‘I’m an atheist, Wolf’


Oh what a perfect clip for GetReligion.

You have to watch it to get the full gist but CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer is, above, interviewing Oklahoma tornado survivor Rebecca, holding her son Anders. (Full interview here.) Then, as transcribed by Politico:

Blitzer: We’re happy you’re here. You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?

Survivor:  Yeah.

Blitzer: Did you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?

Survivor: I — I’m actually an atheist.

Blitzer: You are. All right. But you made the right call.

Survivor: Yeah. We are here. And you know, I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.

Blitzer: Of course not.

Is this not a perfect example of why yes/no questions are a bad idea? I mean, it turned out all right. In fact, the survivor’s response is what made this such an interesting interview, despite Blitzer’s best attempts. But what was he expecting to have someone say?

Also, though, while I object to the form of the question and how it gave too much direction to the respondent, I do find it interesting how this question rests in the general sector of “journalists are weird about religion and disasters” that I’ve noticed over the years. My favorite recent example was from another CNN interview. It was back in February and the legendary Poop Cruise had finally docked. CNN was ignoring the Gosnell trial but, for some reason, doing round-the-clock coverage of the survivors of the Poop Cruise. But when two survivors tried to say what Scripture verse had sustained them during their journey, they were cut off. It was weird.

Anyway, the vast majority of the time the problem with how religion is treated in disaster interviews is that the reporters behave as if religion plays no role in sustaining people during their time of need. Perhaps it’s the loving way in which the atheist here answered the question, but I found it oddly interesting and comforting to see that religious adherents and skeptics alike get the silly questions that make assumptions about belief or non-belief.

Another interview I want to highlight was aired on CBS. I can’t stop thinking about it. The reporter is speaking to an older woman who lost her entire house while she sat in it. She is battered and bruised but she rather cheerfully describes what she went through and talks about how she knows she lost her dog under the ruins. A few minutes into the interview, someone off camera says “A dog!” The interview subject then realizes that her precious dog is alive and she asks for help getting him out of the rubble. She’s so very happy. And then she says, unprompted:

“Well I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be OK, but He answered both of them. Because this was my second prayer.”

It’s a powerful moment and it was captured simply by letting someone speak freely about a dramatic moment.

Print Friendly

How To Be A Lousy Journalist

Over at Intercollegiate Review, I have a piece with some helpful journalism tips. Here’s how “How to Be a Really Lousy Journalist for Fun and Profit” begins:

There has never been a better time to consider a career in journalism. Newspapers are thriving, magazines are innovating, online journalism listicles are becoming more substantive, and cable-news talking heads are shouting at holograms.

Journalists are living up to our reputation as the country’s most trusted profession (at least compared to IRS agents and American Airlines customer-service representatives). Whether it’s our nuanced and thoughtful analysis of hot-button topics such as gay marriage or our tenacious coverage of the terrorist attack in Benghazi and Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic in Philadelphia, people know you can count on us to get the story right.

Would you like to succeed in this environment? As a long-time reporter and media critic, I’m happy to share tips on what to do if you want to make it in modern journalism.

Don’t Sweat the Details

Is there a difference between an Evangelical and an evangelist? Who cares? Don’t know the technical reason why Christians celebrate Easter? Will anyone really notice? Do you confuse the author of Hebrews with Paris booksellers? We all do! Whether you’re reporting on important U.S. Supreme Court decisions or how many people died in a terrorist bombing, what’s most important is getting the story first, not getting the story right, particularly under the pressure of a 24-hour news cycle.

Don’t Question Authority

If the powers-that-be suggest that a terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 was the spontaneous and direct result of an unseen YouTube video with junior high school production values, who are you to be skeptical?

If these same authority figures suggest that therefore it’s dangerous for Americans to speak freely, share their religious views, and express their artistic sensibilities however they want, you should probably just join them in calling for restrictions on these First Amendment freedoms.

It’s advice you’ve seen me sarcastically give for years, if you’re a GetReligion reader. But the folks here at GetReligion gave me excellent additional tips to include, and they’re sprinkled throughout.

