The heroism of Antoinette Tuff

YouTube Preview ImageA reader sent along a link to a story about an amazing woman who talked down a gunman at an Atlanta-area elementary school. Her name is Antoinette Tuff and the full 9-1-1 call she made — which includes her conversation with the gunman — is gripping. You can hear it from CNN here. Her courage is inspiring and her love for her neighbors is just beautiful. She talks about her own hardships to help him see that he’s not alone in having a bad situation. The love she shows the mentally disturbed man who could have destroyed so many lives is just staggering.

The story the reader sent in, from ABC News/Yahoo included the following passages:

Hill, according to Tuff, said he had no reason to live because nobody loved him.

“And I just explained to him that I loved him,” Tuff told ABC News in an exclusive interview Tuesday night. “I didn’t know much about him. I didn’t know his name but I did love him and it was scary because I knew at that moment he was ready to take my life along with his, and if I didn’t say the right thing, then we all would be dead.”…

“I knew at that time it was bigger than me,” she said. “He was really a hurting young man, so I just started praying for him. And just started talking to him and allowing him to know everything that was going on with me and that everything was going to be OK.”

Then Tuff made the request that she said helped end the standoff. She asked the suspect to put his weapons down, empty his pockets and backpack and lie on the floor.

“He brought a gun bag, a book bag, a bag full of ammunitions in there, a bunch of magazine clips in there, a whole lot of stuff,” she said…

Tuff said she will be returning to work later this morning.

“Yes, I will be back,” she said, “sitting in that same seat, blessing that next person.”

The comment from the reader, a journalist herself, “Talk about a religion hole.”

Indeed. If you want to know more about the religious motivations of this woman who helped save so many lives, don’t look to em>Parade magazine. The story has nothing about her religious views.

One of my concerns about how journalists cover shootings is the fame given to those who kill others. When men and women courageously thwart gunmen, their names and actions should be remembered and covered well. The media have, in fact, done a good job of noting Tuff’s courage, but looking at what gave her the strength to handle such a worrisome situation could be handled better.

The Los Angeles Times ended its piece on the matter with this quote:

When it was all over, she said a prayer: “I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ “

NBC News gave this snippet:

Only after the ordeal was over did Tuff reveal just how scared she’d been the whole time:

“I’m going to tell you something baby — I’ve never been so scared in all the days in my life,” she told the unidentified operator. Then, she started crying and exclaimed, “Oh, Jesus! Oh, God!”

To which the operator told the courageous bookkeeper: “You did great. Hold on. Hold on”

More, please.

There’s another religion angle cropping up in this story.

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LATimes sees the layers of threats against Copts in Egypt

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The dominant story coming out of Egypt right now continues, and with good cause, to be the growing conflict between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the so-called “secular” coalition that is backing the nation’s military elites, a coalition that includes many mainstream Muslims, liberal secularists, Coptic Christians and members of other religious minorities.

For the most part, this hellish conflict — which could grow into full civil war — is being portrayed as a fight between Islamism and secularism. However, the ongoing persecution of the ancient Coptic Christian minority, a persecution that has taken place to varying degrees over the decades and centuries, shows that the reality is more complex and confusing than a mere two-sided standoff.

I have been quite critical, at times, of The Los Angeles Times coverage in Egypt. However, it’s team on the ground in Egypt has now produced a story on the recent Coptic church burnings that does a pretty good job of showing just how confusing the current realities on the ground are for religious minority groups — the degree to which they are caught in a lesser-of-two-evils endgame. Here is a crucial slice of the report:

“The Muslim Brotherhood wants to burn down the country,” said Nagy Shokrallah, a fidgety man thumbing through photos of church damage on his BlackBerry. “When we take our children to visit the monasteries in the south, we tell them they were burned twice in history: the first time under Roman occupation and the second time by the Muslim Brotherhood” as Morsi and its other leaders were pushed from power.

Two Christians have reportedly been killed in recent days. Churches, schools, convents and at least one Christian orphanage have been attacked, torched or robbed, many of them in the southern deserts. Vestments have been scorched, statues shattered. Police have often provided little protection; parishioners said security forces didn’t arrive at St. George’s until three hours after the gunmen had fled.

