Bathroom bills

Totally pro-LGBT slant? Religious liberty in scare quotes? Well, that's Fox News for you ...

Totally pro-LGBT slant? Religious liberty in scare quotes? Well, that's Fox News for you ...

You really have to love readers who pay close attention and are willing to tilt at windmills every now and then.

Consider this note from a GetReligion reader — a radio pro — who kept his skepticism meter turned up, even when looking for liberal bias in a rather unusual place. The headline on this rather ordinary politics-meets-business story (with religion lurking in the background, of course) is: “Amazon opposes anti-LGBT Tennessee legislation amid activist pressure.”

Yes, that’s Fox News for ya. Our pro-journalism reader sent me an email that noted the following:

Fox is usually considered friendly to conservatives, right? Then why isn't there a single quote — count 'em, ZERO — in this story from someone defending the legislation? And why did they do this: "Sponsors of the bills claim they are trying to protect 'religious freedom'"? Scare quotes around "religious freedom"? Really?

The only thing that I disagree with in that note is that I don’t think one needs to be a “conservative” to defend the old-school, liberal model of the press that asked journalists to talk to people on both sides of a hot, divisive issue, while treating their views with respect. Then again, I am also old enough to remember the church-state good old days (that would be the Clinton administration) when you didn’t need to be a “conservative” to back an old-school liberal take on religious liberty (minus the scare quotes).

What does this Fox News story have to say? The problem isn’t that it includes lots of material from LGBT activists who oppose this legislation. That’s a big part of the story. The journalism problem here is that the story totally embraces, as neutral fact, the cultural left’s views on what the legislation would do. This starts right up top:

Amazon has signed a letter opposing a raft of anti-LGBT legislation in Tennessee as the tech giant plans to expand its presence in the business-friendly state.

"Legislation that explicitly or implicitly allows discrimination against LGBT people and their families creates unnecessary liability for talent recruitment and retention, tourism, and corporate investment to the state," the open letter to Tennesse legislators states.

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The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Transgender bathroom bill unveiled in Texas

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Transgender bathroom bill unveiled in Texas

Even if you live far from the Lone Star State, the weeping and gnashing of teeth — on the part of the news media — were difficult to miss last week.

Suffice it to say that elite journalists are beside themselves over this: Top Texas Republicans seem intent on heading down the same dangerous, discriminatory path as North Carolina. At least that's the slanted perspective that major newspapers advanced after Thursday's unveiling of a Texas "bathroom bill" (scare quotes courtesy of the news media).

In the following "news story" lede, please help me count how many different ways the Dallas Morning News editorializes its concerns:

AUSTIN -- Cities like Dallas and Austin could have to undo local laws that protect transgender people from discrimination if Texas passes the so-called bathroom bill unveiled Thursday, a proposal panned by the business community that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies.

OK, what's your count?

I got five:

1. "could have to undo local laws"

2. "that protect transgender people from discrimination"

3. "the so-called bathroom bill"

4. "a proposal panned by the business community"

5. "that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies"

Man, I sure hope the Dallas Morning News doesn't waste space by writing a separate editorial on this subject. Just include a note on the opinion page referring to the front-page "news story."

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Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Year-beginner for 2017: Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and moi, see more battles over religious liberty

Ever since the 1980s, I have been telling editors and journalists that conflicts about religious liberty were going cause some of the biggest news stories on the American horizon.

Anyone who has been reading GetReligion since 2004 knows that I've been saying that, over and over. Amen If you listen to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, looking ahead into 2017, you're going to hear more about that. No apologies.

The roots of this concern run back to my graduate-school work in Baylor University's church-state studies program, where -- in 1977-78 -- we could hear the early rumblings of what would become Bob Jones University vs. United States case.

Why is that important? Do you remember this crucial moment in the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell debates about same-sex marriage?

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled to tax­ exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­-sex marriage?
GENERAL VERRILLI: You know, I, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue. I, I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is, it is going to be an issue.

That's why religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling, in his recent pair of memos looking ahead to 2017, stressed that religious-liberty cases -- linked to LGBTQ issues, again -- would remain on the front burner for major American newsrooms. Click here and then here for those two Ostling posts.

You can see the same themes again, over and over, in the recent "Acts of Faith" year-beginner piece at The Washington Post by religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey (yes, a former member of the GetReligion team). The headline: "Here’s what we think will be the major religion stories of 2017." Here is the overture:

The new year could be turbulent for religion in America.

