God works through means: a story

I’m not sure if we looked at the media coverage of the “miracle priest” in Missouri. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s an early Associated Press account of how a “mysterious priest” “suddenly appeared” and prayed over and anointed a badly injured car accident victim with oil. That piece is headlined “Priest comes out of nowhere to aid accident victim.” Here’s a News-Tribune (Jefferson City, Mo.) follow-up with more details.

The initial coverage looked at how onlookers were looking for the priest who helped the victim and how no photos of the accident scene showed the priest, even though many people had seen him. A perfect August story.

The priest ultimately revealed who he was. That was also covered. A typical example is this New York Daily News piece, which begins:

There’s no mystery to this Father Dowling — he’s a prince of a priest.

But the best story was definitely the one that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The reader who sent it along wrote:

I realize that there as been a lot of coverage of this story but this St. Louis Post-Dispatch article is actually quite good in both explaining Church teaching, letting the “religion” survive the reporting, and it even follows up with a university professor explaining how this event could still be a “miracle” even if God was acting just through a human being.  It is quite good.

Couldn’t have said it better. Reporter Tim Townsend introduces the backstory before adding:

What [the Rev. Patrick Dowling] did next would unexpectedly trigger an international media frenzy over miracles, angels and divine intervention.

After officials allowed him to approach the accident, Dowling reached his arm well into the car to touch Lentz’s head with oil. “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

The prayer was the Anointing of the Sick, an ancient ritual with roots in Judaism that is one of Catholicism’s seven sacraments.

As the priest walked away from the Mercedes, Lentz — a member of an Assemblies of God Pentecostal church — asked him to return and pray aloud with her, which he did. He then moved out of the way so rescue efforts could resume.

Dowling said in an interview this week that he was only doing his job at the sight of someone hovering near death. “You stop and anoint because that’s what Jesus told us to do,” he said.

I loved this story about the mystery priest, but not for “miraculous” reasons. My dad is a pastor and that meant that my childhood was full of random roadside stops where my father would see what help was needed and would pray with and for those who needed help. I thought the lack of photos was a weird detail, but mostly I just liked how it showed that many clergy act as first responders.

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AP badly flubs Catholic teaching

The media’s obsession with sexualityism is somehow getting even more pronounced. We have a backlog of stories to look at.

But here’s a quick example of how shoddy the coverage is, this time from the Associated Press:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to sign a bill Monday barring licensed therapists from trying to make gay minors straight.

There are so many questions I have about this. So many questions not answered in this brief AP report. One might be how this bill handles treatment of minors who have unwanted same-sex attraction. Does this ban affect their treatment options? How so?

In any case, that’s not why I mention the story. Here’s the portion that fails utterly:

In a signing note accompanying the bill obtained by The Associated Press that will be made public Monday, Christie says he believes people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin. That view is inconsistent with his Catholic faith.

Really?

How so?

AP preaches this interpretation of Catholic teaching from the pulpit but provides … no substantiation. So we can’t know why AP is making this statement. I’m really curious how in the world that view is inconsistent with his Catholic faith. That church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin but that homosexual acts are. And as for people being born gay, a doctrinal view of key importance in the church of sexualityism, neither is that view “inconsistent” with Catholic teaching. The church even puts its teaching on the matter online so AP reporters and others can check.

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Following up on the Sikh temple shooting

I’m a sucker for a good follow-up story and the Associated Press hit this one out of the park. It’s a follow-up to the horrible shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year. Religious perspectives are woven throughout the piece, including in this lede:

OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Sikh temples generally have four doors, one on each side of the building, as a symbolic invitation to travelers in every direction. But after a lone gunman walked into a Milwaukee-area Sikh temple last year and killed six people, some of the survivors suggested rethinking their openness.

After consideration and contemplation, temple members kept the policy, deciding it was important to show the world the best way to stand against violence was to respond with love, peace and compassion.

Still, officials at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin took precautions. A guard now works three days a week in the lobby, opening the door for visitors and keeping watch on the grounds and parking lot. Additional security cameras and lighting have been installed. Doors and windows are now bulletproof, and the locks have been upgraded.

But even as temple members prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the shootings on Monday, the Oak Creek temple remains open to everyone. All members of the community, Sikh and non-Sikh alike, are always welcome to join them for meditation and free meals, temple member Harpreet Singh said.

“We will always welcome people,” Singh said.

Tragic and horrific as shootings or other violent crimes are, the way they affect a community is a story best told over the long term. The AP used a series of a memorial events in connection with the one-year anniversary as the news hook for this piece. In it, we learn about “chardhi kala” — a Punjabi term that refers to a state of constant optimism. We learn why Sikhs believe this is important, with a mention of theodicy.

The story covers the important details and mentions how Sikh understanding of forgiveness, compassion and understanding come into play.

Toward the end we learn about “akhand paath,” a ceremonial Scripture reading that can take two full days.

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Media obsession dangers: Pope and gay priests edition


Ermagerd, everybody! The Pope has renounced all church teaching on everything! Stop the presses! Start them again! Freak out!

