Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: Breitbart, Daily Caller, George Will, Internal Revenue Service, The Jewish News, Z STREET
Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.
On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.
“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.
The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.
Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”
Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”
“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.
Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.
… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny. …
Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”
What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:
And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel. Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”
The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority? There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.
But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Corruption, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Assemblies of God, Planetshakers City Church, The Australian
Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.
I do not love you, Sabidius, and I cannot say why;
All I can say is this, that I do not love you.
Martial, Epigrams, I.32 (circa 86 A.D.)
The Australian, Australia’s largest circulation broadsheet, published a story this week about an Assemblies of God church that has taken a leap across the Pacific and planted a campus in the United States. The article entitled “Eyeing off God’s bounty” does not say that the Rev. Russell Evans is a fraud and a crook and that those who attend worship at Planetshakers City Church are ignorant rubes. However, you may well think so after reading this story.
The article opens on a self-consciously hip note.
“JESUS is in the house!” roared pastor Neil Smith above the crash-boom of drums and the wail of electric guitars. You would have thought the Son of God was sitting right there in the packed auditorium, such was the excitement among the youthful crowd at the Rock Church in San Diego, California, in January.
This was a big moment in the history of Planetshakers City Church, once a small local church in Melbourne, now fast becoming an international Christian brand. As if Jesus wasn’t enough, Smith promised to “take it to a whole new level” as he introduced senior pastor Russell Evans, whom he called “the founder and visionary leader”.
Stylistically, this is grating and somewhat ugly in its diction, and derisive in tone. “[A]n international Christian brand”? It gets worse. After recounting Evans’ belief that some in the congregation should come forward for healing, the article states he appears to do quite well out of the business.
Soon Evans was calling out “healings” from the stage to his prospective followers. He announced that God wanted to heal people in the audience. “Wait a sec, wait a sec, God wants to heal some people in this room,” said Evans, as if the deity was whispering in his ear. “Someone’s back is being healed to my left, right there. There is someone here who has a knee injury and God is healing you right now; there is someone here with incredible sinus problems — you’re over in that section over there — God is healing you,” he crooned.
In any other forum, such a claim might spark derision, but in Evans’s world this is called carrying out his “pastoral duties.” His Planetshakers City Church and many of its staff receive generous tax concessions for these duties.
And at this point the article pivots and insinuates bad faith, stating:
Until now, the government has shown only occasional interest in the activities of churches that receive tax exemptions. But from July 1 the newly formed Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission will bring unprecedented scrutiny. ACNC advisory board member David Crosbie has said the changes would not restrict the activities of legitimate churches, but would help to weed out “fringe religions” that act more like cults. While Planetshakers is regarded as a mainstream church, it too will be subject to the ACNC’s scrutiny. There is no requirement under law that churches comply with specific Christian doctrine, but the ACNC is nominally interested in the form and content of worship, insiders say.
Setting aside the suggestion the government should decide the content of religious faith — what is this, the Church of England? — the snide and derisive comments continue – interspersed with the odd fact here and there.
And Evans, one of the new breed of “pastorpreneurs”, is spreading the word in the US market, where the church could make millions of dollars in tax-free revenue. … As the Evans brothers build their international ministries, they crisscross the world on their church credit cards. … He recently tweeted his “fav eating places in the world: 1. Shangri-la (Singapore) 2: (Five star hotel) Langham (Melbourne) 3. Little pasta place in Rome 4. Angelinas Paris 5: mi cocina Dallas (Texas).” … Under present rules, pastors such as the Evans brothers get to keep all the frequent-flyer points they earn on their corporate credit cards, tax-free. And with almost all church expenses paid on credit cards, that could run to hundreds of thousands of points each year. … Insiders say Russell and his wife are paid a cash salary of approximately $100,000 each, but that the true value of their total package is closer to $500,000 once all fringe benefits are included. Planetshakers denies this, but declines to provide accurate figures, citing confidentiality.
Which is followed by this gratuitous observation:
Churches have enjoyed a presumption that they are charities by right, courtesy of the Statute of Elizabeth, enacted in 1601. The estimated overall cost of this exemption to the economy was estimated by Treasury to be $85m in 2011-12.
But, heaven forfend if the article has given the wrong impression:
The Australian is not suggesting that Planetshakers or Influencers is under investigation.
It will be interesting to see how churches such as Planetshakers and their congregations respond to the kind of scrutiny the ACNC may bring. In the past, disgruntled followers simply found another church to go to; now they can seek change in their own church via a confidential complaints process provided by the ACNC.
This article is just mean. It treats Pentecostal Christianity as if it were some exotic species of religious belief, best observed by the anthropologist peering through the bushes at the natives caught up in their ecstatic frenzies while the witch doctor pockets the offerings (and frequent flier points).
The article is one-sided, incurious and dismissive. It also suffers from an overabundance of irony — “Can you believe these people?” – and seeks not to inform its readers about one of the fastest-growing religious movements in the world but to reinforce anti-Christian prejudices. Now I enjoy being savagely unkind as the next reporter but this is a hit piece.
It does not live up to the code of decent reporting. However, aside from libel laws there is little agreement on what constitutes the “code”.
During the 2008 Lambeth Conference I took a house with a number of other reporters on the outskirts of Canterbury to save on hotel costs and to avoid having to stay in the rather dreary Soviet-style concrete student dormitories provided for the bishops, staff and press attending the 10-day gathering at the University of Kent. Over the course of the conference – a pan-Anglican jamboree for bishops held every 10 years — I renewed friendships and formed new relationships with members of the British press corps.
And they came to know me. At the end of the meeting one of my housemates, Ruth Gledhill of the Times, the doyenne of British religion writers, gave me a paperback copy of one of the “Just William” books by Richmal Crompton. Evidently my manner of dress, diet, intellectual interests, attainments and conversation reminded her of the perpetual schoolboy — a naïf. As did the suppositions I brought to the craft of reporting.
Setting aside the class and political overtones implied by the book – – think cold showers, push-ups, evangelical Christianity, conservative politics, and sport — I guess she was not that far off the mark. I was a happy teenager, fortunate in my parents and my schooling. Latin was taught to me (it would be not quite true to say I studied the classics as that would imply effort on my part) but some of it did sink in. But what I did learn, and still believe, is in fair play. This article is unfair.
Hearing how a church grew from a few hundred to almost ten thousand over a decade in the hostile climate of Melbourne is a story worth telling — as is the move to Southern California. There is so much in this story waiting to be told, that it is a disappointment that suggestions of financial misconduct that appear to be based on nothing more than envy, dominate this story. If there is a Jim and Tammy Faye story here, tell it — don’t hint there might be one without some evidence.
The Seventeenth century satirist Thomas Brown updated Martial’s epigram, substituting his tutor at Oxford for Sabidius.
I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr Fell.
Pentecostal Christians are bad and we should not love them, The Australian tells us – though it never quite gets round to saying why.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: abortion, Diane Winston, Kermit Gosnell, Matthew Arnold
Does journalism matter? Not as much as it once did – if audience numbers or circulation rates are any guide.
The influence and authority of the nightly network news and the morning metropolitan daily is on the ebb. They like the sea of faith were once, too, at the full, round earth’s shore and lay like the folds of the bright girdle furled. But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, retreating, to the breath of the night wind, down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world — sorry, can’t help myself when I get that Arnoldian urge.
Perhaps journalism is going the way of poetry? In 1992, Dana Gioia, (who would later become the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts), wrote an essay entitled “Can Poetry Matter?”. Unlike fiction, poetry no longer mattered, and had become the specialized calling of a small and isolated group, he argued. Five years later, the novelist Jonathan Franzen made the same complaint about fiction, deploring the neglect of novels in favor of movies and the web. Journalism — as practiced by the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, the BBC and the American networks — suffers from the ills of poetry and fiction — domination by a priestly caste whose views are formed by a closed world shaped by secularist materialist political-left pieties and an increasingly outmoded publishing platform.
Host Todd Wilkin of the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio and I discussed these questions on 25 April 2013 in the context of my GetReligion articles “Gosnell fog blankets Britain” and “Master of my domain”. We began the show with an overview of the British press coverage (none to speak of save in the op-ed columns of the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which has written more about this story than any non-Philadelphia paper.) I did give Todd an update on the Guardian, noting that on 19 April one of its loonier left Comment is Free contributors explained to the comrades of Islington:
Now the [Gosnell] trial is underway, and anti-abortion activists are insisting there’s been a cover-up by ideologues intent on averting honest discussion about the case in order to suit a cynical political agenda.
They’re right. But the ideologues doing the cover-up are on the “pro-life” side.
Yes, its those nasty pro-lifers who are responsible for the news blackout. Go figure.
Todd then moved to a discussion of Diane Winston’s Religion Dispatches article “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy”. I observed her arguments were rather thin — blaming the reader for being stupid is never a convincing argument before we turned to the assertion that this was not a religion story.
The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.
The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.
No, there has not been some grand conspiracy to spike news stories about Kermit Gosnell. There’s been no need to issue instructions to the troops to toe the line and support abortion no matter the cost to the media’s credibility. But there is quite clearly a secularist cabal that ignores stories or issues that challenge its core beliefs.
Newsrooms are the most intellectually monochrome places in the United States — and I speak as one who studied at Duke and Yale, experiencing first hand the group think of the modern University. There was no need to form a conspiracy as just about all of the alleged conspirators were of one mind about this issue before the trial began.
While there are some ideologues and hacks amongst the press these days, many seek to be faithful to the truth as they see it and to do their job, to do the good. But what we see time and again in the mainstream media is the press’s failure to understand that it’s pursuit of what it thinks is the good can lead to bad through unintended consequences and unacknowledged motives. The loss of a moral center, of a moral imagination has led the liberal press to become illiberal: single-minded, self-censoring and angry.
The avoidance of coverage of the infanticide, murder and depravity chronicled by testimony presented to the court in the Gosnell case is self-evidently a case of moral and intellectual failure. The press’s avoidance of this major story leads to the question of whether it matters any more. And it is hard to say that it does.
In the closing stanza of Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold wrote:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
I cannot help but think that if Arnold were writing today, it would be the new church — the media elites — who would man his ignorant armies. Listen to the broadcast and tell me what you think.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Issues Etc, Press criticism.
Tags: Kermit Gosnell
Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 25 April 2013
Crossroads 4 25 13.mp3
GetReligion contributor George Conger discusses international media coverage of a Philadelphia abortionist charged with multiple counts of murder.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, paedophilia
“Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come”
– Matt: 12:31-32
Is there an unforgivable sin in politics?
American voters, and not just those of Louisiana, have returned to office politicians of dubious moral and legal character. Wilbur Mills, Alcee Hastings, Buddy Cianci and Marion Barry were not punished at the polls (and I won’t open the door to discussing Bill Clinton). We will soon see if South Carolina’s First Congressional District has it in its heart to forgive Mark Sanford.
Bribery, adultery, perjury, corruption, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence have not barred a return to office for some politicians or for some church leaders and prominent pastors. My own denomination (The Episcopal Church) has even ordained a convicted murderer to the priesthood. But the unpardonable sin — in churches, politics and in just about every walk of life — has been paedophilia.
The Catholic Church has suffered its handling of the scandal, but is not alone in having experienced incidents of abuse by clergy and church workers committed against children. On Monday the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne told a Parliamentary committee that his church at one time had a culture of denial and cover-up concerning allegations of abuse. The Catholic Church in Europe has been particularly hard hit and has been excoriated by the press and rights activists for its handling of the scandal.
The opprobrium held by right thinking people against paedophilia in Europe does not apply, however to revolutionaries and left wing politicians. A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on the fracas over the award of a prize to Daniel Cohn-Bendit suggests a double standard is being applied to paedophiles in Europe. Those who molest children out of lust are criminals and beyond the pale — those who molest children out of revolutionary fervor to bring down the capitalist regime really aren’t so bad.
But first, who is Daniel Cohn-Bendit? A leader of the ’68 student uprising in Paris, Dany le Rouge has been a prominent left-wing politician and cultural warrior in France and Germany for the past forty years and presently leads the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. The Turtle Bay and Beyond blog notes:
Cohn-Bendit has for many years aspired to a role similar to that played by Maximilien de Robespierre during the French Revolution, holding everyone accountable for everything – including Czech President Vaclav Klaus for his Euroscepticism, or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for having given to his country a new Constitution that protects the family, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and (the worst of all imaginable actions against “European values”) mentions God!
The FAZ reports that the 68-year old Cohn-Bendit was given a award this week by the Theodor-Heuss-Foundation for his political achievements. However the awards ceremony was picketed by protesters and boycotted by the President of the German Constitutional Court Andreas Vosskuhle who declined to add his voice to those honoring the Green Party leader.
The report from Stuttgart from the FAZ opened with some local color.
Es spielen sich ziemlich unschöne Szenen auf dem Stuttgarter Schlossplatz ab, der guten Stube der baden-württembergischen Landeshauptstadt. Die Theodor-Heuss-Stiftung hat ins Neue Schloss geladen. Daniel Cohn-Bendit soll im Weißen Saal mit dem nach dem ersten Bundespräsidenten benannten Preis ausgezeichnet werden. Als er aus dem Taxi steigt, rufen einige der etwa siebzig Demonstranten: „Schämt euch!“ Die Junge Union und Missbrauchsorganisationen haben zu dieser Demonstration aufgerufen.
Roughly translated as:
An ugly scene unfolded on the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart, the Baden-Württemberg state capital, when Daniel Cohn-Bendit arrived at the Neue Schloss. The Theodor Heuss Foundation had invited him to receive an award in the White Hall named for the former German president. As he got out of the taxi he was greeted by approximately 70 demonstrators from the Youth Union and anti-abuse organizations. “Shame on you!”
The reason for the outcry? According to the FAZ it was Cohn-Bendit’s accounts of his adventures in paedophilia while working in a pre-school.
In his 1975 book “Le Grand Bazar,” Cohn-Bendit justified pedophilia as a form of sexual liberation. “It’s happened to me several times that some children have opened my fly [Hosenlatz] and started to caress me.”
According to the FAZ, in a 1978 magazine article Cohn-Bendit stated:
„Letztes Jahr hat mich ein 6jähriges Genossenmädchen verführt. Es war eines der schönsten und sprachlosesten Erlebnisse, die ich je hatte. Vielleicht war es so schön, weil es so sprachlos war. Es war das einzige Mal, wo es mir nicht zu früh kam. Aber das war nicht wichtig in dem Moment, und es ist auch jetzt nicht wichtig, ein Traktat über das Für und Wider von Päderastie zu schreiben“, heißt es in der Zeitschrift.
“Last year I seduced a willing 6-year girl. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had and left me speechless. Maybe it was so wonderful because it was so speechless. … But that was not important at the moment, and it’s not important right now to write a treatise on the pros and cons of pederasty.”
The FAZ reports that Cohn-Bendit has since claimed these confessions were fictional and asks that he be judged not on what he said but what he did. The article states that in 2001 the Green Party cleared Cohn-Bendit of misconduct after a parent wrote a letter clearing the radical leader. However, the FAZ reported that its investigation found the parent exculpating Cohn-Bendit who wrote the letter did so out of political solidarity with “poor Dany” and did not have a child in his class.
The judge said he would not attend the ceremony saying that he did not want to create the impression that the Constitutional Court approved of Mr. Cohn-Bendit’s utterances regarding paedophilia. However other political and cultural leaders who honored Cohn-Bendit sad they would not judge him.
Kretschmann, de Weck und Heuss begründen, warum sie Cohn-Bendit trotz allem für preiswürdig halten. Der Ministerpräsident sagt, es habe während der Achtundsechziger-Zeit Tabubrüche gegeben, die richtig gewesen seien. „Früher war Homosexualität strafbar“, heute seien bekennende Schwule Bundesminister und Ministerpräsidenten. Doch: „Bei Sex mit Kindern hört der Tabubruch auf.“ Es sei ein „elementarer Unterschied“, ob Cohn-Bendits Irrtümer verbaler Natur seien oder tatsächlich stattgefunden hätten.
In spite of everything, Kretschmann, de Weck and Heuss continue to justify their support for the award to Cohn-Bendit. The Prime Minister said that in 1968 many taboos were being challenged. “In the past, homosexuality was punishable,” but today there were gay political leaders. But: “sex with children, that taboo has not changed.” But there was, he said. a “fundamental difference” between Cohn-Bendit”s committing the acts and his writing about them.
Is there a distinction between bragging about having molested children and not having done so — and actually having done the deed? Is breaking the taboos of bourgeois society an excuse for molesting a child? Given the torrent of invective heaped on the church by the press and political leaders over its child abuse crimes — does not the tolerance, nay the celebration of Daniel Cohn-Bendit speak to a bigotry and hypocrisy among the European elite?
This is simply extraordinary. Yet, the rules of civil society do not seem to apply to the 68ers and their moral and political enablers. Hypocrisy — the war on terror — is rife in America too. Kathy Boudin can take part in a act of terrorism where a bank guard is killed and today teaches at Columbia. How is Cohn-Bendit’s conduct worse?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: abortion, Gazeta Wyborcza, masturbation, Poland, Religion Dispatches
… (T)he best persuaded of himself, so cramm’d, as he thinks, with excellencies that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.
Twelfth Night, 2.3.150-152 (1623)
The counterrevolution has begun.
The press is pushing back against its critics over the Kermit Gosnell affair. Stung by the criticisms and the hypocrisies detailed by Mollie Hemingway on this website, Kirsten Powers at USA Today and other outlets, some have begun reporting on the murder trial of the Philadelphia abortionist. Other outlets in their op-ed sections havedefended their non-coverage or sought to deflect criticisms – – the New York Times‘ Tiller editorial is classic sleight-of-hand, substituting one story for another. “Nothing here to see folks. Move along.”
A few have embarked upon the high road. Writing in Religion Dispatches Diane Winston argues in “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy” there has never been a golden era when reporters
provided smart, in-depth, contextualized coverage of religious leaders, issues, ideas, and communities.
In support of this contention, the article offers historical examples purporting to show the press has always done a poor job — missing stories, printing pablum in place of news or voicing prejudice such as H.L. Menken’s critique of Fundamentalism in his account of the Scope’s “monkey” trial or the “anti-Hindu coverage that ran through Western newspapers in the 1910s and 1920s.” The crux of her argument is that the problem is not a lack of:
trained religion reporters, but rather Americans’ widespread ignorance about religion. Religion is absent from many high school curricula and university classrooms, and many of us barely know the religious history of our own country much less the role of religion worldwide.
But her argument then pivots, stating:
Yet, I’m not convinced that improving the American educational system is really at the heart of Cannon’s plaint about religion coverage and his subsequent post on Kermit Gosnell.
Making more Americans aware of religion and historical incidents like an anti-Hindu press — a history of which I was not aware — would not have mattered in the Gosnell story as:
The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.
The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.
I do not agree. There is just a hint of Coriolanus going before the plebs here. That large sections of the media believe an abortionist charged with multiple counts of murder is a crime story without significant religious or moral overtones speaks to the failings and biases of the press, not readers. (One need only look to the loss of market share and trust the mainstream media have experienced to know that all is not well — or the studies and monographs on the triumph of ideology over reporting in major American newspapers.)Nor does she show a logical connection between her observations about ignorance of the audience and the silence about Gosnell.
Criticisms voiced by GetReligion have nothing to do with the private conscience of reporters who write about religion but about their ignorance of the topics they are covering coupled with a self-satisfied, complacent, high opinion of their own importance and disdain for views that conflict with their own. Large sections of the American press are like Mr. Podsnap who “stood very high in Mr. Podsnap’s opinion,” — they see religion reporting through the lens of anthropology and institutions, not through the culture and belief of people.
And it is this failure of intelligence, relevance and imagination that lies behind the Gosnell fracas. The personal views of reporters are irrelevant — it is their professional competence at issue.
Let me offer an example of good religion journalism to illustrate my argument of ideology free competent reporting. In a front page story Warsaw’s Gazeta Wyborczalast week reported on a paper released by the Polish Bishops’ Conference (Konferencja Episkopatu Polski) objecting to in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, and contraception, arguing they were a threat to humanity.
In vitro fertilization should be “banned” because it:
begins with masturbation… All doubts in the field of human existence should be resolved in favor of life. We must also stand firmly against all kinds of action that are a threat to humans. Even the loftiest purpose does not justify actions that put human life in danger,” reads the document written by the Bishops’ Bioethics Expert Team.
“A Christian must care about the truth. This is why he or she should uncover lies, one of which is the particularly harmful suggestion that in vitro fertilization is a treatment for infertility. It does not treat anything. Infertile people stay infertile. They entrust the production of children to strangers,” the bishops write.
According to the authors of the document, in vitro is the poorly-fulfilled desire of infertile couples, who wish to be parents. The church authorities believe that it gives permission “to sacrifice a few human beings” in order to have a child. This refers to the embryos that are destroyed during in vitro trials. “The sperm is obtained from a father through masturbation, the mother’s body is repeatedly manipulated, meaning that the child becomes a product,” the document reads.
These quotes are a gift. When reporters dream, unlike other men (and women), they dream dreams of bishops condemning masturbation. The possibilities for displaying smutty lowbrow humor are endless. Yet given this set up, the Gazeta Wyborcza plays it straight giving the bishops space to explain their views — to paraphrase my colleague TMatt, they allow people not just paper to speak.
Archbishop [Henryk] Hoser is the main author of the paper. Trained as a physician, he is one of the Episcopal Commission on Bioethics’ experts. Yesterday he said: “The prenatal human is viewed more as a thing, not as a human being [by those who support IVF]. Many lives are lost in a procedure intended to produce a sole survivor. …
[The Church] opposes the creation of extra embryos produced to be frozen and considers this tantamount to killing them. “Most frozen and thawed embryos die in the process or are otherwise unable to continue healthy growth. Yet the embryo is a person and each embryo turns out to be a helpless member of the human family,whose dignity and rights are ruthlessly trampled.”
Against these comments Gazeta Wyborcza sets contradictory medical opinion.
“Not true. Medicine is moving forward. Maybe 20-25 years ago you could propound this thesis, but not today. … [If properly stored the rate of success of frozen embryos] in implantation in the uterus is the same, or even greater than in the case of embryos transferred without freezing,” argues Prof. Waldemar Kuczynski, Chairman of the Section of Fertility and Infertility of the Polish Gynecological Society and consultant to the government program … The bishops’ arguments are “biased and unfair”.
The article also points to what it believes to be an inconsistency in the bishops’ argument.
The hierarchy also criticized contraception and abortion … “Claiming the right to abortion is an expression of a highly unworthy conduct …”. Anti-abortion rhetoric is heard more often in the church, but in the 90s the bishops approved the so-called Compromise Law that allowed abortion in three cases: rape, danger to life or health of the mother, and severe irreversible damage to the fetus.
Why is this a good article? It is a straight forward summary of the report with comments from critics. First off, the article pulled quotes from the report that would excite its readers, while also providing quotes that placed the controversial statements in context. Both sides can hear their points of view expressed clearly, the article provides the key quotes from the report, places them in context and allows the church to explain why it said what it said. It also wrote this story with its audience — not against it. There is no mockery (that I could see) as it takes its audience’s faith seriously — it understands these are moral questions not merely “health news”.
But this is not a pro-church puff piece. The criticisms are given a full airing and the newspaper’s skepticism of the absolutist position on abortion is made clear by reference to the church’s tolerance for some abortions.
Ask yourself if you believe the New York Times would have printed this story? Which takes me back to the defense of the non-reporting on the Gosnell trial. Perhaps it is old news, a local crime story that would upset readers with the testimony of savagery and barbarity worthy of Auschwitz? Or then again could there be a “secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths”?
Whatever you may decide, what the press has done (returning once more to Maria’s description of Malvolio in Twelfth Night) is that it has shown itself to be an “affection’d ass”.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: abortion, Archbishop Cranmer, BBC, Daily Mail, Kermit Gosnell, Telegraph, Times
Last week my colleague at GetReligion Mollie Hemingway broke the American media blockade surrounding the Kermit Gosnell trial. Mollie, and Kirsten Powers writing in USA Today, reported on the absence of national press coverage of the trial of the Philadelphia abortionist — questioning why reporters who never tired of Sandra Flake or Komen Foundation stories shied away from this national news item.
Some members of the press and newspapers have sought to repair their damaged credibility and are now playing catch up, while others have retreated into the bunker (Nixonian allusions spring to mind but would likely be lost on the miscreants).
However, the British press appears not to have received the memo. As of the date of this post, the BBC has yet to air a story on the Gosnell affair (though it did run one web piece on 15 April after the Hemingway storm broke and the American media mea culpa.) ITV and Channel 4 have yet to report.
The newspapers have not raised the average. The Times ran one story on 13 April, but the Guardian and Independent have remained silent. The Telegraph does a little better — it had one news article dated 12 April entitled “Kermit Gosnell: US abortion doctor could be put to death over ‘baby charnel house’”. Op-Ed writers Damian Thompson and Tim Stanley weighed in on the Gosnell story as well as the media blackout. On 12 April Thompson wrote:
But British readers must know about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell, which has been played down in the American media – possibly because the allegations of a homicidal abortion doctor don’t fit into their pro-choice narrative.
