God Bless and Go Broncos

Tim Tebow just won the most exciting game of football I’ve seen in a while. And he did it by passing (yes, you read that right — passing!) for 316 yards. Brendan O’Hare, a columnist at Bleacher Report, wrote:

Tebow threw for 316 yards (“Some coincidence, huh?” — every Internet person ever) and showed that despite his inexplicable refusal to complete screen passes, he is surprisingly skilled at throwing wobbly deep bombs.

So yes, as a huge Broncos fan from Colorado, my Twitter feed was blowing up with Tebow tweets and the hashtag #Tebow316 was fairly active.

Drudge had the headlines “Amazing Grace” and “Throws For 3:16 Yards,” for crying out loud. You might remember those pictures of Tim Tebow with the John 3:16 eyeblack back in college, right? During the 2009 BCS Championship Game when he wore that, 92 million people Googled the phrase “John 3:16.” The NCAA then banned eyeblack messaging. That makes for some interesting backstory.

And then, as if the religion and football mashup wasn’t already going to happen, Tebow tweeted out a Bible verse:

Hebrews 12:1-2 GB²

I had to ask Sarah Pulliam Bailey to decipher the GB² part (she pointed me to this explanation), but here’s the passage from Hebrews:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

All this to say, I think we’re going to have another round of interesting media coverage of Tim Tebow and my Denver Broncos. More than anything, could you help us keep an eye out for any particularly good or bad coverage?

Since we’re back on the general Tebow topic, I rather liked this recent Tebow-inspired column about the Rainbow Man, that dude with the rainbow afro who used to hold up John 3:16 signs at myriad sporting events in the 1970s and 1980s. Did you know he’s in prison? And the Erie Times managed to write a story about Tebow, published the day of the game, that managed to explain the way some Christian sports fans feel about Tebow. You could see how these quotes could have been clipped to make them seem to advocate a different perspective.

But last night’s dramatic victory has already gotten a bit of coverage. Sports news site the Big Lead has an item up, headlined “Yes, Tim Tebow Threw For 316 Yards Against Pittsburgh and He Had John 3:16 on His Eye Black Once in College.”

CNN didn’t avoid the topic either. Most of this story focused on the specifics of just how Tebow led the team to victory, the stats, the final overtime play, the complicated overtime rules, etc. But then it got into the religious angle:

Tebow has been criticized since his college days at the University of Florida for his awkward throwing motion and his overt Christian faith – including his practice of bowing in prayer after touchdowns. But Denver fans, and eventually the Broncos front office, embraced him this season as he led a series of late-game comebacks.

On Sunday he threw for 316 yards (which some people noted might be punctuated 3:16, for the cornerstone verse from the Gospel of John); 204 of those yards were throws to Thomas.

And yet no mention of Thomas sharing a birthday with Jesus? I kid, but I think that CNN handled that just fine and with an economy of words. This Washington Post “On Faith” blog item is packed with links and background and also handled the religious angles well.

Oh, and the television rating for the final quarter of the game? ESPN says it drew a stunningly high rating — a 316 rating.

Again, please let us know if you see any particularly good or bad treatment of Tebow and religion. I’m hoping it’s not going to be what O’Hare predicted, “Another week of ‘polarizing’ opinions from the media, laced with stupid religious undertones and a sense of undeserved audacity in whatever they say.”

Is the Catholic Church a denomination?

“Don’t mention the war!” is a wonderful catch phrase from “The Germans” episode of the British television series Fawlty Towers.

John Cleese, playing a concussed and bandaged Basil Fawlty, inadvertently insults a party of German tourists dining at his hotel. Even though he warns his assistant Polly, “don’t mention the War”, he proceeds to do so with each line taking on a sharper tone. The comedy reaches its zenith when Basil gives an impression of Adolf Hitler and goose-steps around the hotel.

The humor in this episode comes from the interplay between the slightly mad Basil Fawlty’s attempts at maintaining  bourgeois respectability and his anti-German jokes. The audience knows the mad Basil is the real Basil. Basil’s respectable language is all very well, but reality has a knack of continuing to exist independently of his attempt to bind it through verbal gymnastics.

A recent article in the Oklahoman entitled “State leaders react to new Catholic rite for Anglicans” brought this language game to my mind. Read on one level, the Oklahoman article couples loose reporting with unexamined statements offered by the protagonists. On another level, one where language has precise meanings and history, it comes across as an equal opportunity hit piece — one that can offend Anglicans and Catholics.

Let me show you what I hear in this story.

The Oklahoman offers a local angle on the news of the creation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter for Anglicans seeking a corporate place within the Roman Catholic Church. The lede begins:

Oklahoma’s Episcopal bishop said switching from one denomination to another is nothing new.

