Horny dads at a prom: Too juicy to get the whole story

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Let’s talk about Clare, the homeschooled teenager in Richmond, Va., who was thrown out of a prom because of her dress. The facts are …

Well, actually, we don’t know many of the facts, whatever you may have read in “news” accounts. Nearly all of them are based purely on her blogging rant about the flap.

In one of the most shameful abuses of social media ever, story after story takes as gospel truth how the girl conformed to the dance dress code, yet was thrown out by horny dads and intolerant chaperones. Even The Telegraph in London had to get in on the act, from across the Atlantic.

The Telegraph’s may be the cheapest, most garish version:

A teenager in America says she was forced to leave her prom after fathers complained that their children would experience “impure thoughts” towards her.

The fathers, who were acting as chaperones at the dance, complained that she was dancing provocatively and her skirt was too short.

Clare Ettinger from Virginia, described how her dress was checked to see it met the dress code requirement of being longer than the fingertips when her arms were by her side.

However despite meeting the requirement a female chaperone told her to keep her dress “pulled down” down so it didn’t look too short.

She then gets told by a female chaperone that “some of the fathers had complained that her dancing was too provocative, and that she would cause the men at the prom to think impure thoughts,” the Telegraph says. Clare says she felt “violated,” that it was “sick and wrong,” and she wants ticket refunds for herself, her date and the friends who came with her.

The Telegraph then contacted the school authorities and the prom chaperones for their side. No, sorry, I mean they didn’t call anyone. They quoted no one but Clare — effectively lowering news to the level of gossip.

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Dying children don’t rate religious viewpoints

Belgium is on the map these days, and not for its waffles or Brussels sprouts. It’s for passing a law allowing children to have themselves killed.

Euthanasia is already legal there, but in mid-February the nation extended the “privilege” to children. As you might expect, there’s been much hand-wringing over the matter, such as on CNN or at ABC News.

The journalists there sought out educators, pediatricians and medical researchers. Naturally.

You know whom they didn’t ask? You got it: religious leaders. The ones who have dealt with issues of life and death, and beyond, since before the written word was invented.

How’s that working out? Well, we get some back-and-forth on the need for the law, although the two stories don’t handle the issues equally. Both raise the specter of children suffering unbearably with some disease like cancer. Both note that the law requires parental consent and counseling for the children, to make sure they understand what euthanasia means — “the child must understand the gravity of the request,” says ABC. But ABC appears to focus more on the general philosophy behind euthanasia; CNN brings up more reasons against it.

“I think there is such a thing as a futility in palliative care: that for some patients even the best palliative care will not suffice to ease their suffering,” Belgian sociologist Kenneth Chambaere tells ABC. He also “argues that in reality, Belgium will also have an age limit because of the strict competence and capability criteria.”

ABC reports that people also request euthanasia in Belgium for depression, and that a death wish may well be a symptom of dementia. The article goes into waiting periods and advance directives, neither of which have much to do with killing children.

The weird thing about the CNN story is one of the cases it brings up to illustrate why some people see a need for children’s euthanasia — a woman who was distraught over the prolonged death of her baby from a neurological illness:

“That whole period of sedation, you always need to give more and more medication, and you start asking questions. And you say, ‘What’s the use of keeping this baby alive?’ ” [Linda] van Roy said.

She wishes she could have administered a fatal dose of medication to make the end of her daughter’s short life come more quickly.

That’s why she’s campaigning for a change to Belgium’s euthanasia laws, to give the choice of ending their suffering to older children whose bodies are wracked with pain.

An accompanying video shows the mother and her dying child and, shockingly, cuts to a Belgian doctor who says that the euthanasia law would just legalize what some doctors already do.

This despite the fact that, as ABC points out, the baby, who died at 10 months, “would never have qualified for euthanasia.” So the mother pushes for a law to enable children to end the kind of prolonged death her baby underwent, even though the law wouldn’t have affected the baby? Sounds like logic works no better in Brussels than in Washington, D.C. Might there be another side to quote in that debate linked to faith and ethics?

At least CNN lines out several secular reasons against euthanasia for children. Among them: Medicine now provides for pain management; few children will ever ask to die; most medical teams caring for terminally ill children wouldn’t believe that children make a “spontaneous and voluntary demand” for euthanasia.

