Do baby elephants dwell on same-sex marriage?

Young Republicans: so stylish and libertarian. So free of cares, except perhaps for weed and gay marriage.

That’s the view, at least, from the New York Times, which highlighted them at the recent conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee. The story purports to unveil differences between the baby elephants and their elders. It succeeds only on an extremely narrow band: the two hot-button issues of marijuana and homosexual relationships.

The Times piece starts out as “color,” with the reporter wandering through the convention hall, apparently picking out young faces. It’s not hard to find the ones he wants to highlight:

It was difficult to miss Ian Jacobson at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Known as Rooster, he was 33, with an ample beard, earrings and a towering orange-and-aqua spiked Mohawk haircut. But he also sported a pinstriped suit, French cuffs and a natty contrast collar.

Mr. Jacobson’s sartorial contradictions matched those of his politics: He is among the young Republicans who are pro-free market on fiscal issues and libertarian on social ones. While his views represent a potential growth wing for a party that is losing among other demographic groups, they also show an emerging tension with the older social conservatives at the core of the party’s base.

“I want us to return to our roots,” Mr. Jacobson said while attending the conference over the weekend. A self-described “libertarian-leaning Republican” from San Antonio, he sketched out his ideal political party as one that freed individuals to chart their own course in their personal and professional lives.

The newspaper also interviews the leader of a libertarian student group, a Wellesley freshman, and an Ohio State junior “who was strolling through CPAC wearing a Russian-style winter hat with ‘Obama’ and the Soviet hammer and sickle emblazoned on it.” Oh yeah: also a junior from Geneva College, which the article hastens to point out as a Christian school — a rare mention of religion here. More on that later.

The Times’ interests are rather obvious in this story. Same-sex marriage comes up seven times, marijuana four times. The economy and “fiscal issues” are mentioned once each. Taxes and the minimum wage come up once each, both in the same paragraph. And getting a job after graduation — surely high on the list of college students — doesn’t show up until the last sentence.

Citing a recent poll the newspaper conducted along with CBS News, the story says that a mere 56 percent of Republicans under 45 support same-sex marriage “rights” (note the code word, BTW), versus 29 percent for older party members. Marijuana drives a shallower wedge between the generations: Half of Republicans “and Republican-leaning independents” under 45 support legalization, versus opposition by two-thirds of older Republicans.

Are those really the main items on young Republican minds? I hope to God not. Especially since God apparently wasn’t among the things they were asked.

The Times sounds disappointed not to find sharp rifts among CPAC chiefs:

The split did not take place among the high-profile presidential candidates, who largely avoided divisive social issues or mentioned them only to praise their party’s big-tent tolerance, but the conversation was easy to find elsewhere.

Interestingly, abortion is not among the fault lines, the story reports, “with young and old opposed in almost equal numbers.” But it still tries to make something of the fact that “younger Republicans are more willing to support a candidate who does not share their position on abortion than those over 45, according to the poll.”

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‘Fred Phelps has been excommunicated’ and other gossip

OK, folks. We need to keep news over here and gossip over there.

First, we have multiple stories that Fred Phelps — of Westboro Baptist Church fame, of “God Hates Fags” fame, of picketing veterans’ funerals fame — is “on the edge of death”.

Now he was supposedly kicked out of the Topeka-based church for advocating “kinder treatment of fellow church members.”

And what are the sources for this “news”? Facebook postings by Nate Phelps, an estranged son, who left the church 37 years ago. Here’s what he says, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal:

On Nate Phelps’ Facebook page, Nate Phelps posted: “I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps Sr., pastor of the ‘God Hates Fags’ Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the ‘church’ back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

“I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

“I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.”

The other main source is another son who is also estranged:

However, a second Phelps brother estranged from Westboro Baptist Church confirmed Sunday morning that Fred Phelps Sr. is in poor health and has been excommunicated.

“Just a quick note to assure you the information you wrote and published this morning is accurate,” Mark Phelps emailed to The Capital-Journal at 10:30 a.m. “I do not know anything more than you know, at this time, but what you wrote I know to be true, personally, just as Nathan (Nate Phelps) knows to be true also.”

Not exactly the same as hard evidence, is it? Especially given that Nate now says he’s an “LGBT Advocate”?

Years ago, when I worked at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, an investigative reporter told me how he worked: Whenever a source denied something, he would have it confirmed by four other knowledgeable sources. Only then would he go with it.

The mainstream media I’ve checked today don’t meet that standard. Besides Nate Phelps’ assertions, all they have is Westboro spokesman Steve Drain — who has denied that Fred Phelps is dying:

Drain acknowledged Fred Phelps Sr. has been admitted to Midland Care Hospice, adding he “has a couple things going on” but disputed the gravity of his health.

