Every niche website has a few “big ideas” that drive its work day after day. Any GetReligion reader knows — duh — that one of our big ideas is that the press often doesn’t see crucial religious themes and facts that are at the heart of important news stories. That’s the whole “ghost” concept that is explained in the essay published when we opened for business. If you never stopped to read that one, please do.
Another crucial concept for your GetReligionistas is that we are convinced that the “hotter” the story, the more a topic causes public division and debate, the more journalists should commit themselves to seeking out informed, qualified, representative voices on both sides. Of course, there are two sides or more, in many complex stories. This concept is central to what journalism textbooks would call the “American model of the press,” as opposed to the various forms of advocacy journalism in which the editors of publications openly slant their coverage to favor the editorial viewpoint that defines their newspaper.
That’s why it was so important when Bill Keller, days after he stepped down as New York Times editor, said the following in a public forum when he was asked if his newspaper slanted the news to the left:
“We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”
So what were the crucial “social” or moral values stories in American life during his tenure? And how about in the news today? Well, any list would have to include sex, salvation, abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, cloning and a few other topics that, for a majority of Americans, are inevitably linked to religion.
That brings me to yet another mainstream journalism story in which editors appear to be totally comfortable publishing a one-side advocacy piece that offers zero content from informed voices on one side of a global debate.
Journalists in the audience: Raise your hands if you know that there are multiple camps in the Catholic Church today on issues related to sexuality? If you are breathing right now, your hand should be raised high.
So what are the editors of The Los Angeles Times trying to do in the piece that ran under this headline: “Vatican to debate teachings on divorce, birth control, gay unions.”
Note the word “debate.” That implies that there are competing voices, correct?