Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

In the mid-1970s, I spent a brief period working for an English-language magazine in Lima, Peru. The Peruvian Times was,  at that time, a schizophrenic blend of business news and first-person adventure travel yarns. Guess which part subsidized the other.

The magazine's office -- just blocks from Lima's nearly 500-year-old central square -- was a hangout for English-speaking journalists passing through or stationed in the Peruvian capital. Many looked to the Times'  expat staff for story ideas, context and sources.

The Times was an example of a foreign reporting truism -- which is the reliance correspondents have on local journalists for ideas and contacts. This is particularly true for those new to a nation and those who cannot fully function in the local language.

In Israel, one preferred local journalism hub has long been Haaretz, which has been called that nation's equivalent of The New York Times.

Its a false comparison because Haaretz ("The Land" in Hebrew) has limited circulation, is unabashedly and consistently left wing in its news columns as well as its editorial positions, is hostile toward religious orthodoxy -- no small thing in a nation where religion plays an enormous role in public life -- and has no where near the domestic influence or corporate wealth of the Times.

What it does have is influence in international liberal circles, which I'd say includes the majority of the Western correspondents working in Israel.

Haaretz strongly opposes the right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular its policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank. On this issue, its editorials and columnists are often quoted by those in the international media who trend liberal-left.

As such, Haaretz wields more influence internationally than it does within its home nation, giving it outsized importance in the international debate over Israel -- which is why Haaretz should be a subject of interest to American consumers of Middle East news.

Let me be clear. My intent here is not to attack Haaretz or its views, some of which I agree with (Israel's ongoing settlements policy, in particular). Rather it is to underscore the influence local media, even one with limited appeal at home, can have in shaping the international media agenda when its views are in line with the prevailing foreign media mindset.

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The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

Several weeks after the stunning election of Donald Trump, I was in New York City (I teach at The King's College two-plus months a year) and attended an event that drew a large flock of urbane Catholics.

There was, of course, lots of talk about the election. But many people were already thinking about the inevitable moment when Pope Francis would meet President Donald Trump.

Several people said something like this: Everybody already knows about their disagreements. It will be interesting to learn what they agree on.

With that in mind, let's turn to several examples of the press coverage of their Vatican meeting. From a journalism point of view, the key is that their actual talk was behind closed doors -- with only an interpreter present. So other than comments on facial expressions, fashion and symbolic gifts, what is the key material here for journalists?

There was, of course, a Vatican statement released afterwards, which can be seen as a short, dry summary of what official voices want outsiders to know was on the agenda.

So how much attention did that statement receive in the Associated Press report that will be buried somewhere inside most newspapers (since there were no public fireworks)? This is all that readers got, down in the story text:

When Trump departed, he told the pope: "Thank you, I won't forget what you said." ...
Hours later, Trump tweeted the meeting was the "honor of a lifetime." A statement released by the Vatican later said "satisfaction was expressed" at their "joint commitment in favor of life" and that there was hoped-for collaboration on health care and assistance to immigrants and protection of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Needless to say, the AP team played quite a bit of attention to the two men's past disagreements. That's valid. But why not focus similar attention on the joint statement?

I would ask the same question about the main New York Times report.

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Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

By now there is a good chance that many of you have read the story of the pregnant teen who got shamed by her conservative Christian school in rural Maryland and how even fellow Christians are lambasting said school for its nasty behavior.

Heritage Academy is a place that lots of people like to hate: Merciless and judgmental when it came to one of their own students getting pregnant in her senior year, not to mention the school’s decision to use her as an example.

Yet, were all the leads followed on this story? Here’s how the New York Times handled it:

BOONSBORO, Md. -- Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.
She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.
The reason? She is pregnant.
The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation — and to remove her from her student council position — would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.

That is interesting. The family knew how the court of public opinion would rule on this, so took the plunge.

Ms. Runkles’s story sheds light on a delicate issue: how Christian schools, which advocate abstinence until marriage, treat pregnant teenagers.

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Manchester attack: more terrorism tied to a radical Muslim, more fears of an anti-Muslim backlash

Manchester attack: more terrorism tied to a radical Muslim, more fears of an anti-Muslim backlash

It is -- sadly -- an all-too-familiar storyline.

I'm talking about the Manchester attack, which appears to be tied to a radical Muslim extremist. As Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher boiled it down over at the American Conservative, "Once Again, Islamic Terror."

Once again, a related story line involves Muslims concerned about a backlash because of their religion. Such reaction pieces have become a staple of terrorism coverage at least since 9/11. Most of these pieces are pretty predictable. However, some are better than others, as we've discussed repeatedly here at GetReligion.

Newsweek's quick hit from Manchester is not bad:

In a run-down back street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, England, less than a mile from the arena where a bomb killed 22 people on Monday, is the Muslim Youth Foundation (MYF), a local mosque and community center that runs programs for young people.
Pinned to a notice board in its lobby is a simple three-paragraph message, welcoming all to pray and attend activities at the center. Below, it includes an addendum: “We do not tolerate any kind of extremism or extremist ideologies inside this center.” And then, in red type: “We urge everybody to stay within the Islamic and the U.K. laws.”
That message has become all the more apt since Monday night, when a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, causing mayhem among the 20,000-strong fans flooding out of the arena.

