Ebola

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll update, Notre Dame fire, bad vibrations in NYC , Kent Brantly's next mission

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll update, Notre Dame fire, bad vibrations in NYC , Kent Brantly's next mission

This week, GetReligion’s Richard Ostling visited longtime Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll, who is staying with her sister Cheryl in Amherst, Mass.

Ostling and Zoll worked together as AP’s national religion team for years.

Most know that Zoll, recipient of awards last year from AP and the Religion News Association, has been coping with brain cancer since January 2018.

She passed along the following message to her many friends on the Godbeat: “I miss you all. I love hearing what people are doing and working on and wish you the best.”

By the way, Ostling is now on Twitter. Give him a follow!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Once again, we have no clear honoree this week. So I’ll call your attention to Terry Mattingly’s post on a must-read New York Times multimedia report on the Notre Dame Cathedral fire.

In his post, tmatt also links to Clemente Lisi’s piece on how French church vandalism cases finally are starting to get the journalistic attention they deserve.

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Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Pod people: Looking at the year's Top 10 religion-beat stories, through the eyes of the late George W. Cornell

Anyone who knows their religion-beat history knows this byline -- George W. Cornell of the Associated Press.

When he died in 1994, the national obituaries called him the "dean of American religion writers" and that was precisely the role that he played for decades, especially for those of us who broke into the religion-news business back in the 1970s and '80s.

However, when I did a series of interviews with him in 1981, for my graduate project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ("The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets") he simply described himself as the AP's religion writer for all of planet earth. How would you like to try to handle that job? (The Vatican bureau didn't count, he explained, because editors tended to view that as a political and international-news bureau.)

George had a private tradition in which, every year, he analyzed the Associated Press list of the world's top 10 stories and counted the ones that -- seen through his veteran eyes -- were built on facts and history rooted in religion. He never saw a year with fewer than five of these stories, he told me, and frequently there would be more than that.

Ah, he explained, but were the religion facts and angles in these stories (a) covered accurately, (b) presented in a way that could be understood by the general public or (c) covered AT ALL?

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Strangest Ebola religion story yet? What, pray tell, is a 'non-religious' church?

Strangest Ebola religion story yet? What, pray tell, is a 'non-religious' church?

Talk about a tough call. Is this the strangest religion-angle Ebola story yet?

There are so many strange things to note in the following report from way down under, care of The New Zealand Herald. First of all there is the deceptively simple double-decker headline:

Warning over 'miracle' Ebola cure
Warning ahead of NZ seminar to push church’s ‘miracle’ potion

OK, so you have the word "miracle" in the same headline with the word "church." That's a somewhat logical connection, I know, but what kind of church are we talking about that says it has a cure for miraculous Ebola? 

Read the top of this story very carefully:

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Ebola and its foes take sharp focus in powerful New York Times photo essay

Ebola and its foes take sharp focus in powerful New York Times photo essay

We think we know Ebola. We've read about it. We've seen news videos about it. We may be able to find the nations on a map that are ravaged by it. But we have little idea what it really does to people.

But we can get a glimpse in "Braving Ebola," a New York Times photo essay out of rural Liberia. The text and photos by Daniel Berehulak literally illustrate how the virus can infect not only bodies but minds and relationships.

With the macabre dateline of Oct. 31 -- Halloween -- the feature is a beautiful, fearful view of the many dimensions in which a plague like Ebola can strike. The spare, 247-word intro starts with the dread of the patients, not only of Ebola but the alien-looking medics who have come to treat it. But it ends with a ray of hope:

The patients arrive, at first fearful of the people in spacesuits whose faces they cannot see. They wait for test results, for the next medical rounds, for symptoms to appear or retreat. They watch for who recovers to sit in the courtyard shade and who does not. They pray.
The workers offer medicine, meals, cookies and comfort. They try to make patients smile. Very, very carefully, they start IVs. They spray chlorine, over and over, and they dig graves. They pray.
These are the people of one Ebola clinic in rural Liberia. Run by the American charity International Medical Corps, the clinic rose in September out of a tropical forest. It now employs more than 170 workers, a mix of locals and foreigners, some of them volunteers. There are laborers trying to make money for their families, university students helping because Ebola has shut down their schools, and American doctors who, after years of studying outbreaks, are seeing Ebola’s ravages in person for the first time. A mobile laboratory operated by the United States Navy has set up shop at a shuttered university. Now, test results come back in a matter of hours instead of several days.
Some of the workers will stay a few more weeks, or until the end of the year. Many of the Liberians vow to remain until the disease is gone, when they can go back to their old jobs or resume their former lives. They work toward a time after Ebola.

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Ebola-free nurse Nina Pham thanks God, and The Dallas Morning News takes notice

Ebola-free nurse Nina Pham thanks God, and The Dallas Morning News takes notice

At first glance, nurse Nina Pham's return home to Texas after beating the often-deadly Ebola virus failed to raise my GetReligion antenna.

