Pod people: Faith language and death penalty

Last week I highlighted some of the coverage of the jury that deliberated the death penalty for convicted murderer Steven Hayes. Many media reports did a good job quoting the jurors and affected family members even when those quotes included religious language.

Take, for instance, this Associated Press bit:

Dr. William Petit, the husband and father of the victims, said the verdict was not about revenge.

“Vengeance belongs to the Lord,” Petit said. “This is about justice. We need to have some rules in a civilized society.”

It seems weird to praise such a basic thing, but sometimes reporters — particularly those outside the religion beat — are uncomfortable pursuing lines of inquiry following discussions of religion. Or they strip quotes that use religious language. That became the topic of discussion for this week’s Crossroads podcast, which you can listen to here. Host Todd Wilken asked why reporters struggle in this particular way and I threw out some ideas. The fact is that I’m not altogether certain. I grew up in a household where religion was discussed by the hour and so I almost feel more comfortable when people include religion in their discussions. Not always, but frequently. I’m curious what your ideas are for why religious language gets sanitized from many stories.

Another point I raised in the podcast arose out of the death penalty coverage. One of the things I did find interesting, although I thought it might be a bit inappropriate to spend too much time on it last week, was how little coverage of the death penalty case reflected on the larger moral questions. Usually whenever a capital case comes to trial, the media devote more stories about how religious views shape people’s ideas of justice. But I didn’t see too much coverage on that front, which I found disappointing. I think that’s most likely because of the unbelievable barbarism involved in the particular crime. But tough cases still call for such discussions, in my view. What do you think about the lack of discussion about this particular death penalty?

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Faith, tolerance and terror — in Indonesia

As you would expect, there was a wave — totally justified — of press coverage of the major speech that was delivered by President Barack Obama during his return to Jakarta, Indonesia, a city that he called home as a child. To read the speech text, click here.

All of the major stories focused on the same core theme — Obama’s praise for Indonesia’s rich history of religious tolerance, especially in the context of the wider Muslim world. Thus, in the New York Times one could read the following passage:

Mixing the personal, political and religious, Mr. Obama spoke of Indonesia’s history of religious tolerance and its commitment to democracy and diversity before a receptive audience of 6,500 mostly young people at the University of Indonesia. In a 30-minute speech, the president underscored the shared values between the United States and Indonesia, which is known for its tradition of moderate Islam.

Mr. Obama spoke about hearing the “call to prayer across Jakarta,” where he lived for four years as a boy. He referred several times to his Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soeotoro, who, he said, “was raised a Muslim” but “firmly believed that all religions were worthy of respect.”

“I thought the speech was very good because it showed that Obama knows about the people of Indonesia, our cultures and traditions, and mentioned what we have in common,” said Slamet Effendi Yusuf, a deputy chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, one of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations. “He was arguing against the people who say that there is something incompatible between Islamic and Christian civilizations.”

Although 90 percent of Indonesia’s nearly 240 million citizens are Muslim, the country’s constitution recognizes the world’s major religions, and for decades political Islam had little role in this country. But in the past two decades, as Indonesians have become increasingly religious, events in the Middle East and other Muslim regions have gained more traction here.

That last sentence is absolutely crucial and I’ll return to it shortly.

However, you could see some of the same essential issues covered in the following slice of the Washington Post report on the same subject:

(Obama) also praised Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation — for a “spirit of tolerance that is written into your constitution, symbolized in your mosques and churches and temples, and embodied in your people,” a quality worthy for all the world to emulate.

Obama received a warm welcome from the crowd of about 6,500 at the University of Indonesia, particularly when he spoke in Indonesian, as when he recalled buying satay and bakso from street vendors or referenced the national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” or “Unity in Diversity.”

“We are two nations which have traveled different paths. Yet our nations show that hundreds of millions who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag,” Obama said.

Now, stop and think about this.

Did you notice the following phrase in that New York Times piece? It seems that life has become more complex — the hint is that the emphasis in tolerance has changed somehow — in the “past two decades, as Indonesians have become increasingly religious.”

That’s the phrase that made me think of the following, which is the top of a Scripps Howard News Service column that I wrote more than a decade ago — months before the events of Sept. 11, in fact. The setting, of course, is Indonesia:

One wave of warriors came out of the mountains while another came in boats from the sea, crushing the harbor villages on the island of Haruku.

