Reuters skips a key detail in Israel’s wedding wars — divorce

Everybody loves a wedding, or so culture would have us believe. However, according to a report from the Reuters news agency, not every Israeli likes the wedding options available in that country:

For most Israelis in the Jewish state, there is one legal way to get married — God’s way.

Israeli law empowers only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at Jewish weddings, but popular opposition is growing to this restriction and to what some Israelis see as an Orthodox stranglehold on the most precious moments of their lives.

Some of Israel’s most popular TV stars and models have come out this week in an advertisement supporting a new bill allowing civil marriage. A political storm is likely when it eventually comes up for a vote in parliament.

The Rabbinate, the Orthodox religious authority that issues marriage licenses in Israel, says it is charged with a task vital for the survival of the Jewish people, and a recent poll showed more Israelis oppose civil unions than support them. Nevertheless, many Israelis want either a secular wedding or a religious marriage conducted by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Facebook pages have been popping up, with defiant couples calling on others to boycott the Rabbinate.

I can’t say, for certain, how long this has been going on. However, I seem to recall that over the past decade, at least, I’ve heard stories from Israelis about booking a flight to Turkey or elsewhere to have a civil wedding, so as not to be under the thumb of the Orthodox hierarchy.

The reasons for avoiding this range from the couple themselves being secular (many, if not most, Israelis are) to not wanting the burden of “proving” their Jewishness to the rabbis’ satisfaction to, well, let’s return to the third potential reason in a moment.

Here’s some more explanation from the Reuters account:

In a twist in the law, the ministry will register as married any Israeli couple that weds abroad — even in a non-religious ceremony — outside the purview of the Israeli rabbinate.

Some couples hop on the short flight to Cyprus to marry. The Czech Republic is another popular destination for Israelis wanting a civil wedding.

[Secular Pilates instructor Stav] Sharon and her husband decided against that option. “Marrying abroad means giving in. We wanted to marry in our own country,” she said.

No formal records are kept on the officially invalid alternative ceremonies held in Israel. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, nearly 39,000 Jewish couples married via the Rabbinate in 2011. About 9,000 couples registered that year as having married overseas.

And, Reuters notes, there are entire other communities in Israel for whom an Orthodox-sanctioned marriage is just not possible:

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Pod people: Religion and mass shootings

The Crossroads podcast this week was devoted to discussion of covering shootings. And in the time since the horrible shooting in Washington, D.C., took place, we now have reports of another horrific mass shooting in Kenya. There is some amazing journalism being done as this massacre unfolds. I’d recommend reading this New York Times interview of Tyler Hicks, a photographer who ran into the mall as thousands fled. The pictures that accompany the piece will make you gasp and cry, so be forewarned. But I think there is an argument to be made that we should see these images and have the appropriate reaction to them.

At this point in the process, Somali militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility. The New York Times slideshow says that gunmen entered the mall in a coordinated assault and told Muslims to leave. They then killed, according to reports, some 39 people and are holding an unknown number of people hostage. There are reports that 300 people have been injured, ranging in age from 2-years-old to 78-years-old. I want to say this is absolute madness, and I think you know what I mean, but it’s important for us to know that this is actually a terrorist attack. It has a political aim. It wasn’t a lone gunmen. These things mean a lot about how we respond to a crisis. And religion is a major part of that story, obviously.

So what about the Washington, D.C., shooter who killed 12 people working at the Navy Yard? When we say that story is absolute madness, it has similarities and differences from the Kenyan massacre. The gunman in the D.C. shooting, who is deceased, was said to suffer mental illness, such as hearing voices. He is reported to have had paranoid thinking. Does it matter to the families and loved ones of the 12 people whose lives he snuffed out that day? Perhaps not, but when we’re communicating information to target audiences, we have a different discussion about an American madmen than we do about Somali militants.

Host Todd Wilken asked about media reports identifying the shooter as having ties to Buddhism. I defended those journalistic reports as being key to beginning to understand who the shooter was. We talked about the pushback some had over those reports. The key is that reporters don’t blame an affiliation to a religion without facts to back it up. Wilken noted that the story seemed to be moving toward issues of mental health. The question is what role religion plays in that story and how well reporters will be able to tease that thread.

