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Hezbollah and PCUSA: The Media Project, December 12, 2014 December 12, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Press criticism, The Media Project.
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Nowhere has it surfaced in mainstream American press that an Israeli civil rights organization filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS, accusing the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) of violating its tax-exempt status through overt political lobbying, and by violating US anti-terror laws through links with Hezbollah.

Reports have been printed in the religious press (Jewish and Christian), but save for English-language stories in Israeli press, Arutz Sheva 7 and the Jerusalem Post, this story has not captured the interests of editors. Perhaps the extensive coverage of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant lobbying against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Houston sermon scandal has satiated the editors’ appetites for First Amendment church/state stories. But it remains odd nonetheless that no one else is discussing a politics-and-religion story that has arisen this time from the “left”.

What has been written is pretty good, however. The Jerusalem Post story is a well crafted piece that shows how one writes a story when one side will not play ball, the reporter has limited information, and is working within space and deadline constraints.

(As an aside, I wrote for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years as one of their London correspondents, but am not now affiliated with the newspaper and do not know the author of the article in question.)

The kernel of the various stories comes from the same, not very well written, press release.

Where the Jerusalem Post stands out is in the value it added to the press release. It begins its story in a matter-of-fact tone.

Shurat Hadin (the Israel Law Center) has filed a legal complaint against the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), alleging violations of the US tax code for unlawful political lobbying and contact with Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization.

The second sentence fills out the who/what/where and when questions before taking a quote from the press release that explains why.

The Tel Aviv-based organization publicized the submission of its 38-page complaint with the US Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday.

“It is high time the IRS took a long look at the Presbyterian Church and investigated its meeting with the designated- terrorist organization Hezbollah, its lobbying activities, and its anti-Israel divestment policies,” said Shurat Hadin spokesman attorney Robert Tolchin.

“The PCUSA is obsessed with attacking the Jewish state and has moved far from the activities which it presented to the IRS to secure its tax-free status in the United States.”

The article lays out the charges as articulated in the press release that Shurat Hadin had given the US government:

“documentary and video evidence showing PCUSA delegates meeting with the US-designated terrorist group Hezbollah, publishing anti-Semitic materials, enacting a racist policy to divest from American companies doing business with Israel, lobbying the US Congress, and distributing political advocacy materials in violation of its tax-exempt status as a religious organization.”

And then, it offered the PCUSA a chance to respond, which it did by declining to respond to the accusations. (I, too, sent a query to the PCUSA about the story but did not get a response.)

At this point the JPost adds value to the article, offering a perspective from an expert on this issue, Yitzhak Santis of NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Perhaps the JPost could be faulted for not offering a talking head from the other side – one of the myriad of organizations in favor of boycotting or divesting from Israel.

However, the expert the JPost does cite in its story speaks directly to the issues and concerns raised in the Shurat HaDin lawsuit, providing context and background missing from most Western news outlets covering Israel.

Were this a magazine piece, a contrary voice from an expert opposed to NGO Monitor would be essential, especially in light of the PCUSA’s silence. Yet given the space parameters under which the author had to work, I think this story does the job. The first story on an issue is not always the final word.

As the PCUSA will one day decide it wants to say something about the charge that it is in bed with Hezbollah, there is ample opportunity to offer a different perspective on the issue. I hope to read that article, too.

First printed in The Media Project

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The Huffington Post on Clerical Celibacy: The Media Project, December 9, 2014 December 10, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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Without looking – who would you suppose would do a better job in reporting on the gay subculture among Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland? The Belfast Telegraph or the Huffington Post?

One was named the Best Regional Newspaper of the Year in 2012 by the Society of Editors and has print run of approximately 100,000. The other is an online news aggregator and blog that also runs additional news content. One is steeped in the traditions of Anglo-American journalism while the other pursues an advocacy approach to news – with the dividing line between opinion and reporting sometimes blurred.

An observer of the Ulster newspaper scene might hesitate before awarding the prize to the Belfast Telegraph, for it along with the News Letter are “Unionist” newspapers, while the third daily, the Irish News, is a “Nationalist” newspaper. Perhaps a residual anti-Catholic sentiment might creep into the Belfast Telegraph’s reporting?

