Concerning all those angry white married men in pews

It’s mid-term election time, which means that it’s time, once again, for the mainstream press to try to figure out what is wrong with all of those angry white men.

You remember the angry white men, right? Remember the folks who keep insisting on clinging to their — what was that phrase again — guns, religion and antipathy to people who are not like them?

GetReligion readers can probably predict which one of those factors was ignored in the recent New York Times piece that ran under the headline, “Democrats Try Wooing Ones Who Got Away: White Men.” The key voice up top — in the thesis paragraphs — is that of Frank Houston, a man with working-class roots who is leads the Democratic Party in Oakland County, Michigan.

Mr. Houston grew up in the 1980s liking Ronald Reagan but idolizing Alex P. Keaton, the fictional Republican teenage son of former hippies who, played by Michael J. Fox on the television series “Family Ties,” comically captured the nation’s conservative shift. But over time, Mr. Houston left the Republican Party because “I started to realize that the party doesn’t represent the people I grew up with.” …

Mr. Houston is part of an internal debate at all levels of his party over how hard it should work to win over white men, especially working-class men without college degrees, at a time when Democrats are gaining support from growing numbers of female and minority voters.

It is a challenge that runs throughout the nation’s industrial heartland, in farm states and across the South, after a half-century of economic, demographic and cultural shifts that have reshaped the electorate. Even in places like Michigan, where it has been decades since union membership lists readily predicted Democratic votes, many in the party pay so little attention to white working-class men that it suggests they have effectively given up on converting them.

There are several religious and cultural ghosts in this story, but the Times team never really names them.

Instead, the story does a great job — over and over — of telling readers what kind of voters are very loyal to the Democratic Party these days. Readers then have to do the math and try to spot the obvious patterns. Take this quote for example:

No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white men since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all prevailed with support of the so-called rising electorate of women, especially single women, and minorities. But fewer of those voters typically participate in midterm elections, making the votes of white men more potent and the struggle of Democrats for 2014 clear.

Carter, of course, did much better in the South and in the Midwest in his first campaign. And what was different that time around? I mean, other than having to run against Reagan?

Also, note another theme in the story: Democrats do much, much better with single adults, as opposed to married adults. In stories that dare to probe this, what usually shows up in that familiar “pew gap” indicating that people who attend worship more tend to vote for culturally conservative candidates. Married people also tend to more religious than single people.

But this is not a story that has the time to look into things like that.

Let’s see. So what else does this story tell us?

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Those elusive Devout Catholics™ are back

We have another Devout Catholic™ sighting!

That legendary creature, best known to reporters in mainstream media, is rarely spotted in real life, but they seem to show up in the news all the time. (See the attached photo.)

One appeared in a Los Angeles Times article about a campaign to loosen up laws in Oregon against same-sex marriage. This was a small herd in Portland that wanted to sport big white buttons for “marriage equality” while attending Ash Wednesday.

Brave move or childish stunt? That would be a subjective call. Almost as subjective as, say, this Times article.

More on that later. Right now, here are a couple of offending paragraphs — the first two in the story, in fact:

When Jackie Yerby and a small band of devout Catholics go to the cathedral for Mass this Ash Wednesday, they will be sending an unmistakable message. Pinned to their lapels will be big white buttons that proclaim, “Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality.”

The newly formed group wants to show that “just because we’re Catholic doesn’t mean we don’t support same-sex marriage,” said Yerby, who served on the board of Catholic Charities of Portland for six years. “We support same-sex marriage because we are Catholic.”

It’s a decidedly quirky species. For one, it always seems to differ with the leaders of the pack. Their own shepherd, Archbishop Andrew K. Sample of Portland, has urged his folks to prevent changing state law to allow gay marriage. Devout Catholics™ may not be more Catholic than the pope, but more Catholic than an archbishop ain’t bad.

The new Devout Catholics™ are rare even in Portland. Yerby’s organization first met last month and has a mere “few dozen members,” according to the Los Angeles Times article. Significantly, those relevant facts are buried in the 26th paragraph of the 34-paragraph story — after the reporter has gotten max mileage from their devout disagreement with Sample.

Longtime readers of tmatt, of course, know that he and GetReligion specialize in Devout Catholic™ spotting. Five years ago, he asked why a couple of odd characters — a horoscope columnist and a voodoo high priest — have gotten the label.

