Associate Press

Podcast thinking: Do Pokemon Go protesters have a right to crash worship services?

Podcast thinking: Do Pokemon Go protesters have a right to crash worship services?

The other day, during my first GetReligion meditation on a nasty protester who invaded a symbolic Russian church while playing Pokemon Go, I asked readers to ponder a hypothetical case under what could be considered parallel circumstances.

I asked what German authorities would do if alt-right Holocaust deniers invaded Berlin's Ryke Street synagogue during worship, approached the Bimah, did some kind of mocking behavior and later posted a nasty, anti-Semitic video that offered an F-bomb version of a Jewish prayer.

Then I argued that, in a news account about this event, journalists would need to let readers know the details of what happened in that sanctuary. Did the protester interact with a rabbi? What service was taking place? What was being said in the prayers? Was the protester asked to leave? 

In other words, I was requesting basic, factual questions so readers could picture the scene. These were the same questions I thought journalists should have asked about that Pokemon Go video that a protester filmed during a prayer service at the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow. This sanctuary was built on the site where Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.

At the end of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I thought of another "sacred" setting that might be relevant for U.S. journalists.

Instead of worship services, let's talk about Broadway. What if some Donald Trump supporters invaded a performance of "Hamilton," approached the stage, ignored requests to leave, and later posted a racist video about this act of symbolic speech? Would authorities have taken any kind of action?

To answer that question, wouldn't you need to know some of the actual details of what happened?

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Pope and imam dial back talks about Christian concerns, with assist from some journalists

Pope and imam dial back talks about Christian concerns, with assist from some journalists

The leader of a billion-plus Catholics met with a leader of a billion-plus Muslims, and media gave it appropriately thorough coverage.

Except for one matter: persecution of Christians in Muslim lands.

Pope Francis himself was oddly timid on the point. But that doesn't mean mainstream media had to downplay it also -- especially when they cover plenty of such incidents.

Typical was the Associated Press report:

Pope Francis on Monday embraced the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the prestigious Sunni Muslim center of learning, reopening an important channel for Catholic-Muslim dialogue after a five-year lull and at a time of increased Islamic extremist attacks on Christians.
As Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib arrived for his audience in the Apostolic Palace, Francis said that the fact that they were meeting at all was significant.
"The meeting is the message," Francis told the imam.

Following this press release-style lede, though, AP says the two leaders discussed "the plight of Christians 'in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Mideast and their protection,' the statement said." It adds that Al-Azhar broke off talks alks with the Vatican a decade ago, after Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor saying that some Muhammad's teachings were "evil and inhuman."

The article also retells some bloody specifics:

Benedict had demanded greater protection for Christians in Egypt after a New Year's bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria killed 21 people. Since then, Islamic attacks on Christians in the region have only increased, but the Vatican and Al-Azhar nevertheless sought to rekindle ties, with a Vatican delegation visiting Cairo in February and extending the invitation for el-Tayyib to visit.

But if any Mideastern Christian leaders had opinions on the meeting -- and it's hard to imagine they wouldn't -- AP wasn't interested.

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Georgia religious liberty follow-up: News media pros finally quote religious people

Georgia religious liberty follow-up: News media pros finally quote religious people

Georgia has religious people! The Atlanta Journal-Constitution finally remembered!

But don’t pop the bubbly just yet. The newspaper saw the light mainly after the much-contested religious rights bill was vetoed on Monday. And even then, religious and social conservatives got precious little space in an article supposedly focusing on them.

AJC's story is one of several follow-ups in mainstream media, on the next moves by advocates of the law and similar ones in other states. We'll see how it stacks up against the others.

Here is how Georgia's largest newspaper covered a press conference by several of the groups:

A coalition of conservative and religious groups in Georgia on Tuesday blasted Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of a "religious liberty" bill this week, saying he had turned his back on the state’s faith community.
"What this says to me is Gov. Deal is out of touch with the people of this state," said Tanya Ditty, state director of Concerned Women for America, who was joined with leaders of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and a half dozen other organizations at a Capitol news conference.
Lawmakers, Ditty said, "are not elected to represent Hollywood values or Wall Street values. The voters are tired of political correctness."

Sounds decent until you notice a few things. First are those well-worn sarcasm quotes around "religious liberty," a signal that you're supposed to doubt its legitimacy. Second, the entire story takes less than 300 words. The stories on protests by business and sports executives were several times that long.

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As clock ticks toward midnight, it's generic terror in Paris; this morning it's all ISIS

As clock ticks toward midnight, it's generic terror in Paris; this morning it's all ISIS

What a difference a night makes.

In America, news consumers -- as the clock ticked past midnight on the East Coast -- read story after story about generic terrorist attacks on Paris. Almost all references to eyewitnesses accounts of the words of the terrorists, or those of the social-media armies that celebrated their acts, were missing or were buried.

Coverage was radically different in British and European papers, in which terrorists shouts of "Allahu Akbar (God is great)" and references to Syria -- reported immediately by survivors and witnesses -- went straight to the tops of stories in a wide variety of media.

As I see it, there are two ways to look at the journalism questions here.

First, it is certainly good to be cautious in accepting claims of responsibility in the wake of hellish acts of these kinds and the reporting this morning is making it clear that early ISIS messages about Paris were hard to verify. However, is it now editorial policy, in America newsrooms, to downplay or ignore information from eyewitnesses at these events?

Second, some journalists would say that the goal (a worthy one) in early news coverage is to avoid pouring insult and injury on non-radicalized Muslims, believers in a global faith who utterly reject the actions of the Islamic State. However, there is another way to interpret the results of this policy -- which is that news consumers no longer need to be told when there is early evidence that terrorists claim they are acting in the name of Islam.

The bottom line: Is the assumption that American news consumers can automatically assume they are reading about terror linked to radicalized Islam and, thus, do not need to be given relevant information available in news media elsewhere in the world? What is the journalism logic for this?

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