The two outlets treatment of the same story may surprise some, for in its coverage of a recent book on clerical celibacy in the Irish Catholic Church, the Huffington Post is less shrill, more nuanced, and finely balanced.

Authors are not responsible for the titles placed on their stories, but the titles of these two pieces fairly summarize the tone of the two pieces. “Hell’s bells: Nine priests spotted in Irish gay bar” in the Belfast Telegraph conveys the over-the-top tone to its report.  The Huffington Post’s story has the more measured title: “New Book on Irish Priests Reveals Struggles with Celibacy, Trips to Gay Clubs.”

The lede of the Belfast Telegraph’s story opens with:

Ground-breaking new research into the sexual lives of Irish Catholic priests has revealed many of them are or have been sexually active, that the bishops are aware of the situation, and that there is a gay scene within the church.

Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity publishes new analysis of priests’ views from a series of interviews conducted by Dr John Weafer, a former seminarian who is now married with children.

The article summarizes some of the books findings focusing on one of the 33 priests –Fr. L. who is in a long term gay relationship.

Fr. L. is quoted as saying there is a “strong clerical gay scene in Ireland”.

He believes that there are “quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood” and on one occasion when he went into a gay bar in Dublin, he recognised at least nine priests in the bar.

The article then offers this comment from the author of the book followed by its own editorial viewpoint.

Dr Weafer said he did not think that the Irish hierarchy would be shocked by the revelations in the book as the interviews showed that the “hierarchy are aware” of what is going on. “As long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest” they turn a blind eye, he claimed. This will shock many as the official church’s attitude on homosexuality deems it as intrinsically disordered. According to Dr Weafer: “If a priest was to say in the morning ‘I am gay’, he would be fired. Priests have learned to keep their heads down”.

The Belfast Telegraph offers no voice from the Catholic hierarchy who might care to dispute the suggestion that the Church is packed with closeted gay clergy and led by hypocrites who practice an Irish form of “don’t ask don’t tell”. The tone of this article is one of outrage tinged with disgust. Though it does not descend to the level of overt sectarian nastiness, there is nonetheless a disquieting undercurrent to the report.

Compared to the Huffington Post, it also falls short as journalism. The Huffington Post story opens with:

When sociologist and former seminarian Dr. John Weafer started looking for studies on the personal lives of Catholic priests there were only a few. Those that did exist only began to approach what the researcher imagined was a much richer and more complex story beneath the surface. Weafer took matters into his own hands by embarking on an in-depth study on Irish priests, using contacts he had from his seminary days nearly 30 years ago. The resulting book, Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity, explores the personal lives of a range of priests, often going into what Weafer called “graphic detail” about romantic relationships, abuse allegations and daily struggles with clerical life.

It, too, focuses its attention on Fr. L., but it does not stop once his story is told. It asks questions of the author, Dr. Weafer, and includes quotes from the archbishop of Dublin who concedes that struggles with celibacy are among the challenges facing Catholic clergy.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin addressed the subject in a recent interview with Irish Independent. When asked if he had read Weafer’s book, Martin said he had not but acknowledged that celibacy is a challenge for many. “I know what is going on with my priests. I know good priests and I know priests who struggle – I support all of them. I don’t think if people fail that you abolish celibacy.”

By asking Dr. Weafer questions, the Huffington Post puts this story into context. Not all Catholic clergy are closeted homosexuals, nor is sex the first topic of conversation among priests.

Of the 33 interviews Weafer conducted, all of which he said lasted for more than an hour, not all of them touched on issues of sexuality. Some of the priests discussed their experience in gay or straight relationships, but others discussed challenges beyond celibacy, delving into disputes with bishops, false allegations of abuse and the struggle of working long past retirement age. “They wanted to get across a message ‘this is what my life is like as a priest,'” Weafer said. “They’ve been called by God, and they live out their lives in ways they see fit. They’re very much human beings.”

In reporting on the release of a controversial book, the Huffington Post has done a better job. It offers the same facts as the Belfast Telegraph, but offers context and avoids shrillness and cant. Well done, Huffington Post.