Well, Philadelphia is very far away after all. And a story about an abortionist on trial for infanticide in Philadelphia may not be interesting to the British newspaper reading public. American newspapers are notorious for their lack of in-depth overseas reporting due to the perception that its readers don’t care about the outside world.
Perhaps the Daily Mail is an outlier — it has published 26 stories since 2011 on the Kermit Gosnell case — a number greater than all the news stories of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBS, and CNN combined. It must be due to the large number of transplanted Philadelphians residing in Surrey.
The popular British blog Archbishop Cranmer explains the reticence stating:
This low-key response is almost certainly because Dr Gosnell’s case takes us to the question of what it means to be human and humane, and this is why it is so important. What he was doing crossed a fundamental line in law and morality between abortion and infanticide. Abortion prioritises the health of the mother. Dr Gosnell is accused of killing babies after the child was outside of the mother, at a time when the risks of childbirth were passed, though they were now entering the risk-laden world of Dr Gosnell’s post-operative care.
He sees a political explanation in all this. The same news outlets who pushed Barack Obama into the Oval Office are protecting their investment.
There is a political reason behind the silence amongst a media that subjected President Obama to as little scrutiny as Dr Gosnell. There have been efforts to legislate for doctors to be required to provide full medical treatment to babies who survive abortion procedures. Three times the President has voted against it, imperiously ignoring the possibility that men like Dr Gosnell exist. The US Federal Government provides 45% of the $1billion budget of Planned Parenthood, the US major abortion provider.
They, like the President, are very equivocal about this issue of infanticide as this video demonstrates. The lady struggling to answer the clear and direct questions is Alisa Lapolt Snow, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood giving evidence to a committee of Florida legislators. Dr Gosnell’s trial puts the inconvenient truth of abortion and infanticide plainly into the public domain. It puts the brutal bloody facts to the sanitised language and could prove to be the tipping point in the public debate as ordinary people see for the first time how far the pro-abortion lobby are prepared to go in defending their industry.
There is a reason we talk about the ‘slippery slope’.
Why are so few people in the media, American or British, asking these questions?
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: gay marriage, Melbourne Herald-Sun, New Zealand
The news that New Zealand’s senate has approved a gay marriage bill has stirred but slight interest in the U.S. press. The Wall Street Journal ran a small box item while the New York Times printed a brief AP report in its world briefing section on page A12. The AP reports that:
Parliament on Wednesday voted 77 to 44 to legalize same-sex marriage, which will make New Zealand the 13th nation in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to allow gay couples to marry. The bill was supported by Prime Minister John Key, who is on the center-right. The new law will allow gay couples to jointly adopt children for the first time and allow their marriages to be recognized in other countries. The law will take effect in August.
The Australian press has paid closer attention reporting on the debate as well as the political ramifications for the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The Prime Minister said the Australian Parliament had spoken and made up its mind against gay marriage.
The Melbourne Herald-Sun has also made up its mind and believes those who do not support gay marriage are slack-jawed troglodytes. The lede to its story entitled “The speech that legalised same-sex marriage in NZ:” is embarrassingly effusive and is written in tones hitherto reserved for the style section. And the story itself is so unbalanced, so obsequious, so silly — but before I work myself into a fever pitch of righteous indignation, let’s take a look.
A NEW Zealand MP has won kudos amongst the gay community and same-sex marriage supporters worldwide after delivering a humorous yet thoughtful speech about the ludicrous ideas why not to support gay marriage and the logical reasons why you should. So poignant is National Party MP Maurice Williamson’s speech, some are hailing it as “one of the greatest speeches ever delivered at a marriage equality debate”.
Perhaps it might have been more accurate to have added after same-sex marriage supporters the phrase “including this reporter”. Is this sober, even handed journalism, or a love letter from the Herald-Sun? Is the article saying that opposition to gay marriage is ludicrous? Or that the ludicrous straw man arguments offered up by the speaker are examples of the quality of the opposition’s arguments? What is ludicrous is this article being placed in the world news section and not in the opinion pages.
“Some are hailing”? As no names are given to substantiate this claim it is quite clear that the author is speaking about his own views and ascribing them to unnamed others. The article continues in this vein of excited adulation with extracts from the speech interspersed with descriptions like:
His speech concluded with some of the most powerful words spoken in favour of marriage equality.
How are they the most? Why are they the most? Compared to what? The Herald-Sun is offering a moral judgment but provides no data in support of its conclusion.Now my purpose in pointing out this execrable story is not to engage in debate on the rights or wrongs of gay marriage. There are plenty of websites that do that sort of thing. GetReligion looks at the quality of the journalism, not the issues presented in an article. If the author wanted to write a story highlighting this speech in the belief that it swayed MPs to vote for the bill, or was a succinct summary of the argument in favor of gay marriage then quotes to the use of that effect needed to be provided. Otherwise all we have is the author’s opinion as to its merits.
One of my colleagues in Australia, Russell Powell, notes that the author of this piece last year published an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for the Australian government to enact gay marriage laws. A good reporter has the ability to separate his personal views from his professional responsibilities. I see no conflict in writing an open letter advocating a course of action and then covering a news story that deals with the same issue – – if the rules of unbiased, balanced, fair, thorough, professional journalism are followed. That did not happen here.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Property Litigation, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
Tags: Mark Lawrence, Wall Street Journal
Even the best newspapers will drop a brick now and again. And today’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Episcopal wars in South Carolina is a real stinker.
I’ve been reading the Journal since the early 1980s when I went to New York to work as a floor clerk at the Commodities Exchange for Drexel Burnham Lambert. In those far off misty days of my misspent youth (the lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, Reagan’s in the White House, God’s in His heaven, all was right with the world) I would start at the back of the paper every morning and work forward after I had finished with the futures prices.
As my life and interests took a different path (no more filthy lucre for me) I began to enjoy the paper’s forays into religion, art, literature and other highbrow genres. The Wall Street Journal has consistently done a fine job in covering these topics bringing a depth of knowledge and balance to its reporting — and is one of the best written, best edited English language newspapers in the business.
Hence my disappointment with today’s article entitled “Church Fight Heads to Court: South Carolina Episcopalian Factions Each File Suit After Split Over Social Issues”. The story gets just about everything of importance wrong. The lede misrepresents the underlying issue. It begins:
Episcopalians along the South Carolina coast are battling in court to determine which of two factions owns an estimated $500 million in church buildings, grounds and cemeteries, following an acrimonious split last year over social issues.
The leadership and about two-thirds of the members of the Diocese of South Carolina, based in Charleston, broke away from the national Episcopal Church last November over its blessing of same-sex unions, ordination of gay clergy and its liberal approach to other social and theological issues.
No, that is not what happened. In South Carolina the diocesan convention voted to withdraw from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church after the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church suspended the Bishop of South Carolina with the intent to depose him (remove him from the ministry). Yes, South Carolina has opposed the innovations of doctrine and discipline introduced over the past two generations — and I guess you could say, taking the long view, that social issues were subsidiary issues — but last year’s split was in response to specific actions taken by the leadership of the national church.
Farther down the article some of the details about the South Carolina fight are presented and the story gets the facts back on track.
In South Carolina, bad blood between the diocese and the national church has been building for about 15 years. It reached a breaking point last summer, when the bishop and other leaders of the diocese walked out of the triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, following the national church’s approval of policies on blessing same-sex unions. The walkout triggered a series of events, including the national church’s removal of the Rt. Rev. Lawrence as bishop, and subsequent lawsuits.
(A hint that the writer is not au courant with religion reporting is the “Rt. Rev. Lawrence” — proper style is to use the first name after the Rt Rev and then Bishop or Dr if you want an honorific before the last name.)
The story also collapses the time line of the Episcopal wars and is written as if the South Carolina lawsuit is new news when the latest lawsuit was filed about six weeks ago.
The schism in South Carolina is one of many that have erupted over the past decade between local Episcopal parishes and dioceses and their national church—particularly since the election of a gay bishop in 2003. Thousands of conservative members left their churches over such issues around the middle of last decade, a time some Southern churchgoers call “the Great Unpleasantness,” the same euphemism once used for the Civil War. Other mainline Protestant denominations also have struggled with issues related to homosexuality, with many congregations moving to leave the Presbyterian Church USA after its leadership voted to allow openly gay clergy.
The split between liberal and conservative Episcopalians has been around for almost 40 years and has witnessed dozens of lawsuits between congregations and diocese. Beginning in 2006 the national church headquarters entered the fray spending upwards of $24 million (this in addition to the fees paid out by the dioceses and parishes). Nor did the fight begin in 2003 — GetReligion‘s tmatt has written extensively on this point and I need not restate the accurate Anglican timeline here.
The reporting on the lawsuits — the purpose of the article — is dodgy as well. The article reports the diocese filed a lawsuit in December in state court, with the explanation “The group says it shouldn’t have to turn property over to a church that it believes has drifted from Biblical principles.” Well that was one of the issues — but the bulk of the pleadings and the central issue before the state court was who was the true Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina?
This is followed in the article by the response of the national church affiliated faction:
A group representing the one-third of diocesan congregants still aligned with the national Episcopal Church have joined it in filing suit in federal court, arguing the property must remain with the national church. The national church, which says it is the one upholding Biblical teachings by wrestling with difficult questions as a community, believes the suit should be heard in federal court because it argues the dispute involves the First Amendment; a hearing is expected later this spring on whether the matter will go to federal or state court.
No. This is not true either. On 31 January lawyers representing the national church faction agreed to the entry of a preliminary injunction against their client (called a temporary injunction in South Carolina) promising not to use the name, marks and insignia of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina pending the outcome of the state court proceedings.
On 6 March the national church faction brought a complaint based on the federal trademark law known as the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. Sections 1051 et seq.) against Bishop Lawrence claiming it, not Bishop Lawrence and his faction were the true diocese. It asked the federal court to block the January state court order in favor of Bishop Lawrence and his group. Bishop Lawrence, they argued, was infringing on their trademarks. And last week, back in state court, the attorneys for the national church filed their answer to the original lawsuit.
Religious freedom and the First Amendment are all well and good, but it would have behooved the Journal to read the pleadings rather than the press hand outs.
The choice of legal commentary is one-sided — and also manages to pawn off further frauds onto the reader while managing to omit one of the crucial elements in the story.
How the fight will be resolved is difficult to tell. The national church has prevailed in 12 similar disputes in state supreme or appellate courts since 1980, said Martin Nussbaum, a Colorado specialist in church property law who isn’t involved in the South Carolina matter.
Some religious scholars say such schisms are hurting the church’s image and distracting attention that could be devoted to reversing a decline in church membership. “Once we’re through the issue of property and gay people, the real issue is how can this church change its way of being?” said Frank Kirkpatrick, the author of “The Episcopal Church in Crisis: How Sex, the Bible, and Authority are Dividing the Faithful.”
This is untrue also. While a number of lawsuits between dioceses and parishes have gone to state supreme courts, with the diocese prevailing in many of them, in South Carolina the state supreme court ruled the other way and held the church’s national property rules, called the Dennis Canon, were of no legal effect in South Carolina. In other words, if a parish has clear title to its property in South Carolina, it can take it with it if it leaves its diocese or denomination. Omitting this crucial legal precedent in the story was most unfortunate.
It should also be added that the appellate courts have not adjudicated the issue of whether a diocese may withdraw from the national church. Attorneys for the national church have argued the legal precedents from outside South Carolina governing the relationship of the parish to the diocese should govern the relationship of the diocese to the national church. The diocese’s lawyers in South Carolina have argued this relationship is not comparable.
One might also add, contrary to the assertion in the article about declining membership, that until these lawsuits erupted the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina was one of the few Episcopal diocese to see a growth in membership over the past decade.
So far I’ve pointed out mistakes of fact, significant omissions, and unbalanced commentary — let’s look at tone. The deafness of this article — its cluelessness — can be illustrated by this line;
The breakaway group, which still calls itself the Diocese of South Carolina, continues to operate from the diocesan headquarters and retains control of many of its most recognizable parishes, including St. Michael’s, in Charleston, established in the 1750s.
The breakaway group still calls itself the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” — not merely the “Diocese of South Carolina”. The “Episcopal” name, and from it the control of assets, is the question before the courts.
Not a good outing I’m afraid from the Journal.
Update: I neglected to mention a further flaw. The photo of the church used with the article is captioned as St Michael’s Church in Charleston — the photo is actually of St Helena’s in Beaufort. Hardly a fatal flaw, but I suppose it does help to pack all your errors into one story.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
Tags: Jewish identity, Washington Post, Western Wall
You couldn’t, he thought, find three Jews in the world who would agree on what it meant to be Jewish, yet there were apparently fifty million of these people who knew exactly what it meant to be German, though many of those on deck have never set foot in Germany.
Alan Furst, Dark Star, (1991), p. 380.
Who is a Jew? What is a Jew? Who decides who is a Jew? These questions lie beneath the surface of a Washington Post story that reports on the controversy of women worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The article entitled “Women challenge Orthodox practice at Israel’s Western Wall” links the political dynamics of the pressure being brought by American Jews upon the Israeli government to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worship at what the Post calls “Judaism’s holiest shrine” with an Israeli local news item. Yet the story could have fleshed out the religion ghosts — telling a non-Jewish, non-Israeli audience why this is the something more than a turf battle over worship space.
Because this article is written from an American secular Jewish perspective — the Post states its support of the protesters in its lede — only half the story is told. The presuppositions of the author — call them biases or perspectives or relative truths — prevents a reader from understanding the political and religious calculus here. It begins:
JERUSALEM — A long-running battle over worship at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was rejoined Thursday as Israeli police arrested five Jewish women who wore prayer shawls at a morning service, contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site. The arrests came two days after disclosure of a potentially groundbreaking plan that could allow for non-Orthodox services to be held in the area on an equal footing with those conducted according to Orthodox tradition.
Note the verb being used in second clause of the lede sentence: “enforced”. The Post is characterizing the dispute as one of power — he who has power can enforce his will. What trajectory would the story have taken it different verb were used stating that Orthodox practice is not merely enforced but required by law? The story then moves to quotes from the women activists and an “ultra-Orthodox heckler”, before moving to the political, summarizing the history of the dispute, taking it up to recent discussions in the cabinet:
[Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to come up with a plan for worship at the Western Wall that would accommodate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are dominant overseas. The move signaled an increasing awareness in the Israeli government that the confrontations over ritual at the Western Wall are driving a wedge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.<
Sharansky’s solution presented to American Jewish leaders was to build a platform “south of the main prayer plaza; men and women could pray together there, and women could lead services.”
The article closes with a quote from the Western Wall Orthodox rabbi who said he was in favor of the separate facilities and an Israeli reform rabbi who is given free reign to sound off on his views on the Orthodox hegemony of Judaism in Israel.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern. “The Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.
Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”
I am not a Jew and have no dog in the fight between the traditional and progressive strands of Judaism. I am concerned with good journalism, though, and find this story unbalanced and incomplete.
Unbalanced because there is no explanation as to why the Orthodox object to bare-headed women leading prayers (as the accompanying photo from the Post shows) next to a gathering of Haredi men praying. While supporters of change have their say in this story supporters of tradition do not. I should say that I know the Talmud rejects the practice — but I do not know if other non-Jews know this. Without an explanation of the religious issues a casual reader might well assume that this is an issue of power.
It was an issue of power in 1928. On the Day of Atonement that year, 28 September 1928, a riot erupted when British police torn down wooden barriers separating male and female worshipers at the Wall. Protests from Jewish communities around the world greeted this action which in turn were followed by protests from Arabs in Palestine against Jews worshiping at the Wall. The British ban on sex segregation barriers became a ban on Jews at the Wall from 1948 1967 when it was under the control of Jordan.
When Israel took control of the Temple Mount area the Wall came under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the 1980s American and English emigrants to Israel began the Women at the Wall movement which sparked a riot by Haredi men at the wall in 1989. In 2003 Israel’s Supreme Court disallowed women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza built by the Ministry in front of the Wall. However, it held the government must build a second area for women and mixed sex groups — as well as non-Orthodox Jews — on the site of Robinson’s Arch. Sharansky’s solution is to expand this site — which is not under the control of the Ministry.
Without explaining the religious elements — the objections of the Orthodox or the determination of Jewish women to worship at the wall rather than near — the story is incomplete. Without touching upon the history behind this section, it’s context, a casual reader might well suppose this is just about power.
What does the wall symbolize for the religious Jew or the secular Israeli? Is this a continuing chapter in the saga of who is a Jew, what does it mean to be a Jew, and who gets to say who is a Jew? Written for an American or Diaspora audience — the story is incomplete.
First published in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: abortion, Ireland, Irish Independent, New York Times, Savita Halappanavar
Three cheers for my Get Religion colleague Mollie Hemingway! She has done a fantastic job this week pointing out the professional failures of the national press coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia. The self-censorship of the New York Times on this issue is of Walter Duranty-like proportions.
But the Gosnell case is not an isolated incident when it comes to questionable abortion reporting — they have form. There is a blindness in the Times coverage of abortion — they see only what they want to see. Or, there is a sleight of hand at work here — like the three card monte dealer they promise you a fair game as the cards pass before your eyes — but the hand always comes out in favor of the dealer — and in this game the rightness of abortion always comes up aces.
Take the Irish abortion controversy that dominated the media for a few weeks after the election. Last November/December the Times ran six stories on the death of Savita Halappanavar. The lede of its first report set the tone of its subsequent coverage:
The death of a woman who was reportedly denied a potentially lifesaving abortion even while she was having a miscarriage has revived debate over Ireland’s almost total ban on abortions.
The stories that followed focused on Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws — and upon claims that an abortion was not performed when the life of the mother was in danger because of Ireland’s Catholic culture.
Dr. Halappanavar contracted a bacterial blood infection, septicemia, and died Oct. 28, a week after she was admitted to Galway University Hospital with severe back pains. She was 17 weeks pregnant but having a miscarriage and was told that the fetus — a girl — would not survive. Her husband said she asked several times for an abortion but was informed that under Irish law it would be illegal while there was a fetal heartbeat, because “this is a Catholic country.”
The coroners inquest this past week in Ireland has seen blow by blow reports in the Irish and British press — with some papers publishing updates after each session. The Times returned to the story on 11 April 2013 with an article that backed the editorial line taken last year.
A woman who died after being refused a potentially lifesaving abortion even while she was having a miscarriage was told that her repeated pleas could not be granted because Ireland is a Catholic country, an inquest has confirmed. In a case that has reignited tensions over Ireland’s strict abortion laws, Ann Maria Burke, the midwife who attended to the pregnant woman, said at the inquest in Galway on Wednesday that the remark “had come out the wrong way” and that she had not meant it to be hurtful.
The Times reported:
Dr. Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, has said the couple were told that the country’s Catholicism was the reason for the refusal to terminate the pregnancy, even though his wife was in severe pain and they had been informed that the fetus had no chance of survival. In Ireland, abortion is legal when there is a fetal heartbeat only if there is “real and substantial risk” to the life of the woman. Dr. Halappanavar, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she sought treatment at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21, complaining of severe back pain. Dr. Katherine Astbury, a senior obstetrician who had attended to Dr. Halappanavar, said at the inquest that although the fetus’s prognosis was poor, she had refused to conduct a termination until the fetus’s heartbeat had ceased. “I recall informing Ms. Halappanavar that the legal position did not permit me to terminate the pregnancy in her case at that time,” Dr. Astbury said, referring to a conversation they had on Oct. 23. She also recalled telling Dr. Halappanavar, who she said was physically well at that point but emotionally distressed, that her only option was to “sit and wait” for as long as the heartbeat persisted.
The article then noted that mistakes were made:
The inquest has also heard testimony that several hospital protocols were not followed, amounting to system failures that contributed to Dr. Halappanavar’s death. Dr. Astbury said she might have intervened sooner had she been made aware of the results of earlier blood tests. Instead, she relied on clinical signs, none of which pointed to sepsis.
The article starts with the “you can’t have an abortion because we’re Catholic in Ireland” and then builds upon this theme with the doctor’s testimony about the country’s “Catholic” abortion laws. The question of medical error is mentioned in passing though. Compare this account to that reported by the Irish Independent of same proceedings.
THE DOCTOR at the heart of the Savita Halappanavar case admitted she had not read “significant” medical notes on the chart that would have resulted in her performing an earlier termination. She also accepted that there were a number of “system failures” in Ms Halappanavar’s care.
Dr Katherine Astbury said she had not seen a notation on the 31-year-old’s charts that would indicate a deterioration in her condition. She also conceded that she had not seen Ms Halappanavar’s blood results, which had changed and could have been indicative of severe sepsis. The consultant obstetrician told the inquest that had she been aware of these details she would have brought forward plans for a termination to the Wednesday morning. Dr Astbury had earlier told the inquest that she had been unable to accede to Ms Halappanavar’s requests for a termination on the Tuesday because her health was not in any danger and she feared it could become a legal issue.
In other words the doctor made a mistake.
The Irish Independent reported the doctor as having said she was guided by the legal requirement that there be a threat to the life of the mother before performing the abortion.
The court heard that Dr Ikechukwu Uzockwu, known as Dr Ike, had noted a deterioration in Ms Halappanavar’s condition at 6.30am on the morning of Wednesday, October 24. He made notes of a “foul-smelling discharge” on her chart along with details of a raised pulse and temperature. However, despite receiving this chart, Dr Astbury told the inquest she had not read it. The inquest also heard from Dr Anne Helps, a registrar attached to Dr Astbury, that she may not have passed on significant information on the deterioration of Ms Halappanavar to the consultant.
Dr Helps recalled her colleague, Dr Ike, passing on details to her as they switched rounds on Wednesday. She recalled him telling her of a spike in temperature and that Ms Halappanavar felt unwell but said she could not recall receiving any further details from him. Details of the discharge were included in Dr Ike’s notes, which were also handed over, but Dr Helps said: “I can’t remember reading those notes.” Dr Helps also admitted it was possible she had not mentioned the discharge while reading the notes to Dr Astbury.
Dr Astbury said she would have taken steps to begin a medical termination earlier had she been aware of the issue. She accepted the discharge was a “very significant” finding. “Obviously it should have been communicated,” she said. When it was pointed out that it had been written down on the chart she added, “I should have been aware of it, yes”. Dr Astbury confirmed it was her intention to induce the pregnancy on the Wednesday after forming the opinion that there was a “real and substantial” risk to Ms Halappanavar’s life, but said she would have begun this earlier had she been aware of the discharge.
Yes, the midwife did tell the coroner’s court she was sorry for having made the Catholic remark the Irish Independent stated. The Times was not wrong in having reported this. But in choosing to play up the thoughtless remark and bury the testimony about malpractice, the Times laid itself open to the charge of journalistic malpractice.
What were they thinking at the Gray Lady? The testimony presented makes it quite clear the Catholic comment by one of the midwives played no part in Savita Halappanavar’s care or her death, yet the “Catholic bad” / “abortion good” theme is still being played. I cannot tell if the editors are knaves or fools when it comes to abortion reporting — but what they are not is fair, balanced, accurate or thoughtful.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Los Angeles Times, Margaret Thatcher
The death Monday of Margaret Thatcher has generated a huge amount of ink from newspapers on both sides the Atlantic. Opinions about the “Iron Lady” vary sharply — and some of these opinion pieces have found their way into the news reports of recent days.
This Los Angeles Times article reports the funeral arrangements – but it has been crafted less to tell the story about the funeral than to offer its opinions about Margaret Thatcher. Save for a few knowledgeable insiders most reporters covering these sorts of affairs work off of the same press releases and from the same press conferences. The Home Office, Foreign Office, Downing Street, the Church of England, the Metropolitan Police, Buckingham Palace, the Ministry of Defense, and other government offices have been busy telling reporters of their role in the memorial service.
For example, here is the press release from the Ministry of Defense:
The Ministry of Defence has announced details of the Armed Forces’ involvement in the Funeral of The Rt Hon The Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG OM PC FRS, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.
The Funeral will take place on Wednesday 17 April at St Paul’s Cathedral, involving more than 700 Armed Forces personnel. The Coffin will be drawn on a Gun Carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from St Clement Danes Church (the church of the Royal Air Force) in the Strand to St Paul’s, with the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force lining the route. Outside the Cathedral a Guard of Honour and Band of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards will be formed up. While the Ceremonial Procession takes place, the Honourable Artillery Company will fire Processional Minute Guns from Tower Wharf, HM Tower of London.
Carrying the Coffin of Lady Thatcher into the Cathedral will be a Bearer Party made up of all three Services, including those from ships, units and stations notable for their service during the Falklands Campaign. Positioned on the steps will be a Step Lining party made up of 18 tri-Service personnel and a contingent of In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Senior military representatives will attend the service.
The reporter’s task is to distill these press releases into a single story. A good reporter seeks to add value to the story by finding a particular angle that would interest his readers and perhaps a first-person observation from someone or some institution mentioned in the press release. Working from the MOD statement, a knowledgeable reporter could develop a unique angle based on the type of funeral (military v. state), the place of the funeral, the procession through the city, or some of the military aspects. What he should not do is offer unfounded speculation.
Let’s look at the Los Angeles Times.