There were dozens more I could have included. What are your tips for how to be a lousy journalist?

 Image of journalist via Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

Protip: Immaculate Conception is not the Virgin Birth

Did you hear about the anteater that conceived a baby even though she had no male mate around? I mean, she had a mate, but he was removed from her area longer than the six months required to gestate a baby anteater. Theories for how this miracle happened include the very non-miraculous idea that the mommy anteater and daddy anteater mated through a fence and the somewhat more mysterious idea that the pregnancy was paused or that implantation was somehow delayed.

So of course this is a made-for-media story. As you can see in the image to this post (or anywhere it went out online), some went with the “immaculate conception” approach. Which is, you know, weird, since the immaculate conception has nothing to do with conceiving a baby without the presence of the male.

The Atlantic Wire figured out its error and mildly tried to correct it by appending a note that they were only repeating other people’s errors and by putting quotes around ‘Immaculately Conceived’ as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

First, let’s discuss the religious teachings in play since this is a routine problem. From Wikipedia:

The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism.[1][2] It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Mary is often called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic and cultural contexts.[3]

The Immaculate Conception should not be confused with the perpetual virginity of Mary or the virgin birth of Jesus; it refers to the conception of Mary by her mother, Saint Anne. Although the belief was widely held since at least Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not formally proclaimed until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. It is not formal doctrine except in the Roman Catholic Church.[4] The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is observed on December 8 in many Catholic countries as a holy day of obligation or patronal feast, and in some as a national public holiday.

Not perfect, but you get the idea. The Immaculate Conception refers to what Roman Catholics teach about Mary being conceived without original sin. The Virgin Birth refers to what most Christians teach about the circumstances of Jesus’ conception. Great. Can we stop having this error, then?

Here’s the note the Atlantic Wire appended to the piece:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Downplaying the canonization of Christians martyred by Muslim invaders?

In a recent post about an error in a story about a new saint, readers talked about the notable lack of media coverage of another set of new saints — Christians martyred by Islamic invaders.

One reader commented:

The mainstream media didn’t seem particularly interested in a group of Catholics martyred by Islamic invaders. Every brief account I saw gave only the information that those who did the killing were “Ottomans” or “Turks.” But how many Americans are historically savvy enough to know the Turks–or Ottomans- were Moslem–and that the killings were because the Italians wouldn’t convert to Islam?

Musn’t disturb the fiction that the only bad guys in the religious conflict between Islam and Christianity were the Christian Crusaders. In fact, repeatedly one reads in the media and some popular history books the false claim that Islam always respected the religion of those they conquered.

Another said:

I think it’s fair to move from the general to the specific and wonder how many American reporters are that historically savvy. While I’m certainly in the camp that is willing to have concerns about the fictions our media seems determined to maintain to protect what certainly appears to be a common “narrative,” the failure of the writer to connect the dots may simply reflect ignorance that there are connections. Given how things Catholic–and this Pope’s election, in particular–have been so routinely (and dare I say, predictably) covered lately, the focus of this article and its deficiencies is hardly surprising.

So I wanted to be sure to highlight an Associated Press story I came across in the Washington Post. It’s about the martyrs. What do you think of the headline?

Hundreds who refused to embrace Islam are new saints in pope’s 1st canonization ceremony

At first I thought it odd that their refusal to deny Jesus Christ was put in terms of a refusal to “embrace” Islam, but I think the headline writer was merely trying to make sure that Islam’s role in their martyrdom was highlighted. From the top of the story:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Pod people: Define ‘fetus’ and give three examples

The first question I faced, in this week’s “Crossroads” interview, sounded relatively simple: Why did journalists struggle to use the word “fetus” accurately when covering the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell?

Like or not, I have had to pay a lot of attention to this issue in recent weeks. For those who have been off the planet during that time, click here for a recent look at The New York Times and its evolution on this topic.

But in this podcast, we went back to the beginning and tried to follow the logic of these arguments all the way through to the end.

