Search Results for: Fundamentalist, Stylebook

When to use that disputed f-word

Anyone who has followed this weblog for very long knows that, from the get-to, we have been rather upset that legions of reporters insist on ignoring the wise guidance offered by the Associate Press Stylebook concerning when to use, and when not to use, the hot-button label “fundamentalist.”

All together now, let’s rise and quote the passage in question:

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”

So, with that in mind, let’s consider a very odd — in not bizarre — thing that happened the other day in The Politico.

Yes, it has finally happened. What we have here is a case in which a news organization had every right to use this term from American Protestant history and — gasp — failed to do so. In fact, this is a case in which the word “fundamentalist” needed to be used to add clarity to the story. Here is the top of the story:

A top administrator at Bob Jones University, one of South Carolina’s most prominent conservative Christian institutions, plans to endorse a primary challenger to Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, POLITICO has learned.

Robert Taylor, the dean of the Greenville-based school’s College of Arts and Sciences, plans to throw his support to Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy at a public event within the next week.

Bob Jones University holds an iconic status among conservative religious institutions, and has a history of active political engagement. Taylor, who also serves as vice chairman of the Greenville City Council, endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president, even as Romney’s Mormon faith raised concerns among some evangelical voters.

As the story noted, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush aroused controversy during the 2000 race for the White House by delivering a speech on this controversial campus. Suffice it to say that the word “fundamentalist” was tossed around quite a bit in the mainstream-media coverage of that event.

The key here is that Bob Jones University has always proudly claimed the fundamentalist mantle for itself, with leaders in previous Jones generations openly separating themselves from leaders — the Rev. Jerry Falwell leaps to mind — who formed public-square alliances with members of other Christian flocks. Thus, the Rev. Bob Jones, Jr., once called Falwell “the most dangerous man in America” among compromised Christian leaders.

Now, does the university’s current leadership still embrace the “fundamentalist” label? That’s an interesting question. If Politico folks have any fresh insights into that question, then by all means they need to be shared. That’s a big news story.

Wait! Someone at BJU endorsed Romney? Stay tuned.

Give that reader a contract!

Fan catches foul ball

A group of 13 clergy in Ohio petitioned the IRS to investigate the organization that owns a red brick townhouse on Capitol Hill. The C Streeters claim a tax exemption as a church but the clergy group say it’s more an “exclusive club for elected officials” than a church. I wasn’t elated with the early reporting I saw on the claim but this NPR story is particularly notable. Here’s how it begins:

The three-story, brick townhouse at 133 C Street SE sits a half-block from the Cannon House Office Building, roughly three blocks from the Capitol — the home-away-from-home for a regular contingent of fundamentalist Christian members of Congress, who can pray in the living room and walk to work.

Hey, reporters: Stop using the term “fundamentalist” to describe people you don’t like. “Fundamentalist” is a real word with a real definition. One that in no way applies to the people you’re using it on.

Here, for the eleventy billionth time, is how the Associated Press Stylebook explains when to use the term:

FUNDAMENTALIST The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

Whatever else you want to say about the group behind C Street (and I’ve said unfavorable things myself), the group does not believe in separation from other Christians. Almost the opposite.

This NPR story mentions four members of Congress associated with the group. They include (according to their bios) a Baptist, a Southern Baptist, a Foursquare Gospel member and an Episcopalian. Which ones are the separatists, I wonder? And are fundamentalists normally known for being Pentecostal (as in the case of the Foursquare Gospel member) and at the same time not being Pentecostal (as in the case of the others)? If your fundamentalism permits both Pentecostals and Episcopalians, just how fundamentalist are you? Those needing a basic primer in fundamentalism could do worse than Laurie Goodstein’s “fundamentalism for dummies” piece that ran in the New York Times years ago.

