Are Trump advisor Gorka's views on Islam too extreme? Some media want to know

Are Trump advisor Gorka's views on Islam too extreme? Some media want to know

More than a decade ago, a new editor came to work alongside me on the Washington Times’ national desk. His Catholic roots were in Croatia and it wasn’t long before I learned a lot about the ills that Catholic Croats had suffered under various overlords, the latest being the Communists. The Croats were also under four centuries of the Ottoman (and Muslim) Empire; a situation that my friend never forgot.

Having one’s homeland occupied is something most Americans cannot imagine, much less having to endure it for centuries. My friend was passionate about the politics in his ancestral country to a degree that I rarely saw among other friends who had immigrated to the U.S.  

The person in this Washington Post profile is similar to my friend at work: a son of Hungarian Catholics who had suffered for their faith and whose view of the world was shaped by how southern Europe was conquered first by Muslims and then by Communists. These days he's taken on another cause: That of explaining to the world that religious ideology is at the center of the jihadist threat.

To those of us who write about religion, this sounds pretty obvious. I mean: What else motivates the radical Islamist other than . . . Islam? But this view is not universally accepted in our government. Read on: 

On the night of President Trump’s inauguration, Sebastian Gorka attended the celebratory balls in a high-necked, black Hungarian jacket. Pinned on his chest was a Hungarian coat of arms, a tribute to his father who had been tortured by the communists, and a civilian commendation from the U.S. military.
For years, Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate as defined by the city’s Republican and Democratic foreign policy elite. Today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security.

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Wall Street Journal resists news media entropy, finds faith in the 'Sooner State'

Wall Street Journal resists news media entropy, finds faith in the 'Sooner State'

Almost three years have passed since I took pen to paper in aid of the work of The Media Project and GetReligion. I welcome the opportunity to return to the team of writers led by tmatt who cover the coverage of religion reporting in the secular press. 

Much has changed in my life these past few years. I have left the Church of England Newspaper after 18 years and have been engaged in the parish ministry in rural Florida as rector of Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church in Lecanto. I’ve gone up a notch in the church world and now can claim the right to wear purple buttons on my cassock following my election as dean of Northwest Central Florida. I remain active with two online media ventures, Anglican.Ink and Anglican Unscripted. 

The media world has not stood still either. The decline in professional standards -- clarity of language, honesty in reporting, balance and integrity in sourcing -- continues. From my perspective, it would appear that we in the media are all doomed.
 
Rudolf Clausius’ 1865 maxim: "The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum" -- from which he formulated the second law of thermodynamics-- is true for journalism as well as physics. In terms of journalism basics, a race to the bottom is underway.  

We are now at a point where The Sun, a British redtop or tabloid, is a better source for religion reporting than The Independent (one of Britain’s national papers). Compare these reports on a Catholic abuse scandal in Italy published earlier this month.

The Sun’s story is entitled: “ROMPING IN THE PEWS: Randy Italian priest ‘with 30 lovers’ faces the sack for ‘organising wild S&M orgies on church property’.” The Independent’s piece has the less colorful headline: “Italian priest faces defrocking for ‘organising orgies on church property’.”

Naughty vicar stories are a staple of the British press.

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Clickbait sins and social media: So who was that Nazarene pastor calling 'demonic'?

Clickbait sins and social media: So who was that Nazarene pastor calling 'demonic'?

Please allow me to put on my journalism-professor hat for a moment as we take a second look at the media coverage of that Florida pastor's viral Facebook post about the recent rally for President Donald Trump in Melbourne, Fla.

When recording this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken asked me a question that focused on the journalism nuts-and-bolts of this mini-mediastorm. That question: How did a single social-media post -- with no follow-up interviews or research -- end up becoming a news report that ran in mainstream media around the world?

Good question. But before we get to that, please pay close attention to the very first few seconds of this CNN interview in which the Rev. Joel Tooley, senior pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Melbourne, was asked about his Facebook post and the events that inspired it.

