What is this?

Why folks are freaking out over article on Marco Rubio tweeting 'Most Republican Part of the Bible'

Why folks are freaking out over article on Marco Rubio tweeting 'Most Republican Part of the Bible'

To the casual observer, it looks like news.

Politico certainly does nothing to present it as something else — say, a single liberal theologian's opinion.

I'm talking about the article published over the weekend with this clickbait of a headline:

Marco Rubio Is Tweeting the Most Republican Part of the Bible

The piece has a byline and reads — to some extent — like straightforward, fact-based journalism:

Marco Rubio had a message for his nearly 3 million Twitter followers on the morning of June 26: “As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Proverbs 26:11.”
That one might have been his most head-snapping, but Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, had been tweeting verses like that one since May 16. He has tweeted a biblical verse almost every day since then. Almost all of them come from the Old Testament, and specifically the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs is notable in that is presents a fairly consistent view of the world: The righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished. In the understanding of Proverbs, everyone gets what is coming to them; behavior is directly linked to reward or punishment. This worldview has social consequences: Those who succeed in life must be more righteous than those who struggle.

Some, including The Hill, interpreted it as a news story, reporting on Rubio's response:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Sunday pushed back at a news article that claimed the conservative lawmaker was tweeting "the most Republican part of the Bible."
"Proverbs is the Republican part of the bible? I don't think Solomon had yet joined the GOP when he wrote the first 29 chapters of Proverbs," Rubio said tongue-in-check, while retweeting Politico Magazine's story on the matter.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a former Southern Baptist youth pastor, also weighed in via Twitter:

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What is this? Houston Chronicle reports on 'costly economics of fetus disposal'

What is this? Houston Chronicle reports on 'costly economics of fetus disposal'

It's time for another entry in our series of posts on "What is this?"

Not familiar with that category? Here's how our own Terry Mattingly described it a while back:

Several years ago, your GetReligionistas created a new item in our archives list of news "categories." As faithful readers know, we focus on hard-news material produced by mainstream news organizations. The only time that we write about editorial columns, op-ed pieces, academic essays or the like is when they focus directly on issues in our home turf – religion-beat news.
However, every now and then people would send us URLs for items published by religious wire services, denominational magazines or non-profit sources linked to religious causes that – from their point of view – focused on a valid news story that wasn't getting mainstream-press ink. After pondering this dilemma for a while, we began using a "Got news?" headline slug and created a new category.
Now it's time for another category, one that we have been pondering for quite some time. The headline slug is, as you see above, "What is this?" We seriously considered "WTF?" but decided that didn't mesh well with the sober tone that we strive to maintain around here. 

This latest item appeared in the Houston Chronicle with this headline:

The costly economics of fetus disposal

The lede:

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RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

If you were to ask me the easiest part of writing for GetReligion, I would say it is coming up with items for "What is this?" --  the label we give to stories that are presented as hard news, but are so biased as to be indistinguishable from commentary. 

Religion News Service, which lately has unfortunately become a reliable source for "What is this?" items, presents another example of the genre with "Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘Feminized’ church and altar girls caused priest shortage." The story's facts are straight, but the language is charged in such a way that it manipulates the reader into making negative conclusions about the cardinal. 

Understand, I am not denying that many readers could take offense at the cardinal's comments. Personally, I'm with Madeleine Teahan of the U.K. Catholic Herald, who notes the disconnect between his identifying discipline and strength as "manly" qualities while painting men as passive victims of feminists. But if I wanted a commentary on Burke's interview, I would read a story in the "commentary" section of the news outlet (as is Teahan's). RNS, however, markets its piece under the news label (though it did in fact run a commentary on Burke's interview as well; more on that in a moment). 

The first two paragraphs of the story are factual, though there are the little digs that Catholics have grown accustomed to seeing in stories about Burke:

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis’ push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”
Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

Right away, Burke is set in opposition to Pope Francis, who has "demoted" him. Readers are prepared to dislike him before they even read his comments.

 Then the comments come:

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Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

It is getting harder and harder to explain to many GetReligion readers why we see a bright red line between basic hard-news journalism and advocacy/analysis journalism.

In the latter, select journalists are allowed to make obvious leaps of logic, to use "editorial" language that passes judgment, to lean in one editorial direction (as opposed to being fair to voices on both sides) and to use fewer attributions telling readers about the sources that shaped the reporting. In other words, analysis writing offers a blend of information and opinion. Reporters who are given the liberty to do this tend to be experienced, trusted specialty reporters.

In the past, editors tended to be rather careful and let readers know what they were reading -- flying an analysis flag or logo right out in the open so that readers were not confused. (For example, I am a columnist with the Universal syndicate. By definition I do analysis writing every week.)

The problem is that the line between hard news and advocacy journalism is increasingly vanishing and editors have stopped using clear labels. Your GetReligionistas are constantly sent URLs for stories that are clearly works of advocacy journalism, in which no attempts have been made to quote articulate voices on both sides of hot-button issues, yet they are not clearly labeled as analysis. We are left asking, "What is this?"

Want to see what I mean?

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