Dick and Betty Odgaard

Three questions for Dallas Morning News re: slanted coverage of traditional wedding venue

Three questions for Dallas Morning News re: slanted coverage of traditional wedding venue

It’s a tough time for the Dallas Morning News. Earlier this month, the Texas newspaper laid off 43 people in its newsroom and other parts of the company, citing declines in revenue. (Strangely, the same paper posted ads later in the month seeking to hire a city hall reporter and an aviation reporter.)

Here at GetReligion, we frequently lament the demise of what was — once upon a time — one of the nation’s premier news organizations for covering religion, with a handful of full-time Godbeat pros and a weekly stand-alone faith section.

I remain a paid subscriber, even though the Dallas Morning News’ skimpy and often uninformed (read: no religion beat specialist) coverage of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s massive faith community repeatedly frustrates me.

The paper’s publisher recently acknowledged the problem:

We've heard from many readers that the role of religion in society deserves more coverage. So we're also launching a new initiative called Faith Forum, articles focusing on how faith informs major decisions in people's lives. A panel of North Texas faith leaders has agreed to advise on topics and contribute articles. The essays will not appear on any particular schedule, but as news warrants.

At the same time, the reference to “essays” gives the impression that the Dallas Morning News thinks it can cover religion with reader-submitted opinion pieces as opposed to news stories produced by actual journalists.

After that long introduction, let me get to the point of this post: Wednesday’s Metro & Business cover (yes, they’re one section after the recent belt-tightening) featured a story with this print headline:

Venue turns away gay couple, cites God’s design for marriage

That sounds like a religion story, right?

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Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

When I started in journalism — back when cavemen and Terry Mattingly roamed the earth — reporters at major newspapers typically didn't write their own headlines.

They'd file their story to an assigning editor, who would give it a first read, ask questions, make revisions and eventually ship it down the line, either to another assigning editor or to the copy desk. It was not unusual for a handful of editors to handle a story — particularly a major one — before it hit the press and landed on readers' driveways before sunup.

The copy desk — often late at night — would check for grammar, spelling and Associated Press style errors. And at some point, a slot editor would place the story on a page with a headline that could be any number of lines and columns, depending on the ads around it.

Before the days of easy fixes online, the copy editors saved reporters from egregious and embarrassing mistakes in smelly black ink. But yes, sometimes, those same editors — under deadline pressure — came up with headlines that were, um, less than representative of what the story actually said.

So a common defense of the writer class to headline fails was: "Reporters don't write their own headlines." In other words, don't blame us!

Is that still true? In the web-first age, do writers still depend on editors to craft their headlines? In some cases, yes. But in general, it varies. So I have no idea who wrote the headline on the USA Today story I want to highlight today.

But I will say this: The newspaper's story on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (click here if you somehow have no idea what I'm talking about) is interesting and informative.

The headline? Not so much:

Same-sex marriage foes stick together despite long odds

Blah.

That's not really what the story is about. 

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That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

This — 100 percent this. And about time.

Perhaps you saw the debate the other night. I caught an hour or so of it — about all I could take. 

For those concerned about culture-war issues, count how many times words such as "abortion," "marriage" and "religious liberty" were uttered in the showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (The answer, in each case, would be zero.)

Thus, tweets such as the ones below appeared in my timeline on debate night (yes, including one from our own tmatt).

Then on Wednesday, I noticed this tweet from James A. Smith Sr., a GetReligion reader, a Southern Baptist minister and vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters.

So back to "This," that link I shared earlier.

It's an in-depth story by Laurie Goodstein, the New York Times' veteran national religion correspondent who just won the Religion News Association's top prize for excellence in religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

Here is how an email sent to religion writers by a New York Times public relations guru (who knew newspapers had PR people?) describes today's story:

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CNN on 'fundies,' ordinary believers, evangelicals or, heck, somebody out there in voting booths

CNN on 'fundies,' ordinary believers, evangelicals or, heck, somebody out there in voting booths

The politics team at CNN recently produced a major story about religion and politics, one so long and so serious in intent that a loyal GetReligion reader wrote me a note saying that he was confused and thought this had been produced by Al-Jazeera English.

The story is about the Religious Right, which means that by unwritten journalistic law it should have fit into one of two pre-White House race templates. If you have followed coverage of religion and politics at all, you have seen these two templates many times.

No. 1 argues that the power of the Religious Right is fading (because America is growing more diverse and tolerant), which will create major problems for the Republican Party.

Template No. 2 argues that the power of the Religious Right is as strong as ever (the dangerous quest for theocracy lives on), which will create major problems for the Republican Party.

You can see the basic approach in this long, long report by scanning the epic double-decker headline:

Fear and voting on the Christian right
A wedding chapel went out of business because its evangelical owners refused to host a same-sex wedding celebration. Conservative Christians are on edge -- and they could sway the presidential election.

Clearly the goal in this story was to tell the story of some soldiers on the front lines in the First Amendment wars, offering the wedding-chapel owners tons of space in which to offer their views. Some GetReligion readers were impressed with that. Others, however, were troubled for reasons that we'll get to in a moment. Pay attention for the fine details here in the overture:

They called her a bigot, a homophobe, even a racist, which was strange, because the two gay men were white and so was Betty Odgaard. The angry people on the Internet told Betty she would die soon, that her death would be good for America, and then she would probably go to hell.
Betty had other ideas about her final destination, but she agreed it was time to go. "Take me home," she prayed, without effect. Revenue kept declining. Two years passed. One night this summer, just after the Görtz Haus wedding chapel closed forever, she and her husband sat in the basement and thought about the choices they'd made in the name of God.

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Mennonite husband and wife say they have no hatred toward gays; media say they're 'anti-gay'

Mennonite husband and wife say they have no hatred toward gays; media say they're 'anti-gay'

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Richard and Betty Odgaard are a small-town Mennonite couple whose faith is central to their lives.

That's why, Becket says, the Odgaards kept religious elements intact when they transformed a century-old Iowa church into an art gallery, bistro and flower/gift shop where they hosted weddings.

But the couple got in trouble when they refused to participate in a same-sex wedding.

Becket says:

Through the years, the Odgaards have gladly hired gay employees and served gay customers at the Gallery’s shops and bistro but they cannot personally participate in a wedding ceremony that violates their own religious beliefs.
Although there were numerous nearby venues that actively advertise to host same-sex weddings, when the Odgaards declined to host the wedding, the couple immediately filed a complaint with the State, triggering an intense media campaign against the Odgaards. They were subjected to hate mail, boycotts, personal attacks, and even death threats. Officials in the Civil Rights Commission showed open disdain for the Odgaards’ religious rights, and even denied them access to state court to defend their religious liberty claims. Shockingly, the State refused to dismiss its case against the Odgaards even after the two men — contrary to their prior sworn statements — admitted they had been married months before asking the Odgaards to host their ceremony.
Facing growing pressure from the State and potentially years of legal proceedings, with the risk of being forced to pay the couple’s legal fees, the Odgaards chose to remain true to their faith. They settled the charges brought against them, paying thousands of dollars to the couple, and agreed to stop hosting all weddings. Without this vital income, the Odgaards were forced to close the Gallery.

Fast-forward to this week: The Odgaards are making headlines for launching a billboard campaign promoting marriage as a God-ordained union between one man and one woman.

Or, to borrow the terminology used by news organizations such as the Des Moines Register,  Religion News Service and the New York Daily News, they are erecting "anti-gay marriage" billboards:

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