Mississippi

Friday Five: Billy Graham rule, Marianne Williamson, nun's curveball, MZ's Kavanaugh book

Friday Five: Billy Graham rule, Marianne Williamson, nun's curveball, MZ's Kavanaugh book

A famous steakhouse off Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas, offers a free, 72-ounce steak.

The only catch: You must eat it all in one setting.

On a reporting trip this week, I stopped there for lunch. Spoiler alert: I didn’t order the 4.5-pound hunk of beef. I chose something slightly smaller.

While I savor the delicious memories, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: This may not be the most important story of the week. In fact, veteran religion journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald questioned on Twitter whether it’s news at all.

But I’m fascinated by the coverage of a little-known Mississippi gubernatorial candidate who invoked the “Billy Graham rule” in declining to allow a female journalist to shadow him for a day. I wrote about all the national media attention state Rep. Robert Foster has received — and the lack of details on Foster’s actual religious beliefs — in a post Thursday.

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A male gubernatorial candidate, a female reporter and a Pence-like storm over 'Billy Graham rule'

A male gubernatorial candidate, a female reporter and a Pence-like storm over 'Billy Graham rule'

Remember a few years ago when a bunch of people flipped out over news that Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t meet alone with a woman?

Interestingly, a New York Times poll later found that — surprise! — not just Pence but many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations.

Fast-forward to this week.

A little-known Republican candidate for Mississippi governor is getting national attention, mostly negative, after citing the same “Billy Graham rule” that Pence did. The candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster, sparked a furor by declining to grant a female reporter’s request to shadow him (unless she brought a male colleague along).

CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today — among other major news outlets — have covered the story. The journalist in question, Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell, offered her firsthand perspective on Foster’s decision.

What is the Billy Graham rule? The Times explains:

Mr. Graham, who died last year at 99, was the country’s best-known Christian evangelist. He sought to avoid any situation involving a woman other than his wife “that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion,” he wrote in his autobiography.

In Lloyd Bentsen style, CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke felt compelled to let Foster know that he’s no Billy Graham:

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Protecting Burns Strider: Did faith details matter in Hillary Clinton team's #MeToo story?

Protecting Burns Strider: Did faith details matter in Hillary Clinton team's #MeToo story?

The #MeToo story marches on and, the other day, it touched the world of religion and Democratic Party politics.

Lots of journalists covered the story of accusations against an activist named Burns Strider, a trusted colleague of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The key is that, back in 2008, he was accused of sexual harassment. However, it appears that Clinton did that thing that so many powerful people do (some Catholic bishops, for example), which was protect her friend and quietly move him to another job.

Thus, the New York Times headline proclaimed: "Hillary Clinton Chose to Shield a Top Adviser Accused of Harassment in 2008." As you can see, the religion element didn't make it into the headline. Ditto for the lede.

WASHINGTON -- A senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young subordinate was kept on the campaign at Mrs. Clinton’s request, according to four people familiar with what took place.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager at the time recommended that she fire the adviser, Burns Strider. But Mrs. Clinton did not.

Wait for it.

Mr. Strider, who was Mrs. Clinton’s faith adviser, was a founder of the American Values Network and sent the candidate scripture readings every morning for months during the campaign, was hired five years later to lead an independent group that supported Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 candidacy, Correct the Record, which was created by a close Clinton ally, David Brock.
He was fired after several months for workplace issues, including allegations that he harassed a young female aide, according to three people close to Correct the Record’s management.

Now, I have very little to say about this Times piece -- in terms of its political content. However, the deeper went into the story, the more curious I became about a rather central issue: Where were the details about Strider himself? In particular, I was curious about his faith background and the nature of his work for Clinton and others.

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Note to New York Daily News: Believe it or not, baptism is a common occurrence in churches

Note to New York Daily News: Believe it or not, baptism is a common occurrence in churches

See how this headline from the New York Daily News strikes you:

Slain Mississippi sheriff’s deputy remembered as ‘child of God’ who once baptized a man

Serious question: Is the fact that someone who used to work in ministry "once baptized a man" really headline worthy upon his death? Or is this the kind of headline (and lede, since it's repeated there) you could find only in the Big Apple?

Note to the Daily News' editors: Given the deputy's background, there's a good chance that he baptized more than one man. Believe it or not, baptism is actually a relatively common occurrence in churches.

(P.S. Note to readers: Yes, I know I'm talking about a tabloid whose cover story today — like its competitor the New York Post — is "DUI of the Tiger.")

At this point, a few readers may be wondering exactly how I ended up on the New York Daily News website. After all, it's not a paper that I have bookmarked.

Well, it all started with a tweet from The Associated Press about the Mississippi shooting rampage.

