Pokemon Go

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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Let's ask a few journalism questions about that Pokemon Go guy in the Russian shrine

Let's ask a few journalism questions about that Pokemon Go guy in the Russian shrine

So, did you hear about the Russian blogger who paid a small legal price for playing Pokemon Go inside a highly symbolic Russian Orthodox sanctuary?

I sure did, and I'm not just talking about the coverage from BBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post. As you would imagine, Orthodox folks such as myself have been asked if we approved of this government action against an Internet-era provocateur.

Well, that is an interesting question. However, that isn't what I want to write about here. Much like the Pussy Riot case, I am interesting in a different pair of questions: What actually happened in that shrine? And could news consumers find out what happened, just by reading the news accounts?

So let's shift the focus for a second and consider a hypothetical case. Let's say that an alt-right Holocaust denier decides to enter a highly symbolic sanctuary -- perhaps Berlin's Ryke Street synagogue -- and walks around playing some kind of smartphone game in which he hunts demons, or monsters, or whatever. He then posts an anti-semitic video online. Ultimately, he ends up in trouble with law officials.

Now, there are several questions that I think would be crucial for journalists to ask in this case: (1) What sanctuary are we talking about? (2) Did this sanctuary invasion take place during a worship service? (2) Did the rabbi, or people working with him, request that the man cease and desist? In other words, was he warned that he was disturbing the peace?

It's one thing to walk around uninvited in a holy place doing nonsense. In terms of the law, it might be more offensive -- perhaps even a legal offense -- to do this during a prayer service. What if this alt-right wacko was asked to leave, to stop distracting people in the synagogue and refused? Several times?

Now, back to Russia. Let me stress, once again, that we are not debating the appropriateness of Russian law or actions in this case. We are asking if news consumers can figure out what actually happened in this event, simply by reading the news coverage.

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