Gannett

USA Today tries to explain why many Catholics are hitting the exits, but finds only one reason

USA Today tries to explain why many Catholics are hitting the exits, but finds only one reason

What are you supposed to think when you pick up the newspaper in your driveway and see a headline that proclaims, “Catholic Church In Crisis”?

I don’t know about you, but this question immediately jumps into my mind: OK, so which Catholic crisis are we talking about?

Thus, when I started reading the massive USA Today feature (which ran on A1 in several Gannett newspapers in Tennessee, of course) on this subject, I assumed that the “crisis” in question was the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal. However, I wanted to see (a) if this feature would accurately note how long this scandal has lasted and (b) whether it would place the sexual-abuse crisis in the context of several other major problems in the American church (and the Western world in general). Also, if the USA Today team connected sexual abuse to any other issues, what would those issues be?

Right up front, readers learn that the “crisis” is people leaving the Catholicism or seriously thinking about doing so. That’s interesting and a valid way to approach the current state of things.

After a stack on anecdotes about people nearing the exits, there is this thesis statement:

The Catholic Church in the U.S. is at a crossroads. As millions of devout followers filled the pews this Easter season to celebrate the religion’s most important holiday, others hovered at the door, hungry for community and spiritual guidance but furious at the church’s handling of the decades-long sex abuse crisis that’s resulted in young children being raped and abused by priests who were often protected by their superiors.

Seven months after a damning grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealed that 1,000 children had been abused at the hands of more than 300 priests, and as state attorneys general across the nation investigate the church, a Gallup poll published in March found that 37% of U.S. Catholics are considering leaving the church because of the sex abuse crisis and the church’s handling of it. That’s up significantly from 2002, when just 22% of Catholics said they were contemplating leaving their religion after The Boston Globe published an explosive series that initially exposed the abuse and subsequent cover-up.

So, let it be known that the true crisis is clergy sexual abuse and that alone and that this scandal was “initially exposed” by the Globe in the massive “Spotlight” reports in 2002.

Let’s see — that’s wrong and wrong.

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Totally pro-LGBT slant? Religious liberty in scare quotes? Well, that's Fox News for you ...

Totally pro-LGBT slant? Religious liberty in scare quotes? Well, that's Fox News for you ...

You really have to love readers who pay close attention and are willing to tilt at windmills every now and then.

Consider this note from a GetReligion reader — a radio pro — who kept his skepticism meter turned up, even when looking for liberal bias in a rather unusual place. The headline on this rather ordinary politics-meets-business story (with religion lurking in the background, of course) is: “Amazon opposes anti-LGBT Tennessee legislation amid activist pressure.”

Yes, that’s Fox News for ya. Our pro-journalism reader sent me an email that noted the following:

Fox is usually considered friendly to conservatives, right? Then why isn't there a single quote — count 'em, ZERO — in this story from someone defending the legislation? And why did they do this: "Sponsors of the bills claim they are trying to protect 'religious freedom'"? Scare quotes around "religious freedom"? Really?

The only thing that I disagree with in that note is that I don’t think one needs to be a “conservative” to defend the old-school, liberal model of the press that asked journalists to talk to people on both sides of a hot, divisive issue, while treating their views with respect. Then again, I am also old enough to remember the church-state good old days (that would be the Clinton administration) when you didn’t need to be a “conservative” to back an old-school liberal take on religious liberty (minus the scare quotes).

What does this Fox News story have to say? The problem isn’t that it includes lots of material from LGBT activists who oppose this legislation. That’s a big part of the story. The journalism problem here is that the story totally embraces, as neutral fact, the cultural left’s views on what the legislation would do. This starts right up top:

Amazon has signed a letter opposing a raft of anti-LGBT legislation in Tennessee as the tech giant plans to expand its presence in the business-friendly state.

"Legislation that explicitly or implicitly allows discrimination against LGBT people and their families creates unnecessary liability for talent recruitment and retention, tourism, and corporate investment to the state," the open letter to Tennesse legislators states.

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Red ink has consquences: Ongoing woes of the news biz inevitably undercut religion beat

Red ink has consquences: Ongoing woes of the news biz inevitably undercut religion beat

Nostalgia for a journalistic golden age has gushed forth from an HBO documentary about New York City tabloid columnists Pete Hamill and the late Jimmy Breslin, combined with simultaneous obituaries about the era’s wry counterpart at The New York Times, Russell Baker.

