Media: Remember your filibuster? That was awesome.

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The media gushing over Texas filibusterer Sen. Wendy Davis continues in such a way as to make Chris Farley, above, seem restrained. Davis is the woman who has halted, at least for the time being, a bill that would require Texas abortion clinics to have the same standards other ambulatory surgery centers are required to have. It would also prohibit, with some exceptions, the killing of children who had reached five or more months’ gestation. And the bill would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, in case of an emergency.

There are so very many fascinating things to look at, particularly in the context of the tremendous and notorious difficulty the mainstream media has had covering various problems at abortion clinics, including convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell’s abortion “house of horrors,” Texas’ own alleged killer of babies born alive, Douglas Karpen, and clinics around the country.

Let’s go over various media coverage of this religion ghost-haunted, hot-button story. One important thing to keep in mind is that this is not a forum for discussing abortion or doctrinal views on abortion or particular legislation about abortion. You are welcome to have your strongly held opinions on those matters and you are welcome to have those discussions — just not here. We keep discussions focused on media coverage.The goal is to see if the mainstream press can present the views of people on both sides of this debate in an accurate and balanced manner. It’s called journalism.

If you are interested in media coverage, in basic journalism, please join in the discussion.

OK, so first off, the Associated Press’s initial story (or headline), which actually was wrong, framed the debate word-for-word as did the pro-choice activists opposing the bill do.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans pass new restrictions expected to close almost every abortion clinic in Texas.

This one-sentence off the wire was updated, of course, but the framing remained the same, if the hyperbole was somewhat softened, throughout mainstream media accounts. Almost invariably we got the pro-choice spin on this story as if it were the news. By “requiring tighter medical standards,” as USA Today put it, the bill would have “effectively close[d] most abortion clinics in Texas.”

But wait. Each of these clinics would be free to meet the same standards that all the other ambulatory surgery clinics in the state meet, so such reporting showed not just bias but particularly childish bias. This pro-choice perspective should be included within the story, of course, but it shouldn’t be adopted as the framing for the entire story, the only perspective offered, lest press releases from Planned Parenthood be indistinguishable from stories presented as news.

Moving on to how the media have treated Davis — I found it interesting that a search of the Los Angeles Times shows that the newspaper has already published 11 staff-written stories about her. By comparison, the Times only got around to three staff-written stories about Kermit Gosnell. One of those Davis stories was literally on the front page yesterday. Kermit Gosnell never made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and it took years after his indictment in the murders of seven children and one woman for the paper to even mention him at all, buried deep within the paper.

When North Dakota pro-life senator Margaret Sitte wrote, sponsored and passed various pro-life bills, did the Los Angeles Times cover her? Not even once. Some women who work on bills related to abortion are vastly more important than other women who work on bills related to abortion. As I joked on Twitter, “It’s almost like there’s a pattern with how the media cover abortion. It’s subtle, but if you look hard, you can almost detect something.” (Have your own fun with the Los Angeles Times search function here.)

Or take the Washington Post. You remember that it wasn’t until some high-profile and sustained media criticism shamed them into it that they finally got around to writing about Kermit Gosnell, after years of complaints. Compare that to this story the Post tweeted out to its 1,741,558 follwers:

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Pod people: media struggles mightily with abortion coverage

On this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I discussed that embarrassing BuzzFeed confusion — or defiant ignorance, really — about basic and widespread traditional Christian teaching on evil. We also discussed the curious way in which the Washington Post is downplaying even local abortion “crime” stories.

Three abortion doctors had their licenses suspended after the death of a woman who had an abortion but The Washington Post just doesn’t find that newsworthy at all.

Honest. I mean, they ran a brief Associated Press story on the matter online and the only follow-up I’ve found is — no joke — a three paragraph update that one of the doctors had their license reinstated. Also by the Associated Press. Wouldn’t want to put any local reporter resources into this story, I guess.

Abortion coverage continues to be such a grievous weak point across the media. We’re all familiar by now with the approach taken where reporters ask something close to 100% of pro-life politicians about rape, even though it’s not a major policy point. And while the majority of Americans support some or all abortion restrictions, it somehow never occurs to reporters to ask the most radical pro-choice politicians (those who support no restrictions on abortions) about their extremism.

