We need answers on Gosnell coverage

We’ve had a couple posts on the curious downplaying by the national media of the abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s mass murder trial going on right now in Philadelphia. We’ve noted, among other things, that USA Today is one of the few outlets to have mentioned the story more than once.

Well, today that national newspaper also published an absolutely devastating column — repeat, “column” — by Kirsten Powers. You should read “We’ve forgotten what belongs on Page One” — unless you are trying to remain in your bubble of epistemic closure at all costs:

Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations?

It’s not your fault.

Powers lays out some of the details of the case and why they matter for a free society. She ends:

The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.

Now, Powers is just one of the latest critics to ask what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is going on with this insane lack of national media attention on this trial.

I think many of us are going to continue asking. Just by way of example, I noticed that the Associated Press’ national social issues reporter David Crary hasn’t mentioned the Gosnell trial. Or, at least, I could find no mention of it going back a month or so on his Twitter feed (I recognize the technology here is imperfect so perhaps I missed his stories or his publicizing of colleagues’ stories). So I asked him why.

.@CraryAP: Any reason you’re not tweeting out updates to AP coverage of abortionist Gosnell’s mass murder trial?

I explained to others on Twitter:

.@craryAP is AP “national social issues” reporter. He tweets out local coverage and covers national angles on social issues stories.

Go back a month+ in @craryAP’s twitter feed and there are 0 tweets regarding abortionist Gosnell’s mass murder trial. Why?

.@craryap is prolific tweeter of “social issue” AP stories. But he’s been silent on Gosnell. Is it lack of AP coverage? Or why the blackout?

He hasn’t responded yet, and I’ll be sure to share his explanation when he does.

You can see his Twitter feed here. His favorite stories deal with homosexuality but he also gives some love to abortion-related stories. The most recent one was something about Ireland resident Savita Halappanavar, whose death reporters and other pro-choice activists (if not medical examiners) link to a denial of abortion — don’t confuse that story with the woman who died after a late-term abortion in Maryland recently, a story that also was downplayed and blamed on, by the Washington Post, “childbirth.” Really.

Anyway, perhaps he’ll get around to linking to coverage of one of the most salacious mass-murder trials our country has ever seen.

But this isn’t just about David Crary of the Associated Press. This is about quite a few reporters. And so I have a few other questions, which I posted on Twitter. I haven’t had any of the targeted reporters respond, much less justify, their news decisions, but I’ll keep you updated:

If you are a reporter who covered, say, Fluke getting called a bad name but not the Gosnell trial, can you explain news decision there?

If you are a reporter who covered, say, Komen defunding @ppact but not the Gosnell trial, can you explain news decision there?

If you are a reporter who covered, say, Akin being an idiot but not the Gosnell trial, can you explain news decision there?

And if you were 1 of many journos who gave those stories repeated histrionic coverage and have ignored Gosnell, please explain that, too.

If everyone agrees to stay silent about this abortionist’s trial, the media blackout works. But some folks are speaking out. And they have some very tough questions about what it says about our press corps. For instance:

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Some familiar religion-news questions, after 25 years

What are the odds?

Several years ago, I realized that I was not really sure how long I had been writing the weekly “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service. As some of you may know, aging brains often struggle with detailed information of this kind (especially when the brain in question also deals with 100-plus emails every day).

Anyway, I dug back into my analog files (thick folders full of paper printouts) and calculated that I would START my 25th year on April 11, 2013.

Then, a week ago, I pulled out the same folder and realized that I had looked at the front of the file, but that the columns were in reverse order with the oldest one at the back. Thus, I was one year off.

Thus, this week’s column marked the 25th anniversary of the column. You’ll be shocked, shocked to know that it focuses on the fact that mainstream news organizations continue to struggle, when it comes to covering religion news. More on that in a moment.

At the same time, I have watching the numbers at the GetReligion dashboard, by which I mean at our WordPress production page, climb toward another symbolic number — 8,000.