It’s a pleasant distraction from current realities.

Pew Research data documents the “hollowing out” of the nation’s newsrooms, as lamented in the Memo last Nov. 15. Further developments require The Religion Guy to revisit the struggles in the news business.

Why? Let me state this sad reality once again: When times are tough, specialized beats like religion get hit first, and worst.

In just the past two weeks, a couple thousand media workers lost their jobs. The ubiquitous Gannett, known for eyeing the bottom line, enacted its latest round of layoffs even while facing a takeover threat from a colder-eyed print piranha. Particularly unnerving are the drawdowns at BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Vice and Yahoo, because online operations were supposed to make enough money to offset jobs lost at declining “dead tree” newspapers and magazines.

As Farhad Manjoo commented in a New York Times column (“Why the Latest Layoffs Are Devastating to Democracy”), there’s a “market pathology” at work. Digital advertising is simply unable to fund hardly anything except “monopolistic tech giants.” And those big players are “dumping the news” in favor of easier ways to make money. Results: “slow-motion doom” and “a democratic emergency in the making, with no end in sight.”

All this occurs as a U.S. President emits unprecedented public hate toward reporters, with Main Stream Media outlets then taking the bait to become ever more hostile and partisan, thus sullying their stature.

On the MSM facts front, don’t miss Glenn Greenwald’s list of the “10 Worst, Most Embarrassing” blunders regarding Donald Trump and Russia. And my goodness did you see those lapses about First Lady Melania in the respected London Telegraph?!

Now along come two important insider accounts of what’s been going on across the industry: “Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now” (Farrar, Straus) by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of Britain’s The Guardian, and “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts” (Simon & Schuster) by Jill Abramson, former Washington bureau chief and executive editor of the Times. Note that both of their dailies have fared relatively well in online competition.

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One more time: It's hard to leave faith out of news about an active churchman's funeral

One more time: It's hard to leave faith out of news about an active churchman's funeral

Try to imagine covering a worship service, in a cathedral, using modernized Anglican rites and a river of glorious sacred music and managing to produce news features that focus on (fill in the blank) instead of (fill in the blank).

After this week, you can probably guess what this post is about.

Yes, it’s another post about the mainstream news coverage of the state funeral — and too a lesser extent, the oh-so-Texas funeral in Houston — of former President George H.W. Bush. I’ve writing about that subject a lot this week (click here for a Bobby Ross, Jr., post with lots of links) and now you can listen to a “Crossroads” podcast on that subject, as well. Click here to tune that in.

Frankly, there is still a lot to talk about, especially if you think that that these various rites were about Bush 41, rather than Donald Trump. However, I’d like to signal that this post will end with some good news, a story about the state funeral that actually mixed lots of religion into a report on this topic. Hold that thought.

I’m at home in East Tennessee, these days, not in New York City. Thus, the newspaper in my driveway is the Knoxville News Sentinel, which is owned by the Gannett chain. Thus, I watched the whole funeral and then, the following day, read the following USA Today report in that local paper: “George H.W. Bush state funeral: 'America's last great soldier-statesman'.”

I was, frankly, stunned that this long story was, basically, free of faith-based content. Did the USA Today watch the same rite I did? Here is a long, and very typical, passage:

Ever the diplomat, the elder Bush managed in death to bring together the nation's four living ex-presidents, as well as President Donald Trump, the Republican he and his son George W. Bush refused to support two years ago. The gathering was at times awkward as Trump and his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, ignored each other.

The most touching moment came when the younger Bush, delivering the last of four eulogies, choked up recalling "a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have." As the late president's three other sons and daughter looked on tearfully, the audience burst into applause for the only time during the ceremony.

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Haunted suicide sonnet: USA Today and Gannett launch huge effort to stem the tide

Haunted suicide sonnet: USA Today and Gannett launch huge effort to stem the tide

It’s pretty weird when a story at a major newspaper carries a trigger warning at the top of the article.

But this is a mega-story on suicide, written by a former editor at one of the top newspapers owned by the Gannett Co. It’s gripping reading until the very end.

Yet, there’s a religion “ghost” in this story; that is, a missing story hook connected with religion. It’s not hard to spot. It’s important, whenever there are references to religious faith, to look for specifics, for the basic facts. Where are they?