Back to the Kenyan situation, we have another example of religion being identified with the shooters. In this case it’s militant Islam. How should that be treated in this story? I’m going to go ahead and argue that it’s important while a situation is ongoing for reporters to lock down the “who, what, where and how” before they get to the “why.” The “who,” in this case, is a religion story. The “why” is, too. But we have some time to get that latter issue right. Basic facts are most important in the midst of the crisis.

It is for this reason that Reuters didn’t really dive deep about Islamic terrorism in this breaking story, but did mention religion in the headline and lede. In “Stand-off at Kenyan mall after Islamists kill 39 in ‘terrorist’ attack,” we learn:

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Bloomberg’s totally unbiased abortion story

The best construction I can put on the article we’re about to look at is that Bloomberg editors and reporters accidentally put an abortion rights op-ed in the news section by accident. And yet there are enough things about the piece that make it seem like it was a failed attempt at a news story to make me think otherwise.

The op-ed article begins:

At least 58 U.S. abortion clinics — almost 1 in 10 — have shut or stopped providing the procedure since 2011 as access vanishes faster than ever amid a Republican-led push to legislate the industry out of existence.

I read that, assumed the media professional who submitted it had accidentally flagged a particularly histrionic op-ed (as sometimes happens), and looked for the name of the Planned Parenthood official or other abortion rights supporter who had penned it. One expects to see such bias in ideological media, but one would hope for more impartiality among people claiming to be news writers. I’ll note way up top that the story does not substantiate the lede. There’s no way it could, to be honest. But, hey, other than that problem …

I’ll also note, up top, that if you want to work for one type of political campaign, practice writing “access” as much as possible. However, that word is a really weak word to use for news writing.

More generally, I find the anti-regulatory bias of this piece just fascinating. I’m trying to imagine a mainstream media report about another industry that had a bunch of health and safety problems. Many dozens of reports of legal, health and safety violations all across the country. Including, say, a major practitioner in that industry being convicted of serial murder of very young children and horrible treatment of customers. Urine. Blood-soaked instruments. Narrow hallways that prevented evacuation of dying customers. That sort of thing. And then imagine that legislatures passed stricter regulations for same. Then imagine that some of the regulated parties were unable to or chose not to meet the basic standards required of other similar outfits.

Do you think the lede would be about how awful the regulators were? Of course not! One might even expect to see a story about how awful it was that the regulated industry was unable to meet basic standards of care or health or safety.

Anyway, the entire story is something of a mess, but let’s just look at the next few sentences:

A wave of regulations that makes it too expensive or logistically impossible for facilities to remain in business drove at least a third of the closings. Demographic changes, declining demand, industry consolidation, doctor retirements and crackdowns on unfit providers were also behind the drop. More clinics in Texas and Ohio are preparing to shut as soon as next month.

Opponents have tried to stop access to abortion through civil disobedience, blockades and legal action. Clinics were bombed and doctors killed.

Again, such a fascinating opposite-day spin on meeting health and safety regulations. Unfortunately there’s not substantiation in terms of data to support the claim that meeting the same standards as other outpatient surgical centers do is somehow impossible. Perhaps that’s why the second line is added. More use of the word “access”! I’m trying to think of some way to respond to “clinics were bombed and doctors killed” but I won’t insult the reader’s intelligence. We all know that this hackish and unprofessional. Particularly for an article about safety and health regulations at abortion clinics that somehow doesn’t mention Kermit Gosnell …. once. Literally not once. No mention of the charges against him. The grand jury report. The convictions for murder.

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When Planned Parenthood isn’t news (fraud edition)

Is fraud a religion story? Not necessarily.

Are the actions of Planned Parenthood religion stories? Not necessarily.

But what about the larger issue of the ongoing problems that the mainstream news media have had covering abortion and other social issues related to religion? Is it worth noting here, for instance, the very odd lack of coverage of Planned Parenthood’s recent settlement over fraud allegations?

You wouldn’t probably know it from media coverage but, as one conservative think tank noted this week:

Alliance Defending Freedom’s recent analysis of state and federal audits of family planning programs suggests that in 12 states, Planned Parenthood affiliates overbilled Medicaid for more than $8 million. One federal audit of New York’s Medicaid family planning program reported that certain providers, “especially Planned Parenthoods,” had engaged in improper practices resulting in overpayment.