I was alerted to the NPR story by a reader who sent a letter to the outfit after hearing the story broadcast on Morning Edition. He had a number of valid complaints. The story says most visitors and residents of the C Street house are Republican but it says nothing about the political views of the protesting group. The only members of Clergy VOICE who I saw quoted were members of the United Church of Christ (the rest are mainline, too):

“Is there public worship?” said the leader of the group of ministers, Pastor Eric Williams of the North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. “Is it open to the public? Are there trained leaders who serve the church? C Street really has none of those marks that make it a church.”

I know nothing about IRS regulations or whoever else gets to define what is and what isn’t a church. And I’m very interested in the outcome of this case. But it just seems like basic reporting to tell us more about the theological and political views of the group hoping for an investigation. I couldn’t find anything official about Clergy VOICE (maybe they’re in a secret-off with the C Street folks), but some of the signers of the letter to the IRS have public views that could be explored and characterized. Not that anyone ever thinks mainline churches, much less the United Church of Christ, have a particular political bent.

The complaint from the Ohio clergy is that the C Street residence is not really a church. To explore that question, NPR discusses a series of scandals involving members of Congress affiliated with the group. Gov. Mark Sanford “said he’d turned back to C Street for help” after being caught in his extra-marital affair. As the reader who sent us the story noted:

I can certainly appreciate how one could question an organization’s qualification as a church if it offers help to a former member. Furthermore, to offer help to a publicly professing sinner would certainly go beyond the boundaries of a church.

Then the story talks about another member of Congress who had an affair while living at the house. Our reader notes: “Once again it is clear that C Street could not be a church since it houses sinners and hypocrites.” I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to think about the anecdote where one resident tries to reconcile two families that have been hurt by infidelity.

Anyway, and again I say this having no knowledge of what the law says about the merits of the complaint against the group, the story characterizes the C Street folks as being little more than a residentially based prayer group for some of the country’s top leaders.

While the vast majority of lawmakers who stay at C Street are Republicans, regardless of party, they are all followers of an intimate, high-powered — and some say closed — Christian network.

Some might suggest that prayer groups are, by definition, “intimate” and that prayer groups whose members consist of high-ranking government officials will, by definition, be “high-powered.”

I think our reader says it well in his letter:

I can’t help but notice the multiple charged words used in this story: “fundamentalists,” “powerful,” “secretive,” “scandal.” Now there may be important issues raised by these thirteen ministers regarding the boundaries between church and state and the tax-exempt status of religious organizations. And I have no preconceived notions of what C Street is or is not. But this piece paints a biased picture of the community (accentuating the political aspects of C Street not mentioning potential political issues with the complainants) and at best demonstrates an ill-informed (and at worst, biased) viewpoint of churches and conservative Christians.

Rex Barney, the old PA announcer at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards, used to say “Give that fan a contract!” whenever a fan made a particularly good catch of a foul ball. I think we should have something similar for readers, such as the one I’ve quoted here, who do particularly good media analysis on their own time.

How to follow AP; avoid the ‘f’ word

From the very first days of this weblog’s existence, and up to the recent past, your GetReligionistas have been asking mainstream journalists to meditate on the following passage found in the Associated Press Stylebook:

fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”

Notice that the text correctly notes the Protestant roots of this term and correctly states that it is a fairly new term in the religion marketplace. It also stresses that there are people who accurately use this word to describe their own beliefs, such as the late Jerry Falwell. Notice that the Stylebook wisely urges journalists to avoid abusing this hot-button term in coverage of disputes among Christians.

So what are we, once again, to make of the following reference in a recent Washington Post story?

CUNIT, SPAIN – This sunny little resort on the Mediterranean shore has long been a favorite for weekenders seeking to escape the congestion of nearby Barcelona for a dose of sandy beaches and sea breezes.

But Cunit has gained a new distinction: It is famous in Spain as the town where a Moroccan-born Muslim woman with a master’s degree and a head of curly hair says she was threatened by Muslim fundamentalists because she took off her veil and tried to live like a Spaniard.

