The Spectator

Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

The cable television and online streaming explosion has produced a golden age of visual, fictionalized, but ripped-from-the-headlines story telling. Some religious and political conservatives may disdain the liberal-leaning views that many of the shows unabashedly embrace, but for those who create the programming it's an unprecedented era of opportunities.

It's also an era of unprecedented, and often confusing, crossover between news and entertainment. From shows dramatizing or spoofing Washington politics, to those cherry-picking storylines from current international intrigues, it’s often hard to tell the two apart, where fact takes leave and artful fiction enters.

As traditional news platforms continue to implode -- and loose their ability to devote adequate resources to in-depth, reporting-based investigative journalism -- it’s a trend that, for the foreseeable future, is likely to continue, for better or worse, but more likely the worse for informed civic debate.

Personally, I find great artistic merit in many of these shows. I also appreciate their willingness to highlight some of the social ills that plague our -- and virtually every other -- nation. That and because I relish a well-written and well-acted product. It helps to remember that I'm an ex-Los Angeles reporter who spent time on the Hollywood TV and film beats, and who also briefly worked in the feature film industry.

Still, I limit my watching because, well, because the shows are binge-watching addictive and I don't want to spend too much time watching TV, no matter how good and entertaining it may be. I’m old-fashioned. I’d rather waste time reading non-fiction, which my reactive mind argues is somehow healthier for me. But that may just be my generational snob appeal.

In a sense, all the fictional dramas I’m drawn to are some writer’s fantasy, but I tend to be drawn to the show's based on the possible, meaning that while I have little interest in a “Game of Thrones,” a series such as “Big Love,” the departed HBO show about polygamy-practicing, fringe Mormons, quickly sucked me in because of my interest in religious groups and the show’s artistic mastery (and a fantastic cast).

Likewise, my deep interest in Israel’s fate and that of the Middle East in general, has drawn me to the Netflix (in the U.S., anyway) show “Fauda,” which I have allowed myself to devour in binge-size bites.

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Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

Last Saturday was religion day at The Seattle Times; no small thing in that the paper hasn’t had a religion reporter in several years.

There was a poll piece on how irreligious Washington state residents are becoming. Then a short piece on the fate of a historic black church:

Then there was an attention-grabbing piece about a drag show at a local Jesuit college.

Your head spins. A what?

Which is why most reporters would like to take a crack at the story. But is it news any longer that Jesuit colleges do crazy things?

Not really. Some of you may have read what Rod Dreher wrote about the drag show, but the Times had to wait for something to actually newsy to happen. Then a professor stole copies of the student newspaper that reported on the show. That was news.

Thus, the Times wrote: 

The photo of the Seattle University student performing at a drag show in a low-cut, sparkly leotard was well lit and captured the performer mid-pose.

The editors of the university’s student newspaper The Spectator say it’s a good photo, one that they don’t regret putting on the cover of last week’s edition.

That puts them at odds with the university’s president, who called the photo “obscene,” and at least one professor, who admitted to removing every copy of the newspaper from the stands at three separate locations on the campus.

The lede is kind of stodgy, as the real story is about the professor who stole the papers.

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Covering Gaza: A journalism tale of two (wildly divergent) Middle East stories

Covering Gaza: A journalism tale of two (wildly divergent) Middle East stories

The news from Gaza is seldom good; last weekend was no exception. It's also generally wildly contradictory. A classic example of this occurred earlier this month that warrants attention.

For journalists and media consumers far from the scene, which is most of us, it merits attention because the contradictory information we receive prompts us to fall back on our preconceived notions about the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- that is to say, our biases -- to make sense of the situation. And that’s a distinct disadvantage.

Surely, conflicting narratives, or realities, are by no means restricted to Gaza. What makes Gaza a special case, however, is that it's an international flashpoint that could well spark a full-blown and multi-party Middle East war even more far-reaching than the mess that is Syria.

I’ll begin this exercise in contradictory narratives with an opinion piece published online by the conservative British weekly The Spectator. The piece was an attack on the BBC, which the writer and many right-leaning pro-Israel partisans consider an apologist, or worse, for the conflict’s Palestinian side. Topped by this headline, “The good news about Gaza you won’t hear on the BBC,” the piece included this section.

