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Interview: Issues, Etc., September 9, 2013 September 12, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Issues Etc, Press criticism.
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 9 September 2013.

GetReligion contributor George Conger discusses a “Daily Record” story about the involvement of Churches of Christ members at a primary school in Scotland

Daily Record shows how not to write an attack piece: Get Religion, September 11, 2013 September 12, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Churches of Christ, Get Religion.
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On one long winter workday in camp, as I was lugging a wheelbarrow together with another man, I asked myself how one might portray the totality of our camp existence. In essence it should suffice to give a thorough description of a single day, providing minute details and focusing on the most ordinary kind of worker; that would reflect the entirety of our experience. It wouldn’t even be necessary to give examples of any particular horrors. It shouldn’t be an extraordinary day at all, but rather a completely unremarkable one, the kind of day that will add up to years. That was my conception and it lay dormant in my mind for nine years.

From the foreward of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Arkhipelag Gulag 1918–1956: Opyt khudozhestvennogo issledovaniia. Sokrashchennoe izdanie, ed. N. D. Solzhenitsyn (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 2010).

Should fallacious news stories be allowed to stand unchallenged? If you wrestle with a tabloid, will you not merely smear yourself with more mud? In the latest edition of Crossroads, a GetReligion podcast, Issues Etc. host Todd Wilkin and I discussed my article “A Scottish tabloid libels the Churches of Christ” — my critique of a story that appeared in Glasgow’s Daily Record.

I was unsparing in my appraisal of the Daily Record article about the outreach activities of a Church of Christ congregation in East Kilbride, Scotland school. I wrote the article was written:

in a style reminiscent of Der Sturmer. Substitute “Jews” for “Church of Christ,” and with this article alleging secretive sects seeking to destroy the pure Scottish race through their pernicious doctrines, you have a story straight out of 1930?s Germany.

And …

Yes, it is only the Daily Record, a disreputable tabloid, but this article is libelous, malicious and evil — it is a disgrace to journalism.

Todd pushed me to explain why I believed it was necessary to counter such stories. I noted there were two issues here — the wrong done to the members of the volunteer program at the Church of Christ and the wrong done to the art — to the craft and aesthetics of journalism. My response was directed by my love of newspapers. It was irrelevant to me who the target of the Daily Record‘s bile might have been. An attack by a newspaper against Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, or the Churches of Christ (but perhaps not the Church of England) would have elicited a similar response.

Some commentators of my original post did not believe such a distinction should be made. They believed the Church of Christ’s actions to be malign and its “missionaries” — to use the phrase placed in scare quotes by the Daily Record — were a bad lot. The newspaper’s attack was justified because of the doctrines of the Church of Christ were objectionable to their sensibilities. I responded to one critic by stating this was not what newspapers were to do. By singling out the Church of Christ for abuse, manipulating photographs and misconstruing the story I wrote that I believed the Daily Record had breached the code of conduct expected of newspapers.

This is not about what the CoC believes or does not believe. It is about shoddy journalism. You forget state schools in Britain teach religion. Banning groups that are anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-evolution would ban Muslim groups from offering religious materials to schools. Do you believe the Daily Record would have run this story if it those helping at the school were Muslims? Would the Daily Record have made the same remarks about the Koran .. Sura 5:6, that Jews are the descendants of Apes and Pigs? This is not about the CoC. This is about a newspaper behaving badly.

The stated the Daily Record story was guilty of the sins I enumerated in my first piece — and frankly they were dopes who did not know their job. Hyperbole in news reporting is a sign of the amateur — the hack who does not know his craft. Let the story tell itself, and if the facts justify outrage, then the reader’s response will be outrage. Spin a story of “extremist” cultists coupled with pejorative descriptions, one-sided and incomplete sourcing, manipulated photographs and the like — an intelligent reader will pause and ask, “What is going on here?” The true believers, those predisposed to hate the values and the members of the suspect minority will lap up what you have to say. But others will question the integrity of what has been set before them.

Over the weekend I opened a few book boxes I had placed in the attic some years ago. Russian novels kept since my college years. Flipping through my tattered copies of Dostoyevsky,  Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Gogol, and others, I remembered why I loved literature and journalism.  The power of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich came not from its adverbs or adjectives — but from its simplicity. If there were an evil tale to tell about the Church of Christ in East Kilbride, then a recitation of the facts coupled with a statement of the views of both sides would have been sufficient. The Daily Record instead engaged in a hissy fit, a bigotry-laced tantrum that served only to discredit itself, not the target of its animus.

