Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

Inauguration week goodies: Elephants, donkeys and thought-provoking Godbeat stories

As I've mentioned previously, "One church's vote for Jesus" was the headline on a story I wrote a few years ago on a Washington, D.C.-area congregation that declared itself a "politics-free zone."

This was the lede:

LAUREL, Md. — People of all political persuasions are welcome at the Laurel Church of Christ.
Politics is not.
“Believe it or not, it almost destroyed this church at one time because we’re so close to Washington,” said adult Bible class teacher Stew Highberg, who retired from the Air Force and works for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The politics of the president and the House and the Senate would creep in,” explained Highberg, a former Laurel church elder. “So we had to put a moratorium on it. You’ll get booted out of here if you start talking politics.”
He was joking about that last part. Mostly.
More than 300 people worship with this fast-growing Maryland church: Roughly three-quarters work for the federal government, the military or a government contractor or have a family member who does.
“We figure we can try to convince people they’re wrong politically, or we can try to persuade them to follow Jesus,” preaching minister Michael Ray said. “We pick Jesus.”

I was reminded of that Maryland congregation when I saw a front-page story in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on elephants and donkeys sharing church pews.

The Pittsburgh story was written by Peter Smith, the Post-Gazette's award-winning religion reporter (and a longtime favorite of your GetReligionistas). Given the byline, I knew that I would find the piece fair, interesting and thought-provoking. But just to make sure, I went ahead and read it. 

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Does New York Times style guide discourage using 'March For Life' in news reports?

Does New York Times style guide discourage using 'March For Life' in news reports?

Is anyone really surprised when there is controversy about mainstream press coverage of Washington, D.C., marches linked to abortion?

Honestly. I was reading articles on this topic back in the early 1980s during my graduate-school days at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Abortion had already emerged as one of the hot-button issues in any study of news-media bias.

So are we really surprised that The New York Times published a news article -- not a column or analysis piece -- in which great care appears to have been taken to avoid using the words "March For Life" when reporting on the 2017 March For Life?

We will come back to that topic, after a flashback to 1990. That's when The Washington Post put a spotlight on this issue with it's radically different coverage of two different D.C. marches about abortion. Post management eventually conceded that something strange had gone on.

First, there was a major march in favor of abortion rights. Here is how David Shaw, writing in The Los Angeles Times, described the Post coverage of that event:

... When abortion-rights forces rallied in Washington ... the Post gave it extraordinary coverage, beginning with five stories in the five days leading up to the event, including a 6,550-word cover story in the paper's magazine on the abortion battle the day of the event. The Post even published a map, showing the march route, road closings, parking, subway, lost and found and first-aid information.
The day after the abortion-rights march, the Post published five more stories covering the march, including one -- accompanied by three pictures -- that dominated Page 1. The march stories that day alone totaled more than 7,000 words and filled the equivalent of three full pages, including most of the front page of the paper's Style section.

How did that compare with Post coverage of the next major rally and march, organized by the National Right to Life Committee? Maps? Major features? There was modest, but significant, coverage in other major news media. But at the major news outlet closest to the march?

... The Post consigned the rally to its Metro section and covered it with just one, relatively short story. ... Rally sponsors were outraged.

This incident, to be blunt, became the template for future battles over media coverage of these kinds of events inside the Beltway and in other major cities nationwide.

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Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

Star of the moment Megyn Kelly offers mere glimpses of her Catholicism in autobiography

When talented Time magazine colleague John Moody became a top Fox News Channel founder 20 years ago, the Religion Guy thought, “He’d better have a golden parachute because this is probably going to fail.”

After all, pioneer CNN was thoroughly entrenched, and newborn rival MSNBC had rich corporate resources.

Ha. Nielsen tabulations show FNC not only topped those news competitors for all of 2016 but drew the #1 audience among all cable TV channels. Remarkable. The question now becomes whether the defection of 9 p.m. shining star Megyn Kelly to NBC will hurt ratings.

Don’t bet against Fox News. But, hey, how about giving religion correspondent Lauren Green more airtime! Think about it. What percentage of Fox News viewers are concerned about issues of religion, family and culture?

Inside FNC, that which Ailes (Roger, that is) produced a tumultuous year. And the same for Kelly, who just issued an autobiography, “Settle For More” (Harper). The Guy approached this book with mild interest, but was quickly swept up by insider scoop about her role in the Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal and her behind-scenes account about dealings with the new president and his followers.

The months of Donald Trump strangeness were perhaps without precedent in news annals.

Imagine trying to give fair coverage to the Trump campaign despite the candidate’s harangues and alongside followers’ social-media filth and death threats with armed guards accompanying your youngsters. Journalistic fame can exact a high price. An evangelical hero, attorney David French, suffered similar abuse from fans -- this is a must-read -- after becoming a NeverTrumper.  

