Got news? Has Kristallnacht come to the Middle East?

There was always an important, yet unstated, idea at the heart of the “On Faith” website at The Washington Post: Religion is an important and powerful force in the real world, but the reality is that religion is all about feelings, experiences and opinions, not facts about history, doctrines, laws, scriptures, traditions and governance that journalists should cover in an accurate and balanced manner.

Needless to say, your GetReligionistas have never embraced that foggy point of view.

As a result, the “On Faith” site has always been dominated by waves of low-cost opinion essays written by religious leaders, offering a mix of analysis and information about events and trends from their own perspectives. Most of this content has meshed comfortably with the interests of the agnostic, spiritual and/or Episcopal views of founding editor Sally Quinn, the legendary force of nature in DC social life and the newspaper’s Style pages.

Alas, “On Faith” never even created a format that consistently showcased the NEWS CONTENT generated by the many fine reporters on the staff of the Post, along with the resources provided by Religion News Service.

Now, as most GetReligion readers know, “On Faith” is changing homes. This PR bulletin came out on Oct. 18:

FaithStreet today announced it has hired Patton Dodd as editor-in-chief of On Faith, The Washington Post‘s popular religion website. Last summer, The Washington Post Company WPO +1.87% made an investment in FaithStreet that included the contribution of On Faith to FaithStreet. Dodd will take over the editorial direction of On Faith, while the Post‘s Sally Quinn will remain founding editor and continue to work closely with the site.

“We’re going to reimagine what covering religion can look like,” Dodd said. “I’ve read On Faith for years, and I’m thrilled about the future of this site. The partnership with FaithStreet and its deep connection to local communities of various faiths will give us an on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening with religious people in this country.”

Dodd will oversee a transition in the editorial mission of On Faith, whose content will continue to include religion news and commentary by religious leaders from across the faith traditions. The scope of the new On Faith will be announced early next year.

So, the site will continue to mix news and opinion, but there will be a “transition” in its editorial mission and its “scope” will change.

Does this mean more news or less news? More information or less?

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#OMG! Christians starting to use Twitter — details at 11!

Anyone who’s been around the news for a while will notice that, from time to time, media outlets will “discover” something that’s been talked about, elsewhere, for quite some time. Nearly 20 years after the online world of AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe began to morph into the Internet as a place where people can find information about God, at last a metropolitan daily newspaper has learned that Christian folk are using Twitter to communicate with each other.

As a breathless newsreader might say on those grating “teaser” TV news breaks during commercials: “Details at 11!”

In this case, the apparently surprised outlet is The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Owned by a business unit of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the DesNews, or DN, as it’s known locally, actually does a very good job of covering religion in general, and, as might be surmised, a good job of tackling LDS news. They don’t have the occasional edginess of the secularly owned Salt Lake Tribune when it comes to the Mormon beat, but the DN often pleasantly surprises with its Godbeat coverage. Indeed, I find their coverage of non-Mormon faith topics, in general, to be quite good.

Oddly enough, this article about “How social and digital media are changing #religion” isn’t all that bad, in my opinion. As journalism, the content is pretty good.

But, then there is the sense of gee-whizziness throughout the text:

Brian Hemsworth’s book club wasn’t anything to write home about.

The club — one of about 80 created and founded by Mosaic, a non-denominational Christian church in Pasadena, Calif. — didn’t offer much for the members, save for some discussion on the previous week’s service and the occasional get-together at a picnic or church function.

It was all standard and by-the-book.

That was, until Hemsworth and other group members flocked to Twitter and began dropping their hashtags and tweets. They snapped photos and sent them instantly via the new-age telegram.

Soon enough, what was once a weekly gathering transformed into an everyday discussion.

“People just began to connect,” Hemsworth said. “People are wanting to find ways of connecting and getting together. And social media is really helping that.”

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Got news? Concerning Catholic priests, Mass and padlocks

Because of my background in church-state studies, for the past third of a century or so I have been interested in the many legal puzzles linked to the work of military chaplains.

The bottom line: There is no easy way to provide doctrinally specific care to all of the sailors on a submarine (or a very small, remote base near the front lines).

