Kansas

Read it all: Slate reporter goes to Kansas and spends a few minutes with 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

Read it all: Slate reporter goes to Kansas and spends a few  minutes with 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick

Ponder this please. When you hear that someone has landed an exclusive “interview” with a leader of global importance, how much content do you expect this “interview” to contain?

I am not, of course, talking about one of those two- or three-minute “Entertainment Tonight” reports — “We’ll be back with an exclusive interview with Brad Pitt!” — in which a star answers two dishy questions during a Hollywood junket. I am talking about an “interview” with a newsmaker about a serious subject.

I bring this up because of a fascinating Slate piece that is billed as the first interview with former Washington D.C. cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who has been exiled to the vastness of Western Kansas, a region that journalists from elite zip codes rarely visit, to say the least. I happened to drive past the Cathedral of the Plains the other day and it just as hard to imagine Uncle Ted McCarrick in Victoria, Kansas, as picturing Truman Capote in nearby (relatively speaking) Holcolm, Kansas.

The dramatic double-decker headline proclaims:

Theodore McCarrick Still Won’t Confess

Banished in the dead of night to a mistrustful Kansas town after sexual abuse allegations, the defrocked archbishop of D.C. speaks publicly for the first time since his fall from grace.

Please understand: I think that reporter Ruth Graham’s brief encounter with McCarrick showed moxie and yields interesting and, some will say, predictable answers from the fallen prince of the church. I also enjoyed (I kid you not) her 2,500-word introduction to the interview, which is both a quick summary of the McCarrick disaster story and a touching look at the lives of the intensely Catholic Volga German culture of West Kansas. If this second subject does not intrigue you, reading this intro is going to seem like a long, long drive across the Kansas plains.

The interview itself is short — but important. This is true even though it reinforces many themes that have been woven through this tragedy from the start. McCarrick, for example, does believe that he was the victim of a conservative-Catholic plot.

When the reader finally reaches the encounter with the fallen cardinal, Graham stresses that she had been told he was not doing interviews. Still, she rang the doorway at the friary he now calls home:

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Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

Sort of Friday Five: Of course the terrorist attack in New Zealand is a religion-beat story

The terrorist set out to massacre Muslim believers as they gathered for Friday prayers in their mosques.

He covered his weapons with names of others who committed similar mass murders and military leaders that he claimed fought for the same cause.

The terrorist left behind a hellish manifesto built on themes common among radicals who hate immigrants, especially Muslims, and weave in virulent anti-Semitism themes, as well (BBC explainer here). He claimed to have “been in contact” with sympathizers of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people — most of them children — in 2011.

1. Religion story of the week. The gunman’s motives may have been pure hatred, with no twisted links to any world religion, but it’s clear that the New Zealand massacre is the religion story of the week — because of the faith of the 49 victims and the faith statements of millions of people that are offering prayers and help in the wake of the attack.

The gunman labeled his own motives, as seen in this New York Times report:

Before the shooting, someone appearing to be the gunman posted links to a white-nationalist manifesto on Twitter and 8chan, an online forum known for extremist right-wing discussions. …

In his manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old man born in Australia and listed his white nationalist heroes. Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. “For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,” he wrote.

The Washington Post noted:

The 74-page manifesto left behind after the attack was littered with conspiracy theories about white birthrates and “white genocide.” It is the latest sign that a lethal vision of white nationalism has spread internationally. Its title, “The Great Replacement,” echoes the rallying cry of, among others, the torch-bearing protesters who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

Also this:

Video on social media of the attack’s aftermath showed a state of disbelief, as mosque-goers huddled around the injured and dead. Amid anguished cries, a person could be heard saying, “There is no God but God,” the beginning of the Muslim profession of faith.

Please help us spot major religion themes in the waves of coverage that this story will receive in the hours and days ahead. Meanwhile, with Bobby Ross Jr., still in the Middle East, here is a tmatt attempt to fill the rest of the familiar Friday Five format.

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Fox News follows McCarrick into distant plains of Kansas: Is this story now 'conservative' news?

Fox News follows McCarrick into distant plains of Kansas: Is this story now 'conservative' news?

For several months now, I have wondered when a major news organization was going to send a reporter and photographer out into the vast plains of Western Kansas to visit St. Fidelis Friary, which is next door to the giant Basilica of St. Fidelis — which is better known as the “Cathedral of the Plains.

This small monastic community in Victoria, Kan., consists of five Franciscan Capuchin priests and a brother. At the moment, there is also a Catholic layman living quietly in that facility — the defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

If you’ve ever driven across Kansas, you have seen this church — because it’s hard to miss. I put it this way in an “On Religion” column last fall.

The Cathedral of the Plains can be seen long before Interstate 70 reaches Victoria, with its Romanesque spires rising out of the vast West Kansas horizon.

