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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Attention New York Times copy desk: It's time to buy more reference Bibles (and use them)

Attention New York Times copy desk: It's time to buy more reference Bibles (and use them)

Truth be told, the Bible is a very complicated book. It also doesn't help that there are many different versions of it.

Why bring this up? Well, it's time to look at another error about the Bible found in a story published in The New York Times. Another error? Click here for some background.

This one isn't quite as spectacular as the famous case in which the Gray Lady published a piece on tourism in Jerusalem that originally contained this rather infamous sentence:

 "Nearby, the vast Church of the Holy Sepulcher marking the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried, usually packed with pilgrims, was echoing and empty."

That one still amazes me, every time that I read it. This error led to a piece at The Federalist by M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway with this memorable headline: "Will Someone Explain Christianity To The New York Times?"

That error was rather low-hanging fruit, as these things go. Surely there are professionals at the copy desk of the world's most powerful newspaper who have heard that millions and millions of traditional Christians believe in the Resurrection of Jesus?

This time around we are dealing with something that is more complicated. To be honest, if I was reading really fast I might have missed this one myself, and my own Christian tradition's version of the Bible is linked to this error.

So what do we have here? Well, it's a nice, friendly piece about some very bright New Yorkers, with this headline: "Testament to Their Marriage: Couple Compete in Worldwide Bible Contest." Try to spot the error as you read this overture, in context:

A question in the lightning round seemed to make Yair Shahak think twice.
The question was, “Who struck the Philistines until his hand grew tired and stuck to the sword?”

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Coastal New Hampshire paper's nearly pitch-perfect on decline in region's religious stats

Coastal New Hampshire paper's nearly pitch-perfect on decline in region's religious stats

I'm not at all sure when the first story about declining church attendance might have been written, but it's surely been a staple for the past two or three decades. Perhaps the modern iterations stem from the famous April 8, 1966 cover story in Time magazine, headlined, "Is God Dead?"

Since then, we've seen any number of pieces on how church attendance is in decline, how congregations are shrinking and, here's the biggest trend, how the old mainline Protestant denominations are in straitened times. 

I've written such stories myself.

Whatever the present-day genesis, a piece in Fosters Daily Democrat, a daily in Dover, New Hampshire and the state's seventh-largest paper by circulation, examines the decline of faith in the state's seacoast region. There are several good things to read here, but also a couple of easily avoidable omissions, I believe.

Let's dive in:

Seacoast religious leaders said a recent cultural shift towards secularism has caused them to make significant changes, including altering their strategy for attracting members and consolidating churches.
Secularism, which experts say has always been prevalent in New Hampshire and has continued to rise, have caused attendance to dwindle in many religious congregations. A Gallup poll in 2015 stated 20 percent of New Hampshire was considered "very religious," the lowest percentage found in the poll. Mississippi came in at the highest with 63 percent.
In Portsmouth, Corpus Christi Parish, which is comprised of St. James Church, St. Catherine of Siena Church and the Immaculate Conception Church, is being consolidated into one church, and St. James Church is being put up for sale.

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