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:

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So a rabbi and a priest and 20 parents walk into hell

[youtube]http://youtu.be/M6-oiAobvYk[/youtube]

So, how many GetReligion readers will be able to forget watching the Robbie Parker press conference, accompanied by the image of his blue-eyed, angelic lost daughter Emilie?

Not me, that’s for sure.

I was struck by his early reference to the gifts given to her by “her Heavenly Father” and, while that is very standard Christian language, the minute the network aired a picture of the young family, with it’s three young daughters, I immediately wondered if they were Mormons. I, for one, have not seen a clear reference on that point, but the fund in memory of Emilie Parker is based in Ogden, Utah. Also, did anyone else note the poignant reference to his final chat with his daughter?

Here is The Washington Post on that subject:

One parent who lost a child, Robbie Parker, spoke to reporters Saturday evening. He expressed sympathy for Lanza’s family, saying, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you.”

Parker said that Emilie, the daughter he lost, was blond and blue-eyed and could light up a room. “All those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that the world was better because she was in it,” Parker said. He recalled the last time he saw Emilie, on Friday morning as he headed to work. He had been teaching her Portuguese, and so their last conversation was in that language.

“She said that she loved me, and she gave me a kiss and I was out the door,” said Parker, whose family moved to Newtown eight months ago. “I’m so blessed to be her dad.”

One wonders why this young medical worker had learned Portuguese. There could be a missionary link in there, somewhere.

But never mind, as in many reports on his remarkably graceful press conference, the faith content and language vanished in the Post copy. One can only ask why.

The memorial rites and funerals will, of course, contain plenty of religious images and passages, with a heavy emphasis on issues of theodicy. This is well and good. I’m writing on an issue related to that myself, this week, for Scripps Howard.

While many have mentioned the close-knit clergy of this community, I keep waiting for evidence that this is more than a mainline Protestant, Jewish and Catholic town. Has anyone seen evidence of those serving evangelical, Mormon or Pentecostal believers?

The New York Times and Washington Post each offered clergy stories, which, together, gave readers a kind of “so a rabbi and a priest walk into hell” scenario. The top of the Times piece appears to be an eyewitness report from a reporter standing silently on the edge of a quiet room in the funeral home:

It was early Sunday, the first time that Veronique Pozner had seen the boy’s body since he was shot to death in his first-grade classroom two days before. A sheet covered his body up to his neck, and a social worker had urged Ms. Pozner not to remove it. She obliged, but began to wail, alternately telling her son to leave this “dark, horrible world,” and beseeching him to come back.

Rabbi Praver began to speak softly. He told her that though Noah had physically left this world, he was not lost to them because his soul lived on. He asked her if she remembered her 6-year-old self and when she said she did, he told her that “when we become adults, our 5- and 6-year-olds didn’t die with us; they’re contained within a larger vessel.”

He was offering, he said, a kind of “spiritual morphine.”

And then, in the Post, there is the spiritual minefield in which Msgr. Robert Weiss has living for several days now:

The 66-year-old priest is known as Father Bob to the 3,500 families who belong to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. On Sunday, what Father Bob craved — after long hours of counseling and grieving and not enough sleep — was a good Scotch and a place to let go. Half of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary were members of Weiss’s congregation, and he had baptized many of them.

After the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, in a rectory full of law enforcement officers and priests, Weiss wept.

Nothing at seminary had trained him for this week. Nothing about his 13 years at St. Rose. Nothing about his understanding of the world.

“I thought about Paul,” said Weiss, his black clergy shirt unbuttoned and his white collar in his shirt pocket like a pen. “Paul said, ‘In my weakness I find my greatest strength.’?”

Can we assume, in this day and age, that readers will know that “Paul” is actually St. Paul and that the priest is offering a broad paraphrase of the famous imagery in 2 Corinthians 12:9?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

I would assume that many readers needed the missing details, but I could be wrong.

This story includes quite a few eyewitness details that I have not seen in print before, since the monsignor arrived on the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School very, very quickly with two other priests. He was there as the reunions between parents and surviving children slowed and slowed and then stopped. Try to imagine watching this scene:

Reunion after reunion whittled the lines down, leaving only parents, empty-handed and desperate. They were taken to the nearby firehouse where the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company operated.

