WABAC machine time again: Many Americans indifferent on politics? Ask different questions

WABAC machine time again: Many Americans indifferent on politics? Ask different questions

Wait! You mean all of America isn’t represented in the daily tsunami of acid that is political Twitter?

That’s the thesis of an interesting, but ultimately hollow, New York Times piece built on three days of Gray Lady representatives doing National Geographic-style heart-to-hearts with ordinary Americans who live in and around Scranton, Pa.

Why focus on this specific location, if the goal is to listen to the heart of America? Why, isn’t the logic — the political logic, that is — perfectly obvious? Here is the overture:

SCRANTON, Pa. — This hilly, green stretch of northeastern Pennsylvania is a critical front line in next year’s battle for control of the country. Donald J. Trump made huge gains among white working-class voters here, and Democrats want to win them back. Joe Biden, who was born here, can’t stop talking about it.

But just because Mr. Biden can’t stop talking about Scranton doesn’t mean everyone in Scranton is talking about Mr. Biden, the president, or politics at all. In three days of interviews here recently, many people said they were just scraping by and didn’t have a lot of patience for politics. Many said they didn’t follow the news and tried to stay out of political discussions, whether online or in person. National politics, they said, was practiced in a distant land by other people and had little effect on their lives.

This leads to this somber double-decker Times headline:

The America That Isn’t Polarized

Political institutions may be more divided than they’ve been in a century and a half, but how divided are Americans themselves?

So the goal is to learn why many average Americans are not as enraged about politics as are, well, New York Times editors and reporters who live on Twitter? Or think of it another way: Is this article, in part, a response to liberal and conservative critics (shout out to Liz Spayd, the Times public editor pushed out two years ago) who have complained that America’s most influential newsroom isn’t all that interested in covering half or more of America?

So what subjects were avoided in this epic piece? For starters, here are some terms that readers will not encounter as they work through it — “Supreme Court,” “God,” “abortion,” “schools,” “bathrooms” and, to probe recent fights among conservatives, “Drag queen story hour.”

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Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Transgender, God and grovel: The Seattle Times outs a popular chef

Covering the transgender bathroom/showers debates has created a few conundrums for the folks here at GetReligion in that we tend to comment on pieces in which religion is a factor or there’s a “ghost;” where religion should be a factor but the reporter –- or editors –- have left it out.

A lot of folks involved in these debates do so for religious reasons, but those reasons aren't often spelled out and instead, as my colleague Bobby Ross has reported, the debate devolves into journalists simply labeling folks "anti-LBGT.".

One side of the debate does seem to get demonized. This case study concerns a Seattle Times food critic who outed a local chef who happens to be providing some of the stadium food available during Seattle Seahawks games.

The chef, known as the “steak king of Seattle,” apparently had a hidden weakness, in that he held unorthodox -- to the new normal -- beliefs on a controversial issue in the public square. Here’s what the Times reporter ran on Wednesday:

Seahawks stadium chef John Howie donated $1,000 to the Washington anti-transgender bathroom group Just Want Privacy in May, and Howie says he also signed a petition opposing transgender bathrooms.
This puts Howie on the opposite side of the issue from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. On Monday, it was reported that Wilson and singer Ciara moved their wedding out of North Carolina due to that state’s anti-transgender bathroom law. Asked about the report today, Wilson said, “I just believe that Jesus loves all people. That’s honestly what I believe.”
Howie says he’s opposed to transgender bathrooms due to concerns about who could gain access to them. “I think that there’s a chance that the law could be abused by somebody,” he says. “I think somebody who is not transgender, a sex offender, could abuse the law -- somebody who is just out to put themselves into a women’s, or a boys’, bathroom, for that matter.

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Town fighting transgender bathrooms has rattlesnakes and cougars. What about religion?

Town fighting transgender bathrooms has rattlesnakes and cougars. What about religion?

Until late last month, I'd never heard of Harrold, Texas. Maybe you hadn't either.

The tiny town near the Oklahoma border burst into the headlines recently when it joined Texas and 10 other states in challenging the Obama administration's directive that public school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers must accommodate transgender students.

My GetReligion colleague Jim Davis made brief mention of Harrold when he critiqued initial media coverage of the lawsuit.

The early reports — which included brief mentions of Harrold with a quote or two from the town's superintendent — made me curious. I wanted to know more about the little community and its role in the bigger fight. 

Apparently, I wasn't alone.

