Pod people: You will know us by the trail of scare quotes

This week’s “Crossroads” podcast with host Todd Wilken was recorded much earlier in the week. We discussed Dan Gilgoff’s departure from CNN and the lessons he learned there, the lack of coverage of the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta last week, and that excellent New York Times story on a family forgiving their daughter’s murderer. You may listen to it here.

Here at GetReligion, my suggestion that this Passion event could have received more coverage was met with a mixed response. What could have come out of the event that was particularly newsworthy, people wondered.

Of course, that was before the event organizer was invited to give the benediction at the inauguration this year, and before comments he made in the previous century about homosexuality being a sin forced him out of that position.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post criticizing the slipshod way comments Chuck Hagel made about an enthusiastic fan of a gay group that mocks Catholicism and its clergy. The group was called “anti-Catholic” by Hagel, but we never saw the media describe it as such. Instead we saw a lot of double attribution and scare quotes. Apparently running a hunky Jesus contest on Easter Sunday isn’t anti-Catholic enough to be described as such without skepticism. In that post, I hid a tiny comment:

It’s so tricky. If the target of mockery were, say, Muslims, we know we’d call the group anti-Muslim and avoid scare quotes at all costs. But when it’s Catholics, do the same rules apply? Do we need scare quotes around “anti-Catholic” when describing this group? (For another comparison I’ll just throw out there, count how many times scare quotes are used around the phrase “antigay” in this New York Times article today — be sure to check out the url, the headline and the copy and let me know if you find any.)

Well, that story was about Louie Giglio, the man who was forced out for his comments. No scare quotes. And it was one of the better stories on the matter! Isn’t that interesting? Other readers noticed the same. Here’s reader Ryan:

I have been confused and frustrated by all the article titles that refer to Louie as a “anti-gay pastor.” What does that even mean? As if that is a job title or type of pastor. Maybe this is their attempt to sum up the situation but when you phrase it this way it makes it sound like this is Louie’s job or what he focuses on. As if being an “anti-gay pastor” is the same as a Senior Pastor, or Small Groups Pastor…why not title the article with the focus on LGBT groups advocating for his removal?

Reader Chris added:

What I found all the more interesting was that phrase “anti-gay” was not put in between “scare quotes” but was printed without them – as more a less a statement of fact (contrasted with the use of “anti-Catholic” which was put in “scare quotes”). The Washington Post even had a link to the “most inflammatory passages” of Giglio’s remarks, which included his description (15 years ago) of homosexuality as a sin (gasp)…….

Finally, reader Deacon John M. Bresnahan writes:

A number of comments make the most important point of all::: That much of the mainstream media has adopted the attitude that to consider Gay sexual actions sinful is to be “anti-Gay.” Whereas warning people away from ANY perceived sin has always been considered in the past an act of love to save that person from a harmful activity. Sadly, many in the media either have no idea that their reportorial stance is just part of a propaganda campaign or they  willingly make themselves part of that propaganda campaign.

Fascinating. Not journalism so much as advocacy, but fascinating. I once had a conversation with a reporter about this and he didn’t understand this point. He ended up arguing, if I recall, that reporters should start calling Alcoholics Anonymous an anti-alcoholic organization. I guess he should be awarded points for consistency.

  • danny bloom

    Mollie, you keep going on and on about something you call “scare quotes” but there is no such thing. Nobody knows who coined the term or when or why, and yet you still use it as if it has currency in USA culture. It does not. A better term for these quotation marked words and phrases would be “CAVEAT QUOTES” as your colleague Mark Silk has suggested. Why take him up on it and start calling these things “caveat quotes”? Ask around. “Scare quotes” is an antiquated malcoined meaningless term. So why use it? Use your head: call them caveat quotes and watch readers raise their awareness. re “Instead we saw a lot of double attribution and scare quotes. ” Start a revolution.

  • Greg

    danny, it’s not meaningless.

    Pretty much everybody, including you, knows what that term means. And yes, the purpose usually is to make the term seem ironic, odd, scary, something not to be taken at face value.


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