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Flush with controversy, 'bathroom bill' coverage skirts faith-based roots of opposition

Flush with controversy, 'bathroom bill' coverage skirts faith-based roots of opposition

There have been many times in recent months that I've thought of the late "philosopher" Rodney King, Jr., whose plaintive "Can we all just get along?" (often misquoted as "can't") resounded across the nation following the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (King, who died four years ago, was the police beating victim; an acquittal in the case involving four officers accused of harming him set off the disturbances.)

Can we all just get along, then, when it comes to gender and bathroom usage? And is there a spiritual and even doctrinal angle -- on one side of this public debate -- that is missing in the latest flush of coverage about North Carolina?

You probably know the background: A move early in 2016 by Charlotte's city council to allow transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice in any "public accommodation" in the city brought a backlash from the North Carolina legislature, which outlawed such protections statewide. The state ban brought economic and artistic boycotts, and allegedly cost the state hundreds of jobs. The most prominent job loss might have been that of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, who narrowly lost a re-election bid in November.

This week, a "compromise" of sorts was reached: Charlotte said it would repeal its ordinance if the legislature would "fully repeal" HB 2, the much-derided ban. The Charlotte repeal included some phrases legislative Republicans didn't like; the proposed state measures included wording the Democrats didn't like. The result: No repeal of HB2 and uncertainty in Charlotte.
 
So what's the religion angle, you ask? You will barely find it in the media coverage, such as The New York Times, which had reporters in Raleigh and Atlanta on the case:

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What fuels fake news? Major Tennessee newspapers pledge to oppose 'anti-LGBT' bills

What fuels fake news? Major Tennessee newspapers pledge to oppose 'anti-LGBT' bills

As you would expect, I have been asked more than my share of questions -- in face-to-face encounters and in cyberspace -- about the tsunami of post-Election Day arguments about "fake news."

What do I think of this phenomenon? As it turns out, my answer to this question is directly linked to the work we do here at GetReligion and to my "Journalism Foundations" class that I teach in New York City at The King's College (a class that was also a cornerstone of the old Washington Journalism Center program).

Let me be as brief, because we need to get to a highly relevant case study from The Tennessean in Nashville.

Fake news is real and it's a very dangerous trend in our public discourse. There is fake news on the right, of course, but it also exists on the left (think Rolling Stone). Many Americans are being tempted to consume fake news because they have completely lost trust in the ability of the mainstream press to do accurate, balanced, fair coverage of many of the issues that matter most to people from coast to coast, but especially in the more conservative heartland.

Some of this is political, but we are also talking about "Kellerism" (click here for information on this GetReligion term) and the fact that some elite newsrooms struggle when covering moral, cultural and social issues. Some journalists (thank you Dean Baquet of The New York Times) just don't "get religion."

This brings me to a business story in The Tennessean with this oh-so-typical headline: "Tennessee firms fire warning shot against LGBT laws." Let's see if we can find the key passage that, for many Volunteer State readers, will link directly to their willingness to turn to news sources that mainstream journalists, often with good cause, would call "fake."

The overture, of course, establishes the framing of this 1,300-word report:

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Click, click: Tough calls journalists must make, when facing good news and dumb news

Click, click: Tough calls journalists must make, when facing good news and dumb news

What we have here is the kind of laugh-to-keep-from-crying conversation that journalists have had for ages and ages. Amen.

However, the topic discussed in the YouTube located at the top of this post -- offering us a chance to touch base with former GetReligionista George Conger (in clericals) -- has become even more common in the digital news era. You know, this current age in which the journalistic temptation to seek out cat videos and "You won't believe what happens next" listicles continues to grow.

Yes, "Anglican Unscripted" is not a mainstream news product. It's an Anglican affairs video podcast with a conservative point of view.

Still, about two minutes in, Conger and co-host Kevin Kallsen (with guitar) start discussing a very important editorial matter, which is why it makes little sense in the internet news era to cover "good" stories that everyone already knows about and "dumb news" that may be humorous or somewhat ironic, but it's so predictable that no one needs to pays attention.

As George states: "Consistently good news, and consistently dumb stories, eventually do not sell."

Let's just say that a key phrase in this discussion is, rather than, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" is "One Lord, one faith, one toilet."

