South Florida

Gray Lady goes neo-tabloid: Evangelicals, Trump, Falwell, Cohen, Tom Arnold, 'cabana boy,' etc.

Gray Lady goes neo-tabloid: Evangelicals, Trump, Falwell, Cohen, Tom Arnold, 'cabana boy,' etc.

I think that it’s safe to say that Jerry Falwell, Jr., has had a rough year or two.

I don’t say that as a cheap shot. I say that as someone who has followed the adventures of the Falwell family and Liberty University with great interest since the early 1980s, when elite newsrooms — The New Yorker came first, methinks — started paying serious attention to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Of course, there is a good reason for political reporters and others to dig into Falwell, Jr., affairs. His early decision to endorse Donald Trump, instead of Sen. Ted Cruz, helped create the loud minority of white evangelicals who backed The Donald in early primaries. Without them, including Falwell, Trump doesn’t become the nominee and then, in a lesser-of-two-evils race with Hillary Clinton, squeak into the White House.

So that leads us to a rather interesting — on several levels — piece of neo-tabloid journalism at the New York Times, with this headline: “The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen.” The “evangelical,” of course, is Falwell.

Everything begins and ends with politics, of course, even in a story packed with all kinds of sexy whispers and innuendo about personal scandals. Thus, here is the big summary statement:

Mr. Falwell — who is not a minister and spent years as a lawyer and real estate developer — said his endorsement was based on Mr. Trump’s business experience and leadership qualities. A person close to Mr. Falwell said he made his decision after “consultation with other individuals whose opinions he respects.” But a far more complicated narrative is emerging about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the months before that important endorsement.

That backstory, in true Trump-tabloid fashion, features the friendship between Mr. Falwell, his wife and a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach; the family’s investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel; purported sexually revealing photographs involving the Falwells; and an attempted hush-money arrangement engineered by the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.

The revelations have arisen from a lawsuit filed against the Falwells in Florida; the investigation into Mr. Cohen by federal prosecutors in New York; and the gonzo-style tactics of the comedian and actor Tom Arnold.

Basically, this story is built on real estate and court documents (that’s the solid stuff), along with a crazy quilt of materials from sources like Cohen, reality-TV wannabe Arnold, BuzzFeed and a pivotal anonymous source (allegedly) close to Falwell who readers are told next to nothing about, even though he/she is crucial to this article’s credibility.

One key anonymous source? That’s right.

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Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Back in the days when he attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Joseph LaGuardia had a good friend who was working his way through some tough times.

But there were two constants that his friend could count on -- football and church.

The friend was Aaron Feis, who would later become a security guard and football coach at his alma mater. Feis has emerged as one of the most heroic figures in the school massacre in Parkland, Fla. Students said he used his massive frame to shield the innocent and was fatally wounded while doing so.

The national press has paid attention to the Feis story, with lots of quotes talking about his unique and powerful bond with students and his commitment to his work. He died in a local hospital, while friends sent out waves of social-media appeals for prayer on his behalf.

Today, LaGuardia is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, north of West Palm Beach. I don't know how the local newspaper found him, but his warm words about Feis added some interesting and poignant details to his life story.

The bottom line: Bless be the ties that bind.

As often is the case, there may have been a faith angle in all of those appeals for prayer. In a way, that's the theme that ran through this week's "Crossroads" podcast, which followed up on my earlier post about the Ash Wednesday-Valentine's Day shooting. Click here to tune that in.

But back to the story about Fies, as seen through the eyes of this pastor who knew him well.

LaGuardia ... said Feis was a couple of years behind him in school, but the two grew close through their church, the New Covenant Church on the Lake in Pompano Beach.

“There were three of us friends who spent most weekends together,” LaGuardia said. “We were very active in the youth group, kind of always there when the doors opened. And his wife was also part of the youth group as well.”

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'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

You turned on the television.

Within minutes you saw the images, you saw the religion "ghost." Clearly, the journalists behind the cameras knew what they were seeing.

It would be hard to imagine a more powerful image -- in terms of ancient traditions clashing with Life. Right. Now. -- than ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of people caught up in yet another mass shooting of students and teachers.

The images, of course, called up words that would be familiar to any reporter who has worked, or is working, on the religion-news beat. We are talking about words that -- especially in South Florida's large Catholic community -- many people, including students, had heard that morning as a priest marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross, during Ash Wednesday rites.

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The prayer that many worshipers would have whispered during the rite are even more haunting:

Jesus, you place on my forehead the sign of my sister Death:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

So did this symbolic detail make it into many stories about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? To my surprise, it did not. To see the context, let's look at the main story in The Washington Post. Did the national desk see the religion ghost?

PARKLAND, Fla. -- A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.

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Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

What would happen if mainstream media did their own reporting? They just might avoid the kinds of gaps and gaffes marring the coverage of a controversy over a South Florida mosque.

The Islamic Center of Boca Raton has been used as a polling site for some years by the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, but this year she changed her mind. Why? Because she says she got a lot of complaints, including threats. 

It's a more than worthwhile story acting as a kind of microcosm for national questions of tolerance, terrorism, religious freedom and church (or mosque) and state. And it's worth more than the cut 'n' paste jobs that have been passing for, you know, showing up and/or phoning.

The story came out last Friday in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, but it wasn't till midweek that it caught on in national media. 

Then the gaffes began.

The New York Daily News ran a photo supposedly showing the Islamic Center. But it's really the Assalam Center, a different mosque a little more than a mile south. And the Washington Post today led with, "Since at least the year 2010, citizens have cast their votes within the pastel green walls of the mosque. No, they haven't. The light green mosque opened in 2012. Before then, the members rented space at a shopping plaza.

And those are just the easiest soft spots to spot.

Aside from its error on the ICBR building, the WaPo article may not contain a single original word. It's assembled from eight sources -- including the Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and West Palm Beach-based WPTV. The newspaper also added canned statements from two Congress members, the Florida Family Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. WaPo's only redeeming feature is admitting its sources.

The Associated Press doesn't even wait for you to read its lede. "People Vote in Churches and Synagogues. Why Not a Mosque?," says its headline, which was used by ABC News and elsewhere.

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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?

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Jim Davis agrees to join GetReligion's thriving Florida bureau

EDITOR’S NOTE: What can I say? When I lived in South Florida this guy was the local professional on the religion beat whose work landed in my front yard. Also, surely it means something that one of his email addresses is “religionwriter.” To cut to the chase, I’m happy to report that James Davis, one of the gentlemen of the profession in recent decades, is joining us here at GetReligion. Stop and think about it. With Father George Conger already based in Central Florida, I think the odds are getting better that there may someday be a GetReligion cruise to the Caribbean.

Thanks to tmatt for the invitation to write for GetReligion. I’ve long admired the blog and I’ve known tmatt as a colleague on the religion beat for (slurred number) years. I’m honored to breathe the rarefied atmosphere here.

For myself, I worked for four decades until November 2012 with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, most of it as religion editor. Most of my work focused on religion at the local level, covering the unbelievably rich mix of religions that is South Florida.

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And now, ironic Episcopal PR from South Florida

I wish there was some way, legally and technically, that I could have GetReligion readers take a look at the following two stories about the advent of same-sex union rites in the Episcopal Church without readers being able to tell which one is from a mainstream newsroom and which one is from the denomination’s own information source.

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