Austin

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

I write more than 200 posts a year for GetReligion.

My pieces range from our bread-and-butter critiques of mainstream news media coverage of religion to our weekly Friday Five columns highlighting each week’s major (or just plain quirky) developments on the Godbeat.

At the end of each year, I’m always curious to see which posts caught the attention of the most readers.

What makes a GetReligion post go viral? In 2017, key ingredients included Joel Osteen, same-sex wedding cakes and the Mark of the Beast. The previous year — 2016 — Donald Trump’s “Two Corinthians,” Merle Haggard’s Church of Christ mama and a rare opening of a Chick-fil-A on Sunday were in the mix.

2018? Well, let’s check out the top five posts for GetReligionista Julia Duin, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself.

We’ll start with Julia, for reasons that will become obvious:

5. How journalists can nail down the rest of the Cardinal McCarrick story – for good

4. Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

3. Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

2. Another #ChurchToo: The Chicago Tribune investigates Bill Hybels in 6,000 words

1. The scandal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and why no major media outed him

See any common thread there? That’s right — McCarrick and the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal were huge news and big traffic drivers to GetReligion in 2018, as was the related #ChurchToo news that also made headlines.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Neutral or slanted coverage: Texas newspaper reports on pastors group's lawsuit over LGBT hiring

Neutral or slanted coverage: Texas newspaper reports on pastors group's lawsuit over LGBT hiring

Last year, I praised an Austin American-Statesman story for its fair, evenhanded coverage of religious leaders on both sides of a fight over transgender bathrooms.

That story mentioned the U.S. Pastor Council, which favored limiting the use of bathrooms in schools and government buildings to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

The same group figures in a recent story by the same newspaper. But this time, reader Thomas Szyszkiewicz, the Catholic media pro who shared the link with GetReligion, questioned the American-Statesman’s lede.

Here is that lede:

A conservative Christian organization has sued the city of Austin in federal court in hopes of overturning a nondiscrimination ordinance that offers employment protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Houston-based U.S. Pastor Council argued that the ordinance is unconstitutional and invalid because it does not include a religious exemption for 25 member churches in Austin that refuse to hire gay or transgender people as employees or clergy.

Szyszkiewicz’s comments:

Am I reading too much into it or am I right in thinking that it could have been written in a more neutral way? Or that at least a second sentence or phrase could have been added to make clear that they're trying to protect their religious liberty?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

And in the end, the #hatecake hoax failed to go viral (So what about the pastor's church?)

And in the end, the #hatecake hoax failed to go viral (So what about the pastor's church?)

So, for those of you who keep sending me links: Yes, I heard that the Rev. Jordan Brown of Austin recently announced that his #hatecake lawsuit against Whole Foods was a hoax.

Well, that wasn't exactly what he said. Hold that thought.

Now, I will admit that I didn't see that hoax story when it went viral on social media -- because it didn't go viral on social media (like the earlier story in which Brown made his accusations). This lack of social-media activity is one of two angles in the story that still interest me.

Wait, maybe this story didn't trend on Facebook the second time around because. ... Oh well, nevermind.

Looking at the small amount of coverage this story received, the Austin American-Statesman report was rather interesting because of what it didn't come right out and say. Take that headline for example: "Pastor to drop lawsuit against Whole Foods over anti-gay slur on cake."

So why is he dropping his lawsuit?

The man who accused Whole Foods Market of writing a homophobic slur on a cake will drop a lawsuit against the grocery chain.

“The company did nothing wrong,” Jordan Brown, a pastor of a small Austin church, said in a statement. “I was wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The New York Times tries to explain Texas to America: Oh my God they just don't get it

The New York Times tries to explain Texas to America: Oh my God they just don't get it

For years now, my online GetReligion mini-biography has identified me as a "prodigal Texan." That has been my way of saying that I will always, to some degree, be a Texan, but that my view of the Lone Star state is not quite the same as the natives who cannot conceive of living anywhere else.

But I get Texas. Please trust me on that, by which I mean that I understand the forces that make Texas tick. I keep a can of Wolf brand chili in my kitchen pantry just in case any visiting Texans ask me That Question.

