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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.

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Sydney Morning Herald has a problem with religious freedom: Get Religion, January 17, 2013 January 17, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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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.

It begins:

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.

Self censorship and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 5, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution.
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An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.

First posted in GetReligion.