Western media has often focused on this issue [Palestine] to the detriment of many other conflicts or independence movements throughout the world. The BBC, in particular, has devoted an inordinate amount of its budget and staff to covering the West Bank and Gaza in thousands of reports over the years. But you would be hard pressed to learn from the BBC’s coverage that, despite many difficulties, Gaza’s economy is also thriving in all kinds of ways.
To get a glimpse of that you would have to turn instead to this recent Al-Jazeera report from Gaza, showing footage of the bustling, well-stocked glitzy shopping malls, the impressive children’s water park (at 5.25 in the video), the fancy restaurants, the nice hotels, the crowded food markets, the toy shops brimming with the latest plush toys (at 8.39 in the video). (This video was translated into English by the excellent Middle East Media Research Institute).

Within days -- coincidentally, I’m sure; the issue is endless fodder -- this news piece (spiced with analysis, although the piece is not marked as analysis) was published in The New York Times.

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Speed skater becomes nun: This story doesn't deserve run-of-the-mill, faith-free reporting

Speed skater becomes nun: This story doesn't deserve run-of-the-mill, faith-free reporting

There’s no shortage of Olympic-athletes-and-their-faith stories coming out these days and for the most part, they’re decent stories.

There’s Gina Dalfonzo’s wrap-up of Christian athletes at the event for Christianity Today; a piece on Jewish athletes from the Jewish News of Northern California; Al Jazeera’s article on the lack of an Islamic prayer room for Olympians and so on.

But USA Today’s piece on the former speed skater who became a nun isn’t one of those well-written stories. Although datelined South Korea, the locale is in northern England, which throws off most readers at the start.

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – At a community ice rink in the northern English city of Bradford, the security attendant had a bit of a dilemma. She had already remonstrated with a group of teenage boys for larking about, skating too quickly and endangering other visitors, and now there was another speedster hurtling around the rink, even faster.
Except that this time the customer powering around the ice, executing gliding turns and weaving in and out of human traffic wasn’t joking around and carried a focused look of remembrance.
And she was wearing a nun’s habit.
Eventually Kirstin Holum, or Sr. Catherine of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, was stopped by the guard and asked to slow down, which she did without complaint.

The story doesn’t say any more about this New York-based order, founded 30 years ago this year, that has attracted quite a youthful following and is growing while many other religious orders are not.

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Weekend think piece: Guess what? Church and state in Russia have their differences

Weekend think piece: Guess what? Church and state in Russia have their differences

The priest at our parish in East Tennessee returned the other day from a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the Greek peninsula that for centuries has been the beating heart of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. 

As far as I know, Father J. Stephen Freeman did not have any secret meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin while he was trekking from monastery to monastery on the holy mountain. However, you never know. After all, Father Stephen has many online readers in Russia and, well, he is the priest of Oak Ridge (and you know what that means).

Journalists in the West have said some rather wild things, as of late, about Orthodox Christianity and its role in Russia. This then connects with the whole "The Russians Did It, the Russians Did It" atmosphere in American politics.

But are we ready to politicize the holy mountain? Check out this passage from The Spectator, drawn from a feature with this headline: "What is behind Vladimir Putin’s curious interest in Mount Athos?" Orthodox readers may want to sit down to read this.

A secretive body of Elders governs here and all citizens are bound to total obedience. They wear identical floor-length black gowns and are not permitted to shave -- the style of dress favoured by zealots everywhere. And guess what? This state is in western Europe.
Few people have heard of Mount Athos and fewer still have visited it, and that is the way they like it. A notable exception is Vladimir Putin. He has been at least twice, once in 2006 and again in May of this year. ...
Putin has formed an unholy alliance with the Orthodox church in order to ensure he receives its blessing. This fits with his self-image as a modern Tsar embodying church and state. For believers, the Holy Mountain is the centre of their faith, their Rome, the place where the flame of their faith connects to heaven.

I wasn't expecting the Z-word.

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Welcome to the UnHerd scribes, who also think journalists should, you know, 'get religion'

Welcome to the UnHerd scribes, who also think journalists should, you know, 'get religion'

Now this is what you call an easy weekend "think piece" post.

I had not heard of the just-launched UnHerd blog over in England until a reader sent your GetReligionistas a URL for a post that was guaranteed to get our attention. More on that in a minute.