This leads me, of course, to that first-person piece called "What Makes Texas Texas" written by Manny Fernandez of the New York Times office in Houston.

First things first: You mean he isn't based in Austin? I can't believe that someone from the Times would consent to work in Texas and not be based in the people's republic of Austin. Seriously. Well, I guess there are a few Austin-friendly neighborhoods in hip Houston.

This isn't a hard-news piece, but it contains some crucial information that news consumers on planet earth need to read in order to understand the elite cultural forces that shape our news. Let's start with this church of personal material by Fernandez right up top:

I was born and raised in Central California, and I moved to Houston from Brooklyn in June 2011 to cover Texas for The New York Times. I live here with my wife, my 7-year-old son and my 3-year-old daughter, who keeps a pair of pink cowboy boots outside on the porch or inside by the front door. I have covered stories in the South, the Midwest and other parts of the country. People in those places identified with their political party, their job, their cause, their sexual orientation, their city, their race. Almost no one identified with their state the way Texans do.
Who are these people, these Texans?

Well, for starters, hit pause. Look at that list of life-shaping forces: That would be "political party," "job," "cause," "sexual orientation," "city," "race" and "state." OK, Texans, can I get a witness? What is missing from that list?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, the Austin American-Statesman sent a reporter to the Rev. Jordan Brown's church

Yes, the Austin American-Statesman sent a reporter to the Rev. Jordan Brown's church

For those who are curious, The Austin American-Statesman did send a reporter to the anticipated Sunday Church of Open Doors service to see if the Rev. Jordan Brown or any members of his "We've taken tradition and religious doctrine and thrown them out the window" flock decided to attend.

Even though the news report that resulted was short, and rather grammatically challenged, it did yield some interesting information for journalists and news consumers attempting to follow up on the hate-cake incident.

As I said in an early post (and in this past week's "Crossroads" podcast) I am convinced journalists covering Brown's lawsuit, and the resulting counter-suit by the legal team at Whole Foods, need to know if this shepherd does, in fact, have a flock. If so, who are the lay leaders who oversee his ministry?

So here is the top of the report in The American-Statesman:

A traditional Sunday gathering led by an Austin man who targeted Whole Foods Market with controversial, viral allegations that backfired last week didn’t hold its usual services today.
Jordan Brown, who said he pastors a small group, the Church of Open Doors, didn’t have their usual meeting out of his East Austin apartment complex Sunday.

Now, take out the word "traditional" and then substitute "congregation" for "gathering" and that lede makes some sense. I really don't know what happened in the second sentence. It seems that something is missing.

The key fact here is that journalists still have had zero contact with anyone from the congregation.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

After the hate-cake blitz: It may be time for reporters to visit the Church of Open Doors

After the hate-cake blitz: It may be time for reporters to visit the Church of Open Doors

Let's pause, for a moment, and set aside in-depth discussions of Whole Foods security-camera footage and the strategic location of UPC labels.

Ditto for the zoomed-in analysis of high-definition photos that may show clashing colors in cake icing and the width of the letters on top of what is currently America's most controversial "Love Wins" cake.

There is also the irony that this story is unfolding in the people's republic of Austin, which is both the official capital of the state of Texas and the proudly weird Mecca of folks who want to live in Texas, without really living in Texas.

What I want to do is meditate, for a moment, on the difficulty of covering totally independent, nondenominational churches. During the blitz of hate-cake coverage yesterday, very few journalists paused to ask any questions about the Austin pastor at the center of this controversy and his "church plant," the Church of Open Doors.

One of the convenient things about covering large religious institutions, and religious denominations in particular, is that they offer reporters a chance to verify key facts when a minister and/or a congregation hits the headlines, for positive or negative reasons.

This basic reporting work is harder to do with independent congregations (and there are thousands of them and that number is rising all the time). Right now, it's clear that hardly anyone knows much of anything about the Rev. Jordan Brown and his flock. And let me ask again: Why do so many journalists decline to use the normal Associated Press style -- "the Rev." -- when dealing with African-American pastors?

There is Facebook, of course, where one can learn, in addition to the fact that 27 people have visited, that the church's slogan is: "We've taken tradition and religious doctrine and thrown them out the window."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Guilty until proven innocent: Whole Foods denies selling anti-gay cake, makes headlines anyway

Guilty until proven innocent: Whole Foods denies selling anti-gay cake, makes headlines anyway

This is national news?

