Pod people: Talking personal history on the religion beat

Granted, 25 years is a rather long time, especially in the Internet age.

Nevertheless, I was taken a bit off guard this week when Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilkin asked me for whatever “historical perspective” I had gained on religion and the news during my 25 years writing the weekly “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard Newspaper. We had planned to do a “Crossroads” podcast about the column’s anniversary a bit earlier, but then the Divine Ms. M.Z. Hemingway and the whole Dr. Kermit Gosnell affair took control of cyberspace. What can you do?

So we got around to talking about that 25th anniversary column — click here to read it — a bit late.

Still, a “historical perspective”? Well, yes, I am starting to take on a bit of a Grampa Walton look these days, which cannot be helped. I mean, time passes. But the wording of Todd’s question had me cracking up right from the get-go.

I won’t bore readers with a long summary of the podcast (listen to it, please), but I will make note that the key to our discussion is that a quarter of a century is a long enough time that the column (a) predates the World Wide Web and (b) began during the era before the real crash in advertising revenue at the nation’s top 25 or so newspaper markets.

Why does that matter? That means the column was founded back in the days when there were quite a few more healthy, regional and big-city newspapers that had full-time professionals working on beats such as fine arts, science, movies, television and even religion. In fact, back in the ’90s, it was quite easy to see that religion-writing was on an upswing.

The number of professionals on the beat was higher, there for a few short years. NPR put a quality professional on the beat. And, in the world of network television, the late Peter Jennings was even starting to talk sense. Consider this material near the top of a 1996 Scripps column:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Pod People: Media wake up to Gosnell failures

YouTube Preview ImageGetReligion’s critique of media coverage of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial has received quite a bit of attention in recent days. I’m glad, since we’ve been aware of the problem with media coverage of this topic since early 2011. My post from January of that year, “8 Murders in Philadelphia,” shows the history of problems in coverage.

We looked at many abortion-related stories since that time, but they were, naturally, in the area that the media took the most interest — the Susan G. Komen feeding frenzy, the Sandra Fluke drama and the Todd Akin obsession. In fact, it seemed I spent most of my year paying quite a bit of attention to what the media wanted me to pay attention to — those stories. They were viewed as extremely, extremely important stories for the populace to pay attention to.

And so I found it disturbing that, when the Kermit Gosnell trial commenced last month, the coverage was so very weak or non-existent. I wanted to critique the coverage, but there just wasn’t too much to look at. The first day of the trial was the exception, and we looked at some oddities with how that trial was being covered by the Associated Press in “The new ‘abortion’: cutting newborns’ spinal cords.”

By Monday of last week, it was clear that there had been a massive failure across the media — as I wrote in “Should media cover — or cover up — abortion trial?” Then we discussed some frames that might be helpful for reporters struggling to do their jobs in “Mainstream press on Gosnell: adjust the framing.” As the week progressed and I got more and more confused by the media blackout, I wrote, “We need answers on Gosnell coverage,” picking up on Kirsten Powers’ powerful USA Today column calling for front-page, top-of-the-broadcast coverage of this horrific trial.

That’s when I got to work asking a few reporters to explain their role in the blackout, and you can read about the early part of that project in “WPost reporter explains her personal Gosnell blackout” and “Politico and Atlantic.com’s turn to explain Gosnell blackout.”

I wanted to provide all that context before linking to this week’s Crossroads podcast. Host Todd Wilken and I discuss this huge story and we also discussed the “how” and “why” of this story. I know that many people are demanding answers on those last questions and I am trying to weigh in. It is, of course, difficult to know how this massive media failure happened. I assume it’s quite complex. We discuss racism, views on abortion, and narrative frames. Wilken wonders whether abortion views led some journalists to think these murder charges weren’t a big deal. There are many more possible answers.

When I was on Fox News on Friday to discuss the lack of media coverage of this case, I was so pleased by what Kirsten Powers said when asked to explain why this all happened. She noted that some journalists were writing mea culpas that included admissions of pro-choice bias. But, she said, she couldn’t really speak to motivation.

I know that this Gosnell dust-up is happening in a very heated political environment. GetReligion is a media analysis blog. Our readers have done a very good job of discussing this topic respectfully and thoughtfully by focusing on media coverage as opposed to underlying views on abortion. If you’d like to discuss politics or religion, that is of course fine, but you can’t do it here. There are other places better suited for that. We really need to keep a tight focus on media coverage here.

 

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Pod people: One more Easter home run

As most of you know, Sunday was an important religious holiday.

In my “All hope is not lost” post, I already highlighted eight compelling enterprise stories that graced the nation’s Easter front pages.

