Twisting Ramadan: Some big newsrooms failed to note timing of attack on Copts in Egypt (updated)

Twisting Ramadan: Some big newsrooms failed to note timing of attack on Copts in Egypt (updated)

What can we say? How long must we sing this song?

Once again there has been another attack in Egypt that has left scores of Coptic Christians dead and wounded. Currently, the death toll is at 26 or 28, depending on the source of the information.

Once again there are the same basic themes to cover. The ancient Copts -- the vast majority are part of Coptic Orthodoxy -- make up about 10 percent of the population of Egypt. They are the largest body of Christian believers left in the Middle East, part of a religious tradition that emerged in the time of the first disciples of Jesus.

Once again, Egyptian officials have renewed their vows to help protect the Copts. Once again, reporters tried to find a way to list all of the recent terrorist attacks on the Copts -- a list so long that it threatens to dominate basic news reports.

So what now? Why now? Here is the top of the Reuters report -- circulated by Religion News Service, as well -- which caught my attention because of its early focus on what may, tragically, be a crucial fact.

In this case, the "when" and the "why" factors in that old journalism formula -- "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" -- may be one in the same. Read carefully.

CAIRO (Reuters) -- Gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt on Friday, killing 28 people and wounding 25 others, and many children were among the victims, Health Ministry officials said.
Eyewitnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were traveling in a bus and other vehicles. Local television channels showed a bus apparently raked by gunfire and smeared with blood. Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan. It followed a series of church bombings claimed by Islamic State.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Barring any evidence to the contrary, let's assume that Yahoo! 'News' is meant to be commentary

Barring any evidence to the contrary, let's assume that Yahoo! 'News' is meant to be commentary

It's time for another edition of "What is this?"

This is where we at GetReligion attempt to determine whether a particular piece of journalism -- or in some cases, a media organization in general -- is news or commentary or something in between.

The traditional American style of journalism -- the model that this website unabashedly promotes -- relies on impartial, accurate reporting with named sources cited. On controversial topics, it's really nice to see some balance in terms of the quoted sources.

But much U.S. journalism has given way to a European brand of advocacy, frequently making it difficult to distinguish between what is meant as "Just the facts, ma'am" and what is purposely told with a (biased) attitude. Lean forward!

Today's example comes to us courtesy of a reader, who questions whether a piece on evangelical voters from Yahoo! News and attributed to the website's "senior political correspondent" really falls under the category of news.

The reader notes that the story is "full of snark and opinion, but not labeled as opinion or even analysis."

The lede:

To Americans who stand outside the evangelical tradition, Franklin Graham’s recent proclamation that there’s “no question” that God supports Donald Trump’s presidency was another head-scratcher in a growing list of puzzling statements by Christian leaders over the past year.
Even without getting into the question of whether God chooses sides in elections, or how Graham can be so sure of his preference, there is the obvious fact, much discussed in the campaign, that the generally non-churchgoing, avidly materialistic Trump seemed an unlikely vessel for God’s will.
But Graham’s remark and white evangelicals’ continuing support of Trump make more sense when viewed in light of American evangelicalism’s history and DNA. It is a subject explored in depth in “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” a new history of the movement by Pulitzer Prize-winner Frances FitzGerald.
“He did everything wrong, politically,” Graham told the Atlantic’s Emma Green. “He offended gays. He offended women. He offended the military. He offended black people. He offended the Hispanic people. He offended everybody! And he became president of the United States. Only God could do that.”
Graham’s mentality reflects the evangelical obsession with dramatic solutions and easy answers that Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California, described in his 2014 book, “Ordinary.”
“American Christianity is a story of perpetual upheavals in churches and individual lives. Starting with the extraordinary conversion experience, our lives are motivated by a constant expectation for The Next Big Thing,” Horton wrote.

Um, OK. Where to start?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Former Catholic priest does euthanasia (in numbing detail) recorded by the New York Times

Former Catholic priest does euthanasia (in numbing detail) recorded by the New York Times

It’s beginning to feel like fill-in-the-blanks journalism: A terminally ill person wishes to die on his own terms and so we are walked through his last hours in a happy celebration of the joys of euthanasia.

Some of us have mixed feelings about assisted suicide, especially if you’ve spent any time in a ward of very elderly people, many of whom have no idea of where they are. And, were they cognizant, they might vote themselves off the Earth pretty quickly.

Yes, this is personal. After spending some time at the bedside of my dying father a year ago and seeing how miserable so many of the elderly and sick truly are, I can understand wanting to end it. But there is always that slippery slope when it comes to science, law and doctrine.