First printed in Get Religion.

A Scottish tabloid libels the Churches of Christ: Get Religion, September 9, 2013 September 9, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Churches of Christ, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Tabloids will always be with us. Few will admit to taking Jesus-shaped potato chips, astrology, Elvis and UFO sightings and Kardashian stories printed by The National Enquirer, the Star, The Globe, the National Examiner and the Weekly World News seriously — but American Media Inc. does quite well for itself by feeding the guilty pleasures of the American public.

The New York Daily News, the New York Post and similar newspapers are tabloids of a different sort. They are written in a simple and sensational style — compared to the “quality” newspapers or broadsheets like The New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal — and give more prominence to celebrities, sports and crime than their staid sisters.

A divide exists also in Britain between quality tabloids like the Daily Express and Daily Mail (some will no doubt choke over the appellation “quality”) and the down market “red tops.” Sharing a common red nameplate, the British red tops like The Sun, the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Record and the Daily Sport are more akin to the Daily News/Post than The National Enquirer in that while they too have horoscopes and celebrity gossip, they also report the news of the day — with naked girls on page 3.

But they also have a well-deserved reputation for bile and have earned the sobriquet the “gutter press.” Take this story in the Glasgow-based Daily Record entitled “Parents’ outrage as extremist US religious cult hand out creationist books and preach to kids at Scottish school.”

From start to finish, this article is junk. Not only is it junk, it sets out to be malicious. Below the over-the-top title appears a disturbing photo with this caption: “Face-painted Jared Blakeman is one of the ‘missionaries’ that has been in classrooms at the school.”

The article opens:

HORRIFIED parents fear an extremist religious sect has been trying to brainwash their kids after it was allowed to infiltrate a Scots primary school.

A head teacher invited the US Church of Christ, which rubbishes evolution and counts homosexuality as a sin, to minister to pupils. The “missionaries” at the school include face-painted Jared Blakeman, pictured in a T-shirt with the slogan AIM – short for “Adventures in Mission”.

Many parents at 400-pupil Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride only realised their children were being exposed to the evangelical group’s agenda when kids brought home alarming books they had been handed at assembly. The creationist books, defended by head teacher Sandra MacKenzie, denounce the theory of evolution and warn pupils that, without God, they risk being murdered in a harmful, disgusting world.

Parents have called for emergency talks with education chiefs, where they will demand the sect’s removal from the school.

The story continues in this line for another few hundred words in a style reminiscent of Der Stürmer. Substitute “Jews” for “Church of Christ,” and with this article alleging secretive sects seeking to destroy the pure Scottish race through their pernicious doctrines,you have a story straight out of 1930′s Germany.

Calling the Churches of Christ an “extremist sect” is ludicrous and pejorative. It seeks to denigrate rather than inform. As to the complaints cited by the article, it uses the weasel words of “many” without identifying how many or who. Are one or two parents or “many” parents upset? And what upsets them? We learn:

But the Record can reveal sinister undertones to their eight-year involvement at the school.

The Church of Christ have targeted Kirktonholme as a “mission” and have several members helping with classes and giving lessons in religion.

Church members like Blakeman – photographed as a scary Pirates of the Caribbean character – were allowed in to work as classroom assistants and help with homework and in other mainstream roles.

What utter garbage. Is such conduct illegal? Does it violate Scottish education rules? No, but admitting a church has been conducting outreach to a school with the school principal’s support and under state guidelines for religious education would deflate the story.

There is a cruel tinge  as well. By using the photo of a volunteer with his face painted like Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it implies this is how the volunteer dressed when helping at the school. Did he? Or is the Daily Record seeking to vilify or caricature a member of this religious group for its own ends?

In Britain, publishers agree to abide to a voluntary code of conduct administered by the Press Complaints Commission.

Article 1 of the code states in part:

1) Accuracy
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

Article 12 states in part:

12) Discrimination
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

Were I the Scottish Church of Christ, I would file a complaint with the commission. Yes, it is only the Daily Record, a disreputable tabloid, but this article is libelous, malicious and evil — it is a disgrace to journalism.

First printed in Get Religion.