The Daily Beast

Looking ahead: Pointers for journalists after that tumultuous Alabama Senate campaign

Looking ahead: Pointers for journalists after that tumultuous Alabama Senate campaign

For days and months ahead, pundits will chew on obdurate Republican Roy Moore’s loss by 1.4 percent in Alabama’s tumultuous Senate race. There were religion angles all over the place in this drama.

Should Moore have ducked reporters, or have vanished from the campaign trail the final week? Did Steve Bannon help or hurt? Is President Donald Trump wounded? Will Chuck Schumer run the Senate come 2019? Did 23,000 write-in votes make the difference, and were they cast by anti-Moore Republicans?

Whatever. The Guy will start off with one thought for all journos, then offer some observations for my fellow religion-beat specialists.

Consider: Has polling turned into astrology? You’d think so when three election-eve polls showed Moore up 9 percentage points (Emerson College), or Democrat Doug Jones up 10 points (Fox News) -- a 19-point difference! -- or a tie if Alabama repeated Virginia’s governor turnout (Monmouth University). (Moore was up 2.2 percent across polls averaged by RealClearPolitics.com).

Of course, pollsters coped with a December special election and a unique one at that. It's pretty clear that some Bible Belt voters don't want to tell pollsters (and journalists) what they want to hear. Many simply refuse to cooperate.

Thus, polling nowadays is iffy, and all scribes should ponder the reasons in this sure-footed explanation by Nate Silver. Click here for that.

Turning to the religion beat, there's an unending quest to comprehend the nation’s largest religious bloc, white evangelicals.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dear reporters: Please read the New Yorker essay about evangelical realities in Alabama

Dear reporters: Please read the New Yorker essay about evangelical realities in Alabama

Now, here is a sentence that I didn't expect to write this week.

Here goes. If you really want to understand what has been going on in the hearts and minds of many evangelical voters in Alabama, then you really need to grab (digitally speaking, perhaps) a copy of The New Yorker. To be specific, you need to read a Benjamin Wallace-Wells piece with this headline: "Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right."

Trigger warning: If you are the kind of person whose worldview includes simplistic stereotypes of evangelical Protestants, especially white evangelicals, you may not want to read that piece.

Let's start with this passage, which comes right after a discussion of a campaign letter that falsely claimed to contain an up-to-date list of pastors backing Roy Moore. This is long, but essential: 

A few days ago, I started calling around Alabama, trying to track down the rest of the pastors who had been listed on Kayla Moore’s letter. Some of them were easy to find, but others were elusive. I tried William Green, at the Fresh Anointing House of Worship, in Montgomery. A receptionist told me that she had never heard of Green. I tried Steve Sanders, at the Victory Baptist Church, in Millbrook. The current pastor told me that Sanders retired two years ago. I did not reach Earl Wise, also of Millbrook, but the Boston Globe did, and, though he still emphatically supported Moore, he had also left the pastoral life and was working as a real-estate agent.
Once you got beyond the ghosts and the real-estate agents, what was most notable about the pastors on Moore’s list was their obscurity. I found a list of the pastors of the thirty-six largest churches in Alabama, assembled this summer by the Web site of the Birmingham News; no pastor on that list appeared on Moore’s. I called leaders within the deeply conservative Southern Baptist Church -- the largest denomination in Alabama and, for decades, the core of the religious right -- and was told that not a single affiliated Southern Baptist pastor in the state was openly allied with Moore. The churches that appeared on Moore’s list tended to be tiny and situated in small towns, and some of the pastors on it held subsidiary roles within their churches.

Yes, I saw the word "openly." However, after reading the article this is how I would summarize the different kinds of evangelicals who were involved in this Alabama train wreck. Friends and neighbors, we are not talking about a monolith.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

OK, Daily Beast, let's try this 'Despacito': You CAN question Bieber's faith, with a little respect

OK, Daily Beast, let's try this 'Despacito': You CAN question Bieber's faith, with a little respect

When the GetReligion team receives an email referencing coverage of a news story, the subject lines are generally subdued. When tmatt wrote asking, "Anyone wanna jump on this hand grenade," we all knew it would be, for want of a better phrase, a real hot tamale.

So we arrive at the young life of one Justin Drew Bieber, age 24, the pop sensation whose current mega-hit single, "Despacito," ("Slowly") would remind a listener who knew both Spanish and the Bible more of the sensual verses in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon than, say, a Keith Green worship piece.

But there's another side to the "Biebs," as he's known to millions of fans. He's a Christian, or so we're told from time to time in the media. And the latest bit of media fanfare came last week from The Daily Beast, which often seems to vie for the coveted "Least-Respectful of Faith" title in the news business.

Their religion coverage is uneven at best, downright snarky at worst. Some of it is news. Some of it is clearly biased editorializing.