There there is the usual online blast from you know where:

On Tuesday, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) said a “soldier of the Khilafah [caliphate]” was responsible for the attack. The attacker, who died detonating the device, has been unofficially named as 23-year-old Salman Abedi, though police have not responded to Newsweek’s request for confirmation.
Many of the city’s nearly quarter-million Muslims dread the seemingly inevitable backlash against their community. Mohamed Abdul Malek, an imam and trustee of the MYF, says the aftermath of such attacks is a time marked by fear. “I think with past experience, that fear is there in our [community], especially among women,” says Malek, 61, shuffling in his leather chair in a back room in the MYF’s office.
“But I pray and tell those who want to take revenge against Muslims that Muslims are equally victims of this act. Muslim youngsters were in the concert. The taxi drivers who helped take youngsters to their homes—some of them would be Muslims. People in the city center are Muslims. We are part of this community, and what hurts the community hurts us,” he adds.

One interesting thing about the Newsweek report — and this won't surprise regular GetReligion readers — is that the imam seems more interested in addressing radical Islam than the news organization:

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Free exercise or state intrusion? Houston Chronicle's report on new Texas law is ... well, you know

Free exercise or state intrusion? Houston Chronicle's report on new Texas law is ... well, you know

In breaking news, two political supporters of a new Texas law protecting sermons from government subpoena reportedly used a public event to tout their approval of the measure.

As they used to say in tee-vee land, "Film at 11." (Well, video at least: see clip above.)

Texas' State Bill 24, officially signed into law May 19 by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, bars governments from forcing a cleric to turn over sermons in a civil or administrative proceeding or to compel a clergyman's testimony.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also a Republican, took to the platform at Grace Church Woodlands, in a Houston suburb, to praise the new measure, with Abbott ceremonially signing a copy of the new law.

This sent the Houston Chronicle into action, ramping up the Kellerism beginning in the first sentence. Read this admittedly chunky excerpt to get a sense of the reporting:

The state's top two elected officials took to the pulpit Sunday, preaching the righteousness of conservative gender norms – and hitting on several other red meat Republican issues – before the governor signed a copy of a new law protecting sermons at a Woodlands church. ...
To mark the occasion at Grace Community Church in the Woodlands, Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott joined pastor Steve Riggle and three of the four others whose sermons were subpoenaed in 2014 by the city of Houston, igniting a political fire storm [sic] for then-mayor Annise Parker.
Riggle and the so-called "Houston Five" were fighting a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, mostly over objections to the rights it would have extended to gay and transgender people. Parker and the city sought the sermons amid a legal battle over a petition drive led by the pastors.
The move sparked outrage nationwide from people who saw it as intimidation of the church and infringement on religious liberties. Parker said the city only wanted evidence related to any instructions the pastors may have given on how to conduct the petition drive. But she acknowledged the subpoena was overly broad and withdrew the request for sermons.

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Dear Time editors: The Kremlin is not a church. Dear CNN politicos: Churches are not mosques

Dear Time editors: The Kremlin is not a church. Dear CNN politicos: Churches are not mosques

I have been on the road for almost a week, joyfully busy with family life.

I kept glancing at news email and, let's see, what was there to talk about?

That would be: Russia. Russia. And more Russia. Oh, and lots more Russia.

Among my fellow Orthodox Christians, there was lots of laugh-to-keep-from-crying chatter about a certain magazine cover.

It appears that Time magazine is still publishing and that the editors really thought that they nailed the whole nasty Russia is taking over the White House media storm with one image -- an image so strong, so perfect, that it didn't even need a headline. You can see that cover at the top of this post, of course.

I feel the need for some music, here, to capture the heart of this multimedia story. So please click here.

Now, here is how the Gateway Pundit site summed up what happened.

TIME Magazine has the Trump White House morphing into the Kremlin on this week’s cover.
But that’s not the Kremlin.
It’s an Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow.
Their cover is almost as phony as the fake Russian conspiracy. Almost.
TIME magazine mixed up the Kremlin with St. Basil Cathedral on its cover!
The Christians are coming!

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Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

In the beginning, it appeared to be merely a story about quasi-abandoned horses in northeastern India and for the most part, that’s what “In the Kingdom of Dying Ponies” was a recent offering of Foreign Policy Review.

Until I began realizing the scene was set in Manipur, that neglected corner of India that tourists rarely get to. Northeastern India is the one part of the country that is either majority Christian or has equal parts Hindu and Christian, which is the case with Manipur.

A bit of history: It was mainly the Baptists who swept through the area converting folks in the late 19th century, plus establishing schools, hospitals and translating the Bible into their language. That area of India has seen its Muslim population grow due to immigration from nearby Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

So … in a piece about society in Manipur, would you expect to see at least a little bit about the religious demographics happening there?