Most tellingly, CNN quotes a nurse’s belief “that giving children a choice would mean they made decisions based on what they thought their families wanted to hear, and that it would be a terrible strain for children who may already feel they are a burden to their caregivers.”

What does God think of all this?

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Got news? The one and only Caesar of Jewish humor

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Remember all of those nasty charges by anti-Semites through the years that The New York Times is controlled by Jews and that it’s pages have been dominated by Jewish concerns?

Yes, I know about the Sulzberger family.

But if the Times team views the world through some kind of Jewish prism, then explain the following passage from the newspaper’s lengthy obituary for the truly great American comedian Sid Caesar:

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

And that’s that?

What about the fiery post-Holocaust rage of Caesar and his brilliant writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbert and, later on, a young Woody Allen? Oh for some bull-session YouTubes out of that room!

So his work left an “indelible mark” on American humor?

What about his role in mainstreaming a sharp-edged Jewish sensibility right into the heart of the emerging, coast-to-cast mainstream television culture? Talk about a religion, or at least religious culture, ghost in a story!

The Times obit does include this one tiny nod to the obvious:

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Der Spiegel and the cutting question of circumcision

 The issue of circumcision has returned to Germany’s newspapers — and the manner in which the controversy is being discussed suggests that while the press is aware of the issues of personal autonomy generated by state intervention into the private sphere, the religious liberty (or perhaps the religious sensibility) issue is missing from the story.

The English-language section of Der Spiegel ran a news analysis story on 27 Sept 2013 entitled “Cutting Controversy: German Court Sets New Circumcision Rules”. It also ran a story in the German-language Panorama section entitled: “Kinder müssen vorher aufgeklärt werden” that reported a court in Hamm had ruled that parents and doctors must first discuss the procedure with a boy before he is circumcised.

The issue of circumcision of boys in Germany carries with it the baggage of the Nazi era and is fraught with social, cultural and religious issues. The issue attracted international prominence in 2012 when a Cologne court ruled that religious circumcision of boys constituted “bodily harm”. Der Spiegel noted that court held that as a matter of law:
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Scripture verses: reporters’ Kryptonite?

The Media Research Center found this clip but I thought readers here might get a kick out of it, too. You really need to watch the exchange to get the full effect but here’s how one side posted the relevant passage from an interview of one of the Carnival cruise passengers who recently disembarked:

NBC News’s Mark Potter (Reporting during the Ed Show on MSNBC)

JENKINS: No, but one thing I do want to say that really made a huge difference in my time versus some other people’s time is we knew where hope was. We knew the Lord was in complete control of the situation. Our verse for the trip was Joshua 1:9 which is

[Microphone pulled]

POTTER: Okay, well thank you both very much. Enjoy your trip home to Houston and enjoy that first warm shower and that warm meal. Thank you very much. Thanks for talking with us.

I want to say that I can’t begin to understand how difficult a live, on-air interview is to pull off. And I know that when dealing with unknown interview subjects, you want to be careful to avoid any difficult lines of questioning that result in intractable responses. And sometimes those Bible-verse quoters can have trouble getting to the point.

But still.

This is just a great example of how Scripture verses are like Kryptonite to many reporters. The moment this pretty young woman says “Joshua 1:9,” everything changes and you can see the reporter just thinking “Abort! Abort!” as he pulls the microphone and stutters into a segue.

Now, I’m partial to letting people quote scripture in interviews. I think it can tell a great deal about a subject and is also informative and interesting to viewers and readers. But even so, a word to the wise: most Bible verses aren’t terribly long. Unless someone tells you she’s about to quote Esther 8:9, you’ll probably be out of there in no time. As it turns out, Joshua 1:9 is a rather short one:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It was relevant to the interview, completely on point and interesting to boot.

A more religiously literate interviewer might know the verse to begin with but either way, allowing the interview to continue and asking a good follow-up might have been preferable to this hilariously awkward handling of the Bible verse mention. (I would be dreaming to imagine a reporter able to tie in this cruise ship’s troubles with St. Paul’s shipwreck in Malta, commemorated on Feb. 10.)

I mean, if you’re going to be doing wall-to-wall coverage of this cruise ship, go ahead and explore every avenue. Even that, to the media’s discomfort, some found comfort in the words of God.

Pod people: Don’t mention the war!

