Ready! Set! Be bored by Illinois’ same-sex marriage debate!

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s “Religion News on the Web” page is one of the places I go to peruse religion news.

A headline from Illinois caught my attention today:

AP: Politics and the pulpit: Black churches at heart of gay marriage debate in Illinois

That topic interests me, so I clicked on the link.

Let’s start at the top of The Associated Press report:

SUMMIT, Illinois — When a proposal to legalize gay marriage started gaining momentum in the home state of President Barack Obama, it seemed a quick and easy deal: The pastor of his former megachurch endorsed it with powerful testimony at the Capitol and Democrats control Illinois’ government.

But fervor over the idea has stalled for months in that exact spot where faith and politics are inseparable.

Black churches — where the pulpit has always been political — are deeply divided over their support for same-sex marriage and are central to the Illinois measure’s passage, which awaits a House vote as early as this week. On either side of the issue, pastors and politically active congregations have waged intense campaigns with robocalls, columns and sermons.

What do you think of that lede?

When I worked for AP, I always enjoyed writing creative ledes much more than inverted-pyramid-style ledes (meaning straight-news, just-the-facts intros). So I understand the desire to grab the readers’ attention with something more stimulating than “Black churches in Illinois are deeply divided over same-sex marriage, stalling proposed legislation on the matter.”

But honestly, the lede AP used contains way too much editorialization for my taste. And way too little attribution. Who thought the proposal seemed like a “quick and easy deal,” for example? Doesn’t that subjective fact demand a named source?

Still, I kept reading, holding out hope that the story would reflect passionate voices on all sides of the debate.

The first source introduced — an openly gay pastor — certainly seems fired up:

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Asking the Boy Scout questions that matter the most

If you know anything about the politics of gay rights, you know that there is absolutely nothing that the Boy Scouts of American can do right now that will not lead to major divisions in their organization. The key force that will cause a future split is, of course, the deep divide among mainstream religious groups on the moral status of homosexual behavior.

There is no safe ground for the Boy Scouts, none whatsoever.

It’s very clear where American public opinion is headed, at the moment. Thus, there are few if any surprises in the media coverage of that new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which asks two questions related to the Boy Scouts debate. Let’s walk through a short Post “On Faith” blog item on the results:

A wide majority of Americans support the Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to admit gay scouts for the first time, and most oppose the organization’s plans to continue to bar gay adults from serving as scout leaders, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The century-old group’s National Council will gather later in May to vote on the plan, unveiled last month, which would allow gay scouts but maintain a ban on gay scout masters. In splitting the decision, the group may be trying to modernize while continuing to appeal to a diversity of views on homosexuality — seven in 10 scout groups are chartered by religious institutions.

So, with that seven-in-10 statistic, what are the most crucial follow-up questions that the authors of this poll needed to ask? It’s clear what the real issue is here, but it does not appear that the poll team was interested in the hard facts (poll .pdf here) behind the news.

Opposition to banning gay scout leaders ranges by religious group and along well-worn political fault lines. A 56 percent majority of Catholics oppose the continued ban on gay scout masters, a number that rises to 75 percent among people who identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular. By contrast, Protestants are closely divided, 49 percent supporting and 47 percent opposing the ban on gay scout leaders. While the new survey did not ask Protestants whether they identify as “born-again or evangelical Christians,” surveys have consistently shown evangelical Christians are more conservative than mainline protestants on issues of homosexuality.

Once again, it is absolutely useless to ask where American Catholics stand on just about anything without asking a detailed question about Mass attendance. It Boy Scout troops are hosted by Catholic parishes, that means that the key players in future decisions are almost certain to be people — parents with children — who not only attend, but help lead, those parishes.

How many sacramentally active, weekly Mass Catholics oppose the ban on gay Boy Scout leaders? If the goal of the poll is to investigate the future of the Boy Scouts, that’s the crucial question on the Catholic side of the aisle. Frankly, I was stunned at that anti-ban 56 percent number — stunned that it was not higher.

The key statistics that the poll did not investigate can be seen in a chart at the Boy Scouts website (the “On Faith” site does contain a link).

