Search Results for: f-word

Generic Bible-quoting cop slain

“A gentle giant.”

“A man of God.”

The accolades are pouring in for Brian Huff, a veteran Detroit police officer killed in the line of duty Monday. From the earliest news reports, Huff’s strong faith came into play.

This was the headline on the initial online report by the Detroit Free Press identifying the officer:

Fallen officer was fun-loving, devout

In that story, an officer friend reflected on Huff:

Detroit Officer John Bennett said he worked with Huff at an alternative education school, where Huff was moonlighting to make ends meet.

“He was a man of God,” Bennett said. “He was just a fun-loving, big guy.”

Huff was as quick to quote Scripture as he was to crack a joke, Bennett said.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who has anything bad to say about him,” added Bennett, who said his colleagues are devastated.

The print version of the story in today’s Free Press contained basically the same details. Meanwhile, The Detroit News ran a Page 1 sidebar on Huff with this headline and subhead:

‘A wonderful man we can’t replace’

Friends, colleagues say fallen Detroit policeman was devoted to his family and faith

There’s that F-word one more time. Again, Bennett is quoted, this time telling the reporter:

“He could quote verses from the Bible like he was a pastor, and it was clear that God and family were important to him.”

But neither the News nor the Free Press makes the great leap from generic quotes to meatier details about the religious background of this officer, nicknamed “Huff Daddy.”

Now, I know how difficult it can be for a reporter to track down such specific information in the immediate aftermath of a shooting like this. Police officers, in particular, are not always overly forthcoming with personal details about themselves or their colleagues. I get that.

However, if the faith angle is important enough to include in the headline and the top of the story, basic questions need to be answered: Was the officer a regular churchgoer? If so, where did he maintain his membership? What does the pastor have to say about him? How are his fellow church members dealing with the tragedy?

Undoubtedly, the Detroit papers will write more about Huff in coming days. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity to explain in more detail what makes a burly cop quote Scripture on the job.

And hey, if they really want to spook the religion ghosts, they might even explore the specific books, chapters and verses that he quoted.

When ‘fundamentalists’ attack — Moscow

Quick! While we all read more and more about the horrific news out of Moscow, can we agree on something? Please, copy editors and reporters, lend me your ears.

In one of the early Washington Post foreign service reports, we read this background material about the terrorist attack:

After one clash in early March, security officials said they had succeeded in killing Alexander Tikhomirov, a charismatic young preacher known as Sayid Buryatsky, who had emerged as a major figure in the insurgency. Weeks later, authorities reported killing another rebel leader, Anzor Astemirov, who is believed to have made the original proposal to establish a fundamentalist Caucasus Emirate in the region.

Umarov declared jihad and embraced that cause in 2007, causing a rift in the long-running separatist rebellion in Chechnya and drawing support from other Muslim ethnic groups angered by the harsh tactics employed Russian security forces.

Once again, we have the f-word used in a news report in a way that does nothing to add factual material to the story.

Once again, let’s turn to the Associated Press Stylebook, the bible of mainstream journalism:

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.

Can we all agree that the subways in Moscow were not attacked by bands of very conservative Protestants who are willing to sign the Fundamentals of the Faith documents of the early 20th century? Note that the usage of the f-word in this story clouds another issue. What do the rebels actually want? Is a “fundamentalist Caucasus Emirate” the same thing as an Islamic republic? What kind? What form of government, rooted in what approach to Sharia?

At the same time, what in the world do the words “charismatic young preacher” mean in this context? Was this person a Muslim leader with some defined religious role? Was he simply a good public speaker? What are the facts?

We also are told that Russian leaders are convinced that they are dealing with a “separatist insurgency waged by Islamic militants.” That is highly familiar language, but when added to the vague terms used elsewhere it is hard to learn anything concrete about the religious, political or military nature of these acts.

Over at the New York Times, reporters and editors were able to deal with this developing story without using labels from American religious debates. One early report there makes a simple reference to conflicts blamed on “Islamic extremism in Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus region in southern Russia.” Then later, we read:

The Russian government has sought to suppress violent Muslim extremism in the south since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Two brutal wars in Chechnya and a guerrilla insurgency gave rise to numerous bombings and acts of terror in southern Russia throughout the 1990s. Starting in 2002, Chechen separatists then began to export their bombing campaign to Moscow.

