Tough questions: ‘You gonna put those shoes on again?’

Embedded above is a clip from CNN where media critic Howard Kurtz says what is bleedingly obvious to everyone — the media have cheered on Wendy Davis’ and her abortion filibuster in biased fashion. He asks the rhetorical question of how the same media would cover the same filibuster if, instead, it were against abortion.

This last week has been pretty bad, as far as journalism coverage of this religion ghost-haunted story goes. It’s almost as if the media, which did such a good job of pretending that the reality inside Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic had no policy implications, are confused as to why state legislatures are acting as if it did.

I was shocked to read what one critic compared to a fundraising letter for Wendy Davis in the New York Times. That vast majority of Americans who — in poll after poll — oppose late-term abortions are just ruthlessly ignored. Instead, the language of the piece is more like a watered-down NARAL press release:

Her feat of stamina and conviction gained thousands of Twitter followers in a matter of hours. Pictures of the sneakers she wore beneath her dress zoomed across computer and television screens. The press corps demanded to know her shoe brand. (Mizuno, it turned out.) Hundreds of men, women and children waited for hours at the Capitol to sit in an upstairs gallery and watch her in action, standing in lines that snaked around the rotunda. Even President Obama noticed, posting a Twitter message on Tuesday that read, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

It goes on like that to the end, (“the perfect symbol in a fight over what a woman can do”) ignoring actual polling on this particular bill or the topic of late-term abortion in general. (“One of the clearest messages from Gallup trends is that Americans oppose late-term abortion.”) It’s embarrassing.

First off, this paragraph ignores that the social media campaign was — as any media professional could figure out in a hearbeat — highly orchestrated. (Washington Post: “Wendy Davis ‘tweetstorm’ was planned in advance”) Not that it’s not worth mentioning, but it’s just fascinating how easily rolled by savvy public relations our media is willing to be, depending on the cause. And it needs to be acknowledged that abortion rights media campaigns are so highly successful in ways that almost no other public relations campaigns are because the media are fully compliant and overwhelmingly supportive of said campaigns. This is a scandal. (See, e.g., my substantive analysis of the media handling of Susan G. Komen last year.)

At least the Times piece is more subtle than this Guardian take on the matter:

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Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome.

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The media gushing over Texas filibusterer Sen. Wendy Davis continues in such a way as to make Chris Farley, above, seem restrained. Davis is the woman who has halted, at least for the time being, a bill that would require Texas abortion clinics to have the same standards other ambulatory surgery centers are required to have. It would also prohibit, with some exceptions, the killing of children who had reached five or more months’ gestation. And the bill would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of an emergency.

There are so very many fascinating things to look at, particularly in the context of the tremendous and notorious difficulty the mainstream media has had covering various problems at abortion clinics, including convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell’s abortion “house of horrors,” Texas’ own alleged killer of babies born alive, Douglas Karpen, and clinics around the country.

Let’s go over various media coverage of this religion ghost-haunted, hot-button story. One important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a forum for discussing abortion or doctrinal views on abortion or particular legislation about abortion. You are welcome to have your strongly held opinions on those matters and you are welcome to have those discussions — just not here. We keep discussions focused on media coverage.The goal is to see if the mainstream press can present the views of people on both sides of this debate in an accurate and balanced manner. It’s called journalism.

If you are interested in media coverage, in basic journalism, please join in the discussion.

OK, so first off, the Associated Press’s initial story (or headline), which actually was wrong, framed the debate word-for-word as did the pro-choice activists opposing the bill do.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans pass new restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.

This one-sentence off the wire was updated, of course, but the framing remained the same, if the hyperbole was somewhat softened, throughout mainstream media accounts. Almost invariably we got the pro-choice spin on this story as if it were the news. By “requiring tighter medical standards,” as USA Today put it, the bill would have “effectively close[d] most abortion clinics in Texas.”

But wait. Each of these clinics would be free to meet the same standards that all the other ambulatory surgery clinics in the state meet, so such reporting showed not just bias but particularly childish bias. This pro-choice perspective should be included within the story, of course, but it shouldn’t be adopted as the framing for the entire story, the only perspective offered, lest press releases from Planned Parenthood be indistinguishable from stories presented as news.

