Why God made bishops

I think it is safe to say that this story represents the end of the Romanian convent-from-hell episode. Bishop Corneliu Barladeanu stepped up and did what bishops are supposed to do — protect the faith. You know things are totally out of control when the nuns start attacking a bishop, attacking as in physical assault. Here are a few more interesting details from a wire update:

The church, which is faced with a shortage of priests, had granted Corogeanu the right to work as a priest, despite the fact that he had not completed his theological studies, Barladeanu said. He added the church now planned to introduce psychological tests for men entering the monastic life. The Holy Trinity convent was built in 2001 by a lawyer and had not been sanctified by the Orthodox Church, Barladeanu added.

Parsing the Supremes’ tea leaves

Supreme CourtThe pros at the Religion Newswriters Association already have one of their ReligionLink features up on the tightly decided U.S. Supreme Court decision on the 10 Commandments. To check it out, click here. Meanwhile, watch this space for the wave of links that will, in a matter of hours, pour out of Christianity Today‘s blog.

This is going to be a mucho strange story to follow in the MSM, because reporters are having a devil of time finding out if the Religious Right won or lost. And what is the impact of all this on the first open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and, thus, on the legal future of abortion on demand? After all, this is the ultimate issue. If you don’t believe me, click here.

The split nature of the 10 Commandments decision is well stated in this early Washington Post report:

The decisions, issued by two different majorities of justices using different tests of constitutionality, are likely to continue, rather than settle, the long-running argument over when state, local and federal governments may display religious symbols or allow their display on government property.

“Split decisions make people go and fight again,” said Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization which has been fighting this particular fight for decades.

Let us know about the good and the bad in the MSM coverage in the next 24 hours. I’ll chime in again if and when I see any patterns. Who knows, maybe this decision will be impossible to get into a simple headline — period.

Covering the tense Vatican-China dance

It was hours before the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government and I was, with a circle of other journalists from around the world, attending a conference on journalism and religious liberty. It was a wild and frantic time to be in what I am told is almost always a wild and frantic city.

There were many memorable discussions that night. But the remark I will always remember came from a major publisher in Hong Kong, who observed that there were really only two people in the world who were truly feared by the leaders of the mainland Chinese government — Bill Gates and Pope John Paul II. Why? One refused to cede control of almost anything that was happening in the world in terms of information and business. The other refused to cede control of the spirit and the conscience.

I thought of that while reading reporter Mark Magnier’s excellent Los Angeles Times update on the tense courtship that is under way between the Vatican and the principalities and powers in China. The story does underplay the crucial Protestant “house church” side of the religious-liberty scene in China, but that’s to be expected since it is not the focus of this lengthy report.

What stands in the way of better Vatican-Chinese relations? The usual stuff, sad to report:

In talks in Rome and Beijing, the two sides have outlined a range of possible compromises to normalize relations that seem to overcome the main sticking points, said Mario Marazziti, spokesman for the Rome-based humanitarian group Community of St. Egidio.

The talks suffered a setback when Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian attended John Paul’s funeral, but Marazziti said he believed it was only temporary.

The main elements of a compromise are now in focus, religious leaders and analysts say. The Vatican would probably end its official recognition of Taiwan and Beijing would allow Rome greater say in church affairs.

Cuba and Vietnam, also ruled by communist governments, may provide a model, experts say. For instance, instead of naming a bishop, Rome could offer three candidates, letting Beijing choose.

Church officials said many of Taiwan’s 300,000 Catholics might feel betrayed by any downgrading of relations between Taipei and Rome. But Msgr. Ambrose Madtha, the Vatican’s charge d’affaires in Taiwan, said the possibility had been floating for years, and many are used to the idea.

This kind of reporting is so difficult, for journalistic reasons that transcend shackles on reporters attempting to do private interviews with real people in China. Face it — studies show that average Americans don’t want to read much about foreign affairs and many editors, well, just don’t get religion. Thus, it is hard for reporters to sell quality MSM coverage of religious issues on the other side of the planet.

Thus, it is important to pay attention when quality stories on these issues appear — such as this report by Magnier. Bravo.

Nicolosi and the Times, round III

windowAnd now it is time for another episode of Barbara Nicolosi and James the New York Times reporter. Barbara is the leader of the Act One screenwriting workshops in Hollywood and one of the most witty, at times even snarky, former nuns one would ever want to meet. “Snarky” can be a good thing, right?

If you want to catch up on the arc of this mini-drama, the previous acts and a lot of related links, click here. As I said before, Nicolosi is posting her side of her recent telephone encounters with a Times reporter who is writing a story on born-again right-wingers who have an evil plan to take over Hollywood, or something like that.

