state legislatures

Culture war winner: Atlanta newspaper delivers fair, nuanced coverage of anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'

Culture war winner: Atlanta newspaper delivers fair, nuanced coverage of anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'

Earlier this month, I praised the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of legislation pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights.

In particular, I complimented the fair manner in which the Journal-Constitution reported on a subject that often begets scare quotes and slanted headlines (against the religious freedom side) in mainstream news stories.

I stressed in that post:

Since I don’t read the Atlanta paper regularly, I can’t say if this is typical of how that news organization handles this topic. But this particular story, in my humble opinion, deserves kudos.

I stand by the previous caveat, but I have another example of an equally balanced, nuanced report from the Journal-Constitution that I want to highlight.

Maybe — just maybe — we’ve stumbled upon a positive trend? (I know, I know: We need a third example to make it a real trend.)

The Atlanta paper’s latest culture wars story concerns abortion, a topic on which — as we’ve noted repeatedly — news media bias against pro-life advocates frequently runs rampant.

But once again, the Journal-Constitution treats both sides — all sides, actually, since there aren’t just two sides — in what impresses me as an impartial manner.

The basics from the top of the story:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Scare quotes and factual journalism in Florida: This here is what they call a 'religious liberties' bill

Scare quotes and factual journalism in Florida: This here is what they call a 'religious liberties' bill

Yes, there are scare quotes in the Miami Herald's coverage of a fast-tracked religious liberties bill in the Florida Senate.

As regular GetReligion readers know, that is so often the case when the mainstream press reports on such legislation — but not always.

However, we come today not to dwell on the Sunshine State newspaper's sin (we're in a forgiving mood) but to praise the overall quality of the Herald's reporting.

The lede sets the scene:

TALLAHASSEE — Students and teachers in Florida’s public schools would more explicitly have the right to say the Lord’s Prayer, pray to Allah or worship Satan under a highly polarizing measure that’s being fast-tracked through the Florida Senate as the 2017 session begins this week.
Called a “religious liberties” bill, SB 436 is intended to “clarify First Amendment rights of free speech, specifically as they apply to religious expression,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, a conservative Republican from Ocala who’s driving the measure in the Senate.
“I grew up in an America where you were free to express your faith, and there was no intimidation of whether you could say ‘Jesus’ out loud or not,” Baxley said. “This is where we’ve come: The pendulum has swung so far that there’s been a chilling effect on people of faith of just expressing and being who they are.”
While comments before the Senate Education Committee on Monday heavily emphasized a need to protect Christians, Baxley’s bill would shield students, teachers and school staff of all faiths from religious discrimination — protections already guaranteed through the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, as well as U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The phrase "called a 'religious liberties' bill" gives the impression that the concept is new to the Herald, when, in fact, that issue was a factor in Donald Trump's surprise election as president. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Dirty words? Conservatives, liberals and accurate descriptions when reporting on religious freedom

Everybody loves a sequel, right?

I hope so because this is my third post of the week on the same topic.

But I really believe the information I'm going to share is relevant. Even better, it's at the heart of GetReligion's mission to promote quality news coverage of religion.

Before I get to that, though, please hang with me for just a moment. I need to help everybody who might have missed the first two posts catch up.

1. I began the week with a, shall we say, negative critique of NPR's coverage of the religion freedom issue.

2. But overnight, NPR suddenly "got religion" in a big way, which is to say that Godbeat pro Tom Gjelten tackled the same subject matter in a much better fashion.

My follow-up post gushed all over Gjelten's piece on the religious freedom debate:

Wow!
This latest piece is absolutely fantastic: 1. No scare quotes. 2. No biased language such as "so-called." 3. No favoritism — it clearly explains both sides and fairly represents each side's arguments and concerns.

So why do a third post? Because of the excellent discussion generated by a reader's question about Gjelten's story.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

It seems like just yesterday that we were bashing NPR's flawed coverage of the religious freedom issue.

Because it was just yesterday.

