Pod people: Stopping in again at the Death Café

Pull thoughts and words from my head and form sentences with them on a screen? No problem.

Speak into the air for those interested to hear? A little more of a challenge.

Yet this week my number came up; it was my first turn at the mic for GetReligion’s “Crossroads” podcast.

I chair-danced while the introductory music played. I tried to answer host Todd Wilken’s questions honestly and succinctly while adding the insight he asked. I prayed silently throughout that my daughter’s small, white pet rabbit sitting next to me wouldn’t start loudly munching on the wicker basket in the corner.

I’m told these things become easier with time and practice — not to mention professional voice coaching, a dialect makeover and a stint living somewhere outside the proverbial Bible Belt.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee first, though, because we’re stopping in again at the Death Café. In summary, I wanted to order up an item that wasn’t on the menu: any real spiritual discussion related to death, the destination of souls or thoughts about the afterlife.

I enjoyed reader FW Ken’s take on the subject and appreciated his thoughts on the journalistic questions I raised:

Finally got around to reading the article, and I’m here to tell you, is hard to take seriously a program called a Death Cafe. It sounds like a Deathmetal eatery. Maybe like that one in Chicago serving unconsecrated hosts on a burger.

Mulling over the critique that the article lacks substantive discussion of the afterlife, I would be fearful of such a discussion going in the circles illustrated in the comments on this thread. I can’t imagine that such a cheerful program would allow such theoretical discussions, but it would be nice to know if they happen, and how they are handled.

We also looked back at a BBC installment in its series on kindness regarding Keshia Thomas, an anti-KKK protester at a KKK rally that took a dangerous turn when a white supremacist was spotted in the anti-KKK section. Thomas said her instinct to shield the supremacist with her body was born of faith, and that she felt like angels were picking her up and placing her across him to protect him. The follow-up questions about her spiritual background and religious convictions were nil, however.

I haven’t seen a retrospective of this 1996 rally that has done Thomas’ story justice, but I’m still looking. I’m sure it will be a good one, if a reporter is willing to really listen to her replies and delve into the answer as to why she kept this man from being harmed that day.

Enjoy the show, and remember I’m the rookie around these parts!

Pod people: What’s religion got to do with Egyptian tourism?

In the wake of the events of 9/11, I had the honor of taking part in a forum on religion and the news at the University of Nebraska that, no surprise here, featured a keynote speech by historian Martin Marty, an omnipresent scholar who has probably done as much as anyone to promote serious work on the Godbeat.

The point of the talk was that it is getting harder and harder to say what is religion news and what is not. To illustrate, he took one day’s worth of paper and ink from The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and then led the audience on a guided tour of some of the headlines he saw in their pages. As I described this in a column for Scripps Howard:

A former WorldCom CEO kept teaching his Sunday school class. A researcher sought the lost tribe of Israel. Believers clashed in Sudan. Mormon and evangelical statistics were up — again. A Zambian bishop said he got married to shock the Vatican. U.S. bishops kept wrestling with clergy sexual abuse. Pakistani police continued to study the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.

Marty tore out more pages, connecting the dots.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey feared an Anglican schism. Public-school students prayed at flagpoles. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explored the border between church and state. And there were dozens of stories linked to Sept. 11, 2001.

“When I read newspapers, I see religion all over the place,” said Marty, whose University of Chicago Divinity School career has led to 50-plus books and countless media appearances. “This has always been the case. I simply think it has been easier for others to see this reality during the past year.”

At one point, Marty noted that the lines were even blurring on beats that editors would be tempted to see as totally secular — like business. We are living in an age, he said, when it’s even hard to talk about oil prices without knowing what is happening with religious trends, tensions and conflicts in the Middle East.

The same thing, I would argue, is true right now in Egypt. Thus, this whole “what is religion news and what isn’t religion news” theme dominated my conversation this week with Todd Wilken for the Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to that).

