Got news? Judge ‘mocks’ Obama’s religious-liberty move

The most control the media have in the news process is determining what stories get hyped and which get hidden, which get a ton of coverage and which get downplayed. A week or so ago, I read on the editorial page of the Washington Examiner about a rather juicy ruling by a U.S. district court judge. He said that the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the HHS mandate may proceed.

Judge Brian Cogan mocked the “accommodation” on religion liberty outlined by President Obama in regards to his health care law’s contraception mandate while ruling against a Justice Department motion to dismiss the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the regulation.

“There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” Cogan wrote in his ruling against DOJ. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.” …

As Cogan noted, though, the rule has not formally been changed.

I figured I’d look at the mainstream media news coverage once it came out. You might not know it from the curious way the media have covered this story, but there are dozens of lawsuits working their way through the courts on religious liberty claims against the mandate. Some reporters and media outlets scare-quote this as a “religious liberty” issue or otherwise downplay the religious liberty concerns. Here’s a judge saying the religious liberty concerns are legit. Surely we’ll see coverage.

But have we? Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote about the media coverage in his latest blog post:

Did you hear about the decision last week by U.S. District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan in the lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare, (the agency coordinating our Catholic healthcare in the archdiocese) and three plaintiffs from the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, against the administration for the unconstitutional HHS mandate?

You probably did not, as there seems to have been virtually no mention of the decision – in favor of the archdiocese, by the way – in any local newspaper or on television.  As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked rather carefully, there hasn’t even been a story in the New York Times, which couldn’t wait to publish an editorial this past October, admonishing the bishops, when a federal judge in Missouri found for the administration and dismissed a similar case brought by a private, for-profit, mining company.   (The Times also didn’t have much to say last week, when the appeals court temporarily blocked the bad Missouri decision the Times had gushed over.)

Judge Cogan’s decision last week turned back a motion by the administration to have our lawsuit dismissed.  You’ll remember, perhaps, that back in May, the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, and Catholic Health Systems of Long Island filed a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn, one of more than two dozen similar lawsuits filed around the country that day.  These lawsuits argue that the mandate from Health and Human Services would unconstitutionally presume to define the nature of the Church’s ministry, and force religious employers to violate their conscience or face onerous fines for not providing services in our health insurance that are contrary to our consciences and faith.

The judge’s decision doesn’t settle the case, but allows the case to proceed so that it might be heard in court…  That’s significant, because the administration has been successful in getting some of the other cases dismissed, but in his decision Judge Cogan found that there was very real possibility that we plaintiffs would “face future injuries stemming from their forced choice between incurring fines or acting in violation of their religious beliefs.”

And what of the administration’s contention that the suit should be dismissed because they were going to change the HHS mandate to address the concerns of religious employers? As Judge Cogan wrote, “…the First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action. There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution.”

I couldn’t believe that Dolan’s claims were true. Had the New York Times really not covered this, even briefly? What about other national media?

Well, this GoogleNews search shows the story was much bigger among Catholic, conservative and pro-life press than secular media. I didn’t find it in the Times.

There were wire reports from Bloomberg and Reuters, however. So kudos to them. The Reuters story is quite good.

As for why so few covered the court’s decision, not even the local paper that bills itself as the newspaper of record? I can’t begin to presume the answer to that.

Photo of judge’s gavel and scales of justice via Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

The Pope joins Twitter #HabemusPapam

YouTube Preview ImageEven though the Pope joining Twitter has been news for weeks, I was still surprised at what a big story it was yesterday. I’ve been on Twitter for years (joined the morning after an epic anti-Twitter rant at the local pub) and I don’t even have 4,000 followers. Even before the Pope had issued his first tweet, he had more than 1 million followers. He tweeted his first item yesterday. Or as Rocco Palmo put it, #HabemusPapam.

And yes, everyone got super excited. The cool thing was that there was some really great coverage of the piece. And I’m not talking about The Onion‘s hilarious “Pope To Identify With Catholic Youth By Giving Up On Catholicism” satire. We’ll get to the better stuff in a minute.

One religion reporter sent us something that she thought was not so hot. She was too kind. It read like it was written by a teenager who thinks he’s a lot funnier than than he is. Headlined, “Mockery outweighs piety after pope’s Twitter debut,” the AFP story begins:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI’s debut on Twitter got off to a bumpy start on Wednesday, with mockery outweighing piety in reaction to the first tweets from the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

The pope’s second tweet — “How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?” — prompted a string of tongue-in-cheek- answers.

