Miami Herald

Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

"Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” So saith Richard Pryor in his 1982 film “Live on the Sunset Strip."

Caught in flagrante delicto with another woman by his wife, Pryor’s character in his stand up comedy routine denies the claims of objective reality by reference to a higher authority -- himself.

Reading the Miami Herald’s recent story entitled “Long overdue: This book was stolen in 1840. Now it’s back on the library shelf” shook loose this phrase from the windmills of my mind.

You might well ask why I would think of Richard Pryor when reading a light news item concerning the return of an overdue Irish library book. I am seldom subject to Richard Pryor flashbacks. However, the text of this story -- which was distributed via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s syndication service -- is rather odd and speaks to a reporter unfamiliar with his subject matter.

But it was the illustration that accompanied the article that was immediately problematic. SImply put -- nothing matches. What is written in the article does not match what is presented in the accompanying illustrations.

The lede begins: 

A book published in 1666, believed to be one of only two in the country of its kind, was returned to Marsh’s Library in Ireland after going missing for nearly 180 years.
The book, a prayer guide of sorts for members of the old Church of England, was brought back to the library by none other than a priest, who found the 17th Century tome while going through a pile of dusty books in his Monkstown parish rectory, according to the Irish Sun. It had been missing since 1840, when it was taken from the library’s reading room. This wasn’t one that could be checked out.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Castro's death: For a follow-up, Associated Press story misses big religious angles

Castro's death: For a follow-up, Associated Press story misses big religious angles

The banging pots and honking horns have faded on Miami's Calle Ocho, where Cuban-Americans noisily celebrated the death of Fidel Castro. Thus, it's time for some reflection on what it means for peace and freedom -- including freedom of religion.

So the Associated Press shows the right instinct in its Sunday story out of Miami on the aftermath of El Comandante's death. Yet it largely leaves ghostly trails in what could have offered some spiritual insights on the story.

We get early warnings of a scattershot story:

MIAMI (AP) -- Celebration turned to somber reflection and church services Sunday as Cuban-Americans in Miami largely stayed off the streets following a raucous daylong party in which thousands marked the death of Fidel Castro.
One Cuban exile car dealer, however, sought to turn the revolutionary socialist's death into a quintessential capitalist deal by offering $15,000 discounts on some models.
And on the airwaves, top aides to President-elect Donald Trump promised a hard look at the recent thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba.

Cuba, as you may or may not know, is on the watch list of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF's 2016 report tells of increased surveillance, harassment, closure and destruction of churches there -- on a level with the likes of Russia, Malaysia, Turkey and Afghanistan.

But here is AP's version of the religious facet in this story:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Gay Hispanics: Miami Herald stumbles in spinoff story from Orlando shootings

Gay Hispanics: Miami Herald stumbles in spinoff story from Orlando shootings

After gay rights, gun control and (more gingerly) Islamic terrorism, coverage of the mass shooting in Orlando gets subdivided in a weekend story in The Miami Herald, which examines the atrocity from the standpoint of gay Hispanics.

It's an interesting angle -- especially in Florida, the port of entry for many from Central and Latin America -- but it has some flaws. For one, it misses some religious "ghosts." The article brings up the topic of religion, then bounces off. Instead, it emphasizes twin themes:

Some want to make sure one fact is not forgotten: The vast majority of victims were Hispanics.
"This was not just an LGBT community," said Zoe Colon, director of Florida and southeast operations for the Hispanic Federation. "This was a Latino LGBT community."

Not that the tragedy doesn't call for a sensitive treatment. The newspaper appropriately tells the reactions of Orlando resident Edwin Lopez as he learned that 12 of the 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub were personal friends.

Then the story launches rather blithely into a connection with a more general issue:

A difficult conversation has started about the struggle of being an LGBT person of color. For many Hispanics, a traditionally Christian culture laced with machismo and traditional gender roles could foster fear of rejection from one’s own family. That fear can prevent young people from coming out to their loved ones.
"You don’t want to be judged by your family. Those are the only people who have really been supportive of you your entire life," said Dominique Sanchez. The 19-year-old said she’s known people close to her who are reluctant to be open about their sexuality. "Your friends come and go. So if [your family doesn’t] accept you, then you don’t accept yourself."

We'll just note a few things in passing. One is whether Hispanics are people of color. I've met Cubans, Nicaraguans and others with skin lighter than my own, and I'm a white Anglo.