“Don’t mention the war!” is the catch phrase from “The Germans” episode of the British television series Fawlty Towers. I thought of this episode and John Cleese when I prepared a story for GetReligion on the New York Times‘ and Los Angeles Times’ reporting on the Bundestag’s vote to protect the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims by forbidding courts to ban the circumcision of infant boys.

The two Times were unable to get past the war in their reporting on this story, and ultimately missed the real story picked up by NBC, which was that German objections to circumcision were not crypto-Nazi prejudices but a consequence of the secularization of German society.

In “The Germans” episode, John Cleese, playing a concussed and bandaged Basil Fawlty, insults a party of German tourists dining at his hotel. Even though he warns his assistant Polly, “don’t mention the War”, he proceeds to do so with each line taking on a sharper tone. The comedy reaches its zenith when Basil gives an impression of Adolf Hitler and goose-steps round the hotel.

The humor in this episode comes from the interplay between the slightly mad Basil Fawlty’s attempts at maintaining  bourgeois respectability and his German jokes. The audience also comes to this episode with a common cultural understanding that the Second World War was the fault of the Germans. However, being British, it is impolite to mention it.

This tone of anti-German animus was the topic of this week’s Crossroads podcast with host Todd Wilken, along with a quick discussion of British reporting on the appointment of Tim Scott as South Carolina’s first African-American senator — but the meat of our conversation was on the dastardly Hun.

Germans, like Catholics, remain one of the few “safe” topics of Anglo-American humor, and I find national stereotyping amusing. But when ethnic and national stereotypes blind reporters to the true issues at play, it is a problem for journalism.

My argument in this week’s Issues, Etc., show was that mentioning the war, e.g., alluding the Nazi past when referring to a court ban on circumcision, clouded the issues. As NBC News’ story pointed out, the objections to circumcision arose from the de-Christianized culture of Germany that ascribed no religious significance to the practice, and as such, viewed circumcision as a barbaric cultural practice that should not be permitted in an enlightened European state.

Ignorance of faith, not anti-Semitism, lay behind the circumcision ban. Well, that is what I hoped to have said. Listen — and let me know what you think.

If I blow this gig, could I try my hand at radio?

Scratch a German, find a Nazi, the New York Times reports

The end of term is just round the corner with Christmas less than two weeks away. But before the semester ends we have to sit our exams. You have 45 minutes to compare and contrast these stories from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and NBC on Wednesday’s vote in the German Bundestag on circumcision. Which story “gets religion”?

Each outfit ran original stories on this topic and all touched upon religious element in the stories — but I will give you a hint as to the answer I am seeking and say NBC. The New York Times‘ suggestion that Germans are crypto-Nazis will not receive full marks.

The basic political facts are aptly summarized by the New York Times in its article “German Lawmakers Vote to Protect Right to Circumcision”.

BERLIN — German lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation ensuring parents the right to have their boys circumcised, bringing a close to months of legal uncertainty set off by a regional court’s ruling that equated the practice with bodily harm.

The measure passed by a vote of 434 to 100, with 46 abstentions, in Germany’s lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag. The vote followed months of emotional debate, and angered and alienated many German Jews and Muslims, for whom circumcision is a religious rite, integral to their beliefs.

But opponents of the bill, including 66 lawmakers who had proposed a version of the legislation that would have banned the procedure for boys younger than 14, insisted that removing a healthy body part from a child too young to have a say in the matter violates basic human rights.

The Los Angeles Times story entitled “Germany votes to keep circumcision legal” pointed out the issue of religious freedom.

The new legislation accommodates Jews who insist that the ritual must be carried out by a specially designated person known as a mohel. The Central Council of Jews in Germany said it would start a training program to ensure that mohels receive proper medical training.

The legality of circumcision in Germany was thrown into question in May after a district court in the western German city of Cologne ruled that the circumcision of a young Muslim boy amounted to bodily harm and was illegal. Jews and Muslims, for whom the practice is a key element of the faith, erupted in protest, and the central government quickly vowed to pass legislation to guarantee its legality nationwide. The months of debate that ensued centered on balancing medical concerns with religious freedom.

And the New York Times drove this point home with some strong quotes.

“There is no country in the world where the circumcision of boys for religious reasons is considered a criminal act,” Ms. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said. “With this legislation, the German government makes clear that Jewish and Muslim life is clearly welcome in Germany.”