Take, for example, all of those references in the news right now to the role that a failing economy has played in the chaos in Egypt. In particular, a collapse in the tourism industry has drawn some coverage. Consider this from a new Los Angeles Times story:

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Pod people: Has the gay movement peaked?

In a speech delivered at the Mansion House in London on 10 Nov 1942, Winston Churchill predicted the British victory at the battle of El Alamein would mark the turn of the tide of Germany’s fortunes. The hitherto unstoppable Wehrmacht had been defeated, and the historical inevitability of a German victory was gone. But, he added:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

I was reminded of Churchill’s words while reading an article by Paul Gottfried in the current issue of the Salisbury Review. In an article entitled “Cooling Off on Gay Marriage,” Gottfried argued the social left had reached its zenith with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. The urgency of the campaign to legalize gay marriage was animated by a desire to seize the moment.

Rather there is awareness that the present campaign to mainstream and even glorify gay marriage cannot be sustained forever. It may be reaching its limits in being able to convert people to a bizarre idea, no matter how much money and expensive propaganda have been thrown at it.

He argues support for gay marriage is “far shakier than the media would allow us to believe”, citing tight poll numbers and the spate of electoral defeats for gay marriage in all but the most politically liberal states. The campaign for gay marriage was anti-populist, driven by elites seeking to shape the culture. Public acceptance remained mixed, even in the face of a concerted political/social campaign to bring about its acceptance.

This does not even factor in the new, edifying TV shows featuring loving gay couples and quarrelsome heterosexual ones, the movies showing similar epiphanies, glaringly biased news coverage, and the steady work of our public educational institutions in getting the kids to celebrate gayness and same sex marriage.

He concludes:

The power establishment has moved too far too fast on the issue of gay marriage; and it may not be able to keep up the pace of its efforts to erode traditional and until recently the only concept of marriage, as a heterosexual union.

This is an interesting argument, to say the least — and one I have not heard bandied about in the popular media. Time will tell if Gottfried is right, but I believe there are stirrings in the culture that may foreshadow a Thermidorian reaction against the excesses of the social left. In this week’s edition of Crossroads, Issues, Etc.. host Todd Wilkens and I discussed my recent story at GetReligion on the defenestration of James Tengatenga.

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Pod People: CBS asks if Pope is breaking with Vatican

The previous week gave us a lot to talk about here at GetReligion. Check out these GetReligion posts from Friday alone for a few bad examples of media coverage (here, here and here).

In the latest Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I chatted about some of the early problems with media coverage of Pope Francis’ remarks on blackmailing people for sins they’d repented of. See my posts Pope Francis’ 1st miracle: media coverage of mercy and Media obsession dangers: Pope and gay priests. We also talked a bit about the struggle to cover denominational news when there is no  major or easy-to-understand controversy on which to report (News crisis: when people agree (Lutheran edition)). And we discussed the difficulties of reporting on lawsuits or other one-sided updates (When lawsuits attack).

Whatever the Pope says is news. Every time a pope gives an interview, except headlines. This was an intriguing and open and flowing interview. Headlines are proper and to be expected. At the same time, it’s important to accurately convey the news in the headline. It’s worth taking some time to understand the context of remarks (such as the gay mafia issue which was the focus of the question that generated the headlines). And it’s important to make sure that one’s own biases and obsessions aren’t coloring the way the news is being presented.

All that to say that I have a favorite example of media mis-steps on this. It comes from CBS and was caught by a conservative criticism site. You can read their full coverage here but they feature Dean Reynolds asking a man who left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 2006 over his belief that individuals with same-sex attraction would be purged. It’s an interesting choice for a single source bit, but that’s neither here nor there. Check out this exchange:

MICHAEL HERMAN: I don’t think gay people in general have felt loved in this church for a long time. So, to have any indication of being loved and being welcomed is huge.

