Yes, it’s crucial that Boko Haram kills and tortures Muslims

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Yes, we need to focus on Nigeria and Boko (“books”) Haram (“forbidden“). Again.

Why? Why keep coming back to the mainstream coverage of this story?

For starters, the scope of the story is only getting bigger with the planned — limited — intervention of the Obama White House in the efforts to find and rescue the 270-plus teen-aged girls who were abducted last month by this terrorist network. Reports about the precise number still being held as slaves and potential forced brides have varied, according to different sources that are trying to determine how many girls have or have not escaped. The vast majority of the girls are Christians, but some are Muslims.

This story has climbed out the obscure back pages dedicated to non-entertaining horrors on the other side of the world and up into the prime ink-and-video terrain noticed by the masses. I also believe that, as this has happened, mainstream journalists have been doing a somewhat better job of dealing with the religious elements of this story. We are past the stage where our most powerful newspaper can say that Boko Haram is doing mysterious things for mysterious reasons while seeking mysterious goals and that is that.

But I still think one crucial element of this story is receiving inadequate coverage. More on that at the end of this post.

To see how the coverage is changing, consider the following background material in a new Los Angeles Times story about the White House involvement:

On Capitol Hill, all 20 women in the Senate signed a letter asking Obama to pressure the United Nations Security Council to acknowledge Boko Haram’s ties to Al Qaeda and to ask the U.N. to consider international sanctions. The group has already been cut off from U.S. financial institutions. …

Boko Haram’s shadowy leader, Abubakar Shekau, has a $7-million U.S. bounty on his head. He said in a video that surfaced Monday that God had commanded him to sell women in the market, adding that girls should marry, not go to school. An April report by the International Crisis Group think tank said Boko Haram “has grown more ruthless, violent and destructive” since Shekau became leader in 2009. The group’s fighters are dispersed in northeastern Nigeria and in nearby Cameroon and Niger.

Covering the evidence of connections between this network and Al Qaeda, and the influence of the Taliban, is a step forward in that it recognizes that this is the kind of group that represents a truly radicalized form of Islamism. It allows journalists to place the religious statements by Boko Haram in a specific context.

Next, readers are told:

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They didn’t even agree on what they disagreed on

Can you have a meeting of minds when you don’t agree on what you discussed — and neither do news media?

President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday, nearly all of it behind closed doors. And their post-meeting statements were so different, they were the focus of some media reports — though the reports themselves didn’t always match.

Here’s a close look at the mismatch between media from different U.S. coasts: CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The habitually pro-Barack CNN produced friendly coverage, starting with the traditional exchange of gifts between the heads of state. In the short video clip, above, clicking cameras drowned out nearly everything except “It’s a great honor” and “I’m a great admirer.”

The network also seemed to soft-pedal disagreements in saying the president and the Vatican had “slightly different takes on the tenor of their discussions.” Yet it did show how different the takes were:

“… (I)t was hoped that, in areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” the Vatican said in a statement. “In the context of bilateral relations and cooperation between Church and State, there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection. …”

Obama, in a news conference that followed, told reporters that such issues were “not a topic of conversation” with the Pope and instead were discussed with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Whoa. The Vatican and the White House disagreed on what they disagreed on? Good time for follow-up questions. Why weren’t there any?

The CNN report also said where the two sides agreed:

According to the Vatican, the two men also discussed the issue of immigration reform and “stated their common commitment to the eradication of human trafficking throughout the world.”

On this point, the President and the Pope were simpatico.

“I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded,” Obama told reporters after the meeting.

Ghost alert, BTW: The CNN writer — and whoever edited his work — apparently missed where Obama got the phrase “the least of these.” It’s from Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the needy: “Whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”

CNN then obediently quoted Obama on his newest campaign, “income inequality”:

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Is a global fast for Syria a local news story?

According to Catholic News Agency:

Pope Francis made a global petition on Sept. 1 asking that everyone, regardless of religion or location, to fast and pray during the whole day of Sept. 7 for world peace, particularly in Syria.

I noticed that various friends and acquaintances were participating in a special day of prayer and fasting — some sent the word along to join in, some merely mentioned that they were doing it, some shared how their particular parish was taking up Pope Francis’ call. I had seen a few wire reports leading up to the day of fasting and prayer, but I was curious if this would be considered a local news story.

The answer is, it varied.

The New York Times didn’t consider it a story. Period. If you run a query for “Francis” and “fast” for the last seven days, nothing comes up. Rod Dreher has an absolutely fascinating commentary on what the New York Times decides from its perch is newsworthy and what it doesn’t, using just this week’s coverage as an illustration. Let’s just say that nothing about Christians and Syria registers. But, you know, if you want a touching story about an elderly gay couple reminiscing about lots of public sex or a lengthy look at an all-nude gay resort in the Ozarks — two stories that were featured prominently — that is definitely your paper of record.

