Arnaud Beltrame

Hey editorial writers in Pittsburgh: Do be careful when attempting to correct Jesus

Hey editorial writers in Pittsburgh: Do be careful when attempting to correct Jesus

As a rule, GetReligion doesn't post critiques of editorials, columns and analysis pieces in mainstream media or religious publications. Now, we may quote them, from time to time. Also, I frequently point readers to "think pieces" that aren't really news, but are linked to important Godbeat topics.

How do you criticize bias in opinion pieces? They're supposed to be biased. How do you criticize advocacy pieces for a lack of balance? They're supposed to advocate a specific side of an issue that the writer or publication thinks is correct. However, we can ask editorials to to be accurate when it comes to facts and quotes. Right?

Thus, a religion-beat veteran sent me a note this week about a really interesting problem in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial that ran with this headline: "The noble gendarme: Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame gave his life for others."

I've been writing about news-media coverage of the Beltrame case all week, as in this post: "Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... ' " I also wrote my Universal syndicate column about religious themes in this drama in France.

The editorial in Pittsburgh was interesting, in that it attempted to steer around Beltrame's own Catholic faith, while praising his actions in secular terms. Kind of. Here is the opening of the editorial:

The French, who are under sustained attack by Islamist terrorists, have found a hero in French national police Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame.
On Friday, Lt. Col. Beltrame voluntarily traded places with a woman who was being used as a human shield during an armed assault by a self-proclaimed Islamic State “soldier.”

The piece then added more material about why this case was so important, while avoiding religious facts about Beltrame and his work, his marriage and his life.

Then, at the end, there was this leap into theology:

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Secular France mourns loss of Arnaud Beltrame, while press remains silent on his faith (updated)

Secular France mourns loss of Arnaud Beltrame, while press remains silent on his faith (updated)

If you know anything about the history of France, you know why it is common for journalists and scholars to add the word "secular" in front of the country's name.

For millions of people, part of what it means to be truly "French" is to view public life through a lens in which religious faith is kept out of view -- a matter a private feelings and beliefs. This has affected debates about many issues linked to Islam, from the legal status of veils and Burkinis to efforts to grasp the motives of radicalized Muslims.

What about the nation's deep Catholic roots and the violence unleashed against that faith during the French Revolution?

These tensions are currently on display in news coverage of French efforts to honor the late Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, who died after offering to take the place of a female hostage being used as a human shield by an ISIS gunman.

The goal as been to hail Beltrame as a uniquely French hero, while avoiding testimonies of those close to him about the role his Catholic faith -- he was an adult convert -- played in his life and work. Then there was the fact that Beltrame and his wife Marielle were only weeks away from a Catholic wedding rite, two years after their secular marriage.

All of this was described, in great detail, in vivid, detailed, testimonies published by Famille Chretienne (Christian Family), a major religious publication. Hold that thought.

I wrote about the Beltrame story earlier this week -- "Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... ' " -- and have continued to follow the story while researching a Universal syndicate column for this week.

I can be pretty cynical about the "tone deaf" nature of lots of mainstream news coverage of stories of this kind. Still, I have been surprised that mainstream editors, especially here in America (ironically), continue to avoid the "religion ghost" in this highly symbolic event. Time element? Hours before Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week (in Western Christianity).

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Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... '

What did you learn, over the weekend, in the global coverage of the sacrificial death of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame?

Let's say that you saw the main CNN.com report, which led with the fact that the 45-year-old Beltrame died up wounds he suffered after volunteering to swap places with a female hostage during a self-proclaimed ISIS supporter's attack on a supermarket in southern France.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that by "giving his life to end the murderous escapade of a jihadist terrorist, he died a hero."

What other crucial information did CNN producers include to help news consumers understand Beltrame and the nature of his sacrifice? We are, of course, looking for a faith angle.

Married with no children, Beltrame had served in the French military police and received a number of awards for bravery. He served in Iraq in 2005, and was given an award for bravery in 2007, Macron said. For four years, he was a commander in the Republican Guard, which provides security at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president.
In 2012, he was knighted in France's prestigious Legion of Honor. ... Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region.
According to the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, Beltrame led a simulated terror attack in December on a supermarket for training purposes. ...

Now, some publications -- religious publications, for the most part -- included material from another voice of authority on the life and work of Beltrame. That would be Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain of the gendarmerie (hat tip to Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher).

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