LONDON — The funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest-serving leader of the 20th century, will be held in St. Paul’s Cathedral on April 17, officials said Tuesday. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, are expected to attend what will be the most elaborate funeral to be staged in London since the death of the queen’s mother in 2002. It will be the first funeral of a prime minister that the queen will have attended since Winston Churchill’s in 1965. Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87 after years of declining health, will be given a ceremonial service with military honors, a service almost indistinguishable from an official state funeral.
Further facts are reported before it moves into its particular angle.
The expected presence of the queen at Thatcher’s funeral is an indication of the impact Britain’s first female prime minister made, even though the two women, who were born six months apart, are believed to have had a frosty relationship.
Thatcher raised eyebrows with her increasingly regal style toward the end of her 1979-90 premiership, particularly her announcement of the birth of her first grandchild: “We have become a grandmother.” Elizabeth is said to have disliked the social division that Thatcher’s policies exacerbated among her subjects.
The reputed edge between them is on show in a new play in London’s West End. “The Audience” depicts imagined accounts of the meetings the queen holds weekly with the prime minister of the day. Oscar-winner Helen Mirren portrays Elizabeth and actress Haydn Gwynne takes the role of Thatcher in a fraught but fictionalized encounter.
These three paragraphs are problematic. It asserts the Queen and Mrs Thatcher did not care for one another. No facts are presented to support this statement nor is a second source offered to substantiate the claim. Instead we have the verbal phrasing “are believed”. Believed by whom?
How does the LA Times know the mind of the Queen? Is it the royal mind of the monarch or the royal mind of the Times editorial board who believes dislikes the “social division that Thatcher’s policies exacerbated among her subjects”? And where is the evidence for this? Conventional wisdom among the liberal establishment does not count.
Perhaps I have been at this game too long but the only news value I can see in mentioning the West End play “The Audience” is that it allows the author to put his ticket on his expense account.
Now I am not saying that the claims of friction between the two women do not exist — but they are merely claims and not fact. If the Times wants to mention them it needs to put these words in the mouths of others because the Times is not an insider or a knowledgeable source — they do not have the necessary credibility to get away with it. This is gossip not news.
First printed on Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: BBC, Da Vinci Code, gnosticim, Good Friday, Mary Magdelene, Telegraph
What a difference a decade makes. In 2002 the BBC broadcast a documentary on the Virgin Mary characterizing her “as a poor and downtrodden girl, who might have conceived Jesus as a result of being raped.” This Life of Brian view of the birth of Jesus prompted outrage -– letters, editorials, statements from church leaders leaders condemning the broadcast.
A documentary broadcast on Good Friday by the BBC entitled “The Mystery of Mary Magdalene” that suggests Mary Magdalene and Jesus were sexual partners has provoked a complaint from a retired bishop but little else. The Telegraph reports:
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, said the programme, presented by Melvyn Bragg would be “hugely offensive” to devout Christians because it amounted to the “sexualisation of Christ”. He said it was all the more upsetting because it is being screened at midday on Good Friday – the moment the Bible says Jesus was put on the cross.
The article notes:
Lord Bragg, who describes himself as “no longer a believer”, argues that Mary’s close relationship with Jesus was effectively airbrushed out of the accepted Biblical account by “misogynist” Romans. He points to a series of ancient writings known as the Gnostic Gospels which were not included in the agreed list of books which became the New Testament. They include references to Mary being “kissed on the mouth” by Jesus, being his favourite and even, as one passage suggests, his wife.
Writing in the Telegraph last week, Bragg argued Mary Magdalene:
was acknowledged by other disciples as his favourite and there is one taunting scrap of record which may well lead to the conclusion that she was his wife.
Which leads Bragg to the conclusion:
What then? What then for the celibacy which has led the organised Church into so many abuses and crimes and distorted lives?
Pretty clear were Bragg is going with all this. Bishop Nazir-Ali, the Telegraph reported, accused the BBC of being deliberately provocative and noted that they would not treat Islam in the same way.
Why is the BBC doing this on Good Friday and why is it doing it in such a provocative way. … There will be huge offence, there must be some way of putting the other point of view across.
Maybe it is true that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and emigrated to the South of France where her offspring founded the Merovingian Dynasty. Perhaps the Priory of Zion, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, Knights Templar and Freemasons really do rule the world? Or maybe this is a ploy to hype ratings for a film that would otherwise disappear into the limbo of the History Channel — immediately after Ancient Aliens. As an aside, it would be interesting to see a documentary on Gnosticism that discusses and explores the tenets of this faith and its influences on modern thinking.
Bishop Nazir-Ali’s complaints are on point. The BBC would no more broadcast a show that questions the historical basis of Islam at the start of Ramadan than it would surrendered its license fees. These sorts of stories are not confined to the BBC. Easter and Christmas bring all sorts of silly stories to the pages of American newspapers and magazines. But it comes amidst a change in British religious attitudes toward religion. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has denounced the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron for deliberately alienating British Christians by its strident secularism and support for gay marriage. David Cameron is either a very poor politician, or he believes the Conservative Party will suffer no electoral consequences for dumping it traditional electoral base.
It very well may be that after 30 years of anti-Christian bias from the BCC there is not much the Corporation can do anymore to shock television viewers. I know I’m tired of these silly stories and wonder if you are too?
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Gambling, Get Religion, Press criticism.
An Australian bishop’s veto of a gaming industry proposal to donate funds to a church social service agency to hire additional gambling addiction counselors has been met with incredulity by the Sunday Telegraph.
In a story entitled “Unholy fight over gaming as Bishop refuses money from clubs” the Sydney-based newspaper’s editorial voice spoils an otherwise interesting story. It does not appear to comprehend that the Anglican Bishop of Armidale Rick Lewers is taking a moral stand that the gaming industry cannot buy redemption.
This is not a bad article in that there is an attempt to present both sides of the story. We do hear from the bishop and the casinos — but the context is missing and the story framed so as to paint the bishop as a prig. The article begins:
A BISHOP has refused thousands of dollars from clubs to pay for more counsellors to help problem gamblers.
Clubs around Tamworth and Armidale, in the state’s north, want the local Anglicare counselling service to put on extra staff as demand grows across the region. After nearly two years of talks, the clubs have agreed to give a percentage of their takings – up to $30,000 a year – in return for access to additional counsellors. However, the talks unravelled last week after the Anglican Bishop of Armidale, Rick Lewers, canned the idea as he felt it would compromise his ability to speak out about gambling.
Instead, Bishop Lewers wants gamblers to consider joining their local church to socialise instead of spending hours “pouring pension money” into poker machines.
The construction of the lede determines the trajectory of the article. Proposition A holds that clubs, private gaming establishments, have created a need for gambling addiction counseling services. Proposition B is that these counseling services are provided by Anglicare– a church-run social services agency.
Fact A is the news that the casinos and Anglicare have been in talks about providing addiction counseling services and that the casinos would donate “up to $30,000 a year”. Fact B is the bishop’s refusal to take the funds. Fact C is the explanation that the Bishop believes he would be compromised by taking casino money.
Assertion A by the Telegraph is that the bishop does not want to help gamblers and B he wants to steer them away from casinos so that they may join “their local church to socialize”.
Standing in back all of this are the assumptions that the casino industry can atone for its sins by giving money to the church — Australian Anglican indulgences — and that the church should be a good sport and take the cash. The implications of the construction of the lede are that the bishop is opposed to a good deed because of petty concerns about pumping up church attendance — perhaps pulling in the punters to the church hall for bingo rather than have them use the slot machine at the casino.
The Telegraph does give the bishop three paragraphs to explain his position — that gambling is a social evil; the church’s social service agency will help anyone with a gambling addiction problem; the church would welcome the opportunity to minister to those with gambling problems on casino grounds; taking money from the casinos — who facilitate the addiction — in order for the church to help them break the gambling addiction is morally compromising. Well and good.
The article then moves to comments from the casino industry criticizing the bishop’s moral qualms. It then closes with a jab from a casino executive that seeks to puncture when he believes to be the bishop’s moral pomposity.
ClubsNSW CEO Anthony Ball said: “The real losers here are the people who have a problem with gambling or alcohol who would have really benefited from the range of initiatives .”
By crafting the article in this fashion — premise, assertion, side a, side b — the Telegraph is telegraphing its agreement with side b’s closing statement from the casino executive.
A church complaining about an unfriendly article that treats its leaders as moral humbugs for standing on an unfashionable principle (gambling is socially harmful and, oh yes, a sin) is neither new nor extraordinary. What is exceptional about this story is the unsubstantiated assertion that the Bishop wants people to go to church not casinos to socialize. Nor does the Telegraph seem to comprehend that it is reporting on an issue present in literature, the movies and in newspapers across the globe. American readers may remember the New York Times report last year about Mexican churches and the drug cartels.
There was an opportunity to tell a great story here — but lack of knowledge and prejudice prevented that from happening.
First printed at Get Religion
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Che Guevara, El Universal, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela, VI Lenin, ViVe
A story I have yet to see in the Anglo-American press is the apotheosis of Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan strongman died on 5 March 2013 after fifteen years in office leaving Venezuela with 25 per cent inflation, public debt at 70 percent of GDP, a shortage of basic consumer goods, a crumbling electrical grid with frequent power outages, widespread crime and a serious contraction of the oil industry — the source of 95 per cent of the country’s exports. Since 1998 U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude have fallen by half.
The press has so far focused on the economy, foreign affairs and the political campaign to elect a new president. The better stories have been asking whether Chavismo can survive without Chávez — if Marxism can survive without Marx, Leninism without Lenin, and Peronism without Peron then Chavismo may be able to survive without Chávez. His handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, who has the backing of the army, the poor and the country’s petrodollars may retain power. Or will Chavismo go the way of Stalinism, Maoism or Hitlerism?
The regime appears to be taking as few chances as possible — and just in time for Good Friday — ViVe, the cultural TV channel owned by the Venezuelan government has broadcast a children’s animated short film showing Hugo Chávez in heaven.
The film shows the ten people Chávez meets as he enters paradise: Indian leader Gaicauipuro, Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino, Chile’s Salvador Allende, Venezuela’s negro primero Pedro Camejo; Argentina’s Evita Peron, the “people’s singer” Ali Primera, Che Guevara, Chavez’s grandmother Rosa Ines, Ezequiel Zamora, and Simón Bolívar.
The title of this film: “Hasta siempre, Comandante”, has meaning beyond a farewell to El Comandante (Chávez’s popular name with the masses.) It was also the headline of the article in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, announcing Chávez’s death — and (coincidentally?) is the title of a leftist ballad celebrating the life of Che Guevara. Here is a link to a version ascribed to Joan Baez, whose closing stanzas proclaim:
Your revolutionary love
leads you to a new undertaking
where they are awaiting the firmness
of your liberating arm
We will carry on
as we did along with you
and with Fidel we say to you:
Until Always, Commandante!
The Russians did this sort of thing best — the idolatry of departed secular saints. The cry:
Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!
closes Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1924 poem “Vladimir Ilych Lenin“. The greatest of Mayakovsky’s works and the apex of the socialist realist style of poetry that flowered in Russia in the decade after the Revolution “VI Lenin” tells the story of the triumph of the proletarian revolution through the vehicle of the working class, which through toil and strife, guided by the laws of social development, revealed by its ideological genius Karl Marx, produces the “twin of Mother History” — the Bolshevik Party and its leader, VI Lenin.
The party for Mayakovsky is the symbol of the strength and wisdom of the working classes and is what has trained and mobilized the masses, and lead them out of their bondage. And over all this:
the compass of Leninist thought,
the guiding hand of Lenin.
Lenin’s life did not end with his death as the people and the party live on.
And even the death of Ilyich
became a great communist organizer.
Lenin will live in the hearts of the proletariat and will remain the rallying point for world revolution.
Proletarians, form ranks for the last battle!
Straighten your backs,
unbend your knees!
Proletarian army, close ranks!
Long live the joyous revolution, soon to come!
This is the greatest
of all great fights
that history has known.
Are we seeing the modest beginnings of Chávez worship? While Che posters and berets have lost their political meanings in college dorms and are mere fashion accessories in America — the glorification of a “Dear Leader” (living or dead) is central to the faith systems of peoples as far a part as Pyongyang and Caracas. Is it a substitute for God? Are we looking at worship? Or in this case is it merely of a silly aesthetically unpleasing government sponsored political advert? What is going on here?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: anti-Catholic media bias, CNN, Pope Francis
My corner of Florida has been over run by college students on Spring break. While Daytona Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale have lost market share over the past 40-years to Texas, Mexico and points South, there are still enough kids in town this week to make the merchants smile and locals complain about “those kids” and their sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Sounds like a story pitch for a 60′s beach film — Frankie and Annette, Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue — maybe Ann-Margret and Elvis? The stories wrote themselves back then. Sex continues to sell. Where would the tabloids or MTV be with out the Page 3 girls, the Kardashians and the denizens of the Jersey Shore? And where would the New York Times be without homosexuality? While it is harder and harder to sell religion news stories to the trade — a “naughty vicar” story will always find a buyer.
But sex isn’t what it once was. Its omnipresence has robbed it of its marketing value, mystique (and romance). “Sexed-up” no longer refers solely to hormone drenched teens or blue movies, but in journalism it refers to improving a story to make it more palatable (more salable) to editors who in turn want to attract more readers with stronger stories.
The phrase settled into the media psyche during the second Gulf War. It is commonly believed that a 29 May 2003 report by BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan broadcast on Radio 4′s Today program originated the phrase. Gilligan reported that a senior British official told him a dossier prepared by the Blair government to support the war against Saddam Hussein had been “sexed up”. Specifically the government’s “September Dossier” had made the exaggerated claim that weapons of mass destruction could be deployed by the Iraqis within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein’s order.
Improving the story by making it sexier than the facts allow did not begin in 2003. It is long been the bane of good journalism. Its prevalence was the theme of my chat last week with Todd Wilken, the host of Issues, Etc. In our conversation broadcast on 21 March 2013, Todd and I discussed my article “Is CNN pushing the “Dirty War” story?” posted at GetReligion and discussed the phenomena of shoddy reporting on Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s alleged collusion with the Argentine military junta’s crimes during the “dirty war”. Todd asked whether I was saying that it was wrong to voice criticisms of the Pope or to ask questions about his past?
I responded that this was not the issue. The Pope and the Catholic Church should be questioned. However in this instance I argued that CNN was “pushing” the story. It had abandoned objectivity, balance, and a desire to seek out the truth for the transitory pleasures of a sexy story about potential papal perfidy.
I contrasted CNN’s work with the three main Parisian dailies: Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Liberation. The French papers all reported the accusations of misconduct as well as the denials by the Vatican. However, they framed the stories to give Francis the benefit of the doubt. The allegations were unproven the French papers reported, but they also provided sufficient facts and context to allow readers to make up their own minds.
This is not as exciting an approach to CNN’s guilty until proven innocent but it is better journalism.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: Christina Kirchner, Der Standard, ORF, Pope Francis
And now for something completely different in the coverage of the election of Pope Francis — complaints from Viennese newspaper Der Standard that some coverage was unfair to atheists.
In an editorial discussing the press coverage of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 226th Bishop of Rome the left liberal daily took the state TV broadcaster ORF to task for its one-sided and uncritical reporting.
Im ORF wurden in den verschiedensten Nachrichten-Formaten die Bilder gezeigt, wie sich der Papst bei Argentiniens Staatspräsidentin Cristina Kirchner für ein Präsent mit einem Wangenküsschen bedankt, was angesichts des gespannten Verhältnisses zwischen den beiden zwar eine Nachricht wert ist. Die Nachrichtenzeit wurde aber lieber für das tapsige Auspacken von Kirchners Mitbringsel verwendet, anstatt auf die Hintergründe der Anspannungen zwischen den beiden hinzuweisen, die unter anderem in der Gegnerschaft Bergoglios für Rechte von Lesben und Schwulen liegen. Mag sein, dass ein Verhütungsverbot, die Dämonisierung von gleichgeschlechtlicher Liebe oder die Kontrolle über den Körper von Frauen für Päpste, Kardinäle, Bischöfe und auch für viele gläubige KatholikInnen normal sind. Für sehr viele BürgerInnen ist es das aber nicht. Das Ereignis Papst-Wahl verleitete viele Medien dazu, zu vergessen, dass nicht nur religiöse Gefühle verletzt werden können, sondern auch atheistische.
[Austrian state TV broadcaster] ORF showed the pope thanking the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner for a gift with a kiss on the cheek, which considering the tense relations between the two was certainly newsworthy. But instead of going into the background of the tensions between the two, which arise among other things from Bergoglio’s opposition to rights for gays and lesbians, the report followed the clumsy unwrapping of Kirchner’s present. It may be that a ban on contraception, the demonization of homosexual love and exercising control over women’s bodies are normal things for cardinals, bishops and many faithful Catholics. But for many citizens they aren’t. The papal election’s status as a major event has led many media to forget that not just religious feelings can be hurt, but atheistic ones too.
I’ve taken to task on the pages of GetReligion some American newspapers and broadcasters for their hypercritical reporting on Pope Francis. The argument put forward by Der Standard, however, can be distinguished from my criticisms of CNN, et al.
Raising the issue of Pope Francis’ conduct during the “dirty war”, when he served a superior of the Argentine Society of Jesus province, is a proper journalistic endeavor. I contrasted the French reporting on this issue which laid out the facts and noted the denials and strength of evidence to CNN’s coverage which framed the issue against Francis. CNN took as gospel the accusations but was skeptical of the defense.
That is a different argument from automatically rejecting out of hand any harsh words about the new Pope. Der Standard has a point. The exchange between both Francis and Pres. Kirchner, hitherto fierce political rivals in Argentina’s culture wars, should have been put in context. I am not persuaded by the editorial’s argument that this was a disservice to atheists. But I agree this fell short as journalism.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: Huffington Post, Hugo Chavez, Mahdi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Muslim eschatology, Venezuela, Washington Post
A note of condolence written by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, upon the death of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been the occasion of some of some mirth in the press. The Washington Post and the Huffington Post have made arch references to President Ahmadinejad’s statement that Hugo Chavez will be resurrected at the end of time. The Washington Post observed:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Tehran today to attend Hugo Chavez’s funeral. But that’s not all — in his condolences for the former Venezuelan president, Ahmadinejad said he has “no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect” Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite Muslims, according to AP. Ahmadinejad also said the three men will together “establish peace, justice and kindness” in the world, and that he is “suspicious” about the cause of Chavez’s cancer.
The Huffington Post began its story by stating:
Hugo Chavez had a friend in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who apparently held the Venezuelan leader in such high regard that he believes he will “return on resurrection day” with Jesus Christ and will “establish peace, justice, and kindness” on earth. After Chavez’s death on Tuesday afternoon, Ahmadinejad released a statement on Wednesday to announce a day of public mourning, according to Iran’s Raja News, Ahmadinejad’s official news agency. In his message, Ahmadinejad voiced skepticism over Chavez’s “suspicious” illness and proclaimed that the 58-year-old will resurrect with Jesus one day.
The tone of these stories suggests the Iranian president is a loon. Is that fair? I don’t know if President Ahmadinejad is a loon, but the statement on his website cited by these reports is not sufficient cause for making such a claim. Let’s look at the text and see what it actually says. The translation provided by the Mehr news agency states in part:
Chavez is alive, as long as justice, love and freedom are living. He is alive, as long as piety, brightness, and humanity are living. He is alive, as long as nations are alive and struggle for consolidating independence, justice and kindness. I have no doubt that he will come back, and along with Christ the Savior, the heir to all saintly and perfect men, and will bring peace, justice and perfection for all.
The language is flowery but not inconsistent with Muslim teachings on the end of time. Like Christians, Muslims believe that at the end of time Jesus will return, the dead shall be raised and the wicked and the righteous shall be judged, and will merit a place in Heaven or Hell. How this happens and the role played by Jesus are very different in the eschatology of Islam and Christianity — that is to say they are completely incompatible. Nor are Muslims in agreement on all aspects of eschatology, the final things.
Sunnis and Shiites have a different view on the role of the Mahdi, who will arrive before the return of Jesus. The Shiites view this person as someone who will establish order in the world and convert people to Islam before the return of Jesus. The timeline of particular events of the end are not completely spelled out in the Koran. However among the articles of faith in Islam is a belief in the day of judgment, when the dead shall be raised and all will be judged according to their deeds. What President Ahmadinejad said was that he believed Hugo Chavez would be judged as being righteous upon his resurrection. For a Muslim the fact of Chavez’ resurrection — as is mine or yours — is not in doubt.
The Guardian reports that some clerics have taken exception to President Ahmadinejad’s comments but these objections are about the mixing of religion and politics — and his presumption to speak for God. Who is President Ahmadinejad to claim that Chavez will be accounted righteous?
While it is good fun to beat up President Ahmadinejad, a reporter must take care not to look like an idiot or a religious bigot when doing so. In this case both Posts failed to get the story because they don’t get religion. The could have saved themselves great embarrassment by asking an expert.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
Tags: Huffington Post, Pat Robertson
Having apparently exhausted discussion of one octogenarian, The Huffington Post appears to have turned its attention to a second aged religious leader this week and published a hit piece on Pat Robertson. “Pat Robertson Claims Islam Is ‘Demonic’ And ‘Not A Religion’ But An Economic System” is a lazy, badly written story. What it reports is not news, and the tone it uses to report this non-news story is unprofessional.
Let me say at the outset that I am not seeking to examine the claims put forward by Pat Robertson in a recent episode of his television show, The 700 Club, rather I am concerned with quality of the reporting in this article. It begins:
Controversial conservative Christian Pat Robertson doubled down Tuesday on claims that Islam is not a religion. According to Right Wing Watch, Robertson, an elder statesman of the evangelical movement, made the inflammatory claim during an episode of his TV program, “The 700 Club.”
I too love alliteration. But this love is not shared by all. The repetition of consonants as an artifice of newspaper writing goes in and out of fashion. While the New York Daily News would have to fold up shop if it could not use alliteration in its headlines, Fowler’s The King’s English discourages it as a “novice’s toy” — yet The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage has no strictures against its use. In modern writing, alliteration is judged on how well it works in setting a mood, tone or in creating resonance or echoes of other works. William Safire’s Political Dictionary cites good, “evil empire,” and bad, “nattering nabobs of negativism”, examples of its usage.
Is a “controversial conservative Christian” who “doubles down” Reaganesque? Or is The Huffington Post channeling Spiro Agnew? While not quite in the same circle of writer’s hell as “vicars of vacillation” or “pusillanimous pussyfooters”, the tone it creates is a bit too much. Rather than having fun with language the author is giving voice to her contempt for the subject of the article. An editor also should have stricken out “controversial”. Where his word’s controversial or is he controversial? Also this silly syntactical start sadly slips in substantiating its statements of fact.
What Pat Robertson said is not new. According to the article, he stated:
“Every time you look up — these are angry people, it’s almost like it’s demonic that is driving them to kill and to maim and to destroy and to blow themselves up,” Robertson said of Islam. “It’s a religion of chaos.” He went on to say, “I hardly think to call it a religion, it’s more of — well, it’s an economic and political system with a religious veneer.”
The story notes Mr. Robertson shared his opinion that Islam was not a religion in a 2009 comment in a discussion of the Fort Hood shooting. A Google search reveals the most recent comments to be in line with what he has been saying for a number of years. Media Matters reported him having said in 2007.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law. In the Quran, it says it very clearly. There are two spheres. One is the Dar al-Harb, which is the realm of war. The other is Dar al-Islam, which is that part that’s under submission to Islam. There is no middle ground. You’re either at war or you’re under submission. Now, that’s the way they think.
Why then are the comments made this week newsworthy? His words in 2007 were even stronger yet no conflagration ensued. How many times can you make “inflammatory” comments before they no longer become “inflammatory” — do they become combustible, explosive, or after the passage of time — and when no fire ensues — do they simply become rude?
The tone of offended outrage adopted by the article, that Pat Robertson has said a terrible thing, is not explored. The Huffington Post believes these sentiments are outrageous, but it does not say why. A long time ago I studied Arabic and Farsi as an undergraduate and took a number of courses in Islam. I have not kept up my studies and have lost my facilities in these languages, but I do recall the academic debates over Islam — whether it was a religion in the sense that Christianity or Judaism understood itself to be a religion, or whether it was a religio-political movement that did not bear a one to one comparison with the other Abrahamic faiths. I offer no answer to these questions. But given the unlimited space available to a Huffington Post author for an article, to denounce him without substantiation is sloppy reporting.
And please note, Pat Robertson is not an “elder statesman of the evangelical movement. ” He is a Pentecostal Christian. There is a difference. TMatt has discussed this point at GetReligion before. In a story about voodoo that included a reference to Pat Robertson, he wrote:
Also, Pat Robertson — last time I checked — was a Pentecostal leader, not an evangelical, which is important distinction to make when one is dealing with Haiti and its growing Protestant churches.
Also, out of all of the critics of voodoo in the Christian world, how does Robertson rise, once again, to the top of the list? Why is an American from TV land the authority on this complex and emotional subject, as opposed to Haitian Pentecostals or Catholics who are actually involved in these debates in Haiti and in Haitian communities in North America?
Cynics will say that the answer is simply: Robertson is a straw man, beloved by lazy journalists.
This is another lazy Pat Robertson story that is not worthy of the name news.