“Just as the Roman Catholic Church has received people from other denominations, the Episcopal Church has received people from other denominations as well,” the Rt. Rev. Edward Konieczny, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, said Wednesday.

Perhaps I have been down too deep and too long in the ocean of religion reporting, but my first response was “Whoa! Was this an anti-Catholic smack-down from the Episcopal bishop? Was he calling the Catholic Church a denomination?” I might well be misreading this, but this is not something you say in polite religious company.

The article then offers a some background and an explanation of the ordinariate that is somewhat messy. Fr. Jeffrey Steenson, who left the Episcopal Church in 2007 for the Roman Catholic Church and was appointed head of the ordinariate, is identified as the former bishop of New Mexico when he was the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. The article states that Episcopal clergy who join become Catholic clergy, but does not say that these clergy must be re-ordained and will not automatically be allowed to become priests. Not fatal, but it would be nice to get this right. It further states:

The Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter will allow a special Anglican-style Catholic Mass that can include sections from the Book of Common Prayer and other Anglican liturgies.

Yes — but. Is there is more to it than Anglican-like, or Anglican-lite Catholic Masses? No explanation so far of the concept that this is a jurisdiction within the Catholic Church akin to a diocese for those members of the Anglican churches who have come to believe the truth claims of the Catholic Church — and believe they are called to enter the Catholic Church. The story then quotes a local Catholic voice.

“What they’re basically doing is taking the traditional Anglican approach and becoming part of the Catholic Church,” said George Rigazzi, a canon lawyer who is director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City’s Office of Family Life.

“They are allowed to keep their uniqueness as Anglicans but still be in communion with Rome.”

Yes — but. There is more to it than this. What does “uniqueness as Anglicans” mean? What are they being allowed to keep?

This new structure grew out of a controversial 2009 effort by Pope Benedict to persuade conservative Anglicans to align with Rome under an exemption that allows Anglican priests, laity and even entire congregations to convert while keeping their prized music and prayers. … “The beauty of this is they are maintaining their tradition while being in communion with Rome,” [Rigazzi] said.

Why the adjective? Controversial to whom? Anglicans who become Catholics may keep their prized music and prayers and may maintain their traditions — which means what exactly? Anglican prayers, after all, are what differentiates Anglicans from Catholics.

I assume I know what the bishop means — people move between church homes all the time. But the Roman Catholic Church rejects the notion that it is a denomination. The Episcopal Church too rejects the notion that it is a denomination. It is a “true church”, a branch of the “one, holy and apostolic church” along with the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

I assume I know what the canon lawyer means — Anglicans liturgies have aesthetic value. But can Anglicanism be reduced merely to a Catholic-lite denomination with pretty liturgies? The concept of the sacrifice of the mass, real presence and such are antithetical to Anglican prayers at the Holy Communion.

This incompatibility is what lies behind that segment of the Anglo-Catholic movement known as Anglo-Papalists — Anglicans (mostly in the Church of England) that use the Roman Catholic missal instead of the Book of Common Prayer because the missal is a more faithful statement of their beliefs than the Prayer Book. This is from where many of the members of the English ordinariate are coming. Is this true in America?

Why my mind was drawn to Basil Fawlty at the outset of this article was the sense that the “Don’t mention the war!” meme had morphed into “Don’t mention denominations!” The D word is offered up front, pulled back, and without being spoken again its meaning introduced into the discussion of the ordinariate. Anglicans and Roman Catholics are, after all, different Christian denominations — a supposition both would reject.

While to many observers there is little to distinguish between the Catholic and Anglican churches save for the Pope and married clergy, there are substantial doctrinal differences between the two that are glossed over in most accounts of the ordinariate.

What I find missing in this story, and many of the stories about the ordinariate, is the sense from those going over to Rome that they are entering the true church — the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Preserving liturgical forms is important, but it is this sense that they have reached their true home — or have come home as some Catholics like to say — that is missing from these stories.

In other words, the motivation for the actors in these stories is unconvincing. It is kept at a level of aesthetics, when it has more to do with a search for truth.

Am I being fair to the Oklahoman? Putting aside the surface level errors is the lack of convincing motive due to inexpert reporting or an inadequate explanation, a faulty apologetic, from the Catholic Church as to the purpose of the ordinariate? What say you GetReligion readers?

Monstrance image courtesy of Shutterstock

An Egypt story more readers will, uh, read

The journalistic equation goes something like this.

The sad truth is that modern Americans are just not that interested in international news. Knock down the twin towers and we might pay attention for a few weeks, but otherwise we’re just not that concerned about world affairs. But Kardashian affairs? That’s another matter.

