Bullying gays in God’s name?

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 9: People participate in Queer Rising's 'Take Back the Night' gay rights march October 9, 2010 in New York City. Queer Rising was formed in 2009 to demand equality, dignity and battle against hate crimes and bullying for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community. The march was organized following two hate crimes over the past week in NYC and began and ended at the locations of the attacks, beginning at West 25th Street & 9th Avenue and ending at the Stonewall Inn. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Just after 7 a.m. today, I found myself driving a minivan full of middle-school students. This still-dark-outside carpool duty frustrated me for two reasons. First, I was up late last night watching my suddenly vintage Texas Rangers throw batting practice to the San Francisco Giants. Second, a school bus that my children could ride for free stops just down the street from my house.

“Why not let your kids ride the bus?” a logical person might ask.

In fact, a logical person (at least I consider myself logical) asked his wife that very question. The logical person’s wife assured him that the carpool is the best solution to the foul-mouthed bullies who were harassing our 13-year-old son on the bus. She’d tried calling the bus driver and transportation director. That didn’t really fix the problem. I proposed that I might make a single visit to the bus and employ a baseball bat. For some reason, the logical person’s wife didn’t think that was the best idea, either.

So here we are.

So, if you ask me, “Are bullies a problem at school?” I’d answer yes. If you ask me, “Are schools doing all they can to prevent this problem?” I’d answer no. I’m not at all surprised to see this CNN report this week:

Half of all high school students say they have bullied someone in the past year, with nearly as many saying they have been the victims of bullying, according to a new study released this week.

But if you ask me to tie school bullying to religion, I’d be more hard-pressed to answer definitively. My son’s bullies certainly don’t use any kind of language that I’ve ever heard from the pulpit.

Yet the national media narrative on bullying keeps focusing on what NPR this week described as “growing concern that there may be a religious undercurrent to the harassment of teens who are seen as gay.” Surely the flood of headlines making that case has nothing to do with the “growing concern.”

Actually, NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s report is pretty good — much better than most that I have read on this subject.

For one thing, she uses real-life examples rather than vague generalities:

Consider Justin Anderson, who graduated from Blaine High School outside Minneapolis last year. He says his teenage years were a living hell. From sixth grade on, he heard the same taunts.

“People say things like, ‘Fags should just disappear so we don’t have to deal with them anymore’; and, ‘Fags are disgusting and sinful,’ ” he told the Anoka-Hennepin School Board. “And still, there was no one intervening. I began to feel so worthless and ashamed and unloved that I began to think about taking my life.”

Anderson told his story at a public hearing last month — a hearing convened because in the past year, the district has seen a spate of student suicides. Four of those suicides have been linked to anti-gay bullying.

Justin Anderson survived. Justin Aaberg did not. Aaberg, 15, loved the cello, both playing and composing numbers like “Incinerate,” which he posted on YouTube. Justin was openly gay. He had plenty of friends, but he was repeatedly bullied in his school. In July, his mother, Tammy, found her teenage son hanging from his bed frame.

“They were calling him, ‘Faggot, you’re gay,’ ” she recalls. ” ‘The Bible says that you’re going to burn hell.’ ‘God doesn’t love you.’ Things like that.”

“Fags are disgusting and sinful.” “God doesn’t love you.” Such taunts certainly legitimize the question of religion’s role.

But the anonymous they nature of the bullies makes it impossible to really know what role religion played in these specific cases. Therein lies the rub. If you see any media reports that interview actual bullies, I’d love to hear their perspective on how their faith influences them to call classmates “faggots” and tell them to burn in hell. I am only half-joking.

Concerning the “spate of suicides”: How many is a spate? What is the overall student population? How do suicides in this district compare with national averages? Are suicides up in this district? If so, why?

More from the NPR report:

Tammy Aaberg says the school never called her, even after her son was physically assaulted. She was furious at first, but then began to understand why.

“A lot of teachers do care and do want to do something, but they’re afraid to lose their job if they step in and they’re not neutral,” she says.

