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A question for Rex Tillerson: Did God really tell him to be secretary of state?

A question for Rex Tillerson: Did God really tell him to be secretary of state?

America’s new secretary of state is a man who admits he didn’t want the job; that he’d planned on retiring this month but that God –- speaking through his wife –- told him to do it.

Knowing that, wouldn’t you want to know a bit more details about how the Almighty delivered that set of instructions?

But then the reporter walks away after delivering that piece of news. The profile on Rex Tillerson appeared in the Independent Journal Review, which identifies itself as a “news platform” majoring on breaking news and politics that delivers its content while being “objective, fair and entertaining” (their words).

Not quite what I picked up in journalism school, but their chatty profile on Tillerson fits their stated goal of “fair reporting delivered in an entertaining fashion.”

Am curious what their read is on traditional news media: That they report but don’t entertain? Somehow, IJR has found a way to entertain folks through news reporting and aggregating and they've done well, according to this New York Times piece. But I digress. Here is how IJR began the Tillerson article:

 When it comes to taking on the world, the two words the Trump administration swears by are “America First.”
And the man charged with carrying out that policy around the globe didn’t even want the job in the first place. For Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who until now spent the entirety of his career at ExxonMobil, the challenge he faced on a headline-grabbing trip to Asia was how to translate President Donald Trump’s mandate into a workable foreign policy.

Unfortunately, I have to skip much of this entertaining –- and quite readable -– piece to get to the content that GetReligion readers are sure to interested in.

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Chaos in Trump White House! But it has nothing to do with fights over culture and religion!

Chaos in Trump White House! But it has nothing to do with fights over culture and religion!

The big news in The Washington Post this weekend? The headline! "Inside Trump’s White House, New York moderates spark infighting and suspicion."

This was a shocker built on two stunning revelations.

First, did you know that Donald Trump -- who has surrounded himself with chaos at every stage of his public life -- has created a White House staff that appears to exist in a constant state of chaos? Shocking! As many has noted, Trump has always said that he enjoys hearing a wide range of viewpoints, even if that creates conflict, knowing that he gets to make the final decision.

Then there was shocker No. 2: Did you know that the style, priorities and values of "moderate" (a label that in elite media-speak means, "good guys in this context") New Yorkers are often different kinds of people than the populist and cultural conservatives who live in red-zip-code America? Can you imagine?!

Now, when you look at this buzz-producing Post political thriller from a GetReligion perspective it contains one more stunning revelation: Apparently these chaotic clashes are rooted in personalities and pure political gamesmanship and have nothing to do with hot-button issues linked to culture and religion!

At least, that is how things play out when the script is written by the pros at the Post political desk. Here is the overture and how-we-did-it summary for this feature:

Inside the White House, they are dismissed by their rivals as “the Democrats.”
Outspoken, worldly and polished, this coterie of ascendant Manhattan business figures-turned-presidential advisers is scrambling the still-evolving power centers swirling around President Trump.

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Looking for on-the-record Vatican voices in the New York Times shocker about Darth Bannon

Looking for on-the-record Vatican voices in the New York Times shocker about Darth Bannon

It would be hard to imagine a subject more intriguing to some editors at The New York Times than suggestions that the Darth Vader of the Donald Trump administration -- that would be Stephen K. Bannon -- was somehow working with forces close to the Vatican to undercut Pope Francis.

Thus, there has been quite a bit of online buzz about the rather BuzzFeed like feature (in terms of its sourcing) that Times editors ran under the headline, "Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican." 

Catholic insiders -- on the left and right -- will be able to see more in the thin tea leaves of this piece than I can. I am primarily interested in journalism issues linked to how the piece was reported and presented. The bottom line: It is very rare to see such sweeping, conspiratorial language used in a news feature that -- on its key points of fact -- appears to have one crucial named source, other than quotes from other journalists. Hold that thought.

The intrigue, as you would expect, starts right where it should -- in the overture.