Despite mounting accusations of fraud, the organization that performs roughly one out of every four abortions in the U.S. has continued to ride the waves of taxpayer funding to annual surpluses. During its last reporting year alone, Planned Parenthood received over half a billion dollars in taxpayer government funding, all the while performing a record 333,964 abortions. To solidify its place as the top abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood announced that all local affiliates would have to begin providing abortion services starting in 2013.

I don’t remember what the original allegations of fraud in Texas were but Planned Parenthood there agreed to pay the state $1.4 million $4.3 million to settle the claim that it had fraudulently overbilled the state’s Medicaid program for products and services that were never actually rendered, not medically necessary, and were not covered by the Medicaid program.

No biggie. This is just a story about the mainstream news media’s very favorite organization in the whole world paying to settle legal claims. I know that usually when other organizations — say Roman Catholic archdioceses — settle lawsuits even below a million dollars, it usually gets reported pretty far and wide. Rightly so. Certainly the country’s largest abortion provider — and a taxpayer funded one at that — should get some media coverage, no?

It’s so confusing how a private breast cancer charity choosing not to give Planned Parenthood a couple hundred thousand dollars generated thousands of stories but that same abortion group paying a $1.4 million $4.3 million fraud settlement doesn’t generate hardly any.

A quick Google search for Planned + Parenthood + fraud shows that the following outlets did pay attention. See if you can detect a pattern:

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AP keeps on standing with Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Newtown massacre in Nigeria, with ghosts

Absolutely horrific news out of Nigeria today. From the Associated Press:

POTISKUM, Nigeria — Islamic militants attacked a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria before dawn on Saturday, killing 29 students and a teacher. Survivors said that some pupils were burned alive in the latest school attack said to have been carried out by a radical terrorist group.

It’s a wire report, with all of the limitations you might expect, but read the whole story for details on how the attackers — Boko Haram is suspected — burned children alive. Some bodies were so charred they could not be identified.

The only mention of religion in the story is the first word, not uncommon for recent AP updates of strife in the country. But let’s just take the phrase “Islamic militants.” I think it speaks to the importance of fleshing out the religion angles far more than much reporting has done. For one thing, “Islamic” doesn’t quite identify the particular ideology in play. The children and teachers in this school included both Muslims and Christians. And even in the sphere of Islamic militancy, setting children afire and gunning them down in the back is not exactly de rigueur. There are Islamic militants all over the world fighting for or against any number of things, but when you’re performing weekly Newtown massacres, what, exactly, are you militating against? We need much more information about the particular views of the militants in question.

Usually when I’m going for more details, I find Al Jazeera helpful. In this case, neither this story nor the embedded radio interview provided many helpful details. Instead, much of the interview placed blame for the attack on Christian president Goodluck Jonathan — for general strife in the country and for not stopping the attack despite having three Nigerian states placed under emergency declarations. Instead of discussing religious angles to Boko Haram’s motivation, it pointed out that many of its victims are also Muslim.

But, of course, that’s not different from many other Islamic militants throughout the globe. I know that when children are massacred, reporters frequently try to blame something else — say a nation’s gun laws or political climate. It certainly beats trying to make sense of one evil or sick individual’s motivation. But Boko Haram is a major movement with self-professed religious motivation. Downplaying that in favor of other angles would be bad enough but ignoring it is even worse.

Much more helpful was, unsurprisingly, Reuters.

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Reuters engages in papal Kremlinology

Pope Francis did not attend a musical gala last Saturday evening at the Vatican due to the press of work. This event prompted fierce speculation in the Italian press and a bout of papal Kremlinology from Reuters.

It may well be the pope’s absence from a concert given by the RAI symphony orchestra on 22 June 2013 was a deliberate snub — but the heavy breathing and speculation that stands in for factual reporting here does not engender confidence that that is necessarily so.

The article entitled “Pope ‘snub’ of concert stuns cardinals, sends signal” opens with a statement that is, simply stated, an assertion.

A last-minute no-show by Pope Francis at a concert where he was to have been the guest of honor has sent another clear signal that he is going to do things his way and does not like the Vatican high life.

Pope Francis did not attend the concert. That is clear enough — but was it a last-minute no-show? And to whom is it clear that this is a pointed message about the Vatican high life? And how do we know this? Where are the attribution clauses used by journalists?

