After London, a question returns: At what point does terrorist coverage just encourage more attacks?

After London, a question returns: At what point does terrorist coverage just encourage more attacks?

I listen to National Public Radio when I'm in my car and either of the network's two signature news programs -- "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered" -- happen to be airing. That was the case one day last week when I heard a guest on ATC being interviewed about the London terrorist attack and the radicalization of homegrown Islamic terrorists.

One factor contributing to this radicalization, he said, is the saturation coverage the attacks tend to receive.

In essence, the question he posed was: Do news media inadvertently advance the terrorists' game plan by inappropriately publicizing their attacks, leading to heightened fears in the general public -- one of terrorism's clearest objectives.

It's a knotty and important question that seems to surface after every successful attack in a Western city.

Most often, the question is raised by someone put forth as an expert on terrorism attached to some think tank or university. By now, I'd wager there isn't a Western news room or journalism school that hasn't wrestled with the question.

I'd also bet that few if any of these discussions ended in general agreement on some practical way forward that's applicable to all attacks under all circumstances.

I know I lack a one-size-fits-all standard -- which doesn't mean that someone else has not come up with some broadly general standard for coverage. If any reader happens to be that person, please say so in the comment section below.

Here's the relevant part of the ATC interview I heard on last week. The interviewer is NPR's Kelly McEvers and the interviewee is Rajan Basra, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at London's King's College.

BASRA: ... But aside from trying to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place, we also have to accept that terrorism is just a fact of life in the West these days. And so perhaps it's better to make society more resilient to the effects of terrorism.
MCEVERS: What do you mean?

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Shhhhh! Don't mention Christian faith because ESPN wants to pretend it doesn't matter

Shhhhh! Don't mention Christian faith because ESPN wants to pretend it doesn't matter

I love an inspiring story as much as the next guy.

What I don't love so much: a generic inspiring story that trips all over itself ignoring the obvious religion angle.

Yes, I'm talking about you, ESPN.

Holy ghosts seem to afflict the global sports giant quite frequently — so much so that I sometimes wonder if the network has a policy (official or unofficial) against mentioning potentially offensive words.

You know, words like faith, Jesus and Christian.

The latest ESPN example comes to us courtesy of GetReligion reader David Yoder.

The story concerns a group of NC State football players using their spring work to do mission work in Kenya:

NC State punter A.J. Cole III started going to Kenya over spring break as a senior in high school. Once he got to college, he needed his best sales pitch to convince teammates to come along with him.
So he called a meeting on campus and promised those interested that they would embark on a life-changing experience. It would not be an easy one. For starters, they would each have to raise $3,000 to fund the trip. They would have to make sure they had a full range of up-to-date shots (not to mention a passport and other travel documents).
They would have to take two seven-hour airplane rides to Nairobi. Then they would have to board a Jeep-style safari truck and head four hours northwest to Nakuru. Once there, they would be staying in bunk beds on the campus of Mountain Park Academy, a boarding school for Kenyan children. Modern amenities would be in scarce supply.
They would spend five days with the teachers and children, doing mission work while also uplifting, encouraging and teaching the children either in the classroom or through sports. Cole got three teammates to join him last spring.

The term "mission work" is the first clue — at least to me — that there might be a religious component to this trip. But ESPN avoids any mention of religion.

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Washington Post: Why one young man became a priest, for vaguely religious reasons

Washington Post: Why one young man became a priest, for vaguely religious reasons

We live in an age in which a young Catholic man choosing the priesthood is news, the kind of news that produces a feature story in the trendy Style section of an elite newspaper like The Washington Post.

The headline gives you a clue about the content, as in, "This Life: He never imagined being a priest. But then he felt the call -- and it terrified him."

Now, I have read my share of these secular-press features over the past couple of decades. Most of them feel like features about men who decide to go into social work, only with a few artistic flourishes about the liturgy, vestments, etc. The priesthood is all about helping people wrestle with daily life.

