Taiwan and gay marriage: Can journalists face the fact that there are two sides to the story?

Taiwan and gay marriage: Can journalists face the fact that there are two sides to the story?

Taiwan, as of this past week, is poised to allow same-sex marriage, the first country in Asia to do so. This has gotten all sorts of cheering from various mainstream media outlets. The reason why the writers of this blog care about this issue is that the opposition to such measures tend to be from the religious community. And those folks aren’t being heard from.

There’s a lot at stake with Taiwan accepting gay marriage, as Taiwan is seen as the gateway to the rest of eastern Asia. Why else do you think McDonalds floated a TV ad showing a Chinese son coming out to his father? Anyone who thinks the religious community are the only folks in Taiwan thinking about family values must be asleep at the wheel. That McDonald’s ad focuses on a most revered family building block in Asia: The tie between father and son. 

So when the world’s largest hamburger chain gets into the act, you know the stakes are high for the cultural powers that be. Tmatt has written before about Taiwan coverage that gives one side of the argument, briefly mentions the opposition from the country’s tiny Christian community but doesn’t mention what the vastly larger contingents of Taoists and Buddhists on the island are saying about it. More on that in a bit.

Also, there actually are some good religion angles on this issue, despite the reluctance among some American media in covering them. For instance, the Hong Kong-based Sunday Examiner has written on the divisions among Taiwan’s Christian groups over how to battle gay marriage. On May 24, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. We’ll pick up with what the New York Times said next:

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a ruling that paves the way for Taiwan to become the first place in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, the constitutional court on Wednesday struck down the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman. ...
When the ruling was announced, cheers broke out among the hundreds of supporters who had gathered outside the legislature, monitoring developments on a big-screen television.

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Polls can be problematic, but journalistic blessings upon Gallup's long, long religion trend lines

Polls can be problematic, but journalistic blessings upon Gallup's long, long religion trend lines

Let’s admit it. The news media are poll-obsessed, especially with politics. But don’t blame pollsters if journalists over-work surveys or neglect necessary caveats.

Take Michigan’s presidential vote. A November 3 poll for Detroit’s Fox2 put Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 46 to 41 percent.

Did news reports mention the “margin of error” of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points? With that factored in, Trump could actually have been slightly ahead, and in fact he won Michigan by three-tenths of a percent.

In “Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith,” sociologist Robert Wuthnow doubted any polls are representative nowadays since “response rates” among randomly selected respondents are so low. GOP pollster John McLaughlin pursues another complaint, that sampling techniques consistently undercount Republicans. 

So religion scribes must be wary. Nonetheless, blest be the Gallup Poll, especially for trend-tracking because it has posed the same questions across years and decades, e.g. the famous “did you, yourself, happen to attend” worship this week?

Sure, fibs and faulty memories may inflate the results, but the downward trend line is noteworthy.  

Gallup’s annual “Values and Beliefs” poll in May finds the most permissive U.S. views to date on 10 of 19 moral issues -- though adultery still gets mere 9 percent acceptance. That got more coverage than Gallup’s subsequent report on the poll’s responses about the Bible that presumably shape moral opinions. (Note the sampling error of plus or minus 4 points, with no “response rate” in the fine print.)

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What were Time editors really trying to say with their White House turns Russian red cover?

What were Time editors really trying to say with their White House turns Russian red cover?

Yes, Russia, Russia, Russia. Russia, Russia and more Russia.


The big idea behind this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is that one thing is for certain -- America is not Russia and America is not turning into Russia (no matter that the cover of Time magazine was trying to say).

There is another crucial idea linked to that that I have discussed before at GetReligion and with our colleagues at Issues, Etc. That would be this: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia. Or try this: There is more to Russia than Putin. Or this: One of the reasons Putin is effective -- in his culture -- is that he knows which Russian buttons to push to move his people, even he is not sincere when doing so.

Host Todd Wilken and I ended up discussing this question: What were the editors of Time trying to say with that cover? After all, they thought the image of the White House morphing into St. Basil's Cathedral (standing in for the actual towers of the Kremlin, perhaps) was so brilliant, so powerful, so logical, that it didn't even need a headline.

The image was supposed to say it all.

But it didn't. If you want to have fun, surf around in this collection of links to discussions of all the errors and misunderstandings linked to that Time cover (and CNN material linked to it). Hey, even Pravda jumped into the mix.

All together now: But St. Basil's isn't the Kremlin. And they took the crosses off the top of the iconic onion-dome steeples (so they had to know they were dealing with a church). And this whole White House with onion domes thing has turned into a cliche, since so many other news and editorial people have used it.

So what was the big idea behind that cover?

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Twisting Ramadan: Some big newsrooms failed to note timing of attack on Copts in Egypt (updated)

Twisting Ramadan: Some big newsrooms failed to note timing of attack on Copts in Egypt (updated)

What can we say? How long must we sing this song?