It is possible for one clergy person to show tolerance and sympathy for believers in a number of different religions with clashing doctrines, but there is no way one or two chaplains can turn into doctrinal Swiss Army knives and provide the same degree of care for Catholics, Muslims, Lutherans, Mormons, Baptists, Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, Wiccans, Hindus, etc., etc. At some point, people feel left out. At some point, there is a Catholic who needs to say a sacramentally valid Confession before going into combat and the only chaplain available is a female Baptist or United Methodist or Episcopalian or Disciple of Christ.

Doctrinal conservatives in various traditions often try to wish this conflict away, even though it is just as important for neopagans to have religious liberty as it is for Southern Baptists.

Doctrinal liberals in various traditions are the leading advocates for the theological Swiss Army knife approach, since their faiths almost always take a more Universalist approach to issues attached to salvation and sacraments. Thus, when a Catholic male declines to say his confession to a female chaplain in a liberal mainline church, that is the male soldier’s problem. Why can’t everybody just get alone?

As a result of my fascination with these issues, I have been paying close attention to the debate about whether Catholic priests who are under contract (as opposed to being regular military chaplains) will be allowed to volunteer (as in for free) say Mass on bases affected by the government shutdown.

Alas, cruise through the results of this logical Google News search file and it will be easy to see a familiar trend.

The Daily Caller? Check.

The Washington Times. Check.

TheBlaze.com? Check.

The Christian Broadcasting Network? Check.

Lifesite? Check.

National Review Online? Check.

The Christian Post? Check.

Yes, indeed. It appears that this is a conservative news story, one that falls outside the approved template for the mainstream media’s coverage of government-shutdown horror stories.

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#RNA2013: Best in religion reporting honored

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As I mentioned in a recent post, I planned to attend last week’s Religion Newswriters Association national conference in Austin, Texas.

Alas, some family circumstances (to which my bride and fellow GetReligionista Tamie Ross alluded in her introductory post) prompted me to cancel at the last minute.

I hated to miss the conference but followed it from afar via the Twitter hashtag #RNA2013. Just a few of the interesting tweets:

 

 

 

 


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Got news? Looking at key facts in the Chris Davis timeline

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It’s the last day of the regular baseball season and for fans of the Baltimore Orioles there was a very bittersweet taste to the year. What does that have to do with religion-news coverage? While many will argue that baseball is a religion (click here for a classic), trust me that I will get to the real religion hook in this post soon enough.

While our O’s narrowly missed the playoffs, the team did have another winning season and made life uncomfortable for the Boston Red Sox. Do the math, people. It’s hard to have a winning season in the American League BEast. Cleveland Indian fans should feel thankful they are where they are.

Of course, one of the other big stories here in Charm City was Chris Davis and his Babe Ruth-ian season in terms of extra-base hits and home runs.

Although Davis has been a moon-shot slamming muscle man since high school, the rate at which he hit the long ball over the past 18 months or so raised predictable questions about performance-enhancing drugs. However, insiders noted that the big man actually lost weight entering this year and increased his foot speed, trends that rarely are linked to steroids.

So, if drugs weren’t the story, then what was the X-factor that helped calm down this anger-management case, allowing him to get his act together?

Simply stated, there is the baseball side and the personal-religious side. You would think that the two stories could be blended into one, but that does not appear to be a task The Baltimore Sun team is willing to attempt, other than the occasional tiny dose of vague God talk.

Here’s my question: What if it could be argued, looking at the timeline of the Davis lift-off into superstardom, that his marriage and his return to practicing the Christian faith of his youth were actually — in terms of on-the-record facts — crucial to this sports-news story? Should a newspaper go there, asking journalistic questions about those aspects of his life and including them as PART of the story?

With that question in mind, let’s look at the new Sun story about Davis’ year. Here is the overture:

Hank Aaron never hit as many as 53 home runs in a season. Neither did Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Frank Robinson nor Mike Schmidt.

So with 53 homers going into the final game, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is not only the most prolific single-season slugger in club history. He’s part of a select group that includes just 17 power hitters in baseball history.

As the Orioles wrap up their season Sunday, short of the playoffs, it’s worth reflecting on what a rare show Davis gave Baltimore fans in 2013. He found that hard to do himself, talking about his season the day after the Orioles were eliminated from postseason contention. “It’s hard to reflect and look back on personal accomplishments right now, because I still have a sour taste in my mouth,” Davis said.