You almost always -- in the seminarian is straight -- the obligatory reference to a previous girlfriend or even fiance, while leads to a discussion of celibacy. If the future priest is gay, then the sexuality angle is probably the reason the story is being written in the first place.

Like I said, these kinds of stories are rather consistent.

However, I have my own little journalism test that I perform when I start reading one of these stories online. The first thing I do is pop open a search box, enter one rather symbolic word, and look through the whole article to see what I see.

The word I search for is "Jesus." You would be amazed how often mainstream news organizations publish stories about men entering the priesthood without mentioning this word, other than, perhaps, in the names of religious orders and/or institutions. Jesus does appear in this particular Post report, but it's a close call. We will hunt for that. But, first, here is the overture, which jumps straight to the celibacy angle:

In the city around him, Anthony Ferguson’s fellow millennials were just waking up, shaking off hangovers, checking messages on dating apps and getting ready to make their way in the world.
But Ferguson was already out the door on this Friday morning -- wearing the same black shirt and white collar he always wears -- sitting in a chapel under the warm light streaming through stained-glass windows. Before 8 a.m., he’d listened to a sermon on the blessings of marriage, about how it allows spouses to love one another the way God loves each of them.

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Washington Post: Is Karen Pence the strong, hidden angel behind the vice president?

Washington Post: Is Karen Pence the strong, hidden angel behind the vice president?

I’ve long been curious about Karen Pence, who is Vice President Mike Pence’s better half and probably one of the most likeable and approachable members of the Donald Trump administration. Fortunately, the Washington Post just came out with a profile, titled “Karen Pence is the vice president’s ‘prayer warrior,’ gut check and shield.”

Well, I thought, this should be good. And it’s a lot better than what the New York Times did on her.

Karen Pence refused to be interviewed for the Post story, which meant the reporter had to work twice as hard to get info. This also tells you something about the current relationship between this White House and the biggest newsroom inside the Beltway.

This being GetReligion, obviously we’re interested in the “prayer warrior” portion of the piece which starts thus:

As second lady, Karen Pence, 60, remains an important influence on one of President Trump’s most important political allies. She sat in on at least one interview as the vice president assembled his staff, accompanied her husband on his first foreign trip and joins him for off-the-record briefings with reporters, acting as his gut check and shield.  
On the vice president’s visit last month to Germany and Belgium, the Pences quietly toured Dachau concentration camp, often holding hands, and huddled together on the Air Force Two ride home to debrief on the trip. When Mike Pence, 57, ventured to the back of the plane to chat off the record with reporters, his wife accompanied him, bearing a silver tray of cookies and standing by his side for the 20-minute conversation.  

Next, the Post delved into what few details were available about her first marriage, which quickly ended in divorce. At least they tracked down her first husband, who now lives here in Seattle.

Then, she met Mike Pence at church.

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'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

Ever heard of a pot-smoking church?

If you pay attention to the news, such churches seem difficult to miss lately.

When Indiana passed its religious freedom law in 2015, questions — and controversy — arose as to whether the measure would open the legal door to the First Church Of Cannabis.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times gave national coverage to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Centennial, Colo.

And most recently, longtime religion writer Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News and Alabama Media Group profiled a pro-marijuana church (as part of a series on marijuana in that Bible Belt state):

With a stained-glass window behind them, a lineup of speakers stepped to the front of the church and talked about the potential health benefits of legalizing plants that are currently outlawed in Alabama.
"I smoke cannabis on a daily basis for my pain," said Janice Rushing, president of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light in Alabama. "If I did not, I'd be on pain pills."
Her husband, Christopher Rushing, chief executive officer of Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light, says he also uses marijuana routinely.
The Rushings founded the Oklevueha Church in 2015 and claim that it has a legal exemption for its members to smoke marijuana and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote cactus.
At a January forum with an audience of about 30 gathered at Unity Church in Birmingham, which allowed the use of its facilities, speakers discussed the potential benefits of marijuana and other substances for medicinal purposes.
"I had an ungodly facial rash," said Sherrie Saunders, a former U.S. Army medic who is now a member of Oklevueha Native American Church in Alabama.
"We made a cream that completely got rid of that rash," Mrs. Rushing said.
Someone in the audience discussed a heart problem and sleep apnea.
"That could be something that cannabis could help," Saunders said.