REYNOLDS: Michael Herman is a gay Catholic who quit the priesthood in 2006, after he felt the Church intended to purge gays. In the past, the Church has called homosexuality a depravity, contrary to natural law which can never be approved. Pope Benedict XVI said, as recently as 2005, that homosexuality was incompatible with the priesthood. But Herman says this pope’s tone will have a ripple effect….

HERMAN: …The effect that that will have on parents who have gay children – on gay Catholics themselves, I think, is extremely positive – when all we’ve heard, for many years, is negative, negative, negative.

REYNOLDS: Do you think he’s breaking with the Vatican?

Do you think the Pope is breaking with the Vatican. So much wrapped up in that question, no?

Pod people: Indulgences & WYD in The Guardian

Coverage in The Guardian, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and the editorial board of The New York Times were the targets of my wit on last week’s GetReligion podcast. Crossroads host Todd Wilkens and I discussed the media coverage of the Vatican’s announcement that those who followed Pope Francis’ tweets from the World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil would be granted an indulgence.

My colleague M.Z. Hemingway looked at this topic last week in a post entitled “Media: Pope says retweets spring the soul!” that focused on the Telegraph. Mollie seemed to be having so much fun with the topic that Todd and I decided to join the party and focus on the Guardian story “Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets”. The subtitle was even better: “Papal court handling pardons for sins says contrite Catholics may win ‘indulgences’ by following World Youth Day on Twitter.”

Wilkins opened the program by asking my expectations and reactions to the story. I responded that the Guardian story was “wonderfully awful.” It  played into the anti-Catholic animus that resides just below the surface of English life and would elicit a visceral response from some readers — the liberal secularist left would find comfort in reading about the latest foolishness from those enamored with sky pixies. The Little Englanders (who don’t normally take the Guardian as they place their full faith and credit in The Daily Mail) would respond with two words — “bloody papists.”

While the tone of the article was problematic, it was not in error. The Guardian did not make the mistake of conflating absolution and indulgences: forgiveness for sin over against the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin. But the article could have provided context, offering examples of indulgences granted for Bible reading, praying the rosary or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

And, good Protestant that I am, I offered my view that indulgences were nonsense. And admitted to a liking for ridicule — stating this was part of my repertoire in reporting on Anglican affairs.

But in this instance, if you did not believe in purgatory, indulgences could have no theological meaning. The disdain that was so close to the surface of the Guardian article, and animated my off the cuff remarks, had its roots in one of the significant divisions between Protestants and Catholics, Todd (a Lutheran) and I (an Episcopalian) observed.

Yet the misreporting of this story chronicled by Hemingway also had its roots in the lack of knowledge or interest in religion found in news rooms. I told Todd:

I would not be quick to say there is a vast left-wing conspiracy out there to smack down the Catholic Church. Where I think it comes from is an inveterate hostility found in 99 percent of news rooms against the Christian religion, against organized Christianity. You are going to find the greatest concentration atheists not in the Soviet Politburo but in the editorial offices of the New York Times. Their coverage is filtered through that worldview. So they don’t understand what is going on. They don’t understand the attraction of faith. They don’t understand the mystery of faith and frankly ridicule is the easy way out.

While the Politburo reference dates me — I believe this quip holds true.

Pod people: Proselytization, blasphemy and Gosnell

On this week’s Crossroads podcast with host Todd Wilken, we talked media coverage of the Pentagon and proselytization, religious freedom and the Benghazi whistleblowers and the trial of Kermit Gosnell. So yeah, we packed a lot in there.