“With some nice cold chocolate milk. And the Lord?” wrote one user tweeting in Portuguese with the handle @tensoblog.

Another distinctly sin-minded user, @binnie, joked: “Hookers and blow.”

Hardy har har har har har. Anyway, the claim made by the news outlet is that mockery outweighed piety. The story doesn’t even come close to substantiating this claim. It doesn’t even try. It leaves out information that might have thrown the claim into question. For instance, there’s no mention that the Pope had, say, 50,000+ “retweets” or close to 20,000 “favorites.”

Is a story about the friendly jokes — and the unfriendly mockery — worthwhile? Perhaps. Perhaps that’s what you want to emphasize. But to claim that the Pope’s Twitter debut got off to a rocky start and that mockery outweighed other reactions is more media wishful thinking than reality. Let’s stick to reality in journalism, please. And if you do want to do a story about people who curse, mock, tweet risque pictures at the Pope, could you at the very least move it beyond the “OMG! Naughty words to B16!” level of discourse? What does this say about people who would do such a thing? How does it make Catholics feel? What do the Pope’s people think about this? Etc.

Leading up to the big day of the Pope’s first tweet, I rather enjoyed this whimsical take on “Spiritual wisdom in 140 characters or less,” first published in the Plain Dealer and sent out by Religion News Service. The Washington Post had an interesting take last week headlined “Ask the pope @pontifex: With Twitter account, Benedict XVI just a tweet away.” It’s about how the Twitter account makes him more reachable. Sarah Pulliam Bailey also had a look forward at Odyssey Networks.

The Washington Post had a different take yesterday, noting that the first tweet from Benedict came about because of Twitter outreach:

It may look as if Pope Benedict XVI’s first tweet on the auspicious date of 12/12/12 will be a divine act. But orchestrating the pontiff’s debut on Twitter has been a far more earthbound effort, involving an elaborate behind-the-scenes production…

The effort is part of Twitter’s powerful — not to mention low-cost — strategy to expand its influence and rack up more users by getting the world’s biggest names in sports, Hollywood, government and religion onto the Internet’s leading megaphone for self-promotion.

But man is that a bad opening line, right? Why would it look like a divine act? Why is 12/12/12 “auspicious”?

The Post‘s On Faith section also had a great reaction roundup from a variety of different observers. Sample:

Matt Archbold writes for the National Catholic Register and blogs at the Creative Minority Report.

The pope’s Twitter feed is going live. I’m excited. While this is an excellent opportunity for young Catholics to encounter the church’s teachings, I suspect that this open line of communication will be utilized by some to be able to curse directly at the pope. Do you know how many four-letter words you can fit in a 140 character limit? I don’t have a calculator handy but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot!

But Christians are quite familiar with lion’s dens. Have been for a while. And let’s face it, real lions don’t just curse in ALL CAPS and use clever hashtags.

But the pope getting on Twitter does raise some interesting issues. If you don’t retweet the pope, is that a sin of omission?

If the pope “follows you” doesn’t that really set the Church hierarchy upside down? Do I really want that kind of responsibility? I don’t even have a mitre.

And if you get blocked by the pope is that a 21st century form of excommunication? Are we really about to see the birth of the excommunitweet? Because that would actually be pretty awesome.

Among his other observations are that the Beatitudes are written in 140 characters or less.

Actually, rather than doing this entire roundup, I should have just directed you to Cathy Lynn Grossmann’s comprehensive look in USA Today at the Benedict’s first day on Twitter. She looks at whose questions got asked, the specifics of how questions to the pope got answered, the Vatican’s use of Twitter up to this point, selections from Archbold’s comments, and more.

 

Print Friendly

Islamist crimes against humanity in Mali

The Washington Post has a tough, but very important, read on the deteriorating situation in Mali. The first point to make is to thank the paper for devoting the resources necessary to bring to light this story about terrorism against vulnerable people. It can’t be easy and it’s deeply appreciated.

The story begins with Fatima Al Hassan being sentenced to 100 lashes with an electrical cord for giving a male visitor to her house. We’re told that “Islamist radicals” who’ve seized the north are to blame. We’re told that a coalition of Western and regional powers are preparing to retake northern Mali within the next year.