You see, back in the days just before and just after Roe vs. Wade, journalists found themselves caught between two forms of language. On one side, on the moral left, there were people who wanted to use the term “fetus” whenever possible, in order to avoid talking about the selective termination of “babies,” “unborn children,” etc. Since surveys show that most journalists, especially in elite newsrooms, are pro-abortion rights, this can affect coverage.

Meanwhile, real people in the real world tend — when dealing with pregnancies — to use baby language. I mean, surely it is rare for someone to come home from the doctor waving an early ultrasound image and say, “Hey! Look at the first picture of our fetus (or perhaps grandfetus)!”

So what happens when you have a story in which two different groups of people — in direct and paraphrased quotations — using these two radically different forms of language? There is tension, to say the least.

I have seen stories in which it was clear that reporters, or editors, went out of their way to avoid direct quotes that included “baby” and “unborn child” language. The result? Paraphrased quotes that literally put fetus language into the mouths of people who didn’t use it.

And what is happening now?

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Well here’s a new spin on female ordination

Let’s begin this post with this link to the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law:

Can.  1024 A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.

Now, keep that in mind as you read this Miami Herald story about Madre Laura, who was beatified by Pope Francis on Sunday:

In her lifetime, Laura Montoya’s stubborn determination to help Colombia’s indigenous people brought the reproach of society, the political elite and the church, which viewed her work with suspicion and accused her of being unstable.

But on Sunday, an adoring nation celebrated the woman, better known as Madre Laura, as this Catholic country’s first saint.

We learn about how her hometown celebrated the momentous occasion. We learn about some of her early life experiences before we get to this paragraph:

In 1914, even before she was ordained, Montoya organized an expedition of six women, including her aging mother, and took a 10-day trip into the wilderness to live with and minister to an indigenous Emberá Katío clan near the town of Dabeiba. Initially, the mission didn’t have the church’s backing, as officials thought that such risky ventures were best undertaken by men. Church leaders called her “crazy” and “visionary,” and suggested that she might be looking for a husband in the wilderness, according to her biographer Manuel Díaz Álvarez.

It’s all really interesting, but … “ordained?” What is the writer confused about, exactly? To what is he trying to refer?

The rest of the story is well done, including discussion of Laura’s legacy and how other women followed in her path, such as:

“Laura taught us that our teaching had to come from a place of love and respect for their customs and their beliefs,” Parra said.

Montoya required her nuns to learn the local languages and live, sleep and eat in the same conditions as their congregation. That sometimes meant living in abject poverty.

The story does a good job of personalizing Montoya and describing her not just as a saint but a humorous and down-to-earth person as well. One nice detail is that one of the two people involved in the miracles attributed to Laura presented Francis with Montoya’s relics on Sunday.

I also thought this might have been a buried lede:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Who’s worthy of more coverage: Akin or Gosnell?

YouTube Preview ImageWhen Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin made a comment about women being raped last year, the New York Times responded with, according to a search engine count, about 250 stories in under three months. A sample of the 19 (!) headlines from just the first two days*:

“Republicans Press Todd Akin to Quit Race,” “Romney Condemns Akin Remarks on Rape,” “Romney and Ryan Team Up on Trail Amid Criticism on Abortion,” “Akin’s No-Show on ‘Piers Morgan’ Is Boon for Program,” “Romney Statement on Abortion Contradicts Ryan’s Earlier Stance,” etc., etc., etc.

It didn’t slow down. That search engine shows 22 stories about Akin on August 21 alone. An August 22 story was headlined “Ryan Pressed to Explain Position on Rape and Abortion.” And it was written by Trip Gabriel, who is also on the New York Times‘ Gosnell coverage, such as it is. Gabriel even wrote about trying to press the candidate he was covering about the Akin issue in his campaign journal.

It’s interesting to note, then, how this reporter, his colleagues at The Times and journalists at other papers have handled the political implications of the Gosnell story. This Gosnell story is nowhere near as bad as someone saying something untrue about rape. Not that bad. It’s just about a convicted murderer whose abortions fell a bit too far on the post-birth and malpractice side of things than the prebirth side and resulted in an untold number of deaths and scarings and disease spreading.