Here we have a lyrical New York Times piece about a former Catholic priest arranging his own death. We start here: 

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- Two days before he was scheduled to die, John Shields roused in his hospice bed with an unusual idea. He wanted to organize an Irish wake for himself. It would be old-fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail -- he would be present.
The party should take up a big section of Swiss Chalet, a family-style chain restaurant on the road out of town. Mr. Shields wanted his last supper to be one he so often enjoyed on Friday nights when he was a young Catholic priest -- rotisserie chicken legs with gravy.
Then, his family would take him home and he would die there in the morning, preferably in the garden. It was his favorite spot, rocky and wild. Flowering native shrubs pressed in from all sides and a stone Buddha and birdbath peeked out from among the ferns and boulders. Before he got sick, Mr. Shields liked to sit in his old Adirondack chair and watch the bald eagles train their juveniles to soar overhead. He meditated there twice a day, among the towering Douglas firs.

Wait a minute: Chicken legs (not fish) on Fridays when he was a YOUNG priest? Maybe this is a sign of Catholic tensions to come.

Not surprisingly, the locale is in the Pacific Northwest in a part of Canada that the article  calls “ground zero for assisted suicide in the country.” 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Key voices still missing from stories on pregnant teen banned from Christian school's graduation

Key voices still missing from stories on pregnant teen banned from Christian school's graduation

Maddi Runkles, the Maryland teen who got pregnant and was banned from her Christian high school's graduation ceremony, keeps making national headlines.

My GetReligion colleague Julia Duin earlier critiqued the New York Times' original story on this controversy and noted that key voices were missing:

What about the reaction of other families who are sending their kids to this school? Do they side with Runkles or are they glad she’s being made to pay for her mistake?

After reading additional reports on Runkles' plight — via major media outlets such as the Washington Post and Religion News Service — I must say that I am even more interested in the answers to the questions Duin raised.

The Post story notes:

A small Christian school in western Maryland is not backing down from its decision to ban a pregnant senior from walking at graduation next week.
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. ... The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”
Runkles, 18, is a 4.0 student who has attended the school since 2009. She found out she was pregnant in January and informed the school, where her father was then a board member, in February. Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.
After the family appealed, Heritage said it would allow Runkles to finish the school year with her 14 classmates but she would not be able to walk with the other seniors to receive her diploma at graduation. The family believes that the decision is unfair and that she is being punished more harshly than others who have broken the rules.

Later in the story, the newspaper includes these alarming claims:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

Can they dig it? Big-time journalists balk at multiple views of Grand Canyon's origins

There's no argument, is there? The Grand Canyon, like the rest of our planet, is multiple millions, if not billions of years old.

We're all agreed on that, right?

Well, not every last one of us. Take Andrew Snelling, Ph.D., for one. He's an Australian with a doctorate in geology from the University of Sydney. Snelling works with Answers in Genesis, the Kentucky-based organization that promotes "young Earth creationism."

That's the belief that not only "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1, New International Version), but also that said creation took place recently -- only thousands of years ago. That's thousands and not billions or millions.

Snelling is trying to prove his theory by doing -- get this -- on-site scientific research. He wants to collect sedementary rock samples from the Grand Canyon, for which one needs permission from the National Park Service.

Let's go to the news, courtesy of (among others) The Atlantic magazine's website, which served up the evenhanded headline "A Creationist Sues the Grand Canyon for Religious Discrimination." Read on:

Snelling is a prominent young-Earth creationist. For years, he has given lectures, guided biblical-themed Grand Canyon rafting tours, and worked for the nonprofit Answers in Genesis. (The CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, is also behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park.) Young-Earth creationism, in contrast to other forms of creationism, specifically holds that the Earth is only thousands of years old. Snelling believes that the Grand Canyon formed after Noah’s flood -- and he now claims the U.S. government is blocking his research in the canyon because of his religious views.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

What we have here is a strange story about a missing news story.

To say that the press has dedicated a large amount of ink to Citizen Donald Trump over the past two years would be the understatement of the century.

Under normal circumstances, when a man runs for president, the press also does quite a bit of digging into the life and times of the woman who would become the First Lady. This digging only intensifies after the election.

You can say that the quiet supermodel named Melania Trump received her share of press attention, but most of it merely raised some rather nasty questions about her past (she won damages from the Daily Mail after one set of accusations). As always, her fashion choices as First Lady have been treated as international news. That's normal.

But it appears that journalists missed a rather interesting personal fashion choice long ago on her wedding day -- she was wearing her mother's rosary. The Palm Beach Post team noticed that rosary at the time (photo and story here), but no one investigated that detail.

