Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Covington Catholic update: Was that epic late-Friday Washington Post correction a good move?

Covington Catholic update: Was that epic late-Friday Washington Post correction a good move?

If you’ve ever worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., you know that things often go crazy right about 5 p.m. on Fridays.

It’s the end of the work week. Most of the power brokers have headed for home, their home back in their home district (or state) or that special weekend home where they relax in private. They have turned off their “official” cellphones or left them at the office. Many of their gatekeepers — the folks who negotiate media contacts — have flown the coop, as well.

In newsrooms, the ranks are pretty thin, as well.

Professionals inside the Beltway knows that this dead zone is when savvy press officers put out the news that they hope doesn’t end up in the news. This tactic worked better before Twitter and the Internet.

Thus, the Washington Post posted an interesting editor’s note or correction at the end of the business day this past Friday linked to one of the biggest religion stories of the year — the March for Life drama featuring that group of boys from Covington Catholic High School, Native American drummer-activists and amped-up protesters from the Black Hebrew Israelites (click here for various GetReligion posts on this topic).

It appears that Mollie “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway was either the first pundit or among the very first to spot this interesting Friday dead-zone PR move by the Post.

If you travel back in time, here is the lede on one of the key “Acts of Faith” pieces about this controversy:

A viral video of a group of Kentucky teens in “Make America Great Again” hats taunting a Native American veteran on Friday has heaped fuel on a long-running, intense argument among abortion opponents as to whether the close affiliation of many antiabortion leaders with President Trump since he took office has led to moral decay that harms the movement.

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Private investigators: Confused Covington Catholics didn't shout 'build the wall' or act like racists

Private investigators: Confused Covington Catholics didn't shout 'build the wall' or act like racists

Let’s face it, mass-communications researchers are going to be studying the Covington Catholic High School media meltdown (click here for GetReligion files) for years to come.

I’d still like to know why the Lincoln Memorial drama was an earth-shaking event, but attempts by Native American protest drummers to invade a Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was a “conservative” non-story. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Of course, there’s an outside shot that legal scholars may be involved in future accounts of all this, depending on how judges and, maybe, some juries feel about journalists basing wall-to-wall coverage on short, edited videos provided by activists on one side of a complex news event. In the smartphone age, do journalists have a legal obligation — in terms of making a professional attempt to check basic facts — to compare an advocacy group’s punchy, edited YouTube offering with full-length videos from others?

Before someone asks: I feel exactly the same way about covert videos (think Planned Parenthood stings) by “conservative” activists. Nobody knows anything until the full videos are available to the press.

Now we have an early Washington Post story about a a private investigation of the Covington encounter with Native American activist Nathan Phillips, as well as those angry black Hebrew Israelites. The headline is rather blunt: “Investigation finds no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students during Lincoln Memorial incident.”

Yes, I would like to know who hired the private investigators. Nevertheless, here is the overture. The key findings: No “build the wall” chants. But isolated tomahawk chops.

An investigation released Wednesday into an encounter between Covington Catholic High School students and Native American activists at the Lincoln Memorial last month largely supports the students’ accounts of the incident, which prompted immediate and widespread condemnation of the boys after a video of the encounter went viral.

A short video clip showed Nathan Phillips, playing a traditional drum, in an apparent standoff with student Nick Sandmann, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. The Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School, which arranged the trip, were among those who initially condemned the boys’ actions in the video.

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A question that won't fade: Why did Covington Catholic boys instantly become the bad guys?

A question that won't fade: Why did Covington Catholic boys instantly become the bad guys?

Stop and ask yourself the following journalism puzzler (I apologize for the length of this thing).

Why did the Covington Catholic High School “smirk” incident with Native American elder Nathan Phillips seize the American media and even cause waves overseas, while the effort by Phillips and his drummers to march into and interrupt a Mass at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (security personnel stopped them) drew a radically mainstream media response (something like this, click here)?

The answer is clear: The gatekeepers in key, elite newsrooms thought the first story was big news and the second one was not.

But why did they feel that way? Why ignore one story and carpet-bomb the other?

That gets us into the media-bias minefield that I have been exploring my entire professional career, starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s (click here for my 1983 cover story for The Quill, a professional journal). But that answer only raises more questions: Why do so many journalists ignore, downplay or even mangle religion stories? What kind of bias is involved? As for that topic, click here for my second cover story at The Quill, in 1993. There is no one bias linked all this — there are four of them.

Welcome to this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, which — #DUH — returns to the Covington Catholic story. Click here to tune that in.

