Report both sides of the story, unless you’re HuffPost

A bill dealing with gay weddings is being hotly debated in Kansas, but not in a Huffington Post article about it. The clumsily titled “Being Gay Ain’t Okay in Kansas” would fit well in a journalism textbook chapter on one-sided reporting.

The article, summarizing a HuffPost Live video, loads the first paragraph with the warning that the bill, if passed, “would allow discrimination against same-sex couples on the basis of religious beliefs.” It then quotes legislator Emily Perry, interviewed in the video, and doesn’t go much beyond that point for the next 200 words or so.

The three-page bill itself seems pretty straightforward. Its main point is that:

[N]o individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement …

The HuffPost story links to the bill but doesn’t quote it directly. Instead, it helps Perry raise red flags about a host of civil wrongs:

“To me it really talks to the fact that an employer or even a governmental entity … could not provide services,” Perry said on HuffPost Live. She raised an example of a police officer arriving at the scene of a domestic violence complaint involving a gay couple. “We don’t want these public servants to be able to arrive at the scene of the crime, and decide that because of their religious beliefs, they don’t want to offer services,” she said.

The piece says that Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t read the bill but “is a well-known supporter of religious liberty.” It’s apparently drawing from a Kansas City Star piece to which it links:

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Newsflash! Not all Catholics think alike!

Hey! Did you know that a lot of Catholics actually disagree with church teachings?

To put it another way: Have you been ignoring all polls, and not talking to any Catholics, on the matter for the last quarter-century or more?

If so, let Univision and the Washington Post get you up to speed. A brand-spankin’-new poll reveals that “Most Catholics worldwide disagree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and contraception,” according to a breathless article in the Post.

Well, OK, it’s more nuanced than that. The article says the poll shows divisions among Catholics worldwide and a challenge for their still-new Papa:

Between the developing world in Africa and Asia, which hews closely to doctrine on these issues, and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, which strongly support practices that the church teaches are immoral.

The widespread disagreement with Catholic doctrine on abortion and contraception and the hemispheric chasm lay bare the challenge for Pope Francis’s year-old papacy and the unity it has engendered.

A companion piece in the Post lays out some of the numbers in big, colorful tiles, rather like the Windows 8 “Metro” desktop. Among the results:

  • 87 percent of Catholics say Pope Francis is doing a good or excellent job.
  • 99 percent of Ugandan Catholics oppose gay marriage, compared with 27 percent of Catholics in Spain.
  • 78 percent of Catholics support the use of contraception (but what kinds, they apparently weren’t asked).
  • 65 percent of Catholics say abortion should be allowed in some or all cases.
  • 30 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage.

It sounds pretty systematic, but the Post, to its credit, notes a weakness:

The poll, which was done by Bendixen & Amandi International for Univision, did not include Catholics everywhere. It focused on 12 countries across the continents with some of the world’s largest Catholic populations. The countries are home to more than six of 10 Catholics globally.

What I sought in vain was a comparison with some previous polls. Just before Pope John Paul II’s 1987 U.S. visit, a New York Times-CBS News poll indicated that most American Catholics respected the pope but disagreed with him on issues like divorce, birth control and women’s ordination. I.e., rather like the freshly minted poll.

The Post did note — around the last quarter of the story, long after the lede — that the Univision poll “mirrored ones that show U.S. Catholics support married priests, female priests, abortion and contraception.” It made no direct comparisons on findings, though.

The article uses a think-tanker for context, but not very well:
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Hey NYTimes: Please study the timeline of abuse in Chicago

Back in my graduate-school days, I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after spending a few years working at the local daily, The News-Gazette. I read the Chicago dailes, of course, during some glorious years of newspaper warfare in that great and wild city.

