Pondering duck doctrines and our bubble-bound media elite

Let’s see. Where should we begin on this oh-so-bizarre morning?

What will it be, Pope Francis, Santa Claus or Duck Dynasty?

Pope Francis, Santa Claus or Duck Dynasty? As my favorite French History professor at Baylor University used to say, with a world-weary and exasperated sigh: “What a world.”

First, let me offer a few relevant confessions on my part.

I would like to echo the following Twitter comment by one of the scribes who often hangs out in my favorite coffee shop here in our neighborhood on Capitol Hill. Yes, this man is a bit of an elite Yankee, but he is what he is. Ross Douthat works for The New York Times. So, sue him.

I’m good to go with all of that, except for the “Merry Christmas” reference — since we are still in Advent, after all. Douthat must be one of those post-Vatican II Catholics (just kidding).

Another confession: I have never watched a single episode of “Duck Dynasty,” although I have tried to do so several times. It’s just not my style. Frankly, when it comes to the masculine virtues I favor Jane Austen’s Captain Frederick Wentworth over the the guys in the duck crew. I also lived in the mountains of Tennessee for six years (and plan to live there again someday) and I’ve never even watched a NASCAR race on television. I do, however, like barbecue. A lot. I also like ZZ Top and Eastern Orthodox bishops, so I’m OK with the beards.

There, I needed to get all of that off my chest. Now, I can confess that there is one element of the Duck Dynasty media storm that fascinates me.

Let’s try, for a minute, to ignore duck patriarch Phil Robertson’s reflections on genitalia — although I rather think that if he had rapped that stuff with a strong backbeat, it would have viewed as a kind of elderly Eminem thing. You know, Eminem has to keep his street cred. Elite media folks from places like Harvard and Yale tend to respect street cred way more than they do swamp cred.

No, I want to join the once and always GetReligionista M.Z. Hemingway in thinking that the key to this particular duck blind spot is found in this chunk of Robertson GQ prose:

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Liberal media? Yes, say some journalists

I caught this news via a tweet from Mark Hemingway, half of the former GetReligion power couple (side note: We miss you, Mollie!):

Methinks that the “BREAKING!” nature of that Twitter post was an editorial comment on the part of Mark, a senior writer at the conservative Weekly Standard.

“New” news or not, the Politico article to which Mark linked probably will interest many GetReligion readers.

Let’s start at the top:

Top journalists from The New York Times, NBC News and CNN acknowledged Wednesday that, generally speaking, the national media have a liberal bias.

On a Playbook Breakfast panel, the Times’ Peter Baker and Mark Leibovich, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and CNN’s Jake Tapper all said “yes” when asked if the news media lean left — though all agreed it was a nuanced issue having more to do with journalists’ life experiences than with any particular agenda.

“Most of my colleagues, I have no idea what their politics are. … But think about it: I live in northwest Washington, none of my neighbors are evangelical Christians, I don’t know a lot of people in my kid’s preschool who are pro-life,” Leibovich said. “When you have conversations, at all the newspapers I’ve worked at, about politics — it doesn’t happen often — but you see clues that there is absolutely a left-wing bias.”

The Daily Caller, meanwhile, poked fun at the question of whether the media lean left:

Maybe a better question: Do ducks quack?

The idea that reporters don’t know any evangelicals, of course, isn’t all that shocking either, especially given what The New York Times’ Michael Luo said in a Christianity Today interview that we highlighted last week:

Many Christians consider The New York Times hostile toward evangelical faith. Is that a fair assessment?

Most evangelicals — and non-evangelicals — would be surprised by the lengths that reporters and editors go to fairly report the news. We agonize almost daily over individual sentences, even phrases, in articles and headlines, web summary lines and captions, to make sure they are fair and unbiased. Do we always succeed? No, but the effort is almost always there.

On the other hand, sometimes you can’t know what you don’t know. A lot of reporters and editors at The Times don’t know any evangelicals, have never set foot in a church, and have worldviews that are far removed from evangelicals’. … They might not know that evangelical is a theological orientation, not necessarily a political one; that there’s a difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism; that plenty of evangelicals do not believe the earth was created in six 24-hour days; that not all evangelicals believe in the Rapture. Ignorance can lead to inaccurate and misleading characterizations. And yes, it can lead to bias seeping through in the way Christians are depicted.

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Ghosts in those one-sided reports about victims in Syria

Rare is the day that I do not receive at least one or two emails from Eastern Orthodox Christians, or those sympathetic to the plight of Christians in the Middle East, containing URLs pointing toward new reports about alleged atrocities linked to the fighting or acts of terrorism in Syria, Egypt or elsewhere. The common question: Why are these events rarely if ever covered by mainstream news organizations in North America?

These people are smart and they know their history. They understand, for example, that most American journalists see Christians and other endangered religious minorities in Syria as the allies of the corrupt regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his battle against a complex swarm of rebels and Islamists, including forces with strong ties to al-Qaeda and other jihadist networks. They also know that Russia supports the current Syrian regime and that President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department now support many groups in the Syrian rebellion.

Let’s see: That would be Russian President Vladimir Putin vs. Obama. Of those two, which leader is more popular with the American press?