The key question: Why didn't the following press release -- a letter from the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and other leads in the denomination -- generate mainstream news coverage, even in liberal settings that would logically support this action? Here's the key passage:

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More on 'bathroom wars': Crux quotes several sides and lets you decide

More on 'bathroom wars': Crux quotes several sides and lets you decide

Crux, you had me at "varied Catholic responses."

Just about every transgender rights article I've ever read has drawn caricatures: a hidebound, monolithic bureaucracy against earnest activists who bravely state their rights. Yesterday's Crux story is different: It cites intelligent, articulate viewpoints on more than one side.

You can see the difference right in the lede:

A controversy over transgender rights at schools and public facilities in the United States that’s been dubbed the "bathroom wars" has drawn varied Catholic responses, with bishops expressing concern over a trio of disputed government actions at the local, state and federal level, and a Catholic gay rights group supporting increased access for transgender people.

No other story I've reviewed on this controversy has carried Catholic Church views on the so-called bathroom wars. Nearly all the stories major in politician quotes; most quote liberal activists; some quote their conservative opponents;  one or two have asked a pastor or two. The largest division of Christianity, the Catholic Church, is always ignored. Except for Crux yesterday.

The article focuses on North Carolina, the battleground of laws, lawsuits and boycotts. Crux explains Charlotte's ordinance that allowed people to use restrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify. Crux also cites HB2, the state law that overturned the ordinance and prevented any other cities from passing similar measures.

And the 1,500-word indepth has more than sound bites. It gives lots of space to a statement by both of North Carolina's bishops, Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte:

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Biased framing: Here's why 'religious freedom' automatically means 'anti-LGBT' to this newspaper

Biased framing: Here's why 'religious freedom' automatically means 'anti-LGBT' to this newspaper

Dallas Morning News writer Robert Wilonksy is no fan of Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

No fan at all.

In fact, Wilonsky wrote a scathing column last week in which he declared that "Robert Jeffress belongs in Dallas' past, not our future":

It’s appalling but never particularly surprising when First Baptist Dallas senior pastor Robert Jeffress says something about how the Catholics and the gays and the Muslims and the Mormons are ruining America and stripping Christians of their religious liberties. It’s who he is. It’s what he does. It’s how he makes his mammon.
Dallas has become a city that considers itself progressive and tolerant, where “gender identity and expression” are part of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. We’re supposed to be enlightened now, no longer The City of Hate.
But Jeffress is the vestigial tail that forgot to fall off.
And usually, when Jeffress says things like President Barack Obama’s clearing the path for the Antichrist or that he agrees with Donald Trump that women who get abortions should be punishedor that “a competent Christian is better than a competent non-Christian,” his remarks rev up the Internet Comment Machine for a day or two and then fade away until the next time he says something you can’t believe someone would say in a major metropolitan city in 2016.
But not this time.
This time, activists are demanding city officials do something, say something.

Extremely strong words. And certainly appropriate ones for an editorial writer. We at GetReligion highlight slanted reporting and apparent bias in news coverage, not opinion content.

But what if the same writer who bashed Jeffress above also purported to produce impartial news coverage on the same subject matter?

Might anyone at the Dallas Morning News see a problem with that? A journalistic problem?

Mind-blowingly, the answer appears to be no.

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Out of the (water) closet: New York Times surveys backlash on Obama 'bathroom' order

Out of the (water) closet: New York Times surveys backlash on Obama 'bathroom' order

The pushback against the Obama administration's latest directive, to open all school bathrooms and locker rooms to transgender people -- using federal funding as a bit of blackmail -- gets a broad indepth article from the New York Times.

But the Gray Lady raises more questions than she answers -- and doesn't ask some that she should.

The story draws broadly from several front lines. It tells of a march in rural Georgia and a demonstration in Fort Worth over the issue.  Also a vow by the school district in Marion County, Fla., to fight a complaint from the ACLU. And eight states have sided with North Carolina in its legal fight with the federal government, which is suing the Tar Heel State over its bathroom law.

And -- an important fact -- the paper reveals that everyone is pretty much arguing blind about transgender regulations:

Advocates on both sides said they suspect that most school districts did not have explicit policies defining gender. There are districts that allow transgender students to use the facilities that match their identities, and districts that prohibit it, but no definitive count of either group.

The article is thickly referenced with seven linked articles, most of them from the Times itself. But in contrast to many roundup-style pieces, this one adds new info and interviews. It includes at least 10 quoted sources, including interviews and a press conference with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas. And the opinions represent not only both sides, but a few points in between.

Unfortunately, some of the quotes amount to mere posturing:

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