Meanwhile, mainstream news editors — I’ve been studying the subject for 30 years — are not that interested in religion news, unless it is directly linked to politics and, thus, religion can be turned into politics.

I’ll say it again: Religion news gives way too many journalists sweaty palms.

Thus, one would be hard pressed to find a news topic that would harder to push for improved coverage than religion news on the other side of the world.

GetReligion readers are not typical news consumers, of course. Still, if your GetReligionistas want to write a story that draws few, if any, comments, all we need to do is write about, oh, mainstream news coverage of moderate Muslims and religious minorities in some tense and bloody corner of the world.

It’s enough to make you want to write about Justin Bieber or something like that.

Or how about this? How about a real religion story that contains a hot search-engine term? Here’s a story that, for rather obvious reasons, is getting some, uh, coverage at the moment. Take it away Agence France-Presse:

SHARM EL-SHEIKH – On a barren hill in Sharm El-Sheikh, not far from the famous beach resorts with their bikini-clad patrons, Islamist activist Ahmed Saber ponders the fate of revealing swimwear if his party comes to power.

The swimsuit has been at the center of a growing debate over the Islamists’ plans for tourism, one of Egypt’s key currency earners.

Speaking to AFP at a voting station, Saber seeks to present a liberal outline of his party’s position on the bikini. “You’re free to do as you please as long as you don’t harm me,” he says. The Sharm El-Sheikh tour guide then goes on to explain that: “Some sights might harm me. For example, women wearing bikinis on the street. There are special places for bikinis.”

After decades of repression by a secular police state, the Muslim Brotherhood finds itself fending off questions about its plans for beach resort mainstays like bikinis and alcohol —- considered un-Islamic by some.

This is a valid story to cover and, as always when covering Islam, the pivotal word is “some.”

However, this is precisely why this particular article is so disappointing.

It focuses on the fact that the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood appears — repeat appears — to have moderated it stance on enforcement of laws about female modesty. The story also stresses that there are Muslims to the doctrinal right of the Brotherhood and their power is on the rise. Thus, we read:

But along the beaches, hotel workers said they were worried, particularly about ultra-conservative Salafis who won more than 20 percent of the votes in the election’s first two rounds.

You see, the Muslim Brotherhood used to be the party for those seeking a powerful role for Sharia law in Egyptian life — something that a vast majority of Egyptians favor. Now, the Salafis are to the doctrinal right of the Brotherhood.

This story, however, never even mentions Sharia and never asks any of these believers to discuss or explain their beliefs. In other words, where is the religious content in this story? Where are the actual facts about the religious laws that are being debated?

In other words, what does Islam teach about female modesty and how do Egypt’s competing groups — liberals, so-called “moderates,” Brotherhood leaders, the Salafis — think on this topic? What are their leaders telling their people about how they would interpret and enforce Sharia?

In other words, where is the heart of the story?

And now, back to bikinis and beaches.

LA Times opposes fathers, Santorum

This is rather interesting. The Los Angeles Times has, once again, come out against fathers.

Let me explain. The paper suggests that fathers are completely disposable and useless at best and possibly even harmful. Here’s the lede to a recent piece they wrote. (Apparently presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s quote wasn’t juicy enough on its own, so reporters Michael A. Memoli and Mark Z. Barabak had to spice it up even more in the set-up):

For the second time in as many days, Rick Santorum waded into the issue of gay marriage, suggesting it was so important for children to have both a father and mother that an imprisoned father was preferable to a same-sex parent.

Citing the work of one anti-poverty expert, Santorum said, “He found that even fathers in jail who had abandoned their kids were still better than no father at all to have in their children’s lives.”

Allowing gays to marry and raise children, Santorum said, amounts to “robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn’t true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it’s true.”

See, the Los Angeles Times didn’t overtly come out against fathers — or mothers — for that matter, finding them unnecessary.

But you see how you could easily say that if you wanted to. Still, it’s not fair. Neither is their lede an honest or straightforward presentation of Santorum’s argument.

The Los Angeles Times reporters can barely contain their feelings about Santorum’s idea that fathers are important for children — from the headline to the last line. On that note, the headline is bizarre. In a story about Santorum being confronted about his views on same-sex marriage, the headline is that he “focuses” on it rather than is being confronted about it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the rise of Rick Santorum has been met with a bit of freaking out. In the world of punditry, some people mocked him for the American Pregnancy Association-approved way that he and his wife handled the death of their newborn son. (They spent a short time with the baby after he died and allowed their children to do so as well.) Sadly, this includes the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson. This was met in response by some beautiful essays from journalists who have lost their children. Here’s the Boston Herald‘s Jessica Heslam and here’s the Washington Post‘s Charles Lane. The personal essay is certainly one way to deal with this hot-button topic and I found both of those essays to be well executed.