ROME -- When Stephen K. Bannon was still heading Breitbart News, he went to the Vatican to cover the canonization of John Paul II and make some friends. High on his list of people to meet was an archconservative American cardinal, Raymond Burke, who had openly clashed with Pope Francis.
In one of the cardinal’s antechambers, amid religious statues and book-lined walls, Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon -- who is now President Trump’s anti-establishment eminence -- bonded over their shared worldview. They saw Islam as threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values, and viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized by out-of-touch political elites.
“When you recognize someone who has sacrificed in order to remain true to his principles and who is fighting the same kind of battles in the cultural arena, in a different section of the battlefield, I’m not surprised there is a meeting of hearts,” said Benjamin Harnwell, a confidant of Cardinal Burke who arranged the 2014 meeting.

Harnwell appears to be the main source for this entire story. He is founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a foundation that -- as the Times piece notes -- is currently displaying prominent images of Bannon, linked to quotations praising Harnwell.

The timing of the meeting is fascinating and, for journalists, a bit problematic.

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Colorado archbishop dares to tell Catholics how to vote, but does Denver media care?

Colorado archbishop dares to tell Catholics how to vote, but does Denver media care?

Last week, the Catholic archbishop of Denver posted an editorial in his archdiocesan newspaper on how Catholics should vote. It garnered quite a bit of comment from some quarters. For instance, Breitbart called it “the most powerful election statement by any Catholic prelate to date,” 

You would think that there would be some local media coverage of Aquila’s statement, since other Catholic prelates haven’t exactly been falling over themselves to make statements about the coming election (and especially since the Trump campaign’s meltdown this past weekend).  But there was nary a mention in any Denver media, print or broadcast. None. Nada.

Here’s how the Boston-based Crux summed up the archbishop’s message:

As election day approaches, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has published anarticle in his diocesan newspaper, urging Catholics to remember that no issue should be more important to them than the question of life and death for the unborn.
While making it clear that he has an “aversion” to both candidates, Aquila nonetheless suggests that the election will come down to choosing the “lesser of two evils,” and for him, that means the party that is most likely to defend unborn life.
Aquila doesn’t leave the matter in the abstract but helps readers analyze the platforms of the two major parties, especially as regards the issues that affect Christians most closely.
While Catholic prelates go to great lengths to appear neutral at election time-eschewing the endorsement of any particular candidate or party-Aquila does all but tell his readers that come November, he will be pulling the Republican lever.

Further down:

The archbishop also addressed the criticism of single-issue voting, offering one of the most succinct and cogent rebuttals of “moral equivalency” to ever come from the pen of a U.S. prelate.
“The right to life is the most important and fundamental right, since life is necessary for any of the other rights to matter,” he said.

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Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

How many gaffes can you pack into the start of a story? In its coverage of Pope Francis' Easter message yesterday, the UK-based Mirror seemed to be trying to find out.

And what a time for sloppy reporting -- the most important holiday on the calendar of the world's largest religion.

Check this out:

Pope Francis says defeat Islamic State 'with weapons of love' during Easter message
Pope Francis has urged the world in his Easter message to use the "weapons of love" to combat the evil of "blind and brutal violence" following the tragic attacks in Brussels.
The Roman Catholic church leader said an Easter Sunday Mass under tight security for tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
After the service, he gave a traditional speech in which he addressed violence, injustice and threats to peace in many parts of the world.
He said: "May he [the risen Jesus] draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

Francis did decry multiple social ills: armed conflicts, "brutal crimes," ethnic and religious persecution, climate change caused by exploiting natural resources, fears of the young and the elderly alike. And yes, he denounced terrorism, "that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

But he said nothing about the Islamic State -- or, for that matter, the acronyms of ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Nor did he tell anyone to use the "weapons of love" in the Middle East conflict.

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Orthodox rabbis bless Christianity? Sounds like 'groundbreaking' news. Except for ...

Orthodox rabbis bless Christianity? Sounds like 'groundbreaking' news. Except for ...

I live in Annapolis, a sailing town on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It's the capital of Maryland, briefly served as the first capital of the United States (bet you didn't know that), and is home to the U.S. Naval Academy.