First printed by The Media Project.

Fox Tries Its Hand at Vatican Watching: The Media Project, November 25, 2014 November 25, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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15628942159_e5e178ae8f_kFox News has waded into the murky waters of Catholic news analysis, seeking to explain to its viewers (and readers on its website) the church’s battles over liberalizing its moral teachings.

It is encouraging to see a secular news outfit address these issues. Fox understands that these issues are of interest to its viewers. The conservative demographic that is the core of its viewership is also likely to find favor with the opinions proffered. Yet, the fulcrum of the argument in this piece is based upon an erroneous supposition.

The story entitled “Cardinal’s demotion helps Pope Francis quell ‘conservative backlash’ — for now” is founded on the notion that Cardinal Raymond Burke was dismissed from his post as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura as a consequence of his vocal opposition to calls for a change in church teaching backed by Pope Francis at the recent Synod on the Family. Fox posits a cause and effect, but its theory is not supported by the facts.

Burke was on the way out before the Synod met. His demotion was not a consequence of his activism at the gathering.

The lede sets the story’s parameters:

Pope Francis is drawing rock star raves for softening the Vatican’s image on such issues as homosexuality, capitalism and divorce, but his celebrated tolerance doesn’t seem to extend to dissenters within the church, whose conservative revolt came to a halt when the pontiff exiled their de facto leader to obscurity.

The first half of this opening sentence is not that controversial — and has been the topic of numerous postings at the Media Project and its sister site, GetReligion. The second half of the sentence sets forth the author’s argument — that conservative opposition to the liberalizing moves of Francis’ curia has been stifled.

The article continues:

A recent meeting of bishops unleashed what one Vatican watcher called “a tsunami of conservative backlash” against the pope when it followed an agenda that sought to revisit long-held doctrine on controversial social issues. The most vocal critic was American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who described the Church under Francis as like “a ship without a rudder.”

But as conservative bishops and lower-level clergy in the U.S. began to signal their agreement, Burke quickly found himself demoted from his powerful Vatican post to a purely ceremonial role.

The move sent a chill through the ranks of American conservative bishops, nearly two dozen of whom declined comment when contacted by FoxNews.com, despite many having previously expressed strong doubts about the church’s leftward swerve under Francis, who assumed the papacy in 2013.

The article offers comments and observations offered by respected Catholic commentators such as John Allen of the Boston Globe and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. But these comments speak not to the cause and effect argument — that Burke’s demotion silenced conservatives — but to the general state of unrest within the hierarchy.

The article takes these opinions and uses them as a foundation for its discussion of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, noting the conservatives led by Burke were in “near mutiny”.

It then slides in comments American bishops made shortly after the synod that were critical of Francis.

“Pope Francis is fond of creating a mess,” Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, wrote in a blog post. “Mission accomplished.” Said Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leading conservative bishop: “Confusion is of the devil.”

But the demotion of Burke silenced these critics, Fox argues:

But both Tobin and Chaput declined comment, following the stunning demotion of Burke, who blasted Francis for allowing Kasper to exercise such powerful influence over the Church’s direction. … Cardinal Raymond Burke’s stunning demotion seems to have stopped a conservative revolt against Pope Francis, at least for the time being.

The announcement of Burke’s demotion may have been made public around the time of the synod, but reports of his departure proceeded the synod by over a month — and it was no secret that Burke was a “lame duck” in the curia when he spoke at the synod.

The article also appears unaware of last week’s Colloquium on the Complementarity of Men and Women — an event of equal significance to the Extraordinary Synod, I would argue. At that meeting Francis reinforced the church’s unequivocal opposition to gay marriage, while in a speech to Italian doctors last week the pope also denounced in no uncertain terms abortion and euthanasia.

The point of my critique is not to take issue with, or support, the argument offered by Fox News. Rather my aim is to address the reporting upon which the article bases its arguments. The analysis Fox offered may well be true, but the particular facts they cite do not advance their argument.

First printed at The Media Project.

