David Gibson

Religion News Service touts its new 19-member advisory board -- but what does it mean?

Religion News Service touts its new 19-member advisory board -- but what does it mean?


We’ve been tracking the ups and downs of life at Religion News Service ever since editor Jerome Socolovsky got unceremoniously dumped in April. That led, of course to the departure of two veteran staff members and then a popular columnist on the evangelical left who felt they could no longer work there plus the unexpected dismissal of two other staff.

After much withering critique from fellow religion writers, the powers-that-be at RNS have been shoring up support in the past three months, putting out a job announcement for a new editor-in-chief, asking for more freelancers, the hiring of a Sikh columnist and now an announcement of a new advisory board loaded with names of revered professionals and people with links to major journalistic institutions.

So I’ll run the 19 names of the new board members, from the press release, with my comments:

Dilshad D. Ali
Richmond, VA
Dilshad D. Ali is the Editor-in-Chief at Altmuslim and was previously Managing Editor for the Muslim portal at Patheos.com. She has spent the past two decades covering and coordinating coverage of American Muslim communities for a variety of media outlets, including Beliefnet and Islam Online, and was a 2015 White House Champion of Change honoree for her autism reporting/writing and advocacy work.

Ruby Bailey
Columbia, MO
Ruby Bailey is the executive editor of the Columbia Missourian and holds the Missouri School of Journalism’s Missouri Community Newspaper Management chair, working with community newspapers across the state to help improve their coverage and operations. She previously served as news editor at the Sacramento Bee and assistant metro editor at the Detroit Free Press.

Vikas Bajaj
New York, NY
Vikas Bajaj has been a member of the editorial board of The New York Times since 2012. Earlier, he was a correspondent in Mumbai and covered the financial crisis based in New York. He previously worked as a business, metro and religion reporter at The Dallas Morning News.

This is a really large board. How are these 19 people going to communicate with each other? It is also appropriate to consider issues of zip code.

Also, do they have any power whatsoever? 

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Using the journalism TARDIS: Why was Cardinal McCarrick such a crucial news source?

Using the journalism TARDIS: Why was Cardinal McCarrick such a crucial news source?

When a big news story gets rolling -- like the fall of Cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick -- the digital waves keep crashing in day after, even if there are no new developments in the mainstream press.

Here at GetReligion, it's hard to know what is worth an update or a critique. We will err on the side of keeping readers connected to some of the discussions that are taking place in serious blogging and social media.

Some of the most important issues in this case are linked to journalism questions in the past. If you have followed the must-read posts of GetReligionista Julia Duin (start here and here) and others (Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher, for example), then you know that news organizations had pieces of this puzzle years ago, but could not land the on-the-record interviews needed to satisfy lawyers and editors. One of the big questions: What happened to the New York Times Sunday Magazine story in 2012 that almost made it to print?

There are many "what ifs" to consider. Old-timers like me -- people who covered events in which Cardinal McCarrick was a player and watched journalists encircle him -- may also want to pause and consider why this man was such a prominent news source, in front of cameras and behind the scenes.

The bottom line: The Catholic hierarchy chose to put him in Washington, D.C.

So with that reality in mind, let's do something that your GetReligionistas hardly ever do (with good cause), which is jump in a journalism TARDIS (a Doctor Who reference, of course) and travel back in time. In this case, it's quite educational to pause and examine a glowing 2004 Washingtonian profile of Cardinal McCarrick. Here is the epic double-decker headline: 

The Man In The Red Hat

With a Controversial Catholic in the Presidential Race, the Cardinal Is Seen by Many as the Vatican's Man in Washington -- and He May Play a Big Role in the Selection of the Next Pope

Here is the overture. Pay close attention to the information about this cardinal's clout with journalists:

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After Trump's religious liberty show: Press hears groans on right, as well as that ACLU snicker

After Trump's religious liberty show: Press hears groans on right, as well as that ACLU snicker

So what was that big show in the Rose Garden all about, the one with the smiling President Donald Trump serving up waves of Godtalk to a large assembly of religious leaders from various religious traditions?

This was supposed to be an important moment for those working to protect the First Amendment rights of believers whose commitment to ancient doctrines on marriage and sex have clashed with new laws, and court decisions, crafted to defend the Sexual Revolution, in all of its myriad forms.