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Choose your superlative, but The Atlantic's deep dive on Islamic State radicalization is a must read

Choose your superlative, but The Atlantic's deep dive on Islamic State radicalization is a must read

The Twitterverse has spoken: Emma Green's in-depth Atlantic piece detailing "How Two Mississippi College Students Fell in Love and Decided to Join a Terrorist Group" is "amazing journalism."

It's "complex & fascinating." It's "phenomenal reporting ... highlighting the amazing work FBI does to fight online radicalization." It's a "must read."

As Tony the Tiger might say, it's grrrrreat!

What can I add to all of the above?

Not a whole lot, except for this: Amen!

The story hooks the reader from the beginning as it describes the couple's plans to travel to Turkey and then Syria. At the end of the first section comes the kicker — the sudden twist around which the rest of this magnificent, heartbreaking story revolves:

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AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

AP on religious liberty: Those bigots down in Mississippi are still up to no good

Is this fake news?

No, it's an actual Associated Press story.

But here's the problem: AP's report is so one-sided that advocates of religious liberty will have a difficult time recognizing their side in it.

The wire service's lede:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gay rights groups and others are asking a federal appeals court to keep blocking a Mississippi law that would let merchants and government employees cite religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves halted the law before it could take effect July 1, ruling it unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Keep reading, and AP hands gay-rights activists an open mic to make claims completely at odds with what supporters say the law would do:

The plaintiffs' appeal gives examples of what the law could allow: A restaurant manager refusing to seat a lesbian couple celebrating an anniversary dinner; a jewelry store clerk refusing to sell an engagement ring to straight couple if he believed the couple had previously had sex; social workers being unable to protect a child whose foster parents punished the child for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; public school counselors refusing to help LGBT students.
"This provision of HB 1523 is arguably the most alarming since it would allow a school psychologist or guidance counselor to cease therapy with a depressed, suicidal high school student who divulges to the counselor that he thinks he might be gay," says the appeal filed by attorney Roberta Kaplan.

How do those who pushed for the law respond? They don't. At least not in the AP story.

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AP reports churches transcend racial barriers after Mississippi arson — but do they really?

AP reports churches transcend racial barriers after Mississippi arson — but do they really?

Being a media critic means sometimes asking pesky questions about warm-fuzzy storylines. 

Please forgive me for being that guy, especially on the day before Thanksgiving.

And if I'm just being a crank, feel feel to tell me so. In fact, this is one of those rare cases where I'd love to be persuaded that I'm wrong.

But here's the deal: The Associated Press has a story out of Mississippi today with this inspiring headline:

2 Mississippi churches transcend racial barriers after arson

However, after reading the story, my annoying question is this: Are they really transcending racial barriers? 

The lede sets the scene by highlighting the racial divide in many churches nationwide:

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Back in the 1960s, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America, a fact that remains true in many communities today.
But three weeks after their church in the Mississippi Delta was mostly destroyed by arson and someone spray-painted "Vote Trump" outside, an African-American congregation has been welcomed into the church of its white neighbors.
The bishop of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Clarence Green, says the generosity of First Baptist Church of Greenville demonstrates that "unlimited love" transcends social barriers. And his host, First Baptist's senior pastor James Nichols, says their brothers and sisters in Christ are welcome to stay as long as they need a home.
The Hopewell congregation, about 200 strong, is holding services a mile away at 600-member First Baptist. The guests are using the chapel, a space with dark wooden pews and bright stained-glass windows where small weddings and funerals are usually held. It's on the downtown campus of First Baptist, a few steps from the larger main sanctuary.

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News alert: Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda; journalists might consider that

News alert: Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda; journalists might consider that

News alert: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda.

For those paying attention, that advocacy group's name provides a clear indication of that agenda.

Why am I stating the obvious? Because in reading some recent news reports, journalists seem to treat the Freedom From Religion Foundation as if it's an unbiased expert source on church-and-state legal questions.

Let's consider, for example, the Washington Post's recent story on a high school football coach who baptized a player.

This tweet is from the Post reporter who produced the story. So in other words, the journalist agrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation that what's happening is "unconstitutional."

Except that the tweet is inaccurate. The coach didn't baptize the player at a public school, according to the Post's own story:

The Newton school district, however, is sticking by Coach Smith’s actions. In a statement, the school said that the baptism happened off school property — outside a dentist’s office, about a block away from the school, Superintendent Virginia Young told The Post. “The District feels this is a private matter of choice for that student. Any additional Newton Municipal School District students that attended the baptism did so as their own voluntary act,” the school’s statement said.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi also notes that the baptism didn't occur at a public school:

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Charming, 'God-fearing' Southern woman goes to church — but