I stood and looked down into the canyon, at a spot where, millions of years ago, a river cut through. Everything about that view is impossible, a landscape that seems to defy both physics and description. It is a place that magnifies the questions in your mind and keeps the answers to itself.

Visitors always ask how the canyon was formed. Rangers often give the same unsatisfying answer: Wind. Water. Time.

It was April 26, 2016 – four years since my mother died. Four years to the day since she stood in this same spot and looked out at this same view. I still catch my breath here, and feel dizzy and need to remind myself to breathe in through my nose out through my mouth, slower, and again. I can say it out loud now: She killed herself. She jumped from the edge of the Grand Canyon. From the edge of the earth.

I went back to the spot because I wanted to know everything.

Written in first person by Laura Trujillo, a managing editor at the Cincinnati Enquirer when the suicide occurred, the article is almost a small book, with chapters, even.

Suicide is as common and as unknowable as the wind that shaped this rock. It’s unspeakable, bewildering, confounding and devastatingly sad. Don’t try to figure it out, I told myself, stop asking questions, assigning blame, looking.

Yet there I stood, searching.

Some of it is disturbing; how the mother tried to reach her daughter the morning she jumped but the busy editor merely texted her mom back instead of picking up the phone. And how she’d just sent her mother a disturbing email a few days before. It turns out that Trujillo insists that she had been sexually abused by her stepfather for years as a teen-ager and she’d finally gotten up the courage to tell her mom.

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Walking in the maze of labyrinth wars? This USA Today Network story sits out that debate

Walking in the maze of labyrinth wars? This USA Today Network story sits out that debate

Here is what I have learned about prayer labyrinths, during my decades on the religion beat.

Progressive Episcopalians love them, big time.

Evangelical Episcopalians hate them or, at the very least, worry about how they can be abused.

Progressive Catholics love them, big time.

Conservative Catholics hate them or, at the very least, worry about how they can be abused.

You may have noticed a pattern.

The arguments about labyrinths center on church history, theology, ancient myths and trends in modern “spirituality,” especially the many innovations that came to be labeled “New Age.” When writing about this topic, I have learned that it helps to focus on the doctrinal contents, and the origins, of the prayers that people are taught to recite while walking inside a labyrinth.

It’s hard to do a basic online search on this topic without hitting waves of information by those who embrace the use of labyrinths (examples here and then here) and those who reject them (examples here and then here).

This brings me to a long recent USA Today Network-Tennessee feature that ran with this headline: “Set in stone or brick, East Tennessee labyrinths are meditative walks for prayer.” This article, literally, could be used in a public-relations release about this particular labyrinth, since it contains ZERO information from critics. Here is the overture (this is long, but essential):

It's dusk on a September Tuesday as two dozen people step, silently and deliberately, around a twisting brick courtyard path at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral.

A few walk barefoot. Some carry candles or glow sticks. Most bow their heads in silent meditation or prayer as they follow the turns of St. John's brick and mortar labyrinth.

Candles and spotlights set among the garden surrounding the labyrinth cast shadows.

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Breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh uses the V-word, which used to be OK for Catholics

Breaking news: Brett Kavanaugh uses the V-word, which used to be OK for Catholics

Growing up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid in Bible Belt Texas, I was quite familiar with the word “virgin.” (Click here for a dictionary reference, if you need one.)

It wasn’t a curse word and, for most people, it wasn’t a punch line. At the same time, it wasn’t something folks in my high school discussed in public very much. Yes, there were people who gossiped about who was doing or not doing what. However, as a nerd, bookworm and choral musician I wasn’t up to speed on all that. I was an uncool guy, even among the Baptists.

My point is that this wasn’t a mysterious word. No one needed to put the V-word inside “scare quotes” (dictionary definition here), as if it was a concept from an alien planet.

Take this USA Today headline, for example: “Brett Kavanaugh: He was a 'virgin' in high school and other takeaways from Fox interview.”

What, pray tell, is the purpose of the quotation marks around “virgin”? Is the point that (a) editors at Gannett are not sure about the meaning of the word or (b) that Kavanaugh — wink, wink — said that word so we are putting it inside quotation marks because, well, you know.

To make sure readers got the point, editors repeated this reference later in the story. This word was, apparently, the most important, the most shocking, takeaway from this interview.

Kavanaugh a 'virgin' in high school

The judge said he never had sexual intercourse "or anything close to (it)" until long after he left Georgetown Prep, the elite all-boys Catholic high school he attended in Rockville, Maryland.