Barbara, you see, is not fitting into the mold that exists in the reporter’s mindset. She is not playing along.

I think more people involved in complicated, tense journalistic encounters in the blog age might want to try this approach. Let a million transcripts bloom. In the past, I have urged people I interview — if they are worried about being quoted fairly — to use a tape recorder. Then I have a tape and they have a tape. That’s fair, right?

Anyway, let’s get to the latest installment in this series, which is unfolding at Nicolosi’s blog, Church of the Masses.

So, I got a call today from my new friend, James, the NY Times reporter who has been working on the story to unmask the secret scary vast conspiracy to funnel money from rightwing political covert ops into Christian ministries in Hollywood. He was calling to say the piece he interviewed me for is running in this Sunday’s Times — the front page of the lifestyle section. It was very nice of him to call. . . .

James: I hope you’ll be okay with this. In my article, I referred to you as “a Catholic activist.”

Barb: Forgive me, but what the heck is a Catholic activist?

James: (laughing nervously) Well, you know, somebody who is really into organizing Catholic things.

Barb: But, I don’t organize Catholic things. I am the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit –

James: Yeah. Yeah . . . I know . . . but I had to call you something.

Barb: You could have called me the executive director of an interdenominational non-profit organization.

James: Yeah. Well . . . [cough]

Let’s all watch for that story in the Sunday edition of the Times. In a perverse sort of way, I hope that it ends up being pretty good — meaning that the facts are right and there is some balance to it. Hey, it could happen.

Bizarre Newsweek labor ghost

So you are rolling through the Newsweek story on tensions in American labor and how they may hurt the Democratic Party and then you hit this ghost — which is left unexplained by Howard Fineman, of all people. Boooo! There is, you see, a showdown looming between “Change to Win” coalition leader Andy Stern and AFL president John Sweeney. It’s complicated, so check out the story. But here is the part that spooked me:

Some say [Stern] has another agenda, which is to take over the AFL-CIO from his former SEIU colleague Sweeney, who is half a generation older and cut from a different cloth: a Dorothy Day social activist from the working-class Bronx, N.Y., versus Stern, whose grandparents were members of an exclusive German-Jewish country club and who is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

OK, so it’s a class reference. But you can’t help but note the Catholic Worker tag on one side and the “German-Jewish” label on the other. Say what precisely is being said here?

Another win for vague “fundamentalism”

I have been mulling over a Los Angeles Times story about Iran for several days. I get stuck on something like this every now and then. I used to work on a copy desk.

Once again, I am upset about that troublesome word “fundamentalist” being used in a way that leaves it totally undefined. Here, for example, is the headline for the online version of reporter John Daniszewski’s report from Tehran: “Iran’s Runner-Up Puts Fundamentalists in Race.”

Then we have the first two paragraphs.

TEHRAN — From his childhood as the impoverished son of a blacksmith, to his youth as a student activist against the shah of Iran, to his manhood as a soldier fighting in Iraq, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had a fierce attachment to Islam and to the teachings of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Now the 48-year-old appointed mayor of Tehran appears to have the backing of much of the military, fundamentalists and loyalists of the country’s supreme leader in a runoff election Friday with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. If Ahmadinejad wins, it would be seen as a victory for the most fundamentalist wing of Iranian politics and a devastating setback for reformers.

Forget the outcome of the election for a minute or other recent developments. Just focus on the words. It would appear that “reformers” is the doctrinal word that is the mirror image of “fundamentalists.” Yet “fundamentalist” is defined, by context, as someone with a “fierce attachment to Islam.”

What am I missing? So, essentially, anyone who is unusually devoted to Islam is a “fundamentalist” and some who is not all that devoted is a “reformer”? So the word “fundamentalist” is bad, since it is against reform. Reform is good, since it involves a lack of strong belief in the historic doctrines of a particular faith?

“Fundamentalist” Catholic vs. “reform” Catholic? “Fundamentalist” Protestant vs. “reform” Protestant? “Fundamentalist” Anglicans vs. “reform” Episcopalians? This has all kinds of implications, doesn’t it?

So the goal of American policy — or at least the reporters covering it — is to prevent the rise of “fundamentalists” in the Islamic world and to encourage the “reformers” who are not as devout? What do Islamic religious leaders think of that? Maybe we don’t want to know the answer to that question.

Meanwhile, let us again meditate on these fading words in The Associated Press Stylebook:

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

UPDATE: Election results are in. He won.