Thus, I remember ripping my way way through the headlines and thousands of words of copy kicked off by the famous Chicago Sun-Times blockbusters about the life and times of one Cardinal John Patrick Cody. Here’s a slice of a Nieman Reports flashback:

On Thursday, September 10, 1981, the Chicago Sun-Times splashed across its front page a three-tiered headline that jolted the city: “Federal grand jury probes Cardinal Cody use of church funds.” A subhead read: “Investigation centers on gifts to a friend.” The first in an extended, multifaceted series of investigative stories did not appear until a team of three Sun-Times reporters had completed an 18-month search for sources, documents and other substantiating evidence. And this investigation took place at a time when reporters still shared information with federal authorities, including the Internal Revenue Service. …

Fully aware that they were dealing with an explosive issue in a metropolitan area where the Catholic Church was a powerful institution with members at the top levels of the city’s political, judicial, business and labor establishment, the tabloid’s publisher and editors were not in a rush to get into print. When the reporting team was first assembled, Publisher James Hoge told the investigative unit: “We’re going to have to do as careful and as in-depth reporting as anyone’s ever done, because this is dynamite.”

That’s an understatement, if there ever was one. Yes, the friend was female.

Why bring this up right now?

Well, any attempt to understand the current news coverage of the Chicago angle of the decades of Catholic clergy sexual-abuse scandals must include a timeline of who is who and who led the Archdiocese of Chicago at what time. Here goes:

* Cardinal John Patrick Cody was appointed on June 14, 1965 and died on April 25, 1982. He was the living, breathing archetype of a powerful Chicago leader, steeped in clericalism and feared by a wide range of Catholics for a wide range of reasons.

* Cardinal Joseph Louis Bernardin was appointed on July 8, 1982 and died on Nov. 14, 1996. Simply stated, he was a hero of American Catholic progressives and their many allies in the mainstream press. If the Catholic left has an American saint with a red hat, this is the man.

* Cardinal Francis Eugene George — the first native Chicagoan to serve as Archbishop of Chicago — was appointed on April 7, 1997, and is highly respected by doctrinal conservatives in the era of the Blessed Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis.

So remember those years as you read the New York Times story on the opening of the files on clergy sexual abuse in this oh-so-powerful archdiocese. Here’s a crucial block of information right up top:

Thousands of documents gleaned from the personnel files of the Archdiocese of Chicago were released to the public on Tuesday, unspooling a lurid history of abuse by priests and halting responses from bishops in the country’s third-largest archdiocese. In each case, the priests ultimately died or were ousted from ministry, and in most cases, the allegations were never proved in a criminal court. But the documents suggest that church officials were at times quite solicitous toward priests accused of abuse.

In one remarkable instance in 1997, Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin was persuaded to allow the body of an abusive priest’s mother to be brought to the prison where the priest, the Rev. Norbert J. Maday, was incarcerated so he could pay his respects. Cardinal Francis E. George, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago, described the accommodation in a thank-you note as “an exceptional act of charity.”

Cardinal George’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, opted not to defrock the same priest, writing a letter to him in prison declaring that “you have suffered enough by your present deprivation of ministry and your incarceration.”

Cardinal George is, of course, currently in power and he receives quite a bit of attention in this story, as is proper. However, what is the main question that a reader needs answered in this scandal story? I would say that the crucial question can be stated this way: What happened and when? When did most of the abuse take place and when did the church leaders in Chicago do most of their cover-up work?

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Does adultery = prostitution for the WPost?

Nothing optional—from homosexuality to adultery—is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate. As Shakespeare put it in King Lear, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he plies the lash.

Christopher Hitchens. God is not great: How religions poison everything. (2008) p 40.

A religion ghost rattled its chains in a national security story published by the Washington Post last week entitled: “Navy’s second-ranking civilian resigns amid criminal investigation.” The Post bookends a story about fraud with a sex angle — that equates adultery with prostitution.

It reports a senior Pentagon official has resigned following a probe into a questionable procurement deal. However, the Undersecretary of the Navy was not fired for fraud, but for adultery.

An intensifying criminal investigation of an alleged contracting scheme involving a top-secret Navy project has resulted in the forced resignation of the service’s second-ranking civilian leader, according to officials and court documents. Robert C. Martinage, the acting undersecretary of the Navy, stepped down after his boss, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, asked for his resignation “following a loss of confidence in [his] abilities to effectively perform his duties,” according to a statement the Navy released Wednesday.

