Social issues

Death penalty foes are 'abolitionists,' says the Los Angeles Times -- but does the name fit?

Death penalty foes are 'abolitionists,' says the Los Angeles Times -- but does the name fit?

Are death penalty foes modern abolitionists? Some mainstream media are reaching for that innocence by association, seeking the reflected glory of the 19th century anti-slavery movement. In so doing, however, they ignore its religious nature.

Those media include the Los Angeles Times, which uses that word three times -- once in the headline -- in its follow-up on two ballot items that fought for Californians' attention along with whom they wanted for president.

Capital punishment was the focus of two ballot items in California this week. Proposition 62 would have repealed the death penalty; voters defeated it by 53.9 percent. Proposition 66 would "expedite" the penalty, with measures like referring such cases to lower courts instead of the state Supreme Court. That one was narrowly approved, by 50.9 percent.

The issue resounds beyond the borders of the nation's most populous state, as the Los Angeles Times explains:

California had been one of the most significant states to watch regarding its decision on the death penalty, legal experts said. With nearly 750 inmates awaiting execution, almost double the number in Florida, the state has the second-highest death row population in the country.
The ballot race results showed a large divide over capital punishment in keeping with national trends and followed voter decisions in favor of the death penalty in Oklahoma, which became the first to approve state constitutional protections for it, and in Nebraska, where voters overturned bipartisan legislation repealing it.

For crossfire, we hear from District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County, in favor of the death penalty. Following her is former star Mike Farrell of the M*A*S*H TV series, opposing capital punishment.  

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Gay Muslims: This RNS feature offers one-sided coverage of a retreat in South Africa

Gay Muslims: This RNS feature offers one-sided coverage of a retreat in South Africa

Gay Muslims are media-sexy these days, especially since Omar Mateen opened fire on a gay nightclub in Orlando in June. With its feature on the annual Inner Circle retreat in South Africa, the Religion News Service avidly joins the journalism pack.

Typical of many social-issues articles these days -- as with The Associated Press on Russia's expulsion of a pro-gay missionary -- the piece is written entirely from the viewpoint of the subjects. Not only about what they think, but how they feel, how they perceive non-gay society, how they interpret their holy texts.

In other words, the story covers one side of a debate and one side only. Example:

Cape Town-based Imam Muhsin Hendricks founded The Inner Circle 20 years ago in his garage as a safe space for queer Muslims. He now sees the annual gathering as a refuge for those who feel ostracized by LGBT communities because of their Muslim faith and shunned by Muslim communities because of their sexual orientations or gender identities.
"Tomorrow will be very emotional," Hendricks said before the closing ceremony at the end of a busy week. "People are already suffering withdrawal symptoms and separation anxiety because now they have to go back to these horrible contexts, and here was such a beautiful space of acceptance and love. They’re going to miss that."
The "beautiful space" Hendricks cultivates each year has much to do with the scenery and camaraderie, but also with the legal and social environment in which the retreat is held.

The Inner Circle gathered 125 LGBT Muslims and their allies from around Africa. They talk out anxieties, analyze issues and share ideas for coping. They sprinkle their quotes with terms like Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, patriarchy and "hate agenda." They prefer the term "queer," although the article never really says why.

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Transgender wars: Associated Press shows surprising fairness -- considering

Transgender wars: Associated Press shows surprising fairness -- considering

The states struck back this week, with 11 joining in a lawsuit against the Obama administration's directive to open public school bathrooms to transgender students. But in a surprise, some mainstream media aren’t sliding into the usual cheerleader mode. The Associated Press, for one, is actually producing (gasp) fair coverage.

Let's look closer.

AP starts with the fact that, rather than enlightened North versus backward South, the suit includes states far outside Dixie:  

The lawsuit announced Wednesday includes Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia. It asks a North Texas federal court to declare the directive unlawful in what ranks among the most coordinated and visible legal challenges by states over the socially divisive issue of bathroom rights for transgender persons.
The Obama administration has "conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," the lawsuit reads.

Pretty forceful language, and livelier than many news articles. They typically quote a liberal or two live, rendering a nice, flowing comment -- then match it with a stiff-sounding posture from a conservative website.

AP gives valuable background in pinpointing the origins of the federal directive: a duel of lawsuits between the U.S. Justice Department and North Carolina over that state's laws requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms of their biological sex, rather than the one they identify with. When several states band together in court, it's easy to forget how they got there.

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Out of the (water) closet: New York Times surveys backlash on Obama 'bathroom' order

Out of the (water) closet: New York Times surveys backlash on Obama 'bathroom' order

The pushback against the Obama administration's latest directive, to open all school bathrooms and locker rooms to transgender people -- using federal funding as a bit of blackmail -- gets a broad indepth article from the New York Times.