Miscarriages, stillbirths and deaths in infancy are difficult to talk about and even in the undercovered area of death, stories about these losses are hard to find and hard to write. So I was also impressed that at least some media outlets took the opportunity to talk about infant death. As any of you who have lost a child in this manner know, caregivers at the hospital will encourage you to hold your baby and spend time with him or her. Guidelines also encourage allowing other family members this time together. But many people who have never lost a child are unaware of this. It’s a valuable service for news outlets to get this information out.

Anyway, the same-sex marriage issue is definitely drawing a lot of attention. And it’s actually been kind of interesting to watch. In part that’s because the media are forced to cover his arguments regarding marriage (although I guess the Times managed to avoid them for the most part). These arguments tend to get short shrift in most media coverage of changing definitions about marriage. Or, if arguments do get coverage, it’s more of the advocacy type.

The Los Angeles Times piece really was a mess. It’s been corrected for a factual error and a mistaken illustration (it was accompanied with a picture of Mitt Romney, for some reason). It was almost like you could feel the reporters freaking out while writing it. Just for example, here’s how they wrote up one part of an exchange Santorum had with an audience:

Santorum’s comments once again drew attention away from his efforts to craft a blue-collar economic message. On Thursday he tangled with college students over same-sex marriage. In that encounter, a woman in the audience asked whether the right to happiness was grounds for gay people to marry, and Santorum responded by asking whether she believed more than two people could have that right. “If you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that OK?” he asked, prompting boos from the audience.

So, you see, you’re supposed to be outraged that Santorum engaged a student about the rational basis for marriage. And in order for that to work, you can’t mention that during the exchange the woman eventually acknowledged that she supported group marriage. You certainly can never talk about what marriage is and arguments for keeping it as a procreative union. What’s important, of course, is the booing. Now, if you watch the video of the exchange (embedded at the top of this post), you can detect booing after the applause. Why not mention the applause, I wonder? Anyway, I actually can’t think of a better reminder of the weak reportage on same-sex marriage coming out of the Los Angeles Times in recent years than this piece.

Now, not all media outlets lost their mind attempting to cover an actual debate about whether to change marriage law.

ABC News did a much better job. The reporters tasked with the assignment of describing what happened knew that they needed to add little to the story to make it compelling. Compared to the Times piece, the ABC News team used a fraction of the adjectives.

I wonder if the press area of the event could only hear the booing, actually, because they also emphasized that and didn’t mention the applause — although the ABC video of the event (again, above) indicates otherwise. The Washington Post writeup — which was also good, actually — also failed to mention the applause. Actually, having watched the video once more, I realize that the applause was probably coming from the voters while the boos are probably coming from the kids. I don’t know if that makes the focus on the booing better or worse.

Anyway, here’s just a portion of the exchange ABC News wrote up, beginning after one student said that marriage law should be based on everyone getting to do what makes them happy:

“What about three men?” he asked.

The student angrily answered, “That’s not what we are talking about!”

Santorum continued, but threatened to end the discussion, telling the crowd, “I’m going to give people one more chance and then we are going to move on. I’m going to ask the question again. If three people happen to get married based on what you just said, what makes that wrong and what you said right?”

“That’s irrelevant,” the student responded. “My personal opinion is, ‘Yeah go for it,’ but what I’m asking [is] for you [to] justify your belief and your high morals about all men created equal–”

At that point, Santorum cut off the student and, for the third time, asked, “What about three men?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” the student answered. “I’m talking about the basic right that you have with another woman.”

He then told the crowd that he wanted to “have a discussion about what that means … that marriage really means whatever you want it to mean.”

“I believe we’re made that way. God made men and woman to keep civilization and provide the best environment to raise children,” Santorum said. “I have no problem if people want to have relationships, but marriage provides a good to society. It’s unique because it is the union that causes children to be raised.”

Santorum added that “every child in America deserves” to know their mother and father.

“We deny children that birthright, then I think we are harming kids and society and not promoting what’s best,” Santorum added, before moving on to the next question.

When he wrapped up, several questions later, the crowd loudly booed him.

See, when you have a good story, you don’t really need to add too much color. Again, the Washington Post piece mentioned above also did a good job with the story, as did the New York Times here, including some angles I hadn’t seen covered before about Santorum’s well-known remarks on Lawrence v. Texas.

Oh, and someone might want to mention to National Journal that Santorum is not “a white evangelical.”

As always, when discussing the topic of same-sex marriage and Rick Santorum, let’s try to keep the discussion on how journalists should handle a given topic and not argue for or against a candidate or position.