So what happened? Can Davis keep it going?

Davis knows he will enter next season facing a level of outside expectation he’s never experienced. If he returns to his 2012 level — 33 home runs would’ve placed him top 10 in the majors this year — fans will crinkle their noses. But he doesn’t seem concerned.

“I’ve expected it for myself for a long time,” he said. “I had struggles in Texas, and I think that’s where I got away from it. I tried to be a player that everybody else wanted me to be instead of the player I knew I was capable of being. Obviously, when you hit 50-plus home runs in a season, you’re going to draw some attention to yourself, but I just hope that everybody counts on me to be there every day and compete. The numbers are going to be there at the end of the season.”

So that’s one valid way to write the end-of-the-year story. It’s the baseball exclusive approach. What would the personal approach look like?

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Got news? Pope Francis speaks — this time the media blink

It’s safe to assume that, at this moment in time, Pope Francis is a rock star when it comes to his relationship with the mainstream news media. It would appear that whatever the man wants to say about a controversial issue is going to be reported and, miracle of miracles, perhaps even graced with an attention-grabbing headline.

Alas, it would wrong to assume this. It’s clear that the pope can speak on issues of global importance and receive very little mainstream coverage of all, if the issues are not related (in the minds of many journalists) to the Sexual Revolution.

Consider, for example, the following news report from the omnipresent and highly respected (by a wide array of Catholics) John L. Allen, Jr., of the liberal National Catholic Reporter:

Three days after an attack on an Anglican church in Peshawar, Pakistan, left at least 85 people dead, Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Christians to an examination of conscience about their response to such acts of anti-Christian persecution.

“So many Christians in the world are suffering,” the pope said during his general audience Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square. “Am I indifferent to that, or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?”

“Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me, [to know that] so many brothers and sisters in the family are giving their lives for Jesus Christ?”

OK, that’s interesting — but is there a larger story here? A subject worthy of mainstream news attention? Allen continues with a summary of some brutal facts:

The Sunday atrocity in Pakistan is the latest instance of a mounting wave of anti-Christian violence in different parts of the world. According to the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that in the last decade, an average of 100,000 Christians have died each year in what the center calls a “situation of witness,” meaning for motives related to their faith. Although some experts regard that estimate as inflated, it works out to an average of 11 Christians killed each hour throughout the past decade.

Parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and regions of sub-Saharan Africa tend to be the greatest danger zones, though there are recent examples of Christians experiencing violent persecution in many other parts of the world as well.

That German human rights report is not unique or unusual. More on that in a minute.

So surely the pope’s remarks — linked to bloody massacres that are still in the news — drew news coverage. Let’s run an online search for “Pope Francis,” “persecution” and “Christians.” Click here for the results. Spot any familiar patterns?

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Does The New York Times hate Timothy Dolan?

”The question is, should this indictment have ever been brought? Which office do I go to to get my reputation back? Who will reimburse my company for the economic jail it has been in for two and a half years?”

So said former Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan to The New York Times following his acquittal on state charges of fraud and theft in 1987. Accused by the Bronx DA of attempting to defraud the New York City Transit Authority of $7.4 million on a subway construction project in the late 70′s, before he entered the Reagan Administration, Donovan and his co-defendants were found not guilty on all charges — with one jury telling the Times she believed the prosecution was politically motivated. While rejoicing in the not guilty verdict after his two year ordeal, Donovan lamented that it was not fair that the news of his being a decent man would receive far less publicity than the accusation he was a criminal.

What should a newspaper do in this situation? How can it restore the reputations of those falsely accused? Human nature being what it is, the news of an evil man is far more interesting than that of a good one. Critics often accuse newspapers of printing only bad news — senior church leaders upbraid me from time to time for focusing on scandal, corruption and hypocrisy and downplaying the good works performed by church. It does little good to respond that I dutifully report on the good news, but no one reads it. Stories of church sponsored campaigns to stop child marriage in Africa or of female genital mutilation, for example, are read by only a few, while a naughty vicar story is good for tens of thousands of hits, while an Al Gore in bed with the Church of England will get picked up by Drudge and crash the servers.