This post, as it turns out, is No. 8,000 — in just over nine years.

It’s kind of a Zen thing, don’t you think? The 8,000th post is about my 25th anniversary column which is about how the mainstream press struggles to “get religion.”

Anyway, when I sent the column out to friends, former students, etc., I put a note on top thanking five people in particular for their help and inspiration. The request for a national Scripps Howard religion column came from Harry Moskos, then editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, and it was backed early and often by William R. Burleigh, who spent his whole journalism career with the E.W. Scripps Company and ended up running the whole shooting match. Also, I thanked the late Ralph Looney and Ben Blackburn, the top editors at the Rocky Mountain News who hired me to cover religion and later backed the creation of the national column. And, of course, I thanked my mentor in journalism, Prof. David McHam, who is STILL teaching journalism ethics and law, and how to write ledes (currently an emeritus professor at the University of Houston).

So the column is out, and here is how it starts:

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Mainstream press on Gosnell: adjust the framing

Yes, there’s more.

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell is on trial in Philadelphia for killing a female patient and using scissors to cut the spines of fetuses that were aborted alive. According to the grand jury report, he killed “hundreds” of living fetuses. It was his “standard business practice.” Mysteriously, Gosnell kept fetal feet in jars, perhaps as mementos.

I took that from The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication covering a hard-news story that, for some reason, the national media are curiously downplaying. Yes, the same national media that gave us non-stop, daily, histrionic, top-of-the-show coverage of such important news as the Komen Foundation’s decision to stop its minor funding of the country’s largest abortion provider (funded to the tune of $1 billion a year) and someone saying something mean to a birth-control activist, etc.

Each day of this trial reveals new horrors. The details are horrifying. But whether it’s the Newtown massacre or the massacre that took place at this abortion clinic, access to the news is important. Denying access to the news — as so many national media are doing in this case — is not good for civil society, for public discourse. Correct me if I’m wrong but, in general, if you are a news outlet you should report the news.

Over at HotAir, Ed Morrissey writes about whether one witness’ defense — that she was just following orders — is any better than other times that defense has been used. Then:

While we’re asking questions, let’s ask again why the crime-obsessed media hasn’t taken an interest in this case.  It has nearly everything that the media usually wants — horrific tales, serial killings, grotesque deliberation, even a villain who liked to make and keep trophies of his victims.  We even have living victims willing to go on camera to talk about their experiences with Gosnell. So why has no national media outlet taken advantage of this target-rich environment?

It’s a great question. Some have tried to defend it by noting that local media has covered the story. But a salacious “local” murder trial doesn’t even need to involve mass murder for the national media to usually devote untold resources to it.

We have more than the usual required number of incidents to get trend pieces and regular coverage of the larger issues, too. We had the Planned Parenthood official in Florida defending post-birth abortions such as the ones that Gosnell committed. We have another Planned Parenthood clinic being exposed for unhealthy conditions, like Gosnell’s. Pro-life (and at least one local) media covered five botched abortions there in a matter of weeks, whistleblowers who sounded the alarm about the conditions and the eventual shut-down of the clinic. We have had some legislatures responding to unhealthy abortion clinic conditions such as the ones being discussed in the Gosnell trial.

I mean, all of this isn’t anywhere near as big of a deal as a law school student being called a bad name, but it’s almost worth some coverage, no? Is it that this story so upends the traditional frameworks the media use to tell their stories? Reader Mark Baddeley has some thoughts:

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Define ‘Islamist’ and please be specific

Last week, the people who produce the Associated Press Stylebook issued a few revisions. One of them was for the term “Islamist.” It used to read:

Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

That entry was only added last year. In response, the Council on American-Islamic Relations actually called for the AP to drop the use of the term. GetReligion authors have long spoken out against the use of the term as imprecise shorthand for “Muslims who are not liberal.” Here’s tmatt banging that drum in a piece from last year “Define Islamist: Give Three Examples“:

I’ve read this story several times and, to me, it seems that it is impossible to make any sense out of it without a working definition of “Islamist.” The problem is that the story does not contain a definition. It is also missing a clear set of facts about what Islamists say they believe or what changes in Egyptian society they are seeking.

