Satanic ritual abuse back in the news, only now these claims are being met with skepticism

Satanic ritual abuse back in the news, only now these claims are being met with skepticism

Satanic ritual abuse is back in the news, but this time around the press is doing a much better job in reporting on allegations that secret covens of satanists are abusing and murdering children in America and Britain.

Beginning with the McMartin preschool case in 1984, when KABC trumpeted the news that the operators of a Manhattan Beach nursery school had ritually abused several dozen children, much of the media accepted without question fantastic claims brought by police, parents and prosecutors. But by the early 1990s when the the courts began tossing out convictions based on recovered memories, coached testimony and magical thinking, the media backed away.

In 1991 David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles examining the media’s coverage of the McMartin preschool trial, finding his own newspaper had failed in its duty to provide balanced, honest coverage.

In its analysis of the McMartin case, the New York Times wrote:

The verdict has produced a self-examination by the media, most notably a four-part series in The Los Angeles Times in which David Shaw, who covers the news media for the newspaper, asserted that his own newspaper consistently favored the prosecution and failed to give critical scrutiny to its charge.

Academic and government studies have subsequently found no truth in claims of organized groups abusing children for satanic ritual purposes. Some abusers have used these motifs to frighten their victims, but in the U.S. and Britain there is no such thing as ritual satanic abuse (SRA).

I qualify my statement by saying "the U.S. and Britain," in that religiously motivated ritual abuse does exist in Africa. Police have investigated incidents in the West of suspected ritual abuse committed by recent immigrants who may have brought their customs with them.

Two current stories in the U.S. and British press have resurrected SRA: the Pizzagate story from the 2016 presidential election campaign and abuse claims lodged against deceased British Prime Minister Edward Heath.

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How to cover a tragedy: San Antonio paper offers sensitive, insightful reporting on church bus crash

How to cover a tragedy: San Antonio paper offers sensitive, insightful reporting on church bus crash

Years ago, I helped cover the funerals in a small West Texas town after eight senior citizens were killed in a church bus crash.

I couldn't help but recall that heart-wrenching tragedy as news broke Wednesday of another church bus crash — this one with an even higher death toll.

As a reporter, I always hate handling first-day stories on tragedies such as this. Pressing crash investigators for the basic details of what happened is no problem. But seeking comments from grieving loved ones is never easy. Never.

With my personal experience in my mind, I am impressed with the San Antonio Express-News' main front-page story today.

The piece offers sensitive and insightful reporting on the tragedy, which occurred in the San Antonio paper's coverage area.

The lede nicely sets the scene:

NEW BRAUNFELS — The fellowship at the senior retreat at Alto Frio Baptist Camp and Conference Center had been rewarding.
The meals were good. The testimonies touched everyone. The weather of the scenic Texas Hill Country was fantastic.
Then came time to leave Wednesday afternoon, and most of the 65 members of the choir group from First Baptist Church of New Braunfels got into their various cars and began the 130-mile trek back home, recounted Caroline Deavors, who was on the retreat.
But not everyone had a car, she said, so 14 church members got onto the church’s small bus, driven by semi-retired middle school math teacher Murray Barrett.
Deavors had a car and had a passenger with her.
“They were right behind us,” Deavors said. “They left right after we did.”
As she and her passenger headed south on U.S. 83, they saw a string of ambulances go by but didn’t think much about it.
It wasn’t until she got home that she learned about the tragedy that had taken place behind her: Barrett and 12 bus passengers were killed when authorities said the driver of a Dodge pickup crossed the center line and hit the bus head-on about 30 miles north of Uvalde.

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Rising force in American politics? Define the 'religious left' and give three examples

Rising force in American politics? Define the 'religious left' and give three examples

Since the very first days of this weblog, your GetReligionistas have been asking for mainstream journalists to pay more attention to the religious left.

If there is a Religious Right, which almost always receives big "RR" treatment, then it would be logical to think that there is a religious left. I have long argued that, without the beginning of the sharp statistical decline of the old religious left in the 1970s and '80s, you would not have had a large gap in the public square into which the Religious Right could move.

The key questions: "What is the religious left? Does one define this term using doctrinal standards, political standards or both? Is there more to this than the Democratic Party at prayer?"

Every now and then, mainstream reporters write a round of features about the return of the religious left. The rise of Barack Obama inspired one recent set of these stories. Now, Reuters has released a feature that, in Newsweek, drew this headline: "How the 'religious left' is emerging as a political force in Trump's America."

So what is the "religious left"? It is, readers are told, primarily "progressive" Catholics and Protestants. OK, so what are the key issues here?

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the "religious left" is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.
This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump's policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.
"It's one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn't done a good job of organizing," said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

What about the history of this wing of American religion?

