Should media cover — or cover up — abortion trial?

I would love to critique the coverage of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor whose mass murder trial is going on right now in Philadelphia.

The only problem is that there is a curious lack of media coverage.

The Daily Mail had a story this weekend headlined “‘Fetuses and blood all over the place’: Medic’s graphic account of ‘be-heading live babies’ at abortion ‘House of Horrors’ in Philadelphia” but none of the big three networks have even mentioned the trial once.

That Daily Mail piece is just one update on one recent witness in the trial, which has been going on for three weeks with similar horrific updates you can read about — in the pro-life and Christian and conservative press, but not in the national mainstream press — every day. An abortion shop of horrors is undoubtedly of interest to Christian audiences and pro-life audiences and conservative audiences. But is it not also of interest to general audiences? Why wouldn’t it be?

It is very difficult to critique coverage of a topic when the media isn’t covering it so much as inexplicably covering it up.

David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner couldn’t help but notice the media silence:

You might not know it, but there’s a mass murder trial going on in Philadelphia. There has been plenty of courtroom drama, and the death penalty remains a possibility.

The media are seldom shy about such sensational affairs, but they have been with one. Perhaps it’s because the accused mass murderer is an abortion doctor, who along with his medically untrained staff is accused of killing a female patient and several babies who had already been born, alive and breathing.

Doctor Kermit Gosnell’s preferred method of killing these latter, according to witnesses, was to sever their spinal cords. Upon his arrest in January 2011, his urine-scented and blood-soaked clinic was deemed a “house of horrors.” (I will spare readers further details, which are far worse.)

Freddoso compares the media silence on this topic with the wall-to-wall coverage of another horrific incident: the Sandy Hook massacre. Freddoso notes that “Gosnell’s trial is to abortion what Sandy Hook is to gun ownership”:

[Read more...]

Flash! Cardinal says all people created in God’s image

YouTube Preview Image

In a way, the existence of the short New York Times story that ran with this headline, “Dolan Says the Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People,” is simply a matter of journalistic math.

Fact 1: Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the Catholic shepherd of New York and the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Fact 2: Dolan is articulate and, at times, even witty. He keeps showing up on television and in highly public places. He is hard to ignore.

Fact 3: In this case, he directly addressed the single most important subject on Planet Earth, from the perspective of the doctrines and worldview of this newspaper’s own college of editorial cardinals.

Add these factors together and, one way or another, you are going to get a news story — for better or for worse.

Now, from the point of view of the Times (classic Bill Keller faith statement here, in essay called “Is the Pope Catholic?“), Catholicism is in a state of crisis caused by its irrational commitment to ancient doctrines carved into dogma in the ages before Woodstock. Thus, the lede:

On Easter Sunday, weeks after he helped elect a new pope for a church struggling with declining numbers and controversy over social issues, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said that the Roman Catholic Church could be more welcoming of gay men and lesbians despite opposing same-sex marriage.

In recorded interviews with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week” and Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” on CBS, Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York and one of the leading voices of the Catholic Church in the United States, did not suggest any changes in church teaching. He defined marriage as “one man, one woman, forever, to bring about new life,” but, he told Mr. Stephanopoulos, “we’ve got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”

Actually, that second paragraph is pretty good and stresses the main point that needed to be made: Dolan said absolutely nothing new. The heart of what he said is found here:

Speaking just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Cardinal Dolan what he could say to gay men and lesbians who felt excluded from the church.

“Well, the first thing I’d say to them is: ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And — and we — we want your happiness. But — and you’re entitled to friendship,’ ” Cardinal Dolan said. “But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”

So, try to find the glaring news hook in that.

Actually, if the Times wanted to chase an interesting story, there is one linked to that. It could explore the writings and work of gay and lesbian Catholics who actually support the teachings of their church (sample here). That would be a new point of view for the world’s most powerful newspaper and, trust me, many of the points made in such a story would make the Catholic cultural right as uncomfortable as the usual suspects on the Catholic left.

However, the biggest stretch in this short story came near the end.

[Read more...]

Whoa! Questions about marriage and religious liberty!

YouTube Preview ImageYesterday some of us got a bit academic (and some of us practiced calling people bigots) as we discussed media coverage of the efforts to change marriage from an institution built on sexual complementarity to an institution built on sexual orientation.