Pod people: Not all ‘big’ stories are created equal

I think that I have made the following point in previous GetReligion posts, but it must be made again. One of the hardest concepts for journalists to explain to non-journalists is the concept of “what a story is.”

Some events are stories and some are not. Some events and trends are stories for specific audiences and not for others. Some events are stories on some days and not on others.

Then there is this fact: Some events and trends are stories, but they are not “big” stories.

So what turns a “story” into a “big” story?

I’m glad you asked. Like it or not, a “big” story is a story that lots of journalism editors think is a “big story.” They know one when they see one, you see. It’s a kind of instinct that comes from working in newsrooms and reading newspapers for years and years. Does this mean that the logic is somewhat circular? You betcha.

Is this fair? Not really.

For one thing, when asked about these journalistic mysteries, most editors will say that these “big story” decisions are rooted in (a) a sense of what the public wants to know and (b) what the public needs to know. Of course, it’s hard for the public to respond to certain kinds of stories — religion stories leap to mind — if these stories are either ignored or buried several clicks inside the publication. Am I the only person who cannot find the “On Faith” section in the iPad version of The Washington Post?

Moving on. Is it harder for a story to become a “big story” if editors are not interested in it? You betcha.

Is it harder for a story to become a “big story” if editors do not know anything about the groups and people that are involved? You betcha.

Some GetReligion readers may recall this anecdote from my days at the late, beloved Rocky Mountain News:

There was a stretch in the 1980s when Colorado Springs — really quick — turned into “Wheaton of the West,” a phrase I used in a column early on that I really wish I had copyrighted. Every month or so, some new group arrived at the base of Pikes Peak. …

Anyway, I’m sitting at my desk one day and a member of the business-page staff walked up and asked: “Hey, there’s some organization moving to Colorado Springs called Focus on the Family. Is that worth a brief?”

I almost fell out of my chair. I told her that this might be one of the biggest Colorado news stories of the late 20th century.

The response: No way. You see, none of the editors had ever heard of Focus on the Family. That was a niche radio show and publishing empire that was not on their radar screen.

Truth be told, the Focus on the Family move to Colorado Springs was not a “big” story. It was a “huge” story. The problem was that the people sitting in the daily news-budget meeting, the meeting in which they decided what stories went where, didn’t know that they were dealing with a national story that would send tremors through Colorado politics, culture and religion for decades to come.

I was able to convince the editors this story was bigger than a news brief, but barely. In a matter of months, they all knew who Dr. James Dobson was and they knew that Focus on the Family mattered.

I bring this up because of some interesting reactions in the comment boxes about my post the other day on the 10 biggest religion-beat stories of 2011, according to the pros at the Religion Newswriters Association. In turn, this discussion became the hook for this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to it).

The key came at this point in the RNA results list:

6. Pope John Paul II is beatified — the last step before sainthood — in a May ceremony attended by more than million people in Rome.

7. California evangelist Harold Camping attracts attention with his predictions that the world would end in May and again in October.

Say what? The Camping story was almost as “big” as the Pope John Paul II story? And it was more important than, let’s say, the following (just to pick a few choice numbers)?

12. Majority-Christian Southern Sudan achieves its independence from Northern Sudan after years of trying. Worldwide church leaders, especially in Africa, receive some credit for the outcome and they pledge continued support to the new nation. …

14. The irreverent satire “The Book of Mormon,” about a pair of non-traditional missionaries to Uganda, wins nine Tony awards on Broadway, including best musical. …

16. Hopes for an end to Pakistan’s blasphemy law are dashed when two leading advocates of religious conciliation, Salman Taseer and Shahbazz Bhatti, are assassinated two months apart.

That’s right. “The Book of Mormon” was a “bigger” story than the publicly popular assassinations of one of Pakistan’s most important Muslim progressives and the nation’s only Christian member of the cabinet.

But back to the Harold “End of the World” Camping story. In the comments pages, there was this interesting dialogue:

carl jacobs says:
January 4, 2012, at 12:24 am

Harold Camping wasn’t a big story. He was never big enough or representative enough or important enough to warrant the coverage he received. He was just a vehicle that allowed institutional mockery of the Christian faith to be passed off as a story. The collective laughter was the whole point from beginning to end. … I’m not surprised to see it on the list. A good time was had by all.

