television news

Weekend thinking: If press covered abortion news fairly, would that help restore public trust?

Weekend thinking: If press covered abortion news fairly, would that help restore public trust?

What we have here is an interesting byline on an interesting essay about an essential media-bias subject.

First, the byline: If you know your religion-beat history, you will recognize this name — Peggy Wehmeyer.

Back in the mid-1990s, the late Peter Jennings hired Wehmeyer away from a major station in Dallas to cover religion full time for ABC News. The result, he told me in two interviews, was spectacular in at least two ways.

For starters, the first wave of Wehmeyer reports for the American Agenda feature drew more audience response than any other subject covered on ABC’s World News Tonight. Here’s a piece of one of my “On Religion” columns, quoting Jennings.

"It is ludicrous that we are the only national television network to have a full-time religion reporter," he said. "Every other human endeavor is the subject of continuing coverage by us — politics and cooking, business and foreign policy, sports and sex and entertainment. But religion, which we know from every reasonable yardstick to be a crucial force in the daily life of the world, has so few specialists that they are hardly visible on the page or on the screen."

The second reaction was in the newsroom.

Wehmeyer’s balanced news reports on controversial religion-news topics — especially abortion and LGBT debates — created anger and intense newsroom opposition to her work. I know that because Jennings told me that. He was right to worry that this religion-news experiment would be a success with the public, and with ratings, but would ultimately be torpedoed by ABC staffers.

This brings me to an essay that Wehmeyer just wrote for the Dallas Morning News, which was published with this headline: “If journalists would cover abortion with impartiality, maybe they could gain the trust of Trump voters.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Tale of two Foxes: What kind, or kinds, of conservative values drive Fox News?

Tale of two Foxes: What kind, or kinds, of conservative values drive Fox News?

The question came up again last week, at the same point in my "Journalism Foundations" syllabus where it always does every semester -- during my lecture on Stephen Colbert and the role of humor and entertainment in today's news marketplace.

First there is this question: In his original show on Comedy Central, who was Colbert satirizing while playing a blow-hard conservative pundit with the power ties, dark suits and the "I calls 'em like I sees 'em" no-spin attitude? Whose style and worldview was he turning inside-out?

It usually takes a few seconds, but then someone -- usually a student who was raised in a Fox News home -- will say, "Bill O'Reilly."

That leads to the next question: What is the name of the cultural and political philosophy that drives the editorial policies of O'Reilly and many, but not all, of the giants associated with the world of Rupert Murdoch?

Students always start off by saying, "conservative." Then I say: That's too vague. There are many kinds of conservatism in American politics. What kind of conservative is O'Reilly?

Students usually add something like "right-wing," "ultra" or "fanatic." Eventually, someone will say "libertarian." A student or two may have paid attention to the show and know that this means that O'Reilly leans left, or remains silent, on moral issues, but is hard right on matters of economics and everything else. His worldview is defined by radical individualism.

We then talk about other kinds of conservatism and, in particular, the fact that Fox News -- which has a massive following among all kinds of conservatives -- offers little or no news and commentary on religious events and trends. There are some moral and cultural conservatives in the operation, but they were not the dominant voices in the Roger Ailes era.

As you may have guessed, this leads us to the massive New York Times story that exploded into social media the other day, the one with this dramatic double-decker headline:

Bill O’Reilly Thrives at Fox News, Even as Harassment Settlements Add Up
About $13 million has been paid out over the years to address complaints from women about Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior. He denies the claims have merit.

It's logical to ask: What does religion have to do with this story?

I would answer by saying, "I don't know."

However, my observation is that the Times team stacks up all kinds of facts -- many, but not all, with on-the-record sources -- that certainly seem to show that O'Reilly acts like he is a moral free agent when it comes to his attitudes toward women, sex and power.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A strange 'story' for strange times: Fox 29 in Philly decides to follow a priest around ...

A strange 'story' for strange times: Fox 29 in Philly decides to follow a priest around ...

It's time to look at a very, very strange "news" story. If it's a "news" story, which is the whole point.

In a way, it's fitting to start my day with a strange story in light of all the strangeness that your GetReligionistas went through yesterday, when we were caught up in what appears to have been a crashed server at one of the nation's major internet-services companies. These things happen. But, to paraphrase Steph Curry, we are back.

If you have lived in a major metropolitan area, one in which the competition between local TV-news operations is rather intense, then you know that some very strange "news" stories can end up on the air (and even in special promotions).

Well, is it "sweeps month" in Philadelphia at the moment? Here is why I ask:

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Diocese of Camden has opened an investigation of one its priests after FOX 29 Investigates raised questions about his actions.
The probe has been under way for nearly three weeks. How did this story get started? Investigative Reporter Jeff Cole explains that a parishioner of his former church urged us to take a look at where Father Joel Arciga-Camarillo spends his time away from the church. Here's what we saw.

The soap-opera-esque commentary continues:

It's just past 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, and we're keeping an eye on a light-green, four-door Volkswagen tucked behind this multistory, bright-yellow home in Camden.
We sit and watch for about an hour and see a man in a T-shirt and ball cap emerge from the back of a van with a female driver and small children, some in Catholic school uniforms. They go in the home.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Pod people: Did you hear? There is a new pope!

You will be shocked, shocked, need I say SHOCKED to know that this week’s “Crossroads” podcast focuses on mainstream press coverage of the events before and after the election of Pope Francis as the new leader of of the world’s 1.2 billion (depending on how one does the counting) Catholics.

Please respect our Commenting Policy