Believing — by science, religion or otherwise — that all humans are made male and female and that the regeneration of humans requires the joining together of male and female is — as we all know — grounds for being openly derided, called names and generally marginalized. If you think the foundational unit of society is defined in terms of this reality, you’re basically the Ku Klux Klan. You might protest that you have reason, logic, science, tradition, or any number of things to appeal to. But we all know you’re really a bigot.

Mostly the media and other cultural elites know this. And they’re not afraid to point out that believing marriage is an institution based on sexual orientation like they do — as opposed to sexual complementarity — makes you a good person who believes in civil rights and other things on the side of angels. Not like those bad folks whose arguments can be dismissed without even so much as looking them over (do you give bigots the time of day? No you do not! Ignore them already!). Journalists at CNN and the Washington Post and the New York Times and NPR have all agreed — or at least pondered the approach as legitimate — these monsters don’t deserve fair treatment, inclusion in stories, or airing for their warnings.

Error has no rights, you know.

The genders are 100 percent interchangeable and we will make sure you agree! Are we getting tired of this media treatment yet?

Anyway, bucking the groupthink is a real, live journalist who should probably be sent to reeducation camp over the weekend. I don’t know where he got off thinking he could do this, but he got all skeptical about the value of this approach. In a newsroom! The gall!

John Kass is a traditional Christian at the Chicago Tribune and he has some questions regarding this debate:

Is it possible to be a traditional Christian or Muslim or Orthodox Jew — and hold to one’s faith on what constitutes marriage — and not be considered a bigot?

And is faith now a problem to be overcome, first marginalized by the state and then contained, so as not to get in the way of great changes to come?

No and yes. Can we go home now?

Oh wait, he has more. You should probably read the whole thing but it’s a little reflection on liberty and freedom … for all.

[Read more...]

Got news? Egyptian Copts tortured for some strange reason

Yes, I know that we’re talking about a report on Fox News. That fact alone, for many readers, will mean that GetReligion is once again venturing into the world of alternative, niche, “conservative” news.

I recognize that. However, I still want to know why this event is getting little or no coverage in the mainstream press here in North America.

Let’s start at the top, which includes the first hint of what, for me, is the most interesting and important element of this hellish report:

Islamic hard-liners stormed a mosque in suburban Cairo, turning it into torture chamber for Christians who had been demonstrating against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in the latest case of violent persecution that experts fear will only get worse.

Such stories have become increasingly common as tensions between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts mount, but in the latest case, mosque officials corroborated much of the account and even filed a police report. Demonstrators, some of whom were Muslim, say they were taken from the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in suburban Cairo to a nearby mosque on Friday and tortured for hours by hard-line militia members.

“They accompanied me to one of the mosques in the area and I discovered the mosque was being used to imprison demonstrators and torture them,” Amir Ayad, a Coptic who has been a vocal protester against the regime, told MidEast Christian News from a hospital bed.

As I have said many times (including this all-but-MIA GetReligion post about human rights, public rapes in this case) my starting point in reading coverage of Egypt is that there is no one Muslim point of view on these kinds of hot-button issues, such as the freedom of the nation’s religious minorities to practice their faith and be active in public life.

If you assume this to be true, what are the most important words in this news story?

How about the fact that some of the abused demonstrators where Muslims, along with the statement that “mosque officials corroborated much of the account and even filed a police report”?

Now, I do not read Arabic. Is there a GetReligion reader out there who can read the actual document (pictured above) to which the Fox Report links via URL? Click here to see the document itself.

Journalists often hint that they hesitate to cover stories about persecuted Christians — as well as Jews, Baha’is and members of minority forms of Islam — because they turn into emotionally loaded and one-sided debates, the political equivalent of “he said-she said” fights.

That does not appear to be the case this time around:

Officials at the Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque said radical militias stormed the building, in the Cairo suburb of Moqattam, after Friday prayers.

“[We] deeply regret what has happened and apologize to the people of Moqattam,” mosque officials said in a statement, adding that “they had lost control over the mosque at the time.” The statement also “denounced and condemned the violence and involving mosques in political conflicts.”