“Extremism” is another one of those vague words, but, when combined with “violent” we at least get some picture that the issue is rooted in tactics as well as beliefs. The word “separatists” is also helpful, in a political context, although, again, this simply raises the issue of what the rebels want to create when they achieve separation.

But the early Times report is much better, if only because of the words it declines to abuse, as well as the words that it uses.

Losing her religion?

I realize that the following commentary veers close to being a cheap shot.

Truly, I understand that the theological musings of an actress such as Anne Hathaway may not deserve in-depth coverage. It may be ridiculous to even hint that reporters might want to probe her recent commentary on her departure from the Roman Catholic Church and her brief liturgical dance with Anglicanism.

But, honestly, I am trying to make sense of the following two gossip items in the mainstream press. Let’s start with USA Today:

Anne Hathaway, who was among the stars hitting the red carpet in Hollywood … for the premiere of Valentine’s Day, says in the new British GQ that her family left the Catholic Church over its intolerant views on homosexuality.

Anne grew up wanting to become a nun but shunned Catholicism when she learned her older brother, Michael, was gay.

“The whole family converted to Episcopalianism after my elder brother came out,” she tells the magazine. “Why should I support an organization that has a limited view of my beloved brother?”

But the Episcopal church plan didn’t really work out for her either. “So I’m … nothing,” she said. “I’m a work in progress.”

OK, it’s completely logical — in my opinion — for Hathaway and members of her family to leave the Church of Rome if they sincerely oppose its ancient teachings on human sexuality. You could say that they were acting on their convictions. Dare I suggest that some political leaders in the United States (in several different flocks) might consider that course of action?

But what is going on in that final paragraph?

Let’s try the blunt take on this in the New York Daily News:

Anne Hathaway left the Catholic Church after her brother opened up about being gay. “The whole family converted to Episcopalianism after my elder brother came out,” says the actress. “Why should I support an organization that has a limited view of my beloved brother?” So what religion is Anne now? “I’m nothing,” she admits. “F- it, I’m forming. I’m a work in progress.”

Now, other than the gratuitous F-word, Hathaway’s statement that she is “forming” and a “work in progress” sounds like an excellent piece of copy for one of those witty posters from the old Episcopal Ad Project (please click here) or similar efforts to seek newcomers for other liberal flocks.

So what might Hathaway have said that would cause a reporter to paraphrase her as saying that becoming an Anglican didn’t “work out” for her? Has she rejected faith altogether? Is the Episcopal Church too strict for her?

What’s up? Inquiring minds want to know. Or do we?

Putting the ho, ho, ho in holidays

Tiger Woods announces he will take an indefinite break from golf

If, like me, you’re long since tired of reading stories about Tiger Woods’ sordid personal life, please hang with me for one more.

It’s an unusual story. I would expect nothing less from Slate. The online magazine is a great place to read unique angles to the same stories everyone else is reporting on. But this story may be an example of how sometimes Slate‘s need to be contrarian gets a little awkward. The headline gave the first hint:

Tiger Woods Does Not Have 11 “Mistresses”

What? He has more?!

Quite the contrary. In this article, Jesse Sheidlower, author of “The F-Word” and editor-at-large for the Oxford English Dictionary, argues that Woods has zero. He’s not purporting that Woods wasn’t a master of infidelity — only that these liaisons don’t rise to the level of respect reserved for the mistress to the marriage. This seems absurd to me, but in Sheidlower’s opinion the mistress relationship has an element of sanctity that is higher than an open relationship but lower than marriage.

The word mistress entered English in the 14th century by way of French. Effectively equivalent to master with the ess feminine suffix, it originally meant “a woman having control or authority”—such as a woman who is the head of a household. By the 15th century, the word developed the meaning “a woman who is loved by a man; a female sweetheart,” but the specific sense “a woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship,” to quote the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, doesn’t appear until the early 17th century. (John Donne made this meaning particularly clear in a sermon mentioning “women, whom the Kings were to take for their Wives, and not for Mistresses, (which is but a later name for Concubines).”)