Mike O. says:
January 4, 2012, at 12:57 am

Carl, Harold Camping wasn’t just a big story, it was a huge story. Both religious and non-religious were absolutley fascinated by it. The story had legs despite your personal feelings about Family Radio’s religious interpetations. A story can’t get that much extended attention and not be called a big story — unless the adjective “big” has suddenly lost all meaning. …

carl jacobs says:
January 4, 2012, at 8:28 am

… I didn’t say it wasn’t Big and Huge. I said it wasn’t a story. There was no ‘there’ there. Or perhaps I should put it this way. The reason for the Hugeness of the Media event had nothing to do with the story as told. It wasn’t “Harold Camping has declared a date. Let’s wait for his prophesy to fail.” If it was only Harold Camping, no one would have cared. “Unknown radio personality predicts end of world” isn’t a story. How many reporters had even heard of Harold Camping before last Spring? …

Midst all the laughter, do you think there was any real concern for the people who believed Camping, and suffered genuine harm as a result? They were straight men in a comedy sketch. They were the people who made the mocking crowd think well of themselves. “Look at those fools! We aren’t fools like them!” isn’t much of a story. But it was the sum total of that event in May. When it was over, the crowd went home to seek for a different source of amusement.

The whole thing was despicable.

Now, on one level this argument was another round in the debates about whether mainstream journalists deliberately — key word there is “deliberately” — promote stories that make traditional religious believers look stupid. On another level, however, this offered a window into the mystery of why some “stories” become “big stories.”

Yes, yes, yes, I am well aware that Camping is not exactly a traditional believer and it’s insulting that many editors seemed to think that he was a crucial, representative mainstream Christian voice. On the positive side, I also know that some journalists turned this oddball story hook into a chance to explore the actual “end times” teachings of various Christian traditions. You can look at this from two different directions.

At the same time, as you’ll hear in the podcast, I freely admit that before this story broke I had never heard of Camping. Yes, he was that obscure. Please remember that I was on the religion beat in Charlotte, N.C., during the start of the whole “Pearlygate” scandal era in which just about every major religious broadcaster on Planet Earth was dissected, to varying degrees, in the mainstream press.

Thus, we must conclude that it was the subject — Flash! Another stupid end of the world prophecy! — that hooked editors. Something had to yank this obscure story out to page one, where it became a juggernaut. That’s what made this strange little story more important than (insert a truly important issue or event here).

So, I’ll conclude with a question and a lesson:

(1) GetReligion readers, come clean. How many of you had heard of Camping before this story broke?

(2) Clearly, religious leaders can learn an important lesson from this poll. If you want mainstream press coverage, buy space on billboards and ask yourself this question: “What shocking statement can I print here that will make people laugh in newsrooms?”

Enjoy the podcast.

The image Timothy Dolan projects

Pope Benedict XVI named 22 new cardinals today, forming the “electoral college” that picks the next pope. John Allen offers general observations on the announcement, but he and other reporters are especially zeroing in on Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year.

The news offers New York publications the chance to dig into how Dolan has adapted from Milwaukee to New York and how his prominence has risen on a national level. On cue, the New York Timesprofile of the cardinal pick launches with a grand statement about the Catholic church in America.

IT is not a good time for the Roman Catholic Church in America, but Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan has made it his mission to remind people that there is more to the church than scandal. Taping his weekly radio show last month, he praised the beauty of a recent church service in Yonkers, and recounted an emotional visit to the solitary confinement wing at Rikers Island.

It’s surprising to me that a piece like this would make assumptions about whether it’s a good or a bad time for the Catholic church without adding a bit more to back it up. Perhaps it could talk about the sex abuse allegations, but the pronouncement offers the reader little context.

Archbishop Dolan is not well-known outside of religious circles. And the question remains whether this distracted, liberal, scandal-weary city is willing to listen to a conservative voice even as entertaining as his.

Since arriving in New York from Milwaukee, Archbishop Dolan, who was born in Ballwin, Mo., has most often caught the public’s attention as the traditional unyielding Catholic voice of “no” — to same-sex marriage, to abortion, and to sex education in public schools.

Dolan is often in the news (especially with New York’s gay marriage vote), but the reporter just assumes he’s not well-known to those outside of religious circles. If he isn’t, why doesn’t the profile spend a little more time explaining his background, going into more depth on what led him to church leadership? And is he known as the voice of “no” on those issues, or is that how media outlets like the Times portray him?

The piece spends most of its time describing Dolan as a warm and funny guy that doesn’t budge on doctrine or social issues and wants to reform the image of the church.

But his goal is even larger: to be a force for restoring the image of the Catholic Church in America in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis.

“What weighs on me the most,” he said in an interview in December, “is the caricature of the Catholic Church as crabby, nay-saying, down in the dumps, discouraging, on the run. And I’m thinking if there is anything that should be upbeat, affirming, positive, joyful — it should be people of faith.”

The reporter stresses his image through his radio show and the Catholic Church’s image but it doesn’t really offer anything new that I can tell. I do love this anecdote at the end, which could have been brought up even higher.