The Herald also offers no estimates on the number of gay Hispanics. Hence, we don't know the size of the social issue that’s the heart of this story.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Orlando shooting: Florida media scrambling to decide what it was about

Orlando shooting: Florida media scrambling to decide what it was about

Was it Islamic terrorism? Just regular terrorism? A hate crime? A wake-up call for gay rights and gun control?

Like a dropped glass, the Orlando shooting has already shattered into many stories, less than 48 hours after the event.  Activists for various causes have filled in a few details of the tragedy into scripts that seem otherwise pre-written. And many news media have been helping them.

The coverage has been overwhelming -- local and national alike -- and the cash-strapped newspapers have often borrowed from national news outlets. But here's what jumped out during my look at Florida media.

The Orlando Sentinel has done outstanding -- though not flawless -- coverage, with multiple updates. By 1:02 p.m. Sunday, it had produced an impressive profile of Omar Mateen, named by police as the man who stormed the Pulse nightclub and killed 49 people. Building partly on work by the Washington Post, the profile includes:

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, the 29-year-old gunman accused of killing dozens of people in Orlando on Sunday, was a security guard, the divorced father of a 3-year-old and, in school, someone who acted "dorky."
He also was an extremist whose outspoken interest in terrorism twice put him on the FBI’s radar screen.
On Sunday morning, he became something far larger: a lone gunman who authorities say was responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
He called 911 from outside a gay nightclub just south of downtown Orlando, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, authorities said, then began his assault.

For comparison, check out the Tampa Bay Times' version, which came out at 12:13 p.m. today.

The Sentinel also reveals that Mateen grew up in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and bought two guns legally; worked for a security firm; been investigated by the FBI at least twice since 2013; made reference to the Tsarnaev brothers, the brothers who bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon; and was married for two years to a woman who left because of his abusiveness. All of those elements have become part of the standard narrative in other media.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

For Ramadan, Miami Herald shuns complex coverage for pro-Muslim promotion

As surely as Easter brings news stories questioning the Resurrection, the arrival of Ramadan can be expected to bring exactly the opposite -- news reports that are essentially pro-Muslim marketing. And a new four-story package in The Miami Herald returns to that stale script:

Muslims are nice people and good Americans. Muslims are just like the rest of us. Terrorists are not really Muslims. Muslims are persecuted.

Let me stress: Not that any of those points are invalid.

As a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I interviewed a lot of Muslims who were happy as Americans and horrified at what was being done in the name of their faith. But to take essentially the same angle featured in so many newspapers for so many years is, by definition not news -- it's more like PR or image management.

We should have gotten better after that the Herald spent several months with four families on this package, resulting in a total of 3,435 words and three videos (which, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with GetReligion's software platform).

What appears to be the mainbar bears all the above clichés, leading with the persecution:

Yasemin Saib was filling bags with rice for a Feed My Starving Children event when she rolled out a mat and began to pray. A man interrupted her, asking her what she was doing.
"I’m praying," Saib said.
"To Jesus?" he demanded.
A few weeks earlier, the Cooper City school of her 7-year-old son was vandalized, with the words "F--- Muslims" splayed across a wall in bright red letters. "We live in frightening times in the United States," Saib said. "I can say that as an American Muslim."
Schools defaced. Stares on airplanes. Shouts of "Go Home’’ -- this is life in 2016 for many American Muslims. An anti-Muslim mood fueled by 9/11 has reached a throbbing crescendo after Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called for a "total and complete shutdown" of U.S. borders to Muslims in the wake of December’s San Bernardino terrorist attack.

"Throbbing crescendo." How did that phrase get past the editor? That might work for the New York Post, but not for a once-world class daily.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Atheism studies: New York Times scores scoop on a planned program at University of Miami

Atheism studies: New York Times scores scoop on a planned program at University of Miami

If there is a God, he must be smiling on the New York Times.

The newspaper beat everyone else in announcing a planned chair for the study of atheism at the University of Miami -- said to be the first in the nation.

The 1,000-word article suffers, however, from a lack of secular-style skepticism. But let's look at the good stuff first:

With an increasing number of Americans leaving religion behind, the University of Miami received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair "for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics."
The chair has been established after years of discussion with a $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani, a retired businessman and former president and chairman of the modeling school Barbizon International, who has given grants to many humanist and secular causes -- though this is his largest so far. The university, which has not yet publicly announced the new chair, will appoint a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for a scholar to fill the position.
"I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists," said Mr. Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. "So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate."