So what does this mean?

[Read more...]

Polyamory, pessimism and other same-sex marriage ink

After years of pointing out how unbelievably unprofessional the journalism of same-sex marriage coverage was, something weird happened last week. Instead of the typical media suppression and derision, we started seeing stories about the people and arguments in favor of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution.

Now, they weren’t particularly good stories and they weren’t particularly long. They were still outnumbered by the stories cheerleading in favor of changing marriage law to include same-sex marriage. But the difference was notable (see: “At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat).

Many of us wondered what was going on. Reader Jeremiah Oehlerich wrote:

The rash of articles for and against gay marriage are all a part of the sides preparing for the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA next week. Each party is trying to get their message out in every way possible to help shape and influence the debate in the courtroom and beyond next week. That, in part is what is what has made so much of the one sided reporting leading up to these hearing so frustrating. It’s made the cases feel pre-decided by those who shape and drive the media narrative in the build up to their hearing.

Reader MJBubba gave props to GetReligion:

I think what we are seeing is a major victory attributable to GetReligion.

These journalists and their editors really do think of themselves as noble professionals. It has to have stung to see themselves portrayed as cheerleaders, called out with non-emotional appeals to the basic tenets and ethics of their profession. Consistently, for years, they have promoted one side of an important cultural issue. So, there has been a pent-up interest built by GetReligion in some, you know, balance.

Also, it is finally dawning on these bone-heads that they will be trying to explain the Supreme Court arguments next week to a readership/viewership that have never seen or heard any presentation of one side of these important cases. These are necessary catch-up articles.

Thanks! But I’m suspicious. Reader Kate noted:

I agree with MJBubba that this is the result of journalists doing prep work for the court case coverage, and realizing they have a lot of catch up to do. I have this mental image of a reporter cynically clicking links and reading pro-marriage arguments, and calling around to find out what kind of arguments opponents will use against marriage redefinition, and winding up completely shocked to find out that reasonable sounding people have reasonable sounding reasons to want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage. Now they’ve got to cover it so that it isn’t so obvious next week that they’ve been falling down on the job for years.

Maybe it’s a combination of a variety of things. But a few days of mentioning the people and arguments in favor of marriage built around sexual complementarity is not really significant in any case. And the entire game is rigged. Here’s one media outlet’s tweet:

Opponents of gay marriage say they’re no bigots

So they say. But I want to know when they stopped beating their children.

And so many of the interesting angles that should be covered in news sections are being covered in opinion sections. Religion opinion writer Lisa Miller had a fascinating “Got news?” item in the Washington Post a few days ago headlined “Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet.”

Now, this is not a news story, but it is about a newsworthy trend. It’s about how the presence and activism of polyamorous families — a not insignificant part of the UU community — helps those mean bad “conservatives” with their arguments that changing marriage law to include same sex couples would lead to recognition of polyamorous marriages since if gender is an unimportant component of marriage, number of involved is, too.

[Read more...]

WWROD: Is bad religion-news coverage bad for news biz?

Warning to readers: The following post is blatantly self-serving and includes flattering remarks about the work of your GetReligionistas.

More on that in a minute.

A long, long time ago, soon after the cooling of the earth’s crust, I did a bunch of pre-World World Wide web research into the forces that shaped a big problem in American newsrooms.

The problem I explored in a lengthy 1983 cover story for The Quill was, of course, the failure of many editors and reporters to grasp that religion plays a major role in shaping many of the biggest news stories of our age.

The thesis:

The role religion plays in America and the world has been a well-kept secret in most of the nation’s newsrooms. While reporters chase the latest stories in politics, sports, business, education and other subjects, the billions of dollars and hours Americans invest in religious activities receive minimal attention. Religion news is usually pushed into a tiny Saturday ghetto labeled “church news.”

When news events escape the church page they are often covered by reporters with little interest in religion and little education in the style and language of religious leaders and organizations. Religion has almost been ignored by radio and television. …

The major reason few American newspapers and radio and television stations cover religion is simple. Few of the people who decide what news is care about religion.

In the original thesis manuscript, I quoted at length from studies showing this sequence of facts about life in modern America, as in all of modern American — as opposed to the elite Northeast. Here we go. The more people are committed to their local communities, the longer they live and work in them, the more likely they are to be heavily invested in them.