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After London, a question returns: At what point does terrorist coverage just encourage more attacks?

After London, a question returns: At what point does terrorist coverage just encourage more attacks?

I listen to National Public Radio when I'm in my car and either of the network's two signature news programs -- "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered" -- happen to be airing. That was the case one day last week when I heard a guest on ATC being interviewed about the London terrorist attack and the radicalization of homegrown Islamic terrorists.

One factor contributing to this radicalization, he said, is the saturation coverage the attacks tend to receive.

In essence, the question he posed was: Do news media inadvertently advance the terrorists' game plan by inappropriately publicizing their attacks, leading to heightened fears in the general public -- one of terrorism's clearest objectives.

It's a knotty and important question that seems to surface after every successful attack in a Western city.

Most often, the question is raised by someone put forth as an expert on terrorism attached to some think tank or university. By now, I'd wager there isn't a Western news room or journalism school that hasn't wrestled with the question.

I'd also bet that few if any of these discussions ended in general agreement on some practical way forward that's applicable to all attacks under all circumstances.

I know I lack a one-size-fits-all standard -- which doesn't mean that someone else has not come up with some broadly general standard for coverage. If any reader happens to be that person, please say so in the comment section below.

Here's the relevant part of the ATC interview I heard on last week. The interviewer is NPR's Kelly McEvers and the interviewee is Rajan Basra, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at London's King's College.

BASRA: ... But aside from trying to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place, we also have to accept that terrorism is just a fact of life in the West these days. And so perhaps it's better to make society more resilient to the effects of terrorism.
MCEVERS: What do you mean?

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Shhhhh! Don't mention Christian faith because ESPN wants to pretend it doesn't matter

Shhhhh! Don't mention Christian faith because ESPN wants to pretend it doesn't matter

I love an inspiring story as much as the next guy.

What I don't love so much: a generic inspiring story that trips all over itself ignoring the obvious religion angle.

Yes, I'm talking about you, ESPN.

Holy ghosts seem to afflict the global sports giant quite frequently — so much so that I sometimes wonder if the network has a policy (official or unofficial) against mentioning potentially offensive words.

You know, words like faith, Jesus and Christian.

The latest ESPN example comes to us courtesy of GetReligion reader David Yoder.

The story concerns a group of NC State football players using their spring work to do mission work in Kenya:

NC State punter A.J. Cole III started going to Kenya over spring break as a senior in high school. Once he got to college, he needed his best sales pitch to convince teammates to come along with him.
So he called a meeting on campus and promised those interested that they would embark on a life-changing experience. It would not be an easy one. For starters, they would each have to raise $3,000 to fund the trip. They would have to make sure they had a full range of up-to-date shots (not to mention a passport and other travel documents).
They would have to take two seven-hour airplane rides to Nairobi. Then they would have to board a Jeep-style safari truck and head four hours northwest to Nakuru. Once there, they would be staying in bunk beds on the campus of Mountain Park Academy, a boarding school for Kenyan children. Modern amenities would be in scarce supply.
They would spend five days with the teachers and children, doing mission work while also uplifting, encouraging and teaching the children either in the classroom or through sports. Cole got three teammates to join him last spring.

The term "mission work" is the first clue — at least to me — that there might be a religious component to this trip. But ESPN avoids any mention of religion.

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Washington Post: Why one young man became a priest, for vaguely religious reasons

Washington Post: Why one young man became a priest, for vaguely religious reasons

We live in an age in which a young Catholic man choosing the priesthood is news, the kind of news that produces a feature story in the trendy Style section of an elite newspaper like The Washington Post.

The headline gives you a clue about the content, as in, "This Life: He never imagined being a priest. But then he felt the call -- and it terrified him."

Now, I have read my share of these secular-press features over the past couple of decades. Most of them feel like features about men who decide to go into social work, only with a few artistic flourishes about the liturgy, vestments, etc. The priesthood is all about helping people wrestle with daily life.

You almost always have -- if the seminarian is straight -- the obligatory reference to a previous girlfriend or even fiance, while leads to a discussion of celibacy. If the future priest is gay, then the sexuality angle is probably the reason the story is being written in the first place.

Like I said, these kinds of stories are rather consistent.

However, I have my own little journalism test that I perform when I start reading one of these stories online. The first thing I do is pop open a search box, enter one rather symbolic word, and look through the whole article to see what I see.