The Associated Press sent a reporter to Harrold and got firsthand color such as this:

Kindergarteners and high school students in Harrold share 10 bathrooms in a single brick schoolhouse that is shorter than the football field, where the Harrold Hornets play six-man football because there are not enough players for 11. A few times a day, a train rumbles past the schoolhouse. Superintendent David Thweatt says "hobos" sometimes jump off and wander toward campus. Once, he said, a drifter holed up in a school bus and left a smell that took days to air out.

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Concerning that Atlanta ACLU leader with 'philosophical' problems with bathroom wars

Concerning that Atlanta ACLU leader with 'philosophical' problems with bathroom wars

Do you remember the old joke in which commentator Irving Kristol defined a "neoconservative" as a "liberal who has been mugged by reality"? It's been around a long time and, down here in the Bible Belt, there's a variation on that theme in which a "neoconservative" is defined as a "Democrat with a daughter."

Now that second quip has issues, of course, because neoconservatism is best known as a school of thought on foreign-policy concerns -- not a brand of social and moral conservatism (as implied with the "with a daughter" statement).

Still, I wish I had a dollar or two for every time I heard these quips this weekend related to a story in the news at the moment. I must have heard one or the other of these one-liners four or five times yesterday and that was just in coffee hour after the Divine Liturgy here in Oak Ridge. Here is the top of the story, as reported at National Public Radio:

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is looking for a new director, after Maya Dillard Smith resigned the post last week. Smith had only been on the job for a year, after moving from California. She says ultimately, it wasn’t a good fit.
“It became clear that we were principally and philosophically different in opinion,” she says.
Smith says that difference became especially clear after the Obama administration issued guidance for public schools about bathrooms for transgender students. The administration said schools have to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. Schools that don’t comply could lose federal funding. The ACLU has supported the measure.
Smith says she wasn’t well-versed in transgender issues and wanted to learn more. But, she says there was no room for dialogue at the ACLU.

Let me be clear here. Everyone keeps asking if GetReligion is going to write about the news coverage of this story. I have asked, in return, "What is the religion angle, the religion ghost, in this story?"

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In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

The Associated Press Stylebook — the bible of American journalists — has this entry on use of the term "so called":

so called 
(adv.) so-called (adj.) Use sparingly. Do not follow with quotation marks. Example: He is accused of trading so-called blood diamonds to finance the war.

After reading the AP's latest story on some consumers' boycott of Target over its transgender bathroom policy, I'm thinking the wire service might want to use "so called" a little more sparingly. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let me back up and remind readers of what I said about the editorialized nature of "so called" nearly a year ago.

Back in the present: GetReligion earlier highlighted media coverage of the #BoycottTarget petition that has — as of this moment — close to 1.2 million signatures.

In that post, I suggested:

Here's what I'd love to see: an actual person who signed the petition quoted and given a chance to explain why. (Or maybe even more than one!)

So let's check out the AP story, starting at the top:

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Nearly 1 million sign petition to boycott Target: Will the news media quote any of them?

Nearly 1 million sign petition to boycott Target: Will the news media quote any of them?

I have a problem with Target.

There, I did it. I admitted my bias.

But inevitably, the store closest to my house only opens a handful of checkout lanes, and I find myself waiting in a long line to buy milk and a loaf of bread. 

Oh, you thought I was going to talk about bathrooms?

OK, I guess I can do that, too.

Maybe you've heard that a #BoycottTarget online petition has gained nearly 1 million signatures. I'm not one of them, mind you. I think boycotts are silly and have no intention to stop shopping at Target (although I'll take this opportunity to call on management to hire more cashiers). I'll also keep eating at Chick-fil-A (as often as possible!). And I'll maintain my PayPal account, even though I hardly ever use it. 

However, from a journalistic perspective, I am interested in news coverage of the Target boycott.

Religion News Service had the basics in a story earlier this week (the number of signatures has kept growing since this report):

(RNS) Less than a week after Target, the nation’s second-largest discount retailer, announced that transgender customers may use the restroom that “corresponds with their gender identity,” nearly 500,000 people have signed a #BoycottTarget online petition launched by the conservative American Family Association.
In its April 19 announcement, the Minneapolis-based retailer with 1,802 outlets said, “We believe that everyone — every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally.”
The retailer, which had $74 billion in revenue last year, said it was motivated by legislation in about 15 states that would require individuals to use the restroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate. The Williams Institute, a think tank based at UCLA, estimates there are 300,000 transgender people (13 or older) in those 15 states.
The day after Target’s statement, the AFA launched the boycott, saying, “Target’s policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. Target’s dangerous new policy poses a danger to wives and daughters.”
Mississippi-based AFA called on Target to install additional restrooms to be designated as single occupancy and unisex.

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