Ghosts in interview with Navy SEAL sniper’s widow

This past weekend, The Dallas Morning News ran an in-depth story on Taya Kyle, widow of slain Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.

It’s one of those meaty, emotional stories that make Sunday the best day of the week to read the newspaper. (Unfortunately for non-subscribers, the nearly 2,000-word piece is mostly hidden behind a paywall.)

Here’s the compelling lede:

The first Saturday in February began in typical fashion, Taya Kyle recalled, with “kid sports” on the agenda.

Taya and her husband, Chris Kyle — a highly decorated Navy SEAL, veteran of four combat tours and bestselling author of the memoir American Sniper — attended their son’s ball game near their home in Midlothian.

It was one of those ordinary family activities that Taya cherished sharing with Chris after he left military service four years earlier at her urging to spend more time with their son and daughter.

Just a few hours later, Chris Kyle, 38, and a friend, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed at a gun range southwest of Fort Worth in Erath County while helping a troubled war veteran through target practice as a form of recreational therapy. Eddie Ray Routh, 25, faces charges of capital murder.

In a rare interview at her home, Taya, 38, spoke about trying to hold life together even as she continues to struggle with the death of her husband four months ago on Feb. 2. Though still in mourning, she talked about wanting to carry on her late husband’s legacy, including his work with veterans.

Keep reading (assuming you’re a subscriber), and a surefire religion angle pops up:

In American Sniper, published in 2012, Chris had written about the rocky times in his marriage while he was still on active duty. Admittedly short-tempered, he wrote about frequent arguments with Taya and his struggle with road rage. Taya felt that he considered his SEAL teammates more like his family — that they took precedence over her and the two kids.

In 2008, Chris had to decide whether to re-enlist. In American Sniper, which is interspersed with first-person viewpoints from Taya, she relates how she gave Chris an ultimatum: After four combat tours, he had done enough for his country; his duty was now to his family.

“I told Chris that both our kids needed him, especially, at that particular time, our son. If he wasn’t going to be there, then I would move closer to my father so that at least he would grow up with a strong grandfather very close to him,” she wrote. “Part of it came down to the conflict we’d always had — where were our priorities: God, family, country (my version), or God, country, family (Chris’)?”


Did you catch that reference?

Apparently, the Dallas newspaper did not because the story fails to elaborate at all on what the couple believed about God or what role God played in their lives — or still plays in the widow’s life.

Ghost, anyone?

But the Morning News is not finished with vague reporting on the Kyles’ religious faith.

The story ends this way:

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In a twist, vague evangelicals all oppose immigration reform

Stop me if I sound like a broken record.

Once or twice or maybe even three times, I’ve complained about major media reporting that the nation’s evangelicals — all acting in lockstep — have jumped on an immigration reform bandwagon.

My concern about these stories has been purely journalistic: a lack of adequate reporting and sourcing to back up broad generalizations about a vaguely defined group of Christians.

For a twist, how about we consider a story from the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City daily newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

In GetReligion-esque fashion, the Deseret News takes issue with media coverage of evangelicals and immigration. Let’s start at the top:

It’s been in the headlines for months.

“Evangelicals push Congress for immigration changes.”

“Among U.S. evangelicals, surprising support for immigration reform.”

“Obama’s immigration plan encourages evangelicals.”

Outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, Reuters and numerous others have written more or less the same story on the subject.

The problem is that it’s not exactly true. Evangelicals are not largely behind comprehensive immigration reform, which is commonly taken to mean a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and, simultaneously, measures for improved enforcement of immigration law.

Since our focus is journalism, anyone see a problem with that lede?

My first problem is a personal one. In other words, I’ll leave open the possibility that my opinion could be wrong. But if I were the editor, I’d suggest the reporter focus less on other media and more on reporting the actual facts. Do some digging, and write a news story on what’s happening with evangelicals and immigration. Save the media weeping and gnashing of teeth for GetReligion.

My second problem is the same one I’ve had with previous reports by CNN, the Tampa Bay Times and The Dallas Morning News: Blanket statements about evangelicals with no named attribution. Who says evangelicals are not largely behind comprehensive immigration reform? How do you know this? These are basic, Journalism 101 kinds of questions.

The story continues:

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More vague evangelicals jump on immigration bandwagon

Last week, I complained about a front-page Tampa Bay Times story filled with broad generalizations about vague evangelicals advocating immigration reform.

This, of course, wasn’t the first time I raised concerns about media treatment of this subject.

Unfortunately, The Dallas Morning News did not get my memo.

The Texas newspaper — duplicating the sketchy Florida report in a way that only Xerox could top — splashed this main headline and kicker across the top of Page 1A on Thursday:

Applying Bible to U.S. borders

Evangelical Christians calling for path citizenship

Once again, we have a major newspaper story making sweeping statements about a largely undefined group of Christians who — at least according to those pushing the story — suddenly have changed their position on immigration reform.