This bare dictionary definition, even with the emphasis on “long-lasting,” doesn’t fully capture the nuances of mistress’s use. A mistress is exclusively devoted to one man. Although that man may have other partners, his relationship with his mistress is relatively serious and stable. He may even pay to support her, or at least help cover some of her living expenses. This signification comes across in characteristic quotations from such authors as Edith Wharton (“Is it your idea, then, that I should live with you as your mistress—since I can’t be your wife?”), F. Scott Fitzgerald (“There is always a halt there of at least a minute, and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress. The fact that he had one was insisted upon wherever he was known. His acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular restaurants with her”), and John Updike (“He phoned the news, not to his wife, whom it would sadden, but to his mistress”).

If the type of romantic partnership that mistress evokes seems a little quaint, that points to the very problem with the word in current use: It refers to a social role for women that is increasingly rare, because it is increasingly unnecessary, in modern-day America.

So, “mistress” would be the word Daniel Burke was looking for in this RNS piece last week about Thomas Merton’s affair with a young student nurse. Their fling involved commitment and devotion, albeit only for the few months before Merton re-devoted himself to the monastic life.

So too would Steve McNair’s lover-killer have been his mistress, though most media outlets labeled her as his “girlfriend.”

Sheidlower touches on a principle recently proposed by the social critics Matt Stone and Trey Parker (AKA the creators of “South Park): A word’s meaning can change overtime. But in the end he says that though he doesn’t think mistress is a good fit, there really isn’t anything better in the English language.

Girlfriend usually implies an ongoing relationship, as does lover, which is in any case regarded by many media outlets as a bit too explicit. There are also expressions, often slangy, for the relationship itself, including affair (which can, but does not always, imply a continuing relationship), one-night stand, or hookup. These expressions, however, or more circumlocutory descriptions (“a woman with whom Tiger Woods had an affair”), are clunky and therefore not appropriate for headlines.

In other words, they’re mistresses.

You could argue that this is all just semantics. And it is. But words matter. And, far too often, journalists use language inaccurately.

Here, however, it seems they got it right. But if they are in need of an alternative, I’m a fan of using the old-fashioned and biblical “co-adulterers.”

The Fairness Doctrine and religious broadcasters

fairnessPerhaps this reveals too much about my sailor-like vocabulary, but you have to like a religion story that begins with the F-word. The Tennessean religion reporter Bob Smietana began his story on the National Religious Broadcasters Convention this week as follows:

The three F’s were hot topics at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention on Tuesday.

That’s the First Amendment, the Fairness Doctrine and “the F-word.”

First up — the Fairness Doctrine, a Federal Communications Commission policy that required broadcasters to air controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was judged to be honest, equitable, and balanced. It is frequently confused with the Equal Time rule, which requires stations that give free air time to one candidate to provide the same service to their opponent.

Back to the story:

Religious broadcasters fear the Obama administration plans to meddle with their programs by resurrecting the Fairness Doctrine, a now-defunct Federal Communications Commission policy that required broadcasters to give equal time to opposing points of view.

Equal time is a problem for religious broadcasters, Christian talk show host Janet Parshall said.

“If I happen to say declaratively that the Bible tells me that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and nobody comes to the Father but by Him, I am not interested in giving equal time to Buddha, Hinduism, or L. Ron Hubbard,” she said.

The Fairness Doctrine was mothballed in the mid-1980s. But some Democrats have called for its reinstatement. Parshall, who moderated the discussion between Starr and Strossen, pointed to recent comments by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.

Speaking on the Bill Press radio show, Stabenow said, “I think it’s absolutely time to pass a standard. Now, whether it’s called the Fairness Standard, whether it’s called something else — I absolutely think it’s time to be bringing accountability to the airwaves.”

It seems like the Equal Time rule and Fairness Doctrine are conflated a bit but you get the point. Anyway, Sen. Stabenow is married to Tom Athans, the executive vice president of Air America. Air America specializes in politically liberal talk-radio programming.

The story discusses the three Fs by describing a debate at the conference between Pepperdine University law school dean Ken Starr and former American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen. Starr argued that the Fairness Doctrine violates the First Amendment, saying the government has no business dictating content to broadcasters. Strossen agrees that the Fairness Doctrine is not a good idea but only because it’s outmoded in today’s media-rich environment. Previously, the ACLU defended the Fairness Doctrine. Both agreed that in the past the doctrine was used by administrations to punish critics.