Partly we discussed the Pentagon because of recent GetReligion posts such as “I share, you evangelize, they proselytize” and “Media treatment of Mikey Weinstein under scrutiny.” I also wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s Houses of Worship column on the matter, which you can read here. For this piece, I had a fairly nuanced point. While many of the claims that generated alarm were exaggerated, taken out of context or wrong, that doesn’t mean that things are totally calm on the religious liberty front. While I think that partisans on either side of the issue may take issue with my middle-of-the-road approach, I received excellent feedback both from folks in the military and traditional religious liberty advocates. So that’s always nice. Also, Joe Carter should like it since not only did he complain about the lack of media coverage given Southern Baptists who expressed concern about the Pentagon’s approach but also because I quoted him in the piece. And, again, major props to The Tennessean for covering this story thoroughly and with exactly the kind of balance that is ideal. One thing I loved about that paper’s approach was that it quoted people without buying into their arguments — on either side. Whereas some conservative outlets just ran with the more alarmist claims, some mainstream outlets responded by just uncritically accepting the view of the military. If this week has taught us anything, perhaps it’s that skepticism of the official line is in good order.

Speaking of, we also talked a little bit about the religion angle to the Benghazi situation. Or angles, I should say. Obviously the religious motivations of the attackers should receive coverage. Some papers have handled that brilliantly in recent months, it’s worth saying. Another religion angle I was thinking of was how the initial false reports that placed blame on a YouTube video may have contributed to a perception that Muslims are irrational and easily led. But an angle I really wish we’d see more coverage of is how the false reports about the YouTube video led some prominent politicians and media types to call for limits on religious expression. It even led to statements from high U.S. officials that we’d get the YouTube video and punish him. Which we did (ostensibly not for the Benghazi killings but you’d be forgiven for thinking so).

Finally, we discussed a bit more about the continued downplaying of the Gosnell trial. If you were a reader of some papers or a watcher of some newscasts, you could very easily know nothing about this trial. I’m not surprised but, as a fan of the mainstream media model, I’m disappointed.

Pod People: Media wake up to Gosnell failures

YouTube Preview ImageGetReligion’s critique of media coverage of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s trial has received quite a bit of attention in recent days. I’m glad, since we’ve been aware of the problem with media coverage of this topic since early 2011. My post from January of that year, “8 Murders in Philadelphia,” shows the history of problems in coverage.

We looked at many abortion-related stories since that time, but they were, naturally, in the area that the media took the most interest — the Susan G. Komen feeding frenzy, the Sandra Fluke drama and the Todd Akin obsession. In fact, it seemed I spent most of my year paying quite a bit of attention to what the media wanted me to pay attention to — those stories. They were viewed as extremely, extremely important stories for the populace to pay attention to.

And so I found it disturbing that, when the Kermit Gosnell trial commenced last month, the coverage was so very weak or non-existent. I wanted to critique the coverage, but there just wasn’t too much to look at. The first day of the trial was the exception, and we looked at some oddities with how that trial was being covered by the Associated Press in “The new ‘abortion’: cutting newborns’ spinal cords.”

By Monday of last week, it was clear that there had been a massive failure across the media — as I wrote in “Should media cover — or cover up — abortion trial?” Then we discussed some frames that might be helpful for reporters struggling to do their jobs in “Mainstream press on Gosnell: adjust the framing.” As the week progressed and I got more and more confused by the media blackout, I wrote, “We need answers on Gosnell coverage,” picking up on Kirsten Powers’ powerful USA Today column calling for front-page, top-of-the-broadcast coverage of this horrific trial.

That’s when I got to work asking a few reporters to explain their role in the blackout, and you can read about the early part of that project in “WPost reporter explains her personal Gosnell blackout” and “Politico and Atlantic.com’s turn to explain Gosnell blackout.”

I wanted to provide all that context before linking to this week’s Crossroads podcast. Host Todd Wilken and I discuss this huge story and we also discussed the “how” and “why” of this story. I know that many people are demanding answers on those last questions and I am trying to weigh in. It is, of course, difficult to know how this massive media failure happened. I assume it’s quite complex. We discuss racism, views on abortion, and narrative frames. Wilken wonders whether abortion views led some journalists to think these murder charges weren’t a big deal. There are many more possible answers.