“The source that says he’s near death is not well informed,” Drain said Sunday.

The Capital-Journal stories have been picked up uncritically by major media, including Reuters, Huffington Post and The Blaze.

Instead of looking critically, they’ve simply been piling on, like a particularly brutal football scrimmage.

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A Hobby Lobby family profile that gets religion

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Before my teenage daughter left on our church’s annual spring break mission trip last week, we made one of our regular visits to Hobby Lobby. Kendall loves to knit and wanted to make sure she had plenty of yarn for the all-day van ride to the U.S.-Mexico border.

As regular customers of the arts and crafts retailer — which is based in Oklahoma City, where we live — my family has followed the national chain’s legal fight over Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

Much of the media coverage is, of course, filled with complicated legalese and robotic talking heads on the right and left.

Enter Religion News Service senior national correspondent Cathy Lynn Grossman with a refreshing profile of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, whose stores are closed on Sundays to “allow employees time for family and worship”:

(RNS) Once Steve Green sets his path, there’s no turning back.

Not when he and his high school girlfriend, Jackie, totaled their cars playing chicken. “No one turned off,” he said, recalling how he aimed right at her and she just kept coming. A year later, she married him.

Not when he saw no point in college, going directly into his family’s Hobby Lobby craft store business. Green, now 50, rose up from assembling picture frames for “bubble gum money” at age 7 through every job, including cleaning toilets, to president of the $3.3 billion national chain, one of the nation’s largest private companies.

And certainly not now when, he says, the U.S. government is challenging his unshakeable Christian faith and his religious liberty.

Here’s what I like about Grossman’s 1,500-word profile of Green: It puts a real human face on a newsmaker at the center of a case headed to the Supreme Court.

At the same time, it cuts through the noise and rhetoric and describes the legal fight in terms that ordinary readers can understand:

Next week (March 25) Green’s path leads straight up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to witness oral arguments in the case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

That’s Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The department included all Food and Drug Administration-approved forms of contraception among services required for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby has provided insurance with contraception coverage for years, paying for 16 of the FDA-approved forms, from barrier methods to pills that prevent fertilization. Not covered: intrauterine devices and morning-after pills such as Plan B. Those, the FDA acknowledges, could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

Blocking implantation would “terminate life” says Green. “We won’t pay for any abortive products. We believe life begins at conception.”

RNS sprinkles personal anecdotes about Green throughout the piece and deftly steps back and allows him to describe his faith — and how it motivates Hobby Lobby’s stand on Obamacare — in his own words:

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Is it legal to let St. Patrick be St. Patrick? (Plus MZ zinger)

I guess that the crucial question — at this moment in time — is whether St. Patrick’s Day parades have anything to do with St. Patrick. In other words, are these events connected, in any meaningful way, with Catholic tradition, doctrine and history?

I know that, in the past, it has been easier to argue that these parades — especially in America’s major urban centers in the Northeast and upper Midwest — have been testimonies to Irish culture, pride and political clout. The archbishop may be there, but the essence of the event was found in the presence of local politicians who needed the votes of Irish laborers.

But what is the reality right now, at this moment in church-state history?

You can find some clues in the rather stock Reuters report about the pro-gay-rights pressures on Guinness — which were successful — to pull it’s sponsorship of the New York City parade.

On Friday, two other major beer companies, Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Co and Heineken dropped their sponsorship of parades in Boston and New York, respectively, over the issue.

Representatives for the New York board of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, which has run the parade for more than 150 years, could not be reached for comment on Sunday afternoon.

Earlier in the day Boston Mayor Marty Walsh skipped his city’s parade when he couldn’t negotiate a deal with organizers, the conservative Allied War Veteran’s Council, to allow members of MassEquality, one of Massachusetts’ largest gay activist groups, to join. …

Organizers of St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston, among the most liberal-leaning cities in the United States, have come under increasing criticism in recent years for banning openly gay marchers. Parade organizers argue that to do so would conflict with their Roman Catholic heritage. The Catholic church contends that homosexual activity is immoral.

Now in my humble opinion, I think it would help to know something about the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, since this organization is at the heart of this annual skirmish in the Culture Wars. I find it interesting that few of the mainstream stories that I saw this year about these events offered detailed information on this point. However, the group’s website, on the front page, notes:

We are the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the United States. The AOH is a place to meet like minded Irish Americans who share the same values and beliefs. …

Through it’s charitable arm, Hibernian Charity, a 501c-3 not-for-profit, the AOH is able to raise money for a number of Irish and Catholic causes in the this country and in Ireland.

Whatever it’s symbolism found in this organization, in terms of culture and politics, there does seem to be a religion hook in there somewhere.

