Religion News Association gives Special Recognition Award to AP's Rachel Zoll, who has brain cancer

Religion News Association gives Special Recognition Award to AP's Rachel Zoll, who has brain cancer

Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for The Associated Press, is impossible not to like.

That’s true even for her competitors, said Jeff Diamant, a former religion writer for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

“Her expertise on the beat is really something to behold, and when you get to know her, you see that she has one of the great personalities in the profession or really anywhere,” Diamant, contest chairman for the Religion News Association, said at the association’s annual awards banquet Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.

“This makes it really hard to get mad at Rachel Zoll,” he added, “even when she beats you on a story in your hometown or when you're a source and she writes something you don't like because the story was fair.”

The RNA gave Zoll, who has terminal brain cancer, a Special Recognition Award, which AP deputy managing editor Sarah Nordgren accepted on her behalf.

Diamant noted that colleagues praised Zoll as a reporter, a writer, a colleague and a person — “the total package.” See a video of the presentation and Nordgren’s acceptance remarks at about the one-hour, nine-minute mark of this video.

It’s not the only honor she has received recently:

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More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. Like many blue dog, pro-life Bible Belt Democrats, I found it impossible to vote for him. One of my closest graduate school friends said that he lost his Christian faith (I am not joking) because he could not worship a God who allowed Reagan to reach the White House.

Reagan was a B-grade actor, a talented but shallow politico. Thus, I was surprised when the evidence began to emerge that Reagan did most of his own reading and writing. It turned out that all of those pre-politics Reagan radio commentaries were not produced by ghost writers and then read on the air by a PR pro. Reagan wrote them, in longhand. He wrote those punch lines. He wrote the paragraphs summarizing all of those books and journal articles.

As a Jimmy Carter-era evangelical, I also had doubts about the depth of Reagan’s Midwestern, old-school mainline Protestant faith.

I say all of that because of an amazing feature that ran the other day in The Washington Post under this headline: “A private letter from Ronald Reagan to his dying father-in-law shows the president’s faith.” It was written by editorial-page columnist Karen Tumulty.

Once again, we face a familiar question: Why was this a topic for an editorial-page feature, instead of the front page or, perhaps, in the newspaper’s large features section? Where would this feature appeared if a letter had emerged containing revelatory information about Reagan’s views on the Soviet Union, his thoughts on aging or even his views on abortion?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a fine essay and the subject material is gripping. The overture:

Something tugged at Ronald Reagan on that otherwise slow August weekend in 1982.

“Again at the W.H.,” the president noted in his diary. “More of Saturdays work plus a long letter I have to write to Loyal. I’m afraid for him. His health is failing badly.”

Loyal Davis, Reagan’s father-in-law and a pioneering neurosurgeon, was just days away from death.

Something else worried Reagan: The dying man was, by most definitions of the word, an atheist.

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Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

Atlantic essay on Poland asks: Why do religious biases seem to accompany populist politics?

“Who gets to define a nation?,” journalist Anne Applebaum asks in a piece she wrote for the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine. “And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation?

For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled — but why should they ever be?”

Newspaper, magazine and broadcast reports attempting to explain the moves toward nationalist-tinged political populism in a host of European nations, and certainly the United States as well, have become a journalistic staple, which makes sense given the subject’s importance.

Here’s one recent example worth reading produced by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat  that looks at the issue in light of the recent Swedish national election. His focus is whether the political center can continue to hold, and for how long?

So why single out this magazine essay by Applebaum, who is also a columnist for The Washington Post?

Because it’s a good example of how a writer’s deep personal experience of living within a culture for many years can produce an understanding that’s difficult to find in copy produced by the average correspondent who, at best, spends a few years in a region before moving on to a new assignment.

Granted, the American-born Applebaum has the advantage of being married to a Polish politician and writer. She herself has become a dual citizen of the U.S. and Poland, and is raising her children in Poland.

As a Jew, however, she retains her outsider status in Polish society. It's from this vantage point that she conveys how Poland’s shift toward right-wing populism has impacted the nation, and her. (Her piece is one of several published by The Atlantic grouped together under the ominous rubric, “Is Democracy Dying?”)

If it is dying, at least in the short run, she argues that in large measure it’s due to the sweeping demographic changes in Europe triggered by the large number of Muslim refugees and immigrants fleeing war, poverty and general chaos in Syria, Iraq, North Africa and elsewhere who have moved there.