The article notes a rise of interest in atheism, including conferences, courses and even a journal -- and names names, like the American Humanist Association and Pitzer College's "Secularism and Skepticism" class. Another coup is a phone talk with uber-atheist Richard Dawkins in Britain.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

No, they're not all alike: Associated Press explores evangelical divisions over Trump

No, they're not all alike: Associated Press explores evangelical divisions over Trump

We've been drowning in articles Trumpeting (sorry, it just slipped out) the relationship between evangelicals and the Republican presidential front runner. An in-depth piece by religion-beat veteran Rachel Zoll stands out in the crowded collection.

The Associated Press' veteran religion writer carefully, intelligently lays out why some theologically conservative Christians vote for Donald Trump -- and some don't. Just as importantly, she consults insiders who know evangelicals beyond the usual stereotypes.

The article just lacks one important ingredient. See if you can guess it.

For now, here is how AP maps the field:

As Trump's ascendancy forces the GOP establishment to confront how it lost touch with so many conservative voters, top evangelicals are facing their own dark night, wondering what has drawn so many Christians to a twice-divorced, profane casino magnate with a muddled record on abortion and gay marriage.
John Stemberger, a Trump critic and head of the Florida Family Policy Council, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said many evangelicals have changed. Litmus tests that for so long defined the boundaries for morally acceptable candidates seem to have been abandoned by many Christians this year, he said, no matter how much evangelical leaders try to uphold those standards.
"Evangelicals are looking at those issues less and less. They've just become too worldly, letting anger and frustration control them, as opposed to trusting in God," Stemberger said.

Too worldly?

Yikes, them's fightin' words for evangelicals.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

Tullian Tchividjian's rise and fall: Local religion coverage lags behind Washington Post

If you want a friend, be a friend, the saying goes. In religion coverage, that might translate to, "If you want attention from faith groups, pay attention to them."

And when you don’t do that, they don't talk about major locla stories -- like the resignation of a prominent pastor after confessing to an affair.

The Washington Post broke the story Sunday night that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, stepped down from the pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. The local newspapers, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, were caught off guard.

Why were they caught off guard? Because they'd lost their religion writers and didn't name successors. (Early disclosure: I was one of those writers, laid off by the Sun Sentinel in 2012.)

The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey must have been tipped on the scandal, because she got a lengthy statement from Tchividjian himself:

“I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues. As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself. Last week I was approached by our church leaders and they asked me about my own affair. I admitted to it and it was decided that the best course of action would be for me to resign. Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions and we ask you to pray for us and our family that God would give us the grace we need to weather this heart wrenching storm. We are amazingly grateful for the team of men and women who are committed to walking this difficult path with us. Please pray for the healing of deep wounds and we kindly ask that you respect our privacy.”

Bailey, a GetReligion alumna, also got a counter-statement from Kim Tchividjian, his wife, saying Tullian's remarks "reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own." Rob Pacienza, executive pastor of Coral Ridge, produced another statement: "Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit."

Evidently, neither Kim nor Rob elaborated.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

According to that Gallup LGBT population survey that is getting so much news media attention right now, the population of that long stretch of concrete, sand and palm trees running from West Palm Beach to Miami is 4.2 percent gay. Thus, the greater South Florida area is America's 17th ranking urban zone in terms of percentage of gay population -- 10 slots lower than (who would have thunk it) Salt Lake City.

Is that percentage surprisingly low, in terms of the region's image and clout in gay culture? Quite frankly, speaking as a former resident of West Palm Beach, that No. 17 ranking did surprise me.

The region is also, of course, known as a rather secular region, even with it's large Jewish population. Still an older survey found -- back in 2002 or so -- that just a whisker under 40 percent of people in South Florida were affiliated with a religious congregation, with 61 percent of the affiliated Catholic, 14 percent Jewish and 9 percent Southern Baptist.

So, if you were a newspaper editor in the region's big city, would you be operating a special Gay South Florida news section to serve that slice of the population? Obviously the answer is "yes." But why would you -- in terms of image and clout -- be operating that news operation and not one about, oh, Jewish news? Or, statistically speaking, Latino Pentecostal (Catholic and Protestant) news?

And if you were Miami Herald editor, would you assign basic news coverage of a very hot-button religious-liberty issue linked to gay rights to the staff of Gay South Florida? As opposed to a mythical news section called, oh, Judeo-Christian South Florida?

Believe it or not, the answer appears to be "yes." And if you made this editorial decision, what would one expect the coverage to look like in terms of balance and fairness?

Please respect our Commenting Policy