The CNN pro begins by noting that this Florida pastor walked out of "President Trump's weekend rally, calling it 'demonic.' He says that his 11-year-old daughter was traumatized and in tears. ..."

Tooley immediately responds: "Well, first of all, to clarify, I didn't describe the event as 'demonic.' There was some ..."

The CNN host interrupts to say: "A headline described it as that. ..."

It's safe to assume she was referring to the headline on the Washington Post "Acts of Faith" news feature that read: " ‘Demonic activity was palpable’ at Trump’s rally, pastor says." That led to my post on the topic this week.

As the interview began, a CNN graphic made sure that viewers got that point.

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When a 4-year-old biological male prays to be a girl, a few questions for journalists to consider

When a 4-year-old biological male prays to be a girl, a few questions for journalists to consider

The Houston Chronicle tugs at heartstrings — or at least makes a valiant attempt — with a story today focusing on a kindergartner who wants to use the girls' restroom at school.

No, the timing of the cover story in the major Texas newspaper's City and State section is not coincidental: It's related to the Trump administration's decision this week on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms. In case you missed it Thursday, we highlighted three key questions to consider on that issue.

Today's Chronicle headline and subhead play the issue down the middle:

Transgender policy change shows split
Reactions vary among Texas school districts

But the actual story leans heavily in favor of one side. Guess which? It's the side upset with the decision to overturn an Obama-era directive. By my count, four transgender rights advocates are quoted vs. one source on the other side — a school superintendent whose past quotes are recycled.

While the piece ostensibly is an overview of area school district policies, the story begins and ends with the kindergartner mentioned above. And yes, there's a religious angle — not to mention a ghost or two.

Hang with me for a moment, and we'll get to my journalism-related questions.

But first, let's start with the lede:

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Why local media coverage of West Virginia's Bible bill is far from being 'almost heaven'

Why local media coverage of West Virginia's Bible bill is far from being 'almost heaven'

There's faith-related news, apparently, in West Virginia, but the local media there are not paying too much attention.

On Monday, Feb. 20 (don't ask me why the state legislature was meeting on Presidents' Day, but apparently they did), State Delegate Ken Hicks (D-Wayne) introduced a measure to amend the state code with a single sentence: "The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book of West Virginia."

That's, um, news, rather interesting church-state news. Right?

Well, Hicks's measure did grab the attention of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, so that's a start:

"I think a lot of the biblical principles are the same principles that the state was founded on," Hicks said. "The Bible is a book that's been around for thousands of years. A lot of principles from the Bible are what modern-day and contemporary law is based on."
There currently is no official state book for West Virginia.
Hicks said he thought the state could have multiple official books, not limiting it to just the Bible. When asked about concerns as to whether the proposal would indicate an official endorsement of one religion over others by the state, Hicks said he hoped that people who were concerned would contact their legislators to let their feelings be known.

The Herald-Dispatch account -- noting the lawmaker says he is "a practicing Christian" -- quotes Hicks as saying the bill isn't designed to compel Bible reading. Yes, a bit more specificity would have been nice when dealing with his church tradition.

The measure is co-sponsored by seven other delegates, two Democrats and five Republicans. None of the other sponsors are quoted nor are their religious affiliations, if any, disclosed. Talking to the Democrats would have been a nice touch.

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Facts, framing and fairness: Three questions to consider on Trump transgender bathroom decision

Facts, framing and fairness: Three questions to consider on Trump transgender bathroom decision

One of the big news stories of the past 24 hours — in fact, the lead story in today's Washington Post and New York Times — involves the Trump administration's decision on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms.

Interestingly, the story did not make the front page of USA Today or the Wall Street Journal.

I quickly read the coverage from those four national newspapers, along with reports from The Associated Press, CNN and Reuters.

In case you missed the headlines, the lede from AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transgender students on Wednesday lost federal protections that allowed them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, as the Trump administration stepped into a long-simmering national debate.
The administration came down on the side of states' rights, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that had been characterized by Republicans as an example of overreach.
Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex.
"This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.