This is a strange place to put a sanctuary the size of the Basilica of St. Fidelis, but that's a testimony to the Catholic faith of generations of Volga-German farmers. This is also a strange place to house a disgraced ex-cardinal.

However, the friary near the basilica has one obvious virtue, as a home for 88-year-old Theodore McCarrick. It's located 1,315 miles from The Washington Post.

Now, we have a pretty lengthy television report from a Fox News team that made the long journey to try to knock on McCarrick’s door. (If there is a print version of this story, I have not been able to find it.)

I found myself wondering: Is it significant that it was Fox News that ventured out into the Kansas plains to cover this particular story?

Does that, in a strange way, prove that continuing to cover the McCarrick scandal is now officially “conservative” news territory — as in news that is only of interest to conservative Catholics and cultural conservatives in general? If so, why is that?

Here at GetReligion, I have argued that the heart of the latest chapter in the multi-decade Catholic clergy-abuse crisis can be summed up in three questions:

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Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Good morning from blue America!

I mean, I guess Oklahoma — where I live — is still a red state. But my congressional district just flipped, electing a Democrat for the first time in 40 years in what The Oklahoman characterized as “a political upset for the history books” and FiveThirtyEight called “the biggest upset of the night” nationally.

(Neighboring Kansas turned a little blue, too, electing a Democratic governor.)

Religion angle? In advance of Tuesday’s midterms, we asked here at GetReligion if a post-Trump rise of the religious left was a real trend or wishful thinking.

Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, which Democrat Kendra Horn won in a nail-biter, was one of the places where a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good that toured the country brought its bus. The Oklahoman’s pre-election story noted:

If Horn, an Episcopalian and Democrat running for Congress, is to do what others claim cannot be done — namely, defeat Republican Rep. Steve Russell on Nov. 6 — she will need to make inroads with a voting bloc that has helped propel Russell's political career: evangelicals.

What role did religious voters played in Horn’s upset win in one of the reddest of the red states? I haven’t seen reporting on that angle yet. No doubt, changing demographics in the Oklahoma City area played a role, as did the rural-urban divide, but perhaps suburban evangelical women turned off by Trump did, too? Stay tuned.

As we begin to digest Tuesday’s outcomes across the U.S., here are a handful of religion angles making headlines or likely to do so:

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As Cardinal Wuerl steps down (with a papal salute), 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick is way out of sight

As Cardinal Wuerl steps down (with a papal salute), 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick is way out of sight

So, how good was the news coverage of the very gentle fall of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in terms of the stories published in the two elite newspapers that have been driving this story?

Well, that depends.

It appears that the crucial issue — once again — is whether the most important scandal linked to Wuerl at the the moment is (a) his role in efforts to hide the abuse of children and teens, overwhelmingly male, by clergy, (b) his ties to the career and work of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick or (c) some combination of both, since they are often connected.

If you think the big story is still clergy sexual abuse — as suggested by everything Rome is saying these days — then reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post are just fine. However, if you think that Wuerl could/should be numbered among the cardinals who drew power from McCarrick and then protected him from public scandal, then you will see some very large and interesting holes in these reports.

But first, let’s back up. In addition to waves of coverage of the hellish 900-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report on sexual abuse, here is the lightning-strike Times headline that really kicked this summer’s Catholic chaos up several notches. I am referring to this: “He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal.”

As I have mentioned several times here at GetReligion, the big word in this specific piece is “seminarians” — as in reports of McCarrick’s ongoing sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians under his authority.

The sex-with-trapped-men angle vanished, for the most part, in most news coverage. Then the Post came out with a story that I took a look at right here: “Washington Post sees big McCarrick picture: Why are broken celibacy vows no big deal?“ The story’s strong thesis statement said:

The McCarrick case reveals, among other things, the unspoken contradictions between the image of priests as completely celibate and the reality of men struggling at times with their sexuality. Some experts and clerics compared priests’ celibacy vows to those of married couples who become unfaithful. In other words, physical or sexual contact between priests happens. But it’s unclear how frequently it occurs and how often it is nonconsensual.

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'Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?' Yes, do take the time to read this excellent piece of journalism

'Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?' Yes, do take the time to read this excellent piece of journalism

A conversational, informative lede that draws readers immediately into the story.

An impartial, fact-based narrative that quotes intelligent sources on both sides.

A solid chunk of analysis from an independent expert with impressive credentials.

A Kansas City Star story on the question of "Will Roe v. Wade be overturned?" boasts that winning trifecta — and it makes for a quality, satisfying piece of daily journalism.

"This piece by Judy L. Thomas is the best report I've read on the subject," Star reporter Laura Bauer tweeted about her colleague's work. "Definitely take the time to read."

My response: Amen!

As we've noted repeatedly here at GetReligion, mainstream news coverage often favors abortion rights supporters. In case you missed our previous references, see the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

Given the typical imbalanced coverage, the Star's fair, evenhanded approach is particularly refreshing from a journalistic perspective.

