Saith the WPost: So what’s really going on in Egypt?

My cellphone chimed at me earlier this afternoon with a news bulletin from CNN that actress Lisa Robin Kelly had died. Millions of Americans would want to know this breaking news, I imagine, because of her work with the television comedy “That ’70s Show.”

I think it is safe to say (tragic but true, in other words), that the typical American newsroom executive can assume that the typical American news consumer will know the name of this woman and that most news consumers will want to know that she has died. Pop culture matters in America. Thus, her death is a news bulletin. We can expect quite a bit of coverage on cable TV tonight.

Pop culture matters. Does Egypt really matter?

There will be quite a bit of coverage tonight about the unfolding events in Egypt, where more people died in the latest clashes between the Muslims who lead that nation’s semi-secular military establishment and those who want to see Egypt evolve — through ballots or bullets — into a true Islamic state.

What can editors assume that Americans know about what is happening in Egypt?

Can the typical American editor assume that the typical American news consumer even wants to know the details?

If the typical American knows the name of Lisa Robin Kelly, how many Americans would know this name — Sayyid Qutb?

Qutb is a very important person in the recent history of the world, even though he was executed by the Egyptian military establishment in 1966. You see, it’s hard to understand what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 without knowing Qutb’s name and its even harder to understand what is currently happening in Egyptian streets, mosques and churches without knowing something about Qutb and his thought, especially when it comes to justifying bloodshed in conflicts within Islam, between Muslims.

Can the American news executive justify coverage that tells consumers about the history of the conflicts in Egypt? What can editors assume Americans know or even what to know?

Well, the Washington Post online team just ran a handy feature that offers quite a window into the thinking behind the coverage of these events. The title: “9 questions about Egypt you were too embarrassed to ask.”

It begins with the assumption that many Americans do know even know where Egypt is. Honest. Question No. 1 asks, “What is Egypt?”

Question No. 2 moves closer to the issues that will interest GetReligion readers: “Why are people in Egypt killing each other?”

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To protest abortion coverage, a #MarchOnMedia

Yesterday I found out about protest against the media’s coverage of abortion. It’s called March On The Media and the band of protesters will go to ABC News studios in Washington, D.C. to demand better news coverage.

Was it a commenter here who suggested that the massive throngs of annual pro-life marchers should re-route through the Washington Post newsroom if they wanted to get noticed? Not a bad idea, actually.

Lila Rose, the human rights activist and undercover sting journalist who heads LiveAction, explained a bit of her rationale for hosting the march on Twitter yesterday. I put the tweets in Storify.


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Round II: The LATimes ignores Supremes, covenant too

There were quite a few logical journalistic questions to ask after my post about the teacher who was fired by a Catholic school in Glendora, Calif., after his very public same-sex marriage to his long-time partner.

Here are several of them in one reader comment:

Thin story … leaves out too many details and, perhaps, the school does not wish to harm the person’s teaching reputation — the one who just stuck them in the eye.

The Church (or this school, evidently) does NOT discriminate against homosexuals; they are accepted as are all people. However, when one decides to live a disordered life (publicly marries his partner), then this becomes a similar situation to a heterosexual who decides to “shack up” — it’s just not a good Catholic example to give impressionable young people. So, you have the good old “morals” clause.

It would seem like the teacher knew EXACTLY what he was doing. Might we expect this to be run up to the almighty (sometimes called “supreme”) court of this land as an “anti-discrimination” issue? We await with bated breath.

– James Stagg

The problem, of course, is that one of the major points made in my post was that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled — with a headline grabbing 9-0 vote, against the expressed wishes of the current Justice Department — that doctrinally defined churches and educational institutions have the right to hire and fire in ways that defend their teachings and religious traditions.

So were the journalists involved in this story simply unaware of this recent blast from the Supremes? Or, is the subtext here that the gay-rights theme in this developing story cancels out this basic religious-liberty, First Amendment reality?

Several readers mentioned another key issue: That this particular Catholic school may or may not have a doctrinal covenant that is signed by faculty, students, parents, etc.

I get that. I know that there are schools that are living in the legal past — legal in terms of state law and the desires of Rome — and don’t want to do that whole religious covenant thing. There are also plenty of Catholic educators who disagree with the teachings of their own church and do not want them enforced.

Well, then you have photos in the local newspaper and, well, you know. That’s bad. So the reality in the school hallways clashes with the reality that is the Catholic tradition. That’s hard to explain to any traditional Catholic parents and donors linked to your school. There’s a major news story in there, methinks.

But that story does not fit the template that is in operation in the coverage.

Some GetReligion readers may, in fact, have been thinking something else: That this was just a story from small local newspaper that didn’t really cut the mustard. Things would be different if it was covered by a major newsroom, one that would certainly include the crucial missing pieces of this news puzzle (as in the covenant issue and the U.S. Supreme Court decision).

So how about The Los Angeles Times?

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Locking the two popes into one flawed news template

As has been our practice since day one, your GetReligionistas rarely write posts about editorials, op-ed pages or opinion stories.

There are exceptions, however. Unfortunately, the most common exceptions are when we write about opinion essays and analysis pieces that are supposed to be, or are alleged to be, news stories.

Another exception, however, is when a journalist or religion pro writes an editorial piece that is about a crucial issue directly linked to our turf — the state of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press. From time to time, we will pass along a chunk or two of that kind of piece and point readers toward the whole text.

This is one of those times.