So when a reporter for the conservative Weekly Standard did the job that no mainstream reporter will do — asking Rep. Nancy Pelosi about her opposition to legislation that protects unborn children targeted by late-term abortions such as ones that end the lives of children the same age (but other side of the birth canal) as the ones convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell killed — you will never guess how the Washington Post wrote up her response …

Actually, you probably could guess, so want to try?

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Pod people: ‘Mass exodus’ from the Boy Scouts?

One of the wonderful things about writing is the ability to type something, decide it’s not precisely exactly what you wanted to say, delete it and start over.

Alas, when you’re recording a podcast — let’s say, with Todd Wilken of “Crossroads” — you don’t have that luxury.

Instead, you’re responding to questions off the cuff and thinking out loud.

So, please enjoy a trip inside my (scatter)brain in the latest GetReligion podcast.

Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow openly gay members — the subject of my recent posts on “Seven questions about Boy Scout gay policy coverage” and “Churches dumping Boy Scouts over gay policy … or not?”

My most recent post drew some interesting comments, including this insight from GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly:

The key to the whole question is that no one knows what the word “open” means in the phrase “openly gay youths.” At this point, Catholics are the key. Keep waiting for the hierarchy to speak.

And this insight from Tennessean religion writer Bob Smietana:

So far there hasn’t been a mass exodus of Baptists from Boy Scouts in Nashville. And the local Royal Ambassador leaders don’t want to fill their ranks with disgruntled scouts. This could be a case for Baptist where the national leader want one thing and the local churches something else.

The notion that the policy change hasn’t sparked a “mass exodus” also was referenced in an Associated Press story published after my last post:

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At WPost, even local abortion crime isn’t newsworthy

On May 25, I tweeted out the image at the top of this post with the note “WaPo story about 12 of 16 surgical abortion clinics in MD having a variety of failures gets this headline?”

The headline was:

Md. abortion clinic lapses unrelated to patient death

The online headline might as well have been “nothing to see here, please move along, we’re covering this just so we can say we did” but was slightly better:

Md: ‘No deficiencies’ found in care of woman who died after abortion

If you did read the story, though, you learned that, like I said, 12 of 16 surgical abortion clinics in MD (aka 75%) had deficiencies. Four had been shut down. And apparently death after an abortion is something that just happens sometimes. If that’s true, I’d sure like a heck of a lot more incendiary headline than what the WashPost offered above. In a way, being told an abortion-related death is no big deal is more interesting than being told it is. Unless you’re a newspaper these days.

You might remember that the Washington Post‘s two earlier efforts at coverage of that death were, no joke, 1) multiple stories about how pro-lifers had raised awareness about the case, to their shame and 2) that her death was a “complication of childbirth.” Don’t believe me? Check out the posts “Mainstream media defense of abortion never rests” and “Water sipping and pro-life activism; a tale of media coverage.”

So the reporter just really downplays what could be written up in the more normal journalistic style. And this stuff happens so much and so frequently with coverage of a certain set of topics. Which topics? As tmatt wrote about that Bill Keller speech a few months back, social issues linked to religion:

Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

The bottom line: Keller insists that the newspaper he ran for eight years is playing it straight in its political coverage.

However, he admitted it has an urban, liberal bias when it comes to stories about social issues. And what are America’s hot-button social issues? Any list would include sex, salvation, abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, cloning and a few other sensitive matters that are inevitably linked to religion. That’s all.

The Post has begun speaking publicly about difficulties its staff has with this same type of coverage but I don’t think anyone would accuse them of trying to correct those problems.

Which brings us to an AP story I read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution headlined “4 Md. abortion clinics shut down, 3 docs suspended.” It begins:

WASHINGTON — Four affiliated abortion clinics in Maryland have been shut down and three doctors have had their licenses suspended after a patient died at one clinic and regulators found lax procedures at all four, according to documents filed online by two regulatory agencies.