Aaberg says teachers felt they couldn’t get involved — even when her son was bullied — because of the school district’s “neutrality policy,” which prohibits employees from taking sides on matters regarding sexual orientation. The district says the policy is meant to apply to the curriculum. But teachers say it’s so broadly written that they’re loath to intervene even when they hear anti-gay slurs.

Look up cop-out in your dictionary. That’s my reaction to any teacher or school official who would refuse to deal with a physical assault because of a “neutrality policy.” Give me a break.

Of course, the story relies entirely on the mother’s version of events. There’s no response from a teacher or school official. I’d love to hear firsthand from a teacher, “Yes, we knew that this child had been attacked on the playground, but the neutrality policy kept us from doing anything. Hopefully, we can change school policy to allow us to keep bullies from beating up students at our school.”

The report quotes officials from the Minnesota Family Council, “an evangelical group,” as well as the Family Research Council, also identified as “evangelical.” In both cases, more detailed descriptions of the groups involved would be helpful, as evangelical can mean so many different things.

Likewise, the story features the “Christian” mother of an 11-year-old boy who committed suicide. Again, more detailed information on the family’s religious background — and their specific faith group’s teachings on homosexuality — would be helpful.

Hagerty ends her piece this way:

And yet, despite the shifting views and alliances, there is an ongoing dilemma: How do parents and schools protect vulnerable kids without turning schools into a battleground for the culture wars?

Good question.

Conjecture, caveats and gay Mormons

Amid a barrage of recent headlines concerning religion and gay suicides, the Mormon church’s position on homosexuality has received its share of scrutiny, from Politics Daily to the Salt Lake Tribune.

An Associated Press story out of Salt Lake City this week makes the case — or at least attempts to — that gay Mormons are killing themselves because of the church’s treatment of homosexuals.

Here’s the top of the story:

SALT LAKE CITY — Ben Jarvis has heard a lot of coming out stories.

For the past 15 years, the southern California-based urban planner has been answering a hotline number for Mormons struggling with their sexual identity. Jarvis, a volunteer for Affirmation, a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons, estimates he’s talked to as many as 3,000 people.

Many of them are “deathly afraid,” their secret will be discovered by friends, family, or members of their Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations, he said.

In a faith where the traditional family is deeply woven into theology and where there is seemingly no line between religion and culture, the potential losses for LGBT Mormons who come out can be devastating, Jarvis and others say.

“There are so many great things about Mormon culture and the LDS church, but it is not a safe place for gay and lesbian people,” said Jarvis, 42, a seventh-generation Mormon who came out in 1993 and has since left the church.

Did you catch that big number (is it a guess-timate?) in the second paragraph? As many as 3,000 people.

Guess how many of that number are quoted in this story? Zero.

The entire story relies on talking heads. Readers hear from gay rights activists, church spokespeople and a few other “experts.” But no real people — no real cases to back up the claims of Mormon suicides — ever make an appearance.

In fact, the story seems to contain more caveats than concrete facts.

For example, there’s this:

The (Rutgers student who killed himself) was not Mormon, but Utah’s gay rights activists, some with roots in Mormonism, were quick to draw a connection to their own situation. They say the painful isolation that some LGBT individuals experience can lead to suicide. Anecdotes about the suicides of gay Mormons from Affirmation’s website, posts on the PrideinUtah blog and other sites seem to support the contention.

“It’s an enormous problem, especially in Utah,”said Eric Ethington, who runs the PrideinUtah blog.

OK, the story claims anecdotal evidence concerning the suicides of gay Mormons. But guess how many specific cases of gay Mormons killing themselves are cited?

Zero.

“Evidence” such as this is provided:

Although there’s no hard data directly linking faith and suicide, a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted with the Religion News Service found that 65 percent of 1,010 respondents believe messages from the pulpits of American churches contribute.

The survey, conducted Oct. 14-17, has margin of error of 3 percentage points. Survey data posted on the institute website did not specify denominations, nor indicate whether Mormons were polled.

The Massachusetts based Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites suicide as the leading cause of death for LBGT youth. Utah’s suicide rates — 34.5 suicide deaths for every 100,000 persons in 2008 — are among the highest in the nation, particularly among young men between the ages of 18 and 24.

