International Business Times

That strange mash-up on religious calendar: Happy Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day, whatever...

That strange mash-up on religious calendar: Happy Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day, whatever...

It’s tough to find breaking news items on pagan topics, much less anything that’s remotely newsworthy other than the occasional pagan holiday. Pagans are a peaceful lot and they don't tend to make a lot of news. This past week, as a break from reading about #MuslimBan, we had a wealth of articles on Imbolc, the mid-winter pagan holiday.

Now there are dueling realities to Imbolc/Ground Hog Day/Candlemas and St. Brigid’s Day because they all occur in the first two days of February. The first event is pagan; the second is secular and the last two are Christian feasts. Nevertheless, reporters end up mashing them all together, with results that are, if not funny, rather inaccurate. 

I know space is at a premium at some outlets, but do the same reporters clump Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day together because they're two days apart? Don't think so. So why connect St. Brigid's Day, much less Candlemas, with Imbolc? What follows is what several media did with this time period.

The Seattle Weekly described the pagan aspect in a piece by a woman identified as the publication’s “resident witch:”

Imbolc (pronounced im-bowlk) is a Gaelic word meaning “in the belly,” and for many modern Pagans, Feb. 1 is one of four Greater Sabbats, or grand holy days, marking the seasons. Imbolc (also spelled Imbolg or Immolc) acknowledges the first stirrings of spring, the deep shift away from winter and the return of light and heat to the Northern Hemisphere.
Central to many Imbolc traditions is the Irish Great Goddess Brigid. She oversaw fertility, poetry, smithcraft, and healing, and was a part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the deities of pre-Christian Ireland. For ancient Celts, she was the ever-changing Earth itself, coming back to life after her winter sleep. Celebrations ranged from raging bonfires and torch processions through the fields and streets of the local village to simple ceremonies, centered around the mother of the house wearing a crown of lit candles as she led her family in ritual.

Not to be outdone, the International Business Times wrote:

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Thanksgiving gloom 2016: Have we beat this Election Year story to death at this point?

Thanksgiving gloom 2016: Have we beat this Election Year story to death at this point?

Greetings from the Bible Belt, where the arrival of your Thanksgiving Day newspaper means -- in addition to five pounds of Black Friday advertising inserts -- seeing headlines like "Local Tennessee players open their homes to teammates on Thanksgiving" and "Making Them Feel At Home: Knox Area cares for firefighters battling blazes in Tennessee."

I'd link to that second headline, the A1 banner, but The Knoxville News Sentinel team, for some reason, didn't put that story on the newspaper's website. Anyway, there is enough information there for you get the point, as everyone in this region prays for rain.

The big picture down there: Thanksgiving stories are about families getting together, helping people who are in need and, yes, lots and lots of food.

I get the impression that the basic mood is a little bit different today in Washington, D.C., where a quick survey of the Washington Post headlines yields:

"America: Be thankful you have something to complain about."

"How to prevent Thanksgiving Armageddon."

"How to survive Thanksgiving 2016."

Ah, the chattering classes. How would we know what to think and feel without them? But, hey, not everything is political in that newsroom. There are these offerings as well:

"What the label on your Thanksgiving turkey won’t tell you."

"11 strategies for getting through the holidays without weight gain."

"When you cook your worst at Thanksgiving, here’s how to recover with grace."

Finally, there is one actual feature to read, an "Inspired Life" feature with this headline: Can family trump Trump? How to survive political disagreements with relatives this Thanksgiving. This story is exactly what you think it would be, in keeping with the post-Election Day meltdown in elite Acela zone newsrooms:

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Generic Christian woman told to remove her 'headscarf' for driver license photo

Generic Christian woman told to remove her 'headscarf' for driver license photo

A Christian woman in a headscarf! And the state forced her to take it off!

The American Civil Liberties Union sure knew the media-sexy spin for its lawsuit against Alabama, which wouldn't let Yvonne Allen wear her headgear for a driver license photo. Especially when a court clerk said only Muslims would be allowed to do so.

And mainstream media joined in the spin -- so avidly that none of them even talked to Allen. It's a "religious ghost" that screams for attention: What type of Christian is she? And what church does she attend that tells her to cover her head?

That's just one of several ways nearly everyone has mishandled this story.

Allen, of Tuskegee, Ala., went for a driver license renewal, but a clerk ordered her to bare her head before being photographed. She protested on grounds that her Christian beliefs forbid a woman from showing her hair. 

The clerks forced her to do so anyway, saying that only Muslim women are allowed headscarves for photos. This despite the fact that Alabama law allows headscarves in photos -- without naming any particular religion -- as long as they don’t hide the face. 

Allen says it was "humiliating and demeaning," and she's suing to have her license photo reshot. The suit also demands unspecified damages.

It's a crazy story, rife with ironies and prejudice, not to mention several constitutional issues. But most reports thus far have done little more than copy and paste the allegations in the ACLU filing.

