Daniel Okrent

Azusa Pacific, doctrine and sex, again: Los Angeles Times acts as cheerleader for one side

Azusa Pacific, doctrine and sex, again: Los Angeles Times acts as cheerleader for one side

After 15 years of work here at GetReligion, it’s easy to describe the question that I hear more than any other when I get into discussions with readers of the blog.

The question: Do you ever get frustrated having to write posts about the same issues in mainstream news, over and over, criticizing the same errors — noting the same holes, the same biases, the same “religion ghosts”?

The answer: Yes, it’s frustrating. However, when we see problems over and over, that means we have to write about them. The repetition shows that the problem is real and is not going away.

That brings me to a new Los Angeles Times story about the ongoing LGBTQ debates at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical college in greater LA. Our own Julia Duin wrote about some of the early coverage in post the other day. Please check that out.

The new Times piece is the same song, all over again. Frankly, this is one of the most slanted stories I have seen in a mainstream publication in a long time. So here we go — again.

The liberal evangelical side of this equation is covered in depth, as it should be. But if you are looking for student voices, faculty voices, trustee voices on the traditional side of this doctrinal debate, you need to look somewhere else. Let’s walk through the overture of the piece.

On a recent fall day, a group of protesters gathered in a university courtyard, many holding rainbow flags. About 100 students and faculty members were fighting for LGBTQ rights on campus.

With a crowd this size, it might have been possible to get a specific figure. However, let me note that APU has about 5,600 students.

This does not mean that a small crowd of this kind is not important. It takes guts to protest your own school when it is a private school that, when you enrolled, you were told upfront the doctrinal standards that would frame campus life. We are talking about a voluntary association, a private school that no one has to attend. People choose to study there, work there, teach there.

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The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

Back in 2004, the public editor of The New York Times wrote a famous column with a very famous headline, which said: "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?"

GetReligion readers with long memories will recall that Daniel Okrent followed that headline with this lede: "Of course it is."

That column contained lots of memorable quotations and it remains must reading. However, here is one passage that was especially controversial at the time and it remains controversial to this day.

... (F)or those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.

Okrent was, let me stress, not talking about the great Gray Lady's editorial page. He wasn't talking about op-ed pieces or even first-person features in the newspaper's magazine. The public editor -- a post recently shut down by Times management -- was trying to describe the urban, blue-zip-code tunnel vision that often slants the newspaper's hard-news coverage, especially on issues of culture, morality and religion.

Thus, I do not know what Okrent would have said about the "Fashion and Style" essay that ran in 2013, written by Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters, with this headline: "The Gayest Place in America?" The lede:

WASHINGTON -- My earliest sense of what it meant to be gay in the nation’s capital came more than a decade ago when I was a summer intern. I was a few blocks from Union Station when a congressman walked by and gave the reporters I was standing with a big, floppy wave hello.

That's fair game for first-person analysis writing. However, I do think that, if Okrent time-traveled to the present, he would raise a question or two about the hard-news Times feature by Peters that dominated my email over the Thanksgiving weekend. The provocative headline: "Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment."

The subject of this A1 story was the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious-liberty group that has become a major voice in cases at the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. Here is the thesis statement, high in the report:

The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

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Disturbance in the Journalism Force? New York Times spikes its public-editor post

Disturbance in the Journalism Force? New York Times spikes its public-editor post

If you are a journalist or a news consumer who is concerned about the survival of old-school reporting and editing in this troubled day and age, then you probably felt a disturbance yesterday in what could be called the Journalism Force.

When I say "old-school journalism," I am referring to what textbooks often call the "American model of the press," which stresses that journalists should strive to honor standards of accuracy, fairness and balance when covering the news. The key: When reporting on hot-button issues, journalists should strive to treat people on all sides of these debates with respect.

This classically liberal approach to news emerged, and evolved, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The goal was to produce news that was as independent as possible, thus exposing readers to genuine diversity. Citizens could then make up their own minds.

An older, advocacy model built on clear editorial biases -- often called the "European model" -- has remained a crucial part of modern journalism, primarily in magazines and journals of opinion (think The Nation, National Review, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard).

So what happened yesterday? Here is the top of the Associated Press report:

NEW YORK -- The New York Times is ditching its public editor position, created in 2003 as the paper sought to restore its credibility with readers after a plagiarism scandal.
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger wrote in a memo Wednesday that the public editor's role "has outgrown that one office" and that the paper is instead creating a "reader center" to interact with the public and will allow more commenting on stories. The paper's current public editor, Liz Spayd, will leave Friday.
Margaret Sullivan, the well-regarded former Times public editor, now a media columnist at the Washington Post, tweeted that she was not surprised that the Times dropped the role, which she characterized as a "a burr under the saddle for the powers that be" and capable of holding managers' "feet to the fire."

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New York Times editor: We just don't get (a) religion, (b) the alt-right or (c) whatever

New York Times editor: We just don't get (a) religion, (b) the alt-right or (c) whatever

You know what, your GetReligionistas did hear something about an interesting quote from New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet during yesterday's Fresh Air program on National Public Radio. We have also seen the blitz of Twitter reactions to his words.