Let’s start from the top of the Dallas Morning News story:

AUSTIN — After years of silence and even hostility to modifying immigration laws, conservative evangelical Christians have become unlikely allies in pressing for a path to citizenship for those here illegally because, they say, the Bible told them so.

A coalition of religious leaders in Texas and elsewhere, many with strong credentials as social conservatives, is engaging congregations in a coordinated call for Congress and the White House to deal with 11 million illegal immigrants.

“Circumstances culturally and politically have thrown evangelicals back on their biblical authority to ask, ‘What does the Bible really say about this?’” said George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. “There may be lots of political positions that differ on how we accomplish it, but they want to be on the side of God in their minds.”

While moderate and liberal religious groups have long been a part of the immigration debate, the increasingly active involvement of conservative evangelicals marks what Mason called “a sea change” by an important group that could help move Washington toward political consensus.

By now, GetReligion readers should be familiar with that storyline (did I already mention this post and this one?).

The vagueness in the Dallas story extends to the hard data (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) used to back up the thesis:

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Stenography vs. reporting: ‘Bias’ in the Lone Star State

Just the other night, I was watching an old episode of “The West Wing,” one of my all-time favorite television series.

On this particular episode, a distinguished journalist returns from an important overseas assignment and finds himself stuck — as he sees it — in the White House press corps.

“Why do you think the White House is a bad beat?” Press Secretary C.J. Cregg asks the reporter, named Will.

“I don’t like being a stenographer,” he replies.

I feel his pain. In my Associated Press days, I seldom enjoyed being part of a horde camped outside a crime scene or closed-door meeting with a million of my closest media friends. I much preferred being the lone journalist chasing an untold story in a forgotten place.

I was reminded of the stenography quote when I read a recent Dallas Morning News story on a study examining Bible elective courses offered in public schools (this is an issue I remember covering during my time with The Oklahoman).

The Dallas story, churned out by the newspaper’s Austin bureau, ran under this headline:

Watchdog group finds ‘blatant bias’ in Bible courses at Texas schools

What is bias? Presumably, that means that the courses tell only one side of the story. Ironically, the Morning News story — all of 350 words — manages to do the same.

The top of the report:

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Muslims believe in adoption, or do they?

The Dallas Morning News ran a tame little feature recently on efforts to recruit Muslim foster families in North Texas.

By “tame little feature,” I mean a relatively shallow report that scratches at the surface of key questions.

I’m a Morning News subscriber, so I was able to read the entire story (for non-subscribers, it’s mostly behind a pay wall).

The opening itself proves confusing (boldface emphasis mine):

A lack of Muslim foster parents in North Texas means local Muslim children are almost always placed with families of other faiths, putting them in an unfamiliar cultural and religious environment and making a difficult process even harder.

A Richland Hills clinic doesn’t want foster children to face added stresses, like being served bacon when their religion forbids pork, or saying prayers in a bedroom with a cross on the wall. That’s why the Muslim Community Center for Human Services is offering up a challenge to local Muslims: Step up. Become a foster parent.

“It’s a service to humanity,” said Dr. Basheer Ahmed, who founded the clinic. “There’s definitely a bad need in the community.”

About 6,000 North Texas children are in foster care each year, according to Child Protective Services. In recent years, local community leaders say, there have been a handful of times when a Muslim foster home was needed but not available, including twice in the past few months.

Is it just me or does the information in the first paragraph and the fourth paragraph seem to conflict? Are Muslim foster parents almost always unavailable (first paragraph) or occasionally unavailable (fourth paragraph)? It’s been a long week, kind GetReligion readers, so please help me understand what I’m missing!

My other question: Is there a holy ghost in this story? Could it be that Muslim beliefs on adoption are at play here? Mollie posted in 2010 on “Why Muslims don’t adopt?” (If you’re not familiar with Muslim beliefs on adoption, that link is extremely helpful.)

So does the Morning News address the religion angle (as it relates to Muslim beliefs)? Sort of:

Though Islam requires adults to be honest with children about their family lineage, the religion endorses fostering and adoption, said Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving.

“Looking after orphans and taking care of them is actually encouraged in Islam,” he said

If you didn’t click the previous link already, go ahead and do it now. Now that you’re up to speed, here’s a question: Is it accurate to say that Islam encourages adoption? Or is the subject perhaps a bit more complicated than the two paragraphs blockquoted above?

Beyond my specific questions related to Muslims, I wish the Dallas story had provided more context on how Child Protective Services handles religion in general. For example, how hard does CPS try to find a Southern Baptist home for a Southern Baptist kid? And what does the law say about making child placements based on religion?

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