We are, of course, talking about the difference between laws affecting religious liberty, as in decades of court cases centering on the First Amendment's protection of the free exercise of religious convictions, and "religious liberty" laws that clash with evolving cultural standards on sexual liberty. Scuare quotes equal "so-called" or "allegedly."
You can also have scare quotes on the cultural right, such as conservative websites framing "marriage" in quotation marks in the term same-sex marriage.
Or how about "natural" family planning? Anyone for "physician-assisted suicide"? How about a female Catholic "priest"? Not that long ago you even had editors refusing to print the words "partial-birth abortion" -- even when they were in the name of a bill being debated in Congress.
So here is the latest example that punched buttons for several readers, after the case heated up on Twitter. This is a story straight out of the heart of the religious and cultural tensions in Germany, since we are dealing with an attack by a Syrian refugee on a woman from Poland. Fill in the blanks, since ISIS has been silent (for once).
Here is the headline in question, atop a story published by The Telegraph:
Germany machete attack: Syrian asylum seeker murders 'pregnant' woman in Reutlingen
OK, if you read the story you can see that the quote marks here may be linked to a completely different trend in the news business, these days. I am referring to the rise in newsrooms piecing together "news reports" (yes, with scare quotes) built on quotations from other publications, rather then the reporting of their own journalists.
Look at the top of the piece in question:
A Syrian man has attacked and killed a woman he was reportedly in love with, hitting her with a meat cleaver in the southern German town of Reutlingen.
Another woman and a man were also injured in the attack. Local authorities have identified the man as a 21-year-old asylum-seeker from Syria who was known to the police and had previously been charged with causing bodily harm.
He attacked the woman with a meat cleaver taken from the kebab shop where they both worked shortly after 4:30 pm on Sunday. The German newspaper Bild reports the woman was pregnant.
In this case, you could argue that the headline was trying to hint that the word "pregnant" was being quoted from another source, as opposed to expressing some kind of doubt about the meaning of the word pregnant, itself. Then again, killing a pregnant woman would imply that the attack claimed two lives, rather than one.
Now, contrast that headline and lede with the top of a Daily Mail story about the same attack. Might the fact that this is a very conservative newspaper have shaped this content a bit?
A Syrian refugee wielding a machete has killed a pregnant woman and injured a man and another woman in Germany before being arrested by police after he was run over by a man driving a BMW.
The attack happened in the south western city of Reutlingen near a doner kebab stand in a bus station at Listplatz Square in what has been described as a 'crime of passion'. German media have been reporting that the motive for the attack in the city south of Stuttgart was unclear but the attacker and the 45-year-old Polish victim both worked at the same snack bar.
I looked for coverage that offered information about the woman and her unborn child, in terms of direct attributions to police reports, hospital officials, etc. I didn't find any.
In several cases, reporters simply stated this information as fact, which I would assume mean that it surfaced as part of medical reports about the attempts to save the woman's life. The most straight-forward language (which for me, is usually the best) can be seen in this story from Reuters:
A 21-year-old Syrian refugee was arrested on Sunday after killing a pregnant woman with a machete in Germany, the fourth violent assault on civilians in western Europe in 10 days, though police said it did not appear linked to terrorism.
The incident, however, may add to public unease surrounding Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy that has seen over a million migrants enter Germany over the past year, many fleeing war in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
So what am I missing here? Does anyone out there in reader-land have any theories -- JOURNALISM theories, please -- for what happened in this case?