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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What’s to be learned from the religious makeup of U.S. Congress members?

What’s to be learned from the religious makeup of U.S. Congress members?

On January 3 the Pew Research Center issued its biennial “Faith on the Hill” listing of the religious identifications for each member of the incoming U.S. House and Senate, using biographical data compiled by CQ Roll Call. Reporters may want to tap scholars of both religion and political science for analysis.

Coverage in the Christian Science Monitor and other media emphasizes that although religiously unaffiliated “nones” are now as much as 23 percent of the population, members of Congress are lopsidedly religious -- on paper -- with 90.7 percent identifying as Christian, close to the 94.9 percent back in 1961.

Only popular three-term Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) officially has no religious affiliation, though several members are listed as “don’t know/refused,” along with many generic identities of  "nondenominational" or “Protestant unspecified.”

What’s the news significance here? After all, formal identifications often tell us little about an office-holder’s actual faith, or stance on the issues, or whether there’s a connection. Consider liberal Sonia Sotomayor, conservative Clarence Thomas and straddler Anthony Kennedy, all self-identified Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court, or all the pro-choice Democrats who are "personally opposed" to abortion.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is counted as “Jewish,” but was probably the most secularized major presidential candidate yet. Does a “Presbyterian” legislator belong to the “mainline” Presbyterian Church (USA) or the conservative Presbyterian Church in America? Are these currently active affiliations, or mere nominal labels that reflect childhood involvement? In reality, are a particular legislator’s religious roots important in shaping policies?

It all depends.

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New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that one of the buzz topics in religion-news circles this week was that job posting at The New York Times, the one with this headline: "Change Is Coming to the New York Times National Desk."

It appears the Times is thinking about doing something new on the religion beat, 12-plus years after the 2005 report on its newsroom culture and weaknesses, "Preserving Our Readers Trust." That was the amazing document that urged editors, when hiring staff, to seek more intellectual and cultural diversity -- to help the Gray Lady do a better job covering religion, non-New York America and other common subjects. Yes, I've written about that report a whole lot on this site.

Oh, and Times editor Dean Baquet's recent journalism confession on NPR -- that the "New York-based and Washington-based ... media powerhouses don't quite get religion" -- may have had something to do with this, as well.

The bad news? There is one chunk of language in this job posting that, for veteran Godbeat observers, could cause a kind of bad acid flashback to another religion-beat job notice in another newsroom, at another time. Hold that thought. 

So here is the Times job notice for a "Faith and values correspondent."

We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine. The position is based outside of New York, and you will work alongside Laurie Goodstein and a team of other journalists who are digging deep into the nation.

Did you see the key sentence? Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher sure did:

Two cheers for them! I’m glad they’re adding this position, and I’m really glad they’re not basing this reporter in New York (I hope they don’t base him or her in any coastal city, or in Chicago, but rather someplace like Dallas or Atlanta). Why not three cheers? That line about how “you won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine” bothers me. ... 

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'Real Housewives of ISIS' on BBC gets laughs from Muslims; who'd have thunk it?

'Real Housewives of ISIS' on BBC gets laughs from Muslims; who'd have thunk it?

Every so often, a religion story comes along that is simply fun to read about. Such is the reporting on “Real Housewives of ISIS,” a BBC comedy spoofing the daily regimen of the women who went to Syria to become jihadi brides.

The photo with it gives you an idea of what’s to come. Four women who are fully cloaked in hijabs and body-covering black robes, stand arm-in-arm gazing at one of the women’s iPhones as she takes a selfie of them all. Another of the women is wearing a suicide vest.

Instead of wallowing in political correctness and seeking out every indignant Muslim group possible, British media stuck to the basics of a piece on religion and satire.

Here’s how The Guardian describes it:

As 23-year-old student Zarina watches Real Housewives of Isis on a phone amid the bustle of Whitechapel market in the east end of London, she puts her hand to her mouth and gasps before bursting into laughter.
On the screen a hijab-wearing character models a suicide vest for her fellow jihadi wives. “What do you think?” she asks. “Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The pal reacts by excitedly posting a picture on Instagram, saying: “Hashtag OMG. Hashtag Jihadi Jane. Hashtag death to the west, ISIS emoji.”
The comedy sketch – aired this week as part of BBC2’s new comedy series Revolting – has come under fire from some viewers who have called it “morally bankrupt” and insensitive, while others have accused the BBC of making “Hijabis feel more isolated [and] targeted by Islamophobes”. Comedians, however, have said that reaction to the sketch is part of a growing culture of offence which – alongside stories that overhype the reaction – are in danger of stifling one of Britain’s most successful exports: its satire.

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Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'

Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'

Wow.

So powerful.

That's the only way to describe the lede on today's front-page Post and Courier story on victim impact statements to Dylann Roof, the condemned gunman in the Emanuel AME church massacre:

Clutching the blood-stained Bible she had with her when Dylann Roof executed nine family and friends around her, Felicia Sanders told the self-avowed white supremacist in court Wednesday that she still forgives him for his actions. They have scarred her life but haven't shaken her faith.
Addressing Roof the day after a jury sentenced him to death, Sanders said the mass shooting that killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 has left her unable to hear a balloon pop or an acorn fall without being startled. She can no longer shut her eyes when she prays.
But she will carry on, she told him, and continue to follow the words of God still clear in the battered Bible she cherishes.
"I brought my Bible to the courtroom ... shot up," she said. "It reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof."
Sanders, who lost her son Tywanza and her aunt Susie Jackson in the shooting, told Roof that when she looks at him she sees "someone who is cold, who is lost, who the devil has come back to reclaim." 

As many times as I've praised the Charleston, S.C., daily's coverage of the massacre and its aftermath — most recently on Wednesday — I know I sound like a broken record.

But the latest story by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her Post and Courier colleagues is again filled with relevant, compelling religious details such as these:

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New York Times ignores key faith facts when covering Michael Chamberlain's fight for justice

New York Times ignores key faith facts when covering Michael Chamberlain's fight for justice

I'll be upfront about my interest, or perhaps "bias," in the case of Michael Chamberlain, 72, who passed to his rest on Jan. 9 from complications of leukemia.

Chamberlain, an Australian, was a Seventh-day Adventist, as am I.

Knowing a few Australian Adventists, I can attest that the case of Michael and his former wife, Lindy, was a searing moment in the 131-year history of the movement in that country. (Adventism -- founded by some veterans of the Millerite movement -- itself dates back to 1863, when its General Conference was first organized.)

The Chamberlains were a young pastoral couple serving in Australia when they went on a camping trip in 1980 with their children, including a nine-week-old daughter, Azaria. At one point, Azaria vanished from the campsite, with Lindy claiming to have seen a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, in the vicinity. Azaria's body was never found.

Almost immediately, public suspicion fell on the Chamberlains: No one else heard or saw an animal in the area when the child disappeared. Was baby Azaria's name some sort of cultic reference to a child sacrifice? (It wasn't.) And what about the Chamberlain's religion -- aren't those Adventists a weird sect that does kooky things?

While some may wish to debate the pros and cons of Seventh-day Adventist belief and practice, I can't think of too many rational people who believe that Adventism is a blood-sacrifice-loving cult. But in the heated antipodean media environment of the early 1980s, it was easily possible to lose sight of that.

But 37 years after Azaria's tragic death — ruled, in 2012, to have indeed been caused by a dingo and without the parents being at fault — the faith angle of this story is, or should be, widely known. Apparently, however, these crucial details slipped past The New York Times (paywall), which reported on Michael Chamberlain's passing thusly:

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