Moving on to how the media have treated Davis — I found it interesting that a search of the Los Angeles Times shows that the newspaper has already published 11 staff-written stories about her. By comparison, the Times only got around to three staff-written stories about Kermit Gosnell. One of those Davis stories was literally on the front page yesterday. Kermit Gosnell never made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and it took years after his indictment in the murders of seven children and one woman for the paper to even mention him at all, buried deep within the paper.

When North Dakota pro-life senator Margaret Sitte wrote, sponsored and passed various pro-life bills, did the Los Angeles Times cover her? Not even once. Some women who work on bills related to abortion are vastly more important than other women who work on bills related to abortion. As I joked on Twitter, “It’s almost like there’s a pattern with how the media cover abortion. It’s subtle, but if you look hard, you can almost detect something.” (Have your own fun with the Los Angeles Times search function here.)

Or take the Washington Post. You remember that it wasn’t until some high-profile and sustained media criticism shamed them into it that they finally got around to writing about Kermit Gosnell, after years of complaints. Compare that to this story the Post tweeted out to its 1,741,558 follwers:

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AP’s abominable (but familiar) abortion approach

So I guess the Associated Press’ reportorial staff in Texas is on vacation this week. Good for them! I hope they’re having a great time. Not good for news consumers, though, as AP coverage of the Texas legislature couldn’t be worse right now.

Take this four-paragraph, six-sentence story published on USA Today that began:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans armed with Bible verses have given preliminary approval to some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country as time runs out on the Texas special legislative session.

What in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks does this mean? I have no idea. I have no idea what being “armed” with Bible verses means. The remaining five sentences don’t tell us. They also don’t tell us what the Bible verses are. Neither do we learn why in the world Bible verses were mentioned in this “news” report. Or what Democrats were armed with.

You’ll also note, of course, the perennial approach of referring to legislation regarding abortion in terms of “restriction” as opposed to “protection.” This is done so frequently that I doubt that reporters are even aware, at this point, of the built-in bias.

You’ll note the lack of any mention of Dr. Kermit Gosnell or various other doctors in the abortion industry who operate unsanitary, unsafe or dangerous clinics.

Or what about this AP story?

(AUSTIN, Texas) – More than 800 women’s rights protesters crowded into the Texas Capitol on Sunday to watch Democrats try a series of parliamentary maneuvers to stop the Republican majority from passing some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country.

Um, where to begin? How about with the fact that women are just as likely to be pro-life as pro-choice? Is that a good start? Do you think pro-life women would be surprised to find out that the Associated Press views them as hostile to women’s rights?

Or maybe the Associated Press could explain to us why wanting safer abortion clinics, or more sanitary abortion clinics, or less dangerous abortion clinics — such as the ones the media have reluctantly, if ever, covered — makes you anti-women’s rights. I’d really love to know.

Or what if you are really into the right to life for all women, born and unborn? Could the Associated Press explain to us why that makes one anti-women’s rights?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that abortion rights activists prefer to identify themselves as pro-women’s rights and those who support unborn children’s right to life as not. I get that. And I fully expect to see such labels used in, say, Mother Jones and other ideological press.

But unless the Associated Press is coming out as partisans in this debate, this is inappropriate bias for a hotly-contested story about a bill sponsored by … a female Texan who has talked about this legislation in the context of how it benefits women as well as the children growing in their wombs. Again, one might personally agree with one side or the other, but the story should not take sides.

Let’s go ahead and look at the next line in the story:

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Journalism highs and lows: Christianity and gays edition

YouTube Preview ImageI’m elated to be able to highlight a wonderful article headlined “Christians’ views vary on gay marriage.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette news piece shared just that — how Christians view marriage and why.

A sample from the work:

Most opposition to same-sex civil marriage is rooted in religious conviction. A recent Pew poll found that 73 percent of those who believe that gay sex is sinful oppose it, while 84 percent of those who say it’s not a sin support it.

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man has sexual relations with a man … both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death.”

That Bible verse isn’t what led Wesley Hill, assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, to conclude that his gay sexual orientation requires him to be celibate. The first two chapters of Genesis, which “presents male and female as the partners of one another” and Jesus’ affirmation of that in Matthew 19, are far more important to him.