No hard data. A survey in which Mormons may or may not have been polled. A vague reference to Utah suicide rates as “among the highest in the nation,” but with no specific link to gay Mormons. That’s all interesting, but guess how much concrete evidence the story provides to back up its thesis?

Zero.

I don’t know if gay Mormons are killing themselves or not. If they are — and are doing so at a rate higher than other segments of society — then that’s certainly a newsworthy story.

But all this story provides is conjecture. And caveats.

Ghost of Anita Hill’s voice mail

How’s this for a blast from the past? Nearly 20 years after Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claims against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas riveted the nation, the “he said, she said” drama has exploded back into the headlines.

Miss the latest? Well, take a moment and read all about it from ABC News, which broke the story. Or if you prefer, here’s The Associated Press report. The Wall Street Journal also has the story, as does USA Today.

As the top of The New York Times’ story explains, the big news peg is, you guessed it, a voice mail:

WASHINGTON — Nearly 20 years after Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Justice Thomas’s wife has called Ms. Hill, seeking an apology.

In a voice mail message left at 7:31 a.m. on Oct. 9, a Saturday, Virginia Thomas asked her husband’s former aide-turned-adversary to make amends. Ms. Hill played the recording, from her voice mail at Brandeis University, for The New York Times.

“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” it said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”

Ms. Thomas went on: “So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. O.K., have a good day.”

Religion aside for a moment, it certainly seems like this story has a ghost. I mean, we’re talking two decades since the Thomas confirmation hearings, and this is news again? Then again, for those who pay close attention to the Washington scene, this isn’t the first time Ginni Thomas has made waves in recent months — and you almost wonder if she hoped that Hill would leak the voice mail to the media.

What waves do I mean?

Just this month, Slate ran an article about Ginni Thomas with the headline “The Battle Cry of a Supreme Court Wife.” A Newsweek piece by Laura Miller referred to the Thomases as “the right’s new power couple.” So could there be a political motivation to a right-wing Supreme Court justice’s wife leaving this voice mail message just weeks before a major midterm election? You tell me.

But this is GetReligion, so we’re more concerned about the potential religion ghost.

I refer, of course, to Ginny Thomas requesting that Hill “certainly pray about this.” Every major news report that I’ve read, except for the Washington Post’s story, contains that religious reference.

But no one makes the leap to the obvious follow-up question: Why would Thomas ask Hill to pray? We get background on Ginny Thomas’ politics but no details on her religion. Such information certainly seems relevant in the context of the message left.

ABC’s report noted that Ginny Thomas used similar language in a 2007 interview:

Virginia Thomas: “I think there’s a lot of theories, but I hope she one day calls up and apologizes, and I look forward to forgiving her. … I’m sure she got swept up into something bigger than she may have understood at the beginning of whatever she was doing, but I think she owes us an apology, and I look forward to receiving that phone call or that visit one day.”

Forgiving her. I think that has the potential of a religious connotation. Right?

I did some quick Googling to try to find background on Ginny Thomas’ faith. The most recent information I found came from a 1991 Washington Post piece that preceded the infamous confirmation hearing:

Although Clarence Thomas was raised a Roman Catholic, the couple regularly attend the Truro Episcopal Church, a charismatic congregation in Fairfax. A majority of the congregants oppose abortion, according to Gordon Klooster, the church administrator. A home was established on church grounds for pregnant women who decide against abortion. And the preacher occasionally delivers a antiabortion sermon, Klooster said. On Friday nights, the church holds a “prayer-and-praise service,” a casual program that includes community singing, speaking in tongues and prophesying in the spirit of Christ. The Thomases are not Friday night regulars but they have attended within the past two months, Klooster said.

Do all readers speak Arabic?

“Allahu Akbar!”

For anyone who paid attention to the news last year, the words shouted by the gunman responsible for a rampage that killed 13 people and wounded 32 at Food Hood, Texas, come as no surprise.

In widespread news accounts, witnesses reported that Maj. Nidal Hasan, an American-born Muslim, shouted the Arabic phrase for “God is great!” before opening fire.

