God, sex, ‘military values’ and the U.S. Naval Academy

Most weekday mornings, as I make my short drive to the train station for my ride to Capitol Hill, I hear at least one plug on talk radio for the Navy Federal Credit Union. Part of the liturgy in these advertisements is an appeal to the “military values” that are said to make this financial institution so trustworthy.

Since I live on the south side of Baltimore, at the north edge of the Anne Arundel County military-security-industrial complex, I am used to hearing quite a bit debate about “military values” and what that term means, these days. Much of this news comes from the U.S. Naval Academy, which has seen more than its share of trouble in recent years.

Most of this news, logically enough, appears in The Baltimore Sun. However, the dominant newspaper in Beltway land printed a massive feature story the other day that clearly was meant to dig down into the heart of one of the nastiest of the recent scandals. That Washington Post story ran under the dry headline: “Naval Academy sexual assault allegations change the lives of four midshipmen.”

As implied in those words, this was one of those features that offered snapshots of the major players in this particular sexual assault case in the military, looking for common themes. This case — which received extensive coverage on ESPN and in other national news outlets — was summed up like this:

All three of the accused midshipmen insisted that any sexual contact with the alleged victim was consensual. All three — and their accuser — stood accused of lying to investigators about what had happened at a “toga and yoga” party thrown two years ago. The alcohol-soaked evening at an illicit off-campus football house nicknamed “the Black Pineapple” had profound consequences for all four of them. And in some ways, the fallout is just beginning.

So what was the common theme? What was the big idea in this provocative feature about — like it or not — military values? I have absolutely no idea, even after multiple readings.

On one level, this is simply another meditation on the role of alcohol in modern academic life, especially the ways in which binge drinkings blur the lines between hook-up culture and sexual assault. However, since I am writing about this “values” story at GetReligion, I was also interested in another unexplored angle in this feature. Here are a few clues.

First, there is this note about Eric Graham, who agreed to leave the academy after sexual-assault charges were dropped against him.

What remains of Eric Graham’s life at the Naval Academy sits inside a box in the middle of his childhood bedroom. The box is standard issue, given to midshipmen when they ship out, he explained. On the side, there is a place to write a destination. Normally, it would say Pearl Harbor or San Diego. His read: Mobile, Ala.

When he was at the academy, Graham worried that he would be sent home for different reasons. He’d struggled in his classes, especially as his legal troubles intensified. He quit football his junior year to concentrate on his grades. Economics had turned out to be a less-than-ideal major for him, but he picked it partly because his teammate Tra’ves Bush had. Like him, Bush hailed from a close-knit religious family in the South. They also played the same position: safety.

File that background information away, as we read on.

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WPost hints at religious ghosts in India’s rape crisis

Several years ago, during a tour to promote The Media Project book called “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion,” I took part in an excellent forum about religion and the news at a media institute in Bangalore, India. Here’s how I described that scene in a 2010 post that ran with the headline, “Life and death (and faith) in India.”

… I was struck by one consistent response from the audience, which I would estimate was about 50 percent Hindu, 25 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian. When asked what was the greatest obstacle to accurate, mainstream coverage of events and trends in religion, the response of one young Muslim male was blunt. When our media cover religion news, he said, more people end up dead. Other students repeated this theme during our meetings.

In other words, when journalists cover religion stories, this only makes the conflicts worse. It is better to either ignore them or to downplay them, masking the nature of the conflicts behind phrases such as “community conflicts” or saying that the events are cased by disputes about “culture” or “Indian values.”

I thought about that scene again while reading yet another Washington Post report about India’s ongoing protests linked to rape and, to be specific, the lukewarm efforts by the nation’s powers that be to deal with the crisis.

What does this have to do with religion?

A year ago, during a conference on religion and the news in Kiev, I showed friends of mine who work in the mainstream press in India several examples of American coverage of the infamous incident in which a young woman died after being gang raped on a bus. They were all struck by the fact that the stories consistently avoided issues of race, religion and, of course, caste.

The bottom line: For better and for worst, India is one of the most intensely religious cultures on earth and there are few moral and cultural issues in modern India that do not involve religion in one way or another.

Is it easy to describe the role that religion plays? More often than not, the answer is “no.” Culture and religion and race and caste are all tumbled together in daily life in India.

