John Kerry

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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Attention Washington Post: ISIS forced women from several religious faiths into sexual slavery

Attention Washington Post: ISIS forced women from several religious faiths into sexual slavery

The Islamic State isn't making as much news as it once did, as the so-called caliphate continues to decline in size and, in some ways, power. However, it leaves behind a complex legacy of persecution, torture, slavery and, yes, genocide.

There are many victims with stories to tell and it's clear that some journalists and diplomats have not mastered all of the details of this tragedy.

Consider the Washington Post story that ran the other day with this headline: "‘Somebody had to tell these stories’: An Iraqi woman’s ordeal as an ISIS sex slave." It's a horrifying and important story.

The Post international desk did a fine job of presenting the story of Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad. That's important, since the Yazidis remain an obscure religious minority for most American readers.

But there is a problem: The Post report never mentions that the Yazidis were not alone. Christians, Shia Muslims and others suffered the same fate, with mothers, fathers and sons slaughtered and girls sold as sexual slaves. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in 2016:

... (In) my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions -- in what it says, what it believes, and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.

Kerry went on to specifically say that "Daesh captured and enslaved thousands of Yezidi women and girls -- selling them at auction, raping them at will, and destroying the communities in which they had lived for countless generations." He added: "We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith ... and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery."

The problem isn't that the Post focused so tightly on the details of Murad's story, since her testimony is what this report is all about. The problem is in the summary paragraphs that failed to inform readers that women and girls in other religious minorities suffered the same faith.

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News media, and The Religion Guy, catch up with yet another Mideast religious minority

News media, and The Religion Guy, catch up with yet another Mideast religious minority

Last year the Knights of Columbus sent Secretary of State John Kerry a 278-page report portraying in detail what the title called “Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East (.pdf here).”

The media should be paying continual attention to this minority’s disastrous decline in its historic heartland under pressure from Muslim extremists and chaos otherwise.

The largest targeted group is the Copts, the original ethnic Egyptians with a heritage that dates to Christ’s apostles, making up perhaps 10 percent of the national population. In Syria, where “Christians” were first given that name, believers constituted a solid and generally respected 12 percent of the population before the ruinous civil war erupted. Numbers have plummeted there and in Iraq, where Christians constituted 7 percent until recent times. Conditions are also harsh in neighboring countries.

Western media coverage of the Christians’ plight should acknowledge that extremists also visit death and devastation upon legions of their fellow Muslims, including groups regarded as heterodox. Oddly, Syria has been ruled largely by members of one such off-brand minority, the Assad clan’s Alawites.  

Given the complexity of world religions, even a seasoned reporter can miss an important group. And The Religion Guy confesses he was essentially unaware of one, the Alevis, until they were treated July 23 in a comprehensive New York Times report by Turkey correspondent Patrick Kingsley. Foreign Affairs magazine says this religio-ethnic group claims up to one-fifth of Turkey’s 80 million citizens.

Syria’s Alawites and the Alevis are not to be confused, though both are offshoots of Shi’a Islam that developed into new, heterodox forms of Islam if not new religions altogether,  drawing elements from non-Muslim faiths.

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Immigration EO, round 2: Maybe Christians merely 'claim' to be persecuted by Islamic State?

Immigration EO, round 2: Maybe Christians merely 'claim' to be persecuted by Islamic State?

Does anyone out there in news-consumer land remember the 21 Coptic Christian martyrs of Libya who were slaughtered on a beach in that Islamic State video? As Pope Francis noted, many of them died with these words on their lips: "Jesus help me."

Remember the reports of Christians -- along with Yazidis and other religious minorities -- being raped, gunned down, hauled off into sexual servitude or in some cases crucified?

Surely you do. These hellish events did receive some coverage from major American newsrooms.

The persecution of religious minorities -- Christians, Yazidis, Alawites, Baha'is, Jews, Druze and Shia Muslims -- played a role, of course, in the #MuslimBan media blitz that followed the rushed release of President Donald Trump's first executive order creating a temporary ban on most refugees from lands racked by conflicts with radicalized forms of Islam.

So now journalists are dissecting the administration's second executive order on this topic, which tried to clean up some of the wreckage from that first train wreck. How did elite journalists deal with the religious persecution angle this time around?

Trigger warning: Readers who care about issues of religious persecution should sit down and take several deep breaths before reading this USA Today passage on changes in the second EO:

Nationals of the six countries with legal permanent residence in the U.S. (known as green card holders) are not affected. People with valid visas as of Monday also are exempt. And the order no longer gives immigration preference to "religious minorities," such as Christians who claim they are persecuted in mostly Muslim countries.

The key word there, of course, is "claim."

You see, we don't actually have any evidence -- in videos, photos or reports from religious organizations and human-rights groups -- that Christians and believers in other religious minorities are actually being persecuted. Christians simply "claim" that this is the case.

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Did a familiar religion-news 'Blind Spot' shape coverage of ISIS genocide declaration?

Did a familiar religion-news 'Blind Spot' shape coverage of ISIS genocide declaration?

Back in 2008, I was part of the editorial team that produced a book called "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" for Oxford University Press. The whole idea was to look at a number of big national and international news stories and demonstrate that journalists could not do an accurate, informed, balanced job covering them without taking religion seriously.