What a difference a day makes!:

Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain
song by Dinah Washington

It's not often that the same news organization — in this case, NPR — fumbles the ball away in the end zone, then immediately returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

However, that's exactly what has transpired in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of the battle pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty.

To refresh everyone's memory, yesterday's post highlighted three problems with NPR's coverage: 1. Scare quotes on "religious freedom." 2. Use of the editorialized phrase "so-called religious freedom bills." 3. Favoritism toward the gay-rights side of the debate.

But this morning, GetReligion reader Darrell Turner pointed me toward a different NPR report covering the same subject matter:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why you can buy a beer in North Dakota on Sunday morning but not a belt at Wal-Mart

Why you can buy a beer in North Dakota on Sunday morning but not a belt at Wal-Mart

On a reporting trip to North Dakota last year, I woke up bright and early Sunday and enjoyed a not-so-healthy breakfast at McDonald's.

When I finished eating, I had an hour to kill before services at the Bismarck church I was covering for The Christian Chronicle. Since I was driving that afternoon to Black Hills Bible Camp in South Dakota, I decided to visit the closest Wal-Mart. I needed to buy a few snacks and supplies.

But when I got to the Wal-Mart — which looked just like the 24-hour supercenter near my home in Oklahoma City — I found the parking lot strangely empty. Even odder, the store's automatic doors refused to open for me. Weird, I thought.

However, Google Maps quickly located a Super Target just down the street. I discovered that it, too, was closed.

I was reminded of my experience when The Associated Press reported this week that North Dakota is debating whether to lift its Sunday morning shopping ban.

Of course, there's a strong religion angle — and kudos to AP for stressing it:

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota residents can order alcohol at a restaurant or bar late Sunday morning but must wait until afternoon to go shopping because of a ban — rooted in religious tradition — that some legislators say no longer makes much sense.
Critics of the nation's strictest so-called blue law began another effort Monday to strip it from the books. Some such restrictions have existed since North Dakota became a state in 1889, stemming from fears that visiting a retail store on Sunday morning would compete with church and erode family values, leaving little time for rest.
"I'm annoyed that I have to wait until Sunday afternoon to shop," said Fargo Democratic Rep. Pam Anderson, who has introduced legislation that would abolish the shopping restrictions. She said ending the prohibition would add tax revenue for the state and provide more employment opportunities.
A House committee began mulling the bill on Monday but took no immediate action. Anderson called it a "falsehood" that allowing Sunday morning sales would impact the number of people in the pews.

I'm not certain the politician seeking the law's repeal is the best source to assess whether Sunday morning sales would hurt church attendance.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Amid a barrage of slanted reporting, a smart, helpful take on religious freedom legislation

Amid a barrage of slanted reporting, a smart, helpful take on religious freedom legislation

Missouri. Georgia. North Carolina. Mississippi. Tennessee. Louisiana. 

Those are just a half-dozen of the states where recent legislation pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom has produced high-profile debates.

As any casual reader of GetReligion knows, much of the major media coverage has been incomplete and slanted (read: left leaning), with a few notable exceptions.

Most of our critiques focus on easy-to-spot crimes: The failure to give both sides a voice. The bias that using scare quotes shows. The editorialization that occurs via framing. 

Journalism 101 stuff, in other words.

So many news organizations struggle to cover this subject matter at even a basic level (much less provide context that includes, say, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act). Given that low bar, we are even more surprised when we come across a story that truly advances the topic in an insightful way.

Enter religion writer Kelsey Dallas of the Deseret News National:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Religious freedom vs. gay discrimination in Arizona

In Arizona, a religious freedom bill has riled gay rights supporters, as The Associated Press puts it. Or, as a Los Angeles Times headline describes it, gay rights activists are in an uproar over the “religious freedom” (scare quotes courtesy of the Times) measure headed to Gov. Jan Brewer. In Phoenix, readers of The Arizona Republic woke up to this banner front-page headline this morning:

The Republic’s big type certainly plays the story down the middle, avoiding the seeming bias of some national media reports.

But what about the local newspaper’s story itself?

Please respect our Commenting Policy