A few lines later, the label changes and then changes right back again:

The conflict roiling Cunit and its 12,000 inhabitants has shown Spaniards that they are not exempt from the growing tensions in Western Europe over Muslim immigrants who seek to preserve their home-country ways — and sometimes to impose a conservative strain of Islam — in societies based on secular democracy and Christian tradition. …

(The) the feelings surfacing in Cunit have revealed a quiet resentment among many people who think that traditional European values are being challenged by fundamentalist Muslims.

Once again we face the question: What precisely is a “fundamentalist” Muslim? Are the beliefs of a “fundamentalist” Muslim the same in Spain as in, let’s say, Saudi Arabia? How about Egypt? How about on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.?

While we are at it, what beliefs and traditions separate a “conservative” Muslim from a “fundamentalist” Muslim? And here is the most crucial question: Do Muslims use these terms? Have they actually adopted a term — fundamentalist — taken from debates in American Protestantism to describe their own beliefs?

I have my doubts.

However, if you would like to see how to cover this kind of complex story without resorting to inaccurate uses of these kinds of terms, click here and read the New York Times update on the case of Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American convert to Islam who used a semiautomatic rifle to open fire on a military recruiting center in Little Rock — killing one soldier and wounding another.

Notice, in particular, how the changes in the young man’s life and beliefs are described — primarily through the testimony of family members — without the use of labels. Here is a typical passage:

Eight months after the shooting, Mr. Muhammad’s family is still sorting through the confusing pieces of his shattered life. A gentle, happy-go-lucky teenager, he had become a deeply observant Muslim in college, shunning gatherings where alcohol was served. He traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, married a Yemeni woman, was imprisoned and then deported for overstaying his visa. After returning to Memphis last year, he stewed with anger about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are told that he had become a “deeply observant Muslim,” a term that is certainly not offensive. Then we are given examples of how his faith helped shape his new life.

Later, the father says that his son was “brainwashed” by “evildoers.” These are harsh words, but they come from a man at the heart of the story.

Read the whole story. Note the simple use of attributed facts that describe Muhammad’s faith. It seems so easy, doesn’t it? Why not use this approach and follow the AP Stylebook? That’s a rather basic question, isn’t it?

Washington Post vs. Bob McDonnell

defconSo the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia wrote a master’s thesis about family-friendly government policies. Make that traditional family-friendly policies. Written in the 1980s, it suggested that the government should craft policies that encourage traditional families (as opposed to “cohabitors, homosexuals or fornicators”). The Washington Post‘s coverage of Bob McDonnell thesis is at DEFCON 1 — just a couple days into it we’re now up to two-front page stories, three inside stories, two columns, one house editorial and one cartoon (as of yesterday, that is).

The thesis is interesting and controversial, even if it’s from the 1980s. It’s certainly worth coverage — maybe even a front-page story depending on the competing news. Heck, I bet that there are a few other politicians out there whose college and grad work are worth a good look. But Virginia Republicans and conservative pundits are worried that treatment of the thesis is just the latest example in the Post‘s uneven coverage of political candidates. I don’t know. Maybe they have good reason to hit one candidate hard while avoiding the controversial contemporary statements of the guy they endorsed during the Democratic primary.

There’s actually a lot about the coverage to take issue with, but I wanted to highlight one story for how it sets the scene. It’s a front-pager from Tuesday and it’s headlined “Governor’s Race Erupts Over McDonnell’s Past View.” The eruption consists of pretty standard campaign stuff — Democrats sending out emails about the thesis and McDonnell holding a lengthy conference call with reporters to answer questions about the thesis. Here are two paragraphs that were highlighted by one conservative pundit as the most favorable of the article:

Democrats have long attempted to characterize McDonnell as an ultra-conservative who is playing down his views on such issues as abortion, school prayer and gay rights so as not to alienate moderate voters, particularly in Northern Virginia, who increasingly decide statewide elections.