First published in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Joshua DuBois, New York Times, Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
The New York Times has published a letter of reference for Joshua DuBois, President Barack Obama’s director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Unless I am much mistaken, the theme of “White House Director of Faith-Based Office Is Leaving His Post” is to help the 30-year old Pentecostal minister launch his private sector career following his resignation from his White House post this week.
I would be hard pressed to describe the story on page A17 of the 8 Feb 2013 New York edition as a news article. There is no balance, no curiosity, no context here. While political allies of DuBois sing his praises in the article, there is no voice questioning the wisdom of the transformation of the office to an adjunct to President Obama’s perpetual political campaign.
Let me say out the outset that I offer no criticism of Mr DuBois’ tenure at the White House. My concern is with the Times‘ coverage. The article opens with high praise, noting:
Mr. DuBois played a central role when Mr. Obama was making his first run for the presidency, cultivating relationships on his behalf with religious leaders of many faiths. Mr. DuBois, 30, has also served as an unofficial in-house pastor to Mr. Obama, sending the president an e-mail each morning with Bible passages intended to prompt reflection or prayer. At the prayer breakfast, the president called Mr. DuBois a “close friend of mine and yours” who “has been at my side — in work and in prayer — for years now.”
The article states that when President George W. Bush created the post in 2000, it “proved contentious because many critics said the office and its actions often violated the constitutional separation of church and state. But Mr. Obama preserved the office and appointed advisory councils that represented a broad range of religious leaders, including conservative evangelicals and openly gay ministers.”
The Times reports Mr. DuBois changed the focus of the Office from a White House-based agency that would help provide a level-playing field for religious groups in seeking federal social service grants to what Josh Good in the National Review called a community organizing focus.
Mr. DuBois, a black Pentecostal minister, steered the office toward engaging religious leaders to address broad social goals like reducing unwanted pregnancies, helping people cope with the economic downturn, encouraging fathers to take responsibility for their children and improving child and maternal health.
Two voices appear in the story: the omnipresent Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State who objects to the idea of a White House faith office and the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland:
a network of churches based in Longwood, Fla., [who] said that he observed significant changes in the faith-based office after Mr. Obama inherited it from Mr. Bush. “Before it was basically about which organizations got funded,” said Mr. Hunter, who served on the first faith-based advisory council appointed by Mr. Obama. He said that Mr. DuBois focused on connecting religious leaders with policy makers, adding, “What has resulted is this accessibility to policy conversations by faith communities that really wasn’t there before.”
An example of this change in orientation was Mr. DuBois’s bid to mobilize support amongst religious groups for the DREAM Act.
“This is a critical moment for the government, for our educational and military institutions, for the faith community, and most importantly for the young people all across our great nation,” says Joshua Dubois, director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Through the DREAM Act we are on the verge of bringing a greater degree of rationality and compassion to our nation’s immigration system and at the same time improving our economy as well.”
Among those participating in the DREAM Act conference call were the above mentioned Mr. Hunter, who told Charisma Magazine:
In terms of the larger immigration reform picture, Hunter says helping youth by passing the DREAM Act is the easiest and most sensible part of the challenge to address. As he sees it, it’s morally wrong to punish kids for something their parents did. The voice of any religion, he says, is to transfer people from the wrong path to the right one.
No voice is heard in this story that criticizes the transformation of the office into a political appendage of the administration to get out the vote, build coalitions and consensus among religious groups in support of its agenda. The National Review wrote about Mr. DuBois’ tenure:
The most marked departure from the Bush years is that the office has consistently tried to drum up overt support for the administration’s legislative priorities. It has done so in a way that I believe the press, and certainly Democrats, would have harshly criticized if the Bush administration had done it.
Tell me GetReligion readers, is this an example of cheer leading by the Times? Or do you see this as a fair account? Am I looking at this through partisan glasses, or are my criticisms that the story is a soft news puff piece correct? What say you?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Religion Reporting.
Tags: C.S. Lewis, haredi, Israel HaYom, Jay Leno, National Review, New York Times, rape, reader-response criticism
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.
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 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?
Is this a failure, then of the writer or the reader? In today’s Morning Jolt newsletter, National Review Online’s Jim Geraghty raises the issue of reader/audience response in a discussion of political satire. He argues that satire works only with an informed audience, with readers who have a common intellectual culture. “Tying this back to my earlier point about satire,” he writes:
think of the times we’ve seen Jay Leno make a joke about some story that’s big on the political blogs or back in Washington, and the studio audience just titters nervously. They didn’t hear about the story, and so they don’t get the joke; Leno usually pivots back to “boy, Americans are getting so fat” jokes.
Is the joke bad, or is the audience ignorant? Geraghty criticizes Leno earlier in his piece for the quality of his work, comparing it unfavorably to his earlier work — as well as noting the decline of political humor from its heights twenty years ago.
Looking back to the 1980s and early 1990s, this meant Saturday Night Live, particularly Dennis Miller behind the anchor desk. Spy magazine. Jay Leno’s monologue when he was guest-hosting for Johnny Carson – believe it or not, kids, there was a time when Leno was funny and very, very news-oriented, instead of the increasingly-chubby guy phoning in fat jokes. … To get the jokes, you had to know what they were about – which spurred me to look at what was going on in the news.
Just as Geraghty had to prepare to understand Dennis Miller or Jay Leno to “get the joke”, more should be expected of a reader to “get the news”. This is not to excuse poor quality, biased or unintelligent writing — but to say that the reader must bring something to the text in order to make it work as a news article.
In his 1961 book, An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis applies this argument to literature, arguing there are no bad books, only bad readers. He writes that rather than judging a book, and then defining bad taste as a liking for a bad book:
Let us make our distinction between readers or types of reading the basis, and our distinction between books the corollary. Let us try to discover how far it might be plausible to define a good book as a book which is read in one way, and a bad book as a book which is read in another.
Tell me, GetReligion readers, should this standard Lewis brought to literature be brought to your newspaper? For Lewis reading is an important aspect of our humanity.
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and I am never more myself than when I do.
Is it too much to expect that the best journalism act upon the soul in the same way as “great literature”? If so, does that not impose upon us, the reader, the same obligation? What say you?
First printed at GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: BBC, David Cameron, gay marriage, ITV, Justin Welby, New York Times
The New York Times may not love American conservatives, but they are certainly enamored with a British one, David Cameron. His push to introduce gay marriage in England, over the objections of the rank and file members of his party, has the paper swooning.
There does not seem to be a way to keep gay issues or advocacy out of the New York Times. The Gray Lady finds this angle in just about any story. Today’s example comes in an article that combines the news of the confirmation of election of the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with the first vote in Parliament on the government’s gay marriage bill.
Unfortunately the article tries a little too hard to link these stories. Combining the two events may have seemed a good idea to an editor not familiar with the issues, but it does not work as a single piece. “New Archbishop of Canterbury Takes Office” has some factual errors, faulty assumptions, insufficient context and a lack of balance.
The article begins:
On the eve of a divisive vote in Parliament on the legalization of same-sex marriage, Justin Welby, the former bishop of Durham, on Monday took over formally as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, saying he shares the Church of England’s opposition to marriage among people of the same gender.
The lede is fairly straight forward, but I wondered why the author tortured the opening with such strained language — “marriage of people of the same gender”. Have I missed a new style directive to mimic “people of color” when describing gay issues?
And, how many Anglicans are there? The New York Times says 77 million. In the interview cited later in the story, the archbishop says 80 million — which includes 20 odd million Englishmen and women (when only a tenth of that number attend services). What is the source for this number? But I digress.
The article notes the new archbishop took office today replacing Dr. Rowan Williams, and then moves to a post-ceremony interview.
In an interview broadcast on the BBC after his inauguration, the new archbishop said he was not on a “collision course” with the government. But he endorsed the traditional view that while the church has no objection to civil partnerships between people of the same gender, it is, as a recent church statement put it, “committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”
This paragraph also struck me as odd. Not for what it reports about the new archbishop’s sentiments, but in its report of who reported what. The BBC story did not have the “collision course” phrase. That appears in an ITV story. The story broadcast by the BBC I saw cut the “collision course” phrase, while ITV ran the segment uncut. Perhaps there was a second BBC story that used the quote? I do not know. The Religion News Service printed at the Huffington Post account of the ceremony made this mistake as well, but it embedded both videos — BBC and ITV — with their story.
The article then moves to commentary.
His stance did not come as a surprise since he had made it clear at the time of his appointment in November, but the timing of his remarks was certain play into both the political and the ecclesiastical debate about the issue. The church has long been locked in debate over gender issues, including the consecration of female and gay bishops and same-sex marriage.
Now I understand the language of the lede — gender is the plat du jour for the Times allowing it to link the women bishops vote to the same-sex marriage vote in Parliament. (Wait, it is now same-sex marriage by paragraph six.) The article notes:
In December, the church voted narrowly to reject the notion of female bishops, despite support from senior clerics including Archbishop Welby. In January, the church followed up with a ruling admitting openly gay priests in civil partnerships to its ranks, provided that, unlike heterosexual bishops, they remained celibate.
Some more mistakes here. The women bishop’s vote took place in November, not December 2012. Clergy were permitted to register gay civil partnerships in 2005 not in January 2013. A condition of their being allowed to register these domestic partnerships was that they be celibate. Clergy may be “openly gay”, whatever that means, but may not engage in sexual relations outside of marriage (marriage being defined as being between a man and a woman). The question of how rigorously this is enforced is a separate matter.
In December 2012 the House of Bishops ended a ban imposed in 2011 that forbade clergy who had entered into a civil partnership from becoming a bishop. Heterosexuals may not contract civil partnerships in Britain, so the analogy offered by the Times is inexact. However all bishops — heterosexual and homosexual — who are unmarried must be celibate also. There have been homosexual bishops for quite some time — by homosexual I mean men whose dominant sexual attractions are to other men. However, these bishops do hold to the church’s teaching that to act upon these inclinations would be sinful, and are celibate.
Using the pivot of homosexuality, the article then moves to the House of Commons.
Parliament is set to vote on Tuesday on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage that has been championed by Prime Minster David Cameron. The issue, however, has inspired one of the most toxic and potentially embarrassing rebellions among Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party colleagues since he took office as the head of a coalition government in 2010.
British news reports have suggested that as many as 180 of the 303 Conservative Party members of Parliament might oppose Mr. Cameron or abstain from voting.
Here we have a “yes, but” situation. Yes, the Second Reading of the government’s bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and allow those in civil partnerships to convert them to marriages is set for tomorrow. However, the issue will not be decided tomorrow. Here is a link to Parliament’s web page describing what happens at a Second Reading. MPs will be given a chance to discuss the bill and vote on whether it should be sent to a committee or be kept before the House of Commons as a whole.
The leaders of the three main parties — Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour — support the bill. A vote to send it to committee where they appoint the members is a way to prevent the issue from being debated before Parliament as a whole. Voting to keep it before the House allows greater involvement from backbench MPs. There is an element of political gamesmanship here. While Labour is in favor of the bill, they are also in favor of allowing the Tories to do as much damage to themselves as possible. Keeping the bill before the whole House allows the Conservative rebels to give full voice to their displeasure with their party leader, weakening the prime minister.
The Times however quotes the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, but displays an acute lack of awareness of what really is going on.
Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Monday that he would be “voting for equal marriage in the House of Commons, and I’ll be doing so proudly.” He also said he would urge his 255 legislators in the 649-member body to vote with him. “I’ll be voting for equal marriage for a very simple reason: I don’t think that the person you love should determine the rights you have,” Mr. Miliband said.
The Times neglects to mention the political calculus involved in the passage of the bill, which when it goes to committee is then subject to amendment before it goes to the House of Lords. If the Times wanted to tie the Church of England into this story more tightly it could have mentioned that all of the bishops who sit in the House of Lords will vote “no” and may offer wrecking amendments. And, Miliband’s urging his party’s MPs to vote for the bill is a recent change — Labour was going to make this a party line vote, requiring all its MPs to vote the same way, but senior leaders of that party refused to go along — changing Miliband’s song from must vote to should vote for gay marriage.
The article then closes out with two quotes from a government spokesman who dismisses the church’s objections to the bill — but offers no rejoinder from the Church of England, the Catholic Church (which by the way is also strongly opposed) or MPs who are opposed to the legislation.
So what do we have in this story. Minor points such as the BBC v. ITN. Larger mistakes such as dates of actions and the misstatement of actions. Omission of context and explanation — as written a casual reader would assume that gay marriage was about to be passed, when it has only just started its legislative journey. And a lack of balance coupled with the framing of the story in such a way as to make clear the Times‘ support for gay marriage.
Should we expect better of the Times? Is this story an example of carelessness or bias? What say you Get Religion readers?
First printed at GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Egypt, Mohamed ElBaradei, Mohammed Mursi, Muslim Brotherhood, New York Times, Sharia Law
This report on Thursday’s Cairo conference from the New York Times breaks the streak of great stories it has filed from Egypt over the past few months. Long on speculation and short on facts, “Rivals Across Egypt’s Political Spectrum Hold Rare Meeting, Urging Dialogue” on page A10 of the 1 Feb 2013 issue rambles on about what the Times thinks might happen rather than report what has happened. And, (I know you will be surprised to hear this) the article omits the role religion and religious groups play in the news.
The background to this story is the clash between the Muslim Brotherhood aligned government of President Mohamed Mursi with moderate Muslims and secularist parties to the left, a split with salafist (even more hardline Islamist) parties to the right, coupled with the persecution of religious minorities — primarily Christians, but also Baha’is, Shia, and Ahmadiya Muslims.
The Times has done a great job in reporting on the unraveling of Egypt, but this article does not live up to the standard the Gray Lady has set in its reporting so far.
The article opens with:
With Egypt’s political elites warring and street violence taking on a life of its own, young revolutionaries on Thursday tried to step into the country’s leadership vacuum, organizing a rare meeting of political forces that, in Egypt’s polarized state, was a victory in itself. The meeting, which included representatives of secular leftist and liberal groups as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, failed to resolve some of the most divisive issues facing the country, including whether Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, would agree to form a national unity government or amend the country’s newly approved constitution, as some opposition leaders have demanded.
The lede is framed in terms of a heroic attempt by “young revolutionaries” to bring the “warring” factions to the conference table, that must (alas) be deemed a noble failure as it did not achieve the immediate aims of “some opposition leaders” in forcing the president to change his government or revoke the new constitution. This political failure is coupled with a likely short term failure in halting the escalating violence in the streets.
Nor was there any assurance that the meeting’s principal call — to end the violence that has led to more than 50 deaths over the last week — would be heeded on the streets. Clashes during protests have become the latest polarizing issue in Egypt’s turbulent transition, with Mr. Morsi and members of his Muslim Brotherhood movement largely blaming shadowy instigators for the violence. Others, though, have faulted the country’s poorly trained security forces for a persistently heavy-handed response to protests.
The article then identifies the “organizers” of the meeting as:
a leader of the April 6th youth movement, three Brotherhood defectors and Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive who played a prominent role in the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. Group members said they met several days ago, “to look into ways of leading Egypt out of the crisis and to warn against the threats of being dragged into a cycle of violence.”
And it notes that leaders of the secularist National Salvation Front were present at the meeting along with senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders. A comment is offered by the leader of the National Salvation Front, Mohamed ElBaradei expressing boilerplate optimism, before the story moves back into a discussion of the parlous political state of the country.
At this point we get some hint that something else may be going on:
In another display of high-level concern, the talks on Thursday were held under the chairmanship of the country’s leading Muslim scholar, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al Azhar mosque and university. After the meeting, he said that a national dialogue, “in which all the components of the Egyptian society participate without any exclusion” was “the only means to resolve any problems or disagreements.” He urged the participants to “commit to a peaceful competition for power” and to prohibit “all types of violence and coercion to achieve goals, demands and policies.”
And the story closes out with comments from a professor from Georgetown University who warns the situation is spiraling out of control. The problem with this story is that it downplays the role of Al-Azhar at the expense of the “young revolutionaries”, neglects to give details of the 10 point communique endorsed by the government and opposition, and omits the place of religious leaders in the negotiations.
A Reuters dispatch frames this same story in a very different way:
A leading Egyptian Islamic scholar brought together rival politicians on Thursday in a bid to ease a crisis that has triggered street violence, killing more than 50 people, saying dialogue was the only way to resolve differences. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the head of al-Azhar mosque and university, brought together members of the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist group that propelled President Mohamed Morsi to power – with the president’s most vocal opponents, including liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei.
The emphasis in this story is the unprecedented intervention by the religious establishment into the political arena — bringing the parties to the negotiating table. The document signed by the participants was prepared by the “young revolutionaries” but it was the al-Azhar that provided the political clout to get everyone round the same table.
Egypt’s State Information Service opened its report in this way:
Political, partisan, and religious powers Thursday 31/01/2013 agreed on an al-Azhar document rejecting violence and encouraging dialogue. The document was proposed by revolution youths and drafted by al-Azhar in cooperation with all political powers that also agreed on forming a panel to draw up foundations and topics of the dialogue to restore security and stability to Egypt.
Note the reference here to “religious powers”. This can be seen again at the close of the government press bulletin which states:
Speaking at a press conference following the meeting, Baradei stressed the need to renounce violence and achieve consensus among all political groups, with the involvement of Al-Azhar and the Church, to resolve disputes peacefully.
Reading these reports with a careful eye you can see the religious angle grow from being a venue for the New York Times to the convener of the meeting for Reuters and the Egyptian SIS, with the added mention of “Church”. And if you delve even further into this story in the Arabic press you will learn the Nour Party — Salafists to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood — have also called for a national unity government.
And you can read the ten point communique that renounces violence “in all its forms and manifestations” and respects the dignity of all Egyptians irrespective of religion or political views. The document calls upon the state to protect the lives of its all citizens, respect the human and legal rights of all Egyptians, and observe the distinction between legitimate political protest and treason. All parties agreed to refrain from and denounce the destruction of public and private property, honor the rights of all Egyptians for free and unfettered speech, worship and belief and engage in a national dialogue to resolve the political disputes dividing the country.
The problem then with the Times report is that it leaves out news that this meeting was not just a bilateral pow-wow between Mursi and his opponents on the left, but a meeting that brought to the table salafists, secularists, moderate Muslims, Nassirites, non-believers, and Christians. The meeting also sought to address the problem of Egypt’s growing religious intolerance — the persecution of Christians, minority religious groups and non-believers.
I must admit to having inside knowledge — the Anglican Bishop of Egypt was a participant in the talks (he is the fellow in the purple cassock in the foreground of the photo of the meeting posted above). Yet the role religion played in this meeting was not conveyed to me via the secret decoder ring supplied to the fraternity of right thinking Anglicans across the globe (we’re like Freemasons but dress better) — this angle was prominent in the domestic coverage, but failed to make its way across the Atlantic to the New York Times.
Why? Could the reporters or editors be cutting down the story for space? Could they be removing the bits that would not be of interest to the Times’ readers, or do not conform to the world view of the Times‘ editorial board? Whatever the cause this story is defective — and I’m sorry to say that the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian State Information Service, even with its problematic English syntax, did a better job with this story than the Gray Lady.
This article also neglects to ask the question why? Why is Egypt on the brink of anarchy? Many factors are at work — a collapsing economy, over population, food shortages, unrealized expectations in the wake of the fall of Mubarak. But the catalyst for the on-going political disputes is the imposition of a Sharia-law based constitution, with all that entails for moderate Muslims and non-Muslims. The Times appears shy of addressing this point, of confronting the issue of Sharia law.
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, how does the Times solve a problem like Sharia? They ignore it.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: BBC bias, Issues Etc.
The newspaperman’s art of rubbishing someone, while appearing professional and even-handed was the principal object of my harrumphing in this week’s Issues Etc. podcast. Host Todd Wilkin and I discussed two of my recent GetReligion posts concerning the BBC’s coverage of the anti-gay marriage march in Paris and the Sydney Morning Herald‘s coverage of the Australian government’s commitment to preserve religious freedoms for religious entities under a future Bill of Rights.
Todd opened the show with a question about media bias, asking how news organizations could spin stories to show their approval or disapprobation of a topic, while maintaining the appearance of fairness. I responded with an outline of my story about the game’s played by the BBC’s man in Paris, before turning to the hard left politics of the SMH.
To the casual listener the BBC’s report would appear measured, while the SMH’s story was over the top. But if one knew how the game was played — how to rubbish an issue, person or movement with selective polling, ridicule, framing the story against interests, omission of pertinent facts and context, unbalanced quotes and comments and misdirection of issues (asking questions not germane to a story) — it was quite clear the BBC took a hatchet to French anti-gay marriage marchers and sought to chop them down to size.
Twenty minutes later I came up for air, took a deep breath and my segment concluded. Radio appearances are a challenge. Television is easy. I am quick to pick up visual cues while I miss verbal ones. If I am going long or off topic on video I can usually tell by the expression on the host’s face or the frantic hand gestures of his producer (usually a hand passing rapidly across the throat then followed by outstretch hands with fingers splayed). This means five seconds or for God’s sake stop!
I don’t get that sort of feedback with radio. This leaves me worrying that my critique of the shortcomings of others comes off as the Two-minute Daily Hate or priggishness.
An email from a listener to this episode of Issues Etc., brought this home.
I’m writing after listening to the broadcast on the BBC coverage with George Conger and am confused as to which media groups to trust. I would like to ask your opinion as to what is a good source for news? I am actually so discouraged in this regard, that I basically ignore secular media.
Not all GetReligion columns are negative. Quite a number hold out a reporter’s work for applause — showing the craft at its best. I recently praised an AP story on Tibet as an example of great writing and reporting. But the majority of stories address problems with the media. And these criticisms prompt emails from readers asking who amongst the journalistic fraternity has not sinned?
All writers have fallen short. All have sinned. No one is perfect (though there are a few reporters who come close.) In answer to the question who then should a reader trust, they should trust themselves. Bring a critical eye to the reading of a newspaper story. Read some of the acknowledged great writers and reporters (if you have a literary turn start with George Orwell). In time you will be able to discern the good from the bad.
Second, there are no good or bad newspapers — tabloids and propaganda outlets excepted. A reader will find excellent reporting on the pages of the New York Times, Guardian and Le Figaro or in BBC broadcasts. And they will also be treated to some outrageous howlers. The more knowledge brought to a story by the reader, the easier it is to appreciate quality. In short, don’t give up on the mainstream press — just be aware that it is written by fallible human beings who when they make a mess of a story do so through ignorance and seldom through malice.
The third point I would commend to Eric is that when you read something you like, let the newspaper know. If an editor only sees letters from readers wanting more Paris Hilton stories, that is what he is going to push on his reporters. One of the mysteries of life is that people are very quick to complain but slow to praise. On this website the comments from readers on positive reviews are always a fraction of those of negative ones.
Write a letter to the editor when you see something well done — it will surprise the editor, be greatly appreciated by the author and encourage the publisher to invest in quality journalism. Be in conversation with a newspaper, magazine, blog or author — this dialogue improves their craft. Don’t be passive.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: Australia, Keith Windschuttle, media bias, New Criterion, New York Times, religous freedom, Sydney Morning Herald
It is only two weeks into the new year, but I believe we may have a winner in the worst newspaper article of 2013 contest. A Sydney Morning Herald story entitled “Anti-gay rights to stay” is so awful, I am just about at a loss for words. Were I to say this story was anti-Christian, boorish, ignorant, and aggressively offensive I would only be scratching the surface. It takes a non-story — Prime Minister Julia Gillard will maintain religious freedoms in the new bill of rights under construction — and turns it into a gay bashing extravaganza.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has assured religious groups they will have the ”freedom” under a new rights bill to discriminate against homosexuals and others they deem sinners, according to the head of the Australian Christian Lobby.
Under current law, faith-based organisations, including schools and hospitals, can refuse to hire those they view as sinners if they consider it ”is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”.
Notice the quotation marks around the word “freedom”? What is that telling us? Read further into the story and you will find that there is nothing here other than the reporter’s indignation. There is no story. The prime minister has assured the leader of a lobbying group that the current rules governing the “freedom of religion” will not be changed. The SMH finds this deeply offensive, writing:
Discrimination by religious organisations affects thousands of Australians. The faiths are big employers, and the Catholic Church in particular is one of Australia’s largest private employers. They rely on government funding but because of their religious status are allowed to vet the sexual practices of potential employees in ways that would be illegal for non-religious organisations.
The story flow resumes with assurances given by two government ministers that there will be no change in religious freedom laws, followed by comments from church groups. (As an aside, I find the comments somewhat suspect. Knowing some of those who have been quoted, I believe their words have been misconstrued such that the issue of providing services has been conflated with hiring decisions. E.g., they do not discriminate in the provision of services but do reserve the right to employ like minded people.)
The article then brings forward a voice to support its editorial slant, and closes with a quote from the Attorney General that is crafted so as to make her look the fool. She is quoted as being in favor of expanding gay rights at the very end of the story after she states at the top of the piece she supports religious freedom expemptions– or in the SMH’s worldview — condoning anti-gay practices. This is a journalist’s way of calling someone a hypocrite without having to use the word.
Where do I begin? This article is so bad, so puerile, it could appear in The Onion or other comic websites as a farce — a caricature of biased hack journalism. Let’s take the word “sinner”. An emotional word not used by the prime minister or the Australian Christian Lobby spokesman but one inserted by the SMH into the narrative. It may give the story a crackle, but it also reveals the ignorance of the author of the words he is using.