Here is the top of an article in The Spectator about the launch of this interesting new blog featuring news and commentary.

A new star is born today into the centre-right blogosphere: UnHerd. The latest brainchild of Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, it has launched with a mission statement to ‘dive deep into the economic, technological and cultural challenges of our time’. Its launch blogs show a wide mix of subjects: a YouGov poll revealing the low regard with which the public view traditional news media, Peter Franklin on why we should get ready for Prime Minister Corbyn, James Bloodworth on the crash ten years on and Graeme Archer on how meat-eating may come to be seen as barbaric by our grandchildren.
UnHerd is also marked out by its financing model. It has no paywall; all articles will be free to read with the costs covered by an endowment from Sir Paul Marshall. He is a former Liberal Democrat donor and a Brexit backer -- but, unlike the others, has not run away from the field.

Well, it was another early UnHerd post that caught the attention of a GetReligion reader and, thus, your GetReligionistas. The catchy headline on that short, but provocative, post by religion researcher Katie Harrison of greater London?

Why journalism needs to get religion

You can see how that might get the attention of folks at this here blog.


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Is ISIS a reliable source on its treatment of Christians? Sure, because terrorists don't lie

Is ISIS a reliable source on its treatment of Christians? Sure, because terrorists don't lie

Nod your head affirmatively if you agree that journalists are only as good as their sources, no matter what the story. Seeing nothing but affirmative head bobbing in GetReligion land, I'll now ask my follow up question:

Who or what constitutes an authoritative and trustworthy source?

Does the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) qualify as a trustworthy source in stories about how the terrorist group treats Christians in its self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq?

No way, you say? An absurd proposition? An even worse idea than taking as unquestionable truth the preposterous pandering of a certain presidential candidate (feel free to name your favorite political villain)?


But wait. It seems some international news outlets, western politicians and UN diplomats may not be as careful about this as we're trying to be. That, according to a recent essay in The Spectator, the nearly 200-year-old British news and culture weekly that leans right.

Here's the top of the Spectator piece, penned by Luke de Pulford, a member of the British Conservative Party's human rights commission.

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Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Your weekend think piece: The Spectator does math, attempts Anglican time travel

Think of them as the three laws of spiritual physics when it comes to the demographics of faith. The bottom line is that religious groups thrive when:

* Believers have children.

* Believers pass their faith on to their children, the children retain that faith and some of these children even embrace vocations as clergy or workers with the faith.

* Believers reach out to others and spread the faith in service and evangelism.

As we like to say here at GetReligion: Demographics is destiny, and so is doctrine.

You could certainly see these factors at play in the recent "Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts"(.pdf copy here) conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

The bottom line: Catholicism is on ice in Europe and on fire in Africa and Asia. You can read some of the details in my "On Religion" column this week, but here's the bottom line: It's hard for a faith to survive, let alone thrive, when it isn't producing children, clergy and new believers. Heed these thoughts from CARA's Mark Gray:

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Do American newspapers have the time, space and patience to cover Saudi Arabia?

Do American newspapers have the time, space and patience to cover Saudi Arabia?

How do you handle a "friend" as frustrating as Saudi Arabia? What kind of news coverage does this "friend" deserve, week after week, in the mainstream American press?

Yes, those are scare quotes meant to signal doubt because Saudi reciprocity seems to me as shaky as that of any of Washington's so-called allies.

Its religious, political and social values are opposite those of every Western democracy, including, of course, the United States. The ruling family, the House of Saud spends billions to spread its ultra-conservative brand of Wahhabi Sunni Islam across the Muslim world and is at the center of just about every intra-Muslim conflict across the Middle East, the latest -- but certainly not the most inconsequential -- of which is Yemen, where the long-building Shia-Sunni confrontation could reach a horrific climax.

But even as its policies toward women are criticized continually in the West, the same Western nations rush to do business with the ridiculously oil rich, theocratic monarchy -- putting profits before principles at virtually every opportunity.

That's why the spate of stories the past several weeks concerning the Swedish foreign minister's publicly calling out the Saudis on political and women's rights were to my thinking a refreshing change of pace. Not only did Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom criticize policies, she directly blamed the Saudi royal family for the state of affairs, a rarity in the coded language of international diplomacy.

What? You say you're not familiar with this story?

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