Where are most Boy Scout troops based? Total units linked to congregations in:

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Pod people: Ghosts and crickets in Jason Collins coverage

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I spent much of last week in Malibu, Calif., hanging out with the stars.

Actually, I was speaking at an event at Pepperdine University, but I wore dark sunglasses and did my best to avoid the paparazzi — just in case the tabloid press ever takes a sudden interest in GetReligionistas.

While buying deodorant at a local store (trust me, I needed it), I chatted with Mel Gibson (not really) and checked out the front page of the Los Angeles Times (really). Friday’s Page 1 featured a “tale of two high schools” reaction piece on basketball player Jason Collins coming out as gay.

I’ll copy and paste relevant chunks of the story, but here’s the basic storyline: At the enlightened private high school that Collins attended, the basketball team couldn’t be more giddy over his newly publicized homosexuality. But at a backward inner-city public school across town, black players raised in conservative religious households still get creeped out by “boys liking each other.”

The story doesn’t suffer from a holy ghost so much as a condescending refusal to take “religion” seriously and provide relevant dialogue that goes beyond easy stereotypes. Think crickets instead of ghosts.

Up high, we learn that smart rich people support gays, but ignorant black people do not:

At Harvard-Westlake — where tuition starts at $31,000 a year — gay rights are discussed passionately both on campus and at home. Collins learned how to be open-minded and have his own opinion, said the school’s president, Tom Hudnut.

“He was taught to speak up when things were not right,” Hudnut said. “His education here played a big part in that.”

At Dorsey — where about 70% of students qualify for free lunches — gay rights aren’t a focal point.

Sure, some of the players said, Collins is African American, just as they are, but he grew up in an affluent, mostly white culture that is more likely to accept homosexuality. It’s hard for them to imagine a day when a young male athlete in the inner city would be able to acknowledge he’s gay and be called a hero.

At the enlightened private school:

Religion isn’t discussed much. If anyone were to come to campus expressing the view that homosexuals are sinners, they’d be met by outrage, said the school’s longtime basketball coach, Greg Hilliard.

At the ignorant black school:

Part of the complication, the players said, springs from the conservative religious views held by many of the students and parents.

“I’m a Christian,” said Dontrel Slack, 18. “So all we were taught was boy and girl together, that is the way to go. You don’t really hear about boys and boys liking each other. Being a Christian, that is what we believe in, boys and girls.”

All but one player agreed.

What might have helped the Times story? At the least, I would love to have seen a black minister with traditional Christian views on sexuality quoted.

Before I read the L.A. piece, I took a break from gazing at the beautiful Pacific Ocean and recorded the latest “Crossroads” podcast. Host Todd Wilken and I discussed my recent posts (here and here) on media coverage of the NBA’s first openly gay player and highlighted a few reader reactions.

Enjoy the podcast.

‘Apparently,’ there’s a news story about Wisconsin church

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The lead story on CNN’s “Belief Blog” at this moment concerns a former National Football League player who apparently lost a church speaking engagement after tweeting support for basketball player Jason Collins, who this week revealed that he’s gay.

Stop the presses!

Seriously, this is national news?:

Washington (CNN) – LeRoy Butler, a former safety for the Green Bay Packers, is one of many professional athletes to tweet support for Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out as gay this week.

“Congrats to Jason Collins,” Butler tweeted April 29, the day Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated cover story.

But Butler says the four-word tweet cost him a speaking appearance at a Wisconsin church.

The church’s response?

Well, that’s where the apparently comes in:

He was scheduled to speak at the church (whose name he has not revealed) about bullying and his new book, “The LeRoy Butler Story: From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap.”

However, Butler announced the trouble in a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday.

CNN links to a similarly vague, one-sided Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story:

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So, does LA need a ‘conservative’ newspaper or not?

Time for a quick trip into tmatt’s infamous GetReligion file of guilt.