But such an action, if approved by the U.N. Security Council, is unlikely to begin until next summer or fall, U.S. and other Western officials say, and political turmoil in the south is adding to the uncertainty. That has raised fears that the extremists could consolidate their grip over the Texas-size territory and further terrorize civilians, particularly women and children.

“The people are losing all hope,” said Sadou Diallo, a former mayor of the northern city of Gao. “For the past eight months, they have lived without any government, without any actions taken against the Islamists. Now the Islamists feel they can do anything to the people.”

Refugees fleeing the north are now bringing stories that are darker than those recounted in interviews from this summer. Although their experiences cannot be independently verified — because the Islamists have threatened to kill or kidnap Westerners who visit — U.N. officials and human rights activists say that they have heard similar reports of horrific abuses and that some may amount to war crimes.

I had previously criticized a piece for writing about the horrors in Mali using a single anonymous source. I liked the way this reporter acknowledged the limits to verifying reports, while doing a great job of working around that problem.

Early in the piece, I hoped we’d learn about what religious beliefs separated these Islamists from the Muslims they’re terrorizing. While that was not as well fleshed out as I may have hoped for, we did get specifics about what the Islamists are doing:

The refugees say the Islamists are raping and forcibly marrying women, and recruiting children for armed conflict. Social interaction deemed an affront to their interpretation of Islam is zealously punished through Islamic courts and a police force that has become more systematic and inflexible, human rights activists and local officials say.

We’re told that the radicals have “imposed a hard-edged brand of sharia law, echoing Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, in this West African country where moderate Islam has thrived for centuries.”

I have suspicions about how moderate sharia and a hard-edged sharia differ but could have used some help spelling it out. Is it a difference in degree of punishment? A difference in what is deemed worthy of punishment? Something else altogether? And the things these radicals are doing — depriving people of basic freedoms, destroying historic tombs, denying children education, ridding the country of doctors and nurses and clinics — what, exactly, is the religious defense for these things? We’re told they’re doing them for religious reasons but I could use some info about the particular religious reasons.

Anyway, the situation sounds just horrific. Roving police squads scour neighborhoods for violations. A healthy amount of the story is devoted to the practices of rape and forced weddings.

[T]he Islamists have … encouraged their fighters to marry women and girls, some as young as 10, and often at gunpoint. After sex, they initiate a quick divorce. In an extreme case that has shocked the country, a girl in Timbuktu was forced last month to “marry” six fighters in one night, according to a report in one of Mali’s biggest newspapers.

“They are abusing religion to force women and girls to have intercourse,” said Ibrahima Berte, an official at Mali’s National Commission for Human Rights. “This kind of forced marriage is really just sexual abuse.”

In a telephone interview, a senior Islamist commander conceded that his fighters were marrying young girls.

“Our religion says that if a girl is 12, she must get married to avoid losing her virginity in a wrong way,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha, the military leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the three radical groups ruling the north. The other two are al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the network’s North and West Africa affiliate; and Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith.”

And kudos for getting a military leader on the phone to admit to the practice and explain the religious loophole. We’re also told how the radicals manipulate Muslim sentiment to buy children:

“They give $10 to impoverished parents to recruit their children in the name of defending Islam,” said Gaoussou Traore, the secretary general of Comade, a Malian children’s rights group. “The Islamists tell parents that their children will go to paradise, that they will benefit in the next world.”

I like the use of quotes to quickly explain how this practice works.

A section of the story deals with the practice of destroying or vandalizing businesses deemed unIslamic:

Inside his barbershop, Ali Maiga, 33, had a mural of hairstyles favored by American and French rappers on the wall. The Islamists sprayed white paint over it, he recalled, and warned him that he risks being whipped if he shaves off anyone’s beard.

This just reminds me of my requests for additional information on the trial of Nidal Hasan. He’s claimed he can’t shave his beard for religious reasons. I’ve wondered why this claim hasn’t been explored by journalists. Which schools of Islam teach this?

Anyway, this piece is well worth a read. It’s well written and well reported. The ending is quite powerful, too.