That’s my impression of Twitter, online and broadcast and cable news today. From my morning read:

CBSNews: Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge” gay clergy? http://cbsn.ws/14dnXJD

BreakingNews: Pope Francis says he won’t judge priests for their sexual orientation – @AP http://apne.ws/17Oyvw2

Raushenbush: Pope Francis on Gays: Who am I to judge them? http://huff.to/12xEA1z

DavidCraryAP: #PopeFrancis reaches out to gays, says he won’t judge gay priests http://bit.ly/16tTmDo  by @AP #LGBT #Catholic

Biggest news story of the day. And why, exactly, is this news? Everyone agrees it’s news, but why? It would be news if he was changing church teaching on whether homosexual acts are sin, for instance. It would be news if he were changing church teaching on whether sexually active gay men should be priests, for instance. It would be news if he were changing church teaching on whether strong homosexual tendencies are a barrier to ordination. And, to be honest, no matter what was said it would be news even if the word “homosexual” or “gay” were uttered by Pope Francis, since that’s all that the media really care about these days. What, specifically, is the news?

I was glad I read the Associated Press story first because, setting aside the headline and lede, it included the minor detail that Pope Francis did not depart from traditional church teaching on sin and homosexuality. That was a detail left absent from most every other report I read:

ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT (AP) — Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

Could we all pause to agree that this is the best dateline in the history of datelines?

The distinction being suggested here is clear — the Vatican in 2005 said that deep-rooted homosexual tendencies are a barrier to priesthood. Now the Pope says that if you a priest who confesses to sexual sin, you should be forgiven and your sin forgotten. But is this the contradiction or change of policy the media fervently pray it is? I’m not sure. The original document signed by Benedict was about the formation of priests — in no way was it about not forgiving ordained priests who have sinned — sexually or otherwise. Likewise, Francis isn’t referring (at least as far as what’s been published to this point) to the formation of priests but, rather, about forgiving clergy who have sinned sexually.

Anyway, note the last line “gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.” What you’re seeing here is traditional Christian teaching both in terms of a clear understanding of what sin is and that sin is forgiven and forgotten. You can’t forgive, obviously, something which is not a sin. There would be no need to forgive and wipe away something that should be celebrated, right?

I’ve written before about how poorly the media understand forgiveness as a key Christian teaching. Yes, Christianity has for 2,000 years had an impossibly rigorous moral code that its adherents strive to follow. That these same adherents fail is not exactly news-breaking. It has been said that the life of the Christian is one of repentance. (To repent, by the way, means to turn away from. If one repents from a sin, that means they have turned away from the sin.) That the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about the forgiveness of these sins is — somehow, even after it has changed the hearts of billions of humans — the great under-covered story of those last few thousand years. Again, this forgiveness means something very little in a culture without sin. Thus, I guess, the confused stories coming out today.

One particularly bad story was out of USA Today, built off of an AP story:

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AP keeps on standing with Wendy

On the Planned Parenthood site is the headline pictured here about Rick Perry signing a new in Texas:

“Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an abortion ban that threatens to shut down dozens of health centers and deny women access to basic care.”

This is what you’d expect from Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, having killed some 300,000 unborn children last year alone. The organization is well loved by the majority of professionals in the mainstream news media and is subsidized by U.S. taxpayers to the tune of half a billion dollars a year.

So how did the Associated Press announce this news? Associated Press has struggled with its coverage of the Texas legislature this summer, as you can read about here, here, here and here.

It was so journalistically indefensible that I had to assume that the entire AP Texas staff was on vacation. Remember the story that began, no exaggeration, “Republicans armed with Bible verses have given preliminary approval to some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country”? Remember the tweet announcing that the AP “Stands With Wendy,” since pulled?

Well, if you in any way doubt whether the AP #StandsWithWendy or #StandsWithJournalism, you may want to consider this tweet, barely distinguishable from Planned Parenthood’s own histrionic headline:

(You may be interested in reading how this tweet went over with followers, compiled here.)

This is undoubtedly the talking point of both Planned Parenthood and, oddly, the Associated Press. But is it more than a pro-abortion-rights talking point? Is it, dare I ask, even true?

Well, kudos to Reuters for actually doing the bizarre journalistic task of looking into the abortion rights campaign point instead of regurgitating it whole to millions of readers.

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Associated Press: Think before you tweet

Romenesko published a memo the Associated Press sent out after a couple of tweets received negative attention from news consumers. We discussed one of those tweets in the post “#StandWithWendy? The Associated Press Does.” Long story short: the employee who #StoodWithWendy should not have done so. Now everybody gets to be reminded of the standards in play.

From: AP Standards
Sent: Monday, July 15, 2013 11:37 PM
Subject: “From the Standards Center” – Social media and breaking news: avoiding pitfalls

Think before you tweet. It seems simple enough, and it’s a rule of thumb that can prevent the vast majority of missteps that a journalist might make on social networks. But given some recent issues that have come up on Twitter, it’s a good time to review some best practices, courtesy of Social Media Editor Eric Carvin.

Among the recent problems:

* A tweet that a staffer sent from the @AP Twitter account, related to the abortion fight in Texas, included the hashtag #StandWithWendy — a reference to Wendy Davis, a state senator who’s been fighting to block a new abortion law. This was an attempt to get more attention for the tweet, but it clearly violates AP policies on steering clear of opinion or advocacy.