The NY Times also provided context for the American reader.

Unlike common practice in the United States, infant boys in Germany and most other European countries are not routinely circumcised for health reasons. Consequently, the practice is unfamiliar to the general public, even to most lawmakers voting on Wednesday, as [Social Democrat Bundestag member of Turkish descent] Aydan Ozoguz pointed out.

The Gray Lady’s sympathies were clearly with the supporters of circumcision. The lower court ruling that banned circumcision as being a form of child abuse:

proved an embarrassment to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, painfully aware that postwar Germany can ill afford to be seen as supporting such a dangerous message of intolerance.

This paragraph is problematic on many levels. It is an editorial assertion. The verb “proved” should be proved by reference to claims of embarrassment, whilst the claim that the Germans would best not appear to be anti-Semitic in light of the Nazi era should spring from the mouths of someone other than the reporter. Without a fuller exposition this paragraph leaves the reader thinking, “What really is behind German opposition to circumcision?

Turn to the NBC story written by Donald Snyder you can see the difference between adequate and great reporting. The article entitled “Circumcision to remain legal in Germany” provided the same political background and offering quotes from a number of MPs. It also addressed the religious freedom question from the perspective of Judaism and Islam. But in the same space as the New York Times it did a better job in conveying why this issue was important to supporters and opponents of circumcision.

While the Times noted the infrequency of circumcision in Germany, NBC took this angle further.

German society is highly secular. Religion is generally viewed as a relic from the past. This is especially true in what was formerly Communist East Germany, where atheism was the official doctrine for 44 years.

“The basic sentiment here is anti-religious,” said Sylke Tempel, editor-in-chief of Internationale Politik, a foreign policy journal published by the German Council of Foreign Affairs. “And Germans throw overboard anything that has to do with tradition.”

According to Tempel, the Cologne ruling was not a deliberate attack on Islam or Judaism but showed a total misunderstanding of how important circumcision is to both religions. TNS Emnid, a German polling organization, found in a July 2012 survey that 56 percent of Germans agree with the Cologne ruling.

Deirdre Berger, executive director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin, a Jewish advocacy organization, said that the Cologne ruling can be traced to a body of law and medical literature that has been accumulating over the past decade. This school of thought, based on little scientific evidence, holds that circumcision does irreversible physical damage and causes emotional trauma, a view held by the German Association of Pediatricians, which has called for a two-year moratorium on circumcisions. By contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization endorse circumcision for its medical benefits, particularly in fighting the spread of HIV in Africa.

These closing paragraphs from NBC provided context missing in the two Times pieces — making it far and away the best story of the three, I would argue. Now for the extra credit question.

Why do we go on so much about “religion ghosts” in the media, highlighting the absence of the faith angle in news reporting here at GetReligion? Yes, reporting on the reporting is what we do — but are we merely a bunch of cranks who have found a niche from where we can fling out sarcasm and snark at the passing parade of news reporting? Laying aside the issue of personal failings and character flaws — a topic that keeps our analysts gainfully employed — what drives the work of GetReligion is the quest for quality.

My approach to the stories I write for GetReligion is founded upon the belief that the journalist is an artist who is guided by moral precepts. The journalist has an obligation as a literary artist to chronicle, to create, to order, and thereby serve not merely personal and superficial truths but universal ones. This obligation to the truth is the goal of classical journalism. A journalist need not be conscious of the philosophical theories behind his profession any more than a driver need understand the laws of physics that propel his automobile — yet the obligation remains to speak the truth.

Many European newspapers do not see their task in this  light. Advocacy newspapers are guided by the truths of their ideologies and consciously and publicly present stories in the light of these principles. My criticisms of American newspapers have been that they are unaware of their biases. Whilst claiming to print all the news that’s fit to print, as often as not, the definition of “fit” is constricted by intellectual and ideological blinkers. And at other times, they just make a hash of it.

The two Times pieces mention the religious obligations of circumcision for Jews and Muslims, but it was NBC who fleshed the story out by placing circumcision within the religious/medical/philosophical context of German society.

Without this crucial bit of news from NBC, the reader is unlikely to get past the New York Times implicit assertion that German objections to circumcision had some sort of latent Nazi overtone to them. There may be something in this, but that is not the whole story.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

 


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