In my rapid-fire assessment of the stories, I'm interested in three key questions:

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Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Every now and then, I like to write what I call a "mirror image" post. The basic idea is that you take a current news story and change one detail that flips the perspective around. Up becomes down, left become right, GOP becomes Democrat, etc.

The goal is to try to imagine how some elite newsrooms would have covered the mirror-image story, in contrast with how they covered the story that is making real headlines in the here and now.

So, in this mirror-image mode, let's go back four years. Pretend that it's the Barack Obama era and the president is holding a Florida rally to urge his base to back his agenda for the new term.

The pastor of a local church -- a single pastor from a normal church -- goes to the rally with his daughter and finds the attitude of Obama fans a bit unnerving, a bit too worshipful. Maybe there is language and symbolism in the rally that is worthy of that Obama Messiah website that collects material about Obama supporters comparing him with Jesus.

This pastor goes home and writes a Facebook post in which he opines that, instead of being a wholesome civic lesson, he thought that this rally was an ugly spectacle in which "demonic activity was palpable."

OK, here is the mirror-image question: Would this one Facebook post by this one ordinary pastor in which he voiced a strong opinion about supporters of President Obama have become an international news story?

I ask this mirror-image question because a journalism friend of mine who now lives on the other side of the world -- not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination -- wrote me when she saw this headline in The New Zealand Herald: "Trump rally: 'Demonic activity palpable' says pastor."

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Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

Judge Neil Gorsuch's Anglicanism is still a mystery that journalists need to solve

It’s been about three weeks since Neil Gorsuch has been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and we’re no closer to figuring out what makes him tick, spiritually. However, there have been a few jabs at trying to gauge the spiritual temperature of his family's parish in downtown Boulder, Colo..

The most aggressive reporting has been by a British outlet, the Daily Mail, whose reporters have shown up at Gorsuch’s parish, St. John’s Episcopal. The Mail has also been sniffing about Oxford University (pictured above), which is where Gorsuch apparently became an Anglican during his studies there. It was also where he met his future wife Marie Louise. Her family is Anglican and the Mail explains that all here and here.

Very clever of them to nail down his wife’s British background and that of her family and to have interviewed Gorsuch’s stepmother in Denver.

They too see a dissonance in Gorsuch’s purported conservative views and the church he attends:. 

He has been described as 'the heir to Scalia' and is a religious conservative whose appointment to the Supreme Court was greeted with jubilation on the pro-gun, anti-abortion Right.
But DailyMail.com can reveal that Neil Gorsuch's own church, in Boulder, Colorado, is a hotbed of liberal thinking -- and is led by a pastor who proudly attended the anti-Trump Women's March in Denver the day after the President's inauguration.
Another member of the clergy at St. John's Episcopal Church is outspoken about the need for gun control, and helped organize opposition to a gun shop giveaway of high-capacity magazines in the run-up to a 2013 law that banned them from the state of Colorado…
And in a twist that may surprise religious conservatives who welcomed Gorsuch's appointment, church leader Rev. Susan Springer, 58, has said she is pro-gay marriage and offers blessings to same sex couples.

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Celebrate good times, come on! Enjoy these three great reads from the Godbeat

Celebrate good times, come on! Enjoy these three great reads from the Godbeat

Like most everybody in the blogging world, we're focused on producing engaging content that people will read, share and, just maybe, comment on.

That means that we often gravitate toward the hottest, most timely topics — the kind trending on social media — when deciding which stories to review.

Moreover, negative posts pointing out journalistic problems and bias in mainstream media coverage of religion news tend to generate much more interest and buzz.

Please allow me to summarize the response to most of our positive posts about stories that do everything right: zzzzzzzzz. In case you need a video illustration of that response, here goes.

But since — amazingly — you actually clicked on a post promising "great reads," I'm going to reward you with three nice stories by Godbeat pros. All published within the last week, these are the kind of excellent pieces that sometimes get lost in our GetReligion guilt files.

What's the common thread that binds all three of these stories together? For one, all of the writers are religion beat pros who've received frequent praise from GetReligion: Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and our former GetReligion colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post.

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