Those words are making it into the headlines again this week as dozens of survivors begin testifying at a hearing to determine if Hasan will be tried at court-martial. The hearing is expected to last several weeks.

While the words are not a surprise, they are relevant to news accounts of witness testimony.

Take the Los Angeles Times’ lede to the first day of coverage, for example:

Reporting from Ft. Hood, Texas — Just after lunch on Nov. 5, an Army psychiatrist inside the medical processing center at Ft. Hood did something that Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, the non-commissioned officer in charge at the center that day, said mystified him.

He said Maj. Nidal Hasan, the psychiatrist, suddenly stood up, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great” — and reached under his uniform top.

“I was wondering why he would say ‘Allahu Akhbar,’ ” Lunsford recalled Wednesday at a hearing for Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 others that day.

The Dallas Morning News gave a similar account:

FORT HOOD, Texas — The pop-pop-pop of gunfire, groans of a dying soldier and wailing from terrified survivors riveted a military courtroom Wednesday as Army prosecutors played a 911 tape of last November’s massacre at a soldier-readiness center.

Eight witnesses gave graphic descriptions of the chaos unleashed when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire in the worst attack ever on an American military installation. Several recalled hearing a shout of “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” just before the melee began.

“I looked at [Hasan] and was wondering, ‘Why would he say Allahu akbar?’ ” testified the first prosecution witness, Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford. Within seconds, the sergeant added, Hasan pulled a pistol from his combat uniform and began shooting.

Likewise, CNN’s report referenced the Arabic words and their meaning.

That’s all pretty straightforward, right?

But then I read the Washington Post’s version of the testimony:

“I was wondering why he would say ‘Allahu Akbar,’ ” testified Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who said he ducked behind a counter as soon as he saw Hasan start shooting inside the Soldier Readiness Processing Center here on Nov. 5. He said he watched as Hasan, after shooting a physician’s assistant, locked his eyes on him.

“The laser [on the weapon's barrel] comes across my line of sight. I closed my eyes. He discharged his weapon,” said Lunsford, who was shot five times, including once in his head, and lost nearly all sight in his left eye.

Anything missing there? Go ahead and read the whole story. “God is great” is nowhere to be found.

Is the omission in one of America’s great newspapers purposeful? Do all Post readers speak Arabic? Is the Post intentionally trying to avoid the potential religious motivation of the gunman?

That was my first thought, but on closer inspection, the Post storyunlike other reports I read — includes important background about the suspect:

A Muslim born in Virginia, whose parents had immigrated to Jordan from a Palestinian town near Jerusalem, and later from Jordan to the United States, Hasan joined the Army after graduating from Virginia Tech in the mid-1990s with a biochemistry degree.

After medical school, he began a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Hasan became more religiously observant in recent years, after the death of his parents, acquaintances have said. He began corresponding via e-mail with an imam, Anwar al-Aulaqi, who has been linked to al-Qaeda attacks against the United States.

Still, am I wrong in thinking that “Allahu Akbar” needs to be defined within the context of a mainstream news story? Certainly, most news accounts did so, but not all.

Like the Post, the San Antonio Express-News’ story (also published in its sister paper, the Houston Chronicle) uses the Arabic words but fails to explain them:

After eating a quick lunch in a parking lot on Fort Hood, Zeigler entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center and took a seat in Station 13, a crowded waiting area where dozens of troops sat in four rows of chairs.

“Allahu akbar!” cried a man, producing a gun.

Within seconds, Ziegler would be among 32 people wounded in a shooting at the Army post that also left 13 dead. On Thursday, Ziegler was among 11 who testified in the second day of an evidentiary hearing against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was charged in the Nov. 5 shooting spree.

Of course, the same Express-News story alternates at ease between spelling the witness’ name as Ziegler and as Zeigler, so maybe expecting important context would be asking too much.

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‘God and the Devil’ in Chile

“Faith, hope, unity, blah, blah, blah. Quit talking and show more rescues.”

So said a friend’s Facebook status, referring to the drama unfolding in Chile. It’s obvious that something absolutely incredible is happening as miners trapped below ground for 69 days “ascend to the surface,” as The Associated Press describes it.