Thus, “Islamist” is left as a kind of buzz word that, essentially, means “really religious Muslims who are competing against liberals and leftists.” We also know that they are clashing with the troubled land’s predominately secular (whatever that means in an Islamic nation) military leaders.

So correct me if I’m wrong, tmatt, but you have to think the revision to the Stylebook is a step in the right direction. Here’s how it reads now:

An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

An improvement, certainly. In addition to being specific about the group affiliations, though, what we really need are specifics about the doctrines in play.

I do have one thought about this term, which is that I do think it builds in some bias about what makes for the “right” kind of Islam. It is common for folks to assume a sort of universality to whatever environment they grew up in. There is an attempt by some media professionals to try to understand Islam in terms of how Christians or Jews (or secular or other folks living under the influence of legal systems heavily influenced by same) order their public and private lives. This leads to an impoverished view of Islam that downplays the lack of distinction between mosque and state.

One of the reasons why this revision is good is because it shows how many different Muslims — and certainly not just radicals — advocate reordering society in accordance with sharia. But one of the reasons why the revision is lacking is because it makes it seem like this is not necessarily inherent to Islam. If one is going to take sides on that doctrinal debate, I think there’s at least a strong argument to be made that what we call “Islamism” might  be more accurately called “Islam.”

I’m not arguing that journalists should take sides on the debate but recognize how we frame adherence to Muslim teachings. And once that realization is made — that Islam isn’t just a different regional version of Christianity or Judaism — and that it has particular and unique approaches to how religion and politics blend — then we can have a more meaningful discussion about how different groups interpret that central tenet of Islam. Otherwise, we only talk about it when it appears in a negative light or is perpetuated by the guys that are portrayed as the really bad guys.

So even more important than getting the affiliations spelled out, let’s make sure we talk about the doctrines in play and how they are interpreted by various groups.

I was reminded to write about this Stylebook issue because of an AP story I read this weekend headlined “Hamas shaves heads of Gaza youths with long hair.”

Note, no “Islamist.”

Instead we learned of “Islamic militants latest attempt to impose their hardline version of Islam on Gaza.” Early on:

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Should media cover — or cover up — abortion trial?

I would love to critique the coverage of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor whose mass murder trial is going on right now in Philadelphia.

The only problem is that there is a curious lack of media coverage.

The Daily Mail had a story this weekend headlined “‘Fetuses and blood all over the place’: Medic’s graphic account of ‘be-heading live babies’ at abortion ‘House of Horrors’ in Philadelphia” but none of the big three networks have even mentioned the trial once.

That Daily Mail piece is just one update on one recent witness in the trial, which has been going on for three weeks with similar horrific updates you can read about — in the pro-life and Christian and conservative press, but not in the national mainstream press — every day. An abortion shop of horrors is undoubtedly of interest to Christian audiences and pro-life audiences and conservative audiences. But is it not also of interest to general audiences? Why wouldn’t it be?

It is very difficult to critique coverage of a topic when the media isn’t covering it so much as inexplicably covering it up.

David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner couldn’t help but notice the media silence:

You might not know it, but there’s a mass murder trial going on in Philadelphia. There has been plenty of courtroom drama, and the death penalty remains a possibility.

The media are seldom shy about such sensational affairs, but they have been with one. Perhaps it’s because the accused mass murderer is an abortion doctor, who along with his medically untrained staff is accused of killing a female patient and several babies who had already been born, alive and breathing.

Doctor Kermit Gosnell’s preferred method of killing these latter, according to witnesses, was to sever their spinal cords. Upon his arrest in January 2011, his urine-scented and blood-soaked clinic was deemed a “house of horrors.” (I will spare readers further details, which are far worse.)