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New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

When you read the lede on the following USA Today report, it’s pretty clear which issue the editors think is at the heart of the 30-plus year long scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, I am sorry to bring this up again, but this information is important for reporters and editors who are trying to understand the current divisions inside the world’s largest Christian flock.

This has nothing to do with Donald Trump and Catholics who hang out with Steve Bannon. It a lot to do with statistics, doctrine and the contents of a good dictionary.

Words matter. By the end of this post, we’ll see — in a 2009 case study — that this has always been the case. Using the right words, and avoiding others, helps people keep secrets.

Let’s begin. Read the following carefully:

VATICAN CITY — The latest — and most serious — wave of pedophilia and cover-up allegations to hit the Vatican is shining a new light on the gap dividing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. And almost none of it is about the charges of widespread clerical abuse scandals.

Dozens of commentators and Vatican watchers have pointed to the wide gap between the views of conservative, traditional Catholics in the mold of Pope Benedict XVI and those of reform-minded Catholics like Pope Francis. Many media have referred to what is happening as a kind of “civil war.”

Yes, that passage does include another example of journalists using “reform” as a dog whistle to make sure that readers know which Catholics are good and which Catholics are evil. However, we need to move on, in this case (click here for more information on that bias issue).

The lede clearly states that “pedophilia” is the crucial issue in this crisis. Now, what does that word mean, when you look it up in a dictionary? Here is the online Merriam-Webster:

pedophilia noun

: sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object

specifically: a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child

Note the specifics attached to the general information and then ask this question: Statistically speaking, are most of the victims in this abuse crisis “prepubescent” children?

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Monday Mix: #RNA2018, Hurricane Florence faith, Botham Jean justice, Beth Moore vs. Trump

Monday Mix: #RNA2018, Hurricane Florence faith, Botham Jean justice, Beth Moore vs. Trump

It’s the post-#RNA2018 edition of the Monday Mix.

Look for a link below concerning a letter submitted this past weekend at the Religion News Association’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, by seven former presidents of that professional association. Yes, the letter relates to the controversy earlier this year when Religion News Service’s former editor in chief, Jerome Socolovsky, was fired.

For those needing a refresher on this new GetReligion feature, Monday Mix focuses on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

We'll mention this again, too: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "It’s easy to say, ‘I love God,’ but put on your boots, get your hands dirty." The faith-based response to Hurricane Florence is front-page news in today’s New York Times.

The Times offers an excellent overview of the crucial role people of faith play in disaster relief:

From the first moments of the rolling disaster of Florence, there has been no sharp divide separating the official responders, the victims and the houses of faith.

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Reporters miss great religion angle on Southwest Airlines story about a Down Syndrome girl

Reporters miss great religion angle on Southwest Airlines story about a Down Syndrome girl

Every once in awhile, a piece of religion news slips by that shows a writer’s complete ignorance of basic stuff in American religious culture.

For instance, most of you have heard of “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren, right?

There’s a reason for that. This was the 2002 devotional book that was on the New York Times Bestseller List for more than 90 weeks; sold 30 million copies by 2007 and basically broke all sorts of records for a Christian product. We’ve all seen it for sale in the supermarkets.

So when someone involved in a news story says that they are “purpose-driven,” there is a very good chance that this person has some knowledge of that book, yes? It would be worth asking about, at the very least.

You’d think. Recently we found this heartwarming story on inc.com — although I believe it originally aired on one of the Sacramento TV stations -- about a stewardess written by a clueless reporter when it comes to such terms. To wit:

This is the tale of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, whose gesture literally helped a passenger achieve a lifelong dream. The passenger: Tracy Sharp, a Sacramento woman who has Down syndrome. The flight attendant: Vicki Heath.

The two met on a flight Sharp was taking home after visiting family in Houston a few months ago, and they had a conversation in which Sharp shared with Heath that it was her lifelong dream to be a flight attendant herself. … According to news reports, she started making phone calls within Southwest to get permission to bring Sharp on another Southwest flight, and have her work alongside Heath as a sort of assistant flight attendant.

“ …on Friday, Sharp flew with Heath on a flight from Sacramento to Seattle, wearing a red uniform, helping to greet passengers and do a few other things that Sharp thought would be really cool, and even getting flight attendant wings for her service. …

"You're going to make me cry!" Heath replied when a reporter asked how she felt about bringing the whole thing together. "I feel like I'm living my purpose-driven life. And that's huge."

Now where have we heard that before?