But is there a religion angle to this miracle? That depends, it seems, on which news account you read.

The New York Times’ original “Chile Rejoices as Miners Taste Freedom” story from today’s PageA1 seemed to ignore the faith angle. But maybe that can be blamed on the late-night timing and print deadlines. Click the same link now, and two of the top five paragraphs offer strong quotes from rescued miners who mention, yes, God:

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — With anxious anticipation increasingly yielding to exuberant celebration, more than a third of the haggard men trapped under a half-mile of rock for more than two months have emerged to the arms of their families and an electrified nation.

The second miner to reach the surface, Mario Sepulveda, left the rescue capsule in a kind of victory dance, hugging family members and officials. He embraced the Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, three times and presented people with gifts: rocks from the mine. He punched fists with the crowd and led a cheer: “Chi, Chi, Chi, le, le, le,” they shouted. “Miners of Chile!” The refrain echoed as subsequent miners reached the surface.

“I’ve been near God, but I’ve also been near the devil,” Mr. Sepulveda said through a translator. “God won.”

The 12th miner — Edison Pena, 34, known for running miles in the mine tunnels every day — stepped from the escape capsule to rapturous cheers and the embrace of his girlfriend, and then another from Mr. Pinera.

“Thank God we’re alive,” Mr. Pena said. “I know now why we’re alive.”

Likewise, the Los Angeles Times’ main story references the miners’ faith up high:

Reporting from Copiapo, Chile — The 15th man trapped for more than two months in a Chilean mine was pulled to safety Wednesday as the sounds of rejoicing filled the camp in the Chilean desert where hundreds of international media were holding vigil along with family members of 33 gold and copper miners entombed half a mile below ground.

“I never doubted. I always knew God would rescue us,” Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be rescued, said in a television interview.

And the Washington Post, too, includes religious imagery in its lede:

SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE — After 10 weeks in a dark, hot purgatory 2,000 feet underground, the first of 33 trapped miners were hoisted to freedom early Wednesday, a rescue marking the beginning of the end of a drama that captivated people worldwide.

Again, Sepulveda’s reference to “God and the Devil” takes top quote billing, this time in the Post:

“I think I had extraordinary luck,” Sepulveda later told reporters. “I was with God and with the devil – and God took me.”

Even before the rescues, CNN highlighted the role of hope and faith in the miners surviving below ground for so long. Time reported Tuesday on what it called “Chile’s Mine Rescue: Media Circus and Religious Revival.” For a rundown of the religion angles, check out this story from Christianity Today.

So, let me ask again: Is there a religion angle to this miracle? Undoubtedly, there is. Kudos to the media for a decent job so far of allowing that angle to unfold in the breaking news coverage. Feel free to share other links, insights, questions and concerns in the comments section.

Then again, as my friend suggested, “Quit talking and show more rescues.”

Attacking gays or stating doctrines?

Carl Paladino, New York’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, made the rounds today of major network morning shows. His appearances on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CBS’ “Early Show” and NBC’s “Today” came amid a furor over remarks he made — and didn’t make — Sunday to Orthodox Jewish leaders concerning homosexuality.

The posted video contains about 60 seconds of what Paladino said:

We must stop pandering to the pornographers and the perverts who seek to target our children and destroy their lives. I didn’t march in the gay parade this year — the gay pride parade this year. My opponent did, and that’s not the example that we should be showing our children, and certainly not in our schools. (The Jewish leaders applaud at this point.)

And don’t misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way. That would be a dastardly lie. My approach is live and let live. I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family. And I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.

Several media outlets reported that Paladino’s prepared text also included this statement, which he omitted:

There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.

CNN reported:

“That’s not how (God) created us,” the prepared remarks continued, though Paladino did not say those words.

The New York Times’ coverage of the remarks — which its reporter did not witness firsthand — originally ran under this headline:

Paladino Attacks Gays in Brooklyn Speech

However, Paladino’s spokesman — in the same Times article — said the candidate was “simply expressing the views that he holds in his heart as a Catholic.” So, is this is a Paladino attack on gays or a candidate’s statement of his religious beliefs?