I want to point readers to a new mini-essay by one of my favorite writers, David French of National Review. He is a Harvard Law School graduate who specializes in religious liberty cases. As an outspoken #NeverTrump #NeverHillary conservative, he has been caught in the middle of many media flash fires in recent years.

The headline on this piece: “We’re Plagued by a Partisan Press. Here’s One Cure.” It focuses on the lack of intellectual and cultural diversity in many newsrooms. This reality affects decisions about what is and what is not news.

But before we get to French, let me remind readers of the following language in the amazing 2005 self-study conducted by the New York Times, during a time of turmoil over journalism ethics. The title: “Preserving Our Readers' Trust.

Our paper's commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason — to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.

The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting. We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar).

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Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about

Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about

In the end, here was the question that loomed over the funeral Mass of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: Was this a political event? The answer is easy to find, simply by glancing at the coverage offered by several elite newsrooms.

That answer: Of course this was a political event. What would the alternative be? Actually covering the words and symbols of the event itself, which in this case would have led to news reports containing the doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith?

That would never do. That wouldn't be "real," since Scalia was clearly a powerful player in the world of law and politics -- the "real" world.

You know that this inside-the-Beltway prejudice against religious faith being "real" was on the mind of Father Paul Scalia, the preacher and celebrant. As one of the justice's sons, you know that he was more than aware of his father's convictions about the content of funeral rites and the sermons preached in them (and thus mentioned this subject in his funeral sermon). Click here for Antonin Scalia's thoughts on that.

Readers had a chance to know what the family was thinking because of the opening lines of Father Scalia's sermon, which directly challenged the Beltway mindset. If anyone saw these words reported in a mainstream news story, please let me know. I know that this is long. That's the point:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more, a man loved by many, scorned by others, a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of Him, because of His life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

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Looking ahead to Justice Scalia's funeral, with a flashback to wisdom from his son, the priest

Looking ahead to Justice Scalia's funeral, with a flashback to wisdom from his son, the priest

So what mattered the most in the end, the contents of Justice Antonin Scalia's heart or his head?

Where did the work of the Catholic believer (some journalists called him a "fundamentalist") end and the fierce advocate of Constitutional "originalism" begin?

At mid-week, when host Todd Wilken and I recorded or next "Crossroads" podcast -- click here to tune that in -- I was still wrestling with the following quote from Notre Dame University law professor Richard Garnett, which was featured in a Time magazine think piece about Scalia's impact on American law and culture.

“A big part of his legacy will be how navigated the relationship between one’s deeply held faith commitments and one’s role as a judge,” Garnett, of Notre Dame, says. “For him, the way to navigate that relationship, it was not to compromise one’s religious faith or water it down, it was to distinguish between the legal questions the judge has the power to answer and the religious commitments that a judge has the right to hold, just like all of us do.”

In other words, something like this? "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." That is never an easy task.

While the news media remains focused on the political fallout after Scalia's death, I think it will be interesting to note the fine details of what is sure to be a grand funeral service in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We know that President Barack Obama will be missing, but how many bishops, archbishops and cardinals will find their way into the "choir"? To what degree will the service -- as the justice desired -- focus on basic Christian beliefs about eternity, as opposed to hints about legal wars in the here and now?

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Think pieces on Justice Scalia, funeral sermons, humility and the First Amendment

Think pieces on Justice Scalia, funeral sermons, humility and the First Amendment

The funeral of Justice Antonin Scalia this coming Saturday will be in the grandest possible setting that America offers for a Catholic who spend spent decades on the U.S. Supreme Court -- the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

As noted in a Religion News Service update, Scalia preferred the Latin Mass, so journalists will want to probe into the details of the service as they emerge. Another key question: Will Scalia's son -- Father Paul Scalia of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington (Va.) -- play a major role in the rite?

Who will speak during the funeral Mass? Whoever it is will want to read a fascinating letter that Scalia wrote to the Rev. James C. Goodloe after the funeral of Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. The subject: Appropriate sermons at funerals. Reporters will want to note an interesting question about Catholic canon law. Here is that letter:

CHAMBERS OF JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA
September 1, 1998
Dr. James C. Goodloe
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
1627 Monument Avenue
Richmond, Virginia 23220-2925
Dear Dr. Goodloe:
I looked for you unsuccessfully at the luncheon following the funeral yesterday. I wanted to tell you how reverent and inspiring I found the service that you conducted.
In my aging years, I have attended so many funerals of prominent people that I consider myself a connoisseur of the genre.

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