My response to the election, the news media and my alleged 'blanket defense of journalists'

Nineteen days until the election, it's getting testy out there, huh?

(This aside is for my editor Terry Mattingly because I'm about to embed a bunch of tweets, and he worries in these cases that readers won't realize I'm eventually going to make a real point. So, yes, keep scrolling down, and I promise to say something by the end that will rock your world. Or not. But either way, I won't charge you.)

On Twitter, I follow a wide array of journalists, ministers and other folks highly active in the two worlds in which I spend so much time — news and religion.

On the one hand, my journalist friends are frustrated with critics lumping them all together as the evil news media. A few of those friends retweeted this tweet, which made me smile:

My friend Steve Lackmeyer, a longtime reporter for The Oklahoman, joked in response to that tweet:

Did I mention that Steve is a funny guy?

On the other hand, some of the stereotypes that many apply to the news media have roots in legitimate concerns, the kind we often address here at GetReligion:

This week, I wrote a post in which I quoted my friend Cheryl Bacon, chairwoman of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University in Texas, and — mostly — defended this profession I love so much:

That post prompted a friend to send me an email (yes, a friend sends you a private message as opposed to telling you that you're an idiot for the whole world to see) that said:

I could not disagree more with your blanket defense of journalists this cycle.
They are helping destroy civility in the republic and deserve to be held accountable, not excused for their horrible actions.

I replied that I did not believe I had issued a blanket defense. Instead, I had said:

Now, to casual observers, it might seem strange to hear a GetReligionista defend journalists. We, after all, are not shy about criticizing reporting that is inaccurate, unfair or incomplete. As much traditional journalism gives way to advocacy reporting, we often find ourselves frustrated with stories that blend elements of news and commentary and make it difficult for ordinary readers to ascertain which is which.

But as practicing journalists ourselves, we offer our criticisms (and praises) as those who love journalism and see it — as Dr. Bacon does — as a noble profession. Kudos to her for her highly appropriate, well-timed words of wisdom.

On Twitter this morning, I quipped;

As I was pondering these thoughts, I received my daily email of religion headlines from the Pew Research Center and noticed a church-state story on the front page of today's Kansas City Star:

In reply to that front-page image, Tobin Grant, the church-state blogger at Religion News Service, responded:

Yes, it's definitely a fascinating case.

And here's what's refreshing: The Star gives it high-profile, unbiased coverage that highlights the key issues and potential ramifications in a way that treats all sides fairly, starting right at the top:

COLUMBIA — It started with pea gravel. Now it’s a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear to decide crucial questions about religion and government.
A Lutheran church in Columbia has challenged a Missouri decision denying a grant to its preschool, which sought to replace the gravel on its playground with softer, safer material.
To Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a candidate for governor, the case is about an unequivocal section in the state constitution that prevents tax dollars from being used to aid religious groups.
To Annette Kiehne, director of Trinity Lutheran Church’s Child Learning Center, the state’s refusal to help fund a safer playground is an unjustified deprival of a public service — especially given the church’s insistence that activity on the playground would not be religious in nature.
“They’re just kids playing,” she said Wednesday above the din of the preschoolers’ squeals.
And to the high court, the suit known as Trinity Lutheran of Columbia v. Pauley could mean recasting America’s legal stance on the separation of church and state.
Church-related organizations can seek federal assistance for secular programs through the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. However, as many as 39 states have constitutional restrictions similar to Missouri’s when it comes to using public funds to benefit religious groups.

No, it's not a perfect story. I'd love to know, for example, whether we're talking about a church affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I'd love to know more about the preschool's enrollment process and whether it serves church kids, community kids or both. And I'd love to know if the preschool program — inside the church away from the playground — includes religious activities such as Bible study and prayer.

But overall, this well-done story from America's Heartland reminds me why — when it's done right — journalism remains such an important part of our society and group conversation.

Perhaps all of us on Twitter who are so on edge right now would do well to break away — just occasionally — from all the national media and bloggers (except for those at GetReligion).

Here's my advice: Smell some flowers, spend time with a dog (or a rabbit) and pay attention to a voice or two not emanating from Washington, New York or Los Angeles. 

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