Marvin Olasky

Trends and realities in religion news: Candid words from Emma Green of The Atlantic

Trends and realities in religion news: Candid words from Emma Green of The Atlantic

I have just returned to East Tennessee from a short, but fascinating, trip to New York City to take part in a conference called “What’s Next for Religious Freedom.” It was sponsored by Yeshiva University and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University.

The event was recorded and I hope, eventually, to update this post with URLs for the various sessions. GetReligion readers can also check YouTube in a week or so.

The opening session was held at Shearith Israel Synagogue on the upper West Side, which is the oldest Jewish congregation in America in continuous existence (founded in 1654). The topic: “The Media and Religion: Trends and Challenges.” This very lively session was chaired by the rabbi and scholar Meir Soloveichik, the leader of  Congregation Shearith Israel and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

The panel?

* Emma Green, religion writer at The Atlantic.

* Sohrab Ahmari, op-ed editor at The New York Post and contributing editor at The Catholic Herald.

* John Podhoretz, editor and columnist at Commentary Magazine.

* Terry Mattingly, as in me.

This is the second summer in a row that I have been on a panel of this kind with Green and, as always, it was great to hear her candid thoughts. She’s a rising force in this field, working at a news and commentary magazine and website that is clearly trying to give religion the attention that it deserves.

Getting to hear from her again reminded me that I have meant to post the link to a recent World dialogue — “Getting the big story” — between Green and journalism historian Marvin Olasky, who for several decades has been the editor of that magazine. This conversation took place at Patrick Henry College outside Washington, D.C. Here’s the full video:

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Evangelicals and Trump, again: Alan Cooperman says journalists should ponder four myths

Evangelicals and Trump, again: Alan Cooperman says journalists should ponder four myths

This just in: It appears that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and, thus, totally embrace his agenda to destroy all of humanity.

Or something like that. Also, it doesn’t matter that evangelical voters aren’t all that powerful in several of the key purple or blue states in which Hillary Clinton received way fewer votes than Barack Obama, thus costing her the election.

But let’s return to the great 81 percent monolith again, a number that hides complex realities among morally and culturally conservative voters. For more information on that, check out this survey by LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Institute at Wheaton College. Also, click here for a GetReligion podcast on that topic or here for a “On Religion” column I wrote on this topic.

I bring this up because of interesting remarks made during a recent Faith Angle seminar, an ongoing religion-news education project organized by the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The topic this time: “America’s Religious Vote: Midterms and New Trends.” Clicking that link will take you to a website containing a video of the event and, eventually, a transcript. I heard about this through Acts of Faith at The Washington Post, specifically its must-get online newsletter. In a recent edition, religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein pointed readers to remarks at that event by Alan Cooperman, director of religion surveys at the Pew Research Center (and a former Post reporter). The Christian Post offered a summary of what Cooperman had to say — focusing on four myths about evangelical voters.

This is interesting stuff, although it doesn’t really explore key fault lines and mixed motives inside that massive white evangelical Trump vote (click here for tmatt’s typology of six different kinds of evangelical voters in 2016 election).

… Cooperman outlined what he says are “straw men” arguments, or “myths,” that he hears being asserted in political discussions today. Four of those myths involve some common misconceptions about white evangelical voters.

Myth 1: Evangelicals are turning liberal or turning against Trump

While there certainly are some white evangelicals who are staunch in their opposition to President Donald Trump, he doesn't see any rise in their numbers in Pew data.

Citing aggregated Pew Research Center data compiled from 2017 to 2018, Cooperman stated that there is “a lot of stability” when it comes to Trump’s approval ratings among self-identified white evangelical or born-again Protestants.

“Right up before the election, aggregated data from our polls over the last several months [showed] 71 percent approval rating for the president [among white evangelicals],” Cooperman said. “If anything, party ID among white evangelical Protestants is trending more Republican. This notion that white evangelical Protestants are turning liberal, I don’t see. … I don’t see it anywhere.”

Now, here is the crucial question: Is saying that “party ID among white evangelical Protestants is trending more Republican” the same thing as saying that all of those white evangelical Protestants wholeheartedly support Trump?

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The New York Times finds some acceptable Bible-quoting pastors. Guess their politics!

The New York Times finds some acceptable Bible-quoting pastors. Guess their politics!

I'll admit to some snark with the headline, but bear with me.

Despite the editorial caterwauling over any diminishing of the so-called "Johnson Amendment" barring political endorsements from the pulpit, a reporter at The New York Times editors have found a posse of Bible-quoting ministers they can "endorse" with a favorable news story. But you can quickly see which side of the political divide these preachers are on, and that's a journalistic problem.

"Ministers Look to Revive Martin Luther King’s 1968 Poverty Campaign," the headline reads, and it's the kind of feel-good story -- from one perspective, at least -- that newspapers like to report. Here, after all, are a group of clergypersons willing to risk arrest for public protests against a piece of economic legislation, in the nonviolent tradition of the late King.

Read this longish excerpt to get a flavor of the piece:

When 12 religious leaders in collars and vestments were arrested last week in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, they were reading Bible verses about caring for the poor, and doing it so loudly that their voices could be heard at the doors of senators’ office suites nine stories above.
It was to little avail: The Senate went ahead and passed a tax bill early on Saturday, promoted as relief for the middle class, that mainly benefits corporations and the rich — and that many economists say offers little or nothing for the poor.
The middle class and its discontents have occupied so much political and media attention lately that poverty has been crowded out. But some prominent religious leaders are gearing up for a campaign to try to put it back on the nation’s agenda in a way that it hasn’t been in decades.