Having made strong claims in the lede, Reuters should now deliver. The article continues:

The gala classical concert on Saturday was scheduled before his election in March. But the white papal armchair set up in the presumption that he would be there remained empty.

Was this a scheduling conflict? Was Pope Benedict XVI — a music lover — expected, or was it assumed Francis would take his place? Was this on the pope’s published agenda?

This detail leads to more questions. The assertions made in the lede are not in doubt, but Reuters better not wait too long before defending them.

Minutes before the concert was due to start, an archbishop told the crowd of cardinals and Italian dignitaries that an “urgent commitment that cannot be postponed” would prevent Francis from attending. The prelates, assured that health was not the reason for the no-show, looked disoriented, realizing that the message he wanted to send was that, with the Church in crisis, he — and perhaps they — had too much pastoral work to do to attend social events.

Which archbishop spoke? Papal secretary or a concert organizer? An observer might say the gathered prelates “looked disoriented”, but only a novelist (or a mind reader) could state that they shared a common thought. The story is starting to go under — but there is still time to save it.

An unnamed source is then produced to give support to the lede, and his comments will make or break the story — but all he says is:

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Put not your trust in Huffington Post headlines

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I know a maiden fair to see,
Take care!
She can both false and friendly be,
Beware! Beware!
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s advice about women — especially blondes …

And she has hair of a golden hue,
Take care!
And what she says, it is not true,
Beware! Beware!
Trust her not,
She is fooling thee!

… is also good advice in reading headlines. As your GetReligionistas have stressed many times, seldom does a reporter get to write his own title. Yet when a sub-editor makes a mess of a headline the blame is laid at the reporter’s feet when the claim made in the title is not substantiated in the text. There have been times when stories I have written appear under a title that implies the opposite of what I reported.

Sometime back I was commissioned to write an article on a lecture given by the literary critic and philosopher René Girard at Oxford. I gave the story my all and … when I opened the paper after it came off the truck from the printer I found my article nicely displayed on page 5 with a beautiful photo of Girard scoring a goal in a World Cup match.

Too bad René Girard the philosopher and René Girard the soccer player are two different people. Perhaps my readers thought I was being droll, commenting on the élan vital of Girard’s latest book on mimesis by reference to the 1982 France v Poland match. Or they thought I was an idiot.

These meditations on my less than glorious moments in journalism are prompted by a Reuters article on the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s visit to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. The Huffington Post headlined the story: “Pope And Archbishop Of Canterbury Meet, Note Differences On Women Ordination, Gay Rights”.

While I was not in Rome for the press conference at the Venerable English College where Archbishop Welby and Vincent Nichols the Archbishop of Westminster gave a press conference at the end of their day at the Vatican, this headline indicated I missed a major event. Until now Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby held near identical views on gay rights, same-sex marriage, and civil liberties of persons with same-sex attractions. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting! What had they said to each other?

I dove into the Reuters story looking for details. But there was nothing there. I could quibble here and there with some of the language and editorial asides made by the author:

It was the boldest step by the Vatican to welcome back Anglicans since King Henry VIII broke with Rome and set himself up at the head of the new Church of England in 1534.

An Anglican would say Henry made himself Supreme Governor not head — the head of the church is Christ (there is a difference) and there was nothing “new” in a Church of England in 1534 — “new” implying a discontinuity between the pre and post 1534 church. A frightful papistical canard. Or:

In January this year, the Church of England lifted a ban on gay male clergy who live with their partners from becoming bishops on condition they pledge to stay celibate, deepening a rift in the Anglican community over homosexuality.

A celibate person is an unmarried person. A chaste person is someone who refrains from illicit sexual behavior. I assume Reuters meant to say chaste, meaning conforming to the church’s teaching that “in view of the teaching of scripture, [the Anglican Communion] upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”. The working assumption is that clergy in civil partnerships are celibate, because they are unmarried, and chaste as they are to abstain from sexual relations outside of (traditional) marriage.

And it is the Anglican Communion, not community. Community implies an ashram in the woods somewhere, or a collection of sensibly dressed nuns in their cloister. (True there are such Anglican communities — religious with pearls and twin sets) but this is not what Reuters is likely to have in mind — but perhaps this is the “women” link to the headline?

Or:

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