Need I explain that religious organizations hire sinners every day? Yes, the SMH may have meant to say that religious groups do not want to hire particular types of sinner, but having decided to be clever, the SMH must take responsibility for its failure to intelligently use words. Any editor who has half a brain should have known better than to allow such junk to go out under the newspaper’s name.
On a deeper level, however, the stridency of this article — its eagerness to defame and demean religious groups — suggests the decision to push a non story was deliberate, or the newspaper has been captured by a gaggle of gormless hacks unable to grasp the distinctions between unlawful discrimination and making hiring decisions based upon criteria shaped by church doctrine and discipline.
The sad thing about this SMH story is that it is not an outlier. A well written article entitled “The future of the press” by Keith Windschuttle in this month’s issue of The New Criterion looks at the reasons for the decline of the major newspapers in the English speaking world. Drawing upon William McGowan’s 2010 book Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America, Windschuttle reports the collapse of the newspaper has been economic, political and existential.
McGowan makes it clear that the Times’ shift to the left was actually led by its publisher since 1991, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who enshrined within his organization the ideology of the 1960s generation which he shared: radical advocacy, identity politics, and New Age management theory.
Windschuttle explains the decline as the result of “staff capture”.
But even on newspapers without a countercultural proprietor, there is an underlying problem. The bureaucracies needed to run daily newspapers are susceptible to staff capture. In the last thirty years, on those newspaper companies not controlled by traditional owners but run by boards composed mainly of the biggest stockholders, the autonomy that is essential for journalists and editors to do their job has been exploited by the Left. Once they reached a critical mass in an organization, leftists recruited others sharing their political and cultural beliefs. They proceeded to impose the cultural values of the Left onto the entire editorial output. This did not prove to be a successful business model because it estranged at least half their potential readership—the conservative half—guaranteeing their circulations would continue to fall.
What has been true for the Times has also been true of Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald. He writes:
One of its former journalists, Miranda Devine, who is from a well-known newspaper family and who was employed on The Sydney Morning Herald for ten years until 2011, has described her experience: “When I arrived at the Herald it was controlled by a handful of hard-left enforcers who dictated how stories were covered, and undermined management at every turn.” A former executive of Fairfax said the worldview of the collective was “inarguably Left-leaning, and anti-business. It was also anti-religion—especially anti-Christian—and hostile to bourgeois family values. The tragedy was that [Fairfax’s] core audience was a conservative audience. You’ve never seen a paper more disengaged from its core audience, particularly the [Melbourne] Age.”
Windschuttle’s article is behind The New Criterion’s pay wall, but I do encourage you to find a way to read it — even [heaven forfend] buy the magazine!
Sadly, the article “Anti-gay rights to stay” is an example of the decline and fall of a once great newspaper.
First published in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: BBC, France, gay marriage, Le Croix, Le Figaro
The BBC has an extraordinary report on its website detailing Sunday’s march in the French capital by opponents of a government bill to create same-sex marriages. Fact free, disdainful of opponents of gay marriage, incurious as to the intellectual and moral issues at play, lacking in balance, padded out with the author’s opinions and non sequiturs — this report entitled “Mass rally against gay marriage in France” is a poor outing for the corporation. It has the feel of a rush job written in the back of a cab on the way to the airport — or at the hotel bar.
Written in the one sentence paragraph style favored by British tabloids, the article opens with the news of the protest, where it took place and why:
But the demonstrators, backed by the Catholic Church and the right-wing opposition, argue it would undermine an essential building block of society.
The BBC then plays the Million Man March game. (For those unfamiliar with this sport, the Million Man March game is one way a news outlet telegraphs its opinions. If it favors the event it accepts the numbers given by the organizers. If opposed, it plays up the numbers offered by the police.)
The organisers put the number of marchers at 800,000, with demonstrators pouring into Paris by train and bus, carrying placards that read, “We don’t want your law, Francois” and “Don’t touch my civil code”.
Police said the figure was closer to 340,000 and one government minister said the turnout was lower than the organisers had predicted. A similar march in November attracted around 100,000 people.
Where the reader in any doubt as to where this was going, the sentence structure should clear that up. The BBC offers the organizers’ numbers first, but undercuts them with police numbers and the claim of an unnamed government minister who poo-poos the turnout. Absent from this is the news that this is the biggest mass protest in France since 1984 or that the organizers were hoping to have at least 100,000 people in the streets. That is called context and that is missing.
We then move to ridicule, or in modern parlance “snark.”
The “Demo for all” event was being led by a charismatic comedian known as Frigide Barjot, who tweeted that the “crowd is immense” and told French TV that gay marriage “makes no sense” because a child should be born to a man and woman.
A charismatic comedienne shall lead them, the BBC reports — even though the story opens with the news that the march is backed by French religious leaders and the opposition (the right wing opposition the BBC reminds us). Hiss and boo here. The French press and Reuters reported the presence of French archbishops, the head of the Protestant Federation, the chief Imam of Paris in the march. Gay leaders who oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it is an imposition of bourgeois heterosexual norms on homosexuals — by backing gay marriage French President Francois Hollande is condescending and homophobic some gay activists claim — were marching also. And what does the BBC offer as the face of the opposition? The “muse” of the march, as she is called by La Croix, Frigide Barjot.
The article notes:
Despite the support of the Church and political right, the organisers are keen to stress their movement is non-political and non-religious, and in no way directed against homosexuals, BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield reports.
In its broadcast, the BBC’s Paris correspondent states the organizers of the rally are being “clever”. They wanted to give a “clear message”. They “don’t want to be typecast as homophobes and they rather resent the way that what they would see as the ‘left wing liberal establishment’ has tried to paint them as reactionaries and homophobic types.”
Or, the clear message might be, “they don’t want a law passed creating gay marriage” and resent the false caricatures offered by the left wing press. Watch the report to hear that English classic — a harrumph — offered by the BBC’s correspondent when saying “left wing liberal establishment.”
The reporter also mentions the presence of anti-gay marriage gay activists — but tells the audience they are a minority within the French gay community. How does he know this? Is this not a “man bites dog angle” that is news worthy? Evidently not — for the BBC tells us to “move on, nothing here to see.”
The next trick used to rubbish the marchers is the use of selective polling.
An opinion poll of almost 1,000 people published by Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper at the weekend suggested that 56% supported gay marriage, while 50% disapproved of gay adoption. The poll also said that 52% of those questioned disapproved of the Church’s stand against the legislation. Earlier polls had indicated stronger support for the legalisation of gay marriage.
Would it have made a difference to report on other polls showing a shift in public opinion away from gay marriage since the Church began to rally the opposition — or that a majority in France are opposed to passage of both the marriage and adoption bill?
The article closes with this gem.
As the marchers began arriving in the centre of Paris, four Ukrainian activists staged their own protest in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican in support of gay rights. The women from feminist group Femen appeared topless while Pope Benedict recited his traditional Angelus prayer. Police moved to restrain the activists, one of whom was attacked by a worshipper brandishing an umbrella.
Nice photo of a topless blonde being savaged by an old Italian women wielding an umbrella — but apart from the opportunity to use that photo in the story, what purpose does adding four Ukrainian activists in Rome to a story of several hundred thousand Frenchmen protesting in Paris?
Perhaps I am as the psychologists say, “projecting”, seeing in the actions of others my own sins? Perhaps there is some of that behind my ire. But I’ve been at this long enough to recognize the tricks of the trade.
Read it all in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: Catholic clergy abuse scandal, Christian Pfeiffer, Der Spiegel, Deutsche Bischofskonferenz, Stephan Ackermann
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before … A European magazine has written a hit piece on the Catholic Church and the clergy abuse scandal that is unfair, incomplete and one-sided … Sound familiar?
The latest installment comes courtesy of Der Spiegel. In an English-language piece entitled “German Catholic Church Cancels Inquiry” published on 9 Jan 2013, the mass circulation news weekly takes a stick to the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz, the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, over the cancellation of a study it had begun on the clergy abuse scandal.
The German bishops could well paraphrase Sally Fields, “You don’t like me, you really don’t like me!”
Here is the lede:
It was a major promise after a major disaster: In summer 2011, the Catholic Church in Germany pledged full transparency. One year earlier, an abuse scandal had shaken the country’s faithful, as an increasing number of cases surfaced in which priests had sexually abused children and then hidden behind a wall of silence.
The Lower Saxony Criminological Research Institute (KFN) was given the job of investigating the cases in 2011. The personnel files from churches in all 27 dioceses were to be examined for cases of abuse in an attempt to win back some of the Church’s depleted credibility.
But now the Church has called off the study, citing a breakdown in trust. “The relationship of mutual trust between the bishops and the head of the institute has been destroyed,” said the Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, on Wednesday morning.
How’s that for telegraphing your editorial opinions. Der Spiegel opens the story with a slippery trick — it defines the terms of the argument and then savages its opponent for not meeting those terms. The lede all but accuses the church of hypocrisy. “They promised transparency but have cancelled the investigation.”
It makes an assertion the church is a shallow self-serving institution stating the abuse study was undertaken as a public relations stunt, an “attempt to win back some of the Church’s depleted credibility.” Der Spiegel may well think so, but should not it have cited a statement to this effect by the church, or even from one of its detractors?
Following the bishop’s explanation as to why the study was cancelled — the church did not trust Prof. Christian Pfeiffer of the KFN — Der Spiegel offers Dr. Pfeiffer space to air his complaints about the bishops lack of cooperation. A politician is then given a platform to criticize the church for cancelling the study, followed by an old quote from a Church spokesman stating:
Before the inquiry was called off, the spokesman for the German Bishops’ Conference, Matthias Kopp, had insisted that the project should continue regardless of the outcome of the conflict: “Should cooperation with the KFN fall through, there would be a continuation of the project with another partner,” he said.
The story then peters out with a few more quotes from Dr. Pfeiffer and a gratuitous editorial aside followed by a spiteful jab at Bishop Ackermann.
The project was of incalculable importance to the Catholic Church, because the loss of confidence after the abuse scandal was enormous. The cancellation of the inquiry throws into high relief Bishop Ackermann’s statement from 2011: “We also want the truth, which may still lie hidden in decades-old files, to be uncovered.”
The story as told by Der Spiegel is the Catholic Church organized a face-saving study on the clergy abuse scandal, but pulled out saying they did not trust Dr. Pfeiffer just as the KFN’s investigators began digging in the bowels of the chancelleries. The clear insinuation being the Catholic Bishops Conference are a bunch of hypocrites.
Let me stop for a moment and say I have no special knowledge of this case. I have no reason to privilege the testimony of the bishops over Dr. Pfeiffer or Dr. Pfeiffer over the bishops. The only dog I have in this fight is that of professional journalism. And this story as journalism stinks.
Why? Take a look a the press release from the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz that served as the basis for this story. Bishop Ackermann explains in detail the study was ended due to a personal dispute with Dr. Pfeiffer — and that the study will continue with another investigator.
This is a critical omission by Der Spiegel. The study has not been cancelled — the investigator has been fired and the study will be restarted with a new team. Rather than report what Bishop Ackermann said in his statement,
Ich bedauere, dass der jetzige Schritt unumgänglich wurde, der allein mit dem mangelnden Vertrauen in die Person von Professor Dr. Pfeiffer zusammenhängt. Gleichzeitig bin ich zuversichtlich, dass wir schon bald das Forschungsprojekt mit anderen Partnern in Angriff nehmen können.
Roughly translated as: Regrettably this step was inevitable due solely to our the lack of trust in the person of Prof. Dr. Pfeiffer. At the same time I am confident that we will soon be able to address this research project with other study partners.
Der Spiegel brings up an old quote from a spokesman for the bishops saying that should there be a conflict between the bishops and the KFN, the study would continue. By not mentioning the current statement while inserting the older one, Der Spiegel is insinuating bad faith.
I have never worked with the German bishops and do not know their reputation for truthfulness or transparency. There are some English and American ecclesiastical entities and figures whom I have learned not to trust — if one London based Anglican agency were to tell me the sun will rise tomorrow morning, I would not print that story until I saw the sun rise myself and then I would ask for a second opinion — their reputation for integrity is so poor. There well may be bad faith on the part of the bishops. Dr. Pfieffer thinks so. But Der Spiegel is improving the story — sexing it up (to use a British newspaper phrase) — so that the reader will be led to believe one side over another. If deliberate that is journalistic misconduct, it an accident that is a most unfortunate error.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Annie Hall, Esther Duflo, France 24, French stereotypes, Jean Paul Sartre, Liberation
Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.
Alvy Singer, Annie Hall (1977)
When is a newspaper’s reference to religion not a reference to religion? When it is in a French newspaper, of course.
Reader Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz forwarded a story to the GetReligion website with a link to a news story from France 24, the English-language French state broadcaster. The article reported that Esther Duflo, an economics professor at MIT and native of France, had been appointed by President Obama to a U.S. government post.
The lede to the France 24 story entitled “Renowned French economist to join Obama’s team” reported:
France’s Esther Duflo, a world renowned economist, has been nominated by US President Barack Obama to join a government body dedicated to advising the administration on global development policy.
Have you picked up the fact that Esther Duflo is French? France 24 did not want that titbit to slip by (though the side bar to the story does note she has lived in the US for18 years and has taken American citizenship.)
In his note, Mr. Szyszkiewicz wrote:
I find it interesting that religion is raised in the 4th paragraph. Not sure what to think of it.
GetReligion’s editor, TMatt, passed the query on to me for action. The pertinent passages noted by Mr. Szyszkiewicz read:
Duflo, who was raised in a “left-leaning Protestant” family, said she became aware of economic divides and social injustice at a very early age.
“I was always conscientious of the gap between my existence and that of the world’s poor,” she told weekly French magazine l’Express in a January, 2011 article. “As a child, I was extremely troubled by the complete randomness of chance that I was born in Paris to an intellectual, middle class family, when I could have just as easily been born in Chad. It’s a question of luck. It inspired in me a sense of responsibility.
Now, I have no knowledge of the inner workings of the mind of the author of this article, but I believe I can speak to how this passage could be interpreted from a French reader/writer perspective.
From an American perspective, the mention of a person’s religious background, or faith, can be an important component of the story — a way of helping the reader in a highly religious culture comprehending the actions, motivations and personality of the subject of a story. Many of GetReligion’s articles address touch upon this issue — critically when a story omits mention of the religious or faith-based component of a story, or in applause when a reporter gives flesh to a “religious ghost” in a story.
Is that the case here? Is France 24 telling us something about Esther Duflo’s religious upbringing that informs her economic theories? If so, no other news service has picked up on this angle. A number of articles have drawn upon France 24′s story, repeating the left-wing Protestant line — but no other original work has been done on this point.
I’m inclined to say the mention of Esther Duflo’s religious upbringing, her having come from “d’une famille protestante de gauche”, as she told the Paris daily Liberation in a January 2012 article, is French cultural code — not a religious ghost. In the France 24 article we are not dealing with religion, but with national stereotypes — the shorthand language that some cultures use internally to convey meaning.
The Economist a few years back published an article that helped explain France’s view of its Protestant minority.
In France, Protestantism, in the public mind, is almost synonymous with austerity and moral rigour; something to be respected, but not always liked. The Catholic who goes to confession “comes to terms without difficulty with his little sins and white lies,” says Jean-Marie Rouart, Le Figaro‘s literary editor, whereas “the Protestant brandishes frankness like a dagger, which he uses as implacably against himself as against others.”
Nobody in France gets a prize for guessing that Lionel Jospin, the country’s upright Socialist prime minister, is one of those dagger-wielders. In fact, he is a non-believer. But no matter. He was brought up in a Protestant family and impregnated with those Protestant values. That is what counts. For the French tend to think that a Protestant background spells honesty, respect for one’s word, hard work, a sense of responsibility, a modest way of life, tolerance, freedom of conscience—and a dour inflexibility. Protestants have been in the van of most of the great liberalising ideas and reforms in French history: the declaration of human rights, the abolition of slavery, the market economy, the devolution of power from the centre, the spread of state education, the separation of church and state, advocacy of contraception and divorce.
The dour philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (now out of favor among the French literary/academic elite but one of the most important intellectual voices of the last century in France) arose from the “culture of liberal Protestantism” his biographer Annie Cohen-Solal reported in an article published in Le Monde. Cohen-Solal argues Sartre’s liberal Protestant roots, as taught to him by his grandfather Charles Schweitzer (yes Dr Albert Schweitzer was a second cousin to Sartre) were the foundation for his moral and ethical views.
What then is France 24 telling us when it says Esther Duflo is a product of left-wing French Protestantism? Well, coupled with the photo it used in the article, I would say the message is that of a dour, somewhat severe technocrat. As to what message the selection of a photo can tell about the editor’s view of the subject of his story, compare the France 24 photo with the Liberation photo of the same person. One is flattering, chic — the modern attractive intellectual French woman. The other, well, is not.
Which takes me back to Mr. Szyszkiewicz’s question. Is there a religion ghost in the story of Esther Duflo? There is a good Episcopalian answer to this question — “it depends.” Yes, if this story came from an American pen the mention of her faith should open the door to the moral and ethical precepts that inform her thinking on international aid and economic development.
From a French pen — no. The mention of her Protestant up-bring (but not her faith) is a code to inform the reader that Dr. Duflo comes from a particular caste in French society. An American equivalent code might be that so and so is a product of Catholic schools, a Yale man, a San Francisco Democrat, a New Yorker. These phrases convey meaning in our culture that is not necessarily tied to facts, but stereotypes. I believe, this article’s reference to Dr. Duflo’s Protestant heritage is French shorthand — not reporting.
What say you GetReligion readers? Should we have our American or French glasses on when we read this France 24 report?
First published in GetRelgion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: archaeology, Aviram Oshri, Jesus seminar, National Public Radio, Quest for the historical Jsus, Times
When does a story grow stale? Does the length of time between first publication of a story and subsequent re-tellings matter? Or, if the news is not common knowledge, is it proper for a reporter to retell the story without acknowledging earlier accounts? My mind turned over this question after reading a piece that reported some archeologists believe Jesus was not born in Bethlehem.
“Come all ye faithful…to the ‘wrong’ Bethlehem?”appeared on 24 Dec 2012 in the Times and was syndicated at the Australian. It began:
TENS of thousands of people are streaming into Bethlehem, on the West Bank just south of Jerusalem, to celebrate Christmas in the cradle of Christianity. Few know that they might be in the wrong Bethlehem.
Archaeologists have long believed that Mary may have given birth to Jesus in Bethlehem of the Galilee, a hillside village far away in northern Israel.
“I think the genuine site of the Nativity is here, rather than the well-known site near Jerusalem,” [said Averim Oshri, a senior archeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority] “Bethlehem in the Galilee was inhabited by Jews at the time of Jesus, whereas the other Bethlehem? There is no evidence that it was a living site, an inhabited area in the first century.”
The Telegraph ran a story on its website summarizing the Times article, and on 26 December 2012 the author of the original article re-wrote the story for National Public Radio. The NPR story “Dig Finds Evidence Of Another Bethlehem” began:
Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Bethlehem Monday night to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s the major event of the year in that West Bank town. But Israeli archaeologists now say there is strong evidence that Christ was born in a different Bethlehem, a small village in the Galilee.
About 100 miles north of where the pilgrims gathered, shepherds still guide their flocks through green unspoiled hills, and few give notice to the tucked-away village with the odd sounding name: Bethlehem of the Galilee. But archaeologists who have excavated there say there is ample evidence that this Bethlehem is the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth.
“I think the genuine site of the nativity is here rather than in the other Bethlehem near Jerusalem,” says Aviram Oshri, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority which has excavated here extensively. He stands on the side of a road that now cuts through the entrance to the village. It was the construction of this road that led to the discovery of the first evidence that Bethlehem of the Galilee may have had a special place in history. “It was inhabited by Jews. I know it was Jews because we found here remnants of an industry of stone vessels, and it was used only by Jews and only in the period of Jesus,” Oshri says.
On its face, this is a nice, timely story. Just the sort of thing to run round Christmas. The author noted in the second paragraph of the Times story that the debate over the birthplace of Jesus has been a subject of debate, but should she have mentioned this debate has been ar0und for over 100 years?
In 1898 Sir William Ramsay wrote Was Christ born in Bethlehem? — the first major modern English-language study of this question — which has yet to be settled by the Biblical scholars fraternity. The issue has been raised by the “Jesus Seminar” group of scholars and was mentioned in a 2001 Washington Post article entitled “The Story of Jesus’s Birth, Revised; Modern Scholars Challenge Details of the New Testament Accounts of Christ’s Infancy”.
In 2007 the Biblical Archaeological Review ran articles by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor defending Bethlehem as the site of Jesus’ birth and Steve Mason who laid out the case for Nazareth. Recent books that have addressed this topic include Bruce Chiltons’ Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (2000) and Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (2012). While the Telegraph‘s review of the Benedict’s latest book hyped the shocking news (to the Telegraph) that the Pope believes Jesus was not born on 25 December in the year 0, it also mentioned that Benedict accepts the traditional site of Jesus’ birth as Bethlehem.
I was critical of the Telegraph for hyping the non-story about the date of Jesus’ birth. Should the Times/NPR be taken to task also? The theory propounded by Dr. Oshri to the Times in 2012 was the same one he presented in Archaeology magazine in 2005. Now Archeology is a scholarly publication that also has a general readership, so missing that story is no crime. But Dr. Oshri’s argument also appeared in a 2008 National Geographic post entitled: “Bethlehem of Judea–or of Galilee?”
What then is news worthy about this story? The question of where Jesus was born has been debated for over 100 years, and Dr. Oshri’s claims had their first public airing in 2005. Is it enough that most people are unfamiliar with them to warrant a new story? But if so, should not there be an acknowledgement of what has gone before, or how Dr. Oshri’s discoveries advance the scholarly argument? How was this news?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: circumcision, Germany, Los Angeles Times, NBC, New York Times
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. First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Islam, Civil Rights, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: France, Le Monde, latent-Episcopalian syndrome, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, gay Muslims, Spengler, Asia Times, reformation of Islam
Has anyone seen a story in the U.S. press about the opening of France’s first gay-friendly mosque? I’ve not come across anything in the U.S. mainstream media so far, but the story has received a great deal of play from the European press.
Now the cynic in me would want to feign shock at the New York Times not having picked up this story as it deals with an issue dear to its heart. However, it is the foreign policy ramifications of this story that I thought would attract the attention of the U.S. media elite — for the underlying theme of this story has been the philosophical principle behind U.S. Middle East policy. All right-thinking people — government leaders, columnists, the professoriate — believe Islam can be reformed and its tenets brought in line with the Western liberal mind. I am surprised not to have seen America’s public intellectuals jump all over this story.
On Friday Le Monde published a tight, nicely written story entitled « Une “mosquée” ouverte aux homosexuels près de Paris ». Drawing from a Reuters wire service story and its own reporting, Le Monde reported that a gay French Muslim had opened a mosque in a borrowed room on the grounds of a Buddhist dojo outside Paris.
Europe’s first gay and lesbian-friendly mosque opens on Friday in an eastern Paris suburb, in a challenge to mainstream Islam’s long tradition of condemning same-sex relationships. The mosque, set up in a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk, will welcome transgender and transsexual Muslims and seat men and women together, breaking with another custom where the sexes are normally segregated during prayer. Its founder, French-Algerian gay activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, will also encourage women to lead Friday prayers, smashing yet another taboo.
“It’s a radically inclusive mosque. A mosque where people can come as they are,” said Zahed, 35, whose prayer space will be the first in Europe to formally brand itself as a gay-friendly mosque, according to Muslim experts.
M. Zahed sounds like he has latent Episcopalian-syndrome and uses all the right sort of Christian left buzz words. The story offers a few more words of explanation from M. Zahed, negative reactions from French Muslim leaders and closes with comments from a French academic.
“The goal of these Muslims is to promote a form of Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” said Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, an associate researcher at France’s Research and Studies Institute on the Arab and Muslim World. The push by gay Muslims for acceptance comes as a younger generation of Muslims is questioning some of the existing interpretations of the Koran as over-conservative. “Even though they are still a extreme minority, their views have a solid theological basis. So their message is not having an insignificant impact,” Bergeaud-Blackler said.
The Le Monde story goes a bit deeper. The comments from French Muslim leaders are much harsher than those reported by Reuters.
« Il y a des musulmans homosexuels, ça existe, mais ouvrir une mosquée, c’est une aberration, parce que la religion, c’est pas ça », estime Abdallah Zekri, président de l’Observatoire des actes islamophobes, sous l’autorité du Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM).
Which I roughly translate as:
“There are Muslim homosexuals. They exist. But to open a mosque, that is an aberration because homosexuality is contrary to our religion,” said Abdallah Zekri, president of the Islamophobia (sorry AP but that’s what Le Monde calls it) Observer for the CFCM.
Le Monde also has some choice quotes from M. Zahed as well.
« Les musulmans ne doivent pas se sentir honteux. L’homosexualité n’est condamnée nulle part, ni dans le Coran ni dans la sunna. Si le prophète Mahomet était vivant, il marierait des couples d’homosexuels. » Il rêve d’un islam « apaisé, réformé, inclusif », qui accepterait le blasphème car « la pensée critique est essentielle pour le développement spirituel ».