Thus, I would like to stress that this latest rape crisis story in the Post is better than most in that it at least mentions two of the major religious themes linked to this issue — even if it doesn’t specifically explain or even mention the religious specifics. For example, there is this:

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Pod people: media struggles mightily with abortion coverage

On this week’s Crossroads, host Todd Wilken and I discussed that embarrassing BuzzFeed confusion — or defiant ignorance, really — about basic and widespread traditional Christian teaching on evil. We also discussed the curious way in which the Washington Post is downplaying even local abortion “crime” stories.

Three abortion doctors had their licenses suspended after the death of a woman who had an abortion but The Washington Post just doesn’t find that newsworthy at all.

Honest. I mean, they ran a brief Associated Press story on the matter online and the only follow-up I’ve found is — no joke — a three paragraph update that one of the doctors had their license reinstated. Also by the Associated Press. Wouldn’t want to put any local reporter resources into this story, I guess.

Abortion coverage continues to be such a grievous weak point across the media. We’re all familiar by now with the approach taken where reporters ask something close to 100% of pro-life politicians about rape, even though it’s not a major policy point. And while the majority of Americans support some or all abortion restrictions, it somehow never occurs to reporters to ask the most radical pro-choice politicians (those who support no restrictions on abortions) about their extremism.

So when a reporter for the conservative Weekly Standard did the job that no mainstream reporter will do — asking Rep. Nancy Pelosi about her opposition to legislation that protects unborn children targeted by late-term abortions such as ones that end the lives of children the same age (but other side of the birth canal) as the ones convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell killed — you will never guess how the Washington Post wrote up her response …

Actually, you probably could guess, so want to try?

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Steubenville: Ties between rape and ‘fundamentalist’ teens?

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Your GetReligionistas don’t spend much time digging around in the growing world of first-person, advocacy journalism. We realize that opinion is cheap and reporting new information is expensive and that managers of many websites are going to do what they are going to do, which is print more and more opinion pieces about big news events. This is the new reality, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

However, Salon.com recently ran a first-person essay about that sensational rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, that really deserved the negative attention given it by LifeWay Research pollster and evangelical social-media maven Ed Stetzer (click here for his post). More on that Salon.com train wreck in a moment.

I’ve been reading, with horror of course, much of the coverage of this trial — waiting for some kind of religion-news shoe to drop. When reporters described the sharp divisions present in Steubenville, and the bitter public debates about the case, I kept waiting for someone to contrast the local sex-and-booze football party culture with the city’s other famous, and truly countercultural, institution. That would be Franciscan University of Steubenville, a thriving campus that is known as a center for conservative forms of Catholicism, including the Catholic charismatic movement.

Franciscan is very well known locally, nationally and internationally, in part because of the stunning number of young women and men there who choose to become nuns, sisters, brothers and priests. Readers interested in church-state issues may recall recent fights over whether the city could keep an image of the Franciscan cross in its official civic seal.

Anyway, the nation’s media have — for better or for worse — managed to cover the rape trial without pulling the views of the faith community into the picture. The key to this event, most seem to agree, is the power of social media in the lives of the young. Here’s the top of a powerful New York Times piece on the verdicts:

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Two high school football stars were found guilty on Sunday of raping a 16-year-old girl last summer in a case that drew national attention for the way social media spurred the initial prosecution and later helped galvanize national outrage.

Because the victim did not remember what had happened, scores of text messages and cellphone pictures provided much of the evidence. They were proof as well, some said, that Steubenville High School’s powerhouse football team held too much sway over other teenagers, who documented and traded pictures of the assault while doing little or nothing to protect the girl.

This nightmare may not be over, precisely because of the way the social-media threads spread out into the community. The judge warned that:

… (T)he case was a cautionary lesson in how teenagers conduct themselves when alcohol is present and in “how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today.” The trial also exposed the behavior of other teenagers, who wasted no time spreading photos and text messages with what many in the community felt was callousness or cruelty.

And that aspect of the case may not be complete. The Ohio attorney general, Mike DeWine, said after the verdict that he would convene a grand jury next month to finish the investigation. … The verdict came after four days of testimony that was notable for how Ohio investigators analyzed hundreds of text messages from more than a dozen cellphones and created something like a real-time accounting of the assault.

Like I said, this is horrible stuff.

So what does this have to do with religion? That’s where a Salon.com piece by freelance writer Molly McCluskey comes into the picture. The headline?

My Steubenville

It was a base for the teen evangelical movement, where I saw fundamentalist Christianity’s power, and its danger

Wait a minute.

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Rape and religion in Israel

Here’s a proposition for GetReligion readers: The quality of a news article should be measured not by how well it is written, but by how well it is read. The reporter’s task is to provide facts, context, and balanced interpretation of an event. However, if the reader is not able to grasp the meaning or context of a story the work, while being technically proficient, is unsuccessful as journalism.

The reader, then, is as important as the writer in the evaluation of merit. Unless the reader is able to bring a level of knowledge to the encounter to make the story intelligible, the article can be said to have failed. But where does the fault lie for this failure? In the reader or the writer?

A story in Tuesday’s English-language edition of Israel Today entitled “Rabbis suspected of hampering child rape case investigation” prompted these thoughts. Israel Today or Israel HaYom is Israel’s largest daily circulation newspaper. Written from a conservative perspective, it has about a quarter of the Israeli daily newspaper market share. Owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson the newspaper has an online edition that competes with the Jerusalem Post for the English-language Israel-centered news niche.

(Self-disclosure: I was a London correspondent for the JPost for a number of years, but have not written for them in sometime.) (N.b., the article in question is on the top right of the page above.)

The article begins:

Judea and Samaria District Police suspect their investigation into the rape of a 5-year-old girl in the ultra-Orthodox city of Modiin Illit is being deliberately hampered by rabbis who ordered all involved parties, including the victim’s parents, not to cooperate with police. As a result, police have still not identified a suspect.

The article describes what the police have learned so far about the rape of the girl by a “haredi youth, apparently from an established family in the city,” and states the child’s school teacher alerted the parents and took her to a hospital. However, the rape has not been reported to the police, who only learned of the attack after a reporter contacted them for details.

We then have these statements:

neither the school nor the parents filed a complaint with police out of fear that the city’s rabbis would ostracise them.

And …

When investigators began looking into the incident, they were met with a wall of silence. Those few who did agree to speak told police that the girl had been taken to the emergency room of a hospital in central Israel, but refused to divulge her details. The law requires hospitals to report sexual assaults, and investigators sought a court order to force the hospital to give them the victim’s details. But the presiding judge denied the request and ordered the investigators to find the parents and get permission from them first. However, police cannot contact the parents as they do not know the identity of the victim.

The article closes with a paragraph describing the frustration of the police.

Police in Modiin Illit have compiled enough information to deduce the neighborhood in which they believe the incident took place. They have questioned numerous people in the community, but those questioned claimed to not know anything about the event.

From a reporter’s perspective, this is a nicely done story. He has been able to unearth the cover up of a sex crime ostensibly committed by the son of one of the town’s leading citizens. But I suspect most GetReligion readers will be unsatisfied with the story, asking themselves, “why would rabbis cover us such a crime?”

The New York Times has run several stories on this issue, focusing on the ostracization parents of abuse victims face from their communities. Unlike this Israel Today story, the Times addresses the religion ghost — the religious roots of the cover up — in this 2012 article.

Their communities, headed by dynastic leaders called rebbes, strive to preserve their centuries-old customs by resisting the contaminating influences of the outside world. While some ultra-Orthodox rabbis now argue that a child molester should be reported to the police, others strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against mesirah, the turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, and consider publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews to be chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

This may be the situation in Brooklyn, but do the ultra-Orthodox of Israel consider their government to be non-Jewish? The question why the haredi do not cooperate with the police is not asked in this story. But, would not the original audience, an Israeli audience, know the answer to that question based upon the context of their culture and country?

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India and rape: Spotting some tricky ghosts

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In about 99 percent of the mainstream news reports you will ever read about India and religion, there will be a reference that reads something like the following, from a Washington Post story that I have been meaning to get to for a week or so. This is part of the wave of coverage — totally justifiable, methinks — about rape and women’s rights in that land.

The crucial language, as is the norm, comes right at the end of the feature-style lede that frames this hellish drama:

BANWASA, India – The teenage girl was overpowered by four men at a railway crossing near this village and bundled into a car. For five days she was kept, imprisoned and naked, in a windowless outhouse on nearby farmland and raped repeatedly.

Despite its brutality, the September incident merited just a few lines in a domestic news-agency story about a string of such crimes in the northern state of Haryana. It was headlined simply: “Four more rape cases.”

Thousands of Indians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the rape of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi. But in rural areas just a few hours’ drive from India’s capital, where police and activists say rapes are common and increasing, such incidents draw scarcely any attention, let alone outrage.

In India’s modernizing but still deeply traditional society, social and women’s rights activists say rapes occur with virtual impunity, and women who betray flickers of independent thought and challenge the male-dominated status quo are especially vulnerable.

The key words are found in that passing reference to India being a “deeply traditional society.”

What, precisely, does that mean? What are these traditions? Might they have something to do with religion?

I have several friends who work in the mainstream press in India and, in conversations with them over the years about American media coverage of their land, they have expressed amazement at the degree to which U.S. journalists are afraid to talk about the elephant in the living room in these stories — the caste system.

Is it more common for police and other officials to look the other way when crimes are committed against members of the lower castes? Of course it is. In India, ignoring the role of the caste system would be akin to ignoring the role of gravity in physics. Yet many journalists are afraid to venture into that maze of, yes, religion and tradition. It’s safer to simply call India a “deeply traditional society” — wink, wink — and then move on.

However, this story caught my attention because, after the usual “traditional society” language, the team at the Post foreign desk delivered some crucial details that added depth and reality to the news.

For example, consider this transition passage:

The regularity of rapes and the resentment of women who question traditional roles are just two examples of this country’s vast gender inequality and wobbly rule of law — among the factors economists say are keeping India from its goal of being a global power. According to government statistics, the number of rapes reported nationwide rose 50 percent between 2001 and 2011, when police registered 23,582 cases. Over the same period in Haryana, a state of 25 million people, the figure rose nearly 85 percent, to 733. Police and activists say part of the increase might be attributable to more reporting, but they also insist that incidents are rising.

In October, a senior Haryana police officer interviewed by an Indian magazine blamed the increase on girls and women who are “easily influenced” and wear Western clothes. Police interviewed after the New Delhi case were more circumspect, vaguely blaming socioeconomic factors.

Some right-wing Hindu nationalists have tried to blame rapes on the influx of Western values or portray them as an urban phenomenon. But in rural India, the status of women is so low — and a family’s honor their exclusive burden — that such crimes often go unrecorded. When police do take up rape cases, rural communities tend to rally around the accused and ostracize the accusers.

As I read this story, I wondered if the Post would dare to GO THERE, citing the ultimate example of sexism and the low status of women in this unbelievably complex land.

Imagine my surprise when I read the following:

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“Nobody cares” about Obama’s abortion beliefs? Really?

I was taping the Crossroads podcast earlier and host Todd Wilken asked me something about why reporters were mishandling the news that Senate candidate Richard Mourdock believes even a human life conceived in rape can be a “gift from God.” I was kind of at a loss. I reject the idea, advanced by some critics, that it’s just partisan bias or an attempt to help President Barack Obama in the final days of his campaign. But the coverage was so over-the-top, it was hard to defend at all.

My big beef in this whole thing is not so much that pro-life candidates are being asked tough questions. Abortion is a super tough topic and one deserving of tough questions. What chaps my hide is that reporters are incapable of asking any tough questions of pro-choice candidates.

To that end, you should be sure to read this piece by Trevin Wax headlined “10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate is Never Asked by the Media.” Please. Read it.

A few days ago, we remembered the data that show that about 25 percent of Americans say they favor no restrictions on abortion, about 20 percent of Americans say they support consistent protection of the unborn and the rest want something in between. I think the problem with the media might be that they’re incredibly familiar with that group who favor no restrictions on abortion and have trouble looking at things from a different angle. As tmatt noted long ago, citing a Pew Forum poll, there are even fascinating numbers that show how many DEMOCRATS want to see strong restrictions on abortion rights.

I was reminded of all that during this fascinating exchange on Twitter between a political reporter at the Weekly Standard, John McCormack, and a religion reporter at Newsweek/Daily Beast, David Sessions. It began with McCormack complaining about disparities in press coverage. I’ll just reproduce the exchange here:

John McCormack: At the very least, someone might want to get the president to say precisely what his position on late-term abortion is (link)

David Sessions: Seriously, nobody cares.

John McCormack:  What do you mean?

John McCormack: People don’t care about abortion? Are you an idiot?

David Sessions: the weird idea that its “corrupt” not to ask about Obama’s abortion position when we know it & it’s not a campaign issue.

David Sessions: his position is plenty clear to people who care about that issue.

John McCormack: Please tell me: What is Obama’s position on third-trimester abortions?

John McCormack: He’s evaded the issue (link) … You may yawn at killing of almost born human beings. Others think it’s an atrocity.

David Sessions: who cares? If you care what the answer to that is, his position on 1st-trimester abortions is bad enough.

John McCormack: Who cares? So you can’t say.

John McCormack: Country may be divided on abortion early in pregnancy. 86% say it should be illegal late in pregnancy per Gallup.

John McCormack:  But nothing to see here. “Who cares?” You are a disgrace to journalism.

David Sessions: it’s absurd to pretend like this a huge moral press failure when it’s not even close to being a campaign issue.

John McCormack:  It is a human rights issue. What is/is not a campaign issue depends on what the media asks the candidates.

John McCormack:  And it is a gross double standard for the press to make IN & MO Senate candidates abortion stances the BIGGEST STORY EVER…

John McCormack: without even thinking for a second whether Obama himself might hold extreme positions on abortion.

David Sessions: I completely agree about that.

OK, so hopefully each side on this journalistic tussle can learn something. I want to add a few thoughts. First, people really care about abortion. It may not be the single most important issue in every singe mind when we go into the voting booth, but of all the issues out there, it’s a biggie. Consistently. If you are a religion reporter, it’s good to know this. Also, plenty of people who are fine with first-trimester abortion are not fine with third-trimester abortion. You should probably know that, too, so saying “If you care what the answer is about his third-trimester abortion position, his position on 1st-trimester abortions is bad enough” is just not true.

OK, as to the charge that abortion is not an Obama campaign issue, I don’t really know what to say other than you might want to watch even a tiny little snippet of any portion of the Democratic National Convention from this year. (Some jokingly called it an Abortion Jamboree or Abortion-palooza.) Also, as a swing state resident, I would say that abortion ads are the number one thing I’m seeing from Obama’s campaign. I’ve received glossy mailers, emails and a deluge of TV ads. Trust me, it’s possibly his biggest issue that he’s running on in Virginia. If you are a national reporter, you should probably have some familiarity with this. Or as the New York Times put it last week:

According to data from Kantar Media/CMAG, the Obama campaign and Democratic groups have run commercials relating to abortion about 30,000 times since July 2 — about 10 percent of their ads — including one that falsely claimed Mr. Romney’s opposition to abortion extended to cases of rape and incest.

The ad with the false claim was still running in Virginia as recently as last week, I’m pretty sure (although it’s possible I saw it on a DVR’d program from earlier in the month).

Now, as McCormack writes, even if it weren’t a major plank of President Obama’s campaign, it’s still important enough as a human rights issue to cover. To put it another way, that last debate showed us that neither candidate disagrees with each other on the U.S. policy of using drones to target terrorists. Does that mean that since it’s not a campaign issue, it shouldn’t be covered? Hardly. I think the press can rightly judge certain topics of importance meriting coverage even if votes aren’t being won or lost on them. But, again, that’s not even the case with abortion coverage.

But at least we can all agree that however this topic is covered, it should be done so in a balanced way. If the press posture is that it’s extreme to hold the position that Mourdock holds, the one that only 20 percent of the country shares, where does that put President Obama and his positions? And if only one set of political actors is treated as extreme, as needing to apologize for a position, as if their existence on a party ticket is scandalous, and the other side is treated as if “nobody cares” about their positions, how good is that?

Photo of a disinterested child via Shutterstock.

Media embarrassingly ill-equipped to cover rape, theodicy

The whole point of this website, since day one, has been to help mainstream journalists “get religion.” So I guess I should not be utterly disgusted and disappointed by so many reporters’ coverage of the big Richard Mourdock-theodicy kerfuffle right now. Instead I should view this as a great teaching opportunity.

Every educated person should know the fundamentals of the major world religions. Every American journalist should have a working knowledge of the basics of Christian and Jewish thought.

So everyone open your Bibles and go to Genesis. We’re hoping to end up around Genesis 50:20. In the preceding chapters, we learn about Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons. His brothers really hated him and were filled with jealousy so they conspired to kill him before deciding instead to sell him into slavery. Jacob, believing Joseph had been killed, was left in anguish and grieving.

Joseph somehow becomes the most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh. He does all sorts of wise and judicious things and saves all sorts of people from a brutal famine. Long story short, he ends up meeting up with his long-lost brothers again. They are really worried that he’s going to react poorly. And so:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” is one of the most well-known passages in Scripture. The teaching that God causes good to result from evil is just basic, basic, basic stuff.

You don’t have to agree with this verse if you’re a reporter, but you should be familiar with it. If you are a reporter and you’re not familiar with the story of Joseph, or the story of Job, or the story of Jesus, you may be surprised at how easy they are to quickly catch up on. I’m not saying you’ll be able to plumb the depths in an evening, but just read Genesis, read Job, read the Gospels. These are foundational to understanding how the vast majority of the people you cover understand God’s will. With further study, you may learn about how Jews and Christians have struggled with understanding God’s will over the millennia. Turns out there is a lot written about it. Books, papers, you name it.

And here’s another thing: Meet someone who identifies as pro-life and ask them a few questions. You may learn that they believe all human life is equally valuable and sacred. You might learn that they affirm that human life begins at conception. You might learn that they really abhor the taking of human life, even at its earliest stages. You might learn that they’ve grappled with “the difficult cases” — whether unborn children should be protected if the circumstances of their conception involved rape or incest, whether unborn children should have any rights if their mother’s life is in danger. You might learn that there are different approaches to how they wrestle with these cases.

If you do these two things — bone up on just the very lowest level basics of Christian teaching on theodicy and meet a pro-lifer and find out what they really think — you might not lead your newscasts with a mangling of the news that some pro-lifers really believe (gasp!) that the circumstances of your conception and birth do not determine your worth and that every single child in the world is created and loved by God. You might learn about this newfangled ancient teaching that God causes good to result from evil.

I want to make it clear that if Democrats want to claim that Mourdock said God intends rape or that he didn’t say it was tragic, that’s their business. We have two weeks to go until election and people are getting a bit antsy. But reporters need to separate themselves from their deeply held ideological leanings and just report. There were bad things, such as the Huffington Post lying by saying that Mourdock told voters that God intends rape.

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin explained to reporters (who she suspected of partisan outrage on this story):

The essence of religious monotheism is that everything comes from one God, which naturally leaves humans befuddled when “Bad things happen to good people.” The faithful nevertheless persevere in their faith, believing that God is unknowable to human minds. This is the essence, for example, of the Book of Job, which I felt compelled to reread this afternoon. (It is a deeply disturbing story precisely because it raises these fundamental issues about the nature of God, good and evil, etc.)

At Business Insider, a reporter said this story exemplifies what she hates about media coverage of abortion:

Anyone is free to disagree with Mourdock’s position — and to make him explain and defend it — but the media’s surprise and outrage, disguised under the mask of “journalistic objectivity,” is disingenuous and irresponsible.

We all saw the biased coverage yesterday, the curious decision by the media to drum up outrage about Mourdock’s comments while downplaying other gigantic stories. “Abortion distraction for Romney,” said the CNN chyron at one point — precisely as it attempted to achieve just that. You really must read Andrew Ferguson’s attack on such journalism:

The Heisenberg Principle of Journalism puts the lie to all that. You see it at work whenever a news anchor announces that “this story just refuses to go away” or a headline writer insists that “questions continue to be raised” about the conduct of one hapless public figure or another.

The story refuses to go away, of course, because the anchor and his colleagues won’t let it; and the questions that continue to be raised are being raised by the headline writer and his editors. Reporters create more news than anybody, just by pretending they’re watching it unfold.

My favorite were the “stories” that said “Romney campaign says he still supports Mourdock, won’t ask Indiana Senate candidate to pull ad.” Do you have to be a willful partisan to take that approach to writing a story? (“Still supports” a consistent pro-lifer? You don’t say!) Or do you just have to not know that Americans views on abortion aren’t perfectly mirrored in the narrow confines of your newsroom? There were others all tied to the idea that Mourdock needed to apologize for his remarks. Mourdock’s views on abortion are less extreme — relative to the American population — than Barack Obama’s, which include thrice voting to keep a form of infanticide legal. When was the last time you saw a reporter suggest that Obama needed to do anything other than celebrate his views?

Like I said, we’re close to the election and that means that journalists struggle even more with keeping their political views in check. We’re human.

But since the forces in favor of aborting the products of rape have been overly represented in the last couple of days, let’s think of some good ideas for media coverage.

For instance, how about talking to any of the many fellow humans in our midst who are products of rape. They don’t have to be famous like Eartha Kitt was or like one of Angelina Jolie’s adopted daughter is or like Martin Sheen’s wife Janet. They might be just the normal people in our newsrooms, in our churches. We saw journalists make hay of the idea that God intended for them to be born and that their lives are gifts from God. Would we do that if they were in front of us?

Do Mourdock’s political opponents — up to and including President Obama — believe that these lives are not a gift from God? Do they believe that God didn’t intend for them to be born? Would stories framed that way lead the morning and nightly news? If they wouldn’t (and to be sure, I’m speculating about a fantasy world where all candidates are asked the same questions that consistent pro-life candidates are), what does that say about the news judgment displayed thus far? Are discussions of theodicy to be trifled with, mangled, used for partisan purposes? Are they maybe a bit more sensitive than the media outlets were letting on?

Painting via Wikipedia.


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