Mr. Hill, 32, grew up in a Baptist family where homosexuality was unacceptable, but he knew that other traditions found it compatible with Christianity. He studied all sides, he said.

“I found myself convinced of the more traditional reading of scripture, that marriage between one man and one woman was the only context for sexual expression in a Christian setting, and that if I intended to remain a traditional orthodox Christian, I needed to be celibate.”

He believes people are born with same-sex orientation as a result of the fall — humanity’s original rebellion against God — which brought imperfections to the world. He hasn’t settled his view of same-sex civil marriage.

I wish I could excerpt the whole thing. It’s full of descriptions that are nuanced and balanced and really dig down into the doctrinal views of the various parties. We hear from many sides and we get to hear them explain themselves in their own words. How sad that this is so rare in reporting on the matter. But what a great contribution to civil discourse.

For the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, I offer the video embedded above from ABC “News.” A reporter sent it to us with a note saying that the program should be called “To Catch A Christian” (a riff on “To Catch A Predator”). The piece is so appalling I almost don’t know what to say about it.

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Crush Davis wrestles with anger issues, with God’s help

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I realize that GetReligion readers have repeatedly demonstrated their lack of interest in the world of sports or, at the very least, media coverage of stories that mix faith and sports. I remain a pretty intense sports fan, based in Baltimore.

So it’s rather remarkable that the newspaper that lands in my front yard not only produced a major story about the life and faith of hotter than hot Orioles slugger Chris Davis (hello Red Sox fans), but put it on the front page. I am not taking about the front page of the sports section, I’m talking about A1 in the Sunday issue.

The story isn’t perfect — more on that in a minute — but it’s clear that The Baltimore Sun team let Davis talk about the arc of his life and, in the end, accurately concluded that his return to evangelical Christian faith has actually had something to do with him getting his act together as a man, a husband and as an All-Star level player.

God is in the lede, which tends to happen a lot in sports coverage. The more important fact about this story is that the God factor is — to some degree — actually fleshed out in the reporting in the story.

To. Some. Degree. Here’s the long overture to the piece:

The power? That blunt-force ability to lay wood to a baseball and propel it 400, 420, 450 feet? He had it even when he was a boy. Came from God, as far as he’s concerned.

Harnessing it? Well, that’s the work of Chris Davis’ life. There’s a paradoxical quality to the Orioles’ first baseman, who has emerged this season as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers, a likely All-Star starter who leads the majors with 22 home runs.

Growing up in East Texas, Davis was like a puppy with big paws, bowling over everything. But even as he climbed the ranks of the game he loved, he could not find the deeper fulfillment he coveted.

Before he could put all that strength to use, he had to stop trying to overpower everything in his life. He had to tone down the perfectionist streak he inherited from his dad, Lyn, who gave him his work ethic but could also be an overbearing presence. Both men acknowledge their competitive drive created friction in their relationship. That stress, which friends and teammates watched unfold as the younger Davis was blossoming into a star athlete in Texas, is what Chris Davis says helped set the course for his success today.

He had to believe that his faith, his marriage and his team could prop him up during bad times.

All of the usual themes that dominate sports features are here. The key theme that relates to faith is Davis’ struggles, not only with perfectionism, but with anger. And what is the only thing that has helped him with his anger?

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Pod people: media struggles mightily with abortion coverage

On this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I discussed that embarrassing BuzzFeed confusion — or defiant ignorance, really — about basic and widespread traditional Christian teaching on evil. We also discussed the curious way in which the Washington Post is downplaying even local abortion “crime” stories.

Three abortion doctors had their licenses suspended after the death of a woman who had an abortion but The Washington Post just doesn’t find that newsworthy at all.

Honest. I mean, they ran a brief Associated Press story on the matter online and the only follow-up I’ve found is — no joke — a three paragraph update that one of the doctors had their license reinstated. Also by the Associated Press. Wouldn’t want to put any local reporter resources into this story, I guess.

