Familiar formula

math formulaDaily news coverage of religious controversies lends to a familiar formula. One side is pitted against another. Quippy quotes from both sides are dropped into the article for spice and the reporter is left satisfied that a standard of objectivity was met and the reader will be left informed.

This formula is familiar because I have resorted to it, as a young reporter, in the past. The challenge of covering controversial religious issues leaves a reporter with a 15-inch space limit scrambling to sum up the existence of the controversy in the lead, add a few more summary paragraphs with key facts and toss in some one-liners from both sides to fill out the story.

Said formula is followed here by Associated Press reporter Rachel Zoll.

ORLANDO, Fla. — A national meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a proposal Friday that would have allowed gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy under certain conditions.

The measure would have affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians but would have allowed bishops and church districts, called synods, to seek an exception for a particular candidate — if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions.

With limited space, Zoll lays out both sides, the development of the issue and the “what’s next.” Fortunately for those who follow debates like these, more detailed and in-depth reporting on the issue is available in niche publications and magazines. Here, words like “non-celibate gays” and “long-term relationship” are measured, explained and used carefully and the precision of the reporting is much greater.

But what about those who only read the headlines and the first few paragraphs and move on? They are left with a weak description of the issue and are left to interpret the news in a way that best fits their worldview. The goal of objective reporting has its limits in reality.

In related news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church made news by declining to financially protest Israel’s security barrier around Palestinian territory.

The Chicago Tribune weighs in:

ORLANDO — Avoiding a form of protest that has threatened relations between Jews and other mainline Protestants, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination on Saturday denounced Israel’s construction of a security barrier around Palestinian territory and called for financial stewardship that did not include divestment.

Instead, church officials emphasized a commitment toward positive economic development in the Holy Land that ensures a secure and viable two-state solution, a shared Jerusalem and a continuation of the church’s humanitarian ministries in the Middle East.

But readers of Aljazeera’s website received the news from a slightly different tone.

A five-million-strong US church has rebuked Israel for building a separation barrier along the West Bank, becoming the second major US Protestant denomination to reject policies implemented by the Jewish state.

The resolution titled “Peace Not Wall” was adopted on Saturday on a 668-269 vote by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their convention in Orlando, Florida, despite pleas from Jews to refrain from the move.

What appeared in the first line of the Tribune story does not show up until the eighth paragraph of the Aljazeera story. How’s that for an extreme example of how two news organizations serving vastly different communities view the same news?

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  • Matt

    > In related news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church made news by declining to financially protest Israel’s security barrier around Palestinian territory.

    In related news, bad grammar again strikes. Or is that too much nitpicking?

  • Graham Reeves

    What’s wrong with that grammar? It is perfectly grammatical, even though it’s a bit awkward.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    “One side is pitted against another. Quippy quotes from both sides are dropped into the article for spice and the reporter is left satisfied that a standard of objectivity was met and the reader will be left informed.”

    This sounds exactly like the criticism of coverage of political issues that I hear from a lot of smart liberal political bloggers. And you’ve finally gotten me to realize what’s been bothering me about the complaints this blog has been making: This isn’t some special bad treatment being heaped upon religion. Journalists are this way about everything. The whole this side says this, that side says that, there now I’ve done my job approach that passes for fairness and objectivity drives me insane every time I read a newspaper article on a topic I have experience with. (And the newspapers are still better than TV.)

  • http://callieischattty.blogspot.com/ callie

    What! Lutherans working hand in hand with people trying to murder Jews!?

    I am SHOCKED!

    Simply shocked!

    These are the people who had swastikas on their bibles in the thirties and preached the wonders of Hitler every week!

    Why is this even news?

    Does anything think Lutherans are concerned with saving Jewish lives?

    Please!

  • http://callieischattty.blogspot.com/ callie

    And one more thing, the wall saves lives, the numvers prove that.

    If people are inconvienced by it, sorry, stop the suicide attacks and it will come down.

    Isreal is a tiny nation surrounded by mighty petro dollar funded opponents sworn to kill every Jew on earth. Go check out the websites of Hamas ect if you doubt me.

    Now what would you nice Protestants do if someone were trying to kill you guys?

    Welcome them in?

  • tmatt

    Avram:

    Actually, most of the time this blog notes that, on religion, the MSM does not even do the one side vs. the other or, if it does, it does not know enough about the issues involved to know who the intelligent or insightful voices might be on the various sides. Reporters are supposed to be accurate and balanced. That is the minimum standard.

  • ECJ

    “These are the people who had swastikas on their bibles in the thirties and preached the wonders of Hitler every week!”

    For the record (since no one else has…)

    “In 1960 the American Lutheran Church (German), United Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Norwegian) merged to form The American Lutheran Church (ALC), later including the Lutheran Free Church (Norwegian). In 1962 the ULCA (German, Slovak and Icelandic) joined with the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (Swedish), Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church and American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish) to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA).”

    http://www.indwes.edu/Faculty/bcupp/spirit/LutheranHistory.htm

    These two churches – the LCA and the ALC merged in 1982 to form the ELCA. Did they all of them have “swastikas on their bibles?” I failed to note one on my father’s bible while I was growing up. That would be my father – of Swedish ancestry – who was almost killed in France in 1944 by people who actually did wear swastikas.

    Your statement is colossally ignorant, callie.

    ECJ

    I was raised in the LCA, but have long since departed due to its progressive drift into liberalism. Ironically, it is this drift – and not doctrine or ancestry – which is driving the ELCA to pass stupid resolutions about Israel.


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