Freddoso compares the media silence on this topic with the wall-to-wall coverage of another horrific incident: the Sandy Hook massacre. Freddoso notes that “Gosnell’s trial is to abortion what Sandy Hook is to gun ownership”:

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Indiana Jones and the reporter from hell

Did you catch any of the stories about the recent discovery of the ancient “Gate of Hell”? The gate was believed to be the portal to the underworld and was known for its lethal properties. Finally located by a team led by Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, Biblical Archaeology explains:

“We found the Plutonium by reconstructing the route of a thermal spring. Indeed, Pamukkale’ springs, which produce the famous white travertine terraces originate from this cave,” D’Andria told Discovery News.

Featuring a vast array of abandoned broken ruins, possibly the result of earthquakes, the site revealed more ruins once it was excavated. The archaeologists found Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld — Pluto and Kore.

D’Andria also found the remains of a temple, a pool and a series of steps placed above the cave — all matching the descriptions of the site in ancient sources.

“People could watch the sacred rites from these steps, but they could not get to the area near the opening. Only the priests could stand in front of the portal,” D’Andria said.

According to the archaeologist, there was a sort of touristic organization at the site. Small birds were given to pilgrims to test the deadly effects of the cave, while hallucinated priests sacrificed bulls to Pluto.

The ceremony included leading the animals into the cave, and dragging them out dead.

“We could see the cave’s lethal properties during the excavation. Several birds died as they tried to get close to the warm opening, instantly killed by the carbon dioxide fumes,” D’Andria said.

OK, that’s all background. What I want to talk about is ABC News’ coverage of this discovery, embedded at the top of the story. It’s totally unserious and, apparently, requires constant mentions of Hollywood to make it through the two-and-a-half-minute segment.

About a minute and a half into the program, we get a reference to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The reporter says something about this being an archaeological find thrilling enough to be an Indiana Jones plot. If only he would have left it there.

Just before the 2-minute mark, the reporter says that they’ve blocked up the entrance to the Gate of Hell and he says that’s good because “we all remember what happened in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they dug up those religious artifacts of the dead. To use a loaded phrase, all hell broke loose.”

And the other reporters in the studio boo, to their credit.

But one viewer called me and was outraged. How does one mess up the basic plot line of Raiders of the Lost Ark so badly? To quote from the Wikipedia plot summary (spoilers abound but if you haven’t seen this movie from 1981, it’s your own fault!):

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CBS: John the Baptist was at the Crucifixion

In our discussions on the New York Timeswhopper of an error (and weird correction), some readers pointed out that the media outlet was not alone in making a major mistake that day:

CBS, clearly embarrassed to be No. 2 in Christian faith ignorance, ran a segment on CBS Sunday Morning in which Martha Teichner stated confidently that John THE BAPTIST stood at the foot of the cross with Mary. That should get some kind of honorable mention here.

Over at the CBS.com site, viewers were calling out the report left and right:

  • I am an avid fan of CBS Sunday Morning; it is part of our Sunday ritual. I was amazed though this morning that Martha Teichner said that John the Baptist was at the foot of the cross with Mary. That was the disciple John, the brother of James- son of Zebedee.John the Baptist had been beheaded before Jesus was crucified. How did this get by? As a Catholic I object to this error. Love your show; just be careful.
  • You lost a viewer this morning for the poor journalism in this story. The reporter did not know her New Testament well enough to know that John the Baptist was killed and Mary could not have lived with him in Turkey, the person she lived with was the Apostle John. It was nice that you started with a Catholic congregation in NY but why not also talk to a Catholic or Orthodox theologian? I turned it off when you highlighted a fringe element. Is this the way you do journalism for other stories too. A shame, I had really enjoyed watching your show before I went to Mass.
  • Martha Teichner, usually a credible reporter. Big mistake not getting a Christian to edit your story. John the Baptist died early in Jesus ministry – perhaps 3 years before Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Gospel of John, “John the Apostle” refers to himself as the one Jesus loved, not John the Baptist. Poor form!
  • Beautiful photos but you botched a couple of things. The most glaring error was stating that the “beloved disciple” who witnessed the crucifixion along with Mary the mother of Jesus was perhaps John the Baptist. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod long before this. The beloved disciple is thought to be John, who wrote the Gospel of John, three short letters near the end of the New Testament, and the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation. Also, Mary is mentioned in Acts 1:14-15 (you said she is mentioned only in the four gospels), where we find her just after the ascension huddling with the disciples in a crowd of about 120 people in the upper room (a group that also included the brothers of Jesus, so the supposed “rift” mentioned by your expert was apparently mended and they had become believers). So she was clearly involved and in touch with the early church. But it was refreshing that a news outlet referenced the resurrection, even tangentially, on Easter Sunday. Most news organizations act as though this key event never occurred. Obviously, something happened, whether or not one believes in the resurrection. I do believe.
  • For Martha Teichner’s sake, I wish someone would have vetted this story before it aired. One error that is easily verifiable was that John the Beloved is NOT John the Baptist. John the Baptist, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s son, was killed (beheaded) during Jesus’ ministry – so he could not have been at the crucifixion. John the Beloved is the same John that authored the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by this oversight, I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the story. I hope others were able to see what was trying to be shared and learn something. Thank you!

The report itself was very interesting and very well done. It was heavily biased toward New York City adherents and scholars and could have used more diversity among the quoted scholars. The John the Baptist error was the big doozie but I think readers might have trouble with a few more things in it as well.

Anyway, CBS has corrected the video and the print version of the story. And there’s a note at the end that says:

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mis-identified the possible “beloved disciple” as John the Baptist.

What does that mean — “the possible ‘beloved disciple’”? I don’t understand why the word “possible” is used.

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God and Allah at an Easter service shooting

A church in Ashtabula, Ohio, was the scene of a shooting on Easter Sunday. Just as services had ended, a man arrived and shot his father in the head, killing him. A reporter sent us a link to an earlier version of an Associated Press story that ran in the Houston Chronicle with a headline that read:

Witness: Man yelled about God after church killing

That’s the headline that remains over this Columbus Dispatch version of the AP report. The reporter thought that interesting in so far as the assailant had reportedly talked about “Allah.” The witness actually said — in later stories at least — that the assailant had talked about Allah and God.

Allah is Arabic for God and none of the involved were Arab speakers, near as I can tell, so there was something interesting about the assailant’s choice of wording. Various other interested parties have suggested or denied drugs or mental health may have been contributing factors to this shooting.

All of which is to say, I found the various headlines interesting. Let’s look through them.

The updated AP story in the Houston Chronicle is now headlined “Relative: No motive in Easter shooting in Ohio.” I can imagine more interesting headlines.

(Ashtabula) Star Beacon: Suspect says shooting ‘will of Allah’

A later Star Beacon story:  Man gunned down after church service: Son arrested, says it was ‘will of Allah’

Local CBS: Police: Son Fatally Shoots Dad During Easter Service, Yells Killing Was ‘Will Of Allah’

National CBS: Ohio Church Shooting: Reshad Riddle, Ohio man, shot father to death in church after Easter service, police say

Vindy.com: Horrified church congregation watches son kill father after Easter service in Ashtabula

The Huffington Post:  Reshad Riddle Yelled About God And Allah After Allegedly Shooting Father In Ohio Church On Easter

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Minister recounts Easter Sunday shooting outside his Ashtabula church; one dead

I did find it odd that the last article doesn’t even mention “Allah” or “God,” but was written by the religion reporter who really struggles with writing fairly, objectively or with any nuance (here, here, here).

My own thinking is that the headlines that say “God” but avoid “Allah” are weird. But I prefer the headlines that focus on “father” “shot” “Easter service” — as those seem to be the key details. The rest can be fleshed out in the body of the story.

But what do you think?

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