How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

The Internet furore over the violent baptism of a Greek Orthodox baby has seeped into the mainstream press.

The story in itself is amusing, but it also provides a teaching moment on how not to do journalism.

The difficulty is how to report on YouTube videos. Is seeing believing? How do you report accurately and fairly on a video that cannot be authenticated?

On my Facebook and Twitter feed I received a post linking to a video of an extraordinary baptism. Within a few days the story made its way into The Sun, The Daily Mail, The MirrorNews Corp., and other television and press outlets. 

The British tabloid The Sun, which was reprinted in News Corp.’s Australian and New Zealand papers, had this story, opening like this: 

A GREEK orthodox bishop has come under fire after appearing to baptize a tiny tot a little bit too vigorously. In the footage that has appeared online the man of the cloth repeatedly dunks the naked baby into the baptismal font.

The tot is rapidly dunked three times into the water before being handed back to his unperturbed parents. According to reports the footage was taken in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, at a Greek Orthodox church.

With the church, baptisms are usually done ‘forcefully’ which is seen as a solution to the declining birth rate. Many online commentators have criticised the bishop’s rather rough approach.

The article closes with a summary of comments and criticisms of what viewers saw in the film. The Daily Mail ran a condensed version of the story, omitting the word “Greek” from the text as well as the extraordinary assertion that aggressive dunking results in a population boom. The Mirror kept the cleric Greek Orthodox and promoted him to archbishop.

What nobody appears to have done is ask the Greek Orthodox Church about this baptism.

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The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The other day, I pointed readers toward a piece of student journalism from the famed Columbia University School of Journalism -- a kind of a "Religion Beat: The Next Generation" nod. Click here to see that post: "Meet the Muslim Man Who Rents Crosses in Jerusalem."

Several readers asked if this was new territory for GetReligion, since we are not critiquing these pieces. In a way, it is new ground. However, readers should consider this part of our years of work trying to show newsroom managers that there are young journalists in the pipeline who want to cover this important beat.

The faculty member behind this project is the great religion-beat pro Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, who serves as director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life. With his cooperation, The Media Project website is running some student stories reported and written in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars -- with hands-on reporting work overseas.

This story by reporter/photographer Augusta Anthony is about one of the most famous and sacred sites in global Christianity. The headline: "Unity in the Divided Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The symbolic-detail lede:

JERUSALEM -- There’s a ladder in the Old City of Jerusalem. It perches on a stone ledge beneath the second floor window at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. According to local lore, the ladder has been there since at least 1852 and it is not to be moved.

The “immovable ladder,” as its known, symbolizes the complications that arise when six different Christian denominations occupy one of the holiest sites in their theology. Someone -- no one knows who -- left it there in the mid-19th century and to this day none of the churches has agreed who the ladder belongs to. So it sits there, on a ledge above the sturdy wooden doors, a reminder of the contested ground beneath it.

“They are always asking about the ladder,” said Archbishop Hierapolis Isidoros with a sigh.

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Friday Five: Paige Patterson all-nighter, pope's Europe worries, royal celebrity pastor and more

Friday Five: Paige Patterson all-nighter, pope's Europe worries, royal celebrity pastor and more

On Tuesday, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to cover the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's board meeting for the Washington Post.

I arrived at noon for the meeting that started at 1:30 p.m. and figured the trustees' deliberations on embattled President Paige Patterson would last a few hours.

I fully expected to be back home in Oklahoma City in plenty of time to enjoy a full night's rest.

Wrong!

Suffice it to say that the "quick trip" turned into an all-nighter as the board's closed-door session stretched into the wee hours — finally ending, after more than 13 hours, just after 3 a.m. Wednesday.

For more details, be sure to read tmatt's post headlined "After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene."

Meanwhile, please forgive me if I'm still a little groggy as we dive into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: As I mentioned, I was honored to help on this piece, but Washington Post religion writers Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a former GetReligion contributor) and Michelle Boorstein did much of the heavy lifting: "Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women." 

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God, guns and grace: Sun Myung Moon's sons put their spin on dad's religion

God, guns and grace: Sun Myung Moon's sons put their spin on dad's religion

One of the benefits of working at the Washington Times –- as I did for more than 14 years -– was watching the soap opera that was the family of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, which through its subsidiaries owned the Times.

Not that I ever got to see much of Moon's 14 children. But I sure heard about them, especially when their infighting led to massive budget cuts at the Times in 2009.

One of the older daughters and several of the sons all had similar Korean names (which were anglicized to Preston, Sean, Justin and Tatiana), but it was clear they all had designs on their father’s vast empire.

It was also clear they were going to reinvent the theology that undergirded the Unification movement and create their own religion. What sort of religion that may be comes out in a recent Washington Post Magazine piece on a church pastored by one of the younger sons; a church that encourages members to bring automatic rifles to church services. (By the way, I've also written for the same magazine rather recently). 