Because I'm sort of a sports chameleon (except for the New York Yankees, my first sports crush) I tend to follow the local teams wherever I happen to land. Hence, I know more about Navy's teams than I ever imagined I would.

However, here's all you need to know about Navy sports.

The football team can go winless and get crushed in each of its first 11 games of the season. But as long as it beats Army, always it's last regular season opponent -- no matter what the score, no matter how poorly played a game -- the season is declared a success.

Seems like disingenuous spin to me, but that's just how it is around these parts. Every blown field goal, every dropped pass, interception, fumble, you name it -- all is forgiven. Just beat Army; 2-0 is sufficient.

I view the recent announcement by some two dozen Orthodox Jewish rabbis about Christianity being part of God's plan for humanity's salvation in a similar vein.

Journalists who are interested in this story need to know that there is considerably more smoke here than fire -- more self-affirming wish-fulfillment than anything else.

The proclamation received precious little mainstream news coverage. I'm not sure why.

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ISIS keeps torturing and killing Christians: Why is this merely 'conservative news'?

ISIS keeps torturing and killing Christians: Why is this merely 'conservative news'?

If you follow religion news at the global level, then you know that the Internet era has led to the rise of many alternative wire services, most of which produce news stories that are mixed with material advocating the views of the sponsors.

You can take the advocacy stuff or leave it. What matters to journalists is whether the editors of this material have a reputation for getting their facts right when to comes to dates, names, institutions and sources.

You see, the issue isn't whether these "news reports" can be printed in the mainstream press. The issue is whether there is material in them that mainstream journalists can verify and use as the starting point for their own independent reporting.

The Assyrian International News Agency is one such wire service and it is especially crucial to us (I am an Eastern Orthodox layman) with a special interest in the horrors that continue to unfold for Christians in the ancient churches of the Middle East. Here is a chunk of a recent AINA report:

Twelve Christians have been brutally executed by the Islamic State, including the 12-year-old son of a Syrian ministry team leader who had planted nine churches, because they refused to renounce the name of Jesus Christ and embrace Islam. The martyrs were faithful to the very end; right before one woman was beheaded by the terror group, she appeared to be smiling slightly as she said, "Jesus!"

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For journalists, grammar is always important: Episcopal vs. Episcopalian in Breitbart

For journalists, grammar is always important: Episcopal vs. Episcopalian in Breitbart

I am a great fan of the Breitbart website. It is a fresh and vibrant addition to the stable of online news portals.

Also, Breitbart London is one of my daily reads, and I am a fan of the site's editor James Delingpole -- one of the sharpest minds with one of the sharpest pens writing today.

The brand has grown in recent years, branching out from its base of political and media reporting. Over the past year it has made a strong showing in religion reporting and commentary. Delingpole’s Dec. 30 opinion piece entitled “Pope embraces the Green Religion” is wicked (and fun).

However, the venture into religion reporting does produce the occasional misstep. A piece entitled “Maryland Diocese admits female bishop ran over and killed cyclist” makes some beginner's mistakes in its report on Bishop Heather Cook (pictured).

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Obama's new Bible bobble gets media notice -- and a few defenders

Obama's new Bible bobble gets media notice -- and a few defenders

Remember the mashup by the Biblicist-in-Chief to support his new immigration policy? On Nov. 20, President Obama said the Bible tells us that "we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger –- we were strangers once, too."

Well, he's at it again -- while arguing immigration reform again -- and the varying reactions of news outlets are instructive.

"I think the Good Book says, you know, don't throw stones in glass houses, or make sure we're looking at the log in our eye before we're pointing out the mote in other folks' eyes," Obama said Tuesday at an "Immigration Town Hall" in Nashville. "And I think that's as true in politics as it is in life."

He was partly right. Jesus did say something like it in Matthew 7:3-4, although Obama apparently mixed translations. Here it is in the commonly quoted King James Version:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

The New Revised Standard Version, used by mainline Protestants, substitutes "speck" for "mote" and "log" for "beam." So Obama wasn't wrong, just patching together different versions.

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