The word I search for is "Jesus." You would be amazed how often mainstream news organizations publish stories about men entering the priesthood without mentioning this word, other than, perhaps, in the names of religious orders and/or institutions. Jesus does appear in this particular Post report, but it's a close call. We will hunt for that. But, first, here is the overture, which jumps straight to the celibacy angle:

In the city around him, Anthony Ferguson’s fellow millennials were just waking up, shaking off hangovers, checking messages on dating apps and getting ready to make their way in the world.
But Ferguson was already out the door on this Friday morning -- wearing the same black shirt and white collar he always wears -- sitting in a chapel under the warm light streaming through stained-glass windows. Before 8 a.m., he’d listened to a sermon on the blessings of marriage, about how it allows spouses to love one another the way God loves each of them.

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Washington Post: Is Karen Pence the strong, hidden angel behind the vice president?

Washington Post: Is Karen Pence the strong, hidden angel behind the vice president?

I’ve long been curious about Karen Pence, who is Vice President Mike Pence’s better half and probably one of the most likeable and approachable members of the Donald Trump administration. Fortunately, the Washington Post just came out with a profile, titled “Karen Pence is the vice president’s ‘prayer warrior,’ gut check and shield.”

Well, I thought, this should be good. And it’s a lot better than what the New York Times did on her.

Karen Pence refused to be interviewed for the Post story, which meant the reporter had to work twice as hard to get info. This also tells you something about the current relationship between this White House and the biggest newsroom inside the Beltway.

This being GetReligion, obviously we’re interested in the “prayer warrior” portion of the piece which starts thus:

As second lady, Karen Pence, 60, remains an important influence on one of President Trump’s most important political allies. She sat in on at least one interview as the vice president assembled his staff, accompanied her husband on his first foreign trip and joins him for off-the-record briefings with reporters, acting as his gut check and shield.  
On the vice president’s visit last month to Germany and Belgium, the Pences quietly toured Dachau concentration camp, often holding hands, and huddled together on the Air Force Two ride home to debrief on the trip. When Mike Pence, 57, ventured to the back of the plane to chat off the record with reporters, his wife accompanied him, bearing a silver tray of cookies and standing by his side for the 20-minute conversation.  

Next, the Post delved into what few details were available about her first marriage, which quickly ended in divorce. At least they tracked down her first husband, who now lives here in Seattle.

Then, she met Mike Pence at church.

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'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

Ever heard of a pot-smoking church?

If you pay attention to the news, such churches seem difficult to miss lately.

When Indiana passed its religious freedom law in 2015, questions — and controversy — arose as to whether the measure would open the legal door to the First Church Of Cannabis.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times gave national coverage to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Centennial, Colo.

And most recently, longtime religion writer Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News and Alabama Media Group profiled a pro-marijuana church (as part of a series on marijuana in that Bible Belt state):

With a stained-glass window behind them, a lineup of speakers stepped to the front of the church and talked about the potential health benefits of legalizing plants that are currently outlawed in Alabama.
"I smoke cannabis on a daily basis for my pain," said Janice Rushing, president of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light in Alabama. "If I did not, I'd be on pain pills."
Her husband, Christopher Rushing, chief executive officer of Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light, says he also uses marijuana routinely.
The Rushings founded the Oklevueha Church in 2015 and claim that it has a legal exemption for its members to smoke marijuana and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote cactus.
At a January forum with an audience of about 30 gathered at Unity Church in Birmingham, which allowed the use of its facilities, speakers discussed the potential benefits of marijuana and other substances for medicinal purposes.
"I had an ungodly facial rash," said Sherrie Saunders, a former U.S. Army medic who is now a member of Oklevueha Native American Church in Alabama.
"We made a cream that completely got rid of that rash," Mrs. Rushing said.
Someone in the audience discussed a heart problem and sleep apnea.
"That could be something that cannabis could help," Saunders said.

Kudos to Garrison for a solid piece of reporting on — believe it or not — "God and cannabis."

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AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

North Carolina's HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill," is again making headlines, this time in a rather large and detailed Associated Press account of the economic losses the news organization reports the Tar Heel State has suffered:

Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina's "bathroom bill" isn't hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Over the past year, North Carolina has suffered financial hits ranging from scuttled plans for a PayPal facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion to the state's economy to a canceled Ringo Starr concert that deprived a town's amphitheater of about $33,000 in revenue. The blows have landed in the state's biggest cities as well as towns surrounding its flagship university, and from the mountains to the coast. ...
The AP analysis ( ) -- compiled through interviews and public records requests — represents the largest reckoning yet of how much the law, passed one year ago, could cost the state. The law excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections, and requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

While it may surprise some folks that the 76-year-old former Beatle, born Richard Starkey, is still touring, it seems equally surprising that the AP, once held up as an example of objectivity and down-the-middle reporting, has produced a report laden with advocacy language. The piece lacks almost any perspective from those who believe HB2 has its merits, particularly on faith-based grounds and the protection of women and children. (I say "has" instead of "had" because, despite efforts to repeal the law, HB2 remains on the books, as the ABC News video above shows.)

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