That deacon and CBS veteran sacks a Womenpriests ‘story’

Should visitors to GetReligion choose to search our archives for the term “Womenpriests” they will find eight pages of results, most of them dedicated to dissecting alleged news reports about this tiny splinter movement on the left side of the world of American Catholicism.

I say “alleged” because most of these stories resemble public relations essays, rather than news reports that take seriously the beliefs of people on both sides of this issue. In at least one case (“If Womenpriests were rabbis“) it appeared that the Baltimore Sun team actually cooperated with the organizers of a Womenpriests ordination rite to help protect local Catholics (some on the payroll of the real church) who attended the event. For a few other hot links to past coverage, including the work of GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway, click here, here, here and here.

Now, Deacon Greg Kandra — scribe at the fine weblog “The Deacon’s Bench” — has taken his turn at pounding his head, as a veteran journalist, on this particular wall. For those not familiar with his work, Kandra is a former CBS Evening News writer with 26 years, two Emmys and two Peabody Awards to his credit. So when this Catholic clergyman chooses to dissect a report from a CBS affiliate, his commentary has a unique level of clout.

This is poor on so many levels. Reporter Maria Medina should be embarrassed. My only conclusion is that it’s sweeps month and the affiliate is desperate for ratings.

Offered as another in his occasional series called “Great moments in journalism,” Kandra called this post, “How NOT to report on women priests.” It helped that the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, Calif., published a transcript of its alleged news story on the movement officially known as “Roman Catholic Womenpriests.”

Let’s let the deacon walk readers through this primer on how not to do this job. Here’s a few choice samples:

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What is the X-factor in Syrian bloodshed? DUH! (updated)

It seems that many networkers in the online world remain fired up about that recent Washington Post explainer that ran under the headline “9 questions about Egypt you were too embarrassed to ask.” That’s the one you may recall, in part because of this GetReligion post, that was the first of many similar mainstream media pieces that have tried to explain the rising violence in Syria without including information about its crucial religious divisions.

What kind of religious divisions at the heart of the violence?

Well, how many of you out in GetReligion reader land have seen the following Associated Press report in your local newspaper, a national newspaper or your favorite news (as opposed to analysis) website? You would have seen a headline that looked something like this: “Al-Qaeda-linked rebels assault Syrian Christian village.” A shout out to CBS, by the way, for at least covering that event online.

Anyway, all of that is to point readers toward a long, deep piece that ran the other day at the CNN Belief Blog, written by co-editor Daniel Burke, under this rather remarkable headline, in the current media climate: “Syria explained: How it became a religious war.” Here’s the top of the story:

(CNN) – How did Syria go from an internal uprising to a wider clash drawing funding and fighters from across the region?

In a word, Middle East experts say, religion.

Shiite Muslims from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran have flooded into Syria to defend sacred sites and President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime. Sunni Muslims, some affiliated with al Qaeda, have rushed in to join rebels, most of whom are Sunni.

Both sides use religious rhetoric as a rallying cry, calling each other “infidels” and “Satan’s army.”

“That is why it has become so muddy,” said professor Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “The theological question has returned to the center.”

So who is crying out that the key to the rising conflict is religion? That would be the United Nations.

Why does that matter so much?

Religious civil wars are longer and bloodier than other types of clashes, according to studies. They are also twice as likely to recur and twice as deadly to noncombatants.

“People hold onto religious fights longer than battles over land and water,” said Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, an expert on foreign policy at Georgetown University and a 10-year veteran of the U.S. State Department. “It becomes existential and related to belief in a higher calling.”

Some combatants in Syria appear to believe that fighting in the name of God justifies the most barbaric measures.

Remember that video of a rebel eating the heart of a Syrian soldier while shouting “God is great!”? Or the other video showing the beheading of three men with butcher knives, also while praising God?

Of course, as CNN accurately notes, the ruling regime has been just as brutal in many cases. However, one complication — yes, captured in the CNN report — is that Syrian troops are often the only forces that are standing between tiny, in many cases defenseless, religious minorities and the elements of the rebel forces that can accurately be called Islamist and, in some cases, linked to al Qaeda.

So who are the other players on this sectarian chess board?