Two paragraphs into the piece:

Polo is the archetypal sport of snobs. But in Manipur, where the British learned of the game before introducing it to the world -- or at least the aristocracy -- polo is still a commoner’s game. And the exalted status of the Manipuri pony, the only breed used at the Manipur tournament, is one reason why. The indigenous semi-feral pony is a sacred figure for residents of Manipur, featuring prominently in the ritual life of the Meitei people, the area’s majority ethnic group. The ponies are treated as regal mounts, never put to labor, and trace their origin in local lore to the Pegasus-like Samadon Ayangba, the “swift first among beasts.

The Meitei, by the way, are Hindu.

But the ponies’ regal status has not stymied their slow demise. For decades, the ponies’ numbers have gradually dropped and now there are thought to be only around 500 left. In Imphal, one spots them on the streets, huddled together in pitiful herds, red-eyed, skinny, and surrounded by honking traffic. At night, they forage through garbage piles alongside cows and mongrels. Many of them seem hardly in a condition to be used in sport, which is just as well, because there are far fewer places in Manipur to play polo than there once were. “People in Manipur have forgotten the legacy of the pony,” lamented one local musician.
The ponies’ sorry state is a symbol, and result, of Manipur’s own downward trajectory. For centuries a prosperous, independent kingdom, it is today a pariah on India’s fringes. If it is ever in the national conversation, it is over its separatist unrest, heavy militarization, endemic corruption and overall dysfunction. But for residents of the New Jersey-sized state, the biggest shift isn’t just the violence and disorder -- it’s the area’s marginalization, and the way it has sapped the city’s pride, autonomy, and political will.

The author only sees political reasons behind the region’s poverty of spirit. Something is missing.

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Hey Dallas Morning News, feel free to connect the dots on pastor's links to Texas attorney general

Hey Dallas Morning News, feel free to connect the dots on pastor's links to Texas attorney general

My bad. I gave in to the clickbait.

I receive a regular email of top headlines from the Dallas Morning News.

On an email Sunday, the Dallas newspaper touted a story reporting that "Attorney General Ken Paxton's pastor sues lead witnesses in criminal case."

Interesting, I thought. So I clicked. 

It turns out that Paxton attends Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Dallas-area megachurch accustomed to making headlines. 

The Rev. Jack Graham, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, is Prestonwood's pastor. But that's not who the headline is talking about.

The lede:

AUSTIN — Attorney General Ken Paxton's pastor has sued the lead witnesses against him in his upcoming criminal trials. 
Last week, Prestonwood Baptist Church Executive Pastor Mike Buster filed a lawsuit against Rep. Byron Cook and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, the two men named on Paxton's fraud indictments. Paxton attends Prestonwood's main campus in Plano.
Buster alleges that Cook and Hochberg bilked him out of about a half-million dollars, described as "a substantial percentage of his personal net worth." Cook was manager of an energy asset management company that Buster says recommended he purchase mineral rights from Cook and Hochberg "at exorbitant markups and after very short holding times."

Later in the story — for those not familiar with Paxton's legal troubles — the paper notes:

Paxton, a Republican, was indicted in July 2015 on two first-degree felony charges accusing him of defrauding Cook and Hochberg in a tech startup investment scheme. He is also accused of funneling clients to a friend's investment firm without being properly registered with the state. 
He faces maximum penalties of 99 years in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines if found guilty. Paxton has flatly denied the allegations and blamed them on a political witch hunt perpetrated by Hochberg and Cook, also a Republican.

OK, so what is the connection between Buster and Paxton? Good question. At least I think so. Apparently, the Dallas Morning News disagrees. Or maybe this quick-hit story was all about the clickbait.

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Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

One of the most basic story assignments in all of journalism is covering a speech, especially one delivered in ordinary language to a general audience (as opposed to, say, a scientist speaking in science lingo to a room full of science pros).

First of all, you have to get the words of the speech right. Then you need to understand them, figure out the contents that might be newsworthy and then, if relevant, get reactions from people the room, from experts or from the wider public.

But it's sort of important to cover the speech. Right?

Take, for example, the appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Notre Dame. As you would expect, liberal Catholics were not amused by his presence at commencement, even though he was raised Catholic and is Indiana's former governor. Everyone knew there would be protests, since there are plenty of students and faculty on campus who would have protested even if a conservative Catholic bishop, archbishop or cardinal showed it. #DUH

USA Today, via Religion News Service, did a great, great, great job of covering the protests. First rate. But what did Pence have to say? Was it worth a word, a phrase or even a sentence?

Hold that thought.

Clearly what mattered here was the LGBTQ protesters and others who have perfectly obvious disagreements with Pence (and Donald Trump, of course). Here is the overture:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (USA Today) When Mike Pence took the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement on Sunday, more than 100 students quietly got up from their seats and left. There were a few cheers. Some boos.
This was not a surprise, but rather a staged protest some students had been planning for weeks. When Notre Dame announced that the vice president and former governor of Indiana would be the university’s 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.

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