When I was on Fox News on Friday to discuss the lack of media coverage of this case, I was so pleased by what Kirsten Powers said when asked to explain why this all happened. She noted that some journalists were writing mea culpas that included admissions of pro-choice bias. But, she said, she couldn’t really speak to motivation.

I know that this Gosnell dust-up is happening in a very heated political environment. GetReligion is a media analysis blog. Our readers have done a very good job of discussing this topic respectfully and thoughtfully by focusing on media coverage as opposed to underlying views on abortion. If you’d like to discuss politics or religion, that is of course fine, but you can’t do it here. There are other places better suited for that. We really need to keep a tight focus on media coverage here.

 

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Pod people: Can journalism be a civilizing influence?

On this week’s Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I talked about recent admissions from the mainstream media about the difficulty they’ve had treating traditional marriage proponents with any justice or decency.

Some of the best content we had on the blog this week came from a correspondent, who is a journalist, who weighed in on the matter. I’m not alone in thinking that content was most helpful for the discussion. Reader John M. wrote:

That quote from the “correspondent” above is one of the most intelligent things I’ve read in the context of this national discussion.

Reader Mark B. wrote:

I *really* like the correspondent’s contribution – I wish more stuff like this saw the light of day in mainstream journalistic endeavours (obviously not straight news, but certainly that next, ‘op ed’, circle out from straight news). It is a clear, reasonable, and rational statement that is not dumbed down and does not reflect the groupthink that seems to be often given sway in journalism.

And reader Thinkling weighed in:

There is more intelligence in this piece and the discussion here than in whole newsrooms. Thank you GR for this.

I highly encourage you to read through the thoughts the reader shared here and here. In the second piece, the correspondent agreed with criticism of some marriage traditionalists — that they seem fine with the new, impermanent model of marriage. Described by Conor Friedersdorf as the “modern, secularist, find-your-soul-mate-but-no-fault-divorce-just-in case incarnation,” the correspondent said such approval was rooted in “a kind of soft hypocrisy rooted in not thinking deeply.” He went on:

However, that thoughtlessness is hardly unique to the traditional side. I would argue the overwhelming majority of people in favor of same-sex marriage have not thought their arguments fully through, either, which I consider largely to their credit. They have not thought through what it means for children to say that either a mother or a father is optional not just de facto but de iure, not just in fact, as something that happens sometimes, but in principle. They have not thought through what it means to have three parent birth certificates, and to treat school materials that talk about “mother and father” without equal time given to alternative situations as “heteronormative” — as something practically stigmatized and bigoted. Most of these people are motivated by what they see as fairness — again, to their credit — to people with same-sex attraction. I laud their sympathy. But they have not thought through what fairness means for a wedding photographer who is not an exempted “church” but whose moral convictions do not permit her to pretend she thinks this event people are asking her to shoot is a marriage. They have not thought about fairness as it applies to a father who wishes to opt his children out of being indoctrinated in the state’s newfound moral orthodoxy that conflicts with his own in his neighborhood elementary school to which he pays taxes. The overwhelming majority of these people have no idea at all of advancing the ideology one finds in statement such as http://www.beyondmarriage.org/ — the total undefining of marriage. Even many of the more knowledgeable advocates on the other side would probably reject some of statement. Yet many are blissfully unaware that such goals exist or motivate anyone, and those who do not lack this knowledge have been spared the difficult and important work of explaining to themselves and to society how their ideas don’t lead to the more radical ones. Why do that when the secular media frame for the story casts you as Dudley Doright and those who disagree as Snidely Whiplash? (Boo! Hiss! Hooray!)

A journalism that was less interested in bullying people than learning actual arguments in play and considering actual consequences would contribute heavily to a more civilized society. How society comes to decisions is frequently as important as what those decisions are and the media have done a horrific job providing a forum for a healthy discussion on at least this topic. But just a bit of critical thinking and humility — just a bit — would go a long way to improving things.


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