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‘I’m an atheist, Wolf’


Oh what a perfect clip for GetReligion.

You have to watch it to get the full gist but CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer is, above, interviewing Oklahoma tornado survivor Rebecca, holding her son Anders. (Full interview here.) Then, as transcribed by Politico:

Blitzer: We’re happy you’re here. You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?

Survivor:  Yeah.

Blitzer: Did you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?

Survivor: I — I’m actually an atheist.

Blitzer: You are. All right. But you made the right call.

Survivor: Yeah. We are here. And you know, I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.

Blitzer: Of course not.

Is this not a perfect example of why yes/no questions are a bad idea? I mean, it turned out all right. In fact, the survivor’s response is what made this such an interesting interview, despite Blitzer’s best attempts. But what was he expecting to have someone say?

Also, though, while I object to the form of the question and how it gave too much direction to the respondent, I do find it interesting how this question rests in the general sector of “journalists are weird about religion and disasters” that I’ve noticed over the years. My favorite recent example was from another CNN interview. It was back in February and the legendary Poop Cruise had finally docked. CNN was ignoring the Gosnell trial but, for some reason, doing round-the-clock coverage of the survivors of the Poop Cruise. But when two survivors tried to say what Scripture verse had sustained them during their journey, they were cut off. It was weird.

Anyway, the vast majority of the time the problem with how religion is treated in disaster interviews is that the reporters behave as if religion plays no role in sustaining people during their time of need. Perhaps it’s the loving way in which the atheist here answered the question, but I found it oddly interesting and comforting to see that religious adherents and skeptics alike get the silly questions that make assumptions about belief or non-belief.

Another interview I want to highlight was aired on CBS. I can’t stop thinking about it. The reporter is speaking to an older woman who lost her entire house while she sat in it. She is battered and bruised but she rather cheerfully describes what she went through and talks about how she knows she lost her dog under the ruins. A few minutes into the interview, someone off camera says “A dog!” The interview subject then realizes that her precious dog is alive and she asks for help getting him out of the rubble. She’s so very happy. And then she says, unprompted:

“Well I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be OK, but He answered both of them. Because this was my second prayer.”

It’s a powerful moment and it was captured simply by letting someone speak freely about a dramatic moment.

Why is Paula Broadwell’s faith such a mystery?

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey noticed something weird about today’s stories about Paula Broadwell. They all refer to her faith but they don’t tell us what her faith is.

Above you see the example from CBS News, headlined:

Seeking “redemption” after Petraeus scandal, Paula Broadwell looks to faith

Reuters:

Paula Broadwell looks to faith to rebuild after Petraeus affair

And here’s CNN:

Petraeus’ mistress Broadwell: I’m looking forward with faith

All of the stories are based on an interview she gave to the local CBS affiliate in Charlotte. And it’s Broadwell who is oblique about the “faith-based” environment she’s referring to. She’s interviewed while attending a YWCA prayer breakfast, which could give a clue, but the YWCA is no longer necessarily Christian (as it’s original name, the Young Women’s Christian Association, would lead you to believe).

She mentions God and family and trying to find meaningful work, none of which narrows it down terribly much.

To be completely honest, I don’t even see the need for a story on Broadwell’s faith right now. But if you are going to do it, do it! The basic questions of journalism should be answered in a story on a given topic. Readers should not have to guess or surmise what the faith in question is … in a story about someone’s faith.

More than that, I’d like a bit more digging down on the particulars of a person’s faith. Once you find out which general religion we’re talking about, wouldn’t it be nice to learn a bit more about what, specifically, their religion is helping them with or what has been most challenging?

In light of the journalistic response to Chris Broussard’s comments on sin the other day, I’m wondering if the media have just completely dropped the ball on knowing how to talk about such religious concepts as sin and redemption. It’s clear they’re not handling the topics very maturely or very well. This is just the latest example.

WPost demonstrates how not to respond to Gosnell critiques, again


It’s like drinking water from a fire hose. That’s what processing all of the information coming out right now about either the trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell or the problems with the media coverage of same is like. I have 600+ emails in my inbox to open and they keep coming. Many want to just talk about the media coverage but some are from reporters asking for help covering the story. It’s very good news that reporters and editors are working to improve coverage of this story.