* AP staff tweets related to the Zimmerman verdict largely were very smart and professional, but a lot of critics pointed to a tweet that was critical of the verdict from a former, temporary staffer who was not employed by AP at the time of the tweet. The widespread reaction serves as a reminder of how a single tweet from an individual can affect the greater AP.

Seems ridiculous that AP would be blamed for a stringer’s tweet, but it’s a good reminder to all of us that our social media presence reflects on our various associations (sorry to my fellow Lutherans, St. Louis Cardinals fans and Herb Alpert aficionados).

As for the initial #StandWithWendy tweet, I’m glad that the AP acknowledged its existence and the problems therein. Specifically, the memo says that that there are social media lines that should not be crossed:

 

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#StandWithWendy? The Associated Press does

The Associated Press has a story about the Texas Senate passing a law that would protect some unborn children who had reached five months’ gestation. Or, as journalists always and forever frame it, “sweeping new abortion restrictions.”

So, just how sweeping? Well, not as sweeping as the abortion laws in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Romania, Slovak Republic or France. Or Italy, Poland, Spain or Ireland, for that matter. But more sweeping than Canada, the UK and the Netherlands.

Anyway, the picture accompanying the story has a bunch of protesters and front and center is a woman holding a large crucifix. But it was the tweet that directed readers to the story that got my attention.

There it is above, but it says:

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, who filibustered abortion bill weeks ago, gives closing remarks: apne.ws/1aAU8VN -JM #StandWithWendy— The Associated Press (@AP) July 13, 2013

Or said, I should say. After a bunch of people (including me) reacted with abject horror, the tweet was deleted. I have no idea when the tweet was deleted (though it was at least deleted by the next day or so). As one of the AP’s 2.18 million followers, I can’t really ever recall seeing a tweet from the news organization that was accompanied by a hashtag, much less one that indicates brazen support for abortion rights. (The anti-abortion hashtag for the bill in question was #Stand4Life) One AP follower asked:

Will @AP formally come out tomorrow AM and explain why it decided to #StandWithWendy?

I, too, wanted to see how the Associated Press apologized for its tweet or why it deleted the tweet, a tweet that had to offend the majority of Texans (and Americans outside of newsrooms) who, well, don’t #StandWithWendy (“One of the clearest messages from Gallup trends is that Americans oppose late-term abortion.”) I went back through dozens upon dozens of tweets to see how the #StandWithWendy tweet deletion was handled. Did AP say something? Apologize? Explain itself? If the news organization did, it wasn’t on the AP’s Twitter feed.

Going back into the wee hours of July 13, I did find 35 tweets about the George Zimmerman trial. That got me thinking. I wondered how many tweets AP sent out about another hot-button trial, one that dealt with racism, poor treatment of immigrants, drugs, serial killing of children, abortion-related deaths, obscene health violations, politics and more. I speak, of course, of the Gosnell trial. Here’s the tally for the history of AP tweets that mention George Zimmerman and/or Trayvon Martin and tweets that mention Dr. Kermit Gosnell:

George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin: more than 272

Gosnell: 2

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A Newtown massacre in Nigeria, with ghosts

Absolutely horrific news out of Nigeria today. From the Associated Press:

POTISKUM, Nigeria — Islamic militants attacked a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria before dawn on Saturday, killing 29 students and a teacher. Survivors said that some pupils were burned alive in the latest school attack said to have been carried out by a radical terrorist group.

It’s a wire report, with all of the limitations you might expect, but read the whole story for details on how the attackers — Boko Haram is suspected — burned children alive. Some bodies were so charred they could not be identified.

The only mention of religion in the story is the first word, not uncommon for recent AP updates of strife in the country. But let’s just take the phrase “Islamic militants.” I think it speaks to the importance of fleshing out the religion angles far more than much reporting has done. For one thing, “Islamic” doesn’t quite identify the particular ideology in play. The children and teachers in this school included both Muslims and Christians. And even in the sphere of Islamic militancy, setting children afire and gunning them down in the back is not exactly de rigueur. There are Islamic militants all over the world fighting for or against any number of things, but when you’re performing weekly Newtown massacres, what, exactly, are you militating against? We need much more information about the particular views of the militants in question.

Usually when I’m going for more details, I find Al Jazeera helpful. In this case, neither this story nor the embedded radio interview provided many helpful details. Instead, much of the interview placed blame for the attack on Christian president Goodluck Jonathan — for general strife in the country and for not stopping the attack despite having three Nigerian states placed under emergency declarations. Instead of discussing religious angles to Boko Haram’s motivation, it pointed out that many of its victims are also Muslim.

But, of course, that’s not different from many other Islamic militants throughout the globe. I know that when children are massacred, reporters frequently try to blame something else — say a nation’s gun laws or political climate. It certainly beats trying to make sense of one evil or sick individual’s motivation. But Boko Haram is a major movement with self-professed religious motivation. Downplaying that in favor of other angles would be bad enough but ignoring it is even worse.

Much more helpful was, unsurprisingly, Reuters.

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