I know. That wasn't a shocking thesis for a project linked to this website. What is shocking, nearly a decade later, is that most of the book's case studies remain amazingly relevant.

Hang in there with me on this. I'm providing background on the discussion that host Todd Wilken and I had during this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in). This was recorded soon after the declaration by Secretary of State John Kerry that, yes, the Islamic State was committing "genocide" in its slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious minority groups. This followed a 393-0 vote on a U.S. House of Representatives resolution on this topic.

As you would expect, mainstream news coverage focused on the politics that framed this issue. This story was all about Republicans trying to hurt Democrats in an election year, "conservative" religious groups trying to embarrass the White House, etc., etc.

Same old, same old. Politics is real, while religion is not all that important. For example, why not talk to the leaders -- here in America -- of churches that are directly linked to the flocks being massacred in Iraq and Syria? For Christians from the Middle East, there is more to this tragedy than election-year politics.

As I noted in a GetReligion post on this topic -- " 'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians" -- the Kerry announcement received very low-key coverage, which is probably what the U.S. State Department wanted. The story then vanished from the mainstream press, while coverage in religious-market outlets continued.

This is, you see, a "conservative" news story that gets covered at places like Fox News. But why is that? Human rights used to be a liberal cause. Correct?

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'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians

'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians

If you are looking for the Washington Post story about the remarks on ISIS and "genocide" by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, don't look through the 50 or so stories promoted on the front page of the newspaper's website. This story wasn't that important.

You're going to need a search engine to find it. To save time, click here to get to this headline: "Kerry declares Islamic State has committed genocide."

But that headline doesn't capture the real news, since no one has been debating whether the Islamic State had committed "genocide" against the Yazidis. That was settled long ago. So the real news in this story was the declaration that that the word "genocide" also applied to members of the ancient Christian churches in this region, as well as other religious minorities.

Why did this step take so long? And why wasn't this an important story to the editorial masters of Beltway-land? Actually, you can see clues in a crucial passage way down in the Post story. Hold that thought, because we will come back to that.

First, here is some key material up top:

After months of pressure from Congress and religious groups, Kerry issued a finding that largely concurred with a House resolution declaring the Islamic State guilty of genocide. The resolution passed 393 to 0 on Monday night
Kerry said a review by the State Department and U.S. intelligence determined that Yazidis, Christians and Shiite groups have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by the radical al-Qaeda offshoot, a Sunni Muslim group also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, its Arabic acronym.
“The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yazidis because they are Yazidis; Shia because they are Shia,” Kerry said in a statement he read to reporters at the State Department. “Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”

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House says (393-0) that Christians are victims of ISIS genocide, but key voices are missing

House says (393-0) that Christians are victims of ISIS genocide, but key voices are missing

Clearly, "bipartisan" has to be the last adjective any journalist would use to describe the current political climate in the United States.

Thus, a 393-0 vote on a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives is an eyebrow-raising moment, no matter what issue is involved. In this case, it's crucial that the issue is linked to the Islamic State and its hellish massacres of religious minorities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere -- including Orthodox and Catholic flocks that have lived and worshiped in these lands since New Testament times.

ISIS has destroyed ancient monasteries and churches, has razed or looted irreplaceable ancient libraries and sacred art. It has become rational to consider that Christianity may be wiped out in the region in which it was born.

So here is my question: Yes, this is a political story. But, for most readers, is this JUST a political story? Here is the top of the Associated Press "Big Story" report:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ratcheting up the pressure on the Obama administration, the House has overwhelmingly approved a resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities committed by the Islamic State group against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The non-binding measure, passed Monday by a vote of 393-0, illustrated the heavy bipartisan support for action on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry is leaning toward making a genocide determination against the Islamic State and could do so as early as this week, when a congressional deadline for a decision has been set.
But the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday's deadline.

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They didn't even agree on what they disagreed on

Can you have a meeting of minds when you don’t agree on what you discussed — and neither do news media? President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time on Thursday, nearly all of it behind closed doors. And their post-meeting statements were so different, they were the focus of some media reports — though the reports themselves didn’t always match.

Here’s a close look at the mismatch between media from different U.S. coasts: CNN and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The habitually pro-Barack CNN produced friendly coverage, starting with the traditional exchange of gifts between the heads of state. In the short video clip, above, clicking cameras drowned out nearly everything except “It’s a great honor” and “I’m a great admirer.”

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On the cautious use of loaded terms such as 'messianism'

The other day I wrote about a news report that ran in The Los Angeles Times that used a very interesting and, in the context of Israel and the Middle East, very loaded term. Here is the lede on that piece, once again: WASHINGTON – The White House on Tuesday condemned as “offensive” the reported comment of Israel’s defense minister that Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s campaign for Mideast peace grows from his “messianism.”

My question was quite simple. I suspected, based on the coverage offered by other mainstream outlets, that Moshe Yaalon had not actually used a specific noun best translated as “messianism,” but had used words that would best be translated, as my post noted, either as “messianic fervor” or words to that effect. Perhaps the goal was to say that Kerry suffers from some kind of “messiah complex.” Yes, I also wondered if — because of a variety of controversies linked to Christians in the Middle East — any use of a term similar to “Messianism” would have been considered especially cutting.

Thus, I thought that a reference to the noun “messianism” would have needed some explaining, no matter which definition was selected from a typical dictionary online:

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