What’s particularly odd about the New York Times‘ inability to mention Pope Francis’ call for a day of fasting and prayer against war in Syria is that the paper ran a big story headlined, “Obama Falls Short on Wider Backing for Syria Attack.” I don’t know if the reporters and editors attempted to leave religion angles out of the story but when even a world leader like the Pope doesn’t make the cut, you have to wonder what is going on.

The Washington Post didn’t have anything in the Sunday paper, but it did have an Associated Press report online. Not about the global fast so much as Francis and some pilgrims to St. Peter’s Square. Nothing at all about local Catholics or other religious adherents who joined in.

But while the Post and the Times didn’t think local (or global!) participation in days of fasting and prayer were particularly newsworthy, some news organizations did:

Catholics unite in prayer before Syria vote
News 12 Westchester – 10 hours ago
Pope Francis asked Catholics to fast and pray for the refugees in the civil war-torn nation,and for a quick and peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. (6:17 PM). WESTCHESTER – Catholics across the Hudson Valley united in prayer during Sunday Masses …

NC residents take part in global day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria
News & Observer – ?Sep 7, 2013?
PEACEMASS0908. Members of the congregation pray the rosary during a special mass led by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday, September 7, 2013 in Raleigh, N.C. The mass was held in observance of Pope Francis’ call to join in a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria. … At Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, dozens of people filled the pews at a Mass for Peace organized quickly after the pope spoke out last week against Western military intervention in Syria.

Actually, This News & Observer piece is worth a quick look:

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Religion and the 1963 March on Washington

August 28 is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. There’s a huge rally down at the Lincoln Memorial today and media coverage has been ramping up in preparation. One of the complaints we’ve gotten about that coverage is that it has oddly avoided mention of the religious component of the original march and of continued civil rights efforts. And that has been missing from some coverage.

But let’s look at some of the coverage that did cover that angle, and covered it well. First up is (friend of the blog) Hamil Harris’ piece in the Washington Post headlined “Civil Rights leaders lift up prayers marking March on Washington.”

I stole this picture from Harris’ twitter feed. He said of it that William Allison,92, came to the march with same sign in 1963.

The story is full of great quotes, including:

Rev. Kendrick E. Curry, pastor of the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, told the crowd of several hundreds that the “prayer and praise service grounds the 50th anniversary march so that it can become transformative.”

“ If we simply gather without the very rooting that the original march had, and the spirit that King had, then we are forever off course and out of order,” Curry said.

and:

Rev. Barbara Williams Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network and a spiritual advisor to President Obama, gave the closing charge for the evening. She she said that it was important to remember that march began in a sanctuary.

“It suggests that prayer and worship was behind the civil rights movement,” Skinner said in an interview. “It was then and it is now. Without the power of God we won’t get anywhere, we won’t have voting rights… we won’t have anything that we are really seeking.”

Frequently reporters don’t include such religious language in stories about this and other mass efforts, even though people allude to and specifically reference their religious motivation. Kudos for simply reporting some of these powerful quotes.

While we’re looking at Post coverage, here’s an interesting essay by one of the original reporters who covered the march. It’s about how the paper was trying to get a story about some type of problem breaking out at the march. By focusing on that, it missed the major news of the day — the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But I couldn’t help but think it’s also about how much difficulty many media outlets continue to have about covering a march. Part of that is cultural — the coverage of early Tea Party protests was so tonally off as to be offensive — particularly the hungry efforts to find “problems” at the march. You didn’t see similar efforts at ideological protests from cultural bedfellows, such as the Colbert/Stewart rallies. But you can still sense the confusion and misguided efforts at covering massive annual pro-life marches. Perhaps the essay should be required reading in newsrooms. A snippet:

We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made.

My favorite religion news angle on the March anniversary events comes from Religion News Service. Adelle M. Banks and Corrie Raye Mitchell interviewed tons of participants in the march and Banks and Sally Morrow compiled photos and videos to make a fantastic multi-media presentation. It’s fun to just wander through the package, with interviews of:

 

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Pod people: Concerning the IRS and the God squads

It’s a basic fact of life in American politics that nothing fires up the non-profit sector on the political right like the election of a strong president whose voter base is on the religious, cultural and political left.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the election of President Barack Obama, an articulate believer from the heart of liberal mainline Protestantism, created a boom in activism on the religious, cultural and political right. That’s the way the world works.