Well, DUH. At that time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the studies also showed that these highly committed members of the community were more likely to (a) take the local newspaper, (b) support local causes as volunteers and (c) participate as members of local religious institutions. In other words, there was a good chance that newspapers that consistently ignored or, worse, botched religion-news coverage could be running off core newspaper readers.

Well, DUH. What should newsroom managers do? The way to improve news coverage of religion was to take the same actions required to improve work on other complex, important beats. Editors needed to hire talented, trained, experienced reporters committed to professionalism on the beat and then give them the time and ink to do their jobs.

To cut to the chase: It’s journalism, stupid.

Here is why I bring this up. Over at the blog run by veteran religion-beat sage Richard Ostling (Religion Q&A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy answers your questions), a reader asked a very important question:

PATRICK (no location posted) ASKS:

From a newspaper marketing perspective, is it good business to publish bad, one-sided journalism on religion? … When somebody writes something full of egregious errors are they disciplined? Accountable?…

Yikes.

And how did one of the top religion-news scribes of the 20th Century respond?

Well, you’re going to want to read it all, but here is a taste. This was written as the media ramped up for the papal conclave:

[Read more...]

A press litany: Will Pope Francis just hold that Vatican line?

As always, the gospel according to The New York Times — in an early version of its instant Pope Francis analysis — was spot on, with this headline: “Argentine Pope Will Make History, but Backs Vatican Line.”

And the lede? More of the same:

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, to be called Francis, will break ground as a Jesuit and Latin American. But his views on gay marriage, abortion and other issues make him a conventional choice to lead the church.

In place of the word “conventional,” one could substitute words such as “Catholic” or “orthodox,” with a small “o.” The same thing is true in the headline, where one can strike the word “Vatican” and replace it with something more timeless and accurate.

From this point of view, the key is that the Vatican, the papacy, the catechism and the actual written teachings of centuries of church councils are merely one approach to what it means to be a Catholic. These institutions have no unique, defining Catholic authority, one that would make the “Vatican line” something that Catholics would need to consider anything other than optional.

By this morning, that basic Times story had evolved and collected a few more details:

BUENOS AIRES – Like most of those in Argentina, he is a soccer fan, his favorite team being the underdog San Lorenzo squad. Known for his outreach to the country’s poor, he gave up a palace for a small apartment, rode public transportation instead of a chauffeur-driven car and cooked his own meals.

The new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced ber-GOAL-io), 76, will be called Francis. Chosen Wednesday by a gathering of Roman Catholic cardinals, he is in some ways a history-making pontiff, the first from the Jesuit order and the first pope from Latin America.

But Cardinal Bergoglio is also a conventional choice, a theological conservative of Italian ancestry who vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues — leading to heated clashes with Argentina’s left-leaning president. He was less energetic, however, when it came to standing up to Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s as the country was consumed by a conflict between right and left that became known as the Dirty War. He has been accused of knowing about abuses and failing to do enough to stop them, during a period when as many as 30,000 people were abducted, tortured or killed by the dictatorship.

From there, members of the Times community are led into a lengthy discussion of just about everything that they need to know about the new pope that might in any way hint at his beliefs about political issues and the Sexual Revolution. The editorial college of cardinals at the Times have dogma to defend, as well.

The quick mainbar at Time takes a similar, but more muted approach. There’s lots of politics, but, as a kind of throwback to the Time approach of old, the emphasis is on the global view.

I did, as an Eastern Orthodox layman, wonder a bit about this historical summary:

The accession of a new Pope is always cause for wonderment — if only because the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church has managed to survive more trials than almost any other kingdom in history. No other institution can claim to have withstood Attila the Hun, the ambitions of the Habsburgs, the Ottoman Turks, Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, in addition to Stalin and his successors. Every new Pope faces fresh crisis and challenges. And in the 21st century, he does so at the head of a spiritual empire that touches more than 1.2 billion souls and whose influence crosses borders and contends with other great powers.

No other institution, other than the papacy, has survived Attila, the Ottomans, Hitler, Stalin, etc.? Speaking only as a member of an Antiochian Orthodox parish, I am sure that our patriarch in Damascus (a deadly serious place right now, once again) would consider that editorial statement questionable, at best.