“The military and police secured nothing at all,” said Tony Sabry, a member of a Coptic youth union, who criticized Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, commander of the armed forces, for instigating a purge against the Brotherhood that left Copts exposed. “Sisi has said he will restore the churches … but he should have protected them before their sanctity was violated.”

It’s crucial to note that the Copts do not believe they can trust the police and military to protect them. Why? Because the simple truth is that the vast majority of Egyptians want some kind of Islamic state and the role of the nation’s religious minorities in that future state is problematic, to say the least. At the same time, there are many Egyptian Muslims who see the ancient Copts — to one degree or another — as part of the nation’s past and its future.

Thus, some Muslims have helped protect the churches and monasteries, while others have attacked them. That’s the reality: This conflict INSIDE ISLAM can be seen throughout Egyptian life. If the military elites win, that reality will remain — only at less urgent threat level.

More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, what happens to the Copts? What role will American and other nations in the West play in helping protect Jews, minority Muslims, Copts and others in this very threatening drama?

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The curious incident of the Catholic school in the L.A. Times

In one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Silver Blaze, the clue that led to identifying the criminal was a dog that didn’t bark.

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” ask the Chief of Police.

“Yes—to the curious incident of the dog in the night time.”

“But the dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes, “Ah—that was the curious incident.”

In the media’s coverage of religion, we often stumble upon these “curious incidents” when something that should have happened doesn’t happen—and shapes an entire story.

Consider, for example, a recent story in the Los Angeles Times on the “Gay teacher at Glendora Catholic school fired after marrying partner.” The teacher, Ken Bencomo, was fired by the school “after he married his partner of 10 years” and the photos of the ceremony were published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Bencomo doesn’t comment in the story, but allows his attorney, Patrick McGarrigle, to speak on his behalf.

Take a look at this section and see if you notice anything unusual:

On multiple occasions over the year, McGarrigle said, Bencomo has introduced Persky as his partner to administrators at school events.
In a statement released through an attorney, the school said it is “a community of faith for those who wish to express, practice and adhere to values in education based on the Roman Catholic tradition.”

“While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values,” the statement reads. “These values are incorporated into the contractual obligations of each of our instructors and other employees.”

Bencomo hopes to resolve the situation without legal action, but he has not ruled out filing a lawsuit, McGarrigle said.

“The school went to the draconian measure of firing him without warning and without legal reason,” he said. “They haven’t expressed any interest in finding a way for Ken to return.”

Is there any point, dear reader, to which I would wish to draw your attention? Indeed, to the curious incident of the omission of the reporter in reporting the “contractual obligations.”
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Time out for all California sexual-abuse cases?

It’s time for a quick dip into tmatt’s massive file of GetReligion guilt, the cyber-place in which I stash stories that I really wanted to critique, but other things (papal visits, health issues, my own travel, etc.) jumped in the way.

In this case, we’re talking about a Los Angeles Times report about the ongoing legal wars linked to one of the most painful subjects — ever — on the religion-news beat. I am referring to the waves of scandal in the Catholic church over the past quarter century linked to the sexual abuse of children and, in the vast majority of cases, teen-agers.

This story is, on one crucial point, somewhat better than many mainstream reports (but I’m afraid that isn’t saying much).

It’s a bit better, but I still think that one very crucial piece of information needed to go much higher in the text.

The subject of this report is a familiar one for those who closely follow the scandals. Here’s the all-to-familiar opening of the story:

At the height of the clergy sex-abuse scandal in 2002, Catholic leaders stayed silent as California lawmakers passed a landmark bill that gave hundreds of accusers extra time to file civil lawsuits. The consequences were costly.

California dioceses paid $1.2 billion in settlements and released thousands of confidential documents that showed their leaders, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, had made plans to shield admitted molesters from law enforcement.

Now, state legislators are considering a bill that would give some alleged victims more time to sue. But this time, the church is waging a pitched battle in Sacramento to quash it.

So, this raises an important question: Does the church have a logical reason to fight this particular bill, other than a presumed desire to avoid justice and to save lots of money?

As it turns out, there is a reason and it’s the same reason discussed in other parts of the country over the years. The content of the church’s objections made it into this particular story, which is good since — believe it or not — I have seen news reports that completely ignored that perspective.

So what is the logic? Ah, there is the issue. The information comes rather slowly.