However, even before the ceremony began, there were signs that a big dose of fake news was ahead. That was the subject of my Thursday morning post, "Big question in Rose Garden today: A victory, or Trump white flag, on religious liberty issues?"

By the time "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I talked, a few hours after that political rite (click here for the podcast), it was clear that most mainstream journalists had tuned into a crucial fact: The only people who were celebrating this executive order were people who are on the president's payroll or who may as well be (hello Jerry Falwell, Jr.). Their fundraising letters will come later.

But anyone who listened to the church-state voices that mattered knew what was going on.

On the religious and cultural right, Robert P. George of Princeton University issued a devastating tweet that said:

The religious liberty executive order is meaningless. No substantive protections for conscience. A betrayal. Ivanka and Jared won. We lost.

What about the left?

If that George blast wasn't enough to blow the fog away, this press release from the American Civil Liberties Union clarified matters nicely. Yes, there were voices elsewhere on the church-state left that released familiar statements of outrage. Their fundraising letters will come later.

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The reason Religion News Service covered the Democrats this week and not the GOP last week

The reason Religion News Service covered the Democrats this week and not the GOP last week

Sorry, conspiracy theorists (including myself).

There's a logical reason why Religion News Service provided extensive coverage of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week after skipping Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week. And no, it has nothing to do with bias. I'll explain in a moment.

First, a little background: RNS national correspondent David Gibson has been all over various religion angles in the City of Brotherly Love, from asking "Can Hillary Clinton finally close the 'God gap?'" to exploring "Who boos an opening prayer? The Berniacs of 2016, that’s who." 

Other topics have included "The divided soul of the Democratic Party" and "Can Clinton-Kaine bring Democratic voters back to the Democrats?"

But here's a question posed by a reader: Where was the RNS last week when Donald Trump and the Republicans were holding their convention?

My first thought: Did nobody on the RNS staff want to go to Cleveland? I hear it's nice this time of year.

Seriously, it's a legitimate question to ask: How can a news service that claims to be impartial cover one national political convention and not the other?

"Well, you know, religion and GOP politics just don't mix," quipped Terry Mattingly, GetReligion's editor.

But RNS editor in chief Jerome Socolovsky, who joined RNS less than a year and has been open to addressing questions of RNS' perceived liberal leanings, said there's a simple reason why the wire service didn't cover the GOP convention.

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Sunday think pieces: Is it time for Catholics to split into three different flocks?

Sunday think pieces: Is it time for Catholics to split into three different flocks?

The 2015 Synod of Bishops is winding down to crunch time and several key participants have certainly given reporters, and Catholic leaders back home, plenty to think about.

There's too much going on to write it into one summary. So let's just do a kind of math progression and, for now, sets aside the clearly pivotal role that Pope Francis will play in wrapping things up. 

So journalists here stateside, let's do this: Click hereclick hereclick here and then click here. Then sit down, pop open something cold, and think things over. Do some math.

First, there is The Chicago Tribune coverage of statements by the leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago -- arguably the most powerful in the United States -- stating that he sees a way for Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the church to take Holy Communion. He then stated that the same logical -- do what your conscience leads you to do -- applies to gays and lesbians, those who are single and those who are in relationships.

Take it away Archbishop Blasé Kupich:

"In Chicago I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they're elderly or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples," Cupich said. .... "We need to get to know what their life is like if we're going to accompany them.
"I try to help people along the way. And people come to a decision in good conscience," he said about personally counseling Catholics.
"Then our job with the church is to help them move forward and respect that," he said. "The conscience is inviolable. And we have to respect that when they make decisions, and I've always done that."

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'Whoa, that's a scoop': About that surprising news that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis

'Whoa, that's a scoop': About that surprising news that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis

No way.

That was my first thought — and I wasn't alone — when news broke late Tuesday, via Inside the Vatican magazine, that Pope Francis met privately with Kim Davis during his U.S. trip.

Back up just a couple of days: Aboard the papal plane on his return to Rome, Francis said it is the “human right” of government officials to say they cannot discharge duties that they believe go against their conscience.