She brought that same rosary, it appears, with her when she met Pope Francis -- even though pool reporters (see this USA Today story) apparently thought that the pope gave it to her. Actually, it appears that the First Lady asked Francis to bless the rosary, which he did -- with a broad smile.

Later, it appears that -- ironically -- someone at The Daily Mail asked a rather obvious question: Is Melania Trump a Roman Catholic? 

As it turns out, she is. One would have thought that hidden fact about her life -- her family maintained a Communist/atheist public image in Slovenia -- would have been uncovered by now.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

Why quote Haaretz big time when the left-leaning Israeli newspaper reflects a small minority's views?

In the mid-1970s, I spent a brief period working for an English-language magazine in Lima, Peru. The Peruvian Times was,  at that time, a schizophrenic blend of business news and first-person adventure travel yarns. Guess which part subsidized the other.

The magazine's office -- just blocks from Lima's nearly 500-year-old central square -- was a hangout for English-speaking journalists passing through or stationed in the Peruvian capital. Many looked to the Times'  expat staff for story ideas, context and sources.

The Times was an example of a foreign reporting truism -- which is the reliance correspondents have on local journalists for ideas and contacts. This is particularly true for those new to a nation and those who cannot fully function in the local language.

In Israel, one preferred local journalism hub has long been Haaretz, which has been called that nation's equivalent of The New York Times.

Its a false comparison because Haaretz ("The Land" in Hebrew) has limited circulation, is unabashedly and consistently left wing in its news columns as well as its editorial positions, is hostile toward religious orthodoxy -- no small thing in a nation where religion plays an enormous role in public life -- and has no where near the domestic influence or corporate wealth of the Times.

What it does have is influence in international liberal circles, which I'd say includes the majority of the Western correspondents working in Israel.

Haaretz strongly opposes the right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular its policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank. On this issue, its editorials and columnists are often quoted by those in the international media who trend liberal-left.

As such, Haaretz wields more influence internationally than it does within its home nation, giving it outsized importance in the international debate over Israel -- which is why Haaretz should be a subject of interest to American consumers of Middle East news.

Let me be clear. My intent here is not to attack Haaretz or its views, some of which I agree with (Israel's ongoing settlements policy, in particular). Rather it is to underscore the influence local media, even one with limited appeal at home, can have in shaping the international media agenda when its views are in line with the prevailing foreign media mindset.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

The Donald meets Pope Francis: What did your news sources tell you about common ground?

Several weeks after the stunning election of Donald Trump, I was in New York City (I teach at The King's College two-plus months a year) and attended an event that drew a large flock of urbane Catholics.

There was, of course, lots of talk about the election. But many people were already thinking about the inevitable moment when Pope Francis would meet President Donald Trump.

Several people said something like this: Everybody already knows about their disagreements. It will be interesting to learn what they agree on.

With that in mind, let's turn to several examples of the press coverage of their Vatican meeting. From a journalism point of view, the key is that their actual talk was behind closed doors -- with only an interpreter present. So other than comments on facial expressions, fashion and symbolic gifts, what is the key material here for journalists?

There was, of course, a Vatican statement released afterwards, which can be seen as a short, dry summary of what official voices want outsiders to know was on the agenda.

So how much attention did that statement receive in the Associated Press report that will be buried somewhere inside most newspapers (since there were no public fireworks)? This is all that readers got, down in the story text:

When Trump departed, he told the pope: "Thank you, I won't forget what you said." ...
Hours later, Trump tweeted the meeting was the "honor of a lifetime." A statement released by the Vatican later said "satisfaction was expressed" at their "joint commitment in favor of life" and that there was hoped-for collaboration on health care and assistance to immigrants and protection of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Needless to say, the AP team played quite a bit of attention to the two men's past disagreements. That's valid. But why not focus similar attention on the joint statement?

I would ask the same question about the main New York Times report.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

Pregnant while teen-age and Christian: An obvious clickbait story raises lots of questions

By now there is a good chance that many of you have read the story of the pregnant teen who got shamed by her conservative Christian school in rural Maryland and how even fellow Christians are lambasting said school for its nasty behavior.

Heritage Academy is a place that lots of people like to hate: Merciless and judgmental when it came to one of their own students getting pregnant in her senior year, not to mention the school’s decision to use her as an example.

Yet, were all the leads followed on this story? Here’s how the New York Times handled it:

BOONSBORO, Md. -- Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.
She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.
The reason? She is pregnant.
The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation — and to remove her from her student council position — would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.

That is interesting. The family knew how the court of public opinion would rule on this, so took the plunge.

Ms. Runkles’s story sheds light on a delicate issue: how Christian schools, which advocate abstinence until marriage, treat pregnant teenagers.

Please respect our Commenting Policy