Oops! Politico confused on 'politically prominent evangelicals' in Trump's health department

Oops! Politico confused on 'politically prominent evangelicals' in Trump's health department

Politico started today with a story on "The religious activists on the rise inside Trump's health department."

At least one reader immediately pointed out a factual error way up high.

Hint: The mistake involved an oft-discussed, hard-to-define group. You got it, it's the evangelicals again.

"This article manages to get the facts wrong in its very first sentence," James Hasson said on Twitter. "Roger Severino is a Melkite Greek Catholic, not an evangelical. That's kinda important if your whole premise is that evangelicals in HHS are "support[ing] evangelicals at the expense of other voices..."

Hat tip to "D Minor" -- another Twitter user -- who alerted your friendly GetReligionistas to Hasson's tweet.

Here's the original wording of Politico's lede:

A small cadre of politically prominent evangelicals inside the Department of Health and Human Services have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care -- a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.
Those officials include Roger Severino, an anti-abortion lawyer who now runs the Office of Civil Rights and last week laid out new protections allowing health care workers with religious or moral objections to abortion and other procedures to opt out. Shannon Royce, the agency's key liaison with religious and grass-roots organizations, has also emerged as a pivotal player.

If Severino isn't actually an evangelical, you can understand Hasson's concern, right?

I did some quick Googling and didn't immediately find any online mention of Severino being a Melkite Greek Catholic. So I asked Hasson for the source of his information. It turns out he had a pretty good one: Severino himself.

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March for Life 2018: Washington Post wrestles with Trump's statement on late-term abortion

March for Life 2018: Washington Post wrestles with Trump's statement on late-term abortion

It's hard to have a discussion of any topic linked to abortion in the United States of America without starting debates about the basic facts -- especially when abortion is discussed in news reports by mainstream journalists.

It's hard to quote the most basic of facts -- the number of abortions in any give year -- without starting fights over the specifics. In part, this is because different kinds of statistics on this subject are released by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (with its history of complex ties to Planned Parenthood) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What happens when a story focuses on an ultra-controversial topic, such as the number of abortions that take place after an unborn child has, to one degree or another, reached the point of viability outside the mother's womb? At that point, it's especially crucial to be transparent about sources of information, with the clear attribution of sources.

I bring this up because of a hot-button passage in President Donald Trump's address to the 2018 March for Life, the one that stated:

As you all know Roe versus Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world. For example, in the United States, it’s one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions along with China North Korea and others. Right now, in a number of States, the laws allow a baby to be born [sic, aborted] from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month.
It is wrong. It has to change.

I mentioned that quote in my GetReligion post on the day of the march, but didn't really discuss it because I assumed these controversial words would draw quite a bit of coverage in the mainstream press.

Well, I was wrong.

It's especially amazing that Trump's reference to this issue drew little mainstream news attention because of an embarrassing verbal stumble. The president (whose history with Planned Parenthood is complex, to say the least) noted that laws in some U.S. states "allow a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month." He clearly meant to say "aborted," instead of "born."

This reference was addressed in a long, detailed Washington Post "Acts of Faith" feature about the march. Readers were told:

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Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Sometimes I wish so many  journalists weren’t so predictable.

The announcement for the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Department of Health and Human Services was barely 24 hours old when a bunch of articles rained down promising everything from massive discrimination against gays to something close to A Handmaid’s Tale.  

The majority of the articles were so focused on the possibility of LGBTQ fallout from this new division that the reporters missed one of the real targets: Planned Parenthood. This Christianity Today article explains why Planned Parenthood is the real victim, as it were, of this HHS development. 

Instead, you have everything from Slate calling the division “organized, insidious form of bigotry” to NBC News saying the new conscience protections puts the rights of providers over that of patients

Here’s how the New York Times explained it:

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it was expanding religious freedom protections for doctors, nurses and other health care workers who object to performing procedures like abortion and gender reassignment surgery, satisfying religious conservatives who have pushed for legal sanctuary from the federal government…
For religious conservatives, the new protections address long-held concerns that religious people could be forced to comply with laws and regulations that violate their religious beliefs. Roger Severino, the director of the office for civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, promised that he and his staff would investigate every complaint of a violation of “conscience rights” protected by federal law.
But civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights groups, as well as some medical organizations, expressed alarm at a move they described as part of a systematic effort by the Trump administration to legitimize discrimination.

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Weekend thinker with a punch line: Please take this 'You might be an evangelical if ...' quiz

Weekend thinker with a punch line: Please take this 'You might be an evangelical if ...' quiz

Sorry for the social stereotypes, but the video at the top of this post -- or the comedy riff at the heart of it -- was the first thing that I thought of a week or two ago when I saw a tweet from Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post that proclaimed: "This is a fun quiz. Are you an evangelical?"

