birth control

Plan for this must-cover Godbeat item in 2018: The 50th anniversary of 'Humanae Vitae'

Plan for this must-cover Godbeat item in 2018: The 50th anniversary of 'Humanae Vitae'

Rightly or wrongly, most papal encyclicals land in newsrooms with a thud.

But there were no yawns in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued his birth-control edict “Humanae Vitae,” which provoked a global uproar inside and outside his church.

Retrospectives will be a must item on reporters’ calendars around July 25, the 50th anniversary of this landmark. News angles include a monthly series at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University to rethink the doctrine, which started in October and runs through May 24. The listing (in Italian) is here (.pdf).

Paul declared that Catholicism, “by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” The Pope believed this fusion of the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects in marital acts is mandated by “natural law” as defined by predecessor Popes Pius XI (1930 encyclical “Casti Connubii”), and Pius XII (1951 “Address to Midwives”). Paul concluded the recent development of  “The Pill” changed nothing.

Though the pope said priests were bound to support this teaching, many joined lay Catholics and Protestants in opposing the church’s “each and every” requirement. Pope John Paul II later supported predecessor Paul, and recently so did Pope Francis, though with a twist

Key themes for reporters to assess:

First: Many analysts argue that the wide-ranging dissent on the birth-control pronouncement has weakened the church’s over-all moral authority.

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CNN visits eastern Kentucky women, but ignores how majority feels about abortion, etc.

CNN visits eastern Kentucky women, but ignores how majority feels about abortion, etc.

Not long ago, when I was doing research in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee for my new book on young Pentecostal serpent handlers, some of us -- by which I mean people involved in local churches and local life -- grew to despise what I call journalistic carpetbaggers.

Those are the folks from the big city who show up in Fly-Over Land to get at the real truth about those denizens of America’s hinterlands they believe no other journalist has uncovered. They wouldn’t dream of leaving their enclaves inside the Beltway or –- in this case the Outer Perimeter of Atlanta -- to actually live among the unwashed, but they do like jetting in every so often to report on the Truth That Is Out There Among The Simple People.

You can probably guess where I’m going with CNN’s latest: “Forget Abortion: What women in Appalachian Kentucky really want.”

I’ll tell you up front what that is: They want birth control and lots of it. Oh, and there's no need to talk to Kentucky women who oppose abortion. They don't exist.

The story begins here:

Pikeville, Kentucky (CNN) Perhaps it was the abstinence pledge she felt forced to sign or the promise ring she was told to slip on her finger. But from the moment Cheryl became sexually active, she felt dirty.
Then, three boys raped her, reducing her self-image to mud.
She didn't dare tell anyone or seek help. Growing up in rural eastern Kentucky, she'd been raised by drug addicts who'd lost the family home and lived in a place, she says, where there was "nothing left to do but do each other."

I’ll agree that rural eastern Kentucky (I also biked through the area -– places like Elkhorn City, Pippa Passes and Hazard -- many years ago during a trip from Washington DC to Lexington, Ky.), is often closer to being Meth Alley rather than a garden spot. That region of the country appears atop all the bad lists: joblessness, poverty, absenteeism, life expectancy and female smoking during pregnancy.

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When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

This should be an obvious fact, but to some, it may be shocking: When a given political candidate wins election as President of the United States, they and their team gain the right to appoint bureaucrats of their choosing at federal agencies. Many must be confirmed by the Senate and some may be denied confirmation or withdraw their nominations. Generally, however, the new sheriff gets to name their principal deputies. It's one of the job's perks, alongside a private helicopter and jumbo jet.

Granted, my explanation is on a par with that now oft-mocked Sesame Street cartoon about how a bill becomes a law. But it appears to have been forgotten in the four and one-half months since a real estate mogul born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

There's been plenty of ink -- and misapprehensions -- about some of President Donald J. Trump's appointees, but there are also attempts at more insightful coverage, as GetReligion alumna Mollie Hemingway tweeted on Wednesday:

Great piece by @emmaogreen: The devout, conservative head of civil rights at HHS could reshape American health care

Herewith The Atlantic's take on the new head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services:

The offices inside the Department of Health and Human Services are aggressively tan. Roger Severino, the newly appointed head of its Office for Civil Rights, hasn’t done much by way of decoration. Aside from a few plaques and leftover exhibits from old cases, his Clarence Thomas bobblehead doll and crucifix are the only personal touches in his work space.

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Can journalists at Marie Claire report objectively on evangelicals and sex? Definitely not

Can journalists at Marie Claire report objectively on evangelicals and sex? Definitely not

Marie Claire is the Huffington Post of the women’s magazine set. All opinion, no balance.

What is it about this publication that makes them think that they have an in when it comes to what evangelical Protestant women think? I’ve criticized them before when they did a piece about evangelical females who were secretly gunning for Hillary.

I’m not denying those women existed but the piece was wishful thinking considering that Trump got 81 percent of the evangelical vote. So now Marie Claire has come out with another supposedly tell-all piece; this one about evangelical women who patronize Planned Parenthood.

One thing that shows the magazine's cluelessness right away is the illustration that goes with the piece. It shows an Eve-like figure surrounded by a rosary and reaching for a birth control pill.

Note to Marie Claire editors: Catholics, not evangelical Protestants, pray the rosary. 

Elizabeth* is a 29-year-old stay-at-home mother of four. From a young age, her conservative evangelical parents and pastors impressed upon her the values of the religious right: that a woman's virginity is a gift to her husband, that sex outside of marriage is a sin, that abortion is murder.
Planned Parenthood was the enemy. "My dad instilled in me that we were against that group," Elizabeth says. "He was the kind of guy that would honk in support when people were outside protesting."