Doing that left-right MSM thing

Those on the left view MSM as mainly conservative. See mediamatters.org.

Posted by wildwest at 11:01 am on June 23, 2005

MSM = corporate owned, lilly-livered, roll over and don’t make waves, sensationalist, full of schmuck reporters standing around in the cold and dark in front of the “scene of the incident” live at 11 pm HOURS after the incident is over and cleaned up and everyone has gone home, site of the pained look of consternation (or constipation, take your pick) while reading grammatically questionable sentence construction about the latest celebrity falderal, really only useful for lining bird cages (print edition).

Posted by Molly at 2:54 pm on June 23, 2005

Clever, but wrong. She describes media in general. All media succumb to the sensational, etc. The MSM manage to do all this and remain utterly unaware of their extremist left-wing bias. Quite talented, really, to juggle both.

Posted by Stephen A. at 9:57 pm on June 23, 2005

Well now.

Let’s pause for a moment for a brief worldview statement about GetReligion, even though I know that can’t speak for my non-Borg partners. This Indianapolis Star bias case is the kind of thing I hear about all the time, since most of my speaking engagements are linked to issues of religion and journalism.

I wonder, is there anyone else out there in the blogosphere/academia/news biz who has, on the within-reach bookshelf above his or her desk, a copy of Ben Bagdikian’s classic The Media Monopoly sitting right next to a copy of Marvin Olasky’s Prodigal Press?

The first is a touchstone book for the left and the latter plays the same role for the right.

Both books argue that the basic structures of journalism are biased. And both of them, I believe, are right. The problem is that these books are focusing on totally different issues, when it comes to media bias.

Bagdikian is a classic political progressive — old school. He is right that the corporate media of our day tend toward a brand of economic conservatism, especially on issues that are close to home. It is hard to get more conservative than a newspaper within shouting range of a military base that is about to be shut down. If corporations are conservative, then we live in an increasingly conservative age in journalism. Your basic one-newspaper-city newspaper is not going to be “liberal” when it comes to groups that attack the economic status quo.

The enemy is Gannett, with all of its top-down corporate culture.

Olasky is a religious, social-issues conservative. He is primarily interested in issues of faith, morality and public culture. He is a political conservative, but he bleeds on media-bias issues linked to abortion, sexuality, religious liberty, etc.

The enemy is, well, Gannett, with all of its top-down, rules-based liberalism on social issues.

Bagdikian has lots and lots of facts on his side when it comes to labor issues, economics, etc. Olasky has lots of facts on his side when it comes to social issues and religion.

In other words, the heart of the MSM is a kind of moral Libertarianism. It’s kind of Clintonian economics and morality. Leave us alone and let us make lots of money. It’s a Hollywood conservatism. It’s a corporate thing. It’s a moderate Republican thing, the brand of faith that dominates business elites.

The problem is that our age is dominated by the politics of social issues. When the first non-conservative seat on the U.S. Supreme Court bench goes open, do you expect hotter-than-hot arguments over economics or morality? Foreign policy or religion?

Do the same dynamics affect the journalism wars? Absolutely. We should expect the Indianapolis Star case to boil down to corporate leaders clashing with the morally conservative beliefs of individuals. You can read all about it in Olasky and Bagdikian.

The P-word surfaces at the Indy Star

Here is a case worth following, not only to see the outcome but to see how MSM outlets cover it — if they do.

The back story to this inside-baseball news story is that The Indianapolis Star — once a very culturally conservative newsroom and, especially, editorial page — has been pulled into the Gannett world, which is always going to lead to some changes. Now this happens:

Two former editorial writers at The Indianapolis Star have sued the newspaper and its owner, Gannett Co., claiming religious, racial and age discrimination.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, former editorial board members James Patterson and Lisa Coffey said top newsroom managers “consistently and repeatedly demonstrated . . . a negative hostility toward Christianity.”

Neither of these people appear to be Religious Right plants in the newsroom. They seem to be, well, fairly normal people in Indiana. Perhaps that is the problem.

Note that, once again, the key word in the script is “proselytizing.” But this raises all kinds of questions, based on the few details we have in print at this time.

Does the P-word apply when people write an editorial that encourages citizens to pray for the U.S. troops in Iraq? Is it “proselytizing” to oppose the Gannett chain’s stance on gay rights? This latter issue surfaces in the Star‘s own mini-story on the case. Does the P-word apply if, let’s say, the editorial page backs some kind of Democratic Party effort to blend faith and economic justice?

I will try to keep tabs on this. Has anyone else seen coverage of this case on j-blogs?