Kudos to Garrison for a solid piece of reporting on — believe it or not — "God and cannabis."

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AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

North Carolina's HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill," is again making headlines, this time in a rather large and detailed Associated Press account of the economic losses the news organization reports the Tar Heel State has suffered:

Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina's "bathroom bill" isn't hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Over the past year, North Carolina has suffered financial hits ranging from scuttled plans for a PayPal facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion to the state's economy to a canceled Ringo Starr concert that deprived a town's amphitheater of about $33,000 in revenue. The blows have landed in the state's biggest cities as well as towns surrounding its flagship university, and from the mountains to the coast. ...
The AP analysis (http://apne.ws/2n9GSjE ) -- compiled through interviews and public records requests — represents the largest reckoning yet of how much the law, passed one year ago, could cost the state. The law excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections, and requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

While it may surprise some folks that the 76-year-old former Beatle, born Richard Starkey, is still touring, it seems equally surprising that the AP, once held up as an example of objectivity and down-the-middle reporting, has produced a report laden with advocacy language. The piece lacks almost any perspective from those who believe HB2 has its merits, particularly on faith-based grounds and the protection of women and children. (I say "has" instead of "had" because, despite efforts to repeal the law, HB2 remains on the books, as the ABC News video above shows.)

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Good reporting takes time: Yes, the London attacker had a complex journey into Islam

Good reporting takes time: Yes, the London attacker had a complex journey into Islam

Whenever there is an act of international terrorism, I get emails wanting to know why elite newsrooms are hesitant to connect the dots and use the word "Islam" in the initial coverage.

Well, there have been cases in which reporters have worked their way around some rather obvious, and easy to report, clues that point in that direction -- such as words shouted by the attackers, as reported by eyewitnesses. Often, journalists bury the name of the suspect it is points toward the Middle East or another majority-Islamic culture.

However, there are also cases in which these kinds of clear, on-the-record references are not initially available. At that point, you have public officials saying that they are treating the crime as an act of "international terrorism," and everyone is supposed to know what that means. You can see an example of this in the overture of an early New York Times report about the attack at Westminster Bridge.

LONDON -- A knife-wielding assailant driving a sport utility vehicle mowed down panicked pedestrians and stabbed a police officer outside Parliament on Wednesday in a deadly assault, prompting the hasty evacuation of the prime minister and punctuating the threat of terrorism in Europe.
At least four people, including the assailant, were killed and at least 40 others injured in the confusing swirl of violence, which the police said they assumed had been “inspired by international terrorism.” It appeared to be the most serious such assault in London since the deadly subway bombings more than a decade ago.

This does raise a question: Does the Associated Press Stylebook now include a reference stating that "international terrorism" is officially a reference to radicalized forms of Islam?

Of course not. It is also important that reporters not rush ahead of the facts -- even as ISIS leaders send out their social-media taunts. The bottom line for journalists: Don't hide the early evidence, but don't make assumptions, either.

It's crucial to keep reading, day after day, as journalists (and security officials) do their work. You can see this in the solid Times follow-up on that hellish attack, a lengthy feature that attempts to trace the attacker's journey into radical Islam. It's clear that officials are looking for ties to other groups, but are also being cautious.

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Seattle Weekly offers the story of a heroic gay mayor and the 'prison' that is Catholicism

Seattle Weekly offers the story of a heroic gay mayor and the 'prison' that is Catholicism

The mayor of Seattle is a gay Catholic whose 2013 wedding to his male partner was at the local Episcopal cathedral. Ed Murray’s insistence on staying Catholic fascinated one editor at the Seattle Weekly to the point where he asked the mayor if Murray would expound on his faith.