Which I understand to mean:
“Muslims should not feel ashamed. Homosexuality is not condemned either in the Koran or in the Sunna. If the Prophet Muhammad were alive, he would marry of homosexual couples.” [Zahed] dreams of “peaceful, reformed, inclusive” Islam which which accepts blasphemy as “critical thinking essential to its spiritual development.”
Le Monde frames the story in a sympathetic light to M. Zahed. He is the underdog seeking to reform an ossified, dyed in the wool religious establishment. The article offers both sides of the debate — M. Zahed’s beliefs and the institutional response. However, I am surprised this item has not received the New Yorker 10,000 word treatment. A Muslim who speaks like an Episcopalian I imagine would be catnip to the mainstream American media.
The Islam of M. Zahed is that of Presidents Bush and Obama. Government policy since 9/11 has been predicated on the belief that Islam is like Christianity or Judaism. Given enough time, money and jawboning, Islam can reform and accommodate itself within a secularist pluralist society.
Le Monde‘s article about M. Zahed and Islam is written from a Westernized Christian worldview. Change the location to Texas and Islam for Southern Baptists and you would have the exact same story — even down to the buzz words and phrases proffered by M. Zahed. How often is it repeated that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality?
However, Islam is fundamentally different from Judaism and Christianity and this difference is what makes it nearly impossible for Islam to reform. And, it is the consensus of Islamic scholars that Islam is in no need of reform. Writing in the Asia Times under the pen name Spengler, David P. Goldman’, stated:
Hebrew and Christian scripture claim to be the report of human encounters with God. After the Torah is read each Saturday in synagogues, the congregation intones that the text stems from “the mouth of God by the hand of Moses”, a leader whose flaws kept him from entering the Promised Land. The Jewish rabbis, moreover, postulated the existence of an unwritten Revelation whose interpretation permits considerable flexibility with the text. Christianity’s Gospels, by the same token, are the reports of human evangelists.
The Archangel Gabriel, by contrast, dictated the Koran to Mohammed, according to Islamic doctrine. That sets a dauntingly high threshold for textual critics. How does one criticize the word of God without rejecting its divine character? In that respect the Koran resembles the “Golden Tablets” of the Angel Moroni purported found by the Mormon leader Joseph Smith more than it does the Jewish or Christian bibles.
Now almost 10 years old, Spengler’s “You say you want a reformation?” remains fresh and his observations stand as a challenge to U.S. government policies that believe Islam can be transformed into another variety of American Protestantism.
Speaking at the U.N. in September, President Obama said of the Arab Spring:
“True democracy—real freedom—is hard work,” Mr. Obama said. “Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted— may be tempted—to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”
Can Islam, which allows for no distinction between church and state, reform? The academic cited in the Le Monde piece believes it can. France’s first gay mosque will be a symbol of the younger generation’s desire for an “Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” she stated. A contrary voice speaking to Islam’s response to minority voices (past and present) would have been a welcome counterweight. And give pause to those expecting peace to break out all over the Muslim world.
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: media ethics, New York Times, philosophy of reporting
The New York Times‘ provincialism was the principal object of my harrumphing in last week’s Issues Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio. Host Todd Wilkin and I discussed three of my recent GetReligion posts concerning Media Coverage of Adultery, Gays in Pakistan, and same-sex marriage in Spain.
I was not aware that Lutherans had such a keen interest in sex — my stories about Bulgarian bishops behaving badly do not generate the same degree of excitement it seems.
Todd opened the show by teeing one up for me, asking why I described a recent item from the Gray Lady as being a “mid week sermon” rather than a news story. This provided an opportunity for me to be self-righteous, puff out my cheeks and tell “you kids” to “get off my lawn.” I also decried the Times‘ failure of imagination.
The gist of my criticism of the adultery story and Times‘ article detailing the gay sub-culture of Pakistan was that the conceptual universe presented in these stories is circumscribed. A news article on adultery laws is written from the perspective of an anthropologist peeping through the bushes at an exotic tribe. How quaint and colorful these primitive people are.
The same attitude is displayed in the story about Pakistan’s gay subculture. There is only one way to be gay and that is the New York Times‘ way, we learn. Men and women with same-sex orientations or relationships are not gay until they conform to Western standards (or stereotypes).
And, the Times appeared to have forgotten the role religion plays in shaping Pakistani culture. I argued this was a failure of imagination and reporting — a failure of reporting in that no mention of the role of militant Islam in governing sexual mores was mentioned, nor of the changing nature of Islam in Pakistan. The Sufi-dominated past has been replaced by a Saudi-dominated Wahabbist present — Sharia law and all that.
While were going on about sex, Todd rounded out the show with an article I wrote on the coverage of the gay marriage decision handed down by Spain’s constitutional court as reported in Madrid’s El Pais. However, the conversation took a different direction as the host asked me why I was tolerant of El Pais‘ bias in reporting on gay marriage, but cut the Times less slack for the same sins.
My response was that El Pais made no secret of its biases — it is an advocacy newspaper. Its news reports are filtered through its editorial voice. The facts are there (hopefully all of them), but the interpretation or framework upon which these facts are laid is that of the Manhattan booboisie. The Times does not acknowledge its biases and believes it engages in classical American journalism.
Many Times stories do meet this criteria and full, fair, thoughtful stories can be found every day in its pages. But over the past generation the European style of advocacy reporting has crept in — and in issues touching upon the “culture wars”, Times stories more often than not are advocacy, not news stories.The result is a suffocating style of reporting that is unable to move beyond prejudices and conventional pieties.
Why does any of this matter? Am I huffing and puffing about the Times’ new journalism because it is not to my ideological tastes? There may be some truth in this rejoinder — and if the substance of my critique remained at this level then I would concede my criticisms are as shallow as the reporting I scorn.
What I hope to convey in my pieces published at GetReligion is my belief that the journalist as an author 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, and its renunciation by the Times in pursuit of advocacy and expediency is what I find to be so very disheartening.
Well, that is what I hoped I said. Tune in and see.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Press criticism.
Tags: BBC, BBC bias
The BBC has released the terms of reference for the review of its coverage of religion. The review led by former ITV chief executive Stuart Prebble will investigate the “breadth of opinion” by conducting a content analysis of the BBC’s coverage of religion, immigration, and the EU, by comparing its coverage of these issues in 2007 to its current coverage.
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch last month the review had been prompted by complaints that the corporation’s coverage of world news and religion was not always impartial.
“It’s an acceptance that these are areas where people are particularly concerned that we should get it right,” Lord Patten said. “We’ve been criticised in those areas and we think it’s very important to listen to that criticism, not necessarily because it’s right but because it reflects real and interesting concerns.”
The review will have four principal terms of reference:
“Whether decisions to include or omit perspectives in news stories and current affairs coverage have been reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied judgement across an appropriate range of output;
“Whether ‘due weight’ has been given to a range of perspectives or opinions – for example, views held by a minority should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus;
“Whether the opinions of audiences who participate through phone-ins or user-generated content have been given appropriate significance, and whether the use of audience views in this way has correctly interpreted the relative weight of opinions of those who have expressed a view on an issue; and
“Whether the BBC has ensured that those who hold minority views are aware they can take part in a debate such as a phone-in.
The BBC Trust has previously examined the impartiality of the Corporation’s coverage of business (published 2007); network news and current affairs coverage of the UK nations (2008); science (2011) and the Arab Spring (2012). The report is expected to be completed by early 2013.
First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Der Spiegel, Germany
Der Spiegel‘s English-language bulletin reports that conservative deputies on the Agricultural Affairs committee of the Bundestag have introduced legislation banning sex with animals. I never knew the farm beat for German reporters was so, so … so edgy?
Let’s pause for a moment to contemplate the work of government. Courage mon amie … be brave and join me for a look at the article “Germany to Ban Sex with Animals”:
The German government plans to ban zoophilia — sex with animals — as part of an amendment to the country’s animal protection law, but faces a backlash from the country’s zoophile community, estimated to number over 100,000. Zoophilia was legalized in Germany in 1969 and animal protection groups have been lobbying for a ban in a campaign that has been fuelled by heated debate in Internet forums in recent years.
Now the center-right government wants to outlaw using animals “for personal sexual activities or making them available to third parties for sexual activities and thereby forcing them to behave in ways that are inappropriate to their species,” said Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the parliament’s Agricultural Committee. In the future, having sex with an animal could be punished with a fine of up to €25,000 ($32,400).
The article continues with a response from Michael Kiok, who is identified as chairman of zoophile pressure group ZETA (Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information). Mr. Kiok appears to be channeling Harvey Fierstein and one can hear echoes of “I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?” in his arguments.
He argues the new law is unfair telling Spiegel: “We see animals as partners and not as a means of gratification. We don’t force them to do anything.” Mr Kiok goes on to describe his relationship with an “Alsatian called Cessie” and argues that the cruelty animals undergo as they are prepared for slaughter in the meat packing business should be addressed before the police come looking for him. The author rounds out the story with a summary of European laws banning zoophilia — illegal just about everywhere but Denmark — and this scientific nugget:
Sexual research in the 1940s suggested that 5 to 8 percent of men and 3 to 5 percent of women engaged in zoophilia. “That would put the figure in Germany at 1.6 million but that’s definitely too high. Taking a wild guess, I’d say it’s well over 100,000,” said Kiok.
From what I have seen, this legislation appears to follow a February 2012 article in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Its article “Verbot von Sex mit Tieren gefordert” reported on the efforts of an animal welfare office in Hesse to criminalize zoophilia in light of her experiences in working on farms. This story has also been an occasion of journalistic fun — some of the French accounts of this story I have read are a delight. “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge … What can you expect from the Germans.” The Mail and other English newspapers also have fun with this story. The Guardian has the best, most complete story, I’ve seen so far and it is written in a matter of fact tone that attempts to keep a straight face — yet the Minister of Agriculture’s face is prominently plastered a top the story.
The Guardian‘s thorough reporting brings out the information that the zoophilia group, ZETA, has 100 members and gives details about Herr Kiok.
But it is the British tabloid, The Sun who has the best quotes, has the most fun and raises the best question.
Bestiality dropped off the statute books as a crime in 1969 but in recent years incidents of it have mushroomed along with websites promoting it. There are even “erotic zoos” for perverts to visit and abuse animals ranging from llamas to goats. Hans-Michael Goldmann, chairman of the agriculture committee, said the government aimed to forbid using an animal “for individual sexual acts and to outlaw people ‘pimping’ creatures to others for sexual use”.
But pro-zoophilia campaign group ZETA — Zoophiles Commitment to Tolerance and Enlightenment — vowed to challenge any ban on bestiality. Chairman Michael Kiok said: “Mere concepts of morality have no business being law.”
Leave it to the tabloids to be the only forum where issues of ethics and morality are raised in conjunction with this story.
Perhaps this issue is clear there was no need to have an explanation why it is necessary to re-criminalize zoophilia after its having been made legal for 43 years. It is not necessary to explain why Nazi race theory, for example, is repellant and its arguments not disseminated. Yet, I believe Michael Kiok’s assertion that “mere concepts of morality have no business being law” need be addressed.
The Frankfurter Rundschau story raises the issue of mutual consent. Bestiality is wrong because an animal cannot give consent to participation in sexual acts with a human. But should not the ethical and moral tradition that lay behind laws banning bestiality be acknowledged — and perhaps a word or two from an ethicist or moral theologian on why this has always been considered wrong?
In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) bestiality is a sin. Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament passages from Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:23, Leviticus 20:15-16, and Deuteronomy 27:21) the Western religions have held that sexual contact with animals is a form of self-abuse, defiles the body and dishonors God and his creation. It is, to use that wonderfully old fashioned word, an abomination.
While little studied, the current state of medical knowledge classifies zoophilia as an illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III R 1987), zoophilia (bestiality) is a mental disorder in which human beings have sexual desires for animals. The DSM-IV, (1994) placed it under the residual classification “paraphilias not otherwise specified”. Paraphilias are inappropriate sexual deviant fantasies and fetishes, such as bestiality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, and other inappropriate forms of sexual thoughts, urges, and actions.
All of which brings me back to Der Spiegel. There is a hesitancy by the German news weekly to say that this is wrong. Is that the business of a newspaper? Should the moral voice be extinguished in modern newspaper reporting? Is Herr Kiok’s argument that morality should not govern law true?
Der Spiegel appears to think so, as it has framed this story in such a way as to remove the moral element. By not providing contrary voices to the Zoophilia activists, the newspaper does not address the issue as to why this conduct should be governed by law. Popular disgust with the practices under consideration might make such arguments appear superfluous, but when Der Spiegel writes from the philosophical presupposition of antinomianism — the rejection of socially established morality — it concedes the argument to the Michael Kioks.
Zoophilia was illegal for centuries. Has been legal for 43 years, and now will be criminalized once again. Why?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Biblical Interpretation, Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: anti-Catholic media bais, Benedict XVI, Christmas, Telegraph, William Tighe
Breaking news from the Telegraph… the newspaper’s Rome reporter reports that one Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. the Bishop of Rome, Pontiff of the Catholic Church alias Benedictus PP. XVI, claims Jesus was not born December 25, in the year 1.
As I read this story, “Jesus was born years earlier than thought, claims Pope” I could envision the clatter of the teletype in the background with three bells ringing to tell the news room a major story had come across the wires. In a story datelined from Rome, we learn:
“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” the Pope writes in [Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives], which went on sale around the world with an initial print run of a million copies. “The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”
The assertion that the Christian calendar is based on a false premise is not new – many historians believe that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 2BC. But the fact that doubts over one of the keystones of Christian tradition have been raised by the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is striking.
“Many historians believe” that Jesus was not born in the year 1, or 0? How about all historians for the past few hundred years — I’m not aware of any school of church scholarship that holds to the contrary view. The Telegraph reports that in addition to challenging the notion that Jesus was not born in the first year of the Gregorian calendar, the pope claims the traditional church creche is all wrong:
Christ’s birth date is not the only controversy raised by the Pope in his new book – he also said that contrary to the traditional Nativity scene, there were no oxen, donkeys or other animals at Jesus’s birth. He also weighs in on the debate over Christ’s birthplace, rejecting arguments by some scholars that he was born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.
Well, there goes the Christmas pageant. But why is this news? Anyone with even the remotest knowledge of the issue would not be surprised by this revelation.
It could well be ignorance on the part of the reporter, who upon reading the third volume in the pope’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy was dumbstruck by this information and had to rush to print to tell England the news. Or, it could be that the Telegraph, aware of the abysmal level of religious knowledge and practice in England, believed that this would be news to the millions of cultural Christians in England whose only relationship to the faith were hoary memories of youthful school and church pageants. Or, this could be just another story in the series of articles from the British press that paints Benedict XVI in unflattering colors.
The article closes out with an Oxford professor’s calming assurance the pope may be right as “most academics agreed with the Pope that the Christian calendar was wrong and that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly thought, probably between 6BC and 4BC.”
Again we have the “most academics” — I would be interested to know who are the dissenters that believe in the 25 Dec 00 date.
The signs the story was rushed in to print also comes from the selection of the expert. The Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture from Oxford is quoted on the absence of any dating in the text of the Bible as to exact time of Jesus’ birth. But the professor is allowed to move out of his area of expertise — Biblical interpretation — into Patristics or Patrology (the study of the writings of the Church Fathers and the history of the early Christian Church) and in doing so, the good professor makes a mistake.
The idea that Christ was born on Dec 25 also has no basis in historical fact. “We don’t even know which season he was born in. The whole idea of celebrating his birth during the darkest part of the year is probably linked to pagan traditions and the winter solstice.”
This claim by the Old Testament scholar about the origin of the Christmas holiday is false. While the village atheist may delight in repeating this legend, it is nonetheless untrue. A non-academic rejoinder to this “pagan traditions” claim can be found in a 2003 article “Calculating Christmas” by Prof. William Tighe in Touchstone magazine.
Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.
Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.
From this piece, should you be interested in the details you can access the academic literature. But returning to the Telegraph piece, there are some fascinating things raised in the pope’s new book — and smart fellow that he is it came out just in time for Black Friday. There is an interesting historical and religious debate mentioned by the Telegraph story, the location of Jesus’ birth: Nazareth v. Bethlehem, but that is passed over in favor of the “striking” news about the calendar question. Given the excitement over the women bishops’ vote in the Church of England the reporter may have needed to “sex-up” his story to find space in the newspaper for another religion news item. Whatever the reason, the story is a disappointment. The Telegraph is supposed to be a “quality” newspaper, but this story is worthy of the tabloids.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Press criticism.
Tags: adultery, gay marriage, New York Times
Here is a link to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 19 Nov 2012.
2. Media Coverage of Adultery, Gays in Pakistan, and same-sex marriage in Spain – George Conger, 11/19/12
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
Tags: anti-Semitism, Gazeta Wyborcza, Jebwabne, Judaism, Poklosie, Poland, Politics, victimhood
A new film that premiered last week has resurrected moral questions that some Poles hoped had been settled long ago. The 20 Nov 2012 front page of the Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza was dominated by the controversy surrounding the film Poklosie (Aftermath). The headline reads “Poklosie under attack“ — but the reaction of many Poles is that they are under attack from Poklosie.
The film questions Poland’s self-identity as an innocent victim of Nazi aggression. While there is no doubt that Germany sought to destroy the Polish nation, killing millions, destroying its cities and attempting to eradicate its culture, film director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has challenged one of the pillars its post-war identity — the country’s innocence in the Holocaust.
Poklosie is a war movie that dramatizes the 1942 massacre of 340 Jews in the village of Jebwadne. However these Jews were not killed by the Nazis, but by their Polish neighbors who herded men, women and children into a barn and set it alight. Set in the fictional village of Gorowka, the site of a war-time massacre blamed on the Germans, the film takes place shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. The movie tells the story of two brothers who in attempting to preserve Jewish tombstones arouse the ire of villagers who fear they will uncover the crimes of the past. As they used to say in Hollywood, this is a message film, and the message is that hiding past sins results in modern evils.
Amongst the motives for the massacre of the Jews by their Polish neighbors in the film is that Jews were Christ-killers. The incidents recounted in Poklosie are based on true events. In 2003, a Polish government commission released a report saying that claims the Polish Jews of Jebwabne were killed by the Nazis was false. They had been murdered by their Polish Christian neighbors.
I have not seen reference to this story in the American or British press so far — but articles last week in the French press on this story caught my eye. Le Figaro‘s story « La Pologne confrontée à une page noire de son histoire » and Le Nouvel Observateur « Poklosie : le film qui fait polémique en Pologne » approach the story from an entertainment angle — a film that forces Poland to confront a “black page” in its history — that sort of thing.
The Polish press has treated this not as a movie story, but as an existential question. “Who are we? Where have we come from in our history? Do we share in the sins of our ancestors? Has our faith as Catholics led us to this?”
The Associated Press last year reported that in 2001:
Poland’s bishops made an apology for the Jedwabne massacre and other crimes against Jews under the German occupation, in a special ceremony of prayers in Warsaw. It was viewed as a step toward reconciliation with Jewish groups who often accuse the Catholic Church of being too tolerant of anti-Semitism.
However, conservative and nationalist newspapers have been harshly critical of the movie. They reject the assertion that Poland shares in the collective guilt of the Nazis for the Holocaust and reject the movie’s depiction of Polish peasantry being “evil anti-Semites” roused by their priests to commit murder against the Christ-killers. In the conservative weekly Uwazam Rze, Piotr Zychowicz writes in an article entitled “Polacy, Zydzi, kolaboracja, Holokaust”:
No nation has a monopoly on being evil and no nation has a monopoly on being good. Nations are composed of millions of people, and people, it so happens, are very different.
In an interview published in the right wing news and opinion website Niezalezna.pl, Bogdan Musial argues the historical narrative of Poklosie is a false creation of the media.
Many American Jews left Poland and their father and grandfathers became victims of Holocaust. A big part of the Jewish Diaspora considers Poles to be anti-Semites. Remember the film industry and the media have a strong influence on the intellectual environment and they impose their cultural belief in Polish anti-Semitism. There is also in German a harmful and false belief in “Polish nationalism” while there is also a lack of historical consciousness in Poland.
Prof. Musial goes on to state there is no doubt that a crime was committed in Jebwabne, but “reactions to the accusation of anti-Semitism should be measured.” He also suggests the “discussion about the anti-Semitism is designed to draw people’s attention away from the crimes of the Communist” era.
A crime has been committed and this is a fact. But the same fact is that the [2002 book Neighbors by Jan Gross about the Jedwabne pogrom] is unreliable and distorts the history. The problem is that the so-called forces of progress in Poland consider this distorted history to be dogma. The people who denies this are called (by the so-called forces of progress in Poland ) freaks and nationalists. … Through the Gross’ glasses Poles are greedy, primitive, murders who are jointly responsible for the Holocaust and as anti-Semitic as Nazis. Not Germans, but Nazis! … Films such as Poklosie can only strengthen this image …
However the liberal Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest circulation daily appeals for critics to stop trying to halt the “cleansing process” of the national soul by appeals to to “nationalistic ideology”. Quoting Gross’s book it states there were Poles who killed Jews simply for profit. It defends Poklosie saying it is a:
… valuable work, unique in Polish cinema, reopening an only superficially healed wound of the Polish conscience.
In my recent posts at GetReligion I have been critical of the European-style advocacy journalism practiced by the New York Times and have argued its stories are neither balanced, fair nor complete in their reporting. And, the Times appears to be blissfully unaware of this problem. Yet advocacy journalism when it is done well can produce exceptionally fine work — such as the front page of today’s Gazeta Wyborcza — because it is written from an ideological and moral perspective that is not hidden by spurious claims of being objective. While I find the views express in Niezalezna to be unpalatable, taken in conjunction with Gazeta Wyborcza they provide a better picture of the affair than any single source.
I applaud the Polish press for addressing these issues of national identity, religious bigotry, and historical memory. Well done.
First published in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: adultery, David Petraeus, Jason Alexander, New Criterion, New York Times
The New Criterion is my favorite journal. I discovered the magazine when I was in college and have been a fan of the monthly ever since, reading the magazine cover to cover when it hits my doorstep. And ArmaVirumque, the New Criterion’s blog, is a site I visit frequently.
I mention my views on this point, as the New Criterion‘s media critic, James Bowman, has published a post entitled “Medieval Barbarism — It Wasn’t All Bad” that captured much of what I wanted to say about a recent story in the New York Times on the topic of adultery.
The Times article of 15 Nov 2012 entitled “Adultery, an Ancient Crime That Remains on Many Books” jumped out at me as a strong story for GetReligion. I was mulling over the approach I would take, trying to find the right literary or pop culture angle to open my critique, when I read James Bowman’s piece. And, my work was done, for I doubt anyone could have done a better job that Bowman on this story. I will add in my own GR hook further down in this story (to justify my post to GR’s editor), but lets start with the Times piece in question and Bowman’s response.
The New York Times story is a European-style advocacy piece. Though it appears on page A12 in the news section, it rightly belongs on the opinion pages as it is more of a lecture than reporting. I know what the Times‘ thinks about adultery after reading this article, but I did not learn much about adultery. (Perhaps I should take the Post or Daily News instead.)
It opens with:
When David H. Petraeus resigned as director of the C.I.A.because of adultery he was widely understood to be acknowledging a misdeed, not a crime. Yet in his state of residence, Virginia, as in 22 others, adultery remains a criminal act, a vestige of the way American law has anchored legitimate sexual activity within marriage.
In most of those states, including New York, adultery is a misdemeanor. But in others — Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma and Wisconsin — it is a felony, though rarely prosecuted. In the armed forces, it can be punished severely although usually in combination with a greater wrongdoing.
This is yet another example of American exceptionalism: in nearly the entire rest of the industrialized world, adultery is not covered by the criminal code.
Like other state laws related to sex — sodomy, fornication, rape — adultery laws extend back to the Old Testament, onetime capital offenses stemming at least partly from a concern about male property. Peter Nicolas of the University of Washington Law School says the term stemmed from the notion of “adulterating” or polluting the bloodline of a family when a married woman had sex with someone other than her husband and ran the risk of having another man’s child.
The article continues in this vein with four more law school professorial voices advancing the same line, speaking in censorious tones of the past and the enlightened future we face once the shackles of our repressed sexuality and repressive society are loosed. And then I read Bowman’s response. After he read this piece he:
immediately thought of the great “Seinfeld” episode of 1991 in which George Costanza is caught engaging in sexual relations with the cleaning woman on his desk. Called on the carpet for it, he says to his boss: “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I’ll tell you, I’ve got to plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon — because I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I tell you people do that all the time.” Jason Alexander, who played George, is supposed to have said that this is his favorite moment from the series and the defining one for his character. Twenty-one years later it’s still funny, too, …
In today’s Times, for example, the editors seemed to think in all seriousness that, in the wake of the Petraeus scandal, their readers are in need of an exploration of what people used to think was wrong with adultery in order to explain why, as “a vestige of the way American law has anchored legitimate sexual activity within marriage,” it is still illegal in 23 states. Basically, we find, this is because the stigma on adultery is a primitive relic of patriarchal societies having to do with the prevention of pollution (i.e. “adulteration”) of male blood lines. Melissa Murray, a professor of law at Berkeley, reports the Times, “said her research had led her to conclude that laws regulating sex emanated from a notion that sex should occur only within marriage.” Well I never. Have you ever heard of such a thing?