The Independent vs. Complementarity: The Media Project, November 21, 2014 November 21, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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Nicholas Okoh with Pope FrancisPope Francis’ luster has begun to fade outside the Catholic Church. While the papal honeymoon with the secular media has not quite ended, some newspapers have discovered the pope remains Catholic.

An example of this shift comes in an article in this week’s Independent from London. It is written in a tone of suffused anger, disappointed that Francis is not the man they thought him to be.

Entitled “Pope Francis declares union between man and woman ‘at root of marriage’ in blow to gay rights,” the story is written in an advocacy style. The author presents an argument, and then the facts are marshalled in support. The lede opens with this proposition:

Pope Francis has apparently spoken out in defence of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, hurting the hopes of those who see him as a liberal driving force in the Catholic Church.

Note the “apparently” offered in a “can you believe this” tone. The following sentence indicates what the Independent thought the pope was doing.

Last month the Pope warned Catholics not to fear change following an angry synod backlash against a softening of the Church’s stance towards homosexuality.

But the Independent admits it may have been wrong as the pope appears to have changed course (in its view).

But in his address at the opening of a three-day conference on traditional marriage hosted at the Vatican yesterday, Francis called family “an anthropological fact… that cannot be qualified based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history”.

The Humanum Colloquium on the Complementarity of Men and Women appears to be the best kept secret in religion reporting. The media hype (really hysteria) that surrounding the Synod on the Family is all but absent this time round. While not a gathering of specially invited bishops, this gathering has equal significance in that it, too, will advise the pope on the contentious issues of divorce, remarriage, same-sex marriage, civil unions and the like.

The Synod on the Family saw a push by some to bring the church’s moral teachings in line with the liberal or secular worldview on marriage and the family. The Humanum conference saw the traditionalists — supported by non-Catholic scholars from a variety of denominations and faiths — reaffirm existing moral teaching.

The Independent notes that at this conference, Pope Francis made his views on gay marriage clear.

And though he did not refer to gay unions directly, the Pope said: “It is fitting that you have gathered here to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.”

Francis said: “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. Today marriage and the family are in crisis,” he continued. “We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. The revolution in mores and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

In the pope’s emphasis on the necessity of a mother and father and in his rejection of the “revolution in mores and morals,” the Independent saw a “declaration in support of traditional marriage”. And the Independent found this to be utterly appalling.

The balance of the article consisted of comments from outraged gay activists, and it closes with the Independent’s view of what happened in Rome.

Francis’ comments seem to represent a shift towards placating conservatives in the Church from a Pope who once asked “who am I to judge gay people” and whom Elton John described as “my hero”. In March, Cardinal Timothy Dolan reportedly claimed that the pontiff had paved the way for support of civil partnerships at some point in the future, saying it was time the Church studied same-sex unions “rather than condemning them”. But in October the Vatican was forced to backtrack on liberal new guidelines of openness toward gay people by the intransigence of a majority of bishops.

Judging by the standards of traditional journalism, this story comes up short. Only one side of the story is presented. No supporters of traditional marriage appear in the article, apart from Pope Francis. There is no balance of views. Instead we get shallow slogans from the supporters of change, but no intelligent arguments in support of or opposition to these moves. Emotion and narcissism are offered as reason enough.

Nor does the article tell us anything about the Humanum Colloquium. Why does the colloquium matter? What is its relevance to the debate? From a theological or sociological perspective the Independent appears confused over the term “complementarity”. It may think it understands what the word means, but from what little it has written on this point, it appears to be speaking in ignorance.

In short, as a traditional news story this piece is unbalanced, lacks context, makes unverified assumptions as to the meaning of words, and is short on facts. An editor could rescue this piece however, by altering it to a story about the reaction of gay activists to the pope’s words.

Rearranging the story’s paragraphs by placing the comments and responses at the top might make this piece work. It would also allow the Independent to discuss openly the issue at the heart of this piece: “Who is Pope Francis and what does he believe?”

However, if you are seeking actual information on what happened at the Nov 17-19 Humanum Colloquium in Rome – what was said, who said it, and why it matters – then you are better off looking elsewhere.