I’ve heard privately and publicly from major publications and media outlets, either linking to their work on the matter or telling me that they will be working on it.

The two big stories we have right now are the trial itself, which is ongoing, and the media coverage failures. These are separate issues. Someone asked on Twitter whether coverage of media failures count as Gosnell coverage. It’s an excellent point. Even though we’re media critics here, and we live to discuss the media, our aim is improved coverage. I’d take one quality story on the Gosnell trial for every 100 mea culpas or defensive reactions for the media failures.

As I said to USA Today:

Mollie Hemingway, who writes about religion and the media in a blog called “Get Religion,” said the USA TODAY column brought to the forefront something religious groups, conservatives and abortion opponents had talked about for months. “But they have a limited audience,” she says. Powers’ column “revealed to a whole new audience what the media had been hiding from them.”

Hemingway cautions against conspiracy theories. But, she says, journalists need to figure out how to avoid repeating similar mistakes.

“We have a lot of catchup to do,” she says. We have to cover this (trial) well, cover it prominently, and we have to restore trust with our readers.”

The best way to restore trust is to simply cover the story. I hope to see more of that basic news coverage in the days, weeks and months to come. The piece at the top of this post by CBS News this morning is a fantastic start.

But if we’re going to write the navel-gazing pieces, we can’t rewrite history, react defensively or ignore reality. Sadly, that’s what Paul Farhi does in his very odd defense of the Washington Post‘s coverage failures “Is media bias to blame for lack of Gosnell coverage? Or something far more banal?

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CBS: John the Baptist was at the Crucifixion

In our discussions on the New York Timeswhopper of an error (and weird correction), some readers pointed out that the media outlet was not alone in making a major mistake that day:

CBS, clearly embarrassed to be No. 2 in Christian faith ignorance, ran a segment on CBS Sunday Morning in which Martha Teichner stated confidently that John THE BAPTIST stood at the foot of the cross with Mary. That should get some kind of honorable mention here.

Over at the CBS.com site, viewers were calling out the report left and right:

  • I am an avid fan of CBS Sunday Morning; it is part of our Sunday ritual. I was amazed though this morning that Martha Teichner said that John the Baptist was at the foot of the cross with Mary. That was the disciple John, the brother of James- son of Zebedee.John the Baptist had been beheaded before Jesus was crucified. How did this get by? As a Catholic I object to this error. Love your show; just be careful.
  • You lost a viewer this morning for the poor journalism in this story. The reporter did not know her New Testament well enough to know that John the Baptist was killed and Mary could not have lived with him in Turkey, the person she lived with was the Apostle John. It was nice that you started with a Catholic congregation in NY but why not also talk to a Catholic or Orthodox theologian? I turned it off when you highlighted a fringe element. Is this the way you do journalism for other stories too. A shame, I had really enjoyed watching your show before I went to Mass.
  • Martha Teichner, usually a credible reporter. Big mistake not getting a Christian to edit your story. John the Baptist died early in Jesus ministry – perhaps 3 years before Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Gospel of John, “John the Apostle” refers to himself as the one Jesus loved, not John the Baptist. Poor form!
  • Beautiful photos but you botched a couple of things. The most glaring error was stating that the “beloved disciple” who witnessed the crucifixion along with Mary the mother of Jesus was perhaps John the Baptist. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod long before this. The beloved disciple is thought to be John, who wrote the Gospel of John, three short letters near the end of the New Testament, and the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation. Also, Mary is mentioned in Acts 1:14-15 (you said she is mentioned only in the four gospels), where we find her just after the ascension huddling with the disciples in a crowd of about 120 people in the upper room (a group that also included the brothers of Jesus, so the supposed “rift” mentioned by your expert was apparently mended and they had become believers). So she was clearly involved and in touch with the early church. But it was refreshing that a news outlet referenced the resurrection, even tangentially, on Easter Sunday. Most news organizations act as though this key event never occurred. Obviously, something happened, whether or not one believes in the resurrection. I do believe.
  • For Martha Teichner’s sake, I wish someone would have vetted this story before it aired. One error that is easily verifiable was that John the Beloved is NOT John the Baptist. John the Baptist, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth’s son, was killed (beheaded) during Jesus’ ministry – so he could not have been at the crucifixion. John the Beloved is the same John that authored the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by this oversight, I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the story. I hope others were able to see what was trying to be shared and learn something. Thank you!