But McDonnell’s public record and his reputation among colleagues paint a more complex portrait. He appears as a man with deeply conservative views that spring from a strong Catholic faith but also as reasonable, open-minded and increasingly focused on such issues as jobs and transportation.

Just to be clear: On the one hand he’s a Catholic with conservative views but on the other hand he’s reasonable!

Anyway, if you’re interested, there’s much more. And I imagine there will be much more. Here’s a sample: “’89 Thesis A Different Side of McDonnell,” “Thesis Issue Builds, McDonnell Tries to Move On: Former Colleagues Say Views Persist,” and “Republican Turns to Female Backers to Talk Down His Past Views and Promote Economic Plans.”

Apart from the overkill on the coverage and the pitting of “reasonable” against “conservative” “Catholic,” I’m not sure how well the Post portrayed the thesis to begin with. I read some of it and there is certainly some controversial stuff in there, but take this for instance, from the same story excerpted above:

He criticized a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing contraception for unmarried couples and decried the “purging” of religion from schools. He advocated character education programs in public schools to teach “traditional Judeo-Christian values,” and he criticized federal tax credits for child care expenditures because they encouraged women to enter the workforce.

Well, what he wrote wasn’t that complicated but apparently the Post doesn’t think it’s worth explaining (although Post blogger Ramesh Ponnuru does here). Basically, the Supreme Court found a right to marital privacy that included contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut. Later the court ruled — citing Griswold — that state governments can’t prohibit unmarried folks from buying contraception. McDonnell said that the later ruling “illogically” applied a marital right to unmarried people. So yes, he criticized the ruling but he did so on somewhat narrow grounds. He didn’t say anything about whether contraception should be legal and nowhere advocated restricting contraception. That’s not the feeling you get, however, if you read the Post.

His view that tax credits for child care should go to parents whether or not they use commercial day care were similarly butchered. He said that subsidizing only the choice to use commercial day care would preference that choice, negatively transforming the family by “entrenching a status-quo of non-parental primary nurture of children.” And as families figure out how to organize their affairs, tax credits to pay for day care — and not for a stay-at-home parent to care for their own children — can provide an incentive to go with day care. Government policies do affect the traditional family. I wish that newspapers would have more conversations about it. But the war being waged over McDonnell’s thesis is not a good example of what a responsible discussion should look like.

Another quick note. This Washington Post chat about McDonnell (by former assistant managing editor and Metro columnist Robert McCartney) describes Pat Robertson as having a “Protestant fundamentalist” outlook. For the eleventy billionth time, “fundamentalist” does not mean “those Christian folks on the right who we don’t like.” It’s a real word, with a real meaning. A word that the AP Stylebook recommends that journalist avoid:

fundamentalist The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians. In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

It’s not just pejorative. Pat Robertson, of course, espouses charismatic theology — something actual fundamentalists are not known for.

What makes a Mexican Mormon

Mexico-Drug-WarA few weeks ago, a U.S. citizen and his brother-in-law were brutally murdered at their homes in Mexico in what looked like an organized-crime hit. Benjamin LeBaron had been vocally protesting the violence associated with Mexican drug gangs. His teenage brother had been kidnapped and a $1-million ransom had been demanded.

Those early stories indicated there was a religion component. Turns out LeBaron and his relatives are part of a settlement of a Latter-day Saint splinter group. But the early stories didn’t explain too much. Here’s the snippet from the Los Angeles Times:

The men killed Tuesday belonged to a community founded during the 1920s by breakaway Mormons after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began cracking down on polygamists. The sect has a tumultuous and sometimes violent past. In 1993, a federal jury in Texas convicted three members of a sect offshoot in the slayings five years earlier of three former members and an 8-year-old child.

I would love to know more about that tumultuous and violent past but the story doesn’t give details. Another story refers to the men who died as “part of a large fundamentalist Mormon community.” But, near as I can tell, they’re not actually part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Warren Jeffs fame. Yet another story says the group was founded by excommunicated Mormons.

