The Huffington Post

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

If you have read GetReligion over the years, you may have seen previous posts in which your GetReligionistas asked this question: In terms of journalism, what exactly is The Huffington Post, exactly?

It's a news and commentary website, obviously.

Ah, but there's the issue: Where does the commentary stop and the news begin? Is it possible to separate the opinion and advocacy from the hard-news reporting in some of the features at HuffPost? This is a question writers at this blog have had to ask about a number of different newsrooms in our foggy digital age.

Yes, that buzzworthy HuffPost piece about the trial of Noor Salman -- the widow of gunman Omar Mateen -- does contain elements of commentary. Yes, it is first-person, magazine-style journalism. It is also a blockbuster that raises all kinds of questions about any role that religious faith -- specifically, a radicalized, ISIS-style Islam -- played in this deadly attack.

Salman was found not guilty of helping her husband plan the attack. That's big news. But what's the larger story here? Here is a crucial passage near the top of the piece, which ran with this main headline: "Everyone Got The Pulse Massacre Story Completely Wrong."

Almost overnight, a narrative emerged that until now has been impossible to dislodge: Mateen planned and executed an attack on Pulse because he hated gay people.
“Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people,” Tim Teeman wrote in The Daily Beast. The massacre was “undeniably a homophobic hate crime,” Jeet Heer wrote in The New Republic. Some speculated that Mateen was a closeted gay man. He was likely “trying to reconcile his inner feelings with his strongly homophobic Muslim culture,” James S. Robbins wrote in USA Today.  
There was compelling evidence of other motivations.

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Please don't take the bait: What Pat Robertson said about Las Vegas isn't really news

Please don't take the bait: What Pat Robertson said about Las Vegas isn't really news

A headline from The Onion, of all places, went viral Monday after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

In recent years, the "'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens" story has become a staple of the satirical newspaper.

When there's a major tragedy, here's another thing you can count on: Pat Robertson opening his mouth.

So yes, Robertson weighed in on Las Vegas. Was there any doubt that he would? But is there any possibility that what he said amounted to actual news?

Probably not, as a million (only slightly exaggerating) past GetReligion posts make clear. Terry Mattingly wrote one of my favorites way back in 2005.

The good news is this: My Google news search found very few mainstream news organizations jumping on the latest Robertson quotes. But the Huffington Post — which still does some straight news reporting — was among them.

HuffPost's headline:

Pat Robertson Blames Las Vegas Massacre On ‘Disrespect’ For Donald Trump

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About that Mike Pence speech: Are solid facts available on global persecution of Christians?

About that Mike Pence speech: Are solid facts available on global persecution of Christians?

From time to time, your GetReligionistas pause to remind readers that they should not blame reporters for the headlines that appear with their stories.

Sad, but true: There is nothing unusual about seeing a solid news report that gets messed up, for readers, by an inaccurate or misleading headline.

But what should we say when a story has a solid, focused headline, but the story's actual contents leave much to be desired?

Consider the Washington Post report about the speech last week by Vice President Mike Pence at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. I have no problems with the simple headline here: "Pence: America will prioritize protecting Christians abroad."

The key word is "abroad." And the top of the story -- obviously the source of the headline -- gets straight to some of the basics.

Vice President Pence sought on Thursday to reassure Christian leaders looking for the White House to focus more on the plight of persecuted Christians abroad.
“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration,” the vice president said during a morning address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians being held this week in Washington. Pence spoke to an audience who are grateful for the Trump administration’s statements of support for that cause but who are starting to question when the administration will take more concrete action.
Advocacy on behalf of people persecuted for being Christian is a topic “of enormous importance to this administration,” Pence said. Turning to speakers at the conference who were there to share their personal stories of persecution abroad, he said: “You have the prayers of the president of the United States. The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred Americans to action, and it brings me here today.”

So far, so good. But if you read the rest of this story its pretty apparent that the Post team thinks that the American political angles in this story are way more important than the evidence that lots of Christians are dying around the world.

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Is Russia really going after missionaries? Few publications seem to care

Is Russia really going after missionaries? Few publications seem to care

Imagine if the U.S. Congress passed a law saying that you cannot talk about your faith in your own home or anywhere else besides a church building. You can’t even send an email to your friends telling them about your home Bible study. And if you are found guilty of, say, telling your kid about your beliefs, lighting a menorah candle or spreading out a prayer rug, you’re fined $780.

That may sound outlandish, but such is life in today’s Russia. In July, President Vladimir Putin signed an anti-terror law that even got a rebuke from Edward Snowden for its overreach. Human Rights Watch reported the law was “rammed through Russian Parliament.” 

What didn’t get as well reported was how the law could affect religious groups.

An English-language summation of the law is here. One outlet that’s jumped on it has been the Huffington Post, which realized quickly which group might be the most affected by these rules. It stated in July:

A new anti-terrorism law in Russia includes measures that will limit religious work in the country, calling into question the fate of Mormon missionaries currently serving there. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin formally signed the legislation into effect on Thursday, which will prohibit the door-to-door evangelizing Mormon missionaries commonly do. On Friday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement saying missionaries would remain in the country but will reevaluate their strategy. 

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Huffington Post losing its religion: What's up as key staffers leave and news org drops RNS?

Huffington Post losing its religion: What's up as key staffers leave and news org drops RNS?

I never know quite what to make of the Huffington Post.

Is it a news publication? An advocacy commentary site? A combination of the two? This is a topic members of the GetReligion team have been debating for years, since our focus here is on mainstream news material.