When Archbishop Donald Wuerl was made a cardinal, tmatt saw the label appended onto loud-mouthed TV commentator Chris Matthews. And late last year, tmatt observed that some media are using “practicing Catholic” in ways just as loose and fuzzy.

Therefore, tmatt fumes:

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AP finally spikes infamous Nazi Christian Youth (not) photo

It took a while, but the final shoe dropped the other day in the mysterious case of those — What did Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher call them? — Nazi Christian Youth in a church in North Richland Hills, Texas.

I am referring, of course, to that Associated Press photo what showed a group of Train Life boys standing in a circle singing the song “Taps.” It’s an old end-of-the-day Scouting tradition and it involves a symbolic, sun-setting gesture, too.

Alas, the original AP cutline missed, or hid, that fact:

ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014 AND THEREAFTER — In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members form a circle and recite the organization’s creed during meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A later cutline, used by the San Jose Mercury News, helped a bit:

In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 photo, Trail Life members move their arms as they sing “Taps” in a circle during a meeting in North Richland Hills, Texas. Trail Life USA, the new Christian-based alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, excludes openly gay members. (LM Otero/AP)

So what is the problem, readers might ask (if they have not been following this story)?

Click here to see the photo in question, complete with what appears to be a salute, shall we say, drawn from World War II-era Germany.

As I wrote in a post the other day:

Isn’t it amazing that journalists at the Associated Press decided to focus on this precise and rather dangerous — in terms of negative symbolic content — moment in the arc of those slowly descending young arms? What a coincidence!

Or perhaps this was an innocent mistake.

Apparently, folks at AP have decided that something did, in fact, go wrong in the editorial process — somewhere.

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So, AP does its part to pin Nazi salute on Trail Life boys?

I doubt that many news consumers who do a quick read of the recent Associated Press news feature about the growth of Trail Life USA — a small, explicitly Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts — will hear loud warning sirens.

But the main photo that accompanied that story? That’s another matter.

You simply must CLICK HERE to see it.

This is a hot-button topic, of course, because it involves centuries of Christian doctrine and America’s growing acceptance of homosexuality, both in terms of orientation and sexual behavior. The Boy Scouts voted to accept openly gay Scouts, but not openly gay leaders, a tricky stance that angered both conservative religious groups and the cultural left. Boy Scout executives stressed that they still expect Scouts to keep sex out of their lives as scouts.

The AP report by Nomaan Merchant does have a bit of that neo-National Geographic tone to it as readers are introduced to this strange tribe of Christians who dare to enroll their sons in a voluntary association that teaches the doctrines affirmed in their homes and churches. But these believers get to defend their beliefs in their own words, which is good.

Let it be noted, however, that this story — for some strange reason — gives zero attention to the views of those who criticize Trail Life USA. Why not include the secular and Christian left in this picture? The story does give a small amount of space to BSA leaders who defend the evolution in their membership guidelines. And there is this concise summary of the conflict at the heart of this story:

Trail Life promotes itself on its website as the “premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers and citizens.” Its official membership standards policy welcomes all boys, but adds, “We grant membership to adults and youth who do not engage in or promote sexual immorality of any kind, or engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the program.”

For over a century, Scouting banned openly gay youth and leaders, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to defend its right to do so. Leaders who were revealed to be gay were excluded, and some boys were denied Eagle Scout awards by regional councils that were notified of their sexual orientation.

But the Scouts eventually began to face pressure from sponsors and CEOs who serve in Scouting leadership but lead companies with anti-discrimination policies. BSA surveys also showed that youths and parents of Scouting-age children were supportive of allowing openly gay Scouts. Scouting leadership proposed a compromise: Accept openly gay youth, but exclude gay adult volunteers. BSA’s National Council voted in May to enact it.

Readers who have closely followed this story will note, of course, that Trail Life stresses that if will not admit those who “promote sexual immorality of any kind” — note the loaded word “promote.” The Boy Scouts now allow “openly” gay Scouts, while local leaders struggle with the precise meaning of that term.

The story also includes this telling detail:

The boys and their parents are still getting used to a world of new names, new ranks and new uniforms that haven’t arrived yet. They hold up five fingers while reciting their oath, instead of three. Scouts are now “Trailmen,” and troops are now units. There is a new handshake and a new salute.

This brings us to that troubling Associated Press photo that ran with this story. Those who follow Twitter may have noted this tweet (which now appears to have been deleted):

Grossman, to her credit, has apologized for that dashed-off tweet. But this only raises another question: What was going on in that photo? How did this image end up on top of the AP story?

