The Media Project

Friday Five: Twitter mobs, Covington Catholic controversy, ABC journalist's faith

Friday Five: Twitter mobs, Covington Catholic controversy, ABC journalist's faith

In the age of outrage, it’s hard to escape social media mobs.

People screaming from behind smartphones and keyboards feed a seemingly endless loop of headlines like this one: “Twitter rips Savannah Guthrie for 'appalling' interview with Nicholas Sandmann on 'Today.'“

Certainly, Guthrie’s interview of the Covington Catholic High School teen at the center of this past weekend’s viral videos is fair game for criticism and debate. But isn’t there a more productive way to do that than succumbing to a clickbaity “Twitter rips” approach?

What would happen if newspapers such as USA Today stopped biting or at least insisted on doing actual interviews and quoting smart sources with strong, nuanced opinions? That used to be called journalism, right?

Speaking of a better way, over at Poynter, Tom Jones makes a fair, sensible case for why “Guthrie did her best and did well.” He notes:

When you’re getting criticized from both sides, there’s a decent chance you did a good job.

Amen.

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The villains were clear — or seemed to be — in the original stories Saturday (examples here, here and here). But by Sunday, a much more complicated pictured emerged. And days later, we’re still talking about this.

There’s still time to catch up on all the excellent analysis and commentary on this subject here at GetReligion:

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Friday Five: Synagogue shooting, Messianic controversy, young evangelicals, Squirrel Hill memories

Friday Five: Synagogue shooting, Messianic controversy, young evangelicals, Squirrel Hill memories

Saturday’s synagogue shooting, which claimed 11 lives in Pittsburgh, has dominated religion headlines this week. Here at GetReligion, we’ve produced a half-dozen posts on that unimaginable tragedy.

If you get a chance today or this weekend, check out what we’ve written, and feel free to let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

Among our posts:

• Julia Duin’s thoughtful commentary on how “Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity — synagogue shootings.”

Ira Rifkin’s expert analysis noting that “Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism.”

• And my own piece reflecting on “Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy.”

I’ll mention some of our other Pittsburgh-related offerings below as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In a post Thursday, I called Emma Green’s Atlantic report headlined “The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead” one of the best religion stories of 2018.

Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein praised Green’s “lovely reporting,” and CNN religion editor Daniel Burke lauded the "sensitivity, nuance, context — and the insights” of the story.

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Monday Mix: Get out the (faith) vote, clergy sex ramifications, Booker preaches, Catholic SCOTUS

Monday Mix: Get out the (faith) vote, clergy sex ramifications, Booker preaches, Catholic SCOTUS

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. "I believe in Jesus Christ AND I believe in liberal progressive values." NPR’s Jerome Socolovsky reports on faith groups working to get out the vote for the midterm elections.

The story features a progressive seminary whose leaders feel “called in the Trump era to motivate young voters.” No surprise, we’re talking about the Episcopalians.

In the heart of the Virginia Theological Seminary campus, a pub named after the year the flagship Episcopal seminary was established — 1823 — recently hosted a get-out-the-vote event.

The seminary registrar, Rachel Holm, was in the pub, driving home the importance of these midterms elections to the mostly 20- and 30-somethings in the crowd, and livening it up with a game of election trivia.

"So, what are the three topics millennial voters care about most when voting?" she asked.

"Themselves, themselves, themselves!' one of them shouted, as the others erupted in laughter.

Then, joking aside, Holm told them to make sure they understood the requirements for registering to vote in Virginia.

2. "Our people still do believe in God. But they don't believe in us." Wall Street Journal religion writer Ian Lovett tackles the response of parishioners to the ongoing Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

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Italy’s new government and Catholic Church increasingly at odds over migrant crisis 

Italy’s new government and Catholic Church increasingly at odds over migrant crisis 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This religion-news piece ran recently at the website of The Media Project, the global network that supports GetReligion. It was written by veteran New York City journalist Clemente Lisi, who is now one of my journalism faculty colleagues at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

ROME -- The soap opera that is Italian politics has taken a dramatic turn in recent weeks as two populist parties on opposite ends of the spectrum have decided to join forces as the Catholic Church opposes the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that has engulfed the country over the past year. 

While the outcome of the hotly-contested March 4 election was a victory for populism, there was no clear winner that day. A coalition that included Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party featured Trump-style campaign promises such as deporting thousands of undocumented immigrants out of the country. The party -- formerly the Lega Nord that had called on the wealthy northern provinces to break off from the rest of Italy -- largely appealed to Catholics. 

