For decades, the Associated Press played a crucial role in the typical news cycle that followed a big event -- from Supreme Court decisions to tornadoes, from big elections (whether presidents or popes) to plane crashes.
Back in the 1970s, when I broke into journalism, you would hear the chimes on the newsroom AP wire machine signalling that something "big" just happened. I'll never forget hearing the four bells marking the first clear sign that President Richard Nixon would resign.
The key: The AP usually wrote the first story on big news, or quickly picked up coverage from local outlets to take a story to the national or international level.
It helps, of course, when people agree on whether an event is news or not.
I put the question this way in my first post on the U.S. Senate appeals-court nomination hearings for Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven, who was told that the "dogma lives loudly within you" by Sen. Dianne Feinstein:
... The main question is an old one that your GetReligionistas have asked many times: Can you imagine the mainstream press ignoring this story if the theological and political doctrines in were reversed? Can you imagine liberal senators asking the same questions to a Muslim nominee?
Several readers sent emails taking that idea a step further: Try to imagine the press coverage if conservative senators asked if a nominee was too Muslim, or too Jewish, to serve on a major U.S. court.
Yes, I think the AP would have written a first-day news story in those cases, reports with the basic facts and reactions from voices on both sides. At that point, the AP story would trigger the normal "news cycle" in other newsrooms, in radio, television and print outlets.
Thus, it's crucial whether AP people think an event is news or not.
We finally have an AP story about last week's "loud dogma" hearing. Please read the overture carefully, since this is a follow-up story about an event that didn't deserve an initial report:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Roman Catholic leaders are objecting to Democratic senators’ line of questioning for one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, arguing the focus on her faith is misplaced and runs counter to the Constitution’s prohibition on religious tests for political office.
The outcry stems from the questioning last week of Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor tapped to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Democrats focused on whether her personal views would override her legal judgment, especially with respect to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Barrett that dogma and law are two different things and she was concerned “that the dogma lives loudly within you.”
The key is that the hearing itself was not news. The news is that Catholic leaders in newsworthy places have raised questions about that whole "religious test" thing. Once again: This is a reaction story to a news story that previously didn't exist. This is not a story about facts describing the actions of the senators in the hearing. This is a story about what Catholic leaders said about those actions.
Thus, this short story notes:
The uproar underscored the volatile mix of religion, politics and the law, with Democrats worried Trump judicial nominees, once seated on the courts, will reverse abortion rights.
Democrats changed the Senate rules in 2013 to a simple majority to ensure confirmation of the president’s nominees, which now leaves Democrats with little recourse to stop Trump’s picks. Beyond the Senate political fight, the dispute carries echoes of the 1960 campaign when some voters feared that Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy would take orders from the pope if elected president.
What about the article that Barrett co-authored while in law school, the one in which she specifically addressed these kinds of concerns? She stressed that judges should heed existing laws and, if there was a striking clash with their personal convictions, they should recuse themselves.
AP turned to Barrett's critics -- the think tank leading the opposition to her nomination -- for the authoritative interpretation of that statement.
The Alliance for Justice counters that federal judges don’t get to pick and choose which cases they will hear or which issues they address. Laurie Kinney, a spokeswoman for the group, said that a judge recusing themselves from a case because of their conscience is “the definition of putting faith ahead of the law, in our view.”
So that's that.
Note that AP avoided all of the factual material included in an earlier piece in The Atlantic, along with passages allowing critics and supporters debate the implications of that 1998 law-school essay, which Barrett wrote with professor John Garvey, the current president of the Catholic University of America.
Journalists: It may help to read Garvey's piece in The Washington Examiner, in which he notes that the essay in question argues precisely the opposite position than the one described by Barrett's critics. This piece featured a striking lede:
I never thought I'd see the day when a coalition of left-wing groups attacked a Republican judicial nominee for opposing the death penalty.
In terms of discussions of this particular news cycle, I also recommend this piece at Crux -- "Fears of anti-Catholic bias rise on both left and right." Here is the top:
NEW YORK -- Of late, California Senator Diane Feinstein has come under fire for questioning judicial nominee Amy Barrett’s commitment to her Catholic faith during a senate confirmation hearing last week.
“I think in your case, professor … the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” declared Feinstein.
That same week, another story prompted Catholic furor when former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said he thought the U.S. bishops had been “terrible” in their support of DACA and, “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”
These two cases -- which happened in the span of one, shared 24-hour news cycle -- have prompted some to wonder if anti-Catholic bias on both the political left and the right in America is on the rise.
Very interesting and worth thinking about. However, let me note: Which of these two events received "big story" early attention in the mainstream press (click here) and which one (click here) did not? In that second Google News search, look for hard-news stories about the "loud dogma" event, as opposed to opinion pieces written after the fact.
So what do you see, readers? Any news-cycle patterns worth mentioning in our comments pages?