Obviously, that link went into my "GetReligion Guilt" file.

Of course, "Are you an evangelical?" isn't that far from, "You might be an evangelical if ..." You can understand how I guy (that would be me) who grew up in a Southern Baptist pastor's home in Texas would make the leap to Jeff Foxworthy.

Now, I realize that there already are lots of websites with one-liners built on this concept. For example, at the "Progressive Christian" site at Patheos you'll find examples such as these:

If you have strong opinions about when, precisely, Amy Grant “sold out,” then you might be an evangelical.
If the first time you saw your uncle’s shot-glass collection, you wondered where he got all those fancy communion cups, then …
If you’ve ever forgotten to set your clock back at the end of Daylight Savings Time and your first thought at seeing the empty church parking lot was, “Oh no, I’ve missed the Rapture,” then …
If you never watched “Highway to Heaven,” not because it was too preachy, but because it aired on Wednesday nights, then …
If you knew that “Wednesday nights” in the previous joke was a reference to prayer meeting, then …

But, semi-seriously, there is a reason that your GetReligionistas have dedicated so much digital ink over the years to discussions of what the word "evangelical" does or does not mean.

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Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

In 1990, I began the process of moving from being a full-time journalist to being a full-time teacher and part-time journalist. The first place I taught was in Denver Seminary, serving as a specialist on religious themes in mass media.

In my main apologetics class, I tried to get seminarians to explore places in popular culture in which ordinary Americans encountered religious questions and themes. For example, I required students to watch "The Simpsons." I was also very high on the CBS series "Northern Exposure." And, of course, I asked them to pay close attention to Oprah Winfrey.

Why? Well, that's a question linked to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I discussed that fascinating media storm that followed Winfrey's sermon at the Golden Globes, with plenty of liberal activists and journalists suggesting that she should run for president. Click here to tune that in. Also, this was the subject of my column this week for the Universal syndicate.

But why -- in the early 1990s -- did I want future pastors, youth ministers, counselors and others to pay serious attention to Oprah? Years later, I was interviewed about my work at Denver Seminary by the journal Homiletics. Here is a key piece of that piece, which was called, "We're Taking Communion at the Mall."

MATTINGLY: We live in Oprah America. The dominate dialogue of our culture is feeling, emotion, and experience.
HOMILETICS: I taught a class once in which the name Gloria Steinem came up. No one, including the women, knew whom I was talking about. When I asked them what feminist voices they were listening to, they didn't reference Wolf, Faludi, or Mackinnon. They said, "Oprah."
MATTINGLY: You know what? I think Orpah is a feminist and she's an amazingly doctrinaire feminist on issues of gender feminism and certainly on issues of the sexual revolution. What's so funny is that you've got millions and millions of women who think of themselves as conservatives, but also think of Oprah as their buddy. She's consistently liberal, especially on moral and cultural issues. She's managed to communicate warmly to the average American woman without conveying how truly radical some of her views are. She's the essence of the victim culture: the woman as victim. That's not what feminism was supposed to be. But I think most people would agree that that's a piece of what modern feminism has become: You're a victim. Get mad, get angry, get even.
HOMILETICS: Do you really think it would be wise for a pastor to get in the pulpit and start attacking Oprah or Martha Stewart?
MATTINGLY: I would certainly quote Oprah.

So what is "Oprah America" and why is it so important?

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Pre-weekend think piece: A brief history of why March for Life news causes so much heat

Pre-weekend think piece: A brief history of why March for Life news causes so much heat

It's March for Life day and, during a rather busy teaching day here in New York City, I have been trying to pay attention to some of the live-streams of coverage from Washington, D.C.

So far, I have not seen any edgy websites or cable shows manage to get "president," "prostitute" and "pro-lifers" into the same headline or info graphic, but I won't be shocked if that happens.

President Donald Trump's speech to the marchers -- via video hook-up -- pretty much guaranteed this year's event would get more mainstream ink than it has in the past. As always, politics is worth more coverage than piety or poignant personal stories (the kind told, year after year, by the "I regret my abortion" activists).

Nevertheless, the March for Life remains what it has been for decades -- the Olympics for researchers studying media-bias issues (click here for a collection of GetReligion posts on this topic). I think it would be helpful to pause and look at the history of that, as we await some of the headlines and trends from this year.

During my early 1980s graduate work at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I looked at quite a few of the articles and photo-analysis studies that already existed contrasting mainstream media coverage of these giant anti-abortion rallies and other Washington events on other topics.