Ever the faithful Catholic, he is quick to stress that humor — and the faith and hope he says undergird it — is a gift from above. And humor is present at even the highest level of the church, Archbishop Dolan said, illustrating that assertion with a story about his visit to Pope John Paul II in 2004 to report on the state of the Milwaukee archdiocese.

“I said, ‘Holy Father, we have good news. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is growing’,” he said.

The pope stopped and said — and here the archbishop switched into an impression of the pope’s throaty Polish accent — “So is its archbishop.”

Then the archbishop let out his signature hearty belly laugh, as if to prove the pope’s point.

“I said, ‘Holy Father,’ ” he continued, “ ‘please assure me that is not an infallible statement.’ ”

This adds some color and a fun story to remember about Dolan. Still, the piece could have offered more details about the archbishop’s background, the state of the Catholic church, and the significance of being named a cardinal, pieces of information that fill out a basic profile. The piece just doesn’t get beneath image to much substance.

Truth about Justin Bieber’s tattoo exposed!

Mock me for dipping into the celebrity gossip pages twice in one week if you want, but, hey, few GetReligion readers seemed very interested in yesterday’s post about the mainstream news coverage of the threatening ultimatum issued to the Christians of Nigeria.

So, let’s try Justin Bieber.

We have news. He got another tattoo. Here’s how the New York Daily News wrote it up:

Justin Bieber showed some skin – and some new body art – during a trip to Venice Beach in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Wearing a pair of black swim trunks, the teen heartthrob sported a big tattoo of Jesus on the back of his left calf. …

But this isn’t the 17-year-old’s first time getting inked.

The “Baby” singer also has Jesus’ name tattooed in Hebrew on his rib cage, as well as an image of a bird on his left hip.

Bieber has spoken out about his religious beliefs in the past.

“I’m a Christian, I believe in God, I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins,” he told The Associated Press last year. “I believe that I have a relationship and I’m able to talk to him and really, he’s the reason I’m here, so I definitely have to remember that. As soon as I start forgetting, I’ve got to click back and be like, you know, this is why I’m here.”

Godbeat pro Cathleen Falsani is my go-to expert on all things Bieber and God. She literally wrote the book on it. So I actually knew about those other tattoos already. (Follow her on Twitter here.)

But I write about it here at GetReligion because of how another media outlet handled this news.

No, not the Huffington Post, where you can vote on whether you find the tattoo “heavenly” or “sinful.” The Daily Mail wrote up the big news about the Jesus tattoo but included the following pair of images (second illustration with post, on the left).

Now, do you think it’s true, as the caption reads, that “Bieber’s latest inking is based on the image of Jesus called Ecce Homo dating back to 1610 by artist Rubens”?

I don’t. I think the inspiration is the one I pictured above (which I guess is a computer generated image of much more recent vintage, also done in the Ecce Homo style).

This isn’t a science, but if you look here at this pretty good picture of the tattoo, I think it looks closer to the Ecce Homo I embedded at the top of the post. It even looks closer to Guido Rene‘s Ecce Homo than Rubens‘, doesn’t it?

I really worked hard to find the artist behind the image at the top, incidentally, but couldn’t.

Of course, at least the Mail tried to add some context to the religious tattoo. Which is more than we can say about most of the media outlets discussing this huge news.

Perhaps some will get around to it in their follow-up stories on what the tattoo means and we’ll see reports in Us and People about how Ecce Homo is the depiction of a particular scene from the Passion of Christ and that “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man) were the words used by Pontius Pilate in the Vulgate translation of John 19:5 at the presentation of the scourged Jesus to a hostile crowd before his crucifixion.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a little discussion of how this scene and the scenes surrounding it have been painted over the years.

Or maybe not.

But if you’re going to cite the artistic inspiration for the tattoo, you should get your facts right. I hear those Beliebers are sticklers for the facts.

Guardian flash! Michele Bachman is not insane

The European press has provided extensive coverage of the American presidential campaign. Much of it is of high quality — other stories are just awful (see the Guardian below.) The results of the Republican caucuses in Iowa could be found on the inside pages of most newspapers, with many publications offering editorials as to what the vote means for the U.S. and for Europe.

Some of the analyses however, tells us more about the European mind than the Iowa voter. While the U.S. press has seen a great deal of speculation about the role religion played in the voting and provided strong pieces about the faith of individual candidates, with a few notable exceptions this angle received less coverage overseas.

The best of these I have seen comes from La Stampa, Italy’s largest circulation newspaper. In an article entitled “Santorum: fede, libertà e lavoro ecco la mia ricetta per la vittoria” (Santorum: faith, freedom and work – here is my recipe for victory) reporter Paulo Mastrolilli speaks with the former senator following a stump speech in Des Moines.