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Time: McConaughey’s ‘confounding’ speech at Oscars

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Did you hear that awkward sound at the Oscars last night, the one right after Matthew McConaughey offered his thoughts on the meaning of life, family and, perhaps, Pilgrim’s Progress? Here’s the quote that is getting so much cyber-ink today:

“First off I want to thank God, because he’s the one I look up to, he’s graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late (British actor) Charlie Laughton, who said, ‘When you got God, you got a friend and that friend is you.’”

The only really mysterious part of that is the “and that friend is you” part at the end of that section of the speech where McConaughey pointed out toward, but slightly above, the rather shocked audience. Was the actor — previously known more for his ripped torso than his theological views — saying that individuals in Hollywood, if they embrace God, can finally come to peace with their complicated relationships with, well, themselves?

The confounded editorial team at the Time entertainment section tried to sum up the mini-sermon this way. Here’s the headline:

Explaining Matthew McConaughey’s Confounding Acceptance Speech

We parse it all for you — “Amen and Alright Alright Alright”

And then:

After winning for his role as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Matthew McConaughey launched into a semi-bizarre tale about his inner life. Here is what we learned:

1. He needs someone to look up to, something to look forward to and someone to chase.

2. He wants to thank God, who he looks up to. God is all about gratitude.

3. He wants to thank his family, who he looks forward to. His deceased father, he believes, is celebrating with a big pot of gumbo and a can of Miller Lite. His mother, still with us, taught him how to respect himself.

4. The person he chases is himself, 10 years into the future. He knows he will never catch up, but he wants to find out who that guy will turn out to be.

5. To all of that, he says “Amen,” ”Alright, Alright, Alright” and “Keep on Livin’.”

Now, if you watch the whole speech — which I urge you to do — it seems that the Time entertainment team was hearing most of his words, but failed to grasp the meaning of this particular meditation. For example, what’s up with the “God is all about gratitude” part, unless Time is saying that the “all about” reference is slang noting that God is pro-gratitude.

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If at first you don’t succeed … find another source

Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try again.

British writer and editor W.E. Hickson popularized this quotation in the 1870s, and I’m dusting it off today for our friends at The Dallas Morning News. Why, you ask? I’m guessing they haven’t thought of applying the concept to sourcing stories, particularly ones that demand a balanced treatment.

On the heels of a federal judge’s ruling striking down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, I looked to the Lone Star State’s outstanding collection of newspapers for what I expected to be top-notch coverage. Instead, I came across this news/feature piece, which fell flat on its one-sided backside.

After 53 years, Jack Evans will finally get hitched to his life partner George Harris on Saturday, believed to be the first public same-sex wedding in Dallas officiated by a United Methodist minister.

The union has qualified religious acceptance. There’s open debate in the United Methodist Church, which officially views homosexuality as ”incompatible with Christian teaching.”

But the well-known minister celebrating the wedding — the 85-year-old Rev. Bill McElvaney — says “love over law” matters most.

“The Methodist church is on the wrong side of the Gospel on this — and history,” McElvaney said.

In the next paragraph, we expect a quote from someone speaking on behalf of the United Methodist Church. The rules of good journalism would suggest this person be allowed to speak to the denomination’s stance on same-sex marriage, perhaps offer a comment on the news peg of the Texas ruling and what it might mean for the people in Texas pews.

Here’s what we have instead, buried deep in the heart of Texas — er, this story:

The UMC bishop for this region, Bishop Michael McKee, didn’t return messages seeking comment.

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Mea culpa: Houston, this time the problem was me

I screwed up.

In a post Tuesday, I reported wrongly that the Houston Chronicle managed only 262 words of coverage on a major religion story in its own city — the narrow decision by the First Presbyterian Church of Houston to remain in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “A glorified news brief,” I disparagingly referred to it.

In fact, the Chronicle devoted more than 800 words to Sunday’s vote and gave the decision front-page play.

I apologize to the Chronicle and senior reporter Mike Tolson, who handled the story. Neither deserved the negative treatment I gave them.

“No news outlet gave this matter more coverage than the Chronicle,” Tolson said in an email pointing out my “glaring error.”

My original post suggested — erroneously — that The Texas Tribune gave three times more space to the story than the Chronicle. 