Once again there has been another attack in Egypt that has left scores of Coptic Christians dead and wounded. Currently, the death toll is at 26 or 28, depending on the source of the information.

Once again there are the same basic themes to cover. The ancient Copts -- the vast majority are part of Coptic Orthodoxy -- make up about 10 percent of the population of Egypt. They are the largest body of Christian believers left in the Middle East, part of a religious tradition that emerged in the time of the first disciples of Jesus.

Once again, Egyptian officials have renewed their vows to help protect the Copts. Once again, reporters tried to find a way to list all of the recent terrorist attacks on the Copts -- a list so long that it threatens to dominate basic news reports.

So what now? Why now? Here is the top of the Reuters report -- circulated by Religion News Service, as well -- which caught my attention because of its early focus on what may, tragically, be a crucial fact.

In this case, the "when" and the "why" factors in that old journalism formula -- "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" -- may be one in the same. Read carefully.

CAIRO (Reuters) -- Gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt on Friday, killing 28 people and wounding 25 others, and many children were among the victims, Health Ministry officials said.
Eyewitnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were traveling in a bus and other vehicles. Local television channels showed a bus apparently raked by gunfire and smeared with blood. Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan. It followed a series of church bombings claimed by Islamic State.

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Barring any evidence to the contrary, let's assume that Yahoo! 'News' is meant to be commentary

Barring any evidence to the contrary, let's assume that Yahoo! 'News' is meant to be commentary

It's time for another edition of "What is this?"

This is where we at GetReligion attempt to determine whether a particular piece of journalism -- or in some cases, a media organization in general -- is news or commentary or something in between.

The traditional American style of journalism -- the model that this website unabashedly promotes -- relies on impartial, accurate reporting with named sources cited. On controversial topics, it's really nice to see some balance in terms of the quoted sources.

But much U.S. journalism has given way to a European brand of advocacy, frequently making it difficult to distinguish between what is meant as "Just the facts, ma'am" and what is purposely told with a (biased) attitude. Lean forward!

Today's example comes to us courtesy of a reader, who questions whether a piece on evangelical voters from Yahoo! News and attributed to the website's "senior political correspondent" really falls under the category of news.

The reader notes that the story is "full of snark and opinion, but not labeled as opinion or even analysis."

The lede:

To Americans who stand outside the evangelical tradition, Franklin Graham’s recent proclamation that there’s “no question” that God supports Donald Trump’s presidency was another head-scratcher in a growing list of puzzling statements by Christian leaders over the past year.
Even without getting into the question of whether God chooses sides in elections, or how Graham can be so sure of his preference, there is the obvious fact, much discussed in the campaign, that the generally non-churchgoing, avidly materialistic Trump seemed an unlikely vessel for God’s will.
But Graham’s remark and white evangelicals’ continuing support of Trump make more sense when viewed in light of American evangelicalism’s history and DNA. It is a subject explored in depth in “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” a new history of the movement by Pulitzer Prize-winner Frances FitzGerald.
“He did everything wrong, politically,” Graham told the Atlantic’s Emma Green. “He offended gays. He offended women. He offended the military. He offended black people. He offended the Hispanic people. He offended everybody! And he became president of the United States. Only God could do that.”
Graham’s mentality reflects the evangelical obsession with dramatic solutions and easy answers that Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California, described in his 2014 book, “Ordinary.”
“American Christianity is a story of perpetual upheavals in churches and individual lives. Starting with the extraordinary conversion experience, our lives are motivated by a constant expectation for The Next Big Thing,” Horton wrote.

Um, OK. Where to start?

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Former Catholic priest does euthanasia (in numbing detail) recorded by the New York Times

Former Catholic priest does euthanasia (in numbing detail) recorded by the New York Times

It’s beginning to feel like fill-in-the-blanks journalism: A terminally ill person wishes to die on his own terms and so we are walked through his last hours in a happy celebration of the joys of euthanasia.

Some of us have mixed feelings about assisted suicide, especially if you’ve spent any time in a ward of very elderly people, many of whom have no idea of where they are. And, were they cognizant, they might vote themselves off the Earth pretty quickly.

Yes, this is personal. After spending some time at the bedside of my dying father a year ago and seeing how miserable so many of the elderly and sick truly are, I can understand wanting to end it. But there is always that slippery slope when it comes to science, law and doctrine.