Apparently due to the publishing deadline, Kelly doesn’t moralize about  Mr. Trump’s “Access Hollywood” bragging about unwanted sexual groping.

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Surprise! Yes, it IS possible for mainstream media to produce fair, balanced abortion news

Surprise! Yes, it IS possible for mainstream media to produce fair, balanced abortion news

Just yesterday, I critiqued a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on abortion that — in its headline and lede — favored the pro-choice side.

In that post, I pointed readers toward the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against pro-life advocates. 

I noted that this longstanding and indisputable problem remains painfully relevant for people who run newsrooms today.

So imagine my surprise today when I read a National Public Radio report on abortion that impressed me as extremely fair and balanced. (As always, I invite you, kind GetReligion reader, to read the report yourself and challenge my assessment if you disagree.)

Let's start with NPR's headline:

U.S. Abortion Rate Falls To Lowest Level Since Roe v. Wade

That's pretty straightforward, right? Just the facts, ma'am.

In case you're new to this journalism blog, that's how we like it: We promote a traditional American model of the press, with impartial reporting, fair treatment of all sides and sources of information clearly identified.

Next up, let's check out the lede:

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Two final battles for author of 'The Exorcist;' Washington Post buries a key local angle

Two final battles for author of 'The Exorcist;' Washington Post buries a key local angle

Anyone who interviewed William Peter Blatty in the final years of his life knew that there were two major issues that were constantly on his mind.

Both subjects were linked to his Catholic faith and, from his point of view, the reality of evil in the world. Both were linked to his education at Georgetown University.

The first challenge was making sure people really knew what was going on at the end of "The Exorcist," the Hollywood blockbuster that loomed over everything he did in his career as a novelist and screenwriter. This meant tweaking both the movie and the novel, to add a bit of clarity to what was happening between God, a demon and a courageous priest.

The second subject involved Blatty's appeal to the Vatican seeking actions to pull Georgetown into line with the 1990 "apostolic constitution" on the core values of Catholic education issued by St. Pope John Paul II, entitled "Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church)." If that failed, Blatty wanted his alma mater stripped of its "Catholic" status.

Blatty could understand why the media was still obsessed with "The Exorcist." He couldn't understand why journalists -- especially in Washington, D.C. -- were not digging into the issues behind his intellectual and spiritual wrestling match with Georgetown.

Now Blatty is gone and, as you would expect, "The Exorcist" dominated the mainstream media features about his life and work. But what did The Washington Post do with the other major Blatty story, right there in its own Beltway backyard? This question takes us -- literally -- the the final lines of the Blatty obituary:

In recent years, Mr. Blatty had a public dispute with Georgetown University, charging that it had abandoned its Catholic heritage. He organized a petition that he sent to the Vatican.
But Mr. Blatty remained inescapably linked with the book and movie that brought him the fame he sought for so long.
“I can’t regret ‘The Exorcist,’ ” he said in 2013. “I always believe that there is a divine hand everywhere.”

That's all there was to it, apparently. Don't you love the word "but" at the start of transition from the brief mention of the Georgetown dispute, back into Exorcist material?

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Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

If you have read GetReligion.org for any time at all, you are probably familiar with the whole idea of "scare quotes."

Actually, I would assume that this piece of media jargon is now in common in just about any setting in which critics, news consumers and journalists argue about issues linked to news coverage and, especially, media bias.

So what does the term mean and what, on this day, does it have to do with discussions of "radical" forms of Islam? Wait. You see the quote marks that are framing the word "radical"?

Here is one online definition of this term:

scare quotes -- noun
quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

For example, this online dictionary notes that, "putting the term 'global warming' in scare quotes serves to subtly cast doubt on the reality of such a phenomenon."

Here at GetReligion, many of our discussions of scare quotes have started using them to frame a perfectly normal term in discussions of the First Amendment -- religious liberty. Religious liberty turns into "religious liberty" whenever religious traditionalists, usually in conflicts over the Sexual Revolution, attempt to defend their free speech rights, rights of freedom of association and rights to free exercise of religious beliefs.

A GetReligion reader sent me a recent piece from The Atlantic and asked if another important term in public discourse is about to be shoved into "scare quotes" territory. The double-decker headline on that piece saith:

The Coming War on ‘Radical Islam’
How Trump’s government could change America’s approach to terrorism

You knew Trump had to be involved in this somehow, right? Here is the overture, which shows the context of the question that was raised by our reader:

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You'll never guess who called Texas bill to end abortion the 'most extreme measure' yet

You'll never guess who called Texas bill to end abortion the 'most extreme measure' yet

A Texas minister who reads GetReligion called my attention to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's coverage of a bill to criminalize abortion in the Lone Star State.