But the Gray Lady raises more questions than she answers -- and doesn't ask some that she should.

The story draws broadly from several front lines. It tells of a march in rural Georgia and a demonstration in Fort Worth over the issue.  Also a vow by the school district in Marion County, Fla., to fight a complaint from the ACLU. And eight states have sided with North Carolina in its legal fight with the federal government, which is suing the Tar Heel State over its bathroom law.

And -- an important fact -- the paper reveals that everyone is pretty much arguing blind about transgender regulations:

Advocates on both sides said they suspect that most school districts did not have explicit policies defining gender. There are districts that allow transgender students to use the facilities that match their identities, and districts that prohibit it, but no definitive count of either group.

The article is thickly referenced with seven linked articles, most of them from the Times itself. But in contrast to many roundup-style pieces, this one adds new info and interviews. It includes at least 10 quoted sources, including interviews and a press conference with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas. And the opinions represent not only both sides, but a few points in between.

Unfortunately, some of the quotes amount to mere posturing:

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Shotgun approach: Articles on Mississippi lawsuits are short, loud and messy

Shotgun approach: Articles on Mississippi lawsuits are short, loud and messy

The progressive crusade to Clean Up the Bigoted Bible Belt revisits Mississippi this week. And as always, some professionals in the mainstream media are taking a shotgun approach -- blasting all matters of religious objections, for everyone in every situation, paying no attention to the fine details.

First, Reuters reported on the American Civil Liberties Union, filing for an injunction against Mississippi's new Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, which allows religious objections to same-sex marriage.  

Then the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported on the Campaign for Southern Equality, which is trying to reopen a lawsuit against the same law. The organization in 2014 got the U.S. District Court to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.

Both articles make the issues as murky as water in a Mississippi bayou.

Let's start with the hometown newspaper:

Tuesday's lawsuit is the second filed in two days over the divisive bill. Monday, the ACLU filed a suit against the state department of health to declare the bill unconstitutional.

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Baby steps: AP shows improvement in reporting religious-objections bill in Missouri

Baby steps: AP shows improvement in reporting religious-objections bill in Missouri

Well, it appears that a mainstream journalist went out and found one minister to quote in religious liberty story.

They usually don’t quote any in news articles like these. So an Associated Press article on a new religious-exemption bill in Missouri is a tiny step in the right direction.

The piece, carried by the Charlotte Observer, reports the new storm a-brewing over a religious objections bill in that state. The top of story focuses on a business-heavy backlash:

More than 60 businesses including some of Missouri's biggest corporate names joined a coalition opposed to state legislation that would protect businesses objecting on religious grounds to same-sex marriages, the latest sign of a backlash against such proposals across the country.
Agricultural giant Monsanto, prescription drug benefits manager Express Scripts, and pet food maker Nestle Purina are among employers to join the recently formed Missouri Competes, according to gay rights advocacy group PROMO, which released the list just hours before a House committee heard testimony from business, sports and religious groups. Dozens crammed in the Capitol basement for the late-night hearing.
The formation of the coalition comes amid business pushback to legislation in other states protecting those opposed to gay marriage.

The article has much to recommend it. AP quotes an equal number of sources on each side. It uses terms like religious-objections legislation instead of the usual "religious freedom," in sarcasm quotes.  

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Georgia religious liberty follow-up: News media pros finally quote religious people

Georgia religious liberty follow-up: News media pros finally quote religious people

Georgia has religious people! The Atlanta Journal-Constitution finally remembered!

But don’t pop the bubbly just yet. The newspaper saw the light mainly after the much-contested religious rights bill was vetoed on Monday. And even then, religious and social conservatives got precious little space in an article supposedly focusing on them.

AJC's story is one of several follow-ups in mainstream media, on the next moves by advocates of the law and similar ones in other states. We'll see how it stacks up against the others.

Here is how Georgia's largest newspaper covered a press conference by several of the groups:

A coalition of conservative and religious groups in Georgia on Tuesday blasted Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of a "religious liberty" bill this week, saying he had turned his back on the state’s faith community.
"What this says to me is Gov. Deal is out of touch with the people of this state," said Tanya Ditty, state director of Concerned Women for America, who was joined with leaders of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and a half dozen other organizations at a Capitol news conference.
Lawmakers, Ditty said, "are not elected to represent Hollywood values or Wall Street values. The voters are tired of political correctness."

Sounds decent until you notice a few things. First are those well-worn sarcasm quotes around "religious liberty," a signal that you're supposed to doubt its legitimacy. Second, the entire story takes less than 300 words. The stories on protests by business and sports executives were several times that long.

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