Sanctuary Church — whose proper name is World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, but which also goes by the more muscular-sounding Rod of Iron Ministries — stands inconspicuously on a country road that winds through the village of Newfoundland, Pa., 25 miles southeast of Scranton. The one-story, low-slung building used to be St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Before that, it was a community theater, which is why there are no pews, only a semicircle of tiered seats facing the old stage, now an altar.

On a Sunday morning in late February, 38-year-old Pastor Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, entered stage right wearing a white hoodie and cargo pants…One tenet of the Sanctuary Church is that all people are independent kings and queens in God’s Kingdom — a kind of don’t-tread-on-me notion of personal sovereignty. Hence, symbolic gold and silver crowns bobbed on row after row of heads.

Anyone who’s watched any Unification Church ceremonies knows these folks seem to have a fixation with robes and crowns. Sean Moon wears a literal crown of golden rifle shells. Photos show a congregation in white robes and scarves with guns cradled in their arms. 

A key pillar of Sanctuary dogma is the importance of owning a gun, particularly the lethal, lightweight AR-15 semiautomatic, which the National Rifle Association has proclaimed “the most popular rifle in America.” Last fall, Pastor Sean had studied the Book of Revelation. It makes multiple references to how Christ one day will rule his earthly kingdom “with a rod of iron.” Although Revelation was written long before the advent of firearms, Pastor Sean concluded that “rod of iron” was Bible-speak for the AR-15 and that Christ, not being a “tyrant,” will need armed sovereigns to help him keep the peace in his kingdom.

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ESPN tells an NBA veteran's emotional story extremely well — and with a strong faith angle

ESPN tells an NBA veteran's emotional story extremely well — and with a strong faith angle

The boss man sent me a link to this story.

"This has positive Bobby written all over it," tmatt said in his email.

In other words, knowing my love for "faith in sports" angles, he thought I'd appreciate ESPN's emotional feature on Kyle Korver, whose brother died unexpectedly a few months ago.

For those who, like me, don't follow the NBA all that closely, Korver is a veteran sharpshooter for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs, by the way, are down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals and face elimination Friday night. 

The boss man was right: ESPN writer Brian Windhorst told this story extremely well. And he didn't allow it to be haunted by a holy ghost.

LIke Korver does so often, Windhorst nailed the 3-point shot. Let's stand at the free-throw line and consider the first two paragraphs:

PELLA, IOWA -- ON a mid-March day in Central Iowa, Kyle Korver and his three brothers were watching the NCAA tournament together in the same room. Despite his alma mater, Creighton, losing, it was a good day and a good memory.

Korver has hung on to that moment and others like it over the past two months as he has struggled with sorrow. At times he has cried himself to sleep in the afternoons before games and woken feeling something he can only describe as his insides trembling. He has relied on prayer to give him the strength to get up and go to work.

Relied on prayer.

As far as hints to readers — and reporters — that there's a strong religion angle that needs to be addressed, that's an easy layup.

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Saying goodbye to 'The Middle,' a rare Middle Class comedy (and we know what that means)

Saying goodbye to 'The Middle,' a rare Middle Class comedy (and we know what that means)

Anyone who has been alive and watching American television in recent months (or reading mainstream media sources that provide entertainment news), knows that Roseanne Barr has made a spectacular return to the air, with the rebirth of the classic "Roseanne" sitcom.

Whether this is a spectacularly good thing or a spectacularly bad thing depends on how you view the fact that Barr has included some material in the show linked to her belief that Donald Trump is not the Antichrist.

However, some journalists and critics who have attempted to view this phenomenon with a wee bit of objectivity have observed that "Roseanne," the show, is once again offering glimpses of ordinary, Middle and even lower Middle Class American life -- a topic usually ignored by elite Hollywood.

Now, the season finale of "Roseanne" took place about the same time as the farewell episode of "The Middle" after nine years as a successful series that was rarely noticed by critics -- as opposed to millions of American viewers. Variety noticed the timing of these events.

Also, a fine review/essay by Robert Lloyd in The Los Angeles Times dug deep enough to notice that these two shows shared cultural DNA. The headline: "Before 'Roseanne's' revival, 'The Middle' carried the torch for America's heartland." Here is a chunk of that piece:

Set in the middle of the country, or near it, with characters on an economic middle rung, or just below it -- the other "middle" is middle age -- the series stars Patricia Heaton, who had spent an earlier nine years married to Ray Romano on "Everybody Loves Raymond," as Frankie Heck, wife, mother, daughter, dental assistant.

Premiering in September 2009, when the shocks of the Great Recession were still reverberating and the subprime housing crisis was still having its way with the economy, "The Middle" is the sort of show that were it to debut in 2018, would be taken as a network responding to the Trump election. (The series had in fact been in development since 2006.)

The "middle" also refers, of course, to the middle of this nation, as well as the Middle Class.

When you start talking about "Middle-Class values" this is often code language for You Know What. See if you can spot the GetReligion angle in this next passage.