Here we have a lyrical New York Times piece about a former Catholic priest arranging his own death. We start here: 

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- Two days before he was scheduled to die, John Shields roused in his hospice bed with an unusual idea. He wanted to organize an Irish wake for himself. It would be old-fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail -- he would be present.
The party should take up a big section of Swiss Chalet, a family-style chain restaurant on the road out of town. Mr. Shields wanted his last supper to be one he so often enjoyed on Friday nights when he was a young Catholic priest -- rotisserie chicken legs with gravy.
Then, his family would take him home and he would die there in the morning, preferably in the garden. It was his favorite spot, rocky and wild. Flowering native shrubs pressed in from all sides and a stone Buddha and birdbath peeked out from among the ferns and boulders. Before he got sick, Mr. Shields liked to sit in his old Adirondack chair and watch the bald eagles train their juveniles to soar overhead. He meditated there twice a day, among the towering Douglas firs.

Wait a minute: Chicken legs (not fish) on Fridays when he was a YOUNG priest? Maybe this is a sign of Catholic tensions to come.

Not surprisingly, the locale is in the Pacific Northwest in a part of Canada that the article  calls “ground zero for assisted suicide in the country.” 

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Key voices still missing from stories on pregnant teen banned from Christian school's graduation

Key voices still missing from stories on pregnant teen banned from Christian school's graduation

Maddi Runkles, the Maryland teen who got pregnant and was banned from her Christian high school's graduation ceremony, keeps making national headlines.

My GetReligion colleague Julia Duin earlier critiqued the New York Times' original story on this controversy and noted that key voices were missing:

What about the reaction of other families who are sending their kids to this school? Do they side with Runkles or are they glad she’s being made to pay for her mistake?

After reading additional reports on Runkles' plight — via major media outlets such as the Washington Post and Religion News Service — I must say that I am even more interested in the answers to the questions Duin raised.

The Post story notes:

A small Christian school in western Maryland is not backing down from its decision to ban a pregnant senior from walking at graduation next week.
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. ... The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”
Runkles, 18, is a 4.0 student who has attended the school since 2009. She found out she was pregnant in January and informed the school, where her father was then a board member, in February. Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.
After the family appealed, Heritage said it would allow Runkles to finish the school year with her 14 classmates but she would not be able to walk with the other seniors to receive her diploma at graduation. The family believes that the decision is unfair and that she is being punished more harshly than others who have broken the rules.

Later in the story, the newspaper includes these alarming claims:

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Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

There's no argument, is there? The Grand Canyon, like the rest of our planet, is multiple millions, if not billions of years old.

We're all agreed on that, right?

Well, not every last one of us. Take Andrew Snelling, Ph.D., for one. He's an Australian with a doctorate in geology from the University of Sydney. Snelling works with Answers in Genesis, the Kentucky-based organization that promotes "young Earth creationism."

That's the belief that not only "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1, New International Version), but also that said creation took place recently -- only thousands of years ago. That's thousands and not billions or millions.

Snelling is trying to prove his theory by doing -- get this -- on-site scientific research. He wants to collect sedementary rock samples from the Grand Canyon, for which one needs permission from the National Park Service.

Let's go to the news, courtesy of (among others) The Atlantic magazine's website, which served up the evenhanded headline "A Creationist Sues the Grand Canyon for Religious Discrimination." Read on:

Snelling is a prominent young-Earth creationist. For years, he has given lectures, guided biblical-themed Grand Canyon rafting tours, and worked for the nonprofit Answers in Genesis. (The CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, is also behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park.) Young-Earth creationism, in contrast to other forms of creationism, specifically holds that the Earth is only thousands of years old. Snelling believes that the Grand Canyon formed after Noah’s flood -- and he now claims the U.S. government is blocking his research in the canyon because of his religious views.

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The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

What we have here is a strange story about a missing news story.

To say that the press has dedicated a large amount of ink to Citizen Donald Trump over the past two years would be the understatement of the century.

Under normal circumstances, when a man runs for president, the press also does quite a bit of digging into the life and times of the woman who would become the First Lady. This digging only intensifies after the election.

You can say that the quiet supermodel named Melania Trump received her share of press attention, but most of it merely raised some rather nasty questions about her past (she won damages from the Daily Mail after one set of accusations). As always, her fashion choices as First Lady have been treated as international news. That's normal.

But it appears that journalists missed a rather interesting personal fashion choice long ago on her wedding day -- she was wearing her mother's rosary. The Palm Beach Post team noticed that rosary at the time (photo and story here), but no one investigated that detail.

She brought that same rosary, it appears, with her when she met Pope Francis -- even though pool reporters (see this USA Today story) apparently thought that the pope gave it to her. Actually, it appears that the First Lady asked Francis to bless the rosary, which he did -- with a broad smile.

Later, it appears that -- ironically -- someone at The Daily Mail asked a rather obvious question: Is Melania Trump a Roman Catholic? 

As it turns out, she is. One would have thought that hidden fact about her life -- her family maintained a Communist/atheist public image in Slovenia -- would have been uncovered by now.

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