The story does a great job of exploring the issue from the perspective of the religious broadcasters:

The doctrine is particularly touchy for evangelical religious broadcasters. They formed the National Religious Broadcasters association in the 1940s, when networks refused to sell them airtime, instead giving time to the mainstream Federal Council of Churches, forerunner of the National Council of Churches.

“Years ago, people did not want us to proclaim the purity of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Parshall told the forum audience. “We were formed as an entity to give us access to the airwaves.”

The only radio station ever shut down for violating the Fairness Doctrine was a Christian station in Red Lion, Pa. In 1964, that station carried a “Christian Crusade” program, on which the Rev. Billy James Hargis criticized Fred J. Cook, author of Goldwater — Extremist on the Right. When Cook asked for airtime to respond, the station refused. He reported the station to the FCC, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor.

I used to be a radio industry reporter and I never knew that a radio station had been shut down over the Fairness Doctrine. I love learning something like this in a news report. Also, please note that the “religious left” and “religious right” division didn’t begin during the last presidential campaign. Anyway, the story goes on to note that Strossen and Starr disagree about the F-word.

I also liked how the story discussed whether laws that restrict religious speech — such as sermons on sexuality — are likely to be adopted here in the United States. They’re not, according to the panelists.

Even though I was aware of attempts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, I hadn’t thought of how it might affect religious broadcasters. I’m so glad The Tennessean took up the issue on a topic that has been well covered on opinion pages but undercovered in news pages.

Sarah Palin ain’t a fundie

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We rarely discuss opinion columns here, unless they contain content that might be helpful to mainstream reporters who are trying to cover religion news in the mainstream.

Well, here is an interesting piece from columnist Susan Campbell of the Hartford Courant that address an issue that has received a lot of attention at this here weblog lately (and the general subject has drawn lots of attention in the past) — the question of whether mainstream journalists should use that other F-word (fundamentalist) to refer to Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Campbell has a rare and interesting angle, for a mainstream reporter, which is captured in the headline: “Sarah, You’re Not One Of Us.” Here’s the top:

Sarah Palin may be a lot of things, but she is not a fundamentalist Christian.

In fact, she is no more a fundamentalist than Barack Obama is a Muslim. The misinformation about both candidates (she’s evangelical, by way of Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism; he’s a Congregationalist) has at its heart an ignorance that, like that fountain in the Sunday school song, runs deep and wide.

Understand that Palin will never be my candidate. I disagree with her on a woman’s right to choose, on marriage equality and on the sorry little wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, my list of reasons for not voting for her is so long that one hardly needs to bring religion into it. Still, she’s an evangelical, the tribe of Christians to which roughly 26 percent of Americans belong. A fundamentalist is a tiny, unique (roughly three-tenths of a percent) subgroup of that, and Palin doesn’t make the cut.

Campbell then covers a lot of the historical background behind the fundamentalist movement within Protestantism, which is, in fact, the origin of the term. There is much here that a reporter on or off the beat can learn.

2004100505 Display 35She even knows that the movement began with a very broad ecumenical base, including writers and thinkers in churches (think Episcopal/Anglican) that are rarely called “fundamentalist” today, unless, of course, they are Africans and the story is about sexuality.

Thus, I enjoyed this background passage:

The word “fundamentalist” probably came from a series of tracts published with the money of two oil men worried that Christianity was losing its way. The tracts’ tone is fairly moderate, but people took the message — as people will do — and ran with it. The essays that stressed the authority of the Bible became bedrock for some. For years, a popular bumper sticker at my local Foodtown read, “God said. I believe it. That settles it.”

Yet every religion — including that of a fundamentalist — is more nuanced than that. And just because you’ve never heard of a church is not necessarily a good reason to be scared.

Many readers will not agree with everything in this column. But it is helpful to see this kind of material printed in the mainstream. Read it all, then feel free to criticize, if need be.

Plea for journalism fundamentals (updated)

PalinImage1Let’s just get right to it. This Los Angeles Times piece about the religious views of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is pretty much worthless.