My friends know all of that. However, their views are sure to be closer to those of Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita, Kan. Here’s a snippet of a column I wrote on that:

Anyone who prays for peace in Syria must acknowledge, at the beginning, that “vicious wrongs” have been done on both sides and that “there’s really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None,” concluded Bishop Basil.

“So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we’ve had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don’t know about except what they’ve shown us in this awful civil war.”

So my Orthodox friends are not asking why the American press seems to favor the rebels. They are not asking why so much ink is dedicated to coverage of atrocities against Islamist communities in Syria. They can do the math. What they want to know is why there is so little coverage of what is alleged to be happening to Christians and other persecuted religious minorities in the region. They struggle to understand the sins of omission.

Thus, they keep sending me reports like this one, which is from an alternative source, but includes lots of specifics and attribution links:

Negotiations intensify for release of Syrian nuns

The nuns of Maaloula may soon be in Lebanon, their abductors’ last refuge, if mediation and open channels with them do not quickly reach a solution, before the Syrian army’s attack on Yabrud expands in the next few days with the launch of the second phase of the military
operation in Qalamoun.

There are 12 kidnapped nuns — four Lebanese and eight Syrians. Three negotiating channels have taken turns trying to find out what the kidnappers want in exchange for releasing them. That the kidnappers immediately agreed to multilateral negotiations is cause for optimism because this is the first time Jabhat al-Nusra has wanted to quickly make a deal to release hostages it is holding. In the past, it took months before the fate of kidnapped persons was revealed or before the kidnappers agreed to negotiate.

Kidnapped nuns? What kidnapped nuns? Right, that Pope Francis guy is concerned about their plight, but it certainly appears that coverage of this story is strictly a Christian media or conservative media affair.

Or how about this report, from a religious press source? Yes, it includes doses of anti-mainstream media venom:

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Pope Francis and the press: What Elizabeth Tenety said!

First came the religion-beat buzz about Pope Francis being named Person of the Year by the powers that be at Time magazine.

I had some thoughts on one or two elements of that piece that some GetReligion readers thought were a bit unkind (if not snarky), in part because I thought that the cover story — while very admirable in its coverage of this man’s life and pre-Vatican ministry — ended up telling us just as much about the cultural views of the Time editors (concerning the Sexual Revolution, of course) as it did this pope’s statements and actions on matters of the Catholic faith.

In particular, I stand by the following:

Simply stated, the pope wants the emphasis in his church to be on showing mercy to sinners — an equation that connects the repentance of sin with sacraments that bring healing and forgiveness. The problem, of course, is that the Time essay has little to say about what Pope Francis does or doesn’t believe about sin. …

If the Time editors insist on judging Pope Francis primarily by his stands on culture-war issues — to a degree that is strikingly similar to the pope’s harshest critics on the right — then they will need to be careful, paying close attention to the actual content of his actions and words. Hint: Heed and study his thoughts on sin.

Stay tuned.

Now, the Time cover story has inspired a remarkably candid essay from “On Faith” editor Elizabeth Tenety, whose writings on all things Catholic are always worth dissecting and then stashing away for later reference.

The headline was certainly a grabber and provoked some buzz online and in email circles that reach me from time to time: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.”

Read it all, of course, but here are some key samples. Right up top, after samples of go-Francis-go raves from The Huffington Post and Gawker, there is this:

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Vote now! Time serves up correction of the year (updated)

It may be the religion-beat question of the year. So all together now: Why is Pope Francis so popular with mainstream journalists?

That’s the question that I keep hearing from a wide variety of readers and even journalists, no matter where I go — including a quick trip last week down to Buenos Aires for a conference on religion and the news. More on that in a minute.

To no one’s surprise, the media comet called Francis is in the short list to grace the cover of Time magazine as Man Of The Year for 2013.

Once again, the question is “Why”?

From the point of view of the professionals in the mainstream press, why is this pope so important and so, from their point of view, why is he so revolutionary?

Well, here’s why. Consider this tweet from Father James Martin:

Wait just a minute. What did the principalities and powers at Time actually write, in the online nomination promoting Pope Francis for this honor?

Does anyone out there have a screen shot they can share? The current version of the text has a fantastically symbolic correction and that’s that:

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

As always, TIME’s editors will choose the Person of the Year, but that doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t have their say. Cast your vote for the person you think most influenced the news this year for better or worse – in both a straight yes/no poll and a candidate face-off. Voting closes at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 4, and the combined winner of our reader polls will be announced on Dec. 6. TIME’s Person of the Year will be announced Dec. 11. …

The first Jesuit Pontiff won hearts and headlines with his common touch and rejection of luxury.

And here comes the correction. Wait for it.

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Here we go again: That new normal on SSM coverage

At this point, I think it is safe to say — as our own Bobby Ross, Jr., has demonstrated numerous times — that many mainstream American journalists have decided that there is no need to cover both sides of gay-rights stories in a balanced and accurate manner. Many professionals in the mainstream press are now practicing a brand of advocacy journalism when covering religious believers whose religious/moral doctrines are not the same as their own.