In the Donovan case The New York Times acted properly and professionally according to the dictates of the craft. They reported without bias, cant or agenda. To have done more would have been special pleading, engaging in propaganda to sway public opinion to think as our masters tell us.

What then should we make of The Times coverage of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee abuse lawsuit? On 1 July 2013 The Times printed a story entitled “Dolan Sought to Protect Church Assets, Files Show”. This was followed on 3 July 2013 with an editorial entitled “Cardinal Dolan and the Sexual Abuse Scandal” and a 6 July op-ed piece by Frank Bruni entitled “The Church’s Errant Shepherds”. Apart from a correction on 16 July The Times does not appear to have followed up on the story.

Which is curious as the first article starts off with a bang.

Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday reveal that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has emphatically denied seeking to shield church funds as the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. He reiterated in a statement Monday that these were “old and discredited attacks.”

However, the files contain a 2007 letter to the Vatican in which he explains that by transferring the assets, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the request in five weeks, the files show.

The article continues in this vein, proffering evidence and arguments that while Archbishop of Milwaukee, Cardinal Dolan acted disreputably by moving church assets out of the reach of creditors. The Times editorial doubled-down on this assertion writing:

Tragic as the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has been, it is shocking to discover that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while archbishop of Milwaukee, moved $57 million off the archdiocesan books into a cemetery trust fund six years ago in order to protect the money from damage suits by victims of abuse by priests.

While not labeling him a crook, the editorial board was quite clear in its opinion the archbishop had engaged in shady dealings and had not lived up to the high moral standard The Times expected of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. The censure of the op-ed pales in comparison to the rage that seethes through Frank Bruni’s piece. The underlying acts of abuse were bad enough, but the institution’s response has been worse.

I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.

I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.

However, Bruni’s column is a column. A reader may agree with his sentiments or find them unhinged. They are written to provide entertainment based on current events — they are not reporting in and of themselves. The Times‘ op-ed piece is also only the opinion of the editorial board. One either agrees with its sentiments or does not. The underlying news stories however, are what makes or breaks the newspaper’s reputation for reporting. And here the paper disappoints.

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Where is the BBC’s coverage of Egypt?

What lays behind the Anglo-American press’s failure to report on the chaos in Egypt?

While there have been bright spots here and there in the coverage, the mainstream press appears to have dropped the ball, giving a stilted view of the “people’s coup” that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Pres. Mohammad Mursi. The claims coming from the liberal media in Egypt and pro-democracy activists is that the BBC and other major Western news agencies are pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Arab newspapers and blogs are full of reports of the crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters — murder, arson, rape — yet the sympathy of the Western press is with the perpetrators of the violence.

Not all of the writing on Egypt is biased or ignorant. Look no further than Samuel Tadros’ article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “A Coptic Monument to Survival, Destroyed” to find a superior example of quality writing. This news analysis story printed on 22 August 2013 on page D4 in the U.S. edition of the WSJ  opens with a strong lede:

The Egyptian army’s crackdown on Mohamed Morsi’s Cairo supporters unleashed the largest attack on Coptic houses of worship since 1321.

And defends the assertion, telling the story of the destruction of the fourth century Virgin Mary Church by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In relating this tale, Tadros helps the reader understand the destruction of this church is analogous to the situation facing Egypt’s Christians.

A Coptic exodus has been under way for two years now in Egypt. The hopes unleashed by the 2011 revolution soon gave way to the realities of continued and intensified persecution. Decades earlier, a similar fate had befallen the country’s once-thriving Jewish community. The departure of the people is echoed in the decay of the buildings. The landscape of the country is changing along with its demography. A few synagogues stand today as the only reminder of the country’s Jews. Which churches will remain standing is an open question.

But this WSJ story is the exception. Writing in Al-Arabiya, Joyce Karam criticized the parochial mindset of the American press.

For reasons related to the security crackdown inside Cairo and  the nature of the debate in Washington, the media coverage of the Egyptian crisis in major American news outlets has been lagging behind other parts of the world. The focus has been more on the policy of the Obama administration and less on the Egyptian dynamics and events outside Cairo. The overriding theme in the U.S. media since the crisis broke out last July has been centered around the question: “What should the U.S. do in Egypt?” rather than “what is going on in Egypt?”

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