The clinics in Baltimore, Cheverly, Frederick and Silver Spring were initially shut down in March. They were later allowed to reopen, but they were shut down again in early May after state regulators received a complaint about a patient who was given a drug used to induce abortions without a doctor present, according to documents posted online by the state Office of Health Care Quality, which regulates the clinics and ordered them to close.

The patient died following an abortion at the Baltimore clinic, regulators said in the documents. After undergoing the procedure on Feb. 13, the awake but “still very drowsy” woman was left in the care of an unlicensed medical assistant, during which time she experienced cardiopulmonary arrest.

Neither the doctor who had performed the abortion, Iris Dominy, nor the assistant used an automated external defibrillator on the patient, although Dominy attempted CPR, the regulators said. The woman died later at a hospital. A week later, regulators found that the defibrillator machine didn’t work, and the clinic employees hadn’t been trained on how to use it.

Dominy is one of the three doctors whose licenses were suspended, according to separate documents posted on the Web by the Maryland Board of Physicians.

Whoa whoa whoa!

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AP not sweating details on stories

A reader passed along this gem from the Associated Press that begins:

SAN FRANCISCO DE YARE, Venezuela — The descendants of African slaves donned masks and bright red costumes as they danced through the streets of this small Venezuelan town on Thursday for its annual commemoration of Corpus Cristi.

Young men beat drums and shook maracas as the “devils” paraded through the streets and people gathered to celebrate Corpus Cristi, a Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine.

Um, come again? A “Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine?” I’m actually of the mindset that 100 percent of educated people should have a passing knowledge of what the Eucharist means to traditional Christians. But even if you think that’s too much to expect, I’m sure we all agree that reporters and editors on stories about the Eucharist should have a passing knowledge of it, right?

The error is repeated throughout a 16-photo slideshow over at Huffington Post. Each caption includes the error, including this one:

Men dressed as a dancing devils perform on the streets in San Francisco de Yare, Venezuela, Thursday, May 30, 2013. The descendants of African slaves donned colorful masks and bright red costumes as they danced through the streets of this small Venezuelan town on Thursday for its annual commemoration of Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

I’m going to go ahead and let (HuffPo commenter) MirrorMonkey take it from here:

What incompetents who humorously claim to be “professional journalists” wrote this gross public display of doltish ignorance?

Corpus Christi is certainly not a “Catholic holiday celebrating the transformation of the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine.” It is instead a Catholic solemnity that commemorates exactly the opposite: namely, how in the Eucharist, mere bread and wine are transformed into the true Body and Blood of Christ. Reversing it, as the writer did, is as clueless as saying that a wedding ceremony celebrates the transformation of a married couple into two unmarried people who will live apart.

Furthermore, in a Corpus Christi procession, priests don’t ” carry sacramental bread.” If it were believed to be mere bread, there would be no point in carrying it and honoring it at all. Instead, Catholics believe that regardless of any appearances of bread (that is, the “accidents”), the reality of the Eucharist is that it isn’t bread at all, but is really and truly the Body of Jesus Christ. The priests therefore carry what they believe to be Jesus Christ through the streets — which is why the feast is called (doh!) Corpus Christi, or the Body of Christi.

I know that reporters today are not expected to know anything about the subjects of their stories, but it is unfortunate that the total lack of basic cultural knowledge is now tolerated among those who are supposed to be their editors as well.

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Ohio State vs. Notre Dame’s ‘damn Catholics’

Earlier this week, I saw someone tweet something about how the Republican Party “should never write off any block of voters. It’s horrible politics and it causes great damage.” I retweeted it with the note “Except Methodists.”

For some reason, I’ve long thought it funny to pretend I have something against Methodists.

When I first read the story about the president of The Ohio State University — Gordon Gee is his name — making derogatory remarks about Catholics, I thought it was more a story about religious humor. What do you think? The Associated Press got the story after a public records request:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The president of Ohio State University said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten because the university’s priests are not good partners, joking that “those damn Catholics” can’t be trusted, according to a recording of a meeting he attended late last year…

The university called the statements inappropriate and said Gee is undergoing a “remediation plan” because of the remarks…

“The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for,” he said. “They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate.”