You just know that plenty of GetReligion readers are going to send us emails about an essay — in this case, from The Week — that runs with the following headline:

Why newspapers need to hire more Christians

For starters, it would help rebut conservative concerns about media bias

This essay by Matt K. Lewis opened with a reference to the recent death of one of the most talented Christians who has ever worked in the hallowed environment of The New York Times — the great John McCandlish Phillips (click here for my recent Scripps Howard column on this reporter-turned-preacher). Here’s the key transition material in the Lewis essay:

Conservatives have long lamented our East Coast secular media, charging that its worldview bias (even more than its overt political bias) skews America’s information supply. Too often, Christians feel like they’re cast as the type of fringe characters one might associate with the bar scene from Star Wars. …

This longstanding lack of diversity in the newsroom is confirmed by the Times’ McCandlish Phillips obituary, which noted that “there were [no other evangelical Christians working at the Times] when he joined the paper.”

That was unfortunate. Media outlets who want to understand America should at least have a few journalists hanging around who share — or at least, aren’t hostile to — the Christian faith.

Lewis later deals with the fact that many newsrooms do contain their share of believers, often professionals whose religious views are quite progressive/liberal who work on the opinion side of the newspaper business. That’s good, but it almost misses the point.

The key issue being discussed here is actually the need for intellectual and cultural diversity and, quite frankly, tolerance in many major newsrooms when it comes to traditional forms of major religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here, once again, is a key passage from the highly symbolic — especially in light of future events (hello Bill Keller) — 2005 self-study at The New York Times entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust.”

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason — to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it. The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.

We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). …

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

Now, let me stress that longtime GetReligion readers will know that I think, based on my experiences in mainstream newsrooms, that there are fine reporters doing accurate, balanced reporting on religious and cultural issues who are not believers of any kind. That’s not the point of the Times review material. The point is that culturally and intellectually diverse newsrooms do a better job covering modern America than newsrooms that are not as diverse.

At the same time, on the issue of Christians in the newsroom, my position is the same as that of Phillips. Bias issues exist, but it would also help if there were more religious believers who had the skills and the guts to work in elite newsrooms, which are not environments that embrace those with thin skins. We are dealing, as I have said many times, with a blind spot that has two sides. All too often, mainstream journalists do not respect the valid, First Amendment role that religious liberty plays in American life. At the same time, far too many religious believers do not respect the valid, First Amendment role played by the press.

Now, I said all of that to note this recent article at The Daily Beast about the potential sale of The Los Angeles Times to everybody’s favorite billionaire libertarian brothers, David and Charles Koch. I’m talking about the one that ran under the headline, “Could There Be A Conservative LA Times?

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The Broussard brouhaha and why context matters

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Context matters.

Take the brouhaha that has brewed over comments ESPN NBA reporter Chris Broussard made concerning basketball player Jason Collins publicly coming out as gay.

From USA Today to the Los Angeles Times, major media latched on to Broussard’s comments concerning his personal Christian beliefs on homosexuality.

Chris Broussard usually offers expertise on fast breaks and zone defense, but on Monday he drove right into America’s culture wars by calling homosexuality “an open rebellion to God” and implying that gay people can’t be Christians.

Speaking on ESPN‘s “Outside the Lines,” the basketball analyst and former New York Times writer was discussing NBA player Jason Collins, who in a landmark move just became the first active player in one of the major pro sports to come out as gay. Collins revealed his sexual orientation in a first-person Sports Illustratedstory.

“I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality,” Broussard said. “I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.

“If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin … that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” he added.

He also expressed some irritation that those who disapprove of homosexuality are, he says, labeled as intolerant and bigoted.

Here’s where the context issue comes into play: Most of the reports I’ve read make it sound like Broussard launched into an unprompted attack on gays. In fact, he was asked a question, and he answered it.

Give the Washington Post credit for making that distinction clear:

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‘Take Out the Trash Day’ for Boy Scouts?

In a memorable episode of “The West Wing,” Press Secretary C.J. Cregg is advised to save a few embarrassing stories for release on Friday.

Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and his assistant, Donna Moss, engage in a somewhat humorous discussion of the strategy involved:

DONNA
What’s “Take Out the Trash Day?”

JOSH
Friday.

DONNA
I mean, what is it?

JOSH
Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about we give all in a lump on Friday.