But apart from the religious questions, the story itself was needing to be fleshed out. William Booth of the Washington Post‘s Foreign Service filed a lengthy piece doing just that this week. The story has so much to recommend for it — particularly from a sociological angle — but there are a few questions I have. Let’s begin with the headline:

Ambushed by a Drug War
Mormon Clans in Mexico Find Themselves Targets of the Cartels

I have no doubt that this group self-identifies as Mormon but the Associated Press Stylebook says:

SPLINTER GROUPS: The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other Latter Day Saints churches that resulted from the split after Smith’s death. Among them is the Community of Christ, headquartered in Independence, Mo. From 1860 to 2001, it was called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (note the lack of a hyphen and the capitalized Day).

As we discussed many moons ago, it’s easier to avoid calling the Community of Christ Mormons than it is other splinter groups. That’s because they don’t call themselves Mormon while many other splinter groups do. This AP entry is also a bit imprecise in that “the split” that occurred after Smith’s death didn’t produce the Latter Day Saints who practice polygamy. Those splits occurred later when the mainstream Mormon church began cracking down on those who practice polygamy. Some of those groups that practiced polygamy despite the church’s change of teaching on the matter remained in Utah and surrounding states. Others fled to Mexico. (When the Post story was republished by the Seattle Times, it was given a more religiously precise headline.)

The bottom line is that this group should not be identified as Mormon without some serious qualifications. The story goes on to use the term “Mormon” 18 times. Only once is the difference between this group and the church headquartered in Salt Lake City clarified, midway through the story:

For all the violence swirling around them, the Mormons have mostly stayed out of the fight. Their ancestors first settled in Mexico in the 1880s, during the reign of dictator Porfirio Diaz, who offered the religious outcasts refuge from the harassment and prosecution they faced in the United States for their polygamist lifestyles. Some men in Colonia LeBaron and surrounding towns continue to follow what early Mormon prophets called “the Principle,” marrying multiple wives and having dozens of children, though the custom here is fading. Polygamy was banned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the official Mormon Church, in 1890.

The Mormon community based in Colonia LeBaron, numbering about 1,000, has one motel, two grocery stores and lots of schools. There are no ATMs and no liquor sales. Many Mormons are conspicuous not only for their straw-colored hair and pale skin, but also for their new pickup trucks, large suburban-style homes with green front lawns, and big tracts of land for their pecans and cattle. They are wealthy, by the standards of their poor Mexican neighbors. Most of the Mormon men make their money working construction jobs in the United States; a young Mormon might work 10 years hanging drywall in Las Vegas before he has enough money to buy a plot of land to start his own pecan orchard here.

These paragraphs are a great example of why the story is so interesting and how it’s chock full of information. Still, that clarification should have been made higher up in the story. As in, it should be done before we’re told that this Mormon group drinks beer and swears!

If you’re really looking for some religious context, head on over to the Salt Lake Tribune. Without using the word Mormon once, the reporters give tons of fascinating history about polygamists in Mexico. We even get the name of the church to which these breakaway Mormons belong — something that didn’t appear in any of the above stories. Turns out it’s called the Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times. Who knew? We also learn that the murder victim is related to the violent Utah polygamist Ervil LeBaron, a convicted murderer. But only by blood. Turns out they are part of different churches. The latter led the Church of the Lamb of God and was involved with the murder of the leader of another polygamist church — the Salt Lake City-based Apostolic United Brethren.

All of these stories pose another curious detail, however. Here’s how the Post refers to another kidnapping in the community:

Eric LeBaron was freed eight days after his abduction. His kidnappers simply told him to go home. But soon after, another member of the community, Meredith Romney, a 72-year-old bishop related to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was taken captive.

Romney is a former official LDS church leader — president of the Colonia Juarez Chihuahua Temple from 1999 to 2004. And the LDS say he’s still a member. So what does it mean that he was part of this polygamous, breakaway community? He was released without harm, I should add. I think what this story fails to show is that there is an LDS community in the area, a LeBaronite community and, for that matter, a Mennonite community. The way the Romney kidnapping is written up, however, it makes it seem like he is part of the polygamous community — and I’m pretty sure that’s not true.