Print Friendly

Savita’s tragic death and media ethics

The tragic death of Savita Halappananvar continues to produce headlines, particularly in Europe and India. We looked at some of the initial coverage three weeks ago, where I noted that the US media had adopted the pro-choice movement’s certainty about the circumstances surrounding Savita Halappanavar’s death.

I wondered whether about the journalistic rigor being applied to the story, both in terms of the medical statements being made prior to a review as well as the blame being assigned the Catholic Church. In short, the claims that were made about what happened in the hospital and the blame assigned to the Catholic Church weren’t exactly matching up with evidence or with Catholic teaching.

None of this stopped the rather dramatic rush to judgment. To that end, I wanted to share a few links about recent updates to the story regarding the initial journalism.

Here’s the top of Christine Odone’s report in the Telegraph:

The journalist who broke the story about Savita Halappananvar’s tragic death now admits that the facts were “a little muddled”.

In an astonishing radio interview, Kitty Holland of The Irish Times admits that her report was based on the husband’s version of events, but that in fact there may have been “no request for a termination”. Her earlier account stated that Mrs Halappananvar, an Indian in Ireland who was expecting a baby, had begged for a termination when complications arose with the birth; hospital staff denied her the abortion, allegedly saying: “This is a Catholic country”.

Holland’s exclusive tale of the tragic death made headlines around the world. Pro-abortion groups seized upon the story to condemn any review of abortion laws. Protesters chanting “Never again!”marched in Irish cities. Holland’s report ensured that abortion was hailed as a life-saving operation; that it should be cruelly denied a young woman was further proof (if any were needed) that the Catholic Church was backward and barbarian.

Except that none of this may be quite as it seems.

You’re probably not even surprised at this point. More on the Holland interview here. In a Catholic Culture piece headlined ” In Ireland, the case for legal abortion is built on fraud,” we’re told:

There is no evidence that Savita Halappanavar sought an abortion. There is no evidence that an abortion would have saved her life. There is, in fact, no evidence to support a connection between the abortion issue and this poor woman’s death. The reporter, Kitty Holland, told an RTE broadcast audience that her story never claimed an abortion would have saved the young woman’s life.But the headline—“Woman denied a termination dies in hospital’—certainly conveyed that impression. And in the days since the story appeared, dozens of Irish politicians and pundits have joined in clamorous calls for an end to the country’s abortion ban.

The reporter goes on to talk about Catholic teaching and Irish law. He adds:

If they genuinely wanted to prevent another such tragic death, Irish reporters would be scrambling to learn what actually happened in the Halappanavar case. But there is no competition to expose the medical facts. On the contrary, media outlets appear willing to let the exploitation proceed unchecked. The Irish Independent learned that the proponents of legal abortion learned about Savita Halappanavar’s death 3 days before the news became public, and held a strategy session to discuss how they might capitalize on the tragedy. That cynical manipulation went unreported elsewhere; other reporters were too busy taking their cues from the abortion advocates.

The article ends by saying that honesty in coverage would help:

What would it take to stop this political juggernaut? Just one thing: honesty. But as we Americans can testify, when it comes to the abortion debate, honesty is in short supply.v

No one could look critically at the deception and manipulation at the beginning of this year with the media’s treatment of Planned Parenthood and Komen and say otherwise.

In Tim Stanley’s piece for the Telegraph, he raises some important points about media ethics:

Perhaps what was most disturbing about the Savita story is how it was leaked to pro-choice activists before it was broken by the Irish Times. At least three days before the story went public, Irish Choice Network was notified by email that “a major news story in relation to abortion access is going to break in the media early this coming week,” and that it would be followed by a pre-arranged protest. We can infer that someone at either the Irish Times or the Health Services Executive conspired to use a private tragedy to push a political agenda. It’s all very Alinsky.

Run a news search on Savita’s death and you’ll find very little in the mainstream press that addresses these problems or, more importantly, corrects earlier false reports. It’s as if the story never happened. Perhaps it would have been better if it hadn’t. Rather than waiting for a proper investigation of what went wrong, some chose to broadcast the opinions of understandably distressed family members as if they were indisputable facts. And the commentary accompanying the journalism drew a straight, short line between an individual’s death and the Catholic Church. The takeaway: Catholicism kills.

There’s much more in his column about media treatment of Catholicism.

