allahu akbar!” while attempting to commit a massacre in a Christmas market. Many thought that this seemed like a rather strange editorial judgement.

Ah, but what did the actual story say? Did the actual editorial product published by the Gray Lady say what this tweet says that it said?

That brings us to the story under the headline, “France Declares Strasbourg Shooting an Act of Terrorism.” Here is the overture:

STRASBOURG, France — The deadly shooting at a crowded Strasbourg street market was an act of terrorism, officials said …, as hundreds of police officers hunted the fugitive assailant, a man described as a radicalized hometown career criminal.

The gunman killed at least two people and wounded 12 in the … shooting spree at the famous Christmas market in Strasbourg, a city of more than a quarter-million in France’s northeast border with Germany.

Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, who handles terrorism investigations nationwide, said at a news conference in Strasbourg that witnesses had heard the attacker yell “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, and that the targets and the suspect’s profile justified the opening of a terrorism investigation.

Any sign of an editorial statement swooping in from left field?

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