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Washington Post editorial writer is back with more 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick scandal news

Washington Post editorial writer is back with more 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick scandal news

Attention all Catholic readers and other news consumers who want to keep up with news reporting about the life and times of ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Teddy” McCarrick: It appears that you are going to need to read the opinion pages of The Washington Post.

Yes, the opinion pages.

McCarrick is, of course, the man at the center of this latest earthquake in the decades-old Roman Catholic crisis linked to the sexual abuse of children, teens (almost always males) and adults, mostly seminarians. While headlines linked to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s blast at the Vatican (text here) have centered on his call for Pope Francis to resign, the heart of the document centers on McCarrick and a network of cardinals and bishops who have protected, promoted or depended on him.

This brings us back to the work of Post editorial-page columnist Elizabeth Bruenig.

The last time we heard from her — in terms of the Catholic crisis — she was committing this act of journalism, seeking an actual interview with McCarrick:

… A little before 9:30 on Monday evening — likely a little later than is fair to an elderly man, I admit — I knocked on his door. I was dismissed by another person, via a muted conversation through a windowpane, but left a note and a business card. Hearing no word, I returned Tuesday afternoon and found my card still on the windowsill where I had left it. I suspected my efforts to contact the former cardinal might not be getting through, and so resolved to try a little more persistence this time, waiting on his doorstep for roughly an hour, with a letter I had brought.

But it seems my contact information had made it to authorities: After I left, a representative from the Washington archdiocese called my editor to complain about my presence. I was surprised to learn I had caused sincere alarm — I don’t present an imposing figure, and nobody ever so much as opened the door to ask me to go away — but my insistence, the ringing and knocking, had clearly inspired fear.

Have the D.C. Catholic powers that be called any other editors? At this point, it’s impossible to know. However, it was very journalistic of Bruenig to seek an answer to this basic question: Are the accusations true?

Now, Bruenig is back with another opinion-page piece with this headline: “He wanted to be a priest. He says Archbishop McCarrick used that to abuse him.” It’s must reading for, well, people looking for news on this topic. Here is the overture:

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Hot Trump-era issue: Should national flags or patriotic songs be allowed in church?

Hot Trump-era issue: Should national flags or patriotic songs be allowed in church?

THE QUESTION:

Should national flags be displayed, or patriotic songs be sung, during Christian worship?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This issue comes to mind amid the seasonal fuss over professional football players’ political protests during the pregame National Anthem. Not to mention veterans organizations’ indignation when non-veteran Donald Trump temporarily refused to lower the White House flag to half-staff in honor of the late prisoner of war John McCain.

Considering the emotions in such secular situations, it’s unsurprising that the perennial religious questions above continually provoke lively comment on the Internet and elsewhere. Some weeks ago, a friend in The Religion Guy’s own congregation (Christian Reformed) asked why we don’t display the American flag up front like other churches do. I didn’t know but that brought to mind other situations.

The Guy’s daughter was flummoxed by a Southern Baptist service in North Carolina on a July 4th weekend. It began with a military color guard marching forth with the American flag, whence the worshipers recited the Pledge of Allegiance. She asked the old man, isn’t Christian worship about a different allegiance?

The Guy is familiar with an evangelical summer camp that parades the U.S. flag along with other nations’ flags at worship to symbolize foreign missions. The ceremony gives Old Glory prominence above the other flags, which disregards protocol in federal law and military regulations requiring equal respect.

The Guy has visited innumerable churches that give the U.S. flag the place of ceremonial honor to the pastor’s right with the Christian flag (a 1907 American invention) relegated to the left.

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Friday Five: Clergy sex abuse, spot the ghost, shuttered revival, Botham Jean, #RNA2018 and more

Friday Five: Clergy sex abuse, spot the ghost, shuttered revival, Botham Jean, #RNA2018 and more

In the world of religion news, one big story — the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal — keeps dominating.

In the world of religion reporting, a big story — the firing this past spring of Religion News Service’s editor in chief, followed by the resignations of some key staff and columnists — will take a new twist this afternoon.

Look for more details below as we dive right into the Friday Five:

(1) Religion story of the week: Here’s a big story that I don’t believe we’ve mentioned yet: Pope Francis summoning the world’s bishops to meet next February on sexual abuse.

The New York Times’ lede focuses on child abuse. The other thorns in this crisis — which are more controversial — are down lower. Among them: talk about disciplining bishops and cardinals; abuse of seminarians; and violations of celibacy vows with adults (male and female).

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