Finally, Breda O’Brien’s piece in the Irish Times headlined “Line between journalists’ opinions and reporting increasingly blurred” is also worth a perusal. There’s this interesting bit about how at least 37 Irish journalists, including nine from the Times and others from the nationalized broadcaster RTÉ, tweeted that they were taking part in pro-choice marches: The end of her piece is fascinating, though, and speaks to how the media shape the way we think about social issues:

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics, … believes that we have a dual-process brain, which he dubs System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is lightning fast, intuitive, and non-linear. Without it, we could not survive, because System 2 is slow, linear and energy-intensive.

We believe that we operate from System 2, in other words, that we are rational and objective, but we are operating most of the time from System 1.

Kahneman speaks of “self-sustaining chains of events”, that activate System 1 and virtually neutralise System 2. They often start from media reports, but lead to public panic and government action.

“The emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media.” Anyone urging caution is accused of a “heinous cover-up”.

It is simply a fact that the majority of people working in the media share a particular worldview on social issues. For example, think about how often panels in RTÉ consist of people who share pro-choice views, with perhaps a token pro-life voice.

Now think of any time you heard a panel consisting of a majority of anti-abortion advocates.

Does the latter seem preposterous, and the first normal? Kahneman would smile. System 1 to the fore, once again. But the role of reporters, presenters and producers is not to start “self-sustaining chains of events”.

Or at least so their codes of ethics would seem to suggest.

System 1 is at the fore here in the States, too. I hope that there is still a desire to approach news rationally and objectively, though.

Angry man with hammer image via Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

Should Fox News be telling you to lie and steal?

I realize I’m the fuddy duddy around here who is always telling kids to get off my lawn, but there have to be other people who were saddened by this FoxNews.com story headlined “Hotel confidential: Secrets to scoring hotel freebies.”

It’s just a silly, cheesy story about someone’s new “memoir of hotels, hustles and so-called hospitality,” published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Late in the story, we’re told about how to tip the concierge:

The Concierge: For something like directions around $2-3 will suffice, but if their getting you reservations at a popular restaurant you should give about $10-20. Even in the era of the Internet and smart phones, concierges still have firsthand experience with the best places in town. “You can try calling for a table yourself, but they’re the ones that will have good connections and real pull to get you that reservation,” [Jacob] Tomsky told FoxNews.com.

Their? I realize I’m a typo queen, but this is why copy editors are super important. Anyway, the next section is:

Extra Freebies: Tomsky says the overstocked and overpriced mini bar charges are the most disputed on any bill. Although it’s hard to believe in a world where most mini bars have become censored, he insists that all you have to do is tell the front desk you ‘never touched the minibar’ and they will wipe away the charges. “It would be a weird desk agent to say ‘you sure you didn’t have these?’ That’s a terrible stance to take,” Tomsky said.

Apparently free movie rentals are also easy to score. “Once you’ve finished watching your movie just call down to the front desk and tell them the movie just froze in the middle or it turned off suddenly,” Tomsky told FoxNews.com. “Usually there is a subscription fee that they pay for the hotel as a total so they’re not losing any money.”

Lastly, the luxurious and cozy bathroom robes. Of course they sell them for an outrageous amount in the hotel gift shop but Tomsky says you can take one home for free. “They’re supposed to have robes preset in each room but you can call up and tell them your room is missing a robe. In the time it takes someone to come up and deliver you another one, you can stash the extra robe right into your suitcase.” Tomsky told FoxNews.com.

I don’t know what a censored mini bar is, so I assume we’re going for “sensored.” But so much more importantly than these typos, for the love of all that’s holy, what is Fox News doing telling people they should steal from other people?

If I were an editor and was presented with a subject pitching a book about how to lie and steal — under the guise of how to get the most out of your stay in a hotel — I would never in a million years give it any publicity of the non-condemnatory variety.

What if the author pitching the book were talking about how to cheat on an exam or how to rape someone or how to commit voter fraud or how to hide a body — what’s the line that FoxNews won’t cross here? Am I just an old fuddy duddy who thinks that the mainstream media shouldn’t run stories about how to lie and steal?

Ten Commandments image via Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

Pod people: Same-sex marriage on the march

On this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discussed Dave Brubeck’s sacred music and religious life — and how substantive discussion of same were missing from many obituaries about the jazz great. We also discussed the general cheerleading of coverage dealing with same-sex marriage.