By the way, that headline no longer accompanies the online version of the article. It has been changed to this:

Paladino Laces Speech with Antigay Remarks

Still, the top four paragraphs of the Times story — as I type this post — have the sequence of Paladino’s statement out of order:

The Republican candidate for governor, Carl P. Paladino, told a gathering in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Sunday that children should not be “brainwashed” into thinking that homosexuality was acceptable, and criticized his opponent, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

Addressing Orthodox Jewish leaders, Mr. Paladino described his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t,” he said, reading from a prepared address, according to a video of the event.

And then, to applause at Congregation Shaarei Chaim, he said: “I didn’t march in the gay parade this year — the gay pride parade this year. My opponent did, and that’s not the example we should be showing our children.” Newsday.com reported that Mr. Paladino’s prepared text had included the sentence: “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.” But Mr. Paladino omitted the sentence in his speech.

If somebody at the Times would click the video to which the paper itself links, they’d figure out that they have the third and fourth paragraphs out of order. Then again, even getting that sequence fixed wouldn’t explain why they bury Paladino’s prefacing remark — that he doesn’t want to hurt homosexual people in any way — while focusing on the rest of what he said. And, of course, what he didn’t say.

Most media also linked Paladino’s remarks to recent cases of anti-gay bullying and suicides. CNN referenced the cases starting in its sixth paragraph:

The candidate’s remarks came a day after New York police announced the arrest of an eighth suspect in a series of brutal, anti-gay hate crimes against four men.

The incident last weekend involved three victims being held against their will by as many as nine assailants who beat them in a vacant apartment and sodomized two of them, police said. A fourth victim was beaten and robbed in connection with the attacks.

Given that Paladino says he was making a blunt statement of Catholic beliefs, is it fair to link his comments with physical attacks by thugs?

On CBS today, Paladino said he deserves an apology from media that reported remarks he did not make:

Paladino said it wasn’t his intention to add fuel to the fire of gay hatred.

“This thing was highlighted only because of the words that were on a written statement that I did not speak. I crossed them out. They were unacceptable to me and that’s the only reason we are talking about it today because those words were given by someone to the press and the press, in their own pariah way, needed to write something … so that’s why this thing gets like this.”

But Paladino stood by the rest of his comments.

“I want to clearly define myself. I have of no reservations about gay people at all, none, except for one thing, their desire to get married. … I feel that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Very clearly, I wanted to state that.

“Now, in addition, I have a nephew and … I have people working for me who are gay. Never had a problem with any of them, never had a problem in any sense with their lifestyle and we’ve talked about it often. … I talk to them about the discrimination that they suffer and I’m sensitive to it.

From a journalistic standpoint, I have no problem with the media reporting the full prepared statement that a rabbi apparently handed out. In a statewide race for governor, the full statement — what was said and what was not — is newsworthy. But context — both on who wrote the original statement and why Paladino chose not to use parts of it — is crucial to fair, responsible reporting.

The New York City reports I have read failed to give any details on why Paladino would have made such a statement to Orthodox Jews. Kudos to the Buffalo News for providing a bit of religious insight:

The Republican made his comments as he met with Orthodox groups at the Karlsburg Synagogue and Kohel Adas Kasho, both in Brooklyn.

Caputo said the meetings were part of an attempt to introduce Paladino to Orthodox Jewish leaders who agree with him on issues such as marriage equality and abortion.

“There’s some kind of misnomer out there that the Jewish community is a Democratic voting bloc,” he said. “It’s a very diverse community with diverse political thoughts.”

Caputo pointed to the staunch pro-life and anti-gay marriage positions held by some Orthodox rabbis.

“That creates an opening for us,” he said.

This is a breaking story. It’ll be interesting to see how the religious angles develop, if at all. Comment away, but please stick to the journalistic and media coverage issues.

ESPN’s Dusty Baker faith no-no

July 28, 2010 - Milwaukee, WI, USA - 28 July 2010: Reds manager Dusty Baker relaxing in the dugout during the MLB game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI. The Reds defeated the Brewers 10-2.