When Francis said that, major news organizations reported it was unclear whether Francis was familiar with Davis' case.

From the Washington Post's Monday report:

The pontiff made his remarks on his return flight from the United States, in response to a question from ABC’s Terry Moran, who mentioned issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as an example.
It was unclear if the pope knew of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who earlier this year refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, argued that granting a license to a gay couple would violate her religious beliefs. Davis was held in contempt and jailed for five days.
“Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right,” the pope said. “Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It is a human right.”

Now, we suddenly go from "Has he heard of her?" to "He (reportedly) met with her!":

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RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

RNS story on Burke's feminism comments is laced with snark

If you were to ask me the easiest part of writing for GetReligion, I would say it is coming up with items for "What is this?" --  the label we give to stories that are presented as hard news, but are so biased as to be indistinguishable from commentary. 

Religion News Service, which lately has unfortunately become a reliable source for "What is this?" items, presents another example of the genre with "Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘Feminized’ church and altar girls caused priest shortage." The story's facts are straight, but the language is charged in such a way that it manipulates the reader into making negative conclusions about the cardinal. 

Understand, I am not denying that many readers could take offense at the cardinal's comments. Personally, I'm with Madeleine Teahan of the U.K. Catholic Herald, who notes the disconnect between his identifying discipline and strength as "manly" qualities while painting men as passive victims of feminists. But if I wanted a commentary on Burke's interview, I would read a story in the "commentary" section of the news outlet (as is Teahan's). RNS, however, markets its piece under the news label (though it did in fact run a commentary on Burke's interview as well; more on that in a moment). 

The first two paragraphs of the story are factual, though there are the little digs that Catholics have grown accustomed to seeing in stories about Burke:

(RNS) Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis’ push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”
Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican’s highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, also pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

Right away, Burke is set in opposition to Pope Francis, who has "demoted" him. Readers are prepared to dislike him before they even read his comments.

 Then the comments come:

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5Q+1 interview, part 2: RNS writer David Gibson on what GetReligion doesn't 'get' about religion news coverage

5Q+1 interview, part 2: RNS writer David Gibson on what GetReligion doesn't 'get' about religion news coverage

In case you missed it, we ran the first — and my favorite — part of our interview with award-winning Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson on Wednesday.

As part of my e-mail discussion with Gibson, I asked:

Is there anything GetReligion doesn't "get" about religion coverage in the mainstream media? Any tips or suggestions to help us improve what we do?

Gibson's reply:

In his answers in this space, Bob Smietana made good points about diversifying your stable of bloggers and also adopting a more charitable — let’s just say fair — attitude toward other journalists.
 
I would second those suggestions. I also think that GetReligion writers need to practice the journalistic customs that they preach — accuracy, fairness, balance and such. Too often those are cast aside. Perhaps hiring more writers with journalistic experience would help.
 
The site could also be open about its biases and its agenda. Not being transparent undermines your credibility and winds up limiting your audience, and you wind up preaching to a small choir of like-minded conservatives. That in turn undermines the wider goal (and greater good, I’d say) of highlighting religion coverage in the media and encouraging more and better coverage.
 
But would such changes mean that GetReligion wouldn’t be GetReligion any more? I don’t know the answer to that one.

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5Q+1 interview: RNS writer David Gibson on the Godbeat, falling into journalism and his conversion to Catholicism

5Q+1 interview: RNS writer David Gibson on the Godbeat, falling into journalism and his conversion to Catholicism

First of two parts

On his Twitter profile, Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson describes himself as a Catholic convert, a Vatican veteran, a faith fan and an alliteration addict.

His RNS bio notes that he has written two books on Catholic topics, including a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gibson was honored recently as the Religion Newswriters Association's Religion Reporter of the Year for large newspapers and wire services. His winning entry included "The story behind Pope Francis' election," "Is 'Just War' doctrine another victim of the Syrian conflict?" and "The 'Breaking Bad' finale was great. But was it good?"

GetReligion has both praised Gibson's work and — sometimes — questioned why RNS publishes his "analysis" pieces without labels identifying them as such.

What I like about Gibson is that he seems to enjoy the give and take and not take it too personally.

Case in point: his willingness to do this interview.

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