Recounting the senator’s personal tragedies including a child born with a debilitating disease La Stampa writes:

“Sono cattolici praticanti e questo è il loro modo di trattare la vita.” (They are practicing Catholics, and this is their way of dealing with life.)

Asked if he was ashamed of his Italian heritage because his grandfather fled the fascists, Santorum says (in English translated into Italian and back into English so it is not a word perfect quote):

Absolutely not. I am proud of my origins, because they made me the man that I am today. I always tell the story of my grandfather because he is a source of great inspiration. The core values I believe in, ones that are based on my life and my politics come from there.

Asked if this core value is life (a word with strong religio-political symbolism in Italian as well as U.S. politics), Santorum responds:

The value and dignity of every life, of course. It is the thing that motivates me more to get up every morning to fight, along with the help of God.

Asked how Italy should respond to its economic crisis, the senator says:

You must return to being like my grandfather, who worked hard, without complaint and without excuses. [and America must learn] the same lesson and [emulate those] who built this country through effort and hard work.

La Stampa resists the impulse of categorizing Santurum in Italian terms — where his language and lifestyle would make him recognizable as a Catholic politician and allows him to define himself using American categories and religious and ethical standards.

Not all of the reporting has this lightness of touch. Although the vote count shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney running first, former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum placing second, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul showing third — the real winners were Fox News and Barak Obama some argued.

Fox News had emerged out of Iowa as the king maker of the Republican Party argued the German news magazine Der Spiegel, while the leader [the British term for an editorial] in The Independent was entitled “And the winner in Iowa was … Barak Obama”.

The Independent‘s editorial board argued the Republican’s window of opportunity to defeat President Obama may have closed due to their sharp partisan divisions. The Financial Times followed this line too in its opinion piece “Poor Night for the GOP” while the Belgian business newspaper De Tijd in “Die lessen van Iowa” (The Lesson of Iowa) in Belgium interpreted the results as showing the Republicans being hopelessly divided.

The winner by a hair, Mitt Romney, represents the classical policy of the establishment that made the Republican Party great. The unexpected runner-up, the ultra-conservative Rick Santorum, focuses on the traditional values that play a role above all in rural America. The third, Ron Paul, appeals above all to younger, dissatisfied voters who’ve had enough of the political system. … None of the three seems capable of winning over the other currents. … For voters not allied to any one party, the Republican circus is hardly impressive. That puts the current president in a comfortable position for the time being. His chances are on the rise.”

The left-liberal Viennese newspaper Der Standard concurred, writing the Republican caucus result “will work to the Democrats’ advantage.” However:

…the Democrats shouldn’t start celebrating yet. Once the Republican candidate has been nominated the cards will be reshuffled. Then the election will be decided by what the Republican consider more important: the self-castigation of their own party or their hatred of the Democrats in the White House.

In its news analysis of the election the Prague business newspaper Hospodárské noviny also argued that Barak Obama was not yet home free.

Considering the high unemployment rate Obama shouldn’t stand a chance of being re-elected. Although he has the opportunity now to defend his office, one thing he can’t base his campaign on is hope. … [The election] will be a bitter confrontation between two very different ideologies, two different notions of the role of the state and ultimately two different visions of America.

Religion, values-voting or other faith related issues did not figure highly among most accounts. While the Guardian did not do religion in its account, its reporter in Iowa does do psychoanalysis. In his live blog report on Michele Bachmann’s speech suspending her campaign, the Guardian‘s reporter wrote:

… According to Bachmann, a painting of Ben Franklin told her to run for the presidency.

OK, so another recitation of the evils of “Obamacare” and how awful it is, which according to Bachmann is the greatest threat to America in history. I am not making this up.

Is she also resigning from congress as well? Oh and now it’s back to the painting: “I worried what a future painting … might depict” if Obamacare isn’t repealed. Really.

Now she’s talking about her campaign for the presidency in the past tense, but there’s a lot of stuff about “the president’s agenda of socialism,” which is hilarious.

Now Bachmann is stumbling over reading her written text. But otherwise, it’s all about fighting, how she will fight for everything. Fight, fight, fight … President Obama socialist policies … party of Reagan … America is the greatest force for good … constitution.

And after all that fighting: “Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside.”

So she’s not entirely insane, even if a painting of Ben Franklin speaks to her and watches her.

I find it reassuring that the Guardian employs a psychiatrist on the U.S. political beat who can tell us Mrs. Bachmann is not insane. What can one say about this last item, other than it is shoddy juvenile work that should not have made it past the editor’s pencil. Comparing La Stampa‘s coverage of Santorum to the Guardian‘s coverage of Bachmann is an object lesson in the difference between good and bad reporting.