The ghosts are touching him.

In keeping with the baseball theme I started Wednesday, I wanted to take a look at a compelling, 2,700-word ESPN.com profile of Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker.

As the reader who shared the story with GetReligion noted, the piece — obviously written before the Phillies’ Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds in the opening game of the National League Division Series — opens with a powerful scene inside a cathedral:

CINCINNATI – “Light a candle,” Dusty Baker says, his lone voice softly skimming the looming silence of the empty church. “I’m sure there’s someone out there you want to pray for.”

He lights a candle, points the flickering matchstick downward in his large hands, the athlete’s hands, dousing it into the cool sand. It is here in the solitude of St. Peter in Chains Cathedral — funded by Ohio Catholics who donated 12 cents per month toward its construction in 1841 — where Johnnie B. Baker, born Baptist in California, raised in the traditions of the southern black church, kneels alone among the long pews and nourishes his spirituality.

After several moments of prayer, he rises and walks gingerly toward the altar, marveling at the Greek architecture, the Corinthian columns and stained glass mosaics, comforted, despite its bruises, by the sanctuary and the ritual of the church.

“I come in here before homestands, sometimes a couple of times a week during the season,” said Baker. “I pray for my family, for my team, and for Barack Obama, because I’ve never seen people try to take a president down like this, never seen such anger. I mean, what did he do to anybody?”

History surrounds Baker this morning, as it does every morning. He is humbled by its density, energized by its lineage and his place in it. The ghosts are touching him.

The ghosts are touching him.

Certainly not religion ghosts, right? With that kind of utterly impressive start, surely this piece — filled with so many nuanced layers of emotion, history and vivid images — won’t require GetReligion repudiation, right?

Wrong, unfortunately.

No, readers never find out how a black Baptist ends up praying in a Catholic cathedral. No, readers never discover the role of faith in Baker dealing with cancer and the death of his father. No, readers never learn how Baker balances his religious faith — whatever form that takes outside of lighting a candle and praying — with the bars and women referenced later in the story.

Near the end, the highly talented writer alludes to a new outlook in Baker’s life post-cancer and again sprinkles religious imagery into the text:

The prodigy is long gone and the adult is left. One of his larger paintings is of a healing center in Kauai, Hawaii, from his cancer recovery. The photograph resembles a Mayan temple with beams of rainbows darting through the windows of the shelter.

“That one,” he says, “told me everything was going to be all right.”

“It changes your outlook. And I want to win the World Series. I hate the question of ‘how much longer do I want to do this?’ Why would I sell myself short? Joe Torre managed much longer than I. So has Bobby Cox. This is a heck of a life. I’ve never stopped aspiring, never stopped learning to do this job better. I take pride in being prepared. I take pride in having faith, in myself and in my players. I’m happy.

“Since cancer and my dad, all that other stuff, I try to leave it. This is a life much more fulfilling,” Dusty Baker says. “The stars are brighter. And the birds sing louder. I hear them more now than ever.”

But once again, the piece — regrettably — stops short of actual details and facts about Baker’s faith and religion. It’s a long fly to the outfield wall that just misses going out of the park.

The ghosts are touching him.

Baseball demons, angels and Jesus

Texas Rangers left fielder Josh Hamilton acknowledges the fans after it was announced he had won the American League Batting Title for the highest batting average, in the eighth inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Arlington, Texas October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

When my beloved Texas Rangers clinched the American League West championship on Sept. 25, Josh Hamilton steered clear of the champagne-and-cigar celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse in Oakland, Calif.

The difference in how various media outlets covered the absence of Hamilton, a leading AL Most Valuable Player candidate, was interesting.

ESPN Dallas seemed to go out of its way to avoid any mention of Jesus Christ or Hamilton’s Christian faith:

Hamilton, whose baseball career was derailed for several years by drug and alcohol abuse, felt it was smarter for him to avoid the champagne and beer showers in the Rangers clubhouse. So he stayed in the trainer’s room, showered and kept his commitment to speak to a large fan gathering in the stadium as part of Faith Day in Oakland.