Another populist party, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009, also won big. The party’s platform, which leans left, also included campaigning against the European Union and anti-immigration. With no party reaching the 40 percent threshold needed in parliament to form a ruling government, the deadlock caused three months of negotiations and backroom dealing that resulted in the recent appointment of Giuseppe Conte as prime minister. A relatively unknown to the political scene, Conte, a law professor, is now tasked with leading a divided country. 

The League has faced widespread criticism for its xenophobic policies -- primarily from the Catholic Church -- after vowing to deport 500,000 illegal immigrants from Italy. An estimated 600,000 people have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. As part of the compromise over Conte’s appointment, Salvini was sworn in as Italy's new interior minister, while Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio will serve as labor and economic development minister, a position that allows him to fulfill his campaign promise of giving Italians universal basic income. 

One of the battles to emerge from all this is between the League and the church.

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Reporting on the unthinkable: Ancient, multicultural roots of female genital mutilation

Reporting on the unthinkable: Ancient, multicultural roots of female genital mutilation

It's hard to imagine a topic that would be harder for journalists to write about than female genital mutilation (FGM).

In some parts of the world it is a procedure with deep cultural and even religious meaning. For others, it may be a way to keep young women attached to a tribe or a family structure that is truly patriarchal. Yet there are women who insist that it is an act that is totally necessary, if women are to be trusted, accepted and in any way empowered in certain cultures.

There is no question that there is a religious element to the FGM story, even though this rite "pre-dates both Christianity and Islam, and is commended in the core texts of neither faith," according to a disturbing, but fascinating, think piece at the website of The Media Project, the organization that supports GetReligion. 

The author of this reported essay is journalist and media-literacy pro Jenny Taylor, best known was the founder of Lapido Media in England.

How high are the stakes in this ongoing crisis? Taylor notes:

As many as one-third of girls in areas of Sudan where there are no antibiotics will die, according to another report. The complications range from haemorrhage to tetanus, blocked urethras and infertility.

A key figure in the essay is anti-FGM activist 55-year-old Ann-Marie Wilson, the founder of 28TooMany. The name is a reference to number of countries that had not banned this rite, at the time Wilson began her work.

How old is this ritual? This first paragraph contains a detail that I had never heard before:

Wilson, a doctor of psychology and a midwife who trained in Pakistan, recently completed a paper on the origins of FGM, claiming that the mummies in the British Museum show clear signs of FGM.


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The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The other day, I pointed readers toward a piece of student journalism from the famed Columbia University School of Journalism -- a kind of a "Religion Beat: The Next Generation" nod. Click here to see that post: "Meet the Muslim Man Who Rents Crosses in Jerusalem."

Several readers asked if this was new territory for GetReligion, since we are not critiquing these pieces. In a way, it is new ground. However, readers should consider this part of our years of work trying to show newsroom managers that there are young journalists in the pipeline who want to cover this important beat.

The faculty member behind this project is the great religion-beat pro Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, who serves as director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life. With his cooperation, The Media Project website is running some student stories reported and written in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars -- with hands-on reporting work overseas.

This story by reporter/photographer Augusta Anthony is about one of the most famous and sacred sites in global Christianity. The headline: "Unity in the Divided Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The symbolic-detail lede:

JERUSALEM -- There’s a ladder in the Old City of Jerusalem. It perches on a stone ledge beneath the second floor window at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. According to local lore, the ladder has been there since at least 1852 and it is not to be moved.

The “immovable ladder,” as its known, symbolizes the complications that arise when six different Christian denominations occupy one of the holiest sites in their theology. Someone -- no one knows who -- left it there in the mid-19th century and to this day none of the churches has agreed who the ladder belongs to. So it sits there, on a ledge above the sturdy wooden doors, a reminder of the contested ground beneath it.

“They are always asking about the ladder,” said Archbishop Hierapolis Isidoros with a sigh.

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That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?

If you asked typical American citizens to name the world's largest Muslim nation, in terms of population, most would probably pick a land somewhere in the Middle East -- not Indonesia.

However, if there is one fact that many Americans do know about Islam in Indonesia, it is that most Muslims in this sprawling and complex nation practice a "moderate" form of the faith (whatever that "moderate" label means). This has allowed believers in various faith groups to live in peace, for the most part.