Abortion coverage continues to be such a grievous weak point across the media. We’re all familiar by now with the approach taken where reporters ask something close to 100% of pro-life politicians about rape, even though it’s not a major policy point. And while the majority of Americans support some or all abortion restrictions, it somehow never occurs to reporters to ask the most radical pro-choice politicians (those who support no restrictions on abortions) about their extremism.

So when a reporter for the conservative Weekly Standard did the job that no mainstream reporter will do — asking Rep. Nancy Pelosi about her opposition to legislation that protects unborn children targeted by late-term abortions such as ones that end the lives of children the same age (but other side of the birth canal) as the ones convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell killed — you will never guess how the Washington Post wrote up her response …

Actually, you probably could guess, so want to try?

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Hey! It’s journalists mangling scripture day! (UPDATED)

David Brooks wrote a very Brooksian column for today’s New York Times about how our culture was more dynamic when there were competing status hierarchies and how our current situation of one hierarchy means that the successful are less haunted by their own status and the less successful have nowhere to hide.

Now, normally we pay no attention to opinion pieces because our concern here at GetReligion is how straight news about religion is reported. But the column included this passage that I had to share:

In Corinthians, Jesus tells the crowds, “Not many of you were wise by worldly standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Whoopsie! Not Jesus, but Paul! Brooks has since corrected the column and added a note reflecting the correction at the end. Another correspondent said he disliked the reference to Corinthians, as opposed to 1 Corinthians or 2nd Corinthians (the verses in question here are from the first chapter of 1st Corinthians, verses 26 and 27 and come from the New International Version, for what it’s worth).

Our second example of how to mangle a Scripture reference does come from a straight news report, this time Politico. The story is about how Rep. Mark Sanford spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, which is for social conservatives:

In the latest stop of Sanford’s comeback tour, he explained that “great moments follow moments of great difficulty.”

Several months ago, Sanford recalled a supporter in the Palmetto State urging him to be more courageous in the spirit of Timothy 1:7. He called it “a pivotal point” in his race.

“You need to seize that verse and operate on it,” he told the activists. “So I would simply ask as you build a movement to make a difference … be of courage.”

Um, what is Timothy 1:7? The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to Timothy. In the first letter, in the first chapter, Paul tells Timothy to encourage people in Ephesus to reject the teaching and practice of false doctrine. The seventh verse is just a snippet of this portion:

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

In the second letter to Timothy, Paul writes with encouragement:

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Religion journalists save the day for young scribes

Last night I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion for The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism. This summer program gives students internships at media organizations, coursework in politics and economics, and other features (such as mentors to guide you as you start your career).

Anywho, the director asked me to put together a panel of religion journalists and I was thrilled that both Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton, managing editor of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, graciously gave their time and wisdom to the students of the program.

First, here’s a bit of a scene-setter.

In high school, my journalism teacher told us a story about a horrible interview she once watched. A major flood had swept through a canyon in Colorado. A reporter approached a man who’d just seen his wife and kids swept away and asked him how he felt. Everyone was understandably appalled at the lack of humanity that reporter displayed in putting a man on camera and asking such a question at the worst moment of his life. I try to keep that in mind when I’m talking to people who have undergone some tragedy. And it makes me reticent to approach some people or ask too many questions.

Lawton told a wonderful story about reporting on a disaster zone that really moved me.

Arriving after some horrific travel delays, she had to rush to complete her interviews. As she got to the village where her interviews would take place, she said she just felt icky about the work she was about to do — like a vulture descending on these poor people. But she had to do her work and so she began asking people about how they felt regarding the tragedy they’d endured. As she got going, the crowd of people wishing to tell their stories grew and grew. She ended up unhooking the microphone from the camera so the camera man could complete the footage they needed to gather and just stayed there long after her own purposes, letting people speak into the microphone about their story.

I’m probably doing a disservice to the story, but it was such a wonderful reminder that journalism need not be invasive or an unwelcome necessity. It can also be healing and a beautiful way to connect with our fellow man.

Eckstrom gave great advice to the young whippersnappers — all college-aged kids — about the importance of mastering multimedia journalism. Basic reporting and writing skills are essential, but you can’t just be a writer these days, you have to figure out how to shoot and cut video, too. He also encouraged the students to be creative about how they present information.

Which is all a long way of getting to what I wanted to highlight.

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