Do we have former New York Times editor Bill Keller to thank for some of this, or is the mainstreaming of the values preached by the prophets of the 1970s “New Journalism” era simply a sign of the times?

The other day, the staff at The Philadelphia Inquirer served up a perfect example of what your GetReligionistas are talking about. The curtain rises:

PHILADELPHIA – It began with one pastor and two grooms. But after the vows had been exchanged, the other clergy moved forward from their pews.

About 50 of them filled the front of Arch Street United Methodist Church on Saturday. The closest rested their hands on the couple. The rest placed their palms on the clergy nearest.

“Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder,” they said in unison, blessing the same-sex union in defiance of church law.

This is the latest act in the ongoing drama of the the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., who is about to face trial — under church law — for performing a marriage rite for his own son and another man. Each of the ministers who stepped forward to endorse the rite at Arch Street United Methodist now risks being charged with the same offense.

So what are the essential elements that should be included in a story about this highly divisive issue?

* You need a brief summary of the historical facts about this conflict in United Methodism and the oldline Protestant world, in general. We are talking decades, of course.

* You need to know what the church’s Book of Discipline actually teaches.

* You need solid quotes from those who oppose the existing church law, quotes that explain why they believe that centuries of Christian doctrine on this topic must be changed.

* It would help to have a dash of color from the rite itself, with examples of how this rite differs from the language used in traditional marriage services.

* Readers also need to hear from one or more articulate defenders of the church law, offering responses to the views of those rebelling against the church’s teachings.

So, want to guess how many of these factors end up being included in the Philly.com story?

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People were massacred in North Korea for WHAT?!?

Contrary to popular belief, the mainstream press really isn’t very effective when it comes to telling individual citizens what to think.

However, as the old saying goes, the leaders of the mainstream news media (ditto for Hollywood) are much more effective when it comes to telling the American population, as a whole, what subjects to think ABOUT.

Some trends and events jump straight into the headlines, while others do not. Most reporters immediately grasp the political implications of events, facts, history and trends, for example. The religious implications? Uh, not so much. That’s the message your GetReligionistas have been trumpeting for almost a decade.

Thus, we tend to feel a surge of encouragement when major news organizations write about an important topic and include the religious element of the story, especially when it makes it into the lede.

Take, for example, that Los Angeles Times story the other day about a shocking massacre that may or may not have taken place in North Korea. Here’s the top of the report:

North Korea staged gruesome public executions of 80 people this month, some for offenses as minor as watching South Korean entertainment videos or being found in possession of a Bible, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

The daily JoongAng Ilbo attributed the mass executions to a single, unidentified source, but at least one other news agency, run by North Korean defectors, reported hearing rumors of the killings in seven cities across the reclusive country.

Authorities in Wonsan, a port on North Korea’s eastern coast that is being transformed into a resort in hopes of attracting foreign investment to the impoverished country, gathered more than 10,000 residents in a stadium and forced them to watch the firing-squad executions, the newspaper reported. The condemned were lashed to poles, hooded, then sprayed with machine-gun fire, JoongAng Ilbo quoted its source, who reportedly is familiar with North Korean internal affairs and recently returned from the country.

“I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were so riddled by machine-gun fire that they were hard to identify afterwards,” the source was quoted as saying.

There is nothing new, of course, about North Korea being the subject of a report about the persecution of Christians and/or other religious minorities.

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Got news? Bishops stand on HHS mandate (updated)

What you see at the top of this post is the content of today’s Baltimore Sun report on yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Catholic bishops — or at least, many of them — to continue their high-stakes fight against the White House and its Health and Human Services mandate.

Right. The box is empty.

I am referring, of course, to the mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including so-called “morning-after pills.” There’s more to that mandate, of course. As I wrote for Scripps Howard News Service:

The key is that the HHS mandate only recognizes the conscience rights of an employer if it’s a nonprofit that has the “inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” primarily employs “persons who share its religious tenets” and primarily “serves persons who share its religious tenets.” Critics say this means the government is protecting mere “freedom of worship,” not the “free exercise of religion” found in the First Amendment.

“Consider Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity reaching out to the poorest of the poor without regard for their religious affiliation,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lorio this June, during the American bishops’ Fortnight For Freedom campaign. “The church seeks to affirm the dignity of those we serve not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic.”

Now, everyone knew — coming into this Baltimore meeting — that there were two big events on the horizon. (1) The election of new officers, including a new president to follow the charismatic Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. (2) A decision by the bishops, after what would almost certainly be tense closed-door debates, about whether to fight the HHS mandate, a decision affecting thousands of Catholic schools, hospitals, shelters and other ministries from coast to coast.

In other words, there was one event that looked like a political horse race, framed as who is for or against the new spirit of Pope Francis, and another event rooted in a Constitutional clash over religious liberty (oh, right, that would be “religious liberty”), a clash that way too many newsroom professionals think is a figment in the imagination of theocrats (even though White House officials have acknowledged the tensions).

Thus, that empty box offered by the Sun and most other news outlets. To read the Catholic News Service report, click here.

Want to guess which of these two stories in Baltimore drew the attention of editors at the assignment desks in mainstream newsrooms?

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