How did I mess up so badly? I’ll attempt to explain. But first, more from Tolson:

What Mr. Ross saw, obviously, (were) the quick few paragraphs we put up on our website shortly after the results were known. News outlets that publish every day often will quickly update their websites with breaking news, then come back later with lengthier articles. The Texas Tribune put out a lengthier story quicker than we did, including background material that we had already put in our earlier stories. On Sunday, we waited to speak with Pastor (Jim) Birchfield and a leader of the opposition before going up with the longer piece. I would have thought your reporter would have made at least a cursory effort to see if the Chronicle had published anything else but those few paragraphs.

I encourage Mr. Ross to do a bit of research before he slams a news organization for all but ignoring a local issue of significance.

Here’s what happened: Matt Curry, a former colleague from my days with The Associated Press in Dallas and now a Presbyterian pastor in Waxahachie, Texas, posted a link to the Tribune story on his Facebook page. When I Googled for other coverage of the decision, the short Chronicle report was the only one that showed up.

In the past, we at GetReligion have had trouble reading Chronicle stories because they’re typically buried behind a paywall. As our editor Terry Mattingly notes, “Clearly, we cannot pay the fees for every newspaper in the country. Often, readers send us a full text and then we write about that text — while clearly noting to readers that the product is firewall protected.”

In this case, I saw that the Chronicle story was dated Sunday, Feb. 23 — with a note that it had been updated at 6:23 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24 — so I assumed that it was the version that appeared in the paper. We all know bad things happen when a journalist “assumes.” I did a few other quick searches to see if perhaps the Houston paper had produced more in-depth coverage in advance, but those searches turned up nothing. In retrospect, that’s probably because the excellent work that Tolson did previewing the vote was hidden behind a paywall.

In fact, a week before the Presbyterian vote, Tolson and the Chronicle produced a gigantic Sunday takeout — roughly 2,800 words starting on the front page. The piece outlined the key issues and players involved. Since the link probably will take you to a single paragraph with a note that you will need to be a digital subscriber to keep reading, here’s a snippet:

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Miscues in news on gay blessings and marriage from London

The Valentine’s Day statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England on gay marriage has fluttered the Anglican dovecots.

The story received A1 treatment from the British press and it spawned commentaries and opinion pieces in the major outlets. The second day stories reported some activists were “appalled” by the news whilst others were over the moon with delight — but being British their joy did not rise to continental expressions of euphoria.

The story continues to move through the media and on Sunday the BBC had one bishop tell the Sunday Programme that clergy who violated the Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage protocol might be brought up on charges — and could well be sacked.

So what did the bishops do? A scan of the first day stories reports that they either said “no to gay marriage but yes to gay civil unions” or “no to gay marriage and no to blessing gay unions.” The first day reports were evenly divided between the “no/yes” and “no/no” schools.

The Independent interpreted the document as no/yes.  The lede  in its story entitled “Gay marriage: Church of England to offer prayers after weddings but no same-sex marriage for vicar” stated:

Gay couples will be able to have special prayers following their weddings but members of the clergy are banned from entering same-sex marriages when these become legal next month.

The Church of England issued its new pastoral guidance following a meeting of the House of Bishops to discuss the issue on Friday. Despite condemning “irrational fear of homosexuals” and saying all were “loved by God”, the document sent a clear signal separating the Church’s concept of marriage and the new legal definition. …

Civil partnerships will still be performed and vicars have been warned that married couples must be welcomed to worship and not subject to “questioning” or discrimination. Same-sex couples may ask for special prayers after being married but it will not be a service of blessing.

The Telegraph also took the no/yes line. The lede to its story entitled “Church offers prayers after same-sex weddings — but bans gay priests from marrying” stated:

Gay couples who get married will be able to ask for special prayers in the Church of England after their wedding, the bishops have agreed. But priests who are themselves in same-sex relationships or even civil partnerships will be banned from getting married when it becomes legally possible next month.

Compare this to the dispatch from Reuters which took a no/no line. Its lede stated:

Church of England priests will not be allowed to bless gay and lesbian weddings, or marry someone of the same sex themselves, according to new guidelines issued by the church, which is struggling to heal divides over homosexuality.

Why the disparate interpretations? Was this a case of the Church of England speaking out of both sides of its mouth at the same time? Offering an ambiguous statement that allows individuals to read into it what they are predisposed to find?

Perhaps. One should never underestimate the skill of the Sir Humphrey Appleby’s at Church House in churning out drivel. But in this case I believe the reporters’ suppositions as to the meaning of phrases drove their interpretations. The problem was not imprecise language from the bishops but a lack of understanding of technical language from reporters.

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