What we do learn well from the Booth article, however, is that this story has much more to do with economics than with Mormons. Which raises another question, actually. None of these stories indicate what role other religious groups or non-governmental organizations are playing in this ridiculous bloodbath in Chihuahua. One would presume that the Roman Catholic Church is active there. Are they involved at all? It might be interesting to get their perspective on the matter. And, if they’re not weighing in, why not?

Thought for the day, religion style

9293~Praying-Hands-and-Rosary-PostersHere’s a question that we have asked here at GetReligion — more than once, in fact — and, now, it’s being asked at the Wall Street Journal.

That question is: What is the meaning and the purpose of the word “devout” when inserted in front of the name of a religious group or movement? You know, as in, “Neighbors were stunned to learn that this quiet man, a devout evangelical fundamentalist, was secretly selling nuclear-weapons secrets to Texas.”

At the Journal, this was discussed in the online “Style & Substance” newsletter, Here’s the item in question:

Relevance of religion

In an account of a $3 billion fraud allegedly perpetrated by Tom Petters in Minnesota, we said, “Mr. Petters grew up the fifth of seven children in a devout Catholic family in St. Cloud, Minn.”

Especially in a story about wrongdoing, it is important to consider carefully whether a person’s religious persuasion is relevant enough to mention. If the fraud had centered on Catholic institutions (the way Bernard Madoff’s fraud often involved Jewish organizations and philanthropies, for example), a case could be made for the relevance of the religious reference. But the relevance in this instance wasn’t evident.

Moreover, hasn’t devout Catholic become a cliche, rather like oil-rich Kuwait? It would seem that only Catholics and Muslims qualify as devout, since devout Catholic has appeared in our pages four times in the past year and devout Muslim twice. Zero for devout Jews and Protestants.

Well, regular readers of many mainline news publications would certainly know that devout Jews are often called “ultraorthodox.” I’m sure that’s in a style manual somewhere. And we all know that devout Protestants are called “f _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ s,” no matter what the Associated Press requests.

But the Journal raises a good question, one worthy of meditation there and among the members of the committee that controls the AP Stylebook, the bible of American journalists. Just saying …

Mollie’s year in review

epichighfiveFor our fifth anniversary, we’re picking our top five posts from the last year. So I’ve reviewed all of my posts, a fruitful exercise that reminds me I’m still partial to stories about doctrine, the liturgical calendar and unlikely stories of how faith changes religious adherents. Even though these are my favorite topics to write about, they rarely elicit as much feedback as political posts. I normally dislike writing about politics but this last year was a huge exception.

As I mentioned in last year’s Year in Review, I don’t do rankings very well. And I picked the five areas of coverage that influenced me the most instead of individual posts (sorry!). Here we go.

The earlier parts of last year were filled with mainstream media coverage of Mormonism. This was due in large part to the strong — but ultimately unsuccessful — candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the death of Gordon Hinckley, the president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the raid on the Yearning For Zion ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints. The FLDS group broke with the Mormon church a century ago over the issue of polygamy.

Anyway, I learned a lot about Mormonism over the last year or two — from well written articles, poorly written articles and the excellent discussions that ensued over both. Our Mormon and Mormon-knowledgeable commenters are awesome. This post and discussion of a lengthy New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on the religion and how it might better be mainstreamed into American culture provoked a fascinating discussion. I found it interesting that I was more critical of the piece than most Mormon readers were. But it led to fascinating insights into how to cover Mormonsim — understanding the difference between established theological systems versus those with ongoing revelation, seeing the difference between secrecy and sacredness, and applying external values to a unique religious group. It’s one aspect of writing for GetReligion that I particularly enjoy.