Yes, apparently it is.

Whole Foods denies that its flagship Austin, Texas, store sold a cake with an anti-gay slur on it. Nonetheless, "America's Healthiest Grocery Store" chain finds itself the focus of a slew of negative headlines.

Fifty-plus stories show up on Google News related to this, including links to BuzzFeed News, the New York Daily News, CBS News, Fox News and the Daily Mail (guess that would make this international news).

GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway rightly asks:

since roughly 100% of these things turn out to be fake, shouldn't media do due diligence BEFORE spreading tale?

This is the lede from the Austin American-Statesman:

Whole Foods is being sued by an Austin pastor who claims the grocery store gave him a cake with a slur against gays.
In a video posted on YouTube, pastor Jordan Brown says he ordered a cake from the Whole Foods flagship store on Lamar Boulevard with the personalized message, “Love Wins.” When he picked up the cake on April 14, he said the cake he picked up had the message “Love Wins Fag.”
Brown, who is openly gay, said he reported the incident to a Whole Foods employee but was told the store did nothing wrong and no action would be taken.

In the fourth paragraph, the American-Statesman gets around to Whole Foods' denial of the allegation:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Hijabs and harassment: Media cover a post-San Bernardino debate by Muslim women

Hijabs and harassment: Media cover a post-San Bernardino debate by Muslim women

Bob Smietana, a board member and immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association, pointed out this story by Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll.

Smietana, the former Godbeat pro for Nashville's Tennessean newspaper who now serves as senior editor for Christianity Today magazine, commented:

I really like the Rachel Zoll piece today. Great look at the nitty gritty details of lived faith. With a good news hook.

The story concerns Muslim women in the U.S. debating the safety of wearing hijabs amid fears of a backlash after attacks carried out by Islamic extremists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif..

The lede:

NEW YORK (AP) — On the night of the California shootings, Asifa Quraishi-Landes sat on her couch, her face in her hands, and thought about what was ahead for her and other Muslim women who wear a scarf or veil in public.
The covering, or hijab, often draws unwanted attention even in the best of times. But after the one-two punch of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks by Islamic militants, and amid an anti-Muslim furor stoked by comments of Donald Trump, Quraishi-Landes, an Islamic law specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wanted to send a message.
"To all my Muslim sisters who wear hijab," she wrote on her Facebook page. "If you feel your life or safety is threatened in any way because of your dress, you have an Islamic allowance (darura/necessity) to adjust your clothing accordingly. Your life is more important than your dress."
Amid a reported spike in harassment, threats and vandalism directed at American Muslims and at mosques, Muslim women are intensely debating the duty and risks related to wearing their head-coverings as usual.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Close shave: Dallas Morning News clips crucial religion content from prison beards story

Close shave: Dallas Morning News clips crucial religion content from prison beards story

With its story this week on beards in Texas prisons, The Dallas Morning News does a nice bit of foreshadowing.

Both the "For God's sake" headline and the "come-to-Jesus" lede provide a strong hint of the level of seriousness with which the Texas newspaper will treat the religion content.

In other words, not seriously at all.

Let's start at the top:

AUSTIN — Last year, Mario Garcia had a come-to-Jesus moment. The 29-year-old father of six, wanted on a domestic violence charge, flipped his truck as he was trying to outrun police. He lost his freedom. Again.
Last week, sitting in a gymnasium at the Travis State Jail, a large silver cross dangling over his white prison uniform, Garcia said he considers his second prison stint a blessing.
“It’s made me slow down and opened my eyes,” he said. “Faith is a major factor in my life right now.”

Perhaps the Morning News intended that "come-to-Jesus" opening to be clever rather than flippant and cliché, but the newspaper never gets around to describing how Garcia came to faith.

Was he a Prodigal Son who returned to the religion of his youth? Or did he find Jesus behind bars? This shallow report seems oblivious to such obvious questions.

The news peg is, of course, tied to that U.S. Supreme Court ruling on prison beards earlier this year:

Please respect our Commenting Policy