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The Aftenposten and Abortion in Norway: The Media Project, November 14, 2014 November 14, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Press criticism, The Media Project.
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“All the News That’s Fit to Print” first appeared on the cover of the New York Times on October 25, 1896. The newspaper’s publisher Adolph Ochs adopted the slogan for professional and business reasons.

Ochs wanted to set the Times apart from its more sensationalist competitors, filling the market niche of New York’s quality newspaper. Pursuing high quality journalism not only was a moral good, it could make money also, he believed.

The business model adopted by Ochs and other “quality” newspapers at the start of the Twentieth Century guided the empirical practices of the mainstream press for most of the last century, though tabloids in the US and the “red tops” in the UK have never followed this code.

Over the last twenty-five years the Ochs model has been challenged by the advocacy press approach, where a newspaper reports on a story from an openly avowed ideological perspective. A French newspaper reader knows that when he reads about the same issue in Liberation, Le Monde, Le Figaro, La Croix and L’Humanite he will be presented with left, center left, center right, Catholic and Communist perspectives of an issue.

In and of itself, such an advocacy approach is not a bad thing. Seeing a story from a variety of perspectives often allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the issues than that presented by a traditional newspaper following the “All the News That’s Fit to Print” model. So long as falsehoods are not presented, reading different “spins” or interpretations of the same event can enlighten readers by presenting to them different ways of thinking about an issue.

These musings on the nature of truth, cranks and newspaper reporting were prompted by an item that caught my eye in a story from News in English.no — a website that carries English-language news stories from Norway. Its headline stated: “Abortion opponent disrupted bishop’s ceremony” and the article reported:

Anti-abortion activist Per Kørner demonstrated his views during Sunday’s ceremony in Tromsø consecrating the newest bishop of the Norwegian Church, Olav Øygard. Kørner was eventually seized by two civilian clad police who firmly escorted him out of the ceremony.

… Kørner disrupted the ceremony when he strode forth in the cathedral, sitting down close to the king until he was literally carried out, involuntarily, by the two policemen. Then the ceremony continued as normal. Kørner told newspaper Aftenposten afterwards that he wanted “to challenge the church to fight on behalf of the most helpless members of society,” in his view, unborn children.

Intrigued I went to Aftenposten — Norway’s largest “quality” newspaper. Struggling manfully through the article entitled “Abortmotstander kastet ut av kongens sikkerhetsvakter” with dictionary in hand, I found Aftenposten was telling a different story.

In roughly the same number of words as the News in English.no article, I learned that Kørner was a 78-year-old former priest of the Church of Norway. And after the incident Kørner received a free ride to a police station, but was not charged with any crime. It further noted that the five years ago a similar protest took place at the consecration of another Norwegian bishop. The article ends by stating Kørner was one of three Church of Norway priests who in 1991 founded a breakaway group from the Church of Norway.

The addition of this background material made the story far more understandable to a reader not familiar with Norwegian ecclesiastical politics. But the two articles also differed on what happened. For the News in English.no, Kørner “disrupted the ceremony”.  A reader of Aftenposten would conclude it was the police who disrupted the ceremony. TheAftenposten reported:

Med en refleksvest full av bibelsitater gikk Per Kørner opp til alteret i Tromsø domkirke under innsettelse av ny biskop og gjorde seg klar til å be. …

Wearing a reflective safety vest covered in Bible quotes, Per Kørner went up to the altar in Tromsø Cathedral during the inauguration of the new bishop and prepared himself to pray. …

Kong Harald satt ikke langt fra alteret, men ingen ting tyder på at aksjonistpresten forsøkte å komme i kontakt med kongen. Håndfast geleidet sikkerhetsvaktene Kørner ut en sidedør til Tromsø domkirke.

King Harald sat not far from the altar, but there was no hint the activist priest attempted to approach the King. Assertive security guards then escorted Kørner out of a side door of Tromsø Cathedral.

Why the disparity in accounts? What happened at Tromsø Cathedral? If a 78-year old gay activist had approached the altar rail adorned with a vest or ornaments promoting his agenda, would the police have acted in the same way?