The result was this nearly 4,000-word piece that ran about a month ago. The reporter stated up front that he didn’t wish to raise the issue of whether Murray was a “true” Catholic in terms of abiding by the doctrines of his faith, but instead learn why the mayor has stuck with a church that on many levels doesn’t want him. We will not read, in this long piece, what the church teaches about marriage and how the mayor flouts it.

Still, as far as I know, this is the only article anyone has done on the mayor’s faith journey. This is something the Seattle Times should have done years ago.

Thus, I am glad the Weekly stepped up to the plate, even though the premise is those who defy the teachings of the Catholic church are heroic while those who honor their vows to the church are, at best, robots.

After some intro paragraphs, the article picks up with:

Murray’s Catholic faith can seem a study in contradiction. Not only is he a practicing Catholic in a secular city, he is a gay man who has remained in a church that has been outright hostile toward homosexuality; he is a public official who seeks to follow the path of (Catholic Worker Movement foundress Dorothy) Day, who refused financial assistance from the government and declined to pay her taxes for years at a time; he is an impossibly busy man who says he feels closest to his Catholic faith when he is practicing quiet Benedictine meditation, which requires he wake at 5:30 a.m. if he has any hope of doing it at all.

After describing Murray’s childhood, it relates how he found certain Catholic institutions more gay-friendly than he had anticipated.

After graduating from high school, Murray attended St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, exploring the priesthood. After a year there, he decided against it, and finished his college studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution. There he got to know Trappist monks who introduced him to monastic worship, and counseled him on, among other things, his homosexuality, which he began to acknowledge in college. Far from the pious recriminations one might expect, Murray says that in college he was encouraged by priests to embrace that part of himself, rather that feel shame about it. It was further evidence, for Murray, that the Catholic Church, especially in its social-justice form, was a home for him, rather than the prison many people considered it.

“Many people?” Who does the reporter have in mind?

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'Released Time' religious education: High school's Muslim prayer room raises constitutional questions

'Released Time' religious education: High school's Muslim prayer room raises constitutional questions

When I worked for The Associated Press in Dallas from 2003 to 2005, my family lived in the fast-growing bedroom community of Frisco, Texas.

I remember writing about the "kindergarten boom" that the suburb was experiencing at that time:

FRISCO, Texas — Cindi Wright jokes that the shopping mall in this one-time farming community — now one of the nation's fastest-growing cities — resembles a stroller convention.
"It has more strollers per capita than any other mall," said Wright, a mother of three young children.
Babies don't stay little for long, though, as educators in this city 25 miles north of Dallas have figured out.
The Frisco school district graduated fewer than 400 high school seniors in May, but it expects a crush of about 1,600 kindergartners when the new school year starts Monday.
Low interest rates and plenty of available housing have fueled an influx of young families, producing a kindergarten boom unmatched in Texas, demographers say.
"I don't know what it is," said Wright, 33. "It just seems like everybody's our age and everybody's having kids."

A dozen-plus years later, some of those kids are students at a Frisco high school that — in recent days — has drawn the attention of top Texas politicians and made national headlines.

The Dallas Morning News reported on the controversy earlier this month (for those not familiar with Texas education lingo, "ISD" stands for "Independent School District"):

Frisco ISD responded tersely on Friday to the Texas attorney general's concerns about the legality of a prayer room at Frisco's Liberty High School that is often — but not solely — used by Muslim students.
Frisco ISD learned of the AG's concerns on Friday from the media about the same time a news release was sent from the AG's office along with a copy of a letter addressed to district Superintendent Jeremy Lyon. 
The letter from Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie states that "it appears that students are being treated differently based on their religious beliefs," which would violate the First Amendment.
Lyon's letter in response, posted online late Friday on the district's website, suggests the concern "appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a non-issue."
The prayer room is open to any students and does get used by students of other faiths, according to the district's spokesman.
"Frisco ISD is greatly concerned that this type of inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the District, its students, staff, parents and community in danger of unnecessary disruption," Lyon wrote in his letter.

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