“I heard a grenade and the house went up in an explosion at about 5:30 a.m.,” said an Indonesian pastor, in testimony read in the British House of Lords. “Nine people died at the football pitch. … Some were injured, but still alive, when the military came with bayonets and stabbed them in the neck.”

Similar attacks have destroyed hundreds of churches and mosques during the past two years in the Maluku Islands, which were once known as the romantic “Spice Islands.”

“Those who died were beheaded,” he said. “We have not been able to find their heads, because the soldiers take them.”

Hacking off the heads makes it harder to identify victims in the jungles far from modern Indonesia’s cities. Witnesses say the raiders wear white jihad robes, often over military uniforms.

The material made it into the House of Lords and, thus, the public record, because of the work of a controversial human-rights activist, the nurse and sociologist Baroness Caroline Cox. The key, she said, is that some people believe that it is impossible to stand up and defend universal human rights — such as the freedom of religious conscience — because these concepts are said to be the products of the Judeo-Christian West.

in Indonesia, some of the people who were fighting and dying to protect those freedoms were — yes, emphasize this — Muslims. Churches were destroyed. So were some selected mosques.

… (The) Indonesia crisis is not a simple clash between Islam and Christianity. Cox said she has seen evidence of Muslims dying to defend the homes and churches of neighbors.

The Republic of Indonesia is stunningly complex, a 3,500-mile crescent of 17,670 islands straddling the equinox between the Indian and Pacific oceans. The world’s largest archipelago is nearly three times the size of Texas and the population of 225 million includes 300 ethnic groups. The population of 225 million is 88 percent Muslim and 8 percent Christian, with smaller communities of Hindus, Buddhists and others.

I left that last paragraph in for a reason. Clearly, the journalists covering the Obama visit to Indonesia — and writing about its legitimate heritage of a limited tolerance of minority religions — could not go into these issues in depth.

But, GetReligion readers, did anyone see any mainstream coverage that mentioned that this nation’s heritage of tolerance is under violent attack? Did anyone read about the “white riders”? About kidnappings? Beheadings? The persecution and killing of, for lack of a better word, “moderate” Muslims, as well as members of religious minorities?

And what did the Times report really mean when it said that these problems are in the rise because “Indonesians have become increasingly religious”? Isn’t that a haunting statement to accept as fact?

So Muslims who are more religious are violent. Those who are less religious are tolerant. And note that it is “political Islam” that is the problem, yet this “political Islam” comes to power when people become “increasingly religious.” Is that what the editors meant to say?

Top photo: From WhiteHouse.gov

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Pod people: Faith & gay suicides

That great God Blog philosopher Brad A. Greenberg put it best a few weeks ago:

I make no secret of the fact that I prefer the written word to the spoken word.

Sure, I’m a talker. But I’m not a remarkably articulate speaker. The words just never seem to come out as neatly as they do on paper (though just how neatly they come out on paper is up for debate). And there are few things that frighten me, as a reporter, more than radio appearances. I’m always convinced that the interview to follow will be the one that ends my journalism career. Why? Because I need a filter, and real-time lacks the luxury.

I couldn’t agree more. Except that, unlike Brad, I’m not a talker. I prefer to hide in the back of big rooms with a reporter’s notepad in one hand and a digital recorder in the other. Alas, I like to please tmatt, the illustrious GetReligion guru, so I have joined my colleagues in the podcasting world. If you like accents with a heavy tinge of Texas/Oklahoma twang, be sure to check out my first Crossroads podcast appearance with Todd Wilken.

(I do much prefer the audio format to the TV appearances I had to do when I was religion editor at The Oklahoman and the newspaper developed a short-lived partnership with the local CBS affiliate. The newspaper voice and radio face made for a scary combination.)

But back to the podcast …

Taking off on two recent posts I did on bullying and suicides (click here and here to read them again), the interview explores whether the media have substantiated ties between traditional religious teachings on homosexuality and gay people taking their own lives.

Listen to the podcast to find out the answer. And as a bonus, enjoy a bit of discussion about my Texas Rangers’ remarkable season.

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Pode people: Nobody NoZe …

Some journalists really enjoy writing in first-person voice. I am not one of them.

Yes, I know that the previous sentence began with the word “I.” We are almost seven-years into the life of GetReligion and, obviously, I have had to get a lot more comfortable with first-person work.

Blogging does not have to be first-person, all-commentary based work, but much of it is. When I say that I have never been all that comfortable with first-person writing, I am mainly talking about first-person news coverage, as opposed to what we do here at GetReligion, which is first-person news criticism.

In other words, I find it much easier to quote other people than to quote myself, especially when it comes time to trust my own memories of news events. It was especially hard, this past week, to try to quote the 20-year-old version of myself, flashing back to events that I witnessed as an undergraduate reporter at The Lariat at Baylor University.

The subject this week: The mind-blowing role that the NoZe Brotherhood has played, and continues to play, in the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky.

There is no need to go into all of the crazy details again. You can, after all, read one or both of the GetReligion posts that I have written on the topic, so far.

I finally decided to try to turn out a Scripps Howard News Service piece on the topic, which required the use of first-person voice. That was the subject of this week’s GetReligion “Crossroads” podcast. Click here to listen to that on your computer or download it to play on a mobile device.

The hard part was when my mind started playing tricks on me. You see, I was not a NoZe Brother, but I have known a few. I also attended quite a few events involving national-level news makers that were crashed by the NoZe crew. I mean, there are some very famous Ornery members of the NoZe Brothers. The Wikipedia page for this secret society of misfits names quite a few. Check it out.

My personal favorites are:

* Bill Cosby — “Bro. J-E-L-L-NoZe.”

* Billy Graham — “Bro. Cracker NoZe Graham.”

* Bob Hope — “Bro. SkiNoZe Hope.”

* Dan Rather — “Bro. CBS Evening NoZe.”

The one that threw me off was “Bro. Water NoZe Jaworski,” the title given to the final special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.

Jaworski was a prominent Baylor alum. One of the funniest NoZe events that I witnessed was the Homecoming parade in which Jaworski was Grand Marshall, only days after the Saturday Night legal massacre that led to his appointment. With national television crews on hand to capture remarks from Jaworski, a NoZe Brother (complete with the classic fake nose, glasses, big wig and trench coat that implied indecent exposure could happen at any moment) walked silently in front of the new Beltway big gun’s limousine carrying a sign that said, “Clap if you think he is guilty.”

“He,” of course, was President Richard Nixon.

Baylor was already far into its transition from being a largely middle-class campus from old-fashioned Southern Democrat homes into a richer campus packed with suburban Republicans. Obviously, most of the parents and alumni felt that they needed to clap for Jaworski, but how could they do that without being filmed clapping to impeach Nixon?

It was a classic NoZe moment. Jaworski gamely played along, as he later became on honorary NoZe. Was he already a NoZe from his college days? Nobody NoZe or, at least, no one has spoken out.

In my memory, I was pretty sure that the NoZe had pinned the “Water Noze” title on Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, who lectured on campus (In the Q&A time I asked him to rank his favorite “Deep Throat” theories, since he could not ID the source on his own, of course) as part of the hubbub before and after the release of “All the President’s Men” (the book, at that stage). However, in my column research I found that there are multiple references online that pinned that title on Jaworski. Thus, I can only assume that some similar title went to Woodward, when the brothers “honored” him that night in Waco Hall.

What was that title? Is there anyone out there in post-Baylor land who remembers? Help this aging scribe out, please.

By the time I wrote the final version of the Scripps Howard piece to post on my own home page, I had decided to go with this more careful wording for the key sentence:

I was present when Woodward was made an honorary member — Brother Water NoZe, or a variation on that theme — when the NoZe crashed his lecture, presenting him with his own plunger, while seated on a rolling commode.

Sigh. Enjoy the podcast, I guess. I really don’t feel comfortable with my own first-person writing, when it comes time to try to write about news events.

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Pod people: Juan Williams, First Amendment

Can’t get enough commentary on Juan Williams’ firing from NPR? Love to talk about tea party Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell? Want to hear a GetReligionista commend the New York Times? Then check out our latest podcast here. Guided by the soothing voice and insightful questions of Todd Wilken, we discuss all these and more on Crossroads.

One thing I mentioned in the podcast that I hadn’t realized when I wrote the initial post on O’Donnell is how bad the original — and more widely distributed — Associated Press account of her debate with Chris Coons was.

From Patterico’s Pontifications, here’s the original story lede:

WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion.

And after that got everyone going, they changed the lede to this:

WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Christine O’Donnell challenged her Democratic rival Tuesday to show where the Constitution requires separation of church and state, drawing swift criticism from her opponent, laughter from her law school audience and a quick defense from prominent conservatives.

That’s an improvement. In fact, the entire story — including three out of every four words — was changed and improved.

But the damage was already done. I wonder if changes that substantive should be better identified. Maybe you don’t need a full retraction of the story but a notice that it bears almost no resemblance to the earlier version would be helpful.

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Pod people: Anti-Semitism and sex scandals

I make no secret of the fact that I prefer the written word to the spoken word.

Sure, I’m a talker. But I’m not a remarkably articulate speaker. The words just never seem to come out as neatly as they do on paper (though just how neatly they come out on paper is up for debate). And there are few things that frighten me, as a reporter, more than radio appearances. I’m always convinced that the interview to follow will be the one that ends my journalism career. Why? Because I need a filter, and real-time lacks the luxury.

(Exhibit A isn’t from “Fresh Air” or “Which Way LA?” or some of the Christian radio programs I’ve been on, but it’s the only recorded talk or interview that I think I’ve put on The God Blog.)

So, naturally, I chose to take my first Crossroads podcast appearance, brought to you by the wonderful folks at GetReligion and Issues, Etc., as an opportunity to talk about the difficulty journalists have writing about anti-Semitism and the wall-to-wall coverage of the Bishop Eddie Long scandal.

On the podcast, Todd Wilken and I take 13 minutes to talk about these two very different topics. Todd’s questions were primed by a few recent GetReligion posts, so my responses cover familiar ground. (Maybe even ramble a bit.) I also add to that familiar ground with a little discussion of why Jews has become so prominent in the American news media and the media’s ability to distinguish between comments that are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Hint: I think the media does a better job than many member of the public because reporters are more inclined to see the world through a political lens as opposed to a religious or ethnic lens.

It’s also worth spending half the time it takes to watch a “Two and a Half Men” episode to give a listen — if for no other reason than to comment below that though I have a face for radio, I have a voice for print.

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Pod people: On converts to atheism

We have another podcast up and running. This one is a follow-up chat, with me this time around, about the new wave of data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life — the “U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey.”

For me, this was a chance to explain some of the views I expressed both here at GetReligion and in my most recent Scripps Howard News Service column, which is up now at tmatt.net — right here.

The key for me is that most atheists and agnostics are, in their own way, CONVERTS to a new faithless tradition. Anyone who knows anything about religion knows that converts tend to be very passionate people when it comes to practicing their faith and learning more about it. Passion drives people to knowledge.

The same thing is true with atheists. Most of them have been raised in a faith tradition and then they have chosen — for reasons of experience, reading, academics, etc. — to convert to a faithless stance.

When it comes to gaining knowledge about religion, love is not the opposite of hate — apathy is.

People who love their faith (or now have chosen to hate or reject a given faith) tend to know more than people who are apathetic. People who practice their faith the most also tend to have more knowledge. Duh. A Catholic who goes to Mass several times a week is, most of the time, going to know more about Catholicism than someone who goes once a year. A Southern Baptist who goes to church several times a week, including Wednesday night missions classes about world religions, is going to know more about religion than someone who goes two or three times a year on Sunday morning, period.

There are many other details in the survey and in the coverage that come up in this podcast discussion.

Oh, and brace yourself for “Catholic vote” coverage in the coming weeks. How is that related to the Pew Forum study?

Give it a listen.

I hope GetReligion readers are giving this new project a try. It’s easy to simply click the “direct download” link and listen to the short program right on your computer. We are coming soon to iTunes, as well. Hang in there with us.

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Pod people: Boycotts and puppies

Several of you felt passionately about Archbishop Charles Chaput’s boycott on the New York Times and jumped into a lively discussion about expectations between religion reporters and religious leaders. Then we discussed the various challenges for reporters with online media and how reporters balance puppy stories with broccoli stories. Guess what: I discuss these juicy topics on our third GetReligion podcast.

Load the podcast, right click the “direct download link” and save the file to your computer desktop. Drag it into iTunes files or where you keep your audio files. When we have the RSS feed running, Android people (like me) can download the “Listen” app from Google and listen from your phone.

My podcast time tends to come towards the end of the day when I’m doing dishes, taking a walk or going on a bike ride. How do you find time to listen to podcasts? What’s on your list?

My podcast subscriptions include “Fresh Air,” “On the Media,” “This American Life,” “Radio Lab,” “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and Slate‘s “Political Gabfest.” I don’t listen to each episode, but each podcast caters to my various interests: interviews, analysis, stories, geekdom, humor and conversation. I dream of meeting Terry Gross, Ira Glass and Peter Sagal one day. Go ahead, judge me. Tell me what podcasts I’m missing out on.

Give us some feedback. What do you look for in a podcast?

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