He was able to hug teammates and celebrate with them on the field right after the final out of a 4-3 Rangers victory. A large group of his teammates got the idea to dump water on him instead of champagne as part of the celebration, but Hamilton was already dressed and headed out to his speaking engagement when they located him.

Later, there’s this:

Hamilton’s troubled past is well documented. He was a can’t-miss prospect when Tampa Bay made him the No. 1 overall pick out of high school in the 1999 draft. But drug and alcohol abuse sidetracked his career, and he was out of baseball by 2003.

He credits his religious faith for helping him overcome his addictions, and he finally made it to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. He was traded to the Rangers in 2008 and has developed into one of the game’s most dangerous hitters.

So … Faith Day. Religious faith. At this point, I’m surprised the story went ahead and called him a Texas Ranger rather than a generic major-league baseball player.

Contrast that with the Associated Press story about Hamilton skipping the clubhouse party:

He had to convince a few teammates to not pour bottles of water on him, explaining he had other postgame activities in mind. It was church day in Oakland and Hamilton planned to join some of the Athletics in sharing stories of their faith with fans.

“So it would be kind of hypocritical of me to come in here and douse myself with alcohol and smoke cigars and then go out there and talk about Jesus,” Hamilton said.

So … Church Day. Jesus. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

My wife, children and I got to see Hamilton up close at Rangers’ spring training in Surprise, Ariz., in 2009. We were with a college group on a spring break mission trip to the Phoenix area. A friendly Hamilton posed for pictures with my children and visited with the Christian university students in our group. When one of the students asked Hamilton about his faith, he smiled and pulled a devotional guide out of his uniform sock. I was surprised and impressed.

But several months later, I was disappointed when news surfaced of Hamilton relapsing that previous winter. Photos were published involving the drunken slugger, whipped cream and women who were not his wife. Mollie posted last year on the media coverage of that incident.

This past Sunday, The Dallas Morning News recalled that incident in a remarkable Page 1 story about Hamilton and the role of his Christian faith in helping him overcome his addictions and sins:

On the chilly morning of Jan. 22, 2009, when everything else in her life seemed to be working out perfectly, Katie Hamilton received a phone call at her home outside Raleigh, N.C.

It was her husband, Josh, calling from Tempe, Ariz., where he had gone to a boot camp for athletes. Hamilton had become famous the year before for leading the American League in runs batted in and making the All-Star team in his first full season as a major leaguer.

And now he was calling his wife to tell her, through choking sobs, that after three years of sobriety, he had relapsed. He had gone out late the previous evening, alone, to a pizza restaurant, which happened to have a bar. He had a vodka and cranberry juice, then another, then went to a bar and had many more. He told her he didn’t remember everything that happened, but that there might be “pictures.” Katie told him to come home, and then she prayed.

The 1,900-word story goes into great detail to explain the role of pastors and “accountability partners” in Hamilton’s life … to describe how he sees nearly everything he does outside of baseball as a ministry … and to point out the specific steps he has taken to avoid the demons that allowed him to burn through a $4 million signing bonus in four years, including spending $100,000 in drugs in six weeks.

The writer, S.C. Gwynne, lets the story unfold naturally, mostly through the perspective of Hamilton and his wife, although others, such as Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, are quoted. Readers can determine for themselves the sincerity of Hamilton’s faith. (I must acknowledge that if I were the editor, I would have added a he says to facts such as this: he has been clean since that night in Tempe.)

But to his credit, Gwynne reports the story without condescension. Now, that should be a given in a mainstream news account. As GetReligion readers know all too well, though, that is not always the case in such reports.

If Gwynne’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a veteran Texas journalist who reported stories with Godbeat legend Richard Ostling at Time magazine and drew GetReligion praise from Tmatt for his Texas Monthly piece on Fort Worth Episcopal — er, Anglican — Bishop Jack Iker.

Gwynne’s professionalism and experience shine through in his Hamilton story.

By the way, the Rangers’ opening playoff game against the Tampa Bay Rays starts at 12:37 p.m. my time. I’ve already filled out the proper medical excuse form to take off from work.