Gays

Catholic beat memo: Fuzzy math and the quest to estimate the number of gay priests

Catholic beat memo: Fuzzy math and the quest to estimate the number of gay priests

There is an old newsroom saying that I have found often holds true: journalist + math = correction.

This comical equation exemplifies how often people working in newsrooms just get math wrong in their stories. From polls and surveys to trying to quantify something by way of statistics, most reporters and editors find themselves befuddled — even fooled — by numbers.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been, especially in recent years, a large number of data journalists who excel in using math in their storytelling. Overall, that remains a small number. At least, I have found that to be the case anecdotally given my circle of former colleagues who work as general assignment reporters and news editors at mainstream news outlets.

What does math have to do with the Catholic church? Well, a lot if you’re trying to quantify how many priests are gay.

These days, the story about how much homosexuality has permeated the church at all levels — from cardinals and archbishops down to parish priests — remains very much a topic of much news coverage. Just how many men in the Catholic clergy are gay? Depends who you ask and who you read. Here’s where the math can be very fuzzy, a cautionary tale to anyone covering the events of this week and the sex-abuse scandal going forward.

The scandal remains very much in the news. The defrocking of former Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick and the upcoming Vatican’s sex-abuse summit means rehashing many past allegations, a slew of fresh ones and lots of fuzzy math. If the 2016 presidential election taught us anything, it is that polls and surveys are often not to be trusted.

Journalists keep trying to do the math. In April 2017, Slate put the number of gay U.S. priests somewhere from 15 to 50 percent, which the article points out is “much greater than the 3.8 percent of people who identify as LGBTQ in the general population.” The 15 percent the article cites comes from a 2002 poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times. The 50 percent figure comes from a figure from the same year, reported by USA Today, as coming from “some church experts estimate.”

The article doesn’t elaborate — a great example of how a number not given proper context or sourcing can be repeated without hesitation by journalists, thanks to searches with Google or LexisNexis.

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Kentucky court says free speech, not faith, at issue in pride fest T-shirt case. Press says: Huh?

Kentucky court says free speech, not faith, at issue in pride fest T-shirt case. Press says: Huh?

There can be little doubt that Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, whose subtitle is "Christian Outfitters," is sincere in his commitment to his faith and beliefs. Just watch the video above.

Whether or not that's enough to allow him and the firm, known as HOO, to reject a print order for T-shirts promoting a gay pride festival is the hot topic in and around Lexington, Kentucky, these days.

Last week, a 2-1 vote of the Kentucky Court of Appeals came out in favor of lower court rulings backing Anderson. So-called "viewpoint discrimination" is allowed, with the decision stating, "Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits HOO, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship."

This is a ruling that doesn't involve, or even discuss, Adamson's free exercise of religion rights, but rather his right to accept or refuse printing orders based on his principles. That's a key difference from other cases across the country, but the local paper -- which presumably has been close to the case -- skipped over it.

Let's see what the Lexington Herald-Leader said in reporting the ruling:

“Because of my Christian beliefs, I can’t promote that,” Adamson told a Human Rights Commission hearing officer. “Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message. It’s something that goes against my belief system.”
In 2012, the Human Rights Commission said that service refusal violated the city’s fairness ordinance, part of which prohibits businesses which are open to the public from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.
However, the Court of Appeals disagreed on Friday, ruling that speech is not necessarily protected under the fairness ordinance.
While the ordinance does protect gays and lesbians from discrimination because of their sexual orientation, what Hands On Originals objected to was spreading the gay rights group’s message, Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer wrote in the majority opinion. That is different than refusing to serve the group because of the sexual behavior of its individual members, she wrote. A Christian who owns a printing company should not be compelled to spread a group’s message if he disagrees with it, Kramer wrote.

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It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

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Bias and inaccuracy: New York Daily News on gays and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Bias and inaccuracy: New York Daily News on gays and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Like the clichéd "pig in a python," mainstream media have been slowly digesting the story of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and its newly announced policy on gays. But some news outfits aren’t digesting the chunks well.

Time.com last week broke the news that the Christian college organization asked its 1,300 employees to fess up if they disagreed with IVCF's stated beliefs on same-sex marriage -- then make plans to leave the organization.

We're now seeing the usual reaction from bloggers and columnists: everyone from Christian Today to Gay Star News to the Huffington Post.

Except for the likes of the New York Daily News. They couldn't wait for the opinion phase -- they had to add it to the news article.

Here is the paper's idea of a news lede:

The Bible states that you "shall not oppress a stranger."
But one of the largest evangelical college groups in the country appears to be doing just that, as it recently told its 1,300 staffers that they will be fired if they support gay marriage or deviate from any of the organization's strict positions on sexuality.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA recently sent out a six-page letter saying the national group will initiate "involuntary terminations" for all staff members who support LGBTQ people's right to marry.

My first reaction: "Geez, I wonder how gays feel about a lede like that? Being called strangers?"

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His dishonor: Mainstream media keep slanting news reports on ousted Judge Moore

His dishonor: Mainstream media keep slanting news reports on ousted Judge Moore

I've heard of contempt of court, but open contempt for a judge? That’s apparently OK if that judge is Roy Moore.

Like this headline. " 'Not going to miss the Ayatollah of Alabama': State's chief justice ousted over anti-gay-marriage order," crows The Los Angeles Times. And that's just the most blatant of several tactics in several articles meant to manipulate your view of the case.

Moore, the always controversial chief justice of Alabama, was suspended after telling its probate judges not to issue gay marriage licenses even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized them. That drew fire not only from the usual liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center -- which filed the complaint that launched the probe -- but also their acolytes in mainstream media.

But before dissecting individual specimens, let's take a workmanlike example -- the Associated Press account, run by CBS News:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s defiance of federal court rulings on same-sex marriage violated judicial ethics, a disciplinary court ruled on Friday before suspending him for the rest of his term.
The punishment effectively removes Moore from office without the nine-member Alabama Court of the Judiciary officially ousting him. Given his age, he will not be able to run for chief justice again under state law.
Moore was found to have encouraged probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that everyone has a fundamental right to marry in all 50 states.

Not that Moore skirts controversy. He's the same guy who put a stone monument of the Ten Commandments in a court building, then refused to remove it. So the Court of Judiciary -- the same panel involved here -- tossed him out in 2003. Yet he was re-elected years later.

All of that is in the 400-word AP article, but the Los Angeles Times goes further. Right from the lede, you can tell where things are going:

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