Right up top, readers learn this:

Opponents argue that the bill unfairly opens the church, the Boy Scouts and other private and nonprofit employers to lawsuits over decades-old allegations that are tough to fight in court. Two bishops have visited the Capitol to argue their case to the bill’s chief author.

So, why is the bill called “unfair”?

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Results vary as media follow Rick Warren’s return

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Over the weekend, Rick Warren returned to the pulpit for the first time since his son’s suicide nearly four months ago.

This made national headlines — and rightly so.

The coverage that I saw ranged from weak to adequate to truly exceptional.

On the weak side, the Los Angeles Times did a bare bones report that seemed to scream: “Just going through the motions! Nothing to see here! Move along!”

The full extent of the Times’ coverage from inside Saddleback Church:

Rick Warren, bestselling author and pastor of an evangelical mega church in Orange County, preached for the first time on Sunday after his son’s suicide.

Matthew Warren, 27, shot himself in the head in April following a long struggle with mental illness.

On Sunday, his father appeared in jeans and a black T-shirt in front of an estimated 10,000 congregants at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest and vowed to fight prejudice against people with mental illnesses.

“It’s amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there’s no shame and stigma to it,” Warren said. “But if your brain breaks down you’re supposed to keep it a secret.”

For those paying attention, the “Sunday” in the Times’ lede might seem strange (which is a nice way of saying “downright inaccurate”). Other media, after all, reported that Saddleback has five weekend worship services, and that Warren began preaching at them Saturday afternoon.

On the adequate side, that’s how I’d characterize The Associated Press’ report on Warren’s return to the pulpit.

AP’s story seems to provide all the relevant facts, including this section:

In the sermon, first in a series called “How To Get Through What You’re Going Through,” Rick Warren said he had the perfect role model for his struggles.

“God knows what it’s like to lose a son,” Warren said.

He remained mostly composed, but choked back tears at times, including when he thanked his surviving two children.

Obviously, that direct quote refers to Jesus’ death on the cross. Here’s my question: Should the AP specify that? Or is it OK to assume that most readers know what he’s talking about?

On the truly exceptional side, check out this report from Time magazine writer Elizabeth Dias, whose specialties include religion coverage.

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Zeleny’s questions: 3 on shoes, 3 on catheters, 0 on abortion

Earlier this week, we discussed the six questions that ABC News’ reporter Jeff Zeleny asked of State Sen. Wendy Davis in the interview that aired on “This Week” on Sunday. We’ve been pointing out the problems in this religion ghost-soaked topic for years. Over the past week, those problems have been demonstrated in the softball interviews and coverage of Davis.

Zeleny took a bit of heat for the nature of his questions and inability to ask a single question (much less good question) about abortion, which is what the legislation under debate in Texas relates to, as the pro-choice protesters here demonstrate. That takes work in six questions. But today Zeleny proudly released a lengthier version of the interview.

A longer cut of our Wendy Davis interview, where we ask about her past, future — and yes, her catheter. http://yhoo.it/16LxnJ5 #PowerPlayers

Somehow, it’s even more obsequious than the initial interview. It’s downright shameful, in fact, how unborn children never make an appearance in this interview, much less the views born Texans hold on abortion. You can watch it here, and it could be used unaltered as a campaign or fundraising video. These are things no journalist should ever aim for.

I went ahead and transcribed the portions Jeff Zeleny spoke, which we’ll look at below. He introduced the piece and concluded it and had 18 questions or statements to which Davis responded. Please note the three shoe questions, the three catheter questions and the zero abortion questions:

Welcome to the fine print. I’m Jeff Zeleny Today we’re in Ft. Worth, Texas at the Stage West Theater having a conversation with State Sen. Wendy Davis, rising democratic star at the center of the abortion debate here in Texas.

(1) Senator. Thank you very much for joining us.

(2) So A week ago, no one knew State Sen Wendy Davis outside of Ft. Worth, now you’ve become a national and international name.

(3) Why did you decide to wear your running shoes. Let’s take a look at those. They’ve kind of been rocketing around the internet.

(4) These are the shoes now, probably the most famous shoes in politics. And is this a pink?

(5) But you’re also a runner. These are legitimate running shoes.

(6) How did you handle the personal side of this?

(7) With a catheter, is that right?

(8) I apologize for my rudeness. But I think I read in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram that you came prepared for …

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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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