The lede sets the scene with a history lesson:

Almost half a century has passed, so forgive Dave Heinemann if he doesn’t remember every single detail of how things went down that long spring day in Topeka.

But one thing the former Kansas lawmaker hasn’t forgotten is the intensity of the 1969 debate on a measure that made abortion more accessible in the state.

“The Legislature was rewriting the state’s criminal code, and there was one section on abortion,” said Heinemann, then a Garden City Republican serving his first term in the Legislature. “That was the only section that really became a lightning rod.”

At the time, Kansas — like most states — banned abortion except to save the life of the woman. But some states had begun to propose measures to loosen the restrictions.

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Key figure in Brown v. Board of Education case dies, and yes, there's a faith angle

Key figure in Brown v. Board of Education case dies, and yes, there's a faith angle

Before I became a religion writer, I covered education for The Oklahoman.

In 1997, as Oklahoma City public schools ended race-based crosstown busing, I traveled to Little Rock, Ark., and Topeka, Kan., to update readers on two of the nation's most important school desegregation battlegrounds.

My Topeka report mentioned Linda Brown, who — as you may have read — died this week at age 75. (And yes, there's a faith angle. Stay tuned for that!)

As a little girl, Brown was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down the "separate but equal" doctrine, as I noted in my 1997 Oklahoman story:

The Rev. Oliver Brown and 12 other black Topeka parents sued because their children were forced to attend schools miles from home.
In those days, Topeka had 18 all-white elementary schools and four all-black elementary schools. The Browns lived four blocks from all-white Sumner Elementary. But Linda Brown had to walk seven blocks to catch a bus to all-black Monroe Elementary.

Given that Linda Brown was the daughter of a pastor, I wondered whether religion would figure in news stories about her death. In my Googling, I didn't find a whole lot about the faith angle. But the few links I discovered made the search worth it.

For readers wanting to know what really made Brown tick, CNN had the crucial details that many other reports lacked:

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The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

Some of you may remember how, in late July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was appointed to a U.S. State Department post that champions religious freedom.

Five months later, he’s still in Kansas.

On Monday, the White House renominated him for the post after Democrats refused to allow his -– and other failed nominations -– to roll over into the New Year. The White House’s action also gave politicians a wake-up call that this is an issue the Trump administration cares about.

Weirdly, a New York Times story blamed the governor for the impasse.

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was giving a tender goodbye.
Speaking to a roomful of fellow Republicans over lunch at the Wichita Pachyderm Club last month, he mused about his next act, a post in the Trump administration as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which was announced in July.
“As I pass from the stage here in Kansas, I leave with a warm thought and good feelings of all the good-hearted people in this wonderful state of Kansas,” said a smiling Mr. Brownback, whose seven years at the helm have been punctuated by a firm turn to the right and a revolt from some in his own party.

The governor had a replacement: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon.

It has been nearly six months since Mr. Brownback, 61, announced that he would be leaving for a new job during his second term as governor. The holdup appears to be in Washington: A Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination and narrowly endorsed him in October, but he did not receive a vote in the full Senate.
A new year has brought new complications. Though Mr. Brownback has been renominated to the post, a relatively low-profile appointment, he will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

The story goes on to talk about how awkward things are in Kansas because Brownback is like the perennial guest who won’t leave. It mentions a Kansas City Star editorial that tells Brownback he should resign for the good of the state, even though it doesn’t say how the governor is supposed to pay his bills during the interim.

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This is why serious journalism is helpful when reporting on objections to immunizing a child

This is why serious journalism is helpful when reporting on objections to immunizing a child

In an an age of clickbait, I appreciate the Kansas City Star's serious, straightforward treatment of a Kansas family's objections to immunizing a child.

Yes, there's a strong religion angle to this developing story.

"Report what you know" is an old journalistic adage: The Star does a nice job of that in a news report that meticulously explains a federal lawsuit filed by the family of a 2-year-old boy.

Let's start at the top:

The 2-year-old grandson of Linus and Terri Baker has never been vaccinated.
His mother and the Bakers oppose immunization on religious and health grounds.
But now that the boy is in temporary state custody, the Kansas Department for Children and Families intends to vaccinate him despite the family’s wishes.
The Bakers, who have physical custody of the boy as his foster parents, say it’s an unconstitutional overreach and they are now fighting it in federal court.
The grandparents are particularly galled that DCF appears to be requiring people who want to exempt their children from daycare and school vaccination requirements to cite their denomination and its specific teaching opposed to immunization.
“They’ve become the religious police,” said Linus Baker, a lawyer who lives in southern Johnson County.

Given that statement, it's probably not a surprise that the family's specific religious beliefs come across as relatively vague in this story. 

The Star does report:

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