The story then quotes a Notre Dame spokesman saying the university particularly didn’t like the comments regarding “Father Joyce.” Four paragraphs later, we learn what those remarks were, which is kind of an interesting way to order a story. More on the comments:

Gee, who has taken heat previously for uncouth remarks, told members of the council that he negotiated with Notre Dame officials during his first term at Ohio State, which began more than two decades ago.

“The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they’re holy hell on the rest of the week,” Gee said to laughter at the Dec. 5 meeting attended by athletic director Gene Smith and several other athletic department members, along with professors and students.

“You just can’t trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that,” said Gee, a Mormon.

What do you think about adding “a Mormon” in there at that moment?

I’d forgotten he was Mormon, but it’s hard for me to remember anything about him other than his pot-smoking wife. But is it relevant information? And, assuming it is, is that the right way to present it?

The story did a great job, I think, of showing that the comments were understood as being of a humorous nature:

Gee was introduced by athletic council then-chairman Charlie Wilson, and Gee’s name and introduction are included in written minutes of the meeting. Gee’s comments drew laughter, at times loud, occasionally nervous, but no rebukes, according to the audio.

And the story is chock full of information about Gee and his habit of making comments that get him in trouble. But the big thing I wondered about was whether the humorous remarks masked anything about the underlying sentiment.

I mean, was it entirely a joke? Was there discomfort of any kind with Notre Dame? Or, put another way, what was the real reason why Notre Dame wasn’t invited to join the Big Ten? Did religion have anything to do with it? If so, how?

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Pope Francis’ ‘obsession’ with the devil

It’s kind of charming that all popes have to deal with bad media coverage and global press frenzies. This week we’ve seen some awful media coverage of Pope Francis, including coverage of his blessing of a man after Mass on Sunday. Part of the blame must go to the Italian press, which really went crazy with the story in a way that might not be prudent. But I’ll restrict myself to the English-language media. Let’s begin with the Telegraph (U.K.):

Pope Francis appears to have been captured on video performing an exorcism in St Peter’s Square.

The astonishing footage, taken immediately after Pentecostal mass on Sunday 19th May, shows the Pontiff approach the second of two wheelchair bound people, whose face is pixelled out.

After a priest leans across the boy or young man to tell Francis something, the Pope’s expression becomes more serious, the voice-over notes. He then grips the top of the subject’s head firmly and is seen pushing him down into his wheel chair. As this is happening the Pontiff recites an intense prayer, and the boy’s mouth drops wide open and he exhales sharply, Italian press reports added this morning.

Where to begin? Let’s begin by pointing out that Sunday was Pentecost. Not Pentecostal, which suggests something else entirely.

OK, as for this exorcism, it would be a curious exorcism indeed since it was relatively quick and spontaneous, compared to the rites and protocols used by Roman Catholics and other traditional Christians. How to analyze these claims, which seem to be fueled largely by the claims of one Fr. Gabriele Amorth? Usually the media are really good at being skeptical of the claims of any Catholic and it would be wise to reach deep for just a tad of that skepticism when covering this one, as Mark Shea explains here. I’m not saying his claims shouldn’t be covered, but they should be placed in context of previous claims he’s made and how he’s viewed by, say, traditionalist Catholics.

I’m perhaps most disappointed by various reports I saw under the Associated Press. Take, for instance, how WHPTV headlined its AP story on the matter:

Pope Francis accidentally performs exorcism

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis’ obsession with the devil has taken on remarkable new twists, with a well-known exorcist insisting Francis helped “liberate” a Mexican man from four different demons, despite the Vatican’s insistence that no such papal exorcism took place.

This isn’t journalism. It’s very embarrassing. That word “accidentally” is scandalously untrue as is every other word in the headline. And how about that lede? Obsession? Obsession? Excuse me? What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is this?