“So you’re saying through all these years that are in question that you were a virgin?” MacCallum asked Kavanaugh.

“That’s correct," he replied.

She pressed on: “And through what years in college, since we’re probing into your personal life here?”

“Many years after, I’ll leave it at that," he answered. "Many years after."

Here is my question about that passage: Is the most important word in it “prep” or “Catholic"?

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Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

Instead of the usual focus on religion coverage, this Memo scans the over-all news-media landscape as viewed by a newshound of (embarrassingly) long experience.

The Religion Guy, who strives to be non-partisan, believes with others that America’s news media -- in terms of economics and public trust -- have reached the low point of the past half-century.

This affects the religion beat as surely as every other segment of journalism.  

There’s chaos at the storied Los Angeles Times and Newsweek, with other forms of newsroom turbulence that shakes even Gannett’s DC monolith honoring journalism's role in American life.

With GetReligion readers, there’s no need to detail the economic travail and consequent death of countless dailies and magazines, with staff shrinkage for those that still struggle to survive.  Can online ad revenues sustain decent coverage? Will twittery Americans read substantive copy any longer?   

But forget media economics and corporate maneuvers. Worst of all is sagging esteem. Consider TV shallowness and bile, stupendous screw-ups forced by 24/7 competition, and the eclipse of objectivity -- or even minimal fairness -- amid the glut of opinion. There’s also simple bad taste, the StormyDanielsization of daily news budgets.  

In September, 2016, the Gallup Poll found Americans’ trust in the media to report “fully, accurately, and fairly” was the worst since it first asked this question in 1972. Only 32 percent had a “great deal” or “fair” amount of trust, down 8 percent in just a year. A mere 26 percent of those under age 50 felt trust, capping a decade of decline. One year later, 37 percent of respondents thought the media “get the facts straight” but with a worrisome partisan breakdown: 62 percent of Democrats versus only 37 percent of Independents, and a pathetic 14 percent of Republicans.  

However, it was a good sign that less than one-fifth of those of whatever partisan identity or educational level had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Internet news.  

There was much to mourn before Donald J. Trump came down that golden escalator.

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Slicing up Masterpiece Cakeshop stories (again): It may help to recall that earlier peyote case

Slicing up Masterpiece Cakeshop stories (again): It may help to recall that earlier peyote case

Here we go again, and again. From time to time, there are religion-news issues that create headlines day after day, for weeks or months at a time. This creates a problem for your GetReligionistas. Do we keep critiquing these stories, banging our heads on our keyboards as we see the same old mistakes and holes in the coverage?

One could argue that it's more important to note problems that keep showing up in the news than it is to note a mistake that happens once or twice. Surely it's significant when lighting keeps striking the same spot time after time?

Thus, here is an update to yesterday's Bobby Ross, Jr., post: "As Supreme Court bites into same-sex wedding cake dispute, how to tell good media coverage from bad." You may have noticed that Bobby's post was built on themes from previous GetReligion commentary about news coverage of various religious-liberty cases (linked to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).

With the U.S. Supreme Court wading into the Masterpiece Cakeshop wars, I would like to flash back to a parable I wrote two years ago, in an attempt to help journalists think through several key issues linked to these stories. Here we go (again):

... There is a businessman in Indianapolis who runs a catering company. He is an openly gay Episcopalian and, at the heart of his faith (and the faith articulated by his church) is a sincere belief that homosexuality is a gift of God and a natural part of God's good creation. This business owner has long served a wide variety of clients, including a nearby Pentecostal church that is predominantly African-American.
Then, one day, the leaders of this church ask him to cater a major event -- the upcoming regional conference of the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays. He declines, saying this would violate everything he stands for as a liberal Christian. He notes that they have dozens of other catering options in their city and, while he has willingly served them in the past, it is his sincere belief that it would be wrong to do so in this specific case.

Note, in particular that:

It's clear that the gay Christian businessman is not asking to discriminate against an entire class of Americans. He is asking that his consistently demonstrated religious convictions be honored in this case, one with obvious doctrinal implications.

OK, that's another sexuality case. Maybe it would help to think back to an earlier religious-liberty fight. Did Native Americans seek the right to use peyote (period) or did they seek the right to use peyote in a very specific situation, a rite that had existed in the traditions of their faith for centuries?

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