Michael Whitworth's tweet to me made clear where he stands on the issue: "How is ending the holocaust of the defenseless 'extreme' and 'cruel?'"

Whitworth's question came in response to the headline atop the Star-Telegram's abortion bill story: "End abortion in Texas? Plan called cruel and ‘most extreme’ measure so far in 85th Legislature."

I replied that I wouldn't attempt to analyze the story in a 140-character-or-less Twitter post. However, I said it looked like good fodder for GetReligion. 

Of course, my role as a media critic is not to give my personal opinion on abortion. It's to critique the journalistic quality of the Star-Telegram's report and address questions such as these:

1. Is the headline slanted in favor of one side? What about the story?

2. Is the story fair to both sides?

3. Is the story balanced in terms of the sources quoted, the space given to pro-life and pro-choice voices and the willingness to present each side's best argument(s)?

I'll get to those questions in a moment, but first, a bit of familiar background for regular GetReligion readers: In abortion-related coverage, news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side are a longstanding and indisputable problem. If you somehow missed it previously, check out the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents. Go ahead and bookmark that, because it remains painfully relevant for people who run newsrooms.

Back to the Star-Telegram story: Let's start with the first question. The answer is easy: Yes, the headline favors the pro-choice side. So does the newspaper's lede:

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Bigoted in Seattle? Anschutz-owned festival group blasted by Seattle Weekly

Bigoted in Seattle? Anschutz-owned festival group blasted by Seattle Weekly

Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival is an annual end-of-the-summer party that takes over the area around Seattle Center every Labor Day weekend. It’s mainly art and music and an event my family used to attend before the crowds and traffic pushed us away. But lots of people still go.

It's a gathering free of politics -- or it was until the Seattle Weekly attacked the festival organizer in a recent piece headlined “Bigotry in the Spotlight.” The piece is about how the entertainment group that produces the festival is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz. And because Anschutz funds conservative causes, he is, of course, anti-LGBT and a bigot.

We’ve written about Anschutz here and here and here. Anschutz is a devout Presbyterian and he’s also funded a lot of faith-friendly projects, such as Walden Media, which produced C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which came out as a movie 10 years ago. So here's how he's playing in one Seattle publication:

When Chick-fil-A announced plans for a Seattle store in 2013, mayoral candidates rushed to denounce the chain. Current mayor Ed Murray said he would “push” to keep the company out of town, and then-mayor Mike McGinn called its leader a bigot, due to CEO Dan Cathy’s financial support of groups opposed to same-sex marriage and his statements opposing it.
But a far bigger bankroller of conservative causes—including anti-LGBT groups—already does brisk business in Seattle. His name is Philip Anschutz, and he is the owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG. AEG took over local festival Bumbershoot in 2015, which it produces in a multimillion-dollar partnership with the city. The city also handed over large portions of KeyArena’s management to AEG in 2008, splitting the venue’s revenues. That contract was renewed in 2015.

After adding that King County (which surrounds Seattle and its suburbs) is also in business with AEG, and that an AEG subsidiary company in California got reamed by lefty outlets such as Vice and the Huffington Post for not falling in line with LGBT demands, the article continues:

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Obviously, journalists needed (trigger warning) to let Nat Hentoff speak for himself

Obviously, journalists needed (trigger warning) to let Nat Hentoff speak for himself

If you really want to understand why the First Amendment radical Nat Hentoff was so controversial -- I mean, other than that whole Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing, pro-lifer thing -- then what you really need to do is spend some time reading (or listening to) to the man.

That will do the trick. So watch the video at the top of this post. And hold that thought.

In this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilkens and I talked about the difficulty that some elite news organizations had -- in their obituaries for this complex man -- managing to, well, let Hentoff be Hentoff.

As our launching point, we used the passage in my earlier GetReligion post about Hentoff -- "RIP Nat Hentoff: How did press handle his crusade against illiberals, on left and right?" -- that argued:

... (T)hree pieces of Hentoff's life and work that must be mentioned in these pieces. First, of course, there is his status as a legendary writer about jazz, one of the great passions of his life. Second, you need to discuss why he was consistently pro-life. Note the "why" in that sentence. Third, you have to talk about his radical and consistent First Amendment views -- he defended voices on left and right -- and how those convictions eventually turned him into a heretic (symbolized by The Village Voice firing him) for post-liberal liberals who back campus speech codes, new limits on religious liberty, etc.

To my shock, Wilken ended the podcast session -- with about 90 seconds to go -- by asking me the three essential themes that would have to be included in an obituary for, well, Terry Mattingly. Talk about a curve ball question! You can listen to the podcast to hear my rushed answer to that one.

Like I said earlier, anyone writing about Hentoff has decades of material to quote, if the goal is to let the man speak for himself. Journalists tend to produce lots of on-the-record material.

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