A longer version of the story is headlined, at Newser.com,

 The pope and the devil: Francis’ obsession with Satan leads to suspicion he performed exorcism

The story is written, according to that link, by the AP’s Vatican reporter, which is somewhat difficult for me to believe. I mean, all reporters should know this, but religion reporters should definitely know that Satan figures prominently in Christian thought. You want to write about someone completely over-the-bend obsessed about Satan? How about this guy?

I mean, is the Pope being Catholic really something we want to have straight news writers present as “obsession?” And, what’s the substantiation for this sick compulsion that Pope Francis has? Let’s see what’s in the story:

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Scotland the confused: Did Presbyterians back gay clergy?

Something happened on Monday at the General Assembly the Church of Scotland — they appear to have become Anglicans. No — they didn’t change from a Presbyterian to Episcopal form of church government. They did something more Anglican than combining bishops with Calvinism.  They’ve accepted the sacred “yes/but”  Anglican doctrine of deliberate confusion,  and have adopted a policy on gay clergy that no one quite seems to understand.

Let’s compare headlines and ledes from the Guardian, the Press Association and the Associated Press to see what they think happened.

The Guardian saw Monday’s vote as a victory for the liberal faction in the church that is seeking to change church teaching on homosexuality. Under the headline “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers” it reported: (seems I’ve heard that before — but don’t let me distract you.)

The Church of Scotland, the country’s largest Protestant church, has narrowly voted to admit gay and lesbian ministers after traditionalists agreed to compromise after four years of division.  The church’s ruling general assembly voted to allow congregations to admit gay ministers but only if they specifically elect to do so, in a radical departure from more than 450 years of orthodoxy set in train by the protestant reformer John Knox.

The Press Association was less sanguine. It took a “two steps forward one step back” approach to the story. The headline used by the Huffington Post with the PA story gave the liberals the win —  “Church of Scotland votes for openly gay ministers” – but the lede did not back it up:

The Church of Scotland has voted in favour of allowing openly gay men and women to become ministers – whilst maintaining a traditionalist standpoint. The General Assembly backed a motion affirming the Church’s “current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality”, but permitting liberal congregations to depart from that approach if they wish to do so.

The Associated Press report was even more cautious than the PA and filed a “yes, but” story implying the decision was a draw. The headline that topped the AP story as printed on the FOXNews website stated: “Church of Scotland votes to allow gay ministers, but only if congregations choose to do so”.

Senior members of the Church of Scotland have voted to let some congregations have openly gay ministers, a compromise first step that could lead to the church allowing gay clergy. The church’s General Assembly backed a motion affirming a traditional conservative view on homosexuality, but permitted liberal congregations to “opt out” if they wish to ordain gay men or women. The assembly vote would require the approval of next year’s General Assembly as well as votes by the church’s regional presbyteries to become law. The process is expected to take at least two years.

You can see this diversity of interpretation in the British press as well as and blogs that follow church issues. So what did happen on Monday?

The always excellent Law & Religion UK blog summarized the day as follows:

Yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in principle to allow men and women in civil partnerships to be ordained to the ministry and/or inducted as parish ministers. There were various options before the Assembly:

  • the Revisionist option, which would allow ministers in civil partnerships to be appointed to churches and gay couples in civil partnerships to be allowed to have their partnerships blessed – but would allow individual kirk sessions to opt out of the arrangement;
  • the Traditionalist option, under which no new minister in a civil partnership could be ordained or inducted; and
  • a countermotion to section 2 of the proposed Deliverance by the immediate past Moderator of the Assembly, The Very Revd Albert Bogle, which reaffirmed the Kirk’s traditional view  on the issue but would allow an individual Kirk Session to choose to call a minister in a civil partnership if it so wished.

In short, the Kirk voted for the compromise resolution which affirmed the church’s traditional theological stance against  gay clergy, but nevertheless allowed  individual congregations to opt out and engage gay clergy — an outcome the British delight in calling a “fudge”.

Each of the newspapers reported that there will be no immediate change as the bill must now go to a legal committee to be submitted to the 2014 General Assembly.  If adopted, it  will be sent to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act 1697 because the issue touches upon “doctrine or worship or discipline”. Only if a majority of presbyteries approved the bill and the General Assembly confirms it in 2015, will it become law.

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