Navy officials said Martinage was pressured to quit after investigators looking into his role in the top-secret program discovered that he was having an affair.

The article then relates details of a criminal probe into contracting abuses and we hear no more about adultery, though the Post attempts to pull sex back into the story frame in the closing paragraphs.

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Time magazine claims that Bible-ness is next to Godliness

An old Salvation Army musical production — the kind of church entertainment often aimed at youngsters and teen-agers — had a catchy little chorus about that Christian group’s fabled “slum sisters” of years ago, whose work in tenements was legendary:

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness

“Soap-and-water is divine.”

Those words came to mind as I read a rather astonishing Time magazine online piece that seems to put a whole lot of, well, faith in a survey undertaken by the Barna Group for the American Bible Society:

America, you may have a new Sodom and Gomorrah.

The two least “Bible-minded” cities in the United States are the adjacent metros of Providence, R.I., and New Bedford, Mass., according to a study out Wednesday from the American Bible Society.

The study defines “Bible-mindedness” as a combination of how often respondents read the Bible and how accurate they think the Bible is. “Respondents who report reading the bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible are classified as ‘Bible Minded,’” says the study’s methodology.

Yowza! If there isn’t “enough” Bible reading in New Bedford, watch out for the brimstone! Oh, and don’t look back, or you could become a true pillar of the community. (Cue snare drum!)

While I don’t want to demean the American Bible Society, a nobile group that has had its ups and downs recently, or belittle the research that the Barna folks have done, I was struck both by the research results — more on that in a moment — and Time‘s interpretation of the data.

Providence and New Bedford are noted for many things, but a modern day Sodom-and-Gomorrah — when it comes to moral conduct — isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, or even the second or third.

In other words, did anyone ask this basic question: Is Bible-less-ness really an indicator of rampant sinning?

I’m not saying folks shouldn’t read the Scriptures — I’m all for it — but might we have a little more here on the part of Time to make the connection? You know, some, er, data or facts perhaps?

Instead, I get the feeling that this piece was intended to generate heat, and not light. The snark from the lede morphs into hair-splitting later on:

Surprisingly, that den of sin called New York City didn’t make the top ten least Bible-minded cities, coming in at 89th in the list of 100. Suspecting New York’s large Jewish population may have rescued it from the bottom ten, TIME inquired as to whether the Torah counted as the Bible for the purposes of the survey. A spokesperson said questioners left it up to respondents to determine what they considered to be the sacred text, but the question asked was, “How many times do you read the bible outside of church or a synagogue?”

Har-de-har-har, Time, now that’s a real thigh-slapper!

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NYTimes offers labels-free look at key free-speech fight

Anyone who has read GetReligion for, oh, more than a week knows that we are not pleased when journalists attempt to jam the complex beliefs of large groups of people into the cramped zones defined by simplistic labels.

Obviously, one of the most abused labels in religion news is “fundamentalist.” We like to quote the Associated Press Stylebook at this point, the part where it proclaims:

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.”

Another oh so popular and all but meaningless label, these days, is “moderate.” A decade ago, the independent panel assembled by the leaders of The New York Times to study the newsroom’s strengths and weaknesses noted in its public report:

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

We particularly slip into these traps in feature stories when reporters and editors think they are merely presenting an interesting slice of life, with little awareness of the power of labels. We need to be more vigilant about the choice of language not only in the text but also in headlines, captions and display type.

In effect, mainstream journalists often are tempted to use this f-word to describe religious people that they don’t like, while reserving the gentle m-word for those whose views are found acceptable in newsroom culture.

With that in mind, readers may understand why I was rather skeptical when I dug into the recent New York Times report that ran under the headline, “Where Free Speech Collides With Abortion Rights.” After all, my biases on these issues are well known. I am both a pro-life Democrat (and Eastern Orthodox Christian layman) and a rather fire-breathing defender of the First Amendment. I was worried about what would happen when the open Sexual Revolution advocacy stance of the Times (hello, Bill Keller) collided with the First Amendment rights of believers engaged in politically incorrect protests.