The truth is that this last year changed my views about this profession. I was deeply disappointed in and permanently affected by how journalists neglected their obligations to provide news in favor of spinning news. This wasn’t just a religion coverage problem, but it was a significant part of it. The first week after Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination to the Republican ticket, I actually felt like a second-class citizen with so many journalists openly questioning whether a woman with young children could work in any significant capacity — questions that I never heard about male candidates with young children. The mocking, the anger and the complete abdication of even-handedness have made me doubt everything I read and see in mainstream media. You can take a trip down a rather painful memory lane with posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc. Here are two posts about non-wretched coverage, if you’re interested.

How do you pick a favorite post? Almost everyone was a disaster! I think I was particularly disappointed in the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz water-carrying for bad journalism as it related to misquoting Palin during broadcast interviews and then demanding she defend religious quotes she didn’t say. Or maybe it was the Los Angeles Times calling Palin a fundamentalist Christian on page one of the paper even though it violates the Associated Press stylebook and is, well, also untrue. Good work, mainstream media!

Here’s another area of mainstream media epic fail, albeit one that led to quite a bit of personal growth: same-sex marriage debates. As a libertarian, I never gave two hoots about the issue since I have always seen marriage as an area that should be outside of government control. But I sensed early on that advocates of traditional marriage were getting the shaft in media coverage. Well, I sensed that because our inbox was overflowing with people who were angry or saddened at the apparent media blindspots. So I studied the issue and learned a great deal about the philosophical and religious arguments for and against state sanction of same-sex marriage. You can revisit some highlights or lowlights here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Which is my favorite post on same-sex marriage? That would be the same as yours, judging from the e-mail: Lisa Miller’s Newsweek cover article attempting to make the religious case for gay marriage. Here‘s the series on the matter. The piece, as I noted, was a “post-frontal lobotomy exegesis of Scripture” but worse for just poor reporting. No traditional Christians — or religious adherents of any other stripe — were consulted for the article and it showed, to put it mildly. And who knows what editor Jon Meacham was thinking when he said the aim of Newsweek‘s coverage, in essence, was to be as unfair as possible when covering covering same-sex marriage debates? But God bless him for being honest, unlike most everyone else on the beat!

Of the many, many, many political-religious stories we covered this year, the one I keep reflecting on is the coverage of Jeremiah Wright, President Barack Obama’s former pastor. We looked at coverage of Wright prior to the broadcasting of some of his more incendiary statements, but I’m happy with how my first post on the brouhaha has held up. I highlighted how political condemnations are a regular feature of many Protestant church bodies and how the media had failed by noting only right-wing examples of this. I continue to wonder about the fall-out of investigating the sermons given by politicians’ pastors. I imagine that the media will find certain religious rhetoric to be acceptable, certain unacceptable. I worry they’ll work overtime to place certain sermons in context while searching congregational archives for “gotcha!” moments. I assume this is unstoppable but I’m not sure how much it adds to the culture. (Other Wright coverage is here, here, here, here and here.)

Ever since I became a mother a few years ago, people keep asking me to write stories on “mommy” issues. The general topic area doesn’t interest me in the slightest, particularly since I don’t actually feel any different most of the time (one notable exception being when I stayed up all last night with my daughter who has the croup — I even referred to myself in the third person as “mommy” at one point). But one topic area that has become even more interesting to me since my first pregnancy are issues dealing with the sanctity of life. (It was also one of my favorite topic areas in last year’s review.) This past year saw quite a few stories about religion and abstinence education, birth control, abortion, surrogacy, and the whole range of human life issues. You can review some here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Two areas stand out, the first being the statistically questionable media theme that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Far worse was the media coverage of abstinence education, another issue I hadn’t really studied prior to this year. The two stories collided when reporters used a false statistic to advance Planned Parenthood claims about the ineffectiveness of abstinence education. It was a hot mess of statistics ignorance, advocacy in search of evidence and generally poor reporting.