Weiss walked over, too. He knew half the parents from St. Rose. He had officiated at their weddings and the baptisms of their children, some of whom were now unaccounted for. Inside the firehouse, parents texted relatives, called babysitters to stay late and called around to likely places where their missing children might have gone.

That room, too, was whittled down.

Soon, the parents needed a priest, right then and there:

In the room of folding chairs, time passed. Weiss felt the tension rising in equal measure to the sense of dread. Parents started coming to him with regrets.

A mother said she shouldn’t have taken her daughter’s DVD player away. “She wasn’t a bad child,” the mother told Weiss. Another mother who came to Weiss said it was her fault she sent her daughter to school that morning. She blamed herself, telling the priest she wasn’t fit to raise her other children.

About 3 p.m., Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy came into the room. The gruesome announcement was his to make: 27 people inside the school had been killed, and 20 were children. All would be taken to the medical examiner’s office.

With the news came the most raw display of human grief that Weiss had ever seen or imagined — wailing, weeping, screaming, people sinking to
the floor. …

In all those hours of counseling and comforting, no one asked the priest, “Why?” The question came later, starting on Sunday, and Weiss did not have an answer.

And that’s the end of the story. I, for one, would like to know more about what the priest said at that point.

Perhaps he truly was silent or said that he had no answer, no answer at all. I have my doubts about that. Then again, I grew up in the home of a pastor who finished his career as the chaplain in the Texas Children’s Hospital, working with the parents of young cancer patients. I know that chaplains rarely offer simple answers. But I have heard few settle for silence.

Top 10 ways BuzzFeed doesn’t get Christianity

Two minor media incidents yesterday made me wonder if some of the problems we see with how religion news is covered relates simply to language differences. The first came about in a panel discussion about whether Hurricane Sandy had any political implications. (By the way, see if you can find any ghosts in this New York Times video “Lights Out In Rockaway” about the rough situation those in Queens continue to face a week after the storm hit. The folks in the video say that FEMA and the Red Cross have been AWOL, but I noticed that some relief workers had shirts indicating they were part of religious relief efforts.)

Anyway, on Meet The Press, “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie was speculating that the hurricane would help President Obama reach out to independent voters as opposed to the base voters he’d previously targeted:

“This is a campaign built to turn out the base of the party. And here was a moment, handed to him seemingly from above, where he could look like that strong, independent, steady in a storm, very appealing to the middle-of-the-road voters. And I might add to unmarried women voters who are going to be very key in this election.”

See? Secular reporters talk about theodicy, too! They just talk about it a little differently. Sandy killed 110 people, left millions without power, destroyed homes and untold property. But God (or, er, something “from above”) can bring good things out of it, too … such as help to President Obama’s re-election campaign. It does make me wonder if or how Guthrie covered the Senate candidate’s comments suggesting that even those lives conceived in rape are valuable to God.

Anyway, the other minor incident I came across was the powerful BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith’s remarks when he linked to a perfectly typical BuzzFeed article (They tend to hype everything for maximum page views. It works. And yes, the headline is a joke about their style.) about religious outreach by the Romney campaign. The relevant portion for our purposes:

Reed emphasized that it was the religious duty of Christians to cast their ballots, saying the “Bible clearly teaches” that there is an obligation to take part in their government.

“We believe being registered to vote, being educated, and going to the polls is part of our witness as believers, because we are dual citizens,” Reed said, referring to the “Kingdom of Heaven” and the United States.

Ben Smith tweeted out a link with the line:

Hard to imagine a rabbi or imam telling his flock, as Ralph Reed does here, that they are “dual citizens”

Well, as you can imagine, his 112,699 followers had a bit of fun with it. For instance:

@SluBlog: Good grief, dude. http://bible.cc/philippians/3-20.htm …

@BrentSirota: It’s Philippians 3:20. Why would a rabbi or imam make reference to that?

Smith retweeted some of the responses he got and further explained:

I guess it struck me in the context of the frequent accusations that Jews have dual loyalties. Not the concept, just the phrase.

And that led to more interaction:

@JayCostTWS: Read Augustine’s City of God.

It is a great suggestion that reporters read City of God if they want to understand this concept. But Smith surprised me by responding:

Went to a hs called Trinity and read City of God in college. No excuse at all

I know it’s what we should all do, but it’s nice to see a journalist who is not defensive and takes correction and admits error.