This time, the website asks, "Is Justin Bieber Sabotaging His Career for Jesus?" And the text leaves little room to doubt what they're thinking:

... On Tuesday, Hollywood’s least-holy gossip site ran a story explaining that, according to sources connected to Hillsong, Bieber’s church, the singer is taking a professional step back because he has “rededicated his life to Christ.” The update continues, “Bieber’s decision seemed to come out of the blue, but our sources say it was squarely based on what Bieber believes is religious enlightenment.”
Attending more Sunday services is one thing, but opening your own franchise for the Lord is quite another. According to TMZ’s “inside source,” Bieber “may be even planning to start his own church,” which sounds like a magical place where DUIs are automatically stricken from your record and Selena Gomez is always willing to give you a second chance.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why are some journalists head-scratching over, well, a Catholic bishop's Catholicism?

Why are some journalists head-scratching over, well, a Catholic bishop's Catholicism?

If there's anything essential to being a leader in a religious organization, surely it is that with such leadership comes responsibility for promoting the doctrines of said organization.

Generally, if one does this, it's a sign of compliance with the house rules or, more properly, doctrines. But "generally," these days, doesn't seem to cover Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, who for seven years has led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, which city happens to be the state capitol.

While a supporter of Pope Francis, it appears that the bishop is not willing to embrace the media's interpretation of the "Who am I to judge" statement of the current pontiff that has commanded so much ink in recent years. Indeed, Paprocki, who offered prayers of exorcism when Illinois enacted legislation sanctioning same-sex marriage, must have known his most recent pronouncements on the subject of marriage would raise hackles.

They did, and in turn the reporting on Paprocki's statement raises some interesting journalism questions. For example, when reading these stories try to find two crucial words -- "Catechism" and "Confession."

The Washington Post, aggregating other reports, summarizes the issue:

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Ill., is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.
The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

Wading into the story is a Rome-based writer for The Daily Beast, who noted Paprocki's decree affects not only the adults in a given household, but also:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Daily Beast digs into case of a generic 'youth pastor' who preyed on young boys

The Daily Beast digs into case of a generic 'youth pastor' who preyed on young boys

It's a truth your GetReligionistas have discussed many times. When you are covering a story about people linked to a faith with a clearly defined hierarchy it's pretty clear who you are supposed to call.

I'm not just talking about Roman Catholics. If a United Methodist pastor gets in trouble, there is a clear regional and national structure linked to the work of the clergy. Southern Baptist congregations are part of regional associations, state conventions and then they have ties of various kinds to the national Southern Baptist Convention. You have some place to start digging.

But when a minister goes REALLY off the tracks, it's hard -- especially in the world of nondenominational, independent evangelicalism or Pentecostalism -- to find a paper trail anywhere, along with people who were responsible for supervising the work of this or that clergyperson. And what about people who were only "sort of" clergy?

I thought of all of that while reading this recent piece at The Daily Beast that had this genuinely hellish tabloid headline: "UNHOLY: Pastor Arrested for Chopping Up Teen Kept Counseling Kids for 23 Years."

Now, in terms of facts linked to church life, the key word in that headline is "pastor."

When you hear "pastor," you kind of assume that we are talking about an individual who has gone to seminary, been ordained and has a pulpit somewhere in a church. Pastors fill a specific leadership role in a specific faith community, one with a tradition of some kind (even if its an independent local congregation). You hear "associate pastor" and you think someone who carries out a specific ministry, working in a larger church that has a senior pastor in the pulpit.

Now in this case, things are much murkier and the Daily Beast team never offers readers a clear look at the facts, in terms of the man at the heart of this nightmare. Once we make it past the mysteries linked to the sniffing dog and the headless torso, what we get is this:

Fred Laster, 16, was last seen with local youth pastor Ron Hyde several days earlier. Laster hitched a ride with Hyde after a family argument, according to his sister. Laster and his five siblings were living with their elderly grandparents at the time, after their mom died from cancer four years earlier.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Marrying yourself? Cosmopolitan tells us why we can

Marrying yourself? Cosmopolitan tells us why we can

Every so often, I encounter a headspinner of a piece whereby I read it once, then circle back to gaze at it again to wonder how it got onto the printed page. Such is an article that just surfaced in Cosmopolitan called “Why I Married Myself: These women dedicated their lives to self love.”

Think theater of the absurd. Think of marriage defined as anything you want it to be. Think of a trend of people (all single white women, as far as I could tell) finding the marriage market so bad, their best semi-legal alternative is to go the narcissism route.

In what is a rare critique of a Cosmo piece by GetReligion, we start here:

On the rooftop of her Brooklyn apartment building this past spring, Erika Anderson put on a vintage-style white wedding dress, stood before a circle of her closest friends, and committed herself -- to herself.
“I choose you today,” she said. Later she tossed the bouquet to friends and downed two shots of whiskey, one for herself and one for herself. She had planned the event for weeks, sending invitations, finding the perfect dress, writing her vows, buying rosé and fresh baguettes and fruit tarts from a French bakery. For the decor: an array of shot glasses emblazoned with the words “You and Me.” In each one, a red rose.