Aftenposten does not ask this question, but sticks to a reporting of events. News in English.no treats Kørner as a crank, and by adopting the position at the start of the story that what Kørner did was improper, the reporter should have placed his actions in the context of similar actions — allowing the reader to decide if this fellow is the villain of the piece.

Now, this approach would be what a traditional newspaper would do. If News in English.no is an advocacy site, then it begins with the premise anti-abortion protestors are cranks and supplies the details to support its argument.

Was “all the news that was fit to print” included in this story? Further detail and analysis can always be added, but Aftenposten did the better job, allowing the events to tell the story, rather than allowing perceptions of the sanity of Kørner to drive the telling.

Some philosophers tell us that no perspective is free from bias. The issue then becomes whether that bias is acknowledged or understood. One man’s crank may be another’s saint.

First printed in The Media Project.

Asahi Shimbun and the Making of Saints: The Media Project, November 12, 2014 November 12, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Roman Catholic Church, The Media Project.
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The Asahi Shimbun (朝日新聞), one of Japan’s five national newspapers with a circulation of roughly 8 million, ran a story this week that could serve as an example of how to report on religion for an audience unfamiliar with the topic.
The article entitled “Vatican to beatify Christian warlord Takayama Ukon” reports that the Catholic Church is expected to recognize as “blessed” a Sixteenth Century warlord who converted to Christianity. Writing for a Japanese, and presumably highly secular audience, the Asahi Shimbun’s correspondent Hiroshi Ishida has crafted a lovely little story that succinctly tells, the who, what, when, where and why — and leaves out any editorializing, preaching or “snark”.

The article opens:

VATICAN CITY–A Japanese feudal warlord who was expelled from his country 400 years ago because of his Christian faith is set to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as “beatus” (blessed), the second highest canonization next to sainthood. Angelo Amato, a Vatican cardinal and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, told a Japanese pilgrim band on Oct. 21 that Takayama Ukon (1552-1615) is likely be accorded the title of beatus next year, the 400th anniversary of his death.

The article relates the story of Ukon and his expulsion from Japan after Christianity was made illegal in 1614, and offers a quote from a high ranking cleric on why this man is worthy of this accolade.

“Ukon consistently set his faith above his desires for career success and wealth whenever he was forced to choose,” said Yoshinao Otsuka, a bishop of the Catholic Kyoto Diocese who serves as the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan’s committee to recommend canonization candidates. “There is a lesson for people today, who live in a highly competitive society, from his courage to set aside his competitive instincts for his faith.”

The story then outlines the beatification protocols followed by the Catholic Church and outlines where Ukon stands in this process.

The requirement for beatification includes that the deceased was killed due to hatred of their faith or that he or she is evidenced to have conducted miracles such as curing people’s ailments. The Japanese authority has recommended that Ukon be beatified as a martyr.

Why pick this story for praise? Because it is simple and clean. There are no extraneous bits here — no agenda other than telling the story as known to the Asahi Shimbun.

After relating the news of the canonization process for Ukon, the article provides historical context, an informed and succinct quote from a church leader explaining why this issue is important to Japanese Catholics, and then outlines what happens next.

It may well be that unfamiliarity with the workings of a minority religion in Japan led the newspaper to ask the basic questions about the sainthood process — and coming to the issue without preconceived notions, it was able to describe what happens and in fewer words, but with more detail and understanding than most Western newspapers.

All in all, a job well done.

First printed at the Media Project.

Abortion Blinds The Guardian: The Media Project, November 5, 2014 November 5, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Press criticism, The Media Project.
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Advocacy journalism succeeds when a reader does not perceive he is being led. The best writers of this genre, like George Orwell, do not disguise their opinions. They win over readers by persuasion, not by compulsion. A blistering screed may excite those predisposed to support the author’s point of view, but they seldom convert the undecided.

An article in The Guardian on the forthcoming Tennessee vote on Amendment 1, which if adopted would toughen the state’s abortion laws, comes to its topic from the point of view that legal restrictions on abortion are wrongheaded. It takes the editorial line that Tennessee voters should reject the amendment.