What did I fear?

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Oh, those religious fund-raisers

GRETCHEN ASKS:

(Paraphrasing) She attended a fund-raising event for an unnamed organization where a slide show began by saying that “on the eighth day God created” this group and then presented its purposes. She found that “arrogant and self-serving” and it “bothered me beyond belief. Am I being overly sensitive?”

THE GUY ANSWERS:

In The Guy’s eyes, yes, you are.

Still, religious offenses are in the eye of the beholder and fund-raising is well worth some examination. The late Henri Nouwen observed in A Spirituality of Fundraising (Upper Room Books) that work for financial support should be seen as a “ministry” of the kingdom, not “a necessary but unpleasant activity.”

Since this question is posed to “Religion Q and A” we can assume the organization is religious. Though The Guy wasn’t present, sounds like the leaders of this group were simply saying God created the cosmos in six days and rested on the seventh, while from day eight forward to the present divinely aligned activities depend upon our human efforts.

Understood correctly, that’s no heresy, and seems to The Guy he’s heard a sermon or three saying precisely that. This agency presumably believes it is working to carry forward God’s purposes in the world, which almost any church or religious charity might think or say about itself.

The “eighth day” trope, meant to be clever or humorous, is also widely used in secular sloganeering.

A quick Internet scan finds that on the eighth day God created, among other things: the Latina women on a dating site, the United States Marines, pricey automobiles, favorite TV shows, rock ‘n roll, football, hackers, teachers, donuts and — inevitably — beer (does this offend you Muslims and Protestant teetotalers?) and coffee (does this offend you Mormons?).

Perhaps The Guy’s sensitivities have been dulled by all those media references to religion that are sloppy, stupid, snide or downright nasty. But he’s seen far worse than this eighth day pitch.

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Pod People: Prayer’s place in science, sports and submission

Where is Jahi McMath, and what is the latest installment of her story?

I’m glad you asked! Host Todd Wilken and I talked some about this and other subjects during this week’s installment of Crossroads.

(This is my third podcast, and I like to think I’m not embarrassing myself as badly with experience. This being interviewed business is tough when there’s not a delete key between you and your thoughts.)

As you’ll remember from my post last week, McMath is the brain-dead 13-year-old California girl whose parents won the legal battle to take possession of her still-ventilated body from Children’s Hospital Oakland and move it to an undisclosed location. Early reports indicated the family and their attorney had found a facility and physicians to “care for” the child and use restorative measures, presumably to bring her back to life. And prayer, lots of prayer. And they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars via their gofundme page.

We don’t know where Jahi is, nor do we know whether her heart still beats, which previously had been because of electrical currents and IV medication. Nor do we know whether they are part of an organized group of believers. We do know, courtesy of the NBC Bay Area affiliate, that her classmates have hope, and that school administrators say they’re honoring the child’s family’s wishes in what they tell the children:

Though a death certificate has been issued for Jahi McMath, many of the 13-year-old Oakland girl’s classmates still believe the “quiet leader” who laughed at jokes that weren’t funny will one day return to school — if they just pray hard enough.

“The school told us that she’s not officially dead yet,” said Dymond Allen, one of Jahi’s friends at EC Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in East Oakland, a public charter school that serves mostly disadvantaged kids. “And we should keep her in our prayers. I still hope. And God has the last say-so.”

Wilken and I also talked a bit more in-depth about my Candace Cameron Bure post from last week that dealt with the biblical concept of wives submitting to their husbands. Media outlets continue to get it wrong, both in headline and story form, by confusing the Scriptural meaning that Bure discusses with the social/relational/professional one.

The comments from readers reflect that inaccuracy. Some cite instances of spousal abuse as a reason wives should not submit to their husbands. Others point to hard-won rights and the feminist movement as proof that women have evolved to a point where they can care for themselves and should be treated in equals.

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