Criminal law, she said, was there to reinforce marriage as the legal locus for sex. So any other circumstance — sex in public or with a member of the same sex, or adultery — was a violation of marriage. “Now we live in an age when sex is not limited to marriage and laws are slowly responding to that,” she said. “But we still love marriage. Nobody is going to say adultery is O.K.”
Bowman has it in one. (Do look into the New Criterion if you have not already done so — it is worth your time.)
This article is not a news article. It is the Times midweek sermon — an episode of moral enrichment that will make us (the reader) better people for having read these sonorous solipsisms on sex. The Times writes as its only its own voice and the voices of its acolytes are the only voice that speaks on this issue. Other voices, other minds, other worlds, do not exist.
Let me step back a bit and ask where were the contrary voices? The way the article was framed it appeared neigh but impossible for any argument to exist other than that espoused by the author. Yet, there are quite a few moral philosophers, law school professors, even (heaven forefend) clergy, who would offer a contrary view about marriage, adultery and the law.
As journalism this article falls short. It is preachy, one-sided and self-righteous. It really isn’t journalism as it is understood in the classical liberal sense. It is an advocacy piece.
As I have said before in the pages of GetReligion there is nothing wrong with advocacy journalism — when a newspaper is honest about what it is doing. The Times, however, believes it is writing balanced, fair and full news stories. This article does not do that.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: homosexuality, New York Times, Pakistan
World Ends Tomorrow: Women and Minorities Hit Hardest!
Mort Sahl is usually credited with coining this “fake but accurate” New York Times headline. Though offered as sarcasm, Sahl’s joke has survived for 25 years because it encapsulates the world view many critics see in the Gray Lady’s reporting. The Time‘s intellectual outlook, its weltanschauung, is of an insular urban American establishment. Though this viewpoint is often expressed in the espousal of liberal politics — that is but a surface manifestation of the problem of Times reporting. The deeper issue is of a lack of awareness of issues and beliefs outside the ken of its reporters/readers — an incurious provincialism.
Last week’s 1400-word story on gays in Pakistan is an example of this problem. The article entitled “Gay Pakistanis, Still in Shadows, Seek Acceptance” looks at efforts of the gay subculture of Pakistan to achieve acceptance. There is a great deal to recommend in this story in terms of its local color, characters, and quotes. The “on the spot” work is well done.
Here is the lede:
LAHORE, Pakistan — The group meets irregularly in a simple building among a row of shops here that close in the evening. Drapes cover the windows. Sometimes members watch movies or read poetry. Occasionally, they give a party, dance and drink and let off steam.
A street in bustling Lahore. Displays of affection between men in public, like hugging and holding hands, are a common sight.
The group is invitation only, by word of mouth. Members communicate through an e-mail list and are careful not to jeopardize the location of their meetings. One room is reserved for “crisis situations,” when someone may need a place to hide, most often from her own family. This is their safe space — a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis.
“The gay scene here is very hush-hush,” said Ali, a member who did not want his full name used. “I wish it was a bit more open, but you make do with what you have.”
That is slowly changing as a relative handful of younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West, seek to foster more acceptance of their sexuality and to carve out an identity, even in a climate of religious conservatism.
Homosexual acts remain illegal in Pakistan, based on laws constructed by the British during colonial rule. No civil rights legislation exists to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.
But the reality is far more complex, more akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell” than a state-sponsored witch hunt. For a long time, the state’s willful blindness has provided space enough for gays and lesbians. They socialize, organize, date and even live together as couples, though discreetly.
This is well written in the sense of nicely constructed story line, vivid language, and detail. The author’s sympathies are clearly with its subjects — which is not surprising given the Times‘ outlook.
But there is so much that is unasked or unexplored in this story. And coupled with its dubious philosophical underpinnings it means the story just does not hang together. Let’s deal with the low hanging fruit among my criticisms first. The news that there is a gay subculture in Pakistan is hardly new. Western media outlets have written about this for years. The Times article is a nice color piece on the current state of affairs, but is not groundbreaking. Not all stories can be original or fresh, but this one, unlike NPR‘s 2004 story, has missed the role of religion — Islam — in the debate.
It is true to say that Pakistan’s sodomy law was crafted by the British in 1860. Section 377 states:
whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.crimes against nature.
Yes I too wonder about the Victorians at times. The penal codes of India, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Jamaica contain the same language in their sodomy laws as Pakistan and are even labeled Section 377, while the laws of almost all of the Commonwealth nations had or have sodomy laws based upon this language. What is missing in this throw away line about the British being responsible for Section 377 is the introduction of Sharia law in Pakistan.
There are two legal codes at work in Pakistan — the secular British based Section 377 which is hardly ever used — and the modern Sharia law code which is.
The 2010 edition of the Spartacus International Gay Guide, a guidebook for male homosexual travelers, states with regard to the legal framework pertaining to homosexual activity and the situation of LGBT persons in Pakistan:
Homosexual activity is illegal, punishable according to Islamic Laws which were re-introduced in 1990 and according to paragraph 377 with life in prison, corporal punishment of 100 lashes or even death by stoning. Despite the strict laws of Islam regarding moral standards, gay men, transvestites and transsexuals live relatively undisturbed from the police. On the other hand they cannot expect much protection from the authorities. (p. 98)
At the tail end of the story, the Times reports on the U.S. State Department’s foray into the sexual politics of Pakistan.
That clash of ideologies was evident last year on June 26, when the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. This year, the embassy said, it held a similar event but did not issue a news release about it.
What the Times omitted to say was who was protesting and why. Getting an anti-American crowd going in Islamabad is not that difficult, but the Associated Press story about the incident stated it was religious leaders who were leading the the “Death to the Great Satan” crowds this time round. The AP wrote:
The group, which included the head of Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, claimed the meeting — the first of its kind held by the embassy — was the second most dangerous attack by the U.S. against Pakistan, following missiles fired from unmanned drones. … “Such people are the curse of society and social garbage,” said the statement issued by the Islamic officials on Sunday. “They don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani, and the support and protection announced by the U.S. administration for them is the worst social and cultural terrorism against Pakistan.”
By omitting to discuss Islam and homosexuality, and by not presenting the opposing view (disagreeable as it may be for the author) the Times has failed to report accurately. It also missed the opportunity of addressing the question “how came there to be a tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in Pakistan given the Islamic culture of the country?”
The answer is … Islam in Pakistan has changed over the past generation. The tolerant Sufi-dominated Islam of the past has given way to a Saudi Wahhabist Islam. In sum, not only does the Times fail to address the role religion plays in current attitudes towards gays and lesbians in Pakistan, it also fails to address how and why the current attitudes arose.
There is also a missed opportunity to explore what is hinted at by the discussion of the gay and lesbian identity. The Times notes that the “younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West” differ from the older generation — but also differ from the rural and less affluent or educated persons with the same sexual orientation or nature.
What we have here is the Times defining sexuality such that true gayness is found only in its Western version. Older, rural, less sophisticated persons with same-sex attractions need to evolve — to come up to the Times standards of conduct and thinking. At heart, this article fails because of its blinkered vision of human autonomy.
As journalism the story is weak — no contrary views, no context, no religion — as a moral/intellectual enterprise it is blue-stockinged, blinkered and bourgeois.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Marriage, Politics, Press criticism.
Tags: ABC, El Mundo, El Pais, gay marriage, Mariano Rajoy Jose Luis Zapatero, Spain
Laying out the front page of the November 7 issue presented a few problems for the Madrid daily El País. Journalists at Spain’s largest circulation newspaper (345,000) began a walk out this week after management announced that it was cutting 139 of the paper’s 460 posts. Those who still had jobs would see their pay cut by 13 per cent.
Management has had to fill in to keep the paper going and Wednesday presented them with two major stories: the U.S. presidential election and the decision by the country’s constitutional court upholding the country’s gay marriage laws.
Under the headline “El matrimonio gay es constitucional” El País reported that on 6 Nov 2012 eight of the Constitutional Court’s 11 judges rejected a legal challenge to Spain’s gay marriage law introduced in 2005 by the Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The law had been challenged by the People’s Party (PP), which recently took power under its leader Mariano Rajoy.
The article reported that 11 of the court’s 12 justices took part in the decision, and that support for gay marriage was voiced by the 7 liberal judges and 1 of the 5 conservatives – one conservative judge recused himself.
The first few paragraphs of the story are fairly straight forward, recounting the legislative background to the case and summarizing the legal arguments. Paragraphs that indicates the newspaper’s view of the issue round out the story.
El PP prefería amparar legalmente la unión de parejas homosexuales sin darle el nombre de matrimonio para “no generar confrontación social”. Pero la única confrontación social conocida hasta ahora, la única protesta masiva que ha habido en la calle desde la aprobación de la Ley por el Gobierno socialista en 2005 ha sido la de miles de ciudadanos que protestaron contra el recurso del PP y exigieron a Rajoy que lo retirara.
The PP had preferred a law that would give legal protections to gay couples without giving it the name of marriage so as to “not generate social confrontation.” However, the only social confrontation known so far, the only mass protest that has been on the street since the adoption of the Act by the Socialist government in 2005 has been the thousands of protestors who have called upon the PP and Rajoy to withdraw their legal challenge.
The article also has a side bar that discusses the Popular Party’s reactions. However, it does not quote Rajoy or supporters of traditional marriage, but the minority within the PP who support gay marriage. An American analogy would be having a discussion of the Republican Party’s reactions to the gay marriage vote in Maryland through quotes from the Log Cabin Republicans.
What also is missing is any reaction or comment from the Catholic Church – the primary opponent of the gay marriage law. The following day El Pais ran a story that summarized the comments of the bishop of San Sebastián, José Ignacio Munilla on behalf of the Spanish Episcopal Conference – but that was it. There was no attempt in the main story to speak to the objective moral truth claims made by the church about the nature and value of marriage that lay behind the PP’s challenge to the 2005 law.
I should say that such an omission would be deadly for an newspaper article written in the classic liberal style, but El País is not that sort of paper. It follows the European advocacy model — in this case its news is written, unashamedly, from a a left-liberal point of view which espouses the European anti-clerical line.
Religion has no business in the public square, El Pais and most European newspapers believe. This argument is not unknown in the U.S. also. In the Proposition 8 case in California, Federal District Court Judge Vaughn Walker invalidated the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Judge Walker held the “moral and religious views” behind Proposition 8 were not “rational,” hence it was unconstitutional.
President Barack Obama, a former law professor, has argued that “What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values.”
While the secularist demands this, democracy does not – nor should journalism. Ignoring the religious arguments in public policy disputes, or dismissing them out of hand is an attack on freedom – religious freedom and democratic freedoms. It is also poor journalism as it omits one of the essential elements of the story.
The solution to this problem in Europe is to take more then one newspaper — El Pais is left liberal and you know what you are getting when you hand over your Euro. ABC and El Mundo are Madrid’s two other quality papers. ABC is conservative and El Mundo center-left. Taken as a job lot a reader gets all sides of the story. Unfortunately in the U.S. newspaper market few if any newspapers acknowledge their biases, and two newspaper towns are few and far between.
What say you GetReligion readers? Is it fair to say that the American press has adopted the European advocacy style — but without admitting its bias? Is El Pais without ABC America’s future?
First printed in GetReligion
Posted by geoconger in Bulgarian Orthodox, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: Associated Press, collaborators, Communism, Darzhavna sigurnost, Patriarch Maxim, Reuters
The 98-year old leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has died.
I guess you weren’t prepared for that bit of excitement from GetReligion the morning after the election. As many of our readers are going through news withdrawal at this moment, I thought I would help ween them from their addiction with something nice, safe and far away: a drawing room media mystery to settle their minds and hearts.
Patriarch Maxim did have the good sense to die on 6 Nov 2012 when the world was watching the American presidential election. And to be fair, I suppose that if he had passed during the dog days of August — the silly season when news is so short on the ground that just about anything can become a major story (remember Chik-fil-A?) — his story still would not have set the hearts of journalists a flutter.
De mortius nil nisi bonum is the line being taken by the Bulgarian press. Reuters and the Associated Press have also decided that it is more fitting to say of the dead nothing but good. The Reuters man in Sophia (sounds like that is from a spy novel doesn’t it) begins his report with:
Patriarch Maxim, a conservative who led Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church for 41 years in times of Communist rule and democracy, died, the church said yesterday.
Followed by the text of the official announcement, the story gives a very brief biography and offers this as context:
Patriarch Maxim has kept a low public profile but was an influential figure with a controversial past. He oversaw a major religious revival in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communist rule. Dozens of new churches were built across the country and monasteries reopened.
And what was this controversial past? Reuters does not say. Maybe the AP can help. It reports the same basic facts but offers a bit more background:
After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.
So Maxim was “a Communist-appointed figurehead”, the AP reports. Yes, Maxim’s appointment was engineered by the Communist regime and following the fall of the “Evil Empire” anti-Communists sought to get rid of him. And even though Bulgarians are not Episcopalians, the ensuing battle led to a schism and lawsuits over church property.
The AP is mistaken when it reports the schism has been healed, though in 2010 Metropolitan Innokenty, the head of the rival synod which held the allegiance of a third of the country’s clergy was received by Maxim back into the “official” church. However the submission of Innokenty did not end the split. Here is a reference to a post-2010 article on the accidental death of one of the leading clergy of the Alternative Synod. If there are still rebel clergy in control of church property that is a clue the rupture has not been healed.
I am confident that at this point in our tale I have hooked the Bulgarian aficionados in our audience — the good people at Patheos have not yet told us how large a demographic this is for Get Religion though. Others might ask, “So what?” But bear with me, all of this does play its part in solving the mystery.
The clue that has been left out — though broadly hinted at in the AP story — is the allegation that not only was Maxim a Communist-appointed figurehead, he was also considered by some of having been a spy. Twenty-two years after the fall of the Communist regime, the Bulgarian government opened the books from the Committee for State Security — the Darzhavna sigurnost or the DS. What it found was that 11 of the 15 bishops of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church currently in office were informers or agents of the 6th Directorate of the DS, which was tasked with combating political dissent.
The English-language Sofia Echo has written extensively about this scandal: the initial report, what the bishops did for the secret police, popular reaction, calls for the bishops to resign, actions to be taken by the church’s synod. It is also reported that not just the Orthodox bishops betrayed their people, the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Sophia and the present and former chief Mufti of Bulgaria were named as collaborators. Maxim was cleared by the committee investigation collaboration — to the surprise of the Alternative Synod — but suspicions remained of his guilt as his parts of his file appeared to have been mislaid.
While the canard that Pius XII was a pro-Nazi stooge continues to excite journalists — a real story of church leaders collaborating with evil was overlooked by Reuters and the AP in their report on the death of Maxim. Reuters even managed to lead with the descriptor that Maxim was a “conservative”. What can that mean in these circumstances.
After the news broke in January of the bishops’ ties to the secret police, Metropolitan Gavril of Lovech – one of the bishops not named as a collaborator — told the Sofia Echo the church was torn over how to respond to the revelations. “We cannot now think about asking for the resignations of 11 people. That is impossible. If it had been one, or two or three, that is another matter. The Synod must remain united and these problems should be resolved in some way so as to benefit, but also on the other side, not to destroy, the church,” he said.
What Reuters and the AP seemed to have missed — apart from the disagreeable bits about Maxim’s past — is the fact that the death of the man who caused the schism may well end the schism.
The Bulgarians are not alone in avoiding scrutiny of church and state in the Communist era. Russia has yet to examine the Stalinist era. The Moscow Patriarchate — the official name for the Russian Orthodox Church — was set up on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1943 as a front organization for the NKVD and all of its senior positions were vetted by the Ideological Department of the Communist Party, according to reports published in the U.K. following the defection of KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin in 1991.
In two books written with intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, The KGB in Europe and the West and The KGB in the World, Mitrokhin claimed that Russian Orthodox priests were used as agents of influence on behalf of the KGB in organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the World Peace Council. Patriarch Alexius II was also named as KGB agent with the codename DROZDOV, whose services earned him a citation from the regime.
TMatt has discussed this question in a number of posts. In his 2007 story “Mere candlestick holders in Moscow?” he wrote that in 1991 an anonymous priest in Moscow told him the post-Soviet Russian church had four kinds of leaders:
A few Soviet-era bishops are not even Christian believers. Some are flawed believers who were lured into compromise by the KGB, but have never publicly confessed this. Some are believers who cooperated with the KGB, but have repented to groups of priests or believers. Finally, some never had to compromise.
“We have all four kinds,” this priest said. “That is our reality. We must live with it until God heals our church.”
While the setting is Bulgaria and the characters are Orthodox clergy and secret policemen, the issues are of collaboration with evil and the battle for truth. Change the characters and the same story could be told of Vichy France, the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche and the Confessing Church in Germany, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the House Church movement in China.
In French there is an expression très balkan: meaning hopelessly confused with the connotation of labyrinthine or byzantine machinations. It would be easy to dismiss this story as being a très balkan intrigue more worthy of an Eric Ambler novel than hard news. However the death of Maxim and the saga of the Orthodox Church raises profound questions of morality.
What is the journalist’s task in all of this? Is it too much to expect a discourse of the ethical and moral ghosts that lay behind a story on collaboration with evil — or is it enough to just report the events. How should society judge those who collaborated with evil or who were agents of evil?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Press criticism.
Tags: Atonement, Joanne Carlson Brown, News Corp., Rebecca Parker, theology
Did you know the atonement was a form of divine child abuse? Spend some time in the more recherche corners of academic theology and you will come across this theory. The 1989 essay “For God So Loved the World?” by feminist liberation theologians Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker popularized the phrase that has since filtered down to the popular press.
An article on the news portal for the News Corp. chain of newspapers in Australia last week took up the anti-cross line in an extraordinarily crude and vapid way. The story entitled “Schools teaching ‘violent crucifixion material’” manages to be mean spirited, biased, ill-informed, credulous and silly all at once. It is an example not so much of the secular press not getting religion, but scorning it.
Written in a one sentence paragraph format, the story opens with the breathless news:
PRIMARY school children think they will “burn in hell” and are tormented by gruesome images of Jesus on the Cross after having religious instruction classes, parents say.
Quite a strong claim. Does the article support the lede? Let’s see.
Dozens of Queensland families have complained about the public school classes to Macquarie University researcher Dr Catherine Byrne.
One parent said their six-year-old child was shown “graphic and violent crucifixion material”.
“(He) suffered nightmares and anxiety about death for 10 months – he believed everything he was being told – including that he would burn in hell,” they said.
The story continues in this line for a few more one sentence paragraphs with additional claims being made that one parent claimed the courses were anti-Semitic, that creationism was being taught, another said they had been prevented from withdrawing their child from the class, while yet another parent said that the child of a religious instruction teacher:
told their son he would burn in hell before stabbing him with a pencil.
The horror … the horror. That’s it is it? That’s the source of the “burn in hell” lede? Houston, we have a problem. The response from the authors of the religion curriculum that it does not “mention contentious topics such as hell, divorce and Creationism” and from the education authority that students are not compelled to attend the classes receives short shrift as the story returns to the righteously indignant researcher, Dr. Byrne, who by the way spoke to 24 Queensland families in gathering her data.
“This is a national problem and a national disgrace,” she said.
Are you surprised to hear the researcher has come to a conclusion before her study has been completed? She continues:
“I would say these parents are just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of parents are frightened (about speaking out) because this is their kid’s school, they don’t want to put their education at risk.
“They’re not sure who to talk to about it (and) many parents would be completely unaware of what’s happening.”
Dr. Byrne also offers her opinion as to the pedagogical purpose of state schooling, but notes the government was not responding to her concerns.
She said she had met with government officials but they were “too frightened” about losing the Christian lobby vote to intervene.
Really? That would be a better story if true — politicians cowed by the Australian Christian Lobby into mandating Christian indoctrination in state schools.
Where does one begin with this mess? The article is lacking details and hard numbers — 24 families were interviewed the story says yet we do not know what sort of sample this was. Were there no voices among this survey who spoke in favor of religious education? No independent experts who could speak to the value or purpose of the government’s religious education curriculum? No government spokesmen to respond to the charge that they are supine in the face of the Christian lobby?
The comments reported seem out of proportion to the alleged offense. Was Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ screened for six yearolds? The facts offered in support of the argument are gossip. Who is speaking? How can we judge their credibility? Are they cranks or is this a serious issue? Are we to take seriously the complaint that one child told another that he would “burn in hell” before stabbing him with a pencil? If so, on what planet do these people live? Have they no knowledge of the school yard? There is no way to tell with this mess of a story.
Part of the problem may well be the author of this article writes primarily for News Corp’s opinion website, The Punch. This story however is not presented as an op-ed piece nor as a column but a straight news story. Yet if fails even the rudimentary tasks of journalism as it eschews balance in favor of hyperbole and one sided reporting.
However, there has been no attempt to disguise the bias. The sub headlines of this story lay out the direction the story will take.
- Post-doctoral research project on religion in public education
- Parents say kids shown ‘graphic and violent crucifixion material’
- Anglican Church says curriculum does not mention hell, divorce, Creationism
- Should kids be exposed to the gamut of Biblical horrors, asks Tory Shepherd
Which leads me to ask, Should News Corp subscribers be exposed to this drivel?
Behind the secularist screed there is a theological issue being expressed — somewhat imperfectly. The argument proffered in academic circles most notably by Carlson Brown and Parker is that women and children in Western societies are acculturated to accept abuse. The doctrine of the atonement — especially the penal substitutionary atonement theory espoused by evangelicals — is responsible for it has conditioned women to remain “silent for years about experiences of sexual abuse, to not report rape, to stay in marriages in which they were battered.” They believe the cross — the image of Christ crucified — symbolized God’s divine will that his son should suffer. Carlson Brown and Parker used the analogy of “divine child abuse” to protest the belief that suffering could be redemptive.
“Divine child abuse is paraded as salvific and the child who suffers without even raising his voice is lauded as the hope of the world,” they argued, postulating abuse as the basis of the Christus Victor theory where god offers “Jesus as bait” for Satan. Anselm’s argument for an atonement where only God’s son could pay the debt humanity owed to God, provided a theological excuse for child abuse.
When parents have an image of God righteously demanding the total obedience of his son — even obedience to death — what will prevent the parent from engaging in divinely sanctioned child abuse? The image of God the father carrying out and demanding the suffering and death of his own son has sustained a culture of abuse and sustained the abandonment of victims of abuse and oppression.
Abelard’s moral influence theory is given short shrift as well by Carlson Brown and Parker for the belief that an “innocent suffering victim and only an innocent, suffering victim for whose suffering we are in some way responsible has the power to confront us with out guilt and move us to a new decision.” A wag might conclude from all this that John’s Gospel really meant to say For God so hated the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should perish and have everlasting trauma.
The claim that children were “tormented by gruesome images of Jesus on the Cross” put forward by the author could well have been written by someone from outside a Christian influenced society who comes to the cross a stranger, or it could from within that portion of the Christian tradition persuaded by modern critiques of the classical theory of the atonement. Or, it could be put down simply as snarky anti-Christian bias. What say you GetReligion readers? Did this story push any buttons for you as it did for me?
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Scientology.
Tags: Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, The New Republic
The 25 October 2012 issue of The New Republic carries a story entitled “Thetans and Bowties” that I can’t quite get my head round. By this I do not mean I do not understand what the article says – but I am having a hard time classifying its species.
Is this story about the convergence of the Nation of Islam and the Church of Scientology news, news analysis, a feature or a newsy magazine feature?
The article has a magazine opening. It is strong on adjectives, impressions and has a nice hook. While it has solid quotes, it also strikes me as being under-sourced for a 1600 words piece. While it does not display the narcissism that runs rampant in much magazine journalism, it is a tad too self-referential for my taste. It begins:
ON A COOL, clear evening in mid-September, the Church of Scientology held a grand opening for its new national affairs office in Washington, D.C. Located in a handsome, 122-year-old mansion in Dupont Circle—a genteel neighborhood populated with embassies and well-appointed homes—the office had been established to lobby on various Scientology pet causes, such as religious freedom, prisoner rehabilitation, and the evils of psychiatric drugs. Three members of Congress showed up to deliver words of welcome, as did a FEMA official, who praised the Church’s volunteer efforts after national disasters like September 11. Finally, Scientology’s leader, David Miscavige, addressed the several hundred people in the crowd. Miscavige is 52 but looks at least a decade younger. Dressed in an expertly tailored suit, his slicked hair parted to one side, he spoke excitedly of Scientology’s goal to have a presence in every city in America.
The message of the event couldn’t have been clearer: The Church of Scientology was directing the full force of its persuasive powers at the Washington establishment. But who the Church courts and who the Church converts is a very different matter. And when Mike Rinder, Scientology’s former chief spokesman, visited the Washington church last year, he noticed something strange. “Half the damn people there were Nation of Islam,” he told me. “[It’s] the weirdest, weirdest thing.”
The article then recounts the growing affinity of the two groups, but with the framing round Scientology – the theme being the Nation of Islam moving into (and propping up) Scientology.