It was something about elite journalists struggling to "get religion," right?

The headline for this interview was highly relevant, in light of the ongoing mainstream media meltdown in the wake of the White House win by Donald Trump. That would be: " 'New York Times' Executive Editor On The New Terrain Of Covering Trump." (That link includes the transcript and a link to the audio file.)

The interview includes all kinds of interesting material, including Baquet's take on the "fake news" phenomenon and life with a president-elect who is overly fond of Twitter. 

The Times editor also explains why he believes that it's a recent phenomenon for journalists to feel obligated to cover both sides of heated public debates, especially when journalists believe they already know the key facts. Thus, they should just print what they believe is true and that's that. Is Baquet advocating a return to the candid advocacy (often called the European Model of the Press) that dominated American journalism until late in the 19th Century?

But we are, of course, primarily interested in the quote that launched waves of emails and tweets in this direction. That would be the section in which Baquet addresses a particular news beat that has given his newspaper problems:

I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don't quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer, but she's all alone. We don't get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives.

You can see how some folks would think that we'd be interested in that. However, I think it's crucial to see the wider context of where that quote appeared in this interview.

Baquet and host Terry Gross are talking about Trump and his link to truly dangerous elements in American life, over on the fringes with racists and nationalists. That, for Baquet, links directly to anger in the American heartland and that links directly to, yes, religion.

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Meltdown flashback: Once more into the New York Times 'spiritual crisis' breach

Meltdown flashback: Once more into the New York Times 'spiritual crisis' breach

Please hang in there with me for a moment, or several moments. There is much to discuss and it will require more than one post.

I was going to write a post this morning about the much-discussed letter to readers from New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and executive editor Dean Baquet. That's the letter that is being interpreted as a mild act of journalistic repentance, stating, sort of, that the Times team -- after missing the whole Donald Trump and middle America thing -- promises to go back to doing basic news coverage, rather than advocacy journalism.

The problem, however, is that this is not what the letter actually says. It says the Times needed to turn "on a dime" in order to react to election night developments, but that the newsroom then did what it has "done for nearly two years -- cover the 2016 election with agility and creativity." Then there was this:

As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.

So there is the issue once again. The Times leaders believe that they have been producing journalism that shows understanding and, dare I say, respect for "all political perspectives and life experiences" in America, as opposed to here in New York City (I am writing this while looking out a window towards the World Trade Center). #REALLY

I wanted to write a post about this remarkable letter, but then it hit me. In a way, I have already written a recent post about this issue -- back on August 1. So before we look at new materials linked to the Times culture, religion news and the newspaper's critics, please let me do something that I have never done before in the nearly 13-year history of this blog -- republish a whole post and urge you to read it. Then we will move on in the days ahead.

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Once more unto the breach, dear friends: 'Why Readers See The Times As Liberal'

Once more unto the breach, dear friends: 'Why Readers See The Times As Liberal'

Here is the understatement of the year: Yes, a few GetReligion readers noticed that the new Public Editor (think readers' representative or ombudsman) at The New York Times published an essay entitled "Why Readers See The Times as Liberal."

Actually, it seems like someone representing the great Gray Lady writes an essay on this basic topic every five years or so. I know, because I have been collecting these pieces for a decade-plus to use in the classroom, as part of a New York Journalism Semester lecture entitled "The Spiritual Crisis at The New York Times." In this case, "spiritual" refers to the religion of journalism itself, as in the classic 2004 PressThink essay by Jay Rosen of New York University entitled "Journalism Is Itself a Religion."

You see, many journalists see what they do as a vocation that verges on being a calling, in part because of classic American Model of the Press doctrines about accuracy, fairness, balance and truth telling. The issue is whether the doctrines of the journalism faith are changing, often because of struggles among journalism elites to do old-school journalism when covering hot-button issues linked to (wait for it) religion, morality and culture.

The surprising thing, this time around, is that the essay by Public Editor Liz Spayd talks about differences between left and right, but does not seem to be aware of the role that religious and cultural issues (as opposed to arguments about Donald Trump) have played in previous debates about this topic at The Times. Can you say "Bill Keller"?

So should we discuss all of this again? Yes, dear friends, once more unto the breach. This is why we are here, as in our Year 10 refresh.

The starting point for Spayd is the same as always, as in complaints from readers. Here is a sample:

One reader from California who asked not to be named believes Times reporters and editors are trying to sway public opinion toward their own beliefs. “I never thought I’d see the day when I, as a liberal, would start getting so frustrated with the one-sided reporting that I would start hopping over to the Fox News webpage to read an article and get the rest of the story that the NYT refused to publish,” she says. ...
Emails like these stream into this office every day. A perception that The Times is biased prompts some of the most frequent complaints from readers. Only they arrive so frequently, and have for so long, that the objections no longer land with much heft.

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