Let’s continue, since the story then offers a pretty solid description of some of the issues dividing traditional and liberal Catholics. The key, and rarely used, word is “doctrine.”

Francis, the first New World Pope, faces some old and vexing problems. He must confront headlines reminding him of the church’s failures in dealing with the scandal of priestly sexual abuse. He must reform the Vatican’s finances by way of a bureaucracy that originated in medieval times and is burdened by aristocratic privilege and the Machiavellian instincts of feudal Italy. He must respond to the opposing demands of a divided flock — with many Catholics in North America and Europe asking for more-liberal interpretations of doctrine even as many in the burgeoning mission fields of Africa and Asia warm to the conservative comforts of the faith.

But here is the meat of the Time report, an editorial summary of the issues that appear, at first glance, to have played a key role in this papal election.

[Read more...]

Pod people: Can journalism be a civilizing influence?

On this week’s Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I talked about recent admissions from the mainstream media about the difficulty they’ve had treating traditional marriage proponents with any justice or decency.

Some of the best content we had on the blog this week came from a correspondent, who is a journalist, who weighed in on the matter. I’m not alone in thinking that content was most helpful for the discussion. Reader John M. wrote:

That quote from the “correspondent” above is one of the most intelligent things I’ve read in the context of this national discussion.

Reader Mark B. wrote:

I *really* like the correspondent’s contribution – I wish more stuff like this saw the light of day in mainstream journalistic endeavours (obviously not straight news, but certainly that next, ‘op ed’, circle out from straight news). It is a clear, reasonable, and rational statement that is not dumbed down and does not reflect the groupthink that seems to be often given sway in journalism.

And reader Thinkling weighed in:

There is more intelligence in this piece and the discussion here than in whole newsrooms. Thank you GR for this.

I highly encourage you to read through the thoughts the reader shared here and here. In the second piece, the correspondent agreed with criticism of some marriage traditionalists — that they seem fine with the new, impermanent model of marriage. Described by Conor Friedersdorf as the “modern, secularist, find-your-soul-mate-but-no-fault-divorce-just-in case incarnation,” the correspondent said such approval was rooted in “a kind of soft hypocrisy rooted in not thinking deeply.” He went on:

However, that thoughtlessness is hardly unique to the traditional side. I would argue the overwhelming majority of people in favor of same-sex marriage have not thought their arguments fully through, either, which I consider largely to their credit. They have not thought through what it means for children to say that either a mother or a father is optional not just de facto but de iure, not just in fact, as something that happens sometimes, but in principle. They have not thought through what it means to have three parent birth certificates, and to treat school materials that talk about “mother and father” without equal time given to alternative situations as “heteronormative” — as something practically stigmatized and bigoted. Most of these people are motivated by what they see as fairness — again, to their credit — to people with same-sex attraction. I laud their sympathy. But they have not thought through what fairness means for a wedding photographer who is not an exempted “church” but whose moral convictions do not permit her to pretend she thinks this event people are asking her to shoot is a marriage. They have not thought about fairness as it applies to a father who wishes to opt his children out of being indoctrinated in the state’s newfound moral orthodoxy that conflicts with his own in his neighborhood elementary school to which he pays taxes. The overwhelming majority of these people have no idea at all of advancing the ideology one finds in statement such as http://www.beyondmarriage.org/ — the total undefining of marriage. Even many of the more knowledgeable advocates on the other side would probably reject some of statement. Yet many are blissfully unaware that such goals exist or motivate anyone, and those who do not lack this knowledge have been spared the difficult and important work of explaining to themselves and to society how their ideas don’t lead to the more radical ones. Why do that when the secular media frame for the story casts you as Dudley Doright and those who disagree as Snidely Whiplash? (Boo! Hiss! Hooray!)

A journalism that was less interested in bullying people than learning actual arguments in play and considering actual consequences would contribute heavily to a more civilized society. How society comes to decisions is frequently as important as what those decisions are and the media have done a horrific job providing a forum for a healthy discussion on at least this topic. But just a bit of critical thinking and humility — just a bit — would go a long way to improving things.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X