The hook for that was the stories leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision about whether to hear the rulings related to California’s Proposition 8 decision. On Friday, as tmatt noted, the court announced it would take up that case, as well as the one related to federal benefits for same-sex couples.

In a post about this tenor of coverage from last week, I wrote

I can’t help but think that the same media that has written for approaching a full decade on one U.S. Senator’s thoughts on a gay-related court case might have a tad more interest in the particulars of an important court ruling with implications for religious exercise, gender roles and kinship. But maybe that’s just me.

There’s still time for the court to say it’s going to take up one of the cases. Let us know if you see any coverage that deviates from the expected narrative.

Reader The Old Bill responded:

Yes, Mollie, it’s you. You think a reporter should report on what is happening, not what he feels should be happening. The press treats a complete change in what marriage has always been as something that has but one side. Anyone who might question this is, as the judge said, irrational and “on the wrong side of history.”

What is reported depends a lot on what is assumed.

I saw no deviation from that standard narrative this weekend in the early reports on the SCOTUS decision. The terminology of one side of the debate has been more or less adopted by the mainstream media. It’s not uncommon to see the phrase “marriage equality” used — outside of quotes, much less scare quotes — in mainstream reports. While those opposed to changes in marriage law say that “same-sex marriage” is an ontological impossibility — akin to saying “square circles” and calling for “shape equality” — the media usually fail to mention this perspective or put it at the end of a story in quotes from the token opposition.

There just hasn’t been any coverage of the substance of arguments against changing marriage law, much less a discussion of the consequences of same, outside of some one-sided enthusiasm. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know if you follow this, no matter your personal views on marriage law. So in the New York Times article announcing the SCOTUS decision, we learn in the fourth paragraph:

The court’s move comes against the backdrop of a rapid shift in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. After the elections last month, the number of states authorizing same-sex marriage increased by half, to nine.

This paragraph comes right after a paragraph saying that the court is to decide whether one of the cases is constitutional, an interesting juxtaposition of popularity and principle. In the 15th paragraph, we get this brief, anodyne quote from someone opposed to changing marriage law:

Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, said the court should address the broader question but say no. “What’s at stake,” he said, “is whether the Constitution demands a redefinition of marriage and whether states can even vote on this issue.”

Just interesting.

Also interesting was that the only other next-day story from the New York Times was reported by five reporters and was outspokenly only about one side of the debate. The headline is “Worry Tempers Joy Over Gay Marriage’s Moment in Court.”

The entire article is just quote after quote after quote after quote of  people who, like those in the New York Times newsroom, all think the same thing about what the definition of marriage should be. And that’s fine, I guess, but isn’t it weird to not have an article about those people on the other side of the debate?

Do they have worry and joy, too? Do their views matter at all? Why can’t we talk about them in news articles? Why the complete lock-down on just talking to them and hearing from them and learning what they think about this step?

If you have five reporters covering that story, maybe you could peel one or two off to talk to a real-live supporter of traditional marriage laws. Or is it, as the Times public editor put it in her column criticizing the paper for failing to cover the Bradley Manning hearings, “Such decisions seem to say: ‘It’s news when we say it’s news.’”

That’s a lot of power for a paper to hold, but it should be used wisely. There’s nothing to fear from simply hearing from multiple sides of a given issue. Perhaps there’s even much to gain from such a journalistic approach.

Print Friendly

West Point cadet quits, citing religion

I’ve long been fascinated by stories about religious practice at the service academies. My brother attended the Air Force Academy in the 1990s and the religious pressure there was quite strong. His commanders didn’t quite accept that the generic Protestant service at the beautiful chapel there wouldn’t quite work for him (Missouri-Synod Lutherans don’t worship in a unionistic manner). They were suspicious as to why he needed to go off base for Divine Service, etc.

My father-in-law attended the Naval Academy (class of ’58) and told us stories of how midshipmen would try to get out of weekend worship by claiming religions without a local presence — only to find out that the academy would go to extremes to get them to a mosque or Theosophist center or what not many miles away.

Frequently stories about violations of the separation of church and state at military academies focus on the complainant’s claim, as they should. Sometimes this is at the expense of the possible complications at play. So I wanted to highlight this Associated Press story that I thought handled everything with a very nice balance. It begins:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A cadet quitting West Point less than six months before graduation says he could no longer be part of a culture that promotes prayers and religious activities and disrespects nonreligious cadets.