Considering that I am a journalist, I’m somewhat sad to report that I believe nothing I read or watch when it comes to coverage of Palin. I have seen way too high an error rate, way too much in the way of unsourced allegations presented as fact, way too much seething anger, even about issues that have nothing to do with religion.

But let’s look at this Los Angeles Times piece, one of the many recent examples of this phenomenon. Here’s the headline:

Palin treads carefully between fundamentalist beliefs and public policy

Which would be a fine headline. If PALIN WERE A FUNDAMENTALIST. She’s not. Here’s what the Associated Press Stylebook says about using the word fundamentalist:

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.

We get it. You hate her. She makes you kuh-razy. But don’t stop following basic journalism practices just because you’re enraged by a popular conservative female in power.

I wrote before that the headline would be fine if Palin were a fundamentalist. But even if she were (which, again for the slow readers at the LA Times, she is not) the term is not to be used because it has become pejorative. For how long has it been pejorative? Many, many decades. Get with the times. In the 1910s and 1920s, the term referred to a Christian who believed in the “fundamentals” of the faith — the Virgin Birth of Christ, his sinless life, his atoning death, his bodily resurrection and his second coming in the clouds of glory. But since that time, the term has become an insult. Everyone knows this. And just because you want to insult the governor of Alaska doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to do so on the news pages.

Sigh.

So should we even go past the headline? It doesn’t exactly get better. The story begins with a claim (from a political opponent who runs a blog called Progressive Alaska) about Palin that isn’t backed up by any independent source. Needless to say, there’s no context. It’s hard to even see how the claim is relevant. The claim is that Palin is, no, no, no, everyone shield their eyes, a particularly unacceptable creationist. I know. Can you believe it? The horror. You know, it’s clear that the mainstream media is biased against the views held by a strong plurality of Americans, but telling readers that 48 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form (compared with the 13 percent who believe in strict evolution and 30 percent who believe in theistic evolution) wouldn’t scare people as much, would it.

Reporter Steve Braun then repeats a number of discredited claims about Palin, such as this:

Though in her race for governor she called for faith-based “intelligent design” to be taught along with evolution in Alaska’s schools, Gov. Palin has not sought to require it, state educators say.

Actually, she said that if the topic came up, teachers shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it. She further clarified her remarks to make sure her views were known. But why bother including that? Incidentally, more than twice as many Americans think that creationism should be taught alongside evolution as Americans who think it should just be evolution. Not, again, that you’d know that from mainstream media coverage. Braun concedes that she has governed in a manner completely different than his lede would imply, neither pushing for special legislative sessions to change abortion laws nor challenging a court ruling permitting health insurance for same-sex partners of state workers.

But . . . but . . . what do you make of this:

Her aides say Palin’s caution at the intersection of religion and governance is a studied effort to share her beliefs without forcing them on Alaska.

“She’s obviously an intensively religious person,” said Bill McAllister, Palin’s chief spokesman as governor. “She understands that she’s the governor and not preacher in chief. Religion informs her decisions, but she is not out to impose her views on Alaska.”

Isn’t it funny how the quote from Bill McAllister in no way supports the claim Braun makes in the set-up paragraph? I’ve noticed a lot of that in Palin stories.

And then here we go again:

[John] Stein said Palin displayed only hints of her fundamentalist Assembly of God upbringing when he first backed her for a nonpartisan run for Wasilla City Council in the early 1990s.

Again, “fundamentalist” doesn’t actually mean “church whose religious views stray from the Book of Common Prayer.” It doesn’t mean “rubes who actually believe the Bible.”

Considering that Palin is the most popular governor in America, it’s funny how every story I read about her predominantly quotes her political opponents. It’s like that 80 percent of Alaskans who favor her are just more or less invisible. To that end, Braun quotes more from Stein, who, again, she defeated.

There’s this:

But since taking office in December 2006, Palin has made no moves to impose the teaching of creationism or “intelligent design,” the modern version of creationist thought, in Alaska schools.

Yes, the vociferous opponents of intelligent design call it “the modern version of creationist thought.” But proponents of intelligent design, such as agnostic David Berlinski, have explained why such a caricature is inaccurate. And should the Los Angeles Times be taking a side on this issue in a news story? No, of course not.

Okay, Braun, did you say “fundamentalist” enough? Did you marginalize Palin enough? Do you have anything else to say?