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Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

A bit of U.S. “mainline” Protestant history was made May 11. The Rhode Island State Council of Churches announced that its 70-year-old executive minister, American Baptist Donald Anderson, will take three months off for an unspecified “process of transitioning” to female identity.

The council’s board is “totally supportive,” stated its  president, a United Church of Christ pastor, and anticipates Anderson’s September return under the new name of Donnie. The council sponsored an April 24 “merciful conversation on gender identity and expression” at an Episcopal church.

By coincidence, the April 25 edition of The Christian Century, a prototypical “mainline” voice, published a noteworthy article on “nonbinary gender” as part of God’s good creation.

The piece was an excerpt from a new release by the Presbyterian Church (USA) book house, “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.” Author Austen Hartke, creator of the youtube series “Transgender and Christian,” is a recent graduate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he won an Old Testament prize.

This frontier in modern moral theology confronts many U.S. religious groups head-on, and just after legalized same-sex marriage, causing religious-freedom disputes the news media will be covering for the foreseeable future. 

The transgender cause contrasts with the heavily “binary” and “cisgender” culture throughout the Bible and the Quran that shapes the beliefs of traditional Christians, Jew and Muslims.

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Fertility frontier: Washington Post delves into God's work vs. that of modern science

Fertility frontier: Washington Post delves into God's work vs. that of modern science

I saw the most intriguing story about new fertilization techniques and religion recently, only to discover that the Washington Post has a huge collection of articles and videos about every facet of the explosion of baby-making technologies under the heading of “Fertility Frontier.”

There’s a video series about a single 29-year-old woman (and Post staffer) wondering if she should freeze her eggs; a Facebook group devoted to fertility discussions; and a cluster of other articles about ways to beat the reproduction odds.

This newest one, about the intersection of religious dogma with this runaway technology, ran in an attractive package of graphics and text. A few paragraphs into the story, we learn why the world of religion must come to terms with the latest in fertility science, even if it disagrees with it.

Since then, in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and related technologies have produced some 7 million babies who might never have existed — roughly the combined population of Paris, Nairobi and Kyoto — and the world’s fertility clinics have blossomed into a $17 billion business.

The procedures have amplified profound questions for the world’s theologians: When does life begin? If it begins at conception, is it a sin to destroy a fertilized egg? What defines a parent? Is the mother the woman who provides the egg or the woman who gives birth? What defines a marriage? If a man’s sperm fertilizes an egg from a woman who is not his wife, does that constitute adultery?

The moral questions are rapidly becoming more complex. Researchers are working to advance gene-editing tools that would allow parents to choose or “correct for” certain preferred characteristics; to create artificial wombs that could incubate fetuses outside the body for nine months; and to perfect techniques to produce “three-parent” babies who share genetic material from more than two people.

What’s clear in the story, is that all the people profiled have decided to ignore religious or moral objections to assisted reproduction when their ability to have their own biological children is at stake. This included Catholics who ignored their church's teaching that because IVF creates fertilized embryos that must be disposed of, the technology as a whole is immoral.

Some religious leaders have objected to using gene editing on embryos or in ways that could affect future generations, arguing the human genome is sacred and editing it violates God’s plan for humanity… the Vatican is convening meetings to discuss its moral implications, including one this week in Rome.


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After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

After midnight: Dramatic turn in Paige Patterson drama, with religion-beat pros on the scene

Let's face it, it's going to be hard to do a GetReligion-style critique of a breaking hard-news story in The Washington Post that runs with this byline: "By Bobby Ross Jr., Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein — May 23 at 6:44 AM."

Luckily, Wednesday is Bobby's normal day off here at GetReligion. He was all over Twitter, into the wee, small hours of this morning, waiting for another shoe to drop in this high-profile drama in the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.

So what can I say about a story reported by a current GetReligionista, a former GetReligionista and one of the nation's most experienced religion-beat professionals?

Let's start with the obvious, focusing on the crucial thread that unites those three names: This was a job for experienced religion-beat reporters.

Yes, there will be Southern Baptists -- young and old (hold that thought) -- who may debate one or two wordings in the story that finally ran this morning with this headline: 

Prominent Southern Baptist leader removed as seminary president following controversial remarks about abused women

There are leaders in all kinds of religious groups who, when push comes to shove, want to see a public-relations approach to anything important that happens to them and their institutions. When it comes to bad news, they prefer gossip and PR, as opposed to journalism.

Meanwhile, you can find the following in the 12th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

Let's focus on two crucial decisions that faced the team writing this latest story about the long, twisted tale of Patterson and his views on sexual abuse.

First of all, this story is quite long, for a daily news story. However, it really needs to be read in the context of Sarah's earlier exclusive, the one that you know the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were discussing behind those executive-session doors. You also know that this Post report spend some time being "lawyered up." I'm talking about the story that ran with this headline:

Southern Baptist leader encouraged a woman not to report alleged rape to police and told her to forgive assailant, she says

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