Then, in 1990, everything changed.

That was when the late, great media-beat reporter David Shaw of The Los Angeles Times wrote his ambitious series on media-bias issues tied to abortion. Ever since, any significant discussion of March for Life news coverage has included some kind of reference to this story: " 'Rally for Life' coverage evokes an editor's anger." The overture is long, but essential:

The Washington Post is "institutionally 'pro-choice,' " the Post's ombudsman, Richard Harwood, wrote. ... "Any reader of the paper's editorials and home-grown columnists is aware of that." But "close textual analysis probably would reveal that, all things considered, our news coverage has favored the 'pro-choice' side," too, Harwood conceded.

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Friday Five: Livin' On A Prayer, Emanuel AME juror, deranged parents, Arkansas shooting and more

Friday Five: Livin' On A Prayer, Emanuel AME juror, deranged parents, Arkansas shooting and more

Confession time: I chose one of this week's Friday Five because it gave me an excuse to post the video of Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer."

See if you can guess which one.

Woah, we're halfway there

Woah, livin' on a prayer

Take my hand, we'll make it I swear

Woah, livin' on a prayer …

But enough of that. Let's dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes profiled the jury foreman in last year's trial of Dylann Roof, the gunman sentenced to death in the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, S.C.

In a post this week, I described Hawes' story in The Post and Courier as "an amazing narrative piece."

"Jennifer Hawes is AMAZING. The end," the jury foreman, Gerald Truesdale, commented in response to my post. 

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Why is Foreign Policy magazine grumpy about U.S. aid going to Christians in Iraq?

Why is Foreign Policy magazine grumpy about U.S. aid going to Christians in Iraq?

With ISIS more-or-less cleared out of Iraq and Syria, money for rebuilding efforts is coming into the region amidst some debate as to where that money should land.

Why anyone would oppose money going to the Christians, Yazidis and others is a mystery, as it’s clear they suffered the brunt of the brutal ISIS occupation of broad swaths of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the previous administration, Secretary of State John Kerry used the term "genocide" to describe what happened to Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious minorities. Christians were so decimated, their religion has been said to be going “extinct” in Iraq.

But Foreign Policy magazine sees any U.S. aid going to Christians and others as a bad thing. Here, it says:

The Trump administration has decided to steer humanitarian aid funding to Christian and other minority communities in Iraq, against the advice of some officials at the State Department and others at the United Nations, who initially feared the move could backfire.
The administration, prompted in part by Vice President Mike Pence’s strong links to Christian advocacy groups, recently clashed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over how to spend aid funds in Iraq, insisting more resources be channeled to Christian communities and other minority groups in the Nineveh Plains. The administration rejected UNDP’s assessment -- and that of some officials at the State Department -- that the aid should be focused on more populated areas around the war-damaged city of Mosul. …
Since Donald Trump entered office a year ago, the issue has gotten high-level attention. Vice President Pence has spoken frequently about the importance of direct U.S. support for religious minorities in the Middle East, and current USAID Administrator Mark Green -- long an advocate for minority communities -- has made these efforts a centerpiece of his tenure.

What it comes down to, the article adds, is about $55 million in funds. But Washington’s preference toward Christians, it argues, could undercut other diplomatic efforts.

The move raised eyebrows throughout the aid community. “Taking $55 million and putting it into an area where there’s no chance that the Islamic State is going to come back doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” the Western official said. With stabilization funding -- designed to address the potential resurgence of the Islamic State -- “what you want to do is focus on the areas where they might come back,” the official told FP.

But who says ISIS couldn’t return to the Christian and Yezidi areas? Are there no voices on the other side to debate some of these conclusions?

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WPost reports on pastor 'lighting into' Trump with Pence on front row, but basic question unanswered

WPost reports on pastor 'lighting into' Trump with Pence on front row, but basic question unanswered

These days, it's often difficult to tell what's supposed to be real news and what's simply clickbait and/or aggregation.

That's the case this week with a quasi-news story from The Washington Post that makes no attempt to hide its tabloid-esque approach.

I'm talking about a piece that ran with this not-so-subtle cry for page views:

Watch a pastor light into President Trump — with Vice President Pence sitting in the front pew

Um, OK.

By the way, I realize this is the second GetReligion post today related to Mike Pence. If you missed the first one (written by Godbeat legend Richard Ostling and focused on media coverage of the VP's faith), it's insightful and definitely worth your time.

But back to my musings: My frustration lies with the fact that the Post goes for the easy clickbait but fails to answer a basic question. More on that in a moment.

First, though, the Post's lede (which provides a few details before the paper goes into aggregation mode):

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