Although she now worships in traditional fundamentalist churches in Wasilla and Juneau, Palin’s formative years in Pentecostal churches have been a target for some bloggers and Democratic opponents.

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Feel better now? The thing I don’t get about stories like this is that they aren’t really informative. Sure, they tell us what people who don’t like Palin think about her. But what about some thoughtful and fair discussions of Palin’s religious views? They are certainly newsworthy. Have we ever had a member of a Bible church on a national ticket? Have we ever had someone with a Pentecostal background?

If you’re looking for a thoughtful analysis of Palin’s religious views and how they affect public policy, you should read Terry Eastland’s piece in the most recent The Weekly Standard. Even though Eastland and the Standard are conservative, most of the piece is just descriptive, such as this:

Of these four churches, two–Wasilla Assembly of God and Juneau Christian Center–are members of the Assemblies of God. Founded in 1914, the Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country. Pentecostalism–which takes its name from the day of Pentecost when, according to the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles–is a movement that began in 1901 and is best known for its emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues. The other two churches are freestanding congregations. The Church on the Rock is “charismatic,” a term usually applied to more recent forms of Pentecostalism, while Wasilla Bible, the Palins’ present church, is neither Pentecostal nor charismatic.

Reporters ask whether Palin has ever spoken in tongues. Her spokeswoman has said that Palin doesn’t consider herself a Pentecostal. A friend of Palin’s told the New York Times that her family left Wasilla Assembly of God for Wasilla Bible in part because the latter’s ministry was “less extreme.” Exactly what Palin may have found “extreme” at Wasilla Assembly of God is unclear. In any case, Palin retains an evident affection for Wasilla Assembly of God, as does the church for her.

It’s so odd that the mainstream media piece on Palin used scare words and unsourced allegations while the ostensibly biased piece just explains basic facts in a straightforward manner and notes when information on a topic isn’t known. The piece goes through various religious angles in Palin’s political life and looks at what’s potentially disconcerting and what’s not. After noting the much discussed prayer about Iraq, Eastland writes:

Palin wasn’t telling the students that the Iraq war is “God’s plan.” Instead she was asking them to pray that the war would in fact be a “task from God.” Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman, defending Palin, wrote that such a prayer is “a totally appropriate desire for a Christian–and for a Christian politician. . . . Where it gets problematic is when [Christian politicians] feel God is directing them to take particular steps or claim divine endorsement for their actions.”

Palin may have entered that problematic area when she asked the students to pray for the building of the Alaska natural gas pipeline: “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gasline built. So pray for that.” Did Palin mean here to say that “unifying people and companies to get that gasline built” was indeed God’s will? Or was this simply a case of misspeaking?

Amazingly, Eastland didn’t use the word “fundamentalist” once.

Note: Please keep comments limited to media coverage. Not your personal views of people who believe in creation. Not your personal views of creation. Not your personal views of Palin. Discussion media coverage.

Here’s a second note, from tmatt:

Let’s be clear what MZ is saying. She is talking about the AP Stylebook and what these words actually mean. This has been a major theme here at GetReligion since day one. Click here to see some of that.

The best evidence is that Palin is an “evangelical” in the context of US religious history, not a “fundamentalist” as that movement defined itself. That is why the AP Stylebook says that the F-word should not be used in this kind of context, as an unsupported slur. To say that some one believes the Bible or believes that it is “literally true,” whatever that means, is not enough to label that person a “fundamentalist.” If the person is a Protestant, it probably is safe to say they are an “evangelical.”

Now, historically speaking, you can’t be a Pentecostal Christian — some of whom are not Trinitarian believers — and a fundamentalist. These movements actually clash on a regular basis. Ask any reporter currently covering some battles within the Southern Baptist Convention.

It is true that many newspapers have, even AP reporters have, misused the F-word in violation of their own stylebook. That’s the point of MZ’s post.

The stylebook does not address the blurring of definitions between creationism and evolution, but it should. Historically, the word Creationism referred to people who accepted a seven-, 24-hour day version of the biblical creation story.