I wish my list had more positives but the fact was that last year was a rough and disappointing one for media coverage. I suppose the good news is that some in the media are aware of their problems and are working to correct them. I also have some favorite stories — and other highlights — from the last year that I’ll try to mention this week.

Thanks to all our readers for adding so much to this community. Traditionally, fifth anniversary gifts are made of wood. You’ll be receiving yours shortly.

Reporting 101 at The Nation

BluePencil.jpgYes, it’s easy to criticize the work of an editorial intern, even one who is a Fulbright scholar and has a master’s degree. Still, where was a decent copy editor at The Nation when Drew Haxby wrote about the sexuality debate within Anglicanism? For that matter, why should any copy editor have to deal with so much stilted writing?


In the past five 30 years, the Episcopal Church has found itself pushed to stood at the forefront of the culture wars. [One could write "positioned itself at the forefront," but then one might sound right wing, so we'll stand on the side of caution.] After Gene Robinson, an openly gay man with a longterm long-term partner, was elected Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, Anglican bishops from all over the world quickly decried the move. Conservative congregations in the US United States and Canada left the national churches various dioceses. Some aligned themselves with the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its outspoken homophobic [Needs quotes.] leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola. On December 3 of this year, [Evident in your dateline.] these conservatives announced the creation of a new denomination would-be Anglican province, one that will compete openly with the Episcopalians for congregations and tithes. [If this movement is but a fraction of Episcopalians, as your story argues further along, where's the competition?] While not recognized by the Anglican Communion, the [Dangling modifier and irrelevant, considering that the four instruments of the Anglican Communion have not addressed the question of a new province.] The New York Times described this latest move as “the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church,” which “threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion.”

The Anglican conservatives have argued that the Episcopal Church acted too rashly in its acceptance of gays and lesbians into the leadership of the church. Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America, America called Gene Robinson’s election “a slap in the face of the Anglican Church around the world.” Reverend The Rev. John [See AP Stylebook.] Nyhan of St. James the Just described it as “hubris of Biblical biblical [See AP Stylebook.] proportions, and that’s a polite way of saying diabolical.” [Nyhan left St. James the Just Episcopal Church in Franklin Square, N.Y., a few years ago. Did you interview him before he left that parish? If not, credit the reporter who did.]

… One rare moment of drama came in 1995, [If this story is so lacking in drama, why is it worth reporting?] when the assisting bishop Bishop of Newark, N.J., was put on faced possible trial within the church for his ordination of an openly gay priest deacon. [A church court dropped charges against the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter after two pretrial hearings.] Again, the Episcopal leadership looked to find Episcopal bishops sought a middle way: while “not giving an opinion on the morality of same-gender relationships,” it refused to convict they dismissed the case on the grounds that “there is no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship,” and that “the Anglican tradition has encouraged theological diversity.”

… Roughly 100,000 Anglicans in the United States and Canada have left their respective national churches, less than five percent of the 2.3 million members. [The Episcopal Church Center now places this figure at just over 2.1 million members in the United States. The Anglican Church of Canada claims about 800,000 members. This decreases the percentage to 3.4 -- if your figure of 100,000 is accurate.] “It’s a tiny fraction of the church,” said Jim Naughton, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. “Yet it’s being played as if the church is splitting.” As many Episcopalians have pointed out, [Be specific or don't bother with this.] the conservatives did not have the internal backing to overturn Robinson’s election — even with the efforts of the African Churches [No Anglican council has voted on a motion, so far as their records indicate, to "overturn Robinson's election." Some African provinces, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, did repudiate it.] and several fundamentalist [See AP Stylebook.] lobbies. [Cite examples.] Their recent decision to disaffiliate is a last ditch gamble to assert their preeminence in North America. [What preeminence? Remember, this is a story about The Episcopal Church.] How it will play out remains to be seen, but in the meantime the Episcopal Church might finally start to move on. [Cliche-ridden, dull and -- most remarkably -- condescending!]

“Little girl drawing with blue pencil,” used under a Wikimedia Commons license.