I applaud TNR for exploring the issue and this story is worth a read. However, I was struck by the repeated use of the phrase “he told me” in the story. Perhaps I am too hard boiled but I am turned off by first person pronouns in news stories – and the five told me’s here are a bit much.
The research on this issue is also somewhat thin. The Tampa Bay Times has done some very fine stories on the general topic of Scientology – and has also explored the intersection of the Nation of Islam and Scientology — as has the Chicago Tribune and the Village Voice. I’ve written about this work also for Get Religion. Citing the work that others have done is not always necessary, but this is not virgin soil The New Republic is plowing.
One of the anecdotes offered in this story also struck me as being not quite right.
…But the story of how Farrakhan came to embrace it concerns a Nation minister in Los Angeles named Tony Muhammad. In 2005, Muhammad was beaten by the LAPD at a prayer vigil he’d helped organize for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting. The incident plunged him into an agitated, depressed state. A concerned friend introduced him to Scientology, which he credits with saving his life. When Farrakhan later met with Muhammad, he was amazed by the transformation and, as Muhammad tells it in an audio clip posted on YouTube, exclaimed: “Whatever you’re on—I want some of it.”
The TNR writes as if there was no doubt that Muhammad was “beaten by the LAPD at a prayer vigil”. That is not the story reported in the LA Times – and the National Review’s Jack Dunphy offers a scathing critique, calling Muhammad a “charlatan”. Is this account of how Louis Farrakhan began his move towards the Church of Scientology a good story, or is it a true story? And — what does Islam say about Scientology? Does this effectively remove the Nation of Islam from the ummah — the community of Muslim Believers?
Which takes me back to my opening — what sort of story is this? As a straight news story the article falls short. If it is a feature story, it does the job. What is it?
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: ethics, Germany, gypsies, Hans-Peter Freidrich, Holocaust, roma and sinti, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Seventy years after the Holocaust, Germany has constructed the first monument honoring the half million gypsies murdered in the Holocaust.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported the news with a photo of the memorial above the fold in Wednesday’s edition along with an inside story entitled “Denkmal für die ermordeten Sinti und Roma wird eingeweiht”.
Published from Munich, the Süddeutsche Zeitung or SZ is Germany’s largest circulation daily newspaper and follows a centre-left editorial line. The SZ story reports the facts of inauguration of the monument in Berlin — and also takes a few shots at the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel for its asylum policies. The thwack it gives Germany’s interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich of the CSU party (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern) — a local boy from Bavaria — is not unexpected. Yet its attack, voiced through the mouth of Mr. Romani Rose, the leader of Germany’s Central Council of Sinti and Roma, is expressed on the moral grounds of not being in accordance with European values.
I am sympathetic to the gypsy spokesman, Mr. Rose’s, denunciation of German attitudes and government policies towards gypsies. But what exactly are European values? Once upon a time they were Christian values, albeit imperfectly followed but piously espoused. In a post-Christian, post-Auschwitz Europe what exactly underlies the concept of moral value?
The SZ story begins by recounting the ceremony in Berlin that marked the opening of the monument to the gypsies murdered between 1933 to 1945. The monument had been planned for almost 20 years, but disagreements with the Central Council of Sinti and Roma led to the delay in its construction. The importance of the ceremony was underscored by the presence of Germany’s chancellor, president and political leaders — a point made by Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung. The top half of the SZ story closes with this paragraph:
Mit dem Denkmal setze die Bundesregierung ein Zeichen, “das nicht allein in die Vergangenheit weist, sondern vor allem Verantwortung für Gegenwart und Zukunft symbolisiert”, betonte das Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma. Die zwölf Millionen Sinti und Roma in Europa seien “noch heute täglicher Diskriminierung ausgesetzt”. Der “zunehmende Rassismus in Europa” bedrohe nicht nur die Minderheiten, “sondern die europäischen Werte an sich, deren Kern die Menschenrechte und die Menschenwürde sind”.
Which roughly and imperfectly translated means:
With this monument the Federal Government has put up a sign “that points not only to the past, but is symbolic above all of its responsibility for the present and future” said the Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma. Europe’s twelve million Sinti and Roma are “still exposed to daily discrimination”. The “rise of racism in Europe” threatens not only minorities, “but the core European values of human rights and human dignity.”
The SZ then has fun and gives Mr. Rose the opportunity to chastise the interior minister for the government’s “discriminatory” and racist asylum policy, which he charges prevents gypsies from escaping to Germany from the Balkans. The quote provided by the minister is wonderfully pompous and bureaucratic, essentially saying that gypsies do not meet the criteria of a persecuted people in Serbia and Macedonia. In giving the minister equal space, the SZ has allowed him to make a fool of himself. The exchange is framed in such a way as to make the interior minister seem heartless — lacking in the European values of die Menschenrechte und die Menschenwürde (human rights and human dignity).
Where is the God-shaped hole in this story you ask? It is in the claim that Europe’s core values are human rights and human dignity. What does that mean?
Whose conception of rights? What understanding of dignity?
The ghosts I see hovering in the background of this story are the continuing shadow the Nazi era casts over Germany and the debate over the place of Christianity in the European identity. The place of Christianity — including the concept as to whether human rights and human dignity are innate as they are God-given, or constructs of the secular state — has animated debates over the place of God in the EU constitution.
The post-Nazi era treatment of the gypsies reflects this grappling with morality without grounding in God. The Nazis exterminated the gypsies — why? One Romani scholar noted that some histories of the Holocaust failed to understand that the “criminality” associated with gypsies
was attributed by the Nazis to a genetically transmitted and incurable disease, and was therefore ideologically racial; instead, writers focused only on the “antisocial” label resulting from it and failed to acknowledge the genetic connection made by the Nazi race scientists themselves. In 1950 the Württemburg Ministry of the Interior issued a statement to the judges hearing war crimes restitution claims that they should keep in mind that “the Gypsies were persecuted under the National Socialist regime not for any racial reason, but because of their criminal and antisocial record,” and twenty-one years later the Bonn Convention took advantage of this as justification for not paying reparations to Romanies, claiming that the reasons for their victimization during the Nazi period were for reasons of security only. Not one person spoke out to challenge that position, the consequences of which have hurt the survivors and their descendants beyond measure, though at that time the French genealogist Montandon did however observe that “everyone despises Gypsies, so why exercise restraint? Who will avenge them? Who will complain? Who will bear witness?”
Am I a cynic, or overly fussy, when I hear newspaper talk of European values and the European ideal? How should a thoughtful journalist handle this issue? There is a danger of entering a suffering Olympics — ranking the sufferings of Jews, gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Catholics, socialists/conservatives/communists at the hands of the Nazis. I am not speaking here about special pleading for one group, but asking how a reporter can report on the language of European morals in a post-Auschwitz world?
Or, is this a loaded question? When did you Germans stop beating your wives? Is it time to forget and move on? What say you GetReligion readers?
First printed in Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: drones, ethics, Guardian, just war theory, Phoenix program, RAF
“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,”a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.
So began Peter Arnett’s 8 Feb 1968 report from the town of Ban Tre. Published in the New York Times under the headline “Major Describes Move“, time has improved the quotation to various forms of “we had to destroy the village to save it”. Questions of the proportionality of response to a threat have been present in war reporting from the start of the craft in the Nineteenth century to the present conflict in Afghanistan. However the questions raised by Peter Arnett have been debated for more than a millennium in the theological and philosophical speculations of “just war” theory.
The moral issues surrounding the use of unmanned drones has been been raised from time to time in the U.S. press and addressed by my colleague Mollie Hemingway on the pages of GetReligion. However, the European press has been particularly exercised over their use in the battle with the Taliban. Tuesday’s Guardian in London gave the issue the front page treatment in its story on the activation of an RAF squadron operating from Britain that will control drones flying over Afghanistan. However the Guardian approaches the issue of ethics without reference to religion.
The article entitled “UK to double number of drones in Afghanistan” begins:
The UK is to double the number of armed RAF “drones” flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan and, for the first time, the aircraft will be controlled from terminals and screens in Britain.
In the new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), five Reaper drones will be sent to Afghanistan, the Guardian can reveal. It is expected they will begin operations within six weeks. Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs at a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months.
Details of the new squadron’s operations are discussed and then the story moves to the moral issues involved in the use of unmanned drone attacks.
The use of drones has become one of the most controversial features of military strategy in Afghanistan. The UK has been flying them almost non-stop since 2008.
The CIA’s programme of “targeted” drone killings in Pakistan’s tribal area was last month condemned in a report by US academics. The attacks are politically counterproductive, kill large numbers of civilians and undermine respect for international law, according to the study by Stanford and New York universities’ law schools.
After raising the moral issues, the Guardian steps back somewhat and dives into eight paragraphs of operational details before resurfacing with this statement.
The MoD insists only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its strikes since 2008 and says it does everything it can to minimise civilian casualties, including aborting missions at the last moment. However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died because of the “immense difficulty and risks” of verifying who has been hit. …In December 2010, David Cameron claimed that 124 insurgents had been killed in UK drone strikes. But defence officials said they had no idea where the prime minister got the figure and denied it was from the MoD.
Let me start off by commending the Guardian‘s reporter for raising the moral issues surrounding the targeted killing of America and Britain’s enemies. A story published the same day in the Washington Post on the administration’s plans to create kill lists of enemies was silent on the moral issues — though it did mention that there had been legal challenges to the government’s use of drones to kill American citizens in enemy ranks. As an aside, I am surprised by the lack of outrage over the targeted killing program from the press. America has been down this road before. The Phoenix program in Vietnam sparked congressional hearings and a steady flow of moral outrage up through the Carter Administration.
Was it sufficient for the Guardian to put forward the objections of some American law school professors when raising the moral issues of drone warfare? There are any number of philosophers and theologians who could have offered cogent critiques of the morality of drone warfare — Britain’s smartest man, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has been outspoken in his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and has lectured on the issue of “just war” to military audiences. The choice of whom to quote, of course, lies with the author — but my sense of this story is that the religious element is outside the reporter’s knowledge. Ethics for the Guardian is not tied to religion.
This is, for me, is the journalism question in this story. There is an ethical ghost here — but what sort of ethical ghost, secular or religious?
The Christian tradition holds that morality without religion is impossible. There can be ethics without religion, but these ethics are necessarily incomplete or flawed. In his book Morality after Auschwitz, Peter Haas asked how Germany could have willingly participated in a state-sponsored program of genocide. His answer was that:
far from being contemptuous of ethics, the perpetrators acted in strict conformity with an ethic which held that, however difficult and unpleasant the task might have been, mass extermination of the Jews and Gypsies was entirely justified. . . . the Holocaust as a sustained effort was possible only because a new ethic was in place that did not define the arrest and deportation of Jews as wrong and in fact defined it as ethically tolerable and ever good.
If there is no God, there is no good and evil, no right and wrong, or as Fyodor Dostoyevsky said in the Brothers Karamazov, “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.”
Against this view we have philosophers and ethicists such as Prof. Peter Singer of Princeton University who have argued “that an intellectually coherent ethic has to be independent of religion and that’s an argument that goes right back to Socrates and Plato.”
Whether unconsciously or by choice, the Guardian has come down on one side of this argument. There is no God.
For those of us who are unpersuaded that there can be right or wrong without a God, should it have provided the arguments of religious ethics when addressing morality? Or should we take another newspaper?
What say you GetReligion readers? How should intelligent journalism address this question?
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Immigration, Press criticism.
Tags: Génération identitaire, Islamophobia, Le Figaro
Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération are France’s newspapers of record, the Presse de référence. While the national edition of Le Parisien, Aujourd’hui en France, may have a larger circulation, I believe that these three best represent the voices of the French establishment: Le Figaro, the center right, Le Monde the center left, and Libération the left.
Yet French newspapers, like the French, are different from their American counterparts. The New York Times’ mantra “all the news that’s fit to print” which expresses the American concept of newspaper of record does not work for these publications. Nor are they written in the classical liberal style of Anglo-American reporting that places a premium on “fair and balanced reporting”. These three, along with most all French newspapers, are advocacy newspapers. They begin with a partisan stance on an issue and report on the news through that lens.
This article in Le Figaro is an example of European advocacy journalism. The story published on 20 Oct 2012 entitled « Des identitaires occupent une mosquée de Poitiers » reports that a group young French nationalists, or nativists occupied the sight of a mosque under construction in the city of Poitres. They unfurled a banner with the phrase 732, Génération identitaire — a reference to the name of their organization and the date in which Charles Martel defeated a Moorish army that had invaded France — halting the expansion of Islam into Europe.
Before I dive into this article, I want to say I am not so much interested in the events in Poitres but in the reporting on the events. What I see in this story from a center-right newspaper on a religio-political topic is a typical example of advocacy reporting.
The article is Le Figaro‘s first report on the incident and is framed to show the newspaper’s dislike of Génération identitaire and their politics. It begins not with a description of events, but with a condemnation of the group by Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. The who/what/when/where/why are cited in paragraphs two, three and four with the report that a mouvement d’extrême droite (extreme right) had occupied a mosque under construction in protest to the « l’islamisation de la France ».
Jean-Marc Ayrault a «condamné fermement» samedi l’envahissement du chantier d’une future mosquée par une soixantaine de militants qui protestaient contre «l’islamisation de la France». Trois organisateurs ont été placés en garde à vue.
Une soixantaine de manifestants du mouvement d’extrême droite Génération identitaire ont occupé pendant quelques heures samedi matin le chantier d’une mosquée en construction à Buxerolles, à côté de Poitiers.
Les manifestants souhaitaient protester contre «l’islamisation de la France». Ils ont déployé une banderole sur le toit de l’établissement portant la mention «732, génération identitaire», en référence à l’année 732 où Charles Martel a arrêté la progression des troupes musulmanes au nord de Poitiers. «Nous ne voulons plus d’immigration extra-européenne ni de nouvelle construction de mosquée sur le sol français», est-il indiqué sur le site de Génération identitaire.
Here is a links to an English-language France 24 report on the issue. And for a sympathetic account, here is a story from Frontpage magazine.
Le Figaro then moves on to a litany of objections, denunciations and complaints against Génération identitaire. The prosecutor of Poitiers, Nicolas Jacquet, lists the crimes the Occupy Poitres movement have committed. The prime minister is quoted as having “strongly condemned” the action which was an act of “aggression against the Republic and its values.” The minister of the interior is quoted as saying his ministry will deal with the group with the “utmost firmness”, while the Socialist and Communist Party leaders have called for a ban on the group and their prosecution for “incitement to racial hatred.” And not to be outdone, the Radical Party said that calls to end immigration of Muslims from North Africa to France “are poisons that divide our society.”
The second day story from Le Figaro continues in this line. « Mosquée occupée: quatre militants en garde à vue » reports that four leaders of the group of 73 young people remain in jail. On top of this news is a condemnation of their temerity in protesting against the virtues of multi-culturalism.
What is wrong with this, you might ask? From an advocacy journalism perspective, nothing at all. The reader is given sufficient facts and told what to think about the incident. The voice of Le Figaro is the voice of God, or reason (this being France after all) and one must believe.
The voice not being heard is that of Génération identitaire. The group has a website, and has even translated its materials and proclamations into English. Nor did Le Figaro solicit voices from the French political establishment that might agree with the viewpoint, if not the tactics, of Génération identitaire. There is nothing from the Front national, the Mouvement National Républicain or the Mouvement pour la France.
Is it accurate, or fair to say that opposition to immigration is a conservative or “far right” phenomena? Have not trade unions historically been opponents of immigration? While the Front national, Mouvement National Républicain and Mouvement pour la France oppose the Islamisation of France, they do not share a common economic policy or foreign policy. The Front national is protectionist and socialist on economic issues while the other two support classical liberal economic policies — free markets. Which policy determines whether your are right wing — immigration, economics, foreign affairs?
In light of the enthusiasm many newspapers felt for Occupy Wall Street, Occupy St Paul’s and other sit-in movements of the past year, I find it somewhat absurd that Occupy Poitres should receive such opprobrium in comparison to their fellow college students in New York or London. If the protest were held at a cathedral to protest the French Catholic Church’s stance on gay marriage — a live political issue in France — would Le Figaro have responded in the same way?
This article fails the test of classical liberal journalism as it does not give both sides to the issue. The reader is not invited to think the issues through and come to a conclusion based upon his unaided reason, but is instructed what to believe. This is the future of newspaper reporting.
First printed in GetReligion.
Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Get Religion, Persecution, Press criticism.
Tags: Christ Church Cathedral Stone Town, Zanzibar
It’s been about five years since I was last in Zanzibar. I was part of the press gaggle accompanying the archbishops of the Anglican Communion on a day trip from the mainland to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town — the island’s principal town. Built over 125 years ago on the site of the old slave market (the altar was built atop the sight of the market’s whipping post) the picturesque coral stone cathedral is a monument to the British suppression of the slave trade. Zanzibar had been the entrepôt for slaves captured on the mainland before they were shipped north to the Arab world.
Zanzibar was a welcome diversion from the rather limited delights of Dar es Salaam, and I have followed and reported on the news from the island — part of the Republic of Tanzania — ever since. My knowledge of the island and its history has grown from a vague idea it was connected with Freddie Mercury and a Bob Hope movie. I have also come to know the Anglican bishop of the island and am a “Facebook friend” with one of his clergy.
Hence this story from Reuters caught my eye. Through Facebook posts I was aware of the situation on the island and was waiting to see what would come across the wires.
The 18 Oct 2012 story begins:
STONE TOWN, Zanzibar (Reuters) – Supporters of a separatist Islamist group in Zanzibar looted shops and fought with police on Thursday after their leader disappeared, witnesses said, the third outbreak of violence this year on the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Supporters of Sheikh Farid Hadi, a leader of the Islamic Uamsho (Awakening) movement who has not been seen since Tuesday, threw stones at police, blocked roads with cut-down trees and burned tyres in the island’s main town. “Police are everywhere and firing teargas. There is nobody around town and the shops are closed. It’s a terrible situation,” Said Salleh, 40, a businessman from Zanzibar, told Reuters by phone.
Witnesses said protesters looted shops and video footage showed a number of rioters holding machetes and hiding their faces with balaclavas. Heavily armed police stepped up patrols late on Thursday and continued to engage in sporadic battles with rioters in Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town. “The streets are deserted … Only heavily armed policemen are now patrolling the town. We are afraid to go out, we can still hear the sound of gunfire,” Rukiya Khalifa, a resident of the historic Stone Town area, told Reuters.
The latest violence raised concerns of an escalation in religious tension in the predominantly Muslim island which is part of Tanzania but ruled by a semi-autonomous secular government.
The article continues with background information on the political roots of the discontent, statements from police and government leaders, and closes with this sentence:
In May Uamsho supporters set fire to two churches and clashed with police over the arrest of senior members of the movement.
What struck my eye as I read this story was a suspicion that the dateline for this story was incorrect. At the foot of the story a note states the reporting took place from Dar es Salaam, with additional reporting taking place at other locations. The language of the story, “told Reuters by phone” and “video footage showed” strongly suggests this report was not written from Stone Tone in Zanzibar as the dateline states, but elsewhere.
Reporters cannot be everywhere and there is nothing wrong with basing stories upon telephone interviews, government press statements, and video footage. But I question the wisdom of leading with the Stone Town claim, for if the reporter were writing from the island, I wonder why he would have omitted the news that Christ Church Cathedral was attacked by Uamsho militants, some Christians have gone into hiding for fear of their lives, and the Bishop of Zanzibar and some of his clergy were evacuated by plane from the island.
I am not in Stone Town and my knowledge of the above comes from telephone and Facebook communications from those who witnessed the riots and have fled the island — one fellow saying he and his family left house and car, dog and cat behind and wondering what he will find when he is permitted to return. Nor do I know the fate of the Roman Catholic bishop of Zanzibar or if militants attacked St Joseph’s Cathedral.
While the Reuters piece closes with a mention of the past church burnings, there is no sense in this story that the militant outrage over the arrest of their leader by police is expressed in attacks on a small and vulnerable Christian minority. Is it that after reports of pogroms and persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia the Sudan, Nigeria, and Kenya in recent weeks, another church burning does not warrant more than a brief mention? I am also uneasy about the lack of context for this story. I will concede that context is a rare thing in a wire service story where a reporter must squeeze as much as he can into 400 words or less. But omitting the over arching place of radical Islam in the story does leave the piece unfinished.
At the same time, I am writing from the safety of the U.S. and am not of interest to the East German-trained security services of Zanzibar nor subject to the country’s press laws. There is no danger of my prattling on about persecution as I am safe from it. Tell me GetReligion readers, where does the balance lie? How much can be told? How much should be told? Can a story be shaded to claim it was written on sight, but remove the clues that would give a malevolent eye a hint as to who was talking? What say you?
First printed at Get Religion.
Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
Tags: abortion, Guardian, Jeremy Hunt
There are no valid pro-life arguments. All right thinking people have seen the light, the Guardian reports, with support for legal limitations on abortion limited to the slack jawed troglodytes of the political right, Conservative Party MPs (possibly the same thing) and religious loonies.
I may have overstated things somewhat, but that is what I have taken away from this story entitled “Jeremy Hunt backs 12-week legal limit on abortion.” Not the most striking of headlines, I admit, but here is the lede — trust me, it is worth diving in to this story as it is an object lesson in the difference between news reporting and advocacy journalism.
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that he backs halving the legal time limit for women to have abortions, from 24 weeks to 12.
The intervention by Hunt reignited hostilities over one of the most polarising issues in politics on the eve of the Conservative party conference.
Coming just days after Maria Miller, the women’s minister, backed calls for a reduction in the legal limit for abortions, Hunt’s comments deepened fears among pro-choice campaigners that abortion laws are set to come under renewed assault.
Where do you thing this story is headed? A sober analysis of the state of the abortion debate in Britain, or rubbishing Jeremy Hunt for his views on abortion and for causing political mischief for the Conservative Party — why that would worry the Guardian is beyond me, but there it is. After this rather loaded introduction, the article offers some rather thin comments from the minister in support of his decision.
“I’m not someone who thinks that abortion should be made illegal. Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.”
And this is followed by comments from the Labour Party’s shadow health minister. She calls the comments “shocking and alarming” and “another assault on women’s reproductive rights.” The opposition hammers Hunt for plucking 12 weeks “out of thin air” and not basing his decision on “medical evidence” — and true to form, we get an anti-American crack.
Let me say I do not find the shadow minister’s comments problematic. They are strong comments that candidly express the shadow minister for health’s views. What concerns me is that the Guardian gives her four paragraphs to critique the minister’s two paragraph opening quote.
The article then moves on to an independent medical voice, who perversely claims the minister’s remarks will lead to more abortion. The story line then returns to the minister, who is asked whether he was now, or had ever been a
member of the Communist Party Christian.
“I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons. There are some issues that cut across health and morality, a bit like capital punishment does for crime. There are all sorts of arguments in favour and against in terms of deterrence and justice, but also there is a fundamental moral issue that sits behind it. I think abortion is one of those issues.”
The Guardian tosses in a a few unsourced opinions.
Political commentators have questioned the wisdom of sparking a political row over such an emotive issue as the party heads into its conference.
And the article closes with a knife in Hunt’s back from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office.
A spokesman for No 10 said that the prime minister did not share Hunt’s view about a cut to 12 weeks. Cameron said during the last general election campaign that he would support a reduction to 20 or 22 weeks.
David Cameron does seem set on giving Edward Heath a run for the money as winner of the worst Conservative PM contest. But GetReligion reader, do you notice anything missing?
Might there be someone to speak to this issue other than a marginal Conservative MP whose endorsement does not help but hurts Hunt. Where is the smartest man in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams? Dr. Williams’ views on the economy, foreign policy and other non-church topics are often solicited by the Guardian but we hear nothing from Labour’s favorite archbishop on an issue dear to his wooly heart. Where is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols or any other Catholic, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Humanist or, heaven help us, conservative Christian voice speaking on this issue?
Is the science truly silent on this point? Was no one available from any of the government’s scientific quangos that have been studying embryology, medical ethics, or reproductive health care issues? Maybe a word from someone from the Christian Medical Fellowship — a coalition of Christian physicians in the U.K.? Might they have a view on the 12 vs 24 week mark?
It may be a sign of my age, but a line from a Monty Python record “Matching Tie and Handkerchief” ran through my mind as I read this story.
Man: I think all right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired.
All: Yes, yes…
Man: I’m certainly not! And I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
Interviewer: Mrs. Havoc-Jones?
Mrs. Havoc-Jones: Well, I meet a lot of people and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong thinking people are right.
Interviewer: There seems like a consensus there. Could we have the next question, please?
There is an absurdist quality to this article. The Guardian does not believe it is important to give both sides of an argument, or it believes there is no credible opposition to the view that abortion is a non-negotiable right. This is advocacy journalism or it is arrogance. It may be seeking to endorse a particular political outcome and has marshaled some facts and omitted others in support of its argument. Or, it truly believes that there are no credible arguments against abortion and only draws upon the fringe for comments.
My sense is that this story is a mixture of arrogance, disdain and advocacy. The Guardian has chosen a side in the culture wars, but in doing so, it has dropped any pretext that it is engaging in journalism in its reporting on this issue.
First printed in GetReligion.