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Your weekend think piece: Is it really time to say 'Goodbye Nonpartisan Journalism'?

Your weekend think piece: Is it really time to say 'Goodbye Nonpartisan Journalism'?

There is no question in my mind about which "think piece" to share with GetReligion readers this weekend.

For more than a decade now, I have used "A History of News" by Mitchell Stephens as the source for some of the key lectures in my "Journalism Foundations" seminar at both the Washington Journalism Center and now the New York Journalism Semester at The King's College. I have also appreciated the input that this historian had in the solid, facts-based history corners of The Newseum in Washington, D.C., which my students visited through the years.

So my eyebrows went way up when I saw Stephen's byline atop that Politico piece with this headline: "Goodbye Nonpartisan Journalism. And Good Riddance. Disinterested reporting is overrated."

On one level, this piece is simply (a) part of the news media's anger and grief reacting to life with Donald Trump and (b) a historian noting -- accurately -- that American newspapers used to be fiercely partisan in the days before faster printing presses and the rise of the American model of the press (with its professional standards striving for accuracy, fairness and balance). 

Let's dive straight into this, with a massive chunk of his thinking near the top of the essay. Note that Stephens is completely focused, in this essay, on national politics. What does this have to do with the religion beat? Wait for it.

The big news in American journalism today has been that reporters, editors and producers at legacy journalism organizations have become so eager to dispute the more questionable pronouncements and proposals of the Trump administration. Increasingly, they are prepared to label the president’s wilder statements and tweets “falsehoods” or even “lies.” The big news is that many of our best journalists seem, in news coverage, not just opinion pieces, to be moving away from balance and nonpartisanship.
Is this the end of all that is good and decent in American journalism? Nah. I say good for them. An abandonment of the pretense to “objectivity” -- in many ways a return to American journalism’s roots -- is long overdue.

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Essay on asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Essay on asks: Should journalists who go undercover doing research be worried?

Yes, this is a post about legal issues linked to the Planned Parenthood videos. But that is not where I want to start.

If you followed the twisting legal arguments surrounding the Westboro Baptist Church protests -- especially the horrible demonstrations at the funerals of military veterans -- you know that most of the headlines focused on freedom of speech.

However, journalists had a lot at stake in this fight, too (whether they felt comfortable about that or not). Why is that? Here is how I described the crucial press-freedom issue in a post -- "Why journalists love Westboro Baptist" -- back in 2010. I asked readers to glance at the coverage of Westboro's arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court and:

Then answer these questions. In addition to telling the story of the grieving family, which is essential, does the report in your local news source tell you (a) that the protests were moved to another location that was not in view of the church at which the funeral was held and that mourners did not need to pass the demonstration? Then, (b) does it note that the grieving father's only viewing of these hateful, hellish demonstrations took place when he viewed news media reports or read materials posted on the church's website? Those facts are at the heart of this case, when you are looking at the legal arguments from a secular, legal, even journalistic point of view. This is why so many mainstream news organizations are backing the church.

In other words, when push came to shove journalists had to defend their own right to cover these hateful demonstrations. People who thought of themselves as "liberals" kept shooting at Westboro and hitting the First Amendment, instead. As a statement at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press put it, in 2011:

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'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades? 

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would to experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period. 

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt


In all too many weeks, the Saturday “Beliefs” column provides the only coverage of religion in The New York Times. The influential daily’s Nov. 8 item dealt with World, an unusual Christian magazine because it covers mostly general news rather than just parochial topics.  This biweekly for those wanting “Christian worldview reporting that reinforces their core beliefs” has a conservative slant on politics as well as faith.  A recent GetReligion post by our own tmatt, for example, noted his differences with the journalistic philosophy of World Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky. 

Sadly, investigative reporting has suffered greatly with media downsizing and the Times rightly commends that aspect of World’s work. Religious periodicals generally don’t rake muck, especially about folks sharing their ideology.

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Yes, I saw the New York Times piece on Marvin Olasky and World magazine

Yes, I saw the New York Times piece on Marvin Olasky and World magazine

It's interesting -- "ironic" may be a better word -- how many people sent me emails asking if I saw the New York Times "Beliefs" column this week focusing on the work of Marvin Olasky and World magazine, the one with the headline: "A Muckraking Magazine Creates a Stir Among Evangelical Christians."

"Ironic"? We'll get to that.

Columnist Mark Oppenheimer later noted, on Twitter, that many readers didn't seem to realize that the word "muckraking" is -- among real journalists -- a word that can be used as a compliment. That was the point of his column, in a word.

Before we go further, please understand that Olasky is I friend of mine, yet a friend with whom I have enjoyed many years of debates over very important questions about faith and journalism. You could not ask for a more interesting man with whom to have a meaningful and productive argument.

It is very old hat that many people on the political and religious left (liberal evangelicals, in particular) really, really, do not like Olasky's brand of advocacy journalism, which is interesting since he is a convert to Calvinist Christianity who was once a Jewish atheist and a member of the Communist Party. Oppenheimer focused -- note the headline -- on the fact that Olasky also gets under the skins of many people on the political and religious right because he is not a PR man for the Republican establishment. Ditto for the evangelical establishment, come to think of it. The typical World issue contains few, if any, ads from evangelical book publishers.

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