But The Times has — how does one put it — struggled with stories on the general case and the actual trial in particular. In the first one to cover the trial after an early report, the headline gave away that the story was only being published under extreme pressure, barely mentioned the trial, failed to fully represent the legal arguments mentioned and got extremely confused about the difference between babies and fetuses. (tmatt will have more on this later.) Another piece was better, though it read perhaps a bit too much like a well-crafted press release from an abortion rights activist group.

This last piece suffers from the same problem. If the job is to ask tough questions of people in Gosnell’s line of work (anything like the tough questions asked of people in the same political party as Todd Akin), it failed. If the job was to publish the statements from press releases without even so much as a hint of a tough follow-up, it was great. If it was to write up an anodyne “she-said, she-said” of competing analyses of the trial, also great work.

Don’t get me wrong, while I will fully agree with the New York Times that a politician saying something stupid deserves at least 250 breathless stories in a three-month span and that the country’s most salacious serial murder trial, that of an abortion doctor to boot, should only begrudgingly and weakly be covered after extreme pressure, I wonder if maybe there’s not room for slight improvement here.

[Read more...]

Print Friendly

Should pro-choice activists be asked Gosnell questions?

The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a Mother’s Day interview with, who else, the head of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood does a few things that people either love or hate, but none so much as aborting more than 300,000 unborn children each year.

The media are firmly on one side of this issue and have done quite a bit to help out Planned Parenthood, a truth laid painfully bare during the Komen Foundation for the Cure situation last year, which I chronicled extensively. That was when the private foundation devoted to fighting breast cancer decided to pull out of funding the country’s largest abortion provider. The media didn’t view this as a story with two sides but went to the mat to force Komen to cave in. It worked. Within days, they were bullied into relenting and agreed to give money to Planned Parenthood.

Some media outlets perpetuated a falsehood about Planned Parenthood — that the organization offers mammograms. It doesn’t. Months (and years) after those mistruths were shared (by Planned Parenthood, President Obama and the media), some media outlets corrected the information. See here, here and here.

That cozy relationship is also shown in this Times magazine piece. These interviews are generally fluffier for friends of the paper than foes, but fluffy in general.

You can see where that might be a problem when dealing with the head of an organization that, again, aborts more than 300,000 unborn children each year. If, you know, you think that’s troubling.

But even so, the interviewer does not in any way shy away from political questions. That could be a good thing.

Do we see tough questions about whether the Cleveland kidnapper should be charged with murdering his unborn children by forcibly aborting them? No.

Do we see any questions, tough or non, about the biggest abortion-related story of the year — the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell? Dear reader, I have to tell you. The answer is no!

Just by way of example, Catholic news director Anna Mitchell is having trouble getting anyone at Planned Parenthood to accept her interview request. She offers these sample questions for journalists who are able to get interviews with Planned Parenthood:

First, I read a report that Gosnell’s lawyer, during cross-examination, downplayed the procedures in his clinic by saying they were common in the abortion industry at-large. Is this true? If Gosnell’s procedures are not standard to the industry, what is standard procedure? The latest string of videos from Lila Rose’s Live Action confirms at least that Gosnell’s is not the only clinic that would be willing to let a baby die after a botched abortion (http://www.liveaction.org/inhuman/videos/) – are there more? Should these doctors be punished if the evidence proved they did not provide life saving care for the child?

Second, the conditions in Gosnell’s clinic were revolting, to say the least. He could quite possibly become a poster child for legislation that would require abortion clinics to have the same standards as hospitals. I know that most – perhaps all – abortion rights groups have opposed these bills in the past, saying it would force too many clinics to shut down. In light of the Gosnell case, will that position change? Wouldn’t hospital-like requirements ensure that every clinic provides a clean, safe environment for women? Wouldn’t it be better for a woman to travel farther away if it meant lessening her risk of STDs, infections or even death? If you remain opposed to these kinds of standards, why?

Instead, you won’t believe the hot-off-the-presses questions that New York Times interviewer Andrew Goldman and his editors signed off on instead of anything on, say, Gosnell:

[Read more...]

Print Friendly


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X