And, as I say, they’ve also gone along with the spin. Yvonne Allen's headware is more like a turban, as you can see in a picture on the ACLU website. But by using the loaded term "headscarf," the lawsuit echoes the many incidents -- like the two Muslim women recently thrown out of a French restaurant -- of hijab harassment.

Let's start with the much-cited Associated Press:

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Catholic Church in Poland: 'Powerful' and 'conservative,' except when it isn’t

Catholic Church in Poland: 'Powerful' and 'conservative,' except when it isn’t

World Youth Day is under way in Poland, with up to 1.5 million expected at the main events. American news readers, of course, have learned to expect something else on such occasions: a long, ponderous look at church and state by the New York Times.

And the Gray Lady comes through, with nearly 1,500 words on the church in Poland -- mainly how cozy it is with Polish conservatism and, of course, how out of step its traditional faith is with that of Pope Francis:

WARSAW -- When Pope Francis arrives in Poland this week to attend World Youth Day, one of the major events on the Catholic calendar, he will face a politically powerful church closely tied to the country’s new right-wing government. The church here carries a deep strain of social conservatism that does not always align with the pope’s more open and welcoming views.

Is there a contest for the number of liberal catch-terms in a single paragraph? Because it looks like the Times is trying to win it. You gotcher "right-wing." You gotcher "politically powerful." You gotcher "conservatism" -- a word used in various forms four times, including the headline: "Pope Francis Will Encounter a Socially Conservative Church in Poland."

One of our Faithful Readers fumed over what she saw as a "prism of anti-Catholic bias." She saw "socially conservative" as the Times' semi-curse term that means "following church teachings." 

Actually, I liked the article better than that. For one, it quotes Polish sources instead of using the "sources say" phrase, which often covers for a reporter's own opinion. The seven named sources include church leaders, a theologian and leaders of Poland's political parties. 

The Times also establishes the prominence of faith in Polish history and society. It says 92 percent of Poles identify as Catholic, and 40 percent attend weekly -- higher than other Catholic countries.

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Muslims vote for a Jew! Some journalists make strawman of Sanders' win in Dearborn

Muslims vote for a Jew! Some journalists make strawman of Sanders' win in Dearborn

The Michigan primary was settled on Tuesday, but some mainstream media are still chattering over Dearborn -- a city said to be 30-40 percent Arab, yet voted decisively for the lone Jewish candidate, Bernie Sanders.

And so many are still crowing about how so very wrong the pundits were to fret over anti-Semitism, it's hard to find the fretting. The stories are almost all "Nyah, nyah, we knew it all along."

The International Business Times let out some of the loudest chortles:

As the results rolled in, television pundits like Lawrence O’Donnell and Chuck Todd marveled on MSNBC that Sanders was doing so well in Dearborn “despite” the large Arab-American population there. WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer tweeted that Sanders’ dominance in Dearborn was “the stat of the night,” later adding “It’s official: Arab city feels the Jewish Bern.” Meanwhile, The Week dubbed it “just one more strange data point in an election overflowing with them.”
The assumption implicit in such commentary, of course, is that Muslims are biased against Jews — and that when they do cast a vote for Jewish candidates, it’s because they’ve somehow managed to overcome their own inherent anti-Semitism. But this fascination with Dearborn’s support of Sanders actually demonstrates the media industry’s own all-too-prevalent prejudice — and reveals how much reporting on American Muslims is still rooted in an unsophisticated naiveté about what motivates them.

The article quotes a prof saying that “the ‘Muslims voting for a Jew’ tagline is trite." And it quotes a Libyan-American writer saying that mainstream media are "guilty of promoting two-dimensional caricatures of Muslims and Arabs."
 
IBTimes isn’t the only miscreant, of course. The Huffington Post began its stridence yesterday with the headline: "Yes, Muslims Voted for A Jewish Candidate. Pundits Shouldn't Be Surprised." Added the subhead: "Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, shut down uneducated commentary about their support for Bernie Sanders."

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Jew attacked because of his kippah -- why do few media want to know what that is?

Jew attacked because of his kippah -- why do few media want to know what that is?

Why wear a kippah? What does the Jewish skullcap mean?

In France, one meaning is "walking target," as an attack on a Jewish teacher in Marseilles shows.  

The brutal machete attack has prompted a public debate among Jewish leaders over whether to stop wearing the traditional headgear in public. Beyond that, however, media accounts seem to lose interest.

Here are some of the horrendous details, as reported in the International Business Times:

A teenager who attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in France claimed he acted in the name of the Islamic State (Isis/Daesh) group, authorities said. Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin confirmed the stabbing was anti-Semitic and involved some degree of premeditation.
The victim, a 35-year-old teacher at the Franco-Hebraic Institute in the southern city, was on his way to work on 11 January when the boy of Turkish Kurd origins charged him from behind.
The youth, who will turn 16 next week, first slashed the man's shoulder and then went after him as he fled. The teacher eventually fell on to the ground and fought off a second attack using his arms, legs and a holy book, Robin said.
The assailant dropped the weapon and ran away before being caught by police some 10 minutes later. Upon arrest he invoked Allah and IS also telling officers that "the Muslims of France dishonour Islam and the French army protects Jews".