But I’m not talking about that religious holiday.

I’m referring, of course, to Opening Night and the beginning of a new Major League Baseball season. (Even though my beloved Texas Rangers lost that first game, they came back and won the next two against the lowly Houston Astros, including an almost-perfect game pitched by Japanese sensation Yu Darvish).

In my original Easter post, I purposely did not mention one story with a strong religion angle that I found on the Sunday front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That’s because the story — a profile of Pittsburgh Pirates star Andrew McCutchen — was related more to the new baseball season than the Christian holiday.

The gist of the 3,700-word profile: star center fielder stays humble and remembers his faith.

The lede:

FORT MEADE, Fla. — Four men look at an 18-year-old baseball player, and they see a blessing.

The young man sitting in front of them has been picked by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round of the 2005 draft, and his life is already changing, to the tune of a $1.9 million signing bonus. The men are here, at a Red Lobster in Lakeland, Fla., a half-hour’s drive from home in the small town of Fort Meade, to pass along some wisdom before the long journey begins.

In a matter of days, Andrew McCutchen’s professional career will set sail with the Gulf Coast League Pirates. A team scout has told him that he is special, that he could be Pittsburgh’s baseball savior, the next Barry Bonds. It’s a lot for a teenager to handle, so Lorenzo McCutchen asked three trusted men of God to help lay a foundation for his son to fall back on when the world gets crazy around him.

They are attempting to speak directly into Andrew’s heart, about staying true to himself, about keeping God first, about the pitfalls of the fame that could come his way.

“We were giving him his wings,” Lorenzo recalls.

It’s truly an exceptional story that revolves around the role that faith played — and plays — in the life of McCutchen’s parents and the baseball star’s upbringing. And the piece hints at the importance of God in the center fielder’s own life:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Sexing up Pope Francis

My corner of Florida has been over run by college students on Spring break. While Daytona Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale have lost market share over the past 40-years to Texas, Mexico and points South, there are still enough kids in town this week to make the merchants smile and locals complain about “those kids” and their sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Sounds like a story pitch for a 60′s beach film — Frankie and Annette, Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue — maybe Ann-Margret and Elvis? The stories wrote themselves back then.  Sex continues to sell. Where would the tabloids or MTV be with out the Page 3 girls, the Kardashians and the denizens of the Jersey Shore?  And where would the New York Times be without homosexuality? While it is harder and harder to sell religion news stories to the trade — a “naughty vicar” story will always find a buyer.

But sex isn’t what it once was. Its omnipresence has robbed it of its marketing value, mystique (and romance). “Sexed-up” no longer refers solely to hormone drenched teens or blue movies, but in journalism it refers to improving a story to make it more palatable (more salable) to editors who in turn want to attract more readers with stronger stories.

The phrase settled into the media psyche during the second Gulf War. It is commonly believed that a 29 May 2003 report by BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan broadcast on Radio 4′s Today program originated the phrase. Gilligan reported that a senior British official told him a dossier prepared by the Blair government to support the war against Saddam Hussein had been “sexed up”. Specifically the government’s “September Dossier” had made the exaggerated claim that weapons of mass destruction could be deployed by the Iraqis within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein’s order. [Read more...]

Print Friendly

Pod people: Did you hear? There is a new pope!

You will be shocked, shocked, need I say SHOCKED to know that this week’s “Crossroads” podcast focuses on mainstream press coverage of the events before and after the election of Pope Francis as the new leader of of the world’s 1.2 billion (depending on how one does the counting) Catholics.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to cue that up and listen in.

If you followed our many posts on this topic over the past week or so, there is no way to pick one story or televised moment that sums up all of the good and the bad in the before, during and after coverage. No, no, let’s not talk about the on-air remark about Catholics in Latin American waiting for more than 20 centuries to have a pope they could call their own. Christopher Columbus, call your answering service.

The new pope gave the talking heads lots to talk about, with a series of simple, man-on-the-sidewalk level symbolic acts that were easy to describe and, in the age of cellphone cameras, show to viewers after the fact.

My favorite?

The “who’s that man in the white hat” photo of Pope Francis riding the bus to dinner with the other cardinals, rather than jumping in his own security-laden limo. There was another photo that looked like the pope may be walking around in black leather cross-training shoes, instead of liturgical red, which makes sense to me (with tendonitis in both knees) in light of the amount of time he’s spending on his feet right now. He keeps wearing white papal street clothes, instead of the formal options available to him. He stopped by this hostel to pay his own bill. He cold-called the local Jesuit leader. And so forth and so on.

But enough about that pope guy.