Thus, terrorist attacks in Indonesia linked ISIS are big news -- at least in the American news outlets that continue to offer adequate coverage of international news. Sadly, an ominous cluster of attacks this past weekend in Indonesia probably received little if any attention in most American newspapers.

The New York Times, of course, was a notable exception. Here is the lede in its report:

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A wave of deadly bombings on Sunday and Monday and evidence of more planned have shaken Indonesia just ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, with entire families -- including children -- carrying out suicide attacks against Christian worshipers and the police.

The troubling discovery Monday of completed bombs in a housing complex outside Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, came a day after members of a single family carried out three attacks against separate churches in the city around Mass time, killing seven people.

The use of the word "Mass" implies that the attacks focused on Catholic congregations, when the reality was more complex than that -- since Pentecostal and traditional Protestant churches were targeted, along with Catholic sanctuaries. In other words, the attacks were aimed at all Christians (and police), not just Catholics.

But that was not the main issue here. The Times report quickly reminded readers:

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, practices one of the most moderate forms of Islam in the world, but still has a homegrown terrorism problem

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From Columbia Journalism School: Meet the Muslim man who rents crosses in Jerusalem

From Columbia Journalism School: Meet the Muslim man who rents crosses in Jerusalem

Long, long ago, back when I started writing my "On Religion" column, I worked at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP) in Denver. That meant getting to know quite a few editors and leaders in the whole Scripps Howard News operation. After I left the newsroom, it was natural that some of those ties and friendships remained.

Then, when I began teaching journalism -- especially in Washington, D.C. -- it was natural for me to talk to some of the movers and shakers in the Scripps Howard Foundation, especially those linked to the news bureau that existed for many years just off K Street.

To make a long story short, I was very happy when the foundation asked for input on starting an seminar on religion reporting at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City. They said the faculty member they wanted to lead this project was Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, and I said: Oh. My. God. Yes. (or words to that effect). Goldman is now the veteran director of the school’s Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life.

All of that leads to this: Our colleagues at The Media Project website are going to start running, on occasion, pieces written by students in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars, which include hands-on reporting work overseas -- with past visits to India, Russia, Ukraine, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

So check out this feature, with reporting and photography by students Isobel van Hagen and Vildana Hajric. The headline: "A Muslim Man's Sacred Job Renting Crosses in Jerusalem."

Here's the overture:

JERUSALEM -- Tall, built and gangly, Mazen Kenan, a 46-year-old Palestinian, towers above everyone in just about any setting. But his height is particularly commanding in the tightly packed streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, where he maneuvers easily despite the five foot-long, 50-pound wooden cross he bears on his shoulder. His dexterity is not surprising because he’s been shuttling crosses through the city for nearly two decades.

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What we've got here is failure to communicate -- debates about Cardinal Marx and gay blessings

What we've got here is failure to communicate -- debates about Cardinal Marx and gay blessings

Our review of the US press coverage of claims that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, the president of the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz (DBK), had given his permission to clergy to bless same-sex unions has sparked rigorous debate on social media.

Criticism of the article “Let your Ja's be Yes” has taken two general lines -- discussion of the underlying issues and discussion of our criticism of the Daily Caller -- the U.S. publication singled out in the review.

Please note that the question of whether Cardinal Marx should, nor should not, endorse same-sex blessings is outside the parameters of this site -- we focus on journalism. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?) the Roman poet Juvenal asked in his Satires (VI, lines 347–348). This website seeks to answer this question as it pertains to the coverage of religion in the secular press.

The criticism of our reporting can be summarized in a tweet from reader Samuel Johnson, who challenged our translation of the German-language interview. He stated that our review was “a very problematic criticism, because the writer of the Crux published CNA authored piece, Anian Christoph Wimmer, is a native German speaker who also writes for CNA's German website. This is not a case of an English-speaking reporter misunderstanding.”

I responded by noting the critique was of the Daily Caller, not CNA. To which, Mr. Johnson responded:

The problem is that you write in criticizing the Daily Caller, "If we listen to the Marx interview then through German ears, rather than through the filter of English print, the story is turned on its head." But evidently, listening through German ears doesn't necessarily turn the story on its head, since after all Wimmer listened with German ears and heard a, "Yes."

While I am not a native German speaker, I do have some small fluency in languages, and am persuaded I had the better translation. The discussion essentially ended there, as it had become a question of competing truths -- mine versus the translation used in the Daily Caller story.

A new day, however, brought new developments to the story.

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