The story talks about how she got married, then divorced, then had an ovarian cyst at which point she sought out Planned Parenthood for treatment because it cost the least amount of money. Then:

Voices from the religious right have long been some of the loudest and most vitriolic critics of Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides reproductive health services to an estimated 2.5 million women and men in the United States each year. They've called Planned Parenthood a baby-killing factory and a bastion of evil. Evangelical Christians are the most visible aggressor in the fight to overturn Roe v Wade. And this is a social group with hefty political sway: 25 percent of Americans identify as evangelical according to the Pew Research Center, and 82 percent of those evangelicals identify as politically conservative or moderate.

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Thinking about all those Pope Francis quotes: John L. Allen Jr. offers three calm guidelines

Thinking about all those Pope Francis quotes: John L. Allen Jr. offers three calm guidelines

The questions have become so familiar, by now.

What did Pope Francis say this time?

What did the mainstream press say that Pope Francis said this time?

The wise news consumer, of course, asks one more question: Does the Vatican or some other form of Catholic media have a transcript posted online that shows us what Pope Francis actually said this time and perhaps even enough context to know what the words that he said may have meant?

The classic case of this syndrome, of course, is the infamous "Who am I to judge?" quote that launched a million headlines. Have you ever actually read a transcript on that one? Please do so, because it's enlightening.

Now we have the pope's statements expressing a surprising degree of openness to seeing married men ordained as priests (other than in the Eastern rite and in cases of Anglicans and Lutherans moving into Catholic ministry). That story has actually received some pretty decent coverage, in my opinion. If you've seen stories that botched it, please let your GetReligionistas hear about it.

Meanwhile, it's clear that wise news consumers need some guidelines on how to read coverage of off-the-cuff, spontaneous remarks by Pope Francis. The person I would turn to, of course, is the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr. of Crux (who I actually got to meet the other night, after years of online and telephone contacts).

Allen has written a Crux think piece that will do the trick, with this headline: "Rules of thumb for processing the latest papal bombshell." He notes, with a nod to realities deeper than newsprint:

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Birth control and the Bible belt: The Atlantic says they're mutually exclusive

Birth control and the Bible belt: The Atlantic says they're mutually exclusive

You’ve got to hand this to The Atlantic; at least they are trying to do interesting religion stories, which is a lot more than I can say about certain other national magazines. And every so often, I think: They get it, as there’s a story that shows unusual insight.

More often than not, though, there’s a lot of insight all right, but it only involves one side of the issue. Such is their June 14 offering: “Can the IUD Revolution Come to the Bible Belt?” Being that copper IUDs were invented in the 1960s, this headline is telling us that the Bible Belt is a good half century behind the times.

There’s very little religion mentioned in the story. But, the main photo for the piece shows two hands holding an open book.

On one page is a T-shaped IUD. On the other is a similarly shaped wooden cross. That's subtle. Reading further:

AMARILLO, Texas -- In the dimly lit, one-room portable building, Abril Vazquez held up a beige, bulbous model of a human tricep. The high-schoolers had pushed their desks into a circle. Vazquez invited them to pass it around. When they pressed down into the fake flesh, they could feel the rigid shape of a rod about the size of a toothpick.
“What does that do again?” a boy asked. The kids ranged in age from 14 to 16, and some seemed like their minds were in the process of being blown.
“It's birth control,” said Vazquez, who works at a reproductive clinic in town. “It releases hormones into her body in small doses and in even amounts.”
“How does it get in there, Miss?” another boy said.

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Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Obamacare case: RNS reports both sides, though little on those in between

Yaayyy! Someone remembered that there are two sides (at least) to a controversy!

And it's not Normal, Moderate Americans vs. Those Nuts on the Right!

The Religion News Service does the right thing in a newsfeature about "two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith," who were found in counter-demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is that long-smoldering battle over Obamacare: whether it can require religious groups to provide contraceptives that they believe will cause abortions and kill embryonic humans. The Little Sisters of the Poor, along with six other plaintiffs, have taken the feds to court over the matter. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by summer or earlier.

For such a story, many mainstream media would have tried a blend of what tmatt calls the Frame Game and the Two Armies approach. On the liberal side, they'd single out a young, stylish, articulate woman. Her conservative opposition would likely be a middle-aged, overweight male who used bad grammar.

Instead of such cheap devices, the RNS article chooses two young female college students -- both of them even named Katie -- each spelling out sincere beliefs. It shows respect for both, allowing us readers to make up our own minds.

Here is how we are introduced to Katie Stone and Katie Breslin:

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Pope Francis in Kenya: AP gets some details, but misses the 'big idea,' in his message

Pope Francis in Kenya: AP gets some details, but misses the 'big idea,' in his message

Pope Francis has been on the road, again, which means that it's time for more stories about the political implications of his sermons and off-the-cuff remarks to the flocks of people who gather to pray and worship with him.

This is business as usual, of course. Want to play along and see how this works in a typical Associated Press report?

OK, first we'll look at the many excellent details from one of the Kenya talks that made it into the AP report, which ran in The Washington Post with this headline: "Pope calls slum conditions in Nairobi an injustice."

As you read several chunks of the story, ask yourself this big-idea question: What does this pope believe is the ultimate cause of this injustice?

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Visiting one of Nairobi’s many shantytowns on Friday, Pope Francis denounced conditions slum-dwellers are forced to live in, saying access to safe water is a basic human right and that everyone should have dignified, adequate housing. ...
In remarks to the crowd, Francis insisted that everyone should have access to water, a basic sewage system, garbage collection, electricity as well as schools, hospitals and sport facilities.
“To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need,” he said.

Now, I think it is fair to ask: Is safe water the "big idea" in this talk, or is the pope saying that safe water is a symptom of larger problems? Hold that thought, as we head back to the AP text:

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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