Of course, the folks that got most of the mainstream media ink, after Obama rose to power, were the Tea Party activists. The journalistic template was established early on that we were talking about the Libertarian barbarian hordes marching into the public square to sack civilization (but, hey, at least they aren’t the religious right folks).

Thus, most of our recent media firestorm about the public confession that the IRS focused extra scrutiny on White House enemies has focused on — what are those magic words again — non-profit applications by groups that had “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names, or were dedicated to scary activities such as distributing educational materials about the U.S. Constitution.

However, there has been some mainstream coverage of the fact that the IRS also targeted some conservative religious groups that were dedicated to activism on key moral issues dear to the heart of White House folks — such as abortion, health-care reform and same-sex marriage. If you want to create a few (repeat, a few) headlines, then you go after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, right to life networks and similar groups.

I’ve been writing about the IRS affairs the past two weeks for the Scripps Howard News Service and, no surprise, the subject continues to come up here at GetReligion. Thus, Todd Wilken and I dug into the subject in the latest GetReligion “Crossroads” podcast.

Did you actually hear about the question that the IRS asked when considering one right-to-life group’s request for non-profit status? Here’s how one of my columns opened:

IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was already having a rough day at the House Ways and Means Committee when one particularly hot question shoved him into the lower depths of a church-state Inferno.

The question concerned a letter sent by IRS officials in Cincinnati to the Coalition for Life of Iowa, linked to its application for tax-exempt status.

“Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational,” said the letter, which was released by the Thomas More Society, which often defends traditional religious groups. “Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organizations spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.”

Welcome back to the religious liberty wars of 2013, in a scene captured by the omnipresent eye of C-SPAN.

Now, the key to the podcast discussion was this: If this whole IRS thing is going to have legs, what is the next legitimate angle for journalists to investigate?

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Ghosts crowding in on drone stories

If I weren’t so sick I would have already done this but in the days to come, I hope to mark our anniversary by reviewing some of my work over 2012. But if there’s one thing I already know, it’s that I wish we’d focus more on what news isn’t covered as opposed to critiquing what’s there. When you look at some of the reader reflections Bobby solicited in recent days, many are wondering how wise it is to focus on areas where the actual coverage has faltered the most (as opposed to spreading it around more). I think that’s always a difficult balance.

But under-coverage is a serious problem and one that is most difficult to critique. I’m reading Spin Masters: How The Media Ignored The Real News And Helped Re-Elect Barack Obama. That’s the kind of title that leads you to become, as author David Freddoso is, a New York Times bestselling author. But the book is actually quite balanced in laying out criticism against all people — and very detailed in its research. As he writes, “The problem isn’t that journalists are too hard on Republicans. The problem is that they often won’t do journalism at all unless they are covering a Republican.”

Anyway, the book jacket says the book explores “how possible serious abuses of presidential power — including the drone killing of a sixteen-year-old American boy — have been swept under the rug by a partisan press that believes Obama can do no wrong.” It’s certainly true that this received a shockingly low amount of coverage during 2012 and has only quite recently been getting slightly more attention.

Admittedly much of this is outside the bounds of GetReligion, simply dealing with foreign policy and the rights we afford our citizens. But there is a religion component. Or as commenter Herbert Ely put it yesterday in a comment on Bobby’s post:

There are a number of just war issues that should be raised by the press, particularly since the Catholic bishops seem reluctant. Consider this statement by Leon Panetta on drone strikes against US citizens:” The Pentagon chief says he realized when he became CIA director that he was “making life-and-death decisions.” As a Catholic, he says, he’s “got to really think about it.” (link) There are, it seems to me a few religious and constitutional ghosts here.

You’re darn right there are! And they are so very rarely raised. While this is mostly an Obama presidency issue, I made this complaint more than four years ago as well.  Is it sufficient to quote Panetta and move on? Shouldn’t there be analysis from people who study Just War theory or have something to say about how it relates to drone killing of Americans and others? What about other religious or philosophical approaches to this type of warfare? Are we really so unserious as to not want this discussion in the news pages?

 

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At Obama inauguration, not all religion is biblical

Yesterday was a big day for the country, with the second inauguration of President Barack H. Obama. The president gave a very important speech and the media are, excitedly, poring over it. But how were the day’s religion angles covered?

One of the more interesting angles deals with homosexuality. Not only was a pastor dismissed from the program because he spoke 20 years ago of homosexuality in terms of sinfulness, but affirmation of homosexuality was something of a requirement for participation in the public square yesterday. While mainstream media reporters — who are among the most important elites to affirm homosexuality — have noticed one side of that equation, fewer have noted the religiosity of that affirmation or what it means for those who hold to traditional Scriptural views on sexuality. The thoughtful reporter Amy Sullivan being a notable exception here.