Then come the statistics.

Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world. In Canada, a service called Marry Yourself Vancouver launched this past summer, offering consulting services and wedding photography. In Japan, a travel agency called Cerca Travel offers a two-day self-wedding package in Kyoto: You can choose a wedding gown, bouquet, and hairstyle, and pose for formal wedding portraits. On the website I Married Me, you can buy a DIY marriage kit: For $50, you get a sterling silver ring, ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 “affirmation cards” to remind you of your vows over time. For $230, you can get the kit with a 14-karat gold ring.

I read the whole piece with some disbelief. Since many marriage ceremonies these days occur in a house of worship, I wondered why no clergy were consulted for this piece.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

More Paula White? Trump's inauguration clergy picks create media buzz and bombs

More Paula White? Trump's inauguration clergy picks create media buzz and bombs

After Donald Trump’s transition committee announced the names of six faith leaders to appear at his inauguration three weeks from now, you would think it had announced the coming of the Antichrist, judging from some of the press reactions.

The spite fest that erupted Wednesday afternoon was mainly directed toward the lone female invitee.

Disagree with the Rev. Paula White's theology as you may (many conservative Christians do), but tell me: Is she that evil? 

First, the better stuff. From CNN, we get the list: 

Donald Trump's inaugural committee announced Wednesday six faith leaders who will participate in the swearing-in ceremony of the President-elect.
Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan; Reverend Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Paula White, pastor of New Destiny Christian Center will offer readings and give the invocation.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rev. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, senior pastor of Great Faith Ministries International will also offer readings and give the benediction.

You’ve got a Catholic, Jew and four Protestants, including a Hispanic, a black man, a white man and a white woman.

Making a perfectly valid and essential point, YahooNews noted that Rodriguez disagrees with Trump on a lot of stuff. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Adventures in secular laws and faith: BBC takes shallow dip into Cannes burkini debates

Adventures in secular laws and faith: BBC takes shallow dip into Cannes burkini debates

If you were covering a radical Islamist government's decision to ban Western swimwear on the beaches in its territory (a) who would you interview and (b) would you include any information about the religious/legal beliefs that shaped the decision?

Of course you would focus on the religion angle in the story, probing to see precisely what kind of Islamic vision was at work in this decision. It's not enough to say that Sharia law was at work and leave it at that, because there are many different approaches to Islamic law and its enforcement in the Muslim world.

So what if you turned this equation around, as in the BBC report that ran under this headline: "Cannes bans burkinis over suspected link to radical Islamism." Here is the overture of this online report from the tense land of France:

The mayor of Cannes in southern France has banned full-body swimsuits known as "burkinis" from the beach, citing public order concerns.
David Lisnard said they are a "symbol of Islamic extremism" and might spark scuffles, as France is the target of Islamist attacks. ...
Anyone caught flouting the new rule could face a fine of €38 (£33). They will first be asked to change into another swimming costume or leave the beach.
Nobody has been apprehended for wearing a burkini in Cannes since the edict came into force at the end of July.

Ah, some readers might say, this action was not based on religion. It was the response of a secular government to religious symbols that it has decided are, in effect, threatening. As the BBC story quickly notes, in 2011 French officials banned both full-face Islamic burkas as well as hijabs that cover part of the face.

So the burkini wars are not a matter of religion, but of an anti-religion?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Moderate' rebels once funded by USA behead Syrian boy: Would readers want to know why?

'Moderate' rebels once funded by USA behead Syrian boy: Would readers want to know why?

As I have mentioned many times, your GetReligionistas have never figured out what to do with material published at The Daily Beast.

For the most part, it is a liberal publication that focuses on a pushy, but often interesting, brand of openly slanted, advocacy journalism of the old (and returning) European Model. That's fine and I'll keep reading. However, that is not the kind of hard-news work that we like to focus on here at this blog, unless we are pointing religion-news consumers toward a relevant "think piece."

However, the Beast has also been known to produce features -- especially international news -- that are 99.9 percent basic news. If there is advocacy there, it's because these editors are choosing to cover these stories and others are not. To me, that raises just as many questions about the pros in all of those newsrooms that are ignoring these news events.

Take, for example, the horrible news that the Daily Beast published under this double-decker headline:

U.S.-Backed ‘Moderate’ Rebels Behead a Child Near Aleppo
It’s the kind of stomach-wrenching brutality you’d associate with ISIS. Except this time, it’s American-armed rebels who are cutting off a boy’s head

No, I don't want to click on video URLs that have anything whatsoever to do with this story. I apologize for needing to run the relatively tame screen-grab image that I did, at the top of the post.

However, once again I want to say -- especially since this glimpse into hell has a strong American hook -- that it's amazing that this story is only running at the Beast and in some publications on the other side of the Atlantic, where editors and/or readers seem to have more interest in global news.

Please respect our Commenting Policy