Thus, a key journalism question is this: Does this religious group still have a right to march in public streets while declining to openly undercut the doctrines of its church? In other words, does the “free exercise of religion” still include public displays of faith?

Has anyone seen that issue raised in St. Patrick’s coverage this year?

This issue is openly discussed at the Irish Queers website, a center for activism against the beliefs of the Hibernians:

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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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Church & state: Double coverage challenge in Seattle

I often ding mainstream media for lapses on religious doctrine. I also criticize them for ignorance of legalities that deal with religion. The story of Mark Zmuda, the gay administrator who was fired from a Catholic school, gives me a twofer.

The Seattle-based educator says Eastside Catholic School didn’t tell him not to marry his partner. He also accuses the Archdiocese of Seattle of pressuring the school to run him out. Says TV station King 5:

Mark Zmuda filed a complaint for damages against Eastside Catholic and the Seattle Archdiocese Friday. Zmuda told reporters the school was initially supportive of his marriage, but said he believes the school changed its position under pressure from the church.

“The information we have is that there was involvement from the archdiocese. Pressure was put on the school to fire Mark,” said Richard Friedman, Zmuda’s attorney.

“I was asked by the school to break my wedding vows to keep my job. I was told I could either divorce or be fired. How could anyone ask anyone else to make that choice? I was fired,” said Zmuda.

Other media have gotten, shall we say, enthusiastic about the case. USA Today ran an AP story that reported the lawsuit even before it was filed. Huffington Post reported the same — even saying in the headline that the lawsuit had already been filed, although the story itself said only that Zmuda was planning to file.

All that strikes me as a journalistic lapse. I don’t know HuffPost’s and AP’s and USA Today’s editorial policies; but at the newspaper where I worked until late 2012, we didn’t announce lawsuits, or protests or demonstrations, until they’d been filed. Often, we found, people wouldn’t follow through after they got their publicity.

I could recite the GetReligion litany on mainstream media taking sides — quoting, for one thing, students and parents who support Zmuda but not those who support the school’s decision — but let’s not make it a threefer. With this one, we’ll look at church, then state.

A gold star for King 5 for quoting a statement from the archdiocese that it “has no authority to direct employment decisions for the school.” It would have been nice to point out what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality and marriage as well.

King 5 also could have asked about the school’s website while reporting:

Zmuda said that he applied for the job, the school’s website read, “it did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation.” He also said the employee handbook indicated the school did not discriminate.

“If I had read the school’s website and it had said, ‘We do not hire gay men or gay men who marry,’ I would have never taken the job at Eastside Catholic,” said Zmuda.

Did the website really say that? Was the statement taken down? Who would know? King 5′s curiosity seems to run out at this point. Also, is it possible that Catholic schools hire gays who are celibate and accept the moral teachings of the church? The issue is public opposition to the church’s doctrines.

Now, the legalities. None of the articles by KIRO, HuffPost or USA Today show much awareness of a 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that acknowledged the right of a religious group to hire and fire.

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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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Attention NYTimes: Boko Haram has made its goals clear

There is much to commend in the recent New York Times report that ran under the simple, but blunt, headline, “Deadly Attacks Tied to Islamist Militants Shake Nigeria.”

The violence in Nigeria is, alas, a tragically old story. It’s important that the Times team has continued to cover the bloody details. It would be so easy to try to look away at this point.

LAGOS, Nigeria – Dozens were killed, including many children watching a soccer match, in a series of deadly bomb blasts in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Saturday, officials said. The Islamist group Boko Haram was blamed for the attacks, which were the deadliest in months in the sect’s birthplace.

Gunmen from the group also struck a nearby village, Mainok, at the same time Saturday evening, a local official said, storming in on trucks, burning houses and killing at least 51. The death toll from the two attacks was more than 100 and rising, officials said.

In the Maiduguri bombings, children bore the brunt of the explosions, according to the health commissioner for Borno State, Dr. Salma Anas-Kolo. The youths had gathered at a makeshift stadium in the Gomari neighborhood to watch a soccer match when a bomb went off in a pickup truck loaded with firewood, she and others said. When people in the densely inhabited neighborhood rushed to help, a second bomb exploded, according to Maikaramba Saddiq, the Maiduguri representative of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organization.

And it gets worse:

A hospital official in Maiduguri, who watched as charred corpses were brought in, said: “Most of the bodies we found were very young. Small. I saw a man who lost three children.” The official asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation and his position at the hospital.

Boko Haram is the key player in the campaign of terror in northern Nigeria and journalists should, by this time, know quite a bit about this network’s motivations and methods.

You would think so. However, what are readers to make of this rather mysterious section of this news report?

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