It’s also interesting that one could have some familiarity with these concepts and still forget them while on the politics beat. Just a good reminder for us all that our own obsessions and frameworks might not be universally shared.

Pearls before Net commenters (or a Godbeat gem)

A reader sent along this story in the Washington Post headlined “Parents accept daughter’s rare illness as’‘God’s will’” with a note:

Strange that the Post doesn’t ridicule this family for believing that their plight is God’s will.

The piece ran in the Post but it was wisely picked up by Religion News Service and was written originally for The Tennessean. I have been meaning to highlight it for weeks and am thankful to have the opportunity to revisit it. In a way, the reader comment shows everything about what made the piece so amazing. The subtext the reader alludes to, of course, is the ridiculous way in which the media handled a Senate candidate’s theological reflection on why bad things happen if God is God. The media coverage was an embarrassment, it was clearly partisan, and it lacked any nuance or depth.

I had already mentioned Amy Sullivan’s work as a rare exception to this mess but I would also like to point out Jeffrey Weiss’ piece in Real Clear Politics headlined “Richard Mourdock’s Mystery of Faith.” Rather than aim for political point-scoring, Weiss used the Mourdock statement as a hook to explore the various ways that religious adherents address questions of theodicy. Even if just kept to Christianity, there are a variety of ways of looking at this issue.

Now, the Tennessean story has absolutely nothing to do with Mourdock. But it does show how a capable religion reporter can introduce questions of theodicy in a respectful and even-handed manner. The piece, written by Bob Smietana, is breathtakingly beautiful. The subjects are ideal candidates for a deep dig into the questions and the reporter doesn’t avoid dealing with the difficult implications of their beliefs. I don’t even want to excerpt it because I want everyone to read the whole thing, but it begins:

Eric and Ruth Brown of East Nashville believe nothing about their infant daughter Pearl Joy’s life is a mistake.

They say God gave Pearl her bright red hair and wide blue eyes, as well as the genetic disorder that cleft her upper lip and caused her brain’s development to stall in the first weeks in the womb.

“Things didn’t go wrong,” Eric Brown said. “God has designed Pearl the way he wanted, for his glory and our good.”

That belief has sustained the Browns over the past six months, ever since a routine ultrasound halfway through Ruth’s pregnancy revealed that Pearl, their third child, has alobar holoprosencephaly, a rare genetic condition that’s almost always fatal. A specialist told the Browns she would probably die in the womb and advised them to end the pregnancy early.

It’s one thing to talk about God’s will when life is good. It’s another when a doctor is saying your baby won’t live. The Browns were forced to consider religious, medical and ethical issues most parents never will.

And nobody could make their decision for them.

The Browns never even considered not going forward with the pregnancy. They believe that Pearl is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139 puts it, and God alone should decide when she lives and when she dies.

Perhaps it’s not until you read the comments at the various newspapers that either picked up or copied The Tennessean‘s story that you realize how counter-cultural and shocking the Browns are to many people in the world. The comments on some of these stories were just unbelievably hurtful and negative. I wished I hadn’t read them. After I read Smietana’s story, I was so curious about the Browns that I began following Eric’s Twitter feed. At first he was also hurt by the negative comments. But he also noticed that their story was provoking many beautiful comments from people who had made similar decisions to them and from people who were thinking things through about how to handle the challenges of life.

Reading all of these comments further demonstrated to me that Smietana handled all of these questions very well. I should warn you that the article is a tear-jerker. Reading it, I was reminded of the brother of one of my best friends. He and his wife were surprised to find out that their second child had severe health problems at birth. The way they loved and cared for her during the few months she lived was beyond inspirational to me. I have grumbled, at times, about how stories like theirs never make “news,” even though they’re dramatic and fascinating. Well, I was wrong. It just takes a good reporter who is observant and knows the community and how to write a story about how faith is lived.

There is much more to this story, but I think it’s best to just read it for yourself. And hopefully it gives some much needed encouragement about professionalism on the Godbeat.

Pearl photo via Shutterstock.

Galling MSM abortion extremism double standards

There are so many stories related to the media’s poor coverage of abortion that I couldn’t begin to catch up. I’ve wanted to write about what it means that the media always refer to abortion in “restrictive” rather than “protective” language. See, for example, here and here.