That The Guardian would oppose Amendment 1 is no surprise. But the way in which the article pushes the pro-abortion agenda does not advance or explain the story. Nor does article even seem aware of the story it has in hand. Its relentless cheerleading in support of abortion deafens it to the subtlety of the arguments offered by pro-abortion supporters, who are seeking to turn the arguments of anti-abortion advocates against themselves. However, all of this is lost, drowned by the continuous howl of The Guardian in favor of abortion at any time, for any woman, for any reason, anywhere in the world.

The news “hook” the article takes is presenting the issue through the lens of religion. The lede begins:

The Reverend Dr Judy Cummings likes to say she speaks for the underclass – for the African Americans locked in poverty in Buena Vista, a neighbourhood cut off from the rest of this prospering city by a ribbon of freeways, industrial blight and neglect.

It’s for them Cummings has become one of the leading voices of opposition to Amendment 1, a ballot initiative that would overturn Tennessee’s powerful protections for abortion rights, enshrined since a 2000 court decision. The proposal’s passage would hurt not just poor women and their children in Nashville, she believes. It also would affect thousands of women living beyond Tennessee’s borders who have come to rely on abortion providers in Nashville for services they can’t get in their home states.

The article lays out Tennessee’s stance as an outlier on abortion in the middle South with court imposed laws that exceeds the requirements of federal law turning the state into an abortion hub. Or, to borrow the New York Times’ phrasing, Tennessee is the “abortion capital of the Bible Belt.” The article illustrates these arguments with quotes and views from pro-abortion advocates.

“This issue right here is not about whether we believe in abortion or not,” Cummings said at a rally of liberal ministers earlier this month. “It’s a justice issue. When politicians try to take away the voice of the people, that’s an injustice. And we’re called on to do justice.”

The article quotes spokesmen for the Tennessee Right to Life Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union on the bill, but the religious voices we hear in this story all come from one side — the pro abortion side.

If one comes to this story with no knowledge of the religious and cultural landscape of Tennessee, like most Guardian readers — they might conclude that religious voices in Tennessee are behind the pro-abortion vote.

We do have one nod to reality when the article states Republicans and religious conservatives control the state legislature. But the picture painted by The Guardian is one where the pro-abortion argument is the moral and theological choice.

Conveying that message to Tennesseans has been a delicate task. While commentators in other parts of the country tend to place access to abortion among other women’s rights or even argue it’s a social good, Vote No on 1 campaigners more often attack the amendment on libertarian, pragmatic or even theological grounds.

Ministers such as Cummings argue the amendment will interfere with their ability to counsel congregants who have gone through abortions. Were abortion illegal, they argue – with repurposed pro-life claims that developing foetuses are able to suffer pain –then those foetuses with birth defects would needlessly suffer in utero were abortion illegal.

No religious voices are heard in this story that address these sorts of claims. The article is illustrated with two photos of anti-abortion buttons and posters in Catholic settings, butThe Guardian chose not to offer arguments from morality or theology that counter the pro-abortion moral and theological arguments.

Setting aside the issue of abortion entirely, The Guardian appears not to have done its homework about the political issues in this fight. Tennessee’s abortion laws are the result of an activist state Supreme Court nullifying the will of the people on this topic. Yet The Guardian places at the top of this story a quote that says:

“It’s a justice issue. When politicians try to take away the voice of the people, that’s an injustice. And we’re called on to do justice.”

Politicians have not taken away the voice of the people, judges have — supporters of the amendment have been saying. Could it be The Guardian’s reporter is so tone deaf or ignorant of the issues in this race that they misunderstood the significance of this quote?

Might not the liberal minister be altering one of the oppositions slogans to voice her own views? Should not The Guardian have asked? Should not it even have been aware of what was going on?

And, what sort of minister is the person to whom they have given so much space in their story? What church? What denomination? Is she a parish minister or a chaplain? What is the stance of her denomination on this issue? Is she a Christian minister or something else?

This story is a mess. An example of how not to report a contentious issue. It is unbalanced, incurious, strident and grossly unaware of the political, religious and cultural context of the story. It is a screed — and apart from the true believer, I doubt anyone will listen.

First printed at The Media Project.