Now, the word seems to apply to anyone who believes that God played any discernible role in creation — even through a gradual, change-over-time, common descent method of creation. The key is whether this person rejects the philosophical view that the process was random and without purpose. You would think that this position would be called “theistic evolution,” but it is not. The Materialist interpretations of the Darwinian mechanism are what the late Pope John Paul II spoke out against, while noting that there are multiple interpretations of Darwinian theory.

What MZ is calling for is a better use, by journalists, of these important words — which have historical meanings. Use neutral language. Describe people’s actions, without speculating on what they mean. Allow them to label themselves, the way you do other religious believers.

MZ is taking a side on the JOURNALISTIC issue, based on history and journalistic principles. When newspapers — such as the Los Angeles Times in this case — violate basic journalistic principles, it begins to feel like an editorial attack on a certain group or class of people.

The bottom line: It’s bad, inaccurate, journalism. And, as an agnostic Jewish friend of mine once said, any industry that spends a lot of its time mocking, or at best ignoring, the most cherished beliefs of roughly 30 to 40 percent of its potential audience is not an industry that is serious about its own survival. Is the goal to produce smaller and smaller niche publications after killing mainstream journalism?

Thus, please discuss the journalism issues. Period.

To quote the ESPN star (or not)

touchdown jesusAs you would imagine, I have received a fair amount of email lately about ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson’s profane performance at the Atlantic City, N.J., roast for Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, better known as the “Mike and Mike in the Morning” duo. This story continues to bubble on the back burner.

Some of the comments have been very predictable, with people divided a bit on whether ESPN should fire Jacobson. Here’s a chunk of a CNSNews.com report that sums of this angry response:

… Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Thursday called for picketing and a prayer vigil outside ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. …

“ESPN has to step up to the plate here. Imagine the outrage if Ms. Jacobson said, ‘F–k Mohammed,’ ‘F–k Jews,’ or ‘F–k African-Americans.’

“We’re simply asking that the parent company of ESPN, ABC, treat this incident the same way they did when Isaiah Washington publicly used the word ‘fag’ when referring to a cast member,” Mahoney said. “Although the faith community can forgive and extend mercy to Ms. Jacobson, she still must assume full responsibility and accept the consequences for her hate-filled rhetoric.”

And so forth and so on. This angle of the story did not interest me all that much.

However, I was interested in the fact that it was hard to find a mainstream press report that actually told you much about what happened and, for example, what she actually said. This was the rare story where it was “conservative” to quote the profane facts — of a censored version thereof — and “mainstream” to leave the readers guessing in the dark.

Thus, the Associated Press wrote:

Jacobson’s speech included obscenities aimed at Notre Dame, with Irish football coach Charlie Weis in attendance. An article in The Press of Atlantic City the next day said that Jacobson “made an absolute fool of herself, swilling vodka from a Belvedere bottle, mumbling along and cursing like a sailor as Mike & Mike rested their heads in their hands in embarrassment.” She was booed off the stage.

In a statement released through ESPN, Jacobson called her comments about Notre Dame “foolish and insensitive.”… Jacobson’s speech included obscenities aimed at Notre Dame, with Irish football coach Charlie Weis in attendance.

Meanwhile, people willing to veer over to alternative, conservative news pages could read passages such as this:

Jacobson’s Jan. 11 tirade against Notre Dame football at a sports celebrity banquet reportedly not only included “F*** Notre Dame!” and “F*** Touchdown Jesus!” — but also “F*** Jesus!”

Even Baptist Press issued an editor’s note warning and let readers know what happened, while softening the blow somewhat:

A profanity-laced tirade earned ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson a weeklong suspension from her duties with the sports network.

According to various reports, an intoxicated Jacobson reportedly hurled a string of “F-word” insults aimed at Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus and Jesus Christ Himself during a Jan. 11 roast in Atlantic City, N.J., for ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, of the ESPN radio show “Mike and Mike in the Morning.”

So what’s the point? I do think that it’s safe to say that the fallout at ESPN from this event would have been much greater if Jacobson had shot from the lip at another religious group other than a traditional form of Christianity. Some targets are safer than others.

However, the question that is more interesting, for journalists, is whether the story would have received greater play in the mainstream news media if she had aimed at some other group. And would more journalists have quoted the remarks more clearly, to help people realize just how far she went at that podium?

One more question: Does anyone know how the late-night comics handled this?


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