DONNA
Why do you do it in a lump?

JOSH
Instead of one at a time?

DONNA
I’d think you’d want to spread them out.

JOSH
They’ve got X column inches to fill, right? They’re gonna fill them no matter what.

DONNA
Yes.

JOSH
So if we give them one story, that story’s X column inches.

DONNA
And if we give them five stories?

JOSH
They’re a fifth the size.

DONNA
Why do you do it on Friday?

JOSH
Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

DONNA
You guys are real populists, aren’t you?

Speaking of “Friday news dumps”

The Boy Scouts of America made a major policy statement this past Friday concerning admittance of gay members. Of course, most Americans’ attention was focused solely on Boston that day. Intentionally or not, the Boy Scouts’ announcement came at the worst possible time for actually conveying the news.

If you missed the headline, here’s how the Los Angeles Times summarized the news:

Top officials of the Boy Scouts of America have unanimously recommended allowing gay boys into the ranks of one of the nation’s oldest and most traditional youth groups while continuing to exclude homosexual adults as leaders.

Scouting’s executive committee described the proposal as an effort to acknowledge changes in society while respecting the religious organizations that sponsor many Scout troops across the country. It also aims to move the organization beyond a controversy that has rocked its foundation in the last several months.

“We believe the BSA can no longer sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, controversial, and unresolved societal issue,” National President Wayne Perry said in a statement.

The recommendation is set for a vote at the Scouts’ 1,400-member national council meeting in May.

Though a dramatic shift from the Scouts’ outright ban on gays, the proposal left many on both sides of the debate unsatisfied. It comes after months of intense pressure inside and outside the organization, whose leadership has sent mixed signals on the issue. On Friday, some who have pushed for change were no happier than those who want to keep the status quo.

Most major news outlets stuck to a similar theme of the proposal generally failing to satisfy both sides. Quotes pulled straight from advocacy groups’ news releases reigned.

While reports hinted at the key religion angle, voices of faith were scarce in the stories I read. The New York Times, for example, referenced “conservative Christians” up high:

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Bill Keller, et al, openly confess that “error has no rights”

As the debates rage on about you know whatWashington. Post. Ombudsman. Bias. Column. — I would like to jump in remind faithful GetReligion readers of an earlier episode in this post-journalism drama. I’ll also share another link or two pointing toward pieces in which journalists are discussing some of the prickly issues in the Patrick Pexton piece.

But first, let’s back up to the earlier event (video here) in Austin, Texas, that still has me depressed, the one during which Bill Keller, days after stepping down (or is that abdicating) as New York Times editor, essentially said that there are different journalistic rules for covering social issues and religion, as opposed to politics and real news. For those who have forgotten his remarks, here is a flashback care of a column I wrote for Scripps Howard:

When covering debates on politics, it’s crucial for Times journalists to be balanced and fair to stakeholders on both sides. But when it comes to matters of moral and social issues, Bill Keller argues that it’s only natural for scribes in the world’s most powerful newsroom to view events through what he considers a liberal, intellectual and tolerant lens.

“We’re liberal in the sense that … liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted, during a recent dialogue recorded at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. … We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”

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.”

So what are some of the “social values” issues that have popped up in the news every now and then since, oh, 1973 or thereabouts? That would be any issue in public life linked to sex, salvation, marriage, abortion, parenting, euthanasia, gay rights, cloning and a few other things that, in the United States, tend to get linked to religion. Did I miss anything major in that list?

None of those issues, of course, have anything to do with politics or life in the public square. So how, precisely, does a newspaper such as the Times cover political life in America in a balanced way without being able to be accurate and fair in its coverage of opposing voices in debates about religious and social issues?

Yes, the same question would apply to The Washington Post.

Let the journalistic debates continue, since the only thing that is at stake is the future of what historians would call the American Model of the Press.

Meanwhile, over at CNN.com, former Post media-beat reporter Howard Kurtz has weighed in on Pexton’s piece, and related issues. He notes, for example, what happened when the newspaper in Laurel, Miss., covered a particularly moving same-sex union rite, the first ever in that Bible Belt county.

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