And I’ve wanted to write about the shameful collection of so-calledfact-checks” related to President Obama’s record on the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act.

But I haven’t had time. Before we get to today’s silliness, consider that Gallup reports that 52 percent of Americans support some restrictions on abortion, and an additional 20 percent think it should be illegal in all circumstances. That’s nearly three-quarters of the population saying they support at least some restrictions on abortion. Only 25 percent share President Obama’s view that abortion should be legal for any reason at any time in the pregnancy, including sex-selection abortions and partial-birth abortions.

Now, even though the vast majority of Americans favor some protection for unborn children from abortion, consistent pro-choice positions don’t generate media interest. Only consistent pro-life positions do. What’s the journalistic defense for that double standard, I wonder?

Yesterday, a pro-life news site revealed a 2004 fundraising letter from Michelle Obama, the topic of which was support for partial-birth abortion.

Also, yesterday, Democrats for Life pulled its endorsement of Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate. Now, I live in Virginia, and based on the mailers and TV ads I’ve seen, the Obama re-election strategy is highly focused on his support for abortion rights. It’s also true that Democrat Tim Kaine’s appeal in this state is based in part on the belief that he is a moderate on social issues. Democrats for Life pulling an endorsement for someone who used to be known as a “pro-life Democrat” is a story. But it’s not news at all.

What is news? Well, a GOP Senate candidate in Indiana apparently believes that all life — without exception — is a gift from God. Stop the presses! Freak out! Or, as Chris Cillizza breathlessly tweeted: “Richard Mourdock, call your office. http://wapo.st/QEMCMQ

Call your office? Hunh? (For a comparison of political importance, I’ll just note that Cillizza did not think the Reuters story showing that the White House situation room was sent an email at 6:07 PM on, er, September 11 with the subject line “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack” meant that anyone needed to call their office.)

Here’s what happened. Apparently Mourdock was asked in a debate to explain why he’s consistently pro-life. He said:

“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Now, it’s worth noting that no debates ever ask any consistent pro-choice candidates why they think there should be no protection for unborn children whose lives are ended simply because they’re female, or because they have Down syndrome, or because they’re inconveniently timed, or because of the circumstances of their conception. Nope, even though the vast majority of Americans seek some or total protection for unborn children, these questions are never asked. Not even of President Obama, whose voting habits while in the Illinois Senate were particularly extreme.

But if you’re consistently pro-life, then release the hounds. If you publicly affirm your belief that God loves every person equally, no matter what his or her origin, you’re painted as an extremist. You should call your office! And freak out! The AP headline was literally “Mourdock: God at work when rape leads to pregnancy.”

Back at the Religion Newswriters Association conference a few weeks ago, Amy Sullivan made an important point. She noted that religion reporters are good at what they do. But sometimes when folks on other beats try to cover religion, things can break down a bit. Obviously that would go double for discussions of theodicy such as Mourdock’s answer above, which is admittedly a challenge even for Godbeat pros.

Anyway, Sullivan disagrees with Mourdock but she tweeted, in response to the freak-out over his explanation of why he opposes abortion even if the circumstances of conception are tragic:

Is it really surprising that folks who believe all life is a gift from God believe that regardless of how it was conceived?

Will y’all read the Mourdock quote? He did not say God intends for pregnancy to result from every rape.

If a rape results in pregnancy, and pregnancy is a gift from God, then of course Mourdock thinks that pregnancy is from God, too.

Not sure why it’s worse to explain why you don’t support a rape exception than to simply oppose a rape exception.

Are the members of the political media so incurious as to not have thought about why consistent pro-lifers oppose all abortion? What did they think was the reason? I mean, really. Was it something terribly different than what Mourdock just said? I can’t imagine it would be, if a reporter was worth his salt or had, you know, talked to a single pro-lifer in his life.

Yes, it’s good to get politicians — whether they are so extreme as to oppose efforts to protect infants accidentally born after botched abortions or so extreme as to oppose abortion even when the baby was conceived via rape — to explain why they hold their views. Heck, it’s good to ask the politicians who are just generally pro-life or generally pro-choice to explain their positions, too.

But the inconsistency is galling here.