A medical story? Definitely.

A political story? Perhaps, given Pham's Oval Office hug with President Barack Obama. 

But a religion story? Probably not.

The straightforward lede of The Dallas Morning News' front-page story on Saturday gave no indication of a faith angle: 

Nurse Nina Pham, the first person to contract Ebola in the U.S., returned home to North Texas late Friday with a clean bill of health, reassurance from President Barack Obama and the promise of a reunion with her dog, Bentley.
CareFlite pilot Jason Davis confirmed about midnight Friday that Pham had arrived at Fort Worth's Meacham International Airport: "She seemed good -- super nice family. She's in good spirits."
Pham, one of two Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas nurses who caught Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, was declared virus-free and sent home by the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Officials also confirmed Friday that her colleague Amber Vinson has tested free of the disease, but they said they didn’t know when she’d be ready to leave Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Before Pham visited the Oval Office and got a hug from Obama, she expressed gratitude as she left the NIH facility.

But then I read Pham's own words — the next two paragraphs of the story.

 

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Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

Prayers in Liberia: One strange note in riveting WPost trip inside Ebola zone

I have said this many times, but I have nothing but admiration for the reporters who work in war zones and in lands ravaged by disasters of all kinds.

It's hard enough for reporters, when covering complex issues, to do adequate background research and keep their facts straight -- even under the best of circumstances. My church-state issue file folder (yes, materials on dead tree pulp) is almost 40 years old. I have hundreds of similar files and I need them.

So imagine that you are in Liberia and trying to cover the Ebola outbreak, with all of its scientific, political, medical, ethical and legal implications. Yes, and issues of racial equality and economic justice. Yes, and there are religion ghosts, as well. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of face-to-face reporting at scenes in the heart of the crisis?

Thus, the first thing I want to say about a recent Washington Post report (headline: "Liberia already had only a few dozen of its own doctors. Then came Ebola") is that it is stunning and a must-read look at the lives of those with the courage to walk the halls of hospitals and treat the sick and dying in Monrovia, Liberia. How, exactly, does one take careful interview notes when wearing a full-protection hazmat suit?

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Generic god urges son of first U.S. Ebola victim to rush to Dallas hospital

Generic god urges son of first U.S. Ebola victim to rush to Dallas hospital

What we have here is another case of what we could call "generic-god syndrome." That's when claims of divine guidance or deliverance are important enough to feature in a mainstream news story, but not important enough to define with facts -- perhaps with a single clause in a single sentence.

Most of the time we see generic-god syndrome in sports coverage, or stories about the Grammy Awards. The stakes are much higher in a news story about Ebola.

As a former GetReligionista put it in an email: "Did the dallas ebola patient have faith? ... Looks like his son did ... maybe that offers a clue?" In this case, our former scribe was talking about material strong enough (yet it still needed to be vague) to provide the human-interest hook for a CBS News story.

Here's a large chunk of the story -- about the death of Thomas Eric Duncan -- to provide context. This comes right after the lede:

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How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

How to write a sensationalistic headline: 'Can these Texas churches survive Ebola?'

"Daily Beast stupidity," said the email's subject line.

"I realize this headline might just be dramatic on purpose, but seriously: The church is not a business or something," the tipster wrote to GetReligion.

The headline in question (cue the dramatic music):

Can These Texas Churches Survive Ebola?

And the subhead:

The virus appears to be contained within a Dallas hospital for now, but concerns are spreading fast through local parishes, where congregants may have personal experience with Ebola’s deadly toll.

Clickbait, anyone?

Granted, we at GetReligion have acknowledged our struggle to determine the dividing line between The Daily Beast's progressive advocacy and its news coverage. In this case, the story — unlike the headline — is actually pretty informational and even-keeled.

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A medical miracle on NBC News: 'The hand of God at work' in saving Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly

A medical miracle on NBC News: 'The hand of God at work' in saving Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly

The hour-long NBC News special "Saving Dr. Brantly: The Inside Story of a Medical Miracle" aired Friday night.

The report by NBC's Matt Lauer features an exclusive interview with Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the often-deadly Ebola virus while serving as a medical missionary in Liberia.

It's an incredible piece of journalism that includes additional reflections from Brantly's wife Amber, Samaritan's Purse CEO Franklin Graham and doctors and nurses involved in his care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. 

As the special begins, Lauer emphasizes that Brantly's faith will play a major role in this story:

He may be one of the luckiest men alive, and Dr. Kent Brantly probably thinks there are two very good reasons for that.
He attributes his victory over the deadly Ebola virus to a combination of faith and science. 
As a devout Christian and a physician, he’s a man of both.
He was serving as a missionary doctor in Liberia when he became infected, and tonight in an NBC News exclusive, Dr. Brantly and the brave medical team that helped to save his life tell for the first time the extraordinary story of how he was cured.

Seconds later, Lauer begins delving into Brantly's faith.

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