As the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway noted the other day, Pope Francis has been doing a smashing job of freaking out mainstream journalists by serving up healthy doses of orthodox Catholic doctrine — often straight out of the Catechism — with a more casual and surprisingly quotable style and, above all, a more cheerful tone.

I read a lot of Catholic blogs and, truth be told, there are a few Catholic conservatives out there who are not fond of this new pope’s style. There are also scores of traditional Catholics online who are getting tired of the press producing blaring headlines suggesting that Pope Francis has uttered radical, progressive proclamations when a careful parsing of his words shows that he has not.

But more than anything, lots of conservative Catholics are getting really tired of press reports that contrast the DOCTRINAL content of Pope Francis’ words and actions with the actual DOCTRINE proclaimed by, all together now, the bookish, formal and (insert derogatory adjective here) patriarch Pope Benedict XVI.

Over at the New Liturgical Movement website, editor Jeffrey Tucker finally blew a gasket. After praising the content of the new papacy, and admitting he is a bit tired of the style, he gets down to business:

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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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AP keeps on standing with Wendy

On the Planned Parenthood site is the headline pictured here about Rick Perry signing a new in Texas:

“Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an abortion ban that threatens to shut down dozens of health centers and deny women access to basic care.”

This is what you’d expect from Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, having killed some 300,000 unborn children last year alone. The organization is well loved by the majority of professionals in the mainstream news media and is subsidized by U.S. taxpayers to the tune of half a billion dollars a year.

So how did the Associated Press announce this news? Associated Press has struggled with its coverage of the Texas legislature this summer, as you can read about here, here, here and here.

It was so journalistically indefensible that I had to assume that the entire AP Texas staff was on vacation. Remember the story that began, no exaggeration, “Republicans armed with Bible verses have given preliminary approval to some of the strictest abortion regulations in the country”? Remember the tweet announcing that the AP “Stands With Wendy,” since pulled?

Well, if you in any way doubt whether the AP #StandsWithWendy or #StandsWithJournalism, you may want to consider this tweet, barely distinguishable from Planned Parenthood’s own histrionic headline:

(You may be interested in reading how this tweet went over with followers, compiled here.)

This is undoubtedly the talking point of both Planned Parenthood and, oddly, the Associated Press. But is it more than a pro-abortion-rights talking point? Is it, dare I ask, even true?

Well, kudos to Reuters for actually doing the bizarre journalistic task of looking into the abortion rights campaign point instead of regurgitating it whole to millions of readers.

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NYT struggles to distinguish Voltaire, Spider-Man and Jesus

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says:

But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.

Let’s face it, folks, Luke 12:48 is not an uncommon verse.

President Barack Obama himself has cited it as inspirational. But it is, apparently, unknown to some folks who work as editors in elite desks in the bookish corners of the New York Times newsroom.

How do we know this?

An op-ed headlined “Why Men Need Women” argues that women encourage the men in their lives toward greater generosity. It includes this passage, concerning Bill Gates of the Microsoft empire:

Mr. Gates has reflected that two female family members — his mother, Mary, and his wife, Melinda — were major catalysts for his philanthropic surge. Mary “never stopped pressing me to do more for others,” Mr. Gates said in a Harvard commencement speech. The turning point came in 1993, shortly before he and Melinda married. At a wedding event, Mary read a letter aloud that she had written to Melinda about marriage. Her concluding message was reminiscent of the Voltaire (or Spiderman) mantra that great power implies great responsibility: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Ah, yes, this is a great quote from Spider-Man!

Or maybe Voltaire! They both predate Jesus Christ, right? Then again, it wasn’t even Spidey who riffed on the Gospel to produce that famous quote — it was his saintly Uncle Ben, right?

Thanks to GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey (and others) for sending in this latest funny biblical mis-step by the Times team. In all seriousness, the basic ignorance of Scriptures at the New York Times recently is getting worrisome, both on the op-ed pages and in the news pages.

Perhaps they should do some targeted hiring of an individual or two with a humanities degree or something. Maybe even someone who has been to Vacation Bible School.

Gay rights, street preachers, and narrative preferences

When I was 12-years-old I developed an unhealthy addiction to Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Perhaps due to my own lack of imagination, I became hooked on the books where an author would frame a story in which I was the hero. (In case you’re too old or too young to remember this Gen-X genre favorite: each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome.) Although each book could have up to forty possible endings — some were “good” (e.g., I save the day) and some “bad” (e.g., I die an ignoble death) — the only endings I considered to be “real” were the ones that aligned with what I’d call my “narrative preference” (i.e., I’m a hero).

Now that I’m all grown up, my taste in books have changed, but my bias toward my narrative preferences remains firmly intact. As an editor at a small town newspaper, I found myself framing stories that fit the preferred narrative I had about my local area. Crime stories were treated as deviations from the norm, while heroic actions were presented as every day occurrences among noble citizens. That more people were likely to be mugged than saved from drowning was a fact I never let impose on my preferred “reality.”

Narrative preference is one of the common biases of journalists – and one of the most difficult for us to recognize. When we are accused of being “politically biased” we often scoff and point to our nonpartisan treatment of the issues. But that often misses the point, for it is not the politics that we are being criticized for, but for having narrative preference that differs from our critics.

Take, for example, a recent incident in Seattle, Washington in which two street preachers are assaulted at a gay pride rally. Here is the report by local ABC affiliate, KOMO 4.

If you haven’t heard about this story, it’s because it did not make the national news. But should it have? Normally, I would say that is was just a local crime story. But Denny Burk, associate professor of Biblical studies at Boyce College, raises an interesting question:

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