But let’s just stick to the speech itself. I’m not one of those reporters who faints or gets a tingle up the leg at any president and I didn’t even get to hear the speech because my children were shouting at me to turn it off. But even so, I think it’s fair to say the speech was remarkable. You can read the text or watch it here. You might not be as effusive with your praise as, say, the New York Times is in its front page story headlined (best to read this as if flushed or slightly out of breath): “Inaugural Stresses Theme of Civil and Gay Rights — Safety Net Praised” — but you can still acknowledge it was an important speech laying out the case for a strong federal government.

Reader Jerry wrote in last night:

Here’s a challenge. Find a mainstream report about today’s inauguration that says what Mark Shields said tonight on the PBS News hour or mentions religion outside of the historical significance of the Bibles that were used. Of course the RNS does but the mainstream media? Ghost city.

Well, Religion News Service is definitely a mainstream media outlet and it aims to present news objectively and without a sectarian point of view. But I get Jerry’s point — it’s an outlet that seeks out religion angles.

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Got news? Judge ‘mocks’ Obama’s religious-liberty move

The most control the media have in the news process is determining what stories get hyped and which get hidden, which get a ton of coverage and which get downplayed. A week or so ago, I read on the editorial page of the Washington Examiner about a rather juicy ruling by a U.S. district court judge. He said that the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the HHS mandate may proceed.

Judge Brian Cogan mocked the “accommodation” on religion liberty outlined by President Obama in regards to his health care law’s contraception mandate while ruling against a Justice Department motion to dismiss the Archdiocese of New York’s lawsuit against the regulation.

“There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” Cogan wrote in his ruling against DOJ. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.” …

As Cogan noted, though, the rule has not formally been changed.

I figured I’d look at the mainstream media news coverage once it came out. You might not know it from the curious way the media have covered this story, but there are dozens of lawsuits working their way through the courts on religious liberty claims against the mandate. Some reporters and media outlets scare-quote this as a “religious liberty” issue or otherwise downplay the religious liberty concerns. Here’s a judge saying the religious liberty concerns are legit. Surely we’ll see coverage.

But have we? Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote about the media coverage in his latest blog post:

Did you hear about the decision last week by U.S. District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan in the lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare, (the agency coordinating our Catholic healthcare in the archdiocese) and three plaintiffs from the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, against the administration for the unconstitutional HHS mandate?

You probably did not, as there seems to have been virtually no mention of the decision – in favor of the archdiocese, by the way – in any local newspaper or on television.  As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked rather carefully, there hasn’t even been a story in the New York Times, which couldn’t wait to publish an editorial this past October, admonishing the bishops, when a federal judge in Missouri found for the administration and dismissed a similar case brought by a private, for-profit, mining company.   (The Times also didn’t have much to say last week, when the appeals court temporarily blocked the bad Missouri decision the Times had gushed over.)

Judge Cogan’s decision last week turned back a motion by the administration to have our lawsuit dismissed.  You’ll remember, perhaps, that back in May, the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, and Catholic Health Systems of Long Island filed a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn, one of more than two dozen similar lawsuits filed around the country that day.  These lawsuits argue that the mandate from Health and Human Services would unconstitutionally presume to define the nature of the Church’s ministry, and force religious employers to violate their conscience or face onerous fines for not providing services in our health insurance that are contrary to our consciences and faith.

The judge’s decision doesn’t settle the case, but allows the case to proceed so that it might be heard in court…  That’s significant, because the administration has been successful in getting some of the other cases dismissed, but in his decision Judge Cogan found that there was very real possibility that we plaintiffs would “face future injuries stemming from their forced choice between incurring fines or acting in violation of their religious beliefs.”

And what of the administration’s contention that the suit should be dismissed because they were going to change the HHS mandate to address the concerns of religious employers? As Judge Cogan wrote, “…the First Amendment does not require citizens to accept assurances from the government that, if the government later determines it has made a misstep, it will take ameliorative action. There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution.”

I couldn’t believe that Dolan’s claims were true. Had the New York Times really not covered this, even briefly? What about other national media?

Well, this GoogleNews search shows the story was much bigger among Catholic, conservative and pro-life press than secular media. I didn’t find it in the Times.

There were wire reports from Bloomberg and Reuters, however. So kudos to them. The Reuters story is quite good.

As for why so few covered the court’s decision, not even the local paper that bills itself as the newspaper of record? I can’t begin to presume the answer to that.

Photo of judge’s gavel and scales of justice via Shutterstock.


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