Blake Page announced his decision to quit the U.S. Military Academy this week in a much-discussed online post that echoed the sentiments of soldiers and airmen at other military installations. The 24-year-old told The Associated Press that a determination this semester that he could not become an officer because of clinical depression played a role in his public protest against what he calls the unconstitutional prevalence of religion in the military.

Quitting six months before graduation is almost unheard of at military academies. A big part of that is because, after a window that closes before your second year is completed, you usually pay a penalty. The information about Page not being able to be an officer is crucial, and it’s good to put it up at the top. But I like how the reporter simply mentioned it, described the role it played according to the student, and didn’t try to say that this aspect of the story invalidates the claim.

The article gives us specifics about Page’s complaints — jokes about nonreligious cadets being called heathens at basic training, an officer telling him he needed to fill the hole in his heart. He criticizes the leadership of West Point, calling them “criminals” for allowing these things to happen.

We also hear from folks at West Point who dispute the allegations, including citing the academy’s Secular Student Alliance, where Page was president. The article goes ahead and speaks with members of that club to see what they have to say:

Maj. Nicholas Utzig, the faculty adviser to the secular club, said he doesn’t doubt some of the moments Page described, but he doesn’t believe there is systematic discrimination against nonreligious cadets.

“I think it represents his own personal experience and perhaps it might not be as universal as he suggests,” said Utzig, who teaches English literature.

One of Page’s secularist classmates went further, calling his characterization of West Point unfair.

“I think it’s true that the majority of West Point cadets are of a very conservative, Christian orientation,” said senior cadet Andrew Houchin. “I don’t think that’s unique to West Point. But more broadly, I’ve never had that even be a problem with those of us who are secular.”

The article goes on to discuss the problems the Air Force Academy has had with church and state issues, pointing out that a retired four-star general was asked to conduct an independent review of the religious climate there. The article also discusses the rise in acceptance of atheists, agnostics and humanists in the military.

It’s then that we learn that Page is involved with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, led by Mikey Weinstein. Weinstein is then quoted about “fanatical religiosity” in the military, comparing Page’s courage to that of Rosa Parks. It’s great to quote Weinstein, but I liked that his quotes came toward the end of the story. Frequently the stories we see about this issue are dominated by Weinstein, who is a significant actor in the movement.

The story wraps up with final details about Page’s honorary discharge, including that he will pay no penalty in terms of military commitment or reimbursement for his education costs. We also learn that Page says his depression worsened after his father’s suicide last year. The story ends with Page’s quote that he hopes to spend the rest of his life as an activist on the role of religion in the military.

Very well done. It handles a number of delicate issues with care for all involved and you can come away from the complicated story with an understanding of a multitude of different perspectives. Perhaps, you could argue, there should be more perspective from the folks who are accused of unconstitutional behavior. And that’s a fair point. But given the space constraints, I rather liked how much was fleshed out by focusing in on the secularist community.

Image of West Point cadets via Spirit of America/Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

The soul in Dave Brubeck’s jazz

YouTube Preview ImageJazz great Dave Brubeck died yesterday, a day before his 92nd birthday.  Along with much of the rest of the world, I was a fan. I have a sizeable record collection and found you could hardly go wrong with a Brubeck LP. I was curious how the obituaries would handle his sacred compositions and his religious life — including his reception into the Catholic Church.

In recent years, there has been some great journalism on this front. I first learned about this aspect of Brubeck from one of our own tmatt’s columns (from which I stole the headline above). It began:

Any jazz fan who has been paying attention at all during the past half century will recognize the quirky 5/4 riff that means the Dave Brubeck Quartet is swinging into its classic “Take Five.”

But there’s another tune the pianist keeps playing that is completely different. “Forty Days” opens with the haunting, chant-like lines that define the most famous piece in his first sacred oratorio, “The Light in the Wilderness.”