You could hardly ask for stronger religious angles in a news story: jihadism, anti-Semitism, marking an enemy by his religious garb, use of a holy book as a shield. Even the machete recalls the half-dozen hacking attacks on secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

But like IBTimes, most media ignored or downplayed the religious facets. They didn’t even ask about the "holy book" used as a shield by the teacher. Among the very few that did was Yahoo News; it says the book was a Torah, a collection of the first five books of the Bible -- the basis of Jewish law and theology.

More typical is the account by the BBC:

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Mormons, baptism and children of gay parents: The drama intensifies

Mormons, baptism and children of gay parents: The drama intensifies

It’s a gift that keeps on giving. In terms of news value, the decision by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to deny baptism to under-age children of gay parents is impossible to leave alone. I wrote about the initial coverage a week ago but a lot has happened since then.

If you've been hiding under a rock recently, here's how the Salt Lake Tribune describes the current situation:

No part of the new LDS policy on same-sex couples has generated more controversy -- and criticism -- than its prohibition against Mormon rituals for their children.
Stories flooding social media tell of canceled baby blessings, postponed baptisms, aborted priesthood ordinations and withdrawn missionary applications. Even many devout Mormons -- including congregational and regional leaders — report distress, despondence and despair over the upheaval.

Opponents of the church’s decision -- and there are many -- have helped things along by having a photogenic mass resignation of their church membership last Saturday. Being that a similar rally has already been scheduled for next Saturday, methinks the organizers are going to continue this media campaign for as long as they can. Most people in the news business can sniff out a manufactured event, so I'll be interested to see who covers Rally #2. Keep you eye on The New York Times, where editors appear ready to go to the mattresses.

What’s also helped the protesters' cause is there’s been no official comment from LDS leaders except for a 10-minute video placed on the church’s web site on Nov. 6 and a statement a few days later clarifying the new policy.

Not a smart move by the church, because their opponents are winning the media battle hands down.

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Fighting Boko Haram: Media accounts tell more about the war than the enemy

Fighting Boko Haram: Media accounts tell more about the war than the enemy

I'm glad that mainstream media are keeping our attention on the ongoing tragedy of Nigeria and Boko Haram. But not everyone does it equally well -- and some of the better-known outfits, not as well as you'd expect.

The Nigerian military has resumed raids on the Islamist guerrilla group, rescuing hundreds of women and children; it has issued a "Wanted" poster of the top 100 leaders in the group; and an international task force is mustering for a new round of attacks on the militants.

All this is in multiple reports, but none of them has it all. And few offer background on the warped version of Islam that underlies Boko Haram's basic assumptions.

Some of the reports repeat the horrendous numbers: thousands dead, 2.1 million refugees since 2009. Those are vital stats to remember. But the reports also need to keep plain the ideology of Boko Haram.

Take yesterday's "Big Story" in the much-quoted Associated Press:

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigerian troops have rescued 338 captives, almost all children and women, from Boko Haram camps in a northeastern forest, the military said Wednesday.
Thirty extremists were killed Tuesday in attacks on two camps on the fringes of the Islamic insurgents' holdout in Sambisa Forest, according to a Defense Headquarters statement on social media.
Separately troops ambushed and killed four suspects on a bombing mission in northeastern Adamawa state, it said. Hundreds of people have died in suicide bombing attacks mainly targeting mosques and markets in recent months.

Did you notice the attribution? A "Defense Headquarters statement on social media." And no one was directly quoted or even named. This despite the fact that the much smaller African website Sahara Reporters did get a name -- Army spokesperson Colonel SK Usman -- although apparently only on a press release.

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Concerning that clip-art howler with International Business Times poo-attack report

Concerning that clip-art howler with International Business Times poo-attack report

One of the hardest things that your GetReligionistas do, day after day, is search for non-copyrighted art to illustrate our posts.

Most of the time we strive for art -- such as YouTube links -- that adds actual content to the piece or some kind of graphic device linked to the topic. Sometimes, we pick art that makes an editorial comment, an ironic one even, about a particular story, like using a "delete key" close-up with a post about an alleged news report that we think shouldn't have been written in the first place.

Long ago, I spent several years laying out the inside pages of a small daily newspaper and, trust me, I know what it's like to struggle to find logical file art to illustrate a story.

Want to see a great example of now not to do this sort of work?

Brothers and sisters, I am in total agreement with faithful reader Thomas Szyszkiewicz on this OMG International Business Times howler.

Step 1: Click here to see the Reuters photo used to accompany a story with this headline:

Inmates of 'Hey Dad…!' actor Robert Hughes attack him with poop and urine on his first day of prison

Step 2: Read the top of this "news report" (scare quotes because it actually appears to be mere aggregation). Here is a sample.

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