A handful of religion ghosts (Updated)

You want ghosts?

We got ghosts.

As we traded messages the other day, your GetReligionistas enjoyed a casual discussion about the heavy load of cyber-traffic that we direct in our endeavors for this media critique weblog. I noted that, in two years of writing for GetReligion, I had accumulated 2,890 e-mail threads in my GR story possibilities folder. (That’s just the ones left undeleted.)

“Wow,” Mollie replied. “I have 25,268 e-mail threads in my GR files. And I’ve only had this email account since 2006.”

As I prepare to abandon GetReligion for about 10 days (while I go on a spring break mission trip with my church and my three children), I thought I’d do my part to tackle a handful of recent ghosts in a single post. (Next thing you know, I’ll be leaping tall church buildings in a single bound.)

Here goes:

Ghost 1: Last week, I bashed a St. Paul Pioneer Press story that failed to include any opposing viewpoints in a glowing profile of a black minister who endorsed same-sex marriage. Now comes another one-sided Pioneer Press story that falls woefully short of meeting basic journalistic standards:

Here’s a new Lenten routine: More than 100 people are gathering on Sundays outside Archbishop John Nienstedt’s residence in St. Paul to oppose the constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

On Sunday across from the Cathedral of St. Paul, about 100 people held signs and rainbow flags and marched on the sidewalk. On the first Sunday of Lent, about 80 attended, and about 120 came out March 4, said organizer Michael Bayly of the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, which supports gay marriage.

Nienstedt’s response to the protest? Good question. The Pioneer Press doesn’t bother to quote him. The only thing close to an opposing viewpoint is a man who rolls down his window near the end of the short report and shouts, “Read the Bible!”

 Ghost 2: The Yuma Sun in Arizona published a news story introducing Steff Koeneman, the new director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. Included in the report is this provocative quote:

“I’m a Democrat, I’m a liberal and I’m a Catholic,” Koeneman said.

Interesting. So what does being a Democrat and a liberal mean in the context of serving as a Catholic diocese spokeswoman? Does she differ with church leaders on doctrine? Do her personal views or beliefs conflict at all with those of the diocese? Unfortunately, readers never find out, as the piece abruptly changes directions after whetting appetites with that quote.

 Ghost 3: The Wall Street Journal reported that Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is “shrinking” as a factor in the Republican primaries, even though he keeps losing in the Deep South.

One section of the story stood out to me (and not just because it seemed to contradict the main claim of the report):

On Monday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said Mr. Romney’s faith remains a potential obstacle. “I think that’s a very subtle issue that probably may be a problem in many states, not just in Alabama,” he told Fox News.

Mr. Bentley voted for Rick Santorum but didn’t formally endorse the former Pennsylvania senator. On Tuesday, Jeremy King, the governor’s deputy communications director, emphasized that Mr. Bentley was responding to a question, not expressing personal misgivings about Mormonism.

What’s missing? I sure wish the Journal had mentioned Bentley’s own well-known faith background.

 Ghost 4: This was the headline on a Los Angeles Times news story:

Man accused of having women strip nude in religious ceremonies

The reader who passed along that link quipped, “Minor point: What religion?”

Go ahead and clink the link, but you won’t find the answer. Apparently, the Times did not deem that question important.

 Ghost 5: By now, surely you’ve heard of the 85-year-old North Dakota journalist whose restaurant review of the Olive Garden has become an Internet sensation. But did you know there’s a religion ghost with that story? (Hat tip to Sarah for discovering this one.)

In a sweet, front-page Wall Street Journal piece about the newspaper columnist, Marilyn Hagerty, her son James R. Hagerty offered insight into his mother’s life:

Those whom she dubs in her column as “cheerful person of the week” consider it a high honor. She also cleans and maintains her house, cares for an unreliable dachshund, visits her eight grandchildren and volunteers at church.

But again — which church? Inquiring minds want to know. One of the 50 writing tools touted by Poynter Institute writing guru Roy Peter Clark is this: “14. Get the name of the dog.”

Can we at GetReligion please request to add 14-A to the list?: “Get the name of the church.

Image via Shutterstock

UPDATED: Oops! In the original version of this post, I included an item that tmatt had already covered. I had read the previous item, but alas, I had a brain lapse when compiling this roundup. Did I mention that we deal with a lot of cyber-traffic?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Martha

    Can I get some clarification on one minor point in this story? “More than 100 people are gathering on Sundays outside Archbishop John Nienstedt’s residence in St. Paul…On Sunday across from the Cathedral of St. Paul (etc.)”

    So are there two protests on Sundays, one outside the Cathedral and one outside the Bishop’s Palace (if he still has a palace or separate private residence, that is)? Or does the “St. Paul Pioneer Press” take the idea of the cathedral being the bishop’s seat a bit too literally, and they think he lives there (possibly in the bell tower, like Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame)?

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Martha, you have to understand the physical layout of the place. The glorious Italaniate Renaissance-style Cathedral of St. Paul, which is set on a high hill (and the windiest one to boot, which makes for some wonderful “offer-it-up” moments in winter) above downtown St. Paul, is on the west side of Summit Avenue and the north side of Selby Ave. On the east side of Summit Avenue and slightly south of the Cathedral is the ignominiously modernist Chancery building and Archbishop’s residence (palatial it is not). There is a small parking lot in front of the Archbishop’s residence and a much larger one for the Cathedral is directly across the street.

    The protesters are, therefore, occupying the sidewalk in front of the Chancery and residence, but across and down the street from the Cathedral. My guess is that most people going to Mass at the Cathedral can readily ignore them.

    What I couldn’t get about that story was the final line:

    Meanwhile, inside the cathedral, the priest’s homily did not mention the issue or the protest. The homily included this passage: “Jesus wants to purify us…so we are worthy vessels before the Lord.”

    Was that supposed to be significant for the reporter? If so, why did he think it was significant? We don’t know because he never tells us.

  • Martha

    Thank you, Thomas. Obviously the paper assumed that the locals reading the story would know all about how the buildings were laid out; they don’t account for random idiots on the interwebs like me :-)

    But it just struck me as an incongruous note, and surely they could have made it a bit clearer in a sentence or so as you have said: “Protesters block the sidewalk in front of the Archbishop’s residence, across the street from the Cathedral.”

  • http://www.ericcshafer.blogspot.com Eric Shafer

    The “New York Times” today has a quote from Marilyn Hagerty in which she says she is Lutheran (Ghost 5 above). She’s in NYC doing restaurant reviews! Her son-in-law is an ELCA pastor.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    When people first started speculating on Hagerty’s religion, I predicted Lutheran. A bit of internet sleuthing confirmed it for me. But I didn’t know her son-in-law was a pastor! This woman can not get any cooler.