“Forty days alone in the desert, days and nights of constant prayer, seeking in the wailing wind an answer to despair,” sings the chorus, in verses inspired by biblical accounts of the temptations of Jesus. “Forty days of questioning: Why was he there, in the lonely desert? Forty days of fasting and prayer, searching for his destined role. …”

Through the decades, Brubeck has struggled to talk about the private journey that has defined his faith. In the program booklet for that 1968 cantata, he explained that he was “reared as a Presbyterian by a Christian Scientist mother who attended a Methodist Church.” He also stressed that three Jewish teachers shaped his life — philosopher Irving Goleman, composer Darius Milhaud and Jesus.

PBS’ inestimable Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reviewed Brubeck’s sacred works a couple of years ago in a deeply moving interview. Talking about a mass he wrote, interviewer Bob Faw asks him about his approach:

FAW: Sometimes, says Brubeck, the music shapes the text. Sometimes, he says, it’s just the opposite.

FAW: I heard you at one point say “my basic approach is to sing the text until something seems right.”

BRUBECK: Yeah, that’s it: “All my hope, all my hope is in you, oh Lord, you are my rock and my strength.”

FAW: As for those lyrics, it turns out that’s the realm of Dave Brubeck’s wife.

BRUBECK: My wife was driving, and I said, “I’ve finished this.” And she said, “No, you haven’t finished it.” And I said, “Well, what did I leave out?” And she said, “God’s love made visible. He is invincible.”

“God’s love made visible.” So that’s the way it finished.

The whole interview is about this, about how Brubeck’s religious music is transforming and a vehicle to communicating God’s desire that we love one another. Great stuff.

Or how about this Commonweal interview?:

IMC: Your entry into the Catholic Church was precipitated by your 1979 composition of To Hope! A Celebration, a musical setting for the Mass. Can you explain what about that experience was so influential?

DB: So often people will say that I converted to the Catholic religion. This is false. Although I was raised as a Protestant, I was never baptized and had never been a member of any church. I joined the Roman Catholic Church after I had written my Mass To Hope! A good friend of mine, Fr. Ron Brassard, told me that he loved the music I had composed for the Mass but I had omitted the Our Father, and he wanted me to write a musical setting for it. I answered that I had already completed the composition of the Mass and I couldn’t see a way to include what I then referred to as the Lord’s Prayer without interrupting the musical flow. I felt I’d successfully fulfilled my assignment from Our Sunday Visitor, the publication that commissioned the Mass. I definitely felt no motivation to start writing again. Since I had completed the composition, I planned a vacation with my wife and children. We were on a Caribbean island. During the night I dreamt the entire Lord’s Prayer with chorus and orchestra. I jumped out of bed and wrote down what I had heard as accurately as I could remember. Because of this event I decided that I might as well join the Catholic Church because someone somewhere was pulling me toward that end. Over the years I’ve had strong friendships with many priests. As a matter of fact, a group of Christian leaders from the National Council of Churches came to my house in the 1950s to ask me to write music for a Mass. I didn’t think I was ready at that time. So, in a sense, I guess joining the church and writing the Mass was a culmination of a long journey that is still going on.

The interview also has an interesting discussion of contemporary music in worship settings.

So how did the obituaries handle this? Well, while the Washington Post obituary is otherwise fantastic and well worth a read, there is no mention of Brubeck’s religious life (save an early mention of “choral works,” a late mention of “sacred music,” and, if we’re really being generous here, mentions of his advocacy for racial harmony and “being a clean-living family man who lived with his wife and six children”).

The New York Times obituary mentions that “his mother, Elizabeth, was a choir director at the nearby Presbyterian church” and that he composed a mass. As for religious content, we’re told:

As a composer, Mr. Brubeck used jazz to address religious themes and to bridge social and political divides. His cantata “The Gates of Justice,” from 1969, dealt with blacks and Jews in America; another cantata, “Truth Is Fallen” (1972), lamented the killing of student protesters at Kent State University in 1970, with a score including orchestra, electric guitars and police sirens. He played during the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting in 1988 and he composed entrance music for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1987.

It did end with a nice quote:

Mr. Brubeck once explained succinctly what jazz meant to him. “One of the reasons I believe in jazz,” he said, “is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.”

The AP obit has a few mentions of Brubeck’s religious work and his Christian faith. For much more on Brubeck and religion, read this American Catholic piece on him from a couple of years ago.

But I have to agree with the reader who said he hadn’t “seen much reporting on Dave Brubeck’s oratorios and other sacred music.” And that crucial bit about how he became Catholic? Good luck finding that.

Print Friendly


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X