On the one hand, the online-only news organization won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for "Beyond the Battlefield," a 10-part series on the lives of severely wounded veterans and their families. Clearly, the HuffPost runs some serious news material.

On the other hand, regardless of what I think about Donald Trump, I find it difficult to take seriously the journalism of a media outlet that appends this note to its coverage of the Republican presidential candidate:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistbirther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

I bring up the HuffPost because of recent signs the website may be losing its religion. Literally.

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Huffington Post explores YouTube's wooing of anti-ISIS Muslim videographers

Huffington Post explores YouTube's wooing of anti-ISIS Muslim videographers

In the crush of religion stories in the past week or two, a jewel of a Huffington Post article about YouTube’s battle against ISIS got lost in the shuffle.

Which is too bad, as it was a meticulously researched piece by Jaweed Kaleem that deserved some attention. So into the GetReligion file of guilt we go. Before everyone clicks on yet one more Pope Francis piece, or another trip into Kentucky culture wars, do give a listen to some inside information on how some of the techies are warring on Islamic extremists.

On a Thursday night late last fall, after leaving the Manhattan office where he works as a digital products specialist, Aman Ali -- a well-known comedian in American Muslim circles -- received an unusual email from YouTube.
“We need you,” read the note, which invited Ali to the company’s sprawling, 41,000-square-foot production facility in Los Angeles and promised a free flight and two nights in a hotel. “Muslim community leaders [are] struggling to have their voices heard against the overwhelming extremist and bigoted content currently surfacing the web.”
The words “Islamic State” appeared nowhere in the note asking Muslims like Ali to “change the discourse,” but the message was clear. The terrorist organization's vast media arm, with its slick recruitment videos, was winning the propaganda war. Muslims needed to figure out a way to fight back and “get your voices heard.”
YouTube, facing pressure after unwittingly hosting execution clips before the company could realize and take them down, was offering its helping hand.

What follows is a behind-the-scenes account of how 70 Muslims from around the country showed up at a YouTube studio (I am assuming it was in Manhattan but the story doesn’t say)  and tutored on how to produce short, snappy videos that’d be more enticing for young Muslims to watch than ISIS recruitment fodder.

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A tale of two stories: How the Mormons come off in AP and in The Daily Beast

A tale of two stories: How the Mormons come off in AP and in The Daily Beast

Mormon origins have long been a center of public curiosity.  So an LDS press conference this week, unveiling an early edition of the book -- with photos of the "seer stone" that the church says Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon -- drew a lot of coverage.

Unfortunately, with the opinion-laden text that infects mainstream media, attitude makes all the difference. Let's compare two: from the Associated Press and the Daily Beast.

The press conference was actually on the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon, an interesting artifact in itself. But the book's photos of the stone, a solid object dating to the birth of the faith, were a natural emphasis in the stories.

The AP account, run by Huffington Post and others, plays it fairly straight. Despite its taste for breathless, 40-word sentences, the wire service writes a good lede, with outline, a couple of details and a hint of context:

The Mormon church's push toward transparency about its roots and beliefs took another step forward Tuesday with the first published pictures of a small sacred stone it believes founder Joseph Smith used to help translate a story that became the basis of the religion.
The pictures of the smooth, brown, egg-sized rock are part of a new book that also contains photos of the first printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the photos at a news conference in Salt Lake City.
The religion's drive in recent years to open its vaults and clarify sensitive beliefs is aimed at filling a void on the Internet for accurate information as curiosity and scrutiny increased as church membership tripled over the last three decades, Mormon scholars said.

The 800-word story adds background on the fate of the stone, indeed of the manuscript -- which is the property of the Community of Christ, which split off when the main group trekked to Salt Lake City in the mid-1800s. AP notes that leaders of both bodies were at the press conference, indicating that "the two faiths have moved on" -- though I wouldn't have used the term "past squabbles," as the article did.

AP quotes a satisfying four scholars for the story. One of them, Terry Givens of the University of Richmond, offers this observation:

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AP poll: Downtick on support for same-sex marriage. Mainstream media: (shrug)

AP poll: Downtick on support for same-sex marriage. Mainstream media: (shrug)

To the surprise of few, the American public hasn't flocked to the gay marriage side just because the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. It may surprise some that public approval of same-sex marriage has actually retreated a bit, according to a new Associated Press poll.

A bigger surprise to me: Mainstream media show little curiosity about it.

Sure, they're reposting and reprinting the report, in varying lengths. But are they localizing reactions? Seeking explanations? Not as of this writing.

The poll results are attention-getting enough:

The Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.
The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.
Overall, if there’s a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it’s more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.

We'll note in passing the "frame game" phrasing, as tmatt calls it: religious "liberties" versus gay "rights." It's an unfortunately common pair of terms in mainstream media, although religious rights are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution and gay rights are not.

But in this story, the numbers are more interesting:

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Huffington Post digs up a solid story on abuse in Baltimore archdiocese

Huffington Post digs up a solid story on abuse in Baltimore archdiocese

Well now. I recently chanced on a Huffington Post story that came out in mid May but which was so gripping, it thought that it deserves comment even six weeks later. Consider this a kind of a GetReligion "file of guilt" post.

If the headline: "Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much" doesn’t get you reading the nearly 7,500-word story, nothing can.

Yes, it’s about clergy sex abuse and no, we shouldn’t ever be tired of reading about these stories. Because in this case, a nun found out  about the abuse and paid for it with her life. Start here:

On a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.
It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor's appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community...This time, though, Maskell didn't bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster.
It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground.

The body was that of a nun who had found out that Maskell was raping and abusing teenaged girls at the school.

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