The report itself was very interesting and very well done. It was heavily biased toward New York City adherents and scholars and could have used more diversity among the quoted scholars. The John the Baptist error was the big doozie but I think readers might have trouble with a few more things in it as well.

Anyway, CBS has corrected the video and the print version of the story. And there’s a note at the end that says:

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mis-identified the possible “beloved disciple” as John the Baptist.

What does that mean — “the possible ‘beloved disciple’”? I don’t understand why the word “possible” is used.

Going off-script: Angus Jones zaps ‘Two and a Half Men’

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First things first. I sincerely hope that you’ve never had the displeasure of watching the abominable show “Two and a Half Men.”

If I were to draft a list of the top 10 things that make me feel alienated from my fellow citizens, the fact that this was for many years the most watched show in America would be right up there at the top of the list. It’s so vile and unfunny. And I’ve never even come close to seeing an actual episode — just a few snippets here and there.

However, as millions and millions of Americans know, the “half” in the title refers to the kid on the sitcom and he went full Charlie Sheen recently and ripped on the show.

This not being standard operating procedure in Hollywood, his rant made headlines. What makes it interesting for our purposes is that the comments against the show were nothing but religious and were made in the context of a recorded testimony of his Christian faith. So my fave story has to be the one that focuses not on the content of the comments but, rather, the business side of things. Entertainment Weekly has a piece headlined “Angus T. Jones outburst: Has he breached his ‘Two and a Half Men’ contract?” The end of that piece says, by the way:

Jones gave his testimony to religious conspiracy theorist Chris “The Forerunner” Hudson, who no doubt hoped his surprising interview with the star would shine a larger spotlight on his end-of-days beliefs.

So I know nothing about Chris Hudson. I’m sorry, I know nothing about this whole “The Forerunner” thing. However, I prefer my journalists to show me how a person is a religious conspiracy theorist rather than merely to assert that he is. As it’s written, the reporter makes it seem like belief in “end-of-days” is the substantiation for the charge, which I assume was unintended. I tried to dig around for some more info and it looks like Hudson is involved with theories about The Illuminati.

I rather liked how the Los Angeles Times handled it:

Angus T. Jones doesn’t much like “Two and a Half Men,” and he wishes viewers wouldn’t watch the show.

So said the 19-year-old TV star in Christian testimony shot principally in his production trailer and posted Monday by the Forerunner Christian Church on YouTube.

“Jake from ‘Two and a Half Men’ means nothing. He is a nonexistent character … ,” Jones said, starting about halfway through the video above. “If you watch ‘Two and a Half Men,’ please stop watching ‘Two and a Half Men.’ I’m on ‘Two and a Half Men,’ and I don’t want to be on it.

“Please stop watching it; stop filling your head with filth. Please. People say it’s just entertainment. … Do some research on the effects of television and your brain, and I promise you you’ll have a decision to make when it comes to television, and especially with what you watch.” …

“A lot of people don’t like to think about how deceptive the enemy is. He’s been doing this for a lot longer than any of us have been around … ,” Jones said, presumably referring to Satan. “There’s no playing around when it comes to eternity.”

Just a simple set-up, a helpful amount of interpretation, and lots of quotes. The USA Today story on the matter was interesting because it never mentioned which religion influenced Jones. The most it ever says is here:

Two and a Half Men has a new critic — and he’s on the inside.

In a YouTube video, Angus T. Jones, who plays the teen Jake Harper on the CBS sitcom, tells viewers not to watch the series because it contains “filth.” His comments are part of a religious testimony given to The Forerunner Chronicles.

Particularly considering the obliqueness of the name of the outfit to which he gave his testimony, a bit more information sure would have been helpful. You think?

In other journalism news, The Hollywood Reporter handled this problem with a much more detailed report. The Associated Press and Variety each had short reports, too.


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