Much of the coverage, if you listened closely, centered on the journalists talking about their own impressions of the pope and their own impressions of the public’s first impressions of the pope and the public’s first reactions to the media’s first impressions of the public’s reaction to the media images of the pope. You get the idea.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I spent quite a bit of time watching CNN this past week, which is something I rarely do — even though I am old and have gray hair.

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Pod people: Can journalism be a civilizing influence?

On this week’s Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I talked about recent admissions from the mainstream media about the difficulty they’ve had treating traditional marriage proponents with any justice or decency.

Some of the best content we had on the blog this week came from a correspondent, who is a journalist, who weighed in on the matter. I’m not alone in thinking that content was most helpful for the discussion. Reader John M. wrote:

That quote from the “correspondent” above is one of the most intelligent things I’ve read in the context of this national discussion.

Reader Mark B. wrote:

I *really* like the correspondent’s contribution – I wish more stuff like this saw the light of day in mainstream journalistic endeavours (obviously not straight news, but certainly that next, ‘op ed’, circle out from straight news). It is a clear, reasonable, and rational statement that is not dumbed down and does not reflect the groupthink that seems to be often given sway in journalism.

And reader Thinkling weighed in:

There is more intelligence in this piece and the discussion here than in whole newsrooms. Thank you GR for this.

I highly encourage you to read through the thoughts the reader shared here and here. In the second piece, the correspondent agreed with criticism of some marriage traditionalists — that they seem fine with the new, impermanent model of marriage. Described by Conor Friedersdorf as the “modern, secularist, find-your-soul-mate-but-no-fault-divorce-just-in case incarnation,” the correspondent said such approval was rooted in “a kind of soft hypocrisy rooted in not thinking deeply.” He went on:

However, that thoughtlessness is hardly unique to the traditional side. I would argue the overwhelming majority of people in favor of same-sex marriage have not thought their arguments fully through, either, which I consider largely to their credit. They have not thought through what it means for children to say that either a mother or a father is optional not just de facto but de iure, not just in fact, as something that happens sometimes, but in principle. They have not thought through what it means to have three parent birth certificates, and to treat school materials that talk about “mother and father” without equal time given to alternative situations as “heteronormative” — as something practically stigmatized and bigoted. Most of these people are motivated by what they see as fairness — again, to their credit — to people with same-sex attraction. I laud their sympathy. But they have not thought through what fairness means for a wedding photographer who is not an exempted “church” but whose moral convictions do not permit her to pretend she thinks this event people are asking her to shoot is a marriage. They have not thought about fairness as it applies to a father who wishes to opt his children out of being indoctrinated in the state’s newfound moral orthodoxy that conflicts with his own in his neighborhood elementary school to which he pays taxes. The overwhelming majority of these people have no idea at all of advancing the ideology one finds in statement such as http://www.beyondmarriage.org/ — the total undefining of marriage. Even many of the more knowledgeable advocates on the other side would probably reject some of statement. Yet many are blissfully unaware that such goals exist or motivate anyone, and those who do not lack this knowledge have been spared the difficult and important work of explaining to themselves and to society how their ideas don’t lead to the more radical ones. Why do that when the secular media frame for the story casts you as Dudley Doright and those who disagree as Snidely Whiplash? (Boo! Hiss! Hooray!)

A journalism that was less interested in bullying people than learning actual arguments in play and considering actual consequences would contribute heavily to a more civilized society. How society comes to decisions is frequently as important as what those decisions are and the media have done a horrific job providing a forum for a healthy discussion on at least this topic. But just a bit of critical thinking and humility — just a bit — would go a long way to improving things.

Print Friendly

Pod people: Pope steps down; many journalists fall down

YouTube Preview Image

Gentle readers, one cannot make some of this stuff up.

So, everyone knows that Pope Benedict XVI is elderly and has physical ailments.

So how tired and elderly is this man? Read the following passage from The Washington Post carefully. The story offers details from his dramatic final dramatic Mass, as pope, at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Wait for it.

The pope has cited his failing body and mind to explain his decision, and … he appeared fragile, if determined, while presiding over the solemn pageantry of the Catholic Mass. He was shepherded down the long aisles of the basilica on a wheeled platform, although he at times walked unaided. In the pews, young seminarians took notes and grew teary-eyed as the pope hobbled down the marble stairs of the altar for the last time. Asian, European and American tour groups fortunate enough to be in Rome for the occasion strained their necks to catch a glimpse from the rear of the church.

At the conclusion of the Mass, as cardinals and bishops watched, a short nun stood on her chair to wave at the pope as he began his last procession out of the basilica. He walked with a gilded cane in the shape of a cross. Cheers erupted from the benches as he passed, along with shouts in Italian of “long live the pope!”

What? He walked with the help of a “gilded cane” topped with a cross?

Might that have been his papal crosier (sometimes spelled “crozier”), the formal pastoral staff — a symbol of this role as shepherd of his flock — that is carried by a bishop? Might this be the golden staff, topped with a cross, that Benedict has always used, the one that would be seen in many, many photos (click here for sample) of this particular pope that originate in liturgical settings?

In other words, it would have been genuinely strange if Benedict had NOT been using his pastoral staff, as he always has.

Oh well. This is not the strangest thing that has every happened in mainstream news media reporting about this particular piece of liturgical equipment. Who can forget this classic, from the funeral of the Blessed John Paul II?

“The 84-year-old John Paul was laid out in Clementine Hall, dressed in white and red vestments, his head covered with a white bishop’s miter and propped up on three dark gold pillows,” wrote Ian Fisher of the New York Times. “Tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow’s ear, that he had carried in public.”

Right. His “crow’s ear.”

Obviously, the sudden decision by Benedict XVI to step down as pope has dominated the religion-news beat all week. Readers will not be surprised to know that it was the topic of this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, as well. Click here to listen to that.

There was much to discuss. Still, it says a lot about the state of the news world in which we live that one of the best commentaries on the press coverage of this week could be found over at The Onion. Here’s how it opens. Read The Onion and weep:

VATICAN CITY – Citing his advancing age and deteriorating health, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy Monday, saying he no longer possessed the strength and energy required to lead the Catholic Church backward.

According to the 85-year-old pontiff, after considerable prayer and reflection on his physical stamina and mental acuity, he concluded that his declining faculties left him unable to helm the Church’s ambitious regressive agenda and guide the faith’s one billion global followers on their steady march away from modernity and cultural advancement.

This was not the only commentary about the mainstream coverage of this stunner. Needless to say, many readers noted this headline in an analysis piece at The Telegraph:

Pope Benedict XVI resigns: the mainstream media just doesn’t get God or Catholicism


Here’s the start of that essay by historian Tim Stanley:

For Lent, I’m giving up. How can anyone of faith not feel like surrendering after this week’s largely bad media coverage of the papal abdication? The identikit headline seems to be, “Elderly Homophobe Quits Misogynistic Institution Because He Can’t Hack It”. And my favourite piece of instant analysis has to be The Guardian’s “Five Key Issues for the Catholic Church”, which details the things the next Pope must do to rescue the Church from oblivion. They include ordain women priests, conduct gay weddings and hand out condoms. So The Guardian’s ideal Pope is someone who isn’t a Catholic. The paper reports that Sinead O’Connor is available.

Some parts of the mainstream media don’t do God and don’t understand people who do. They see everything through the prism of politics – presuming that Christians fall into camps of Left and Right, that Bible-talk is ideological slang or that the tenets of faith are up for negotiation in the same way that party platforms are easily forgotten by the hucksters who ran on them. Some journalists need a crash course in Christianity.

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Pod people: Boy Scout leak and grassroots sourcing

I’ve done a couple of posts (here and here) on the Boy Scouts of America’s consideration of lifting its ban on openly gay members and adult leaders.

The New York Times reported today on a new development:

A leak from inside the Boy Scouts of America last month about discussions on possibly ending the group’s national ban on gay members changed the debate itself by creating an impression that change was imminent, according to scouting officials and taped comments from a meeting of scouting’s executive board obtained by The New York Times.

Those apparently false expectations were dashed days later when the board, under intense scrutiny it had never intended, deferred action.

The proposed shift in policy has been portrayed in news accounts mostly as a kind of trial balloon, floated to gauge sentiment about where scouting might go on a hugely divisive question. But the proposal, though seriously in consideration, was not supposed to become public at this moment, Scouts officials confirmed. The plan for the meeting this week was a quiet discussion behind closed doors, they said, free from the outside pressures that have buffeted scouting, especially since summer, when the organization reaffirmed its ban on gay scouts and leaders after a two-year review.

On this week’s Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the Boy Scout story. The podcast was recorded before news of the leak broke, so we do not cover that angle. We focus on my concerns about the sensationalistic nature of a CNN report attempting to tie Mormons to the Boy Scouts’ vote delay.

We also explore the media’s treatment of grassroots sources on this story. While most of the coverage has involved predictable reactions from organized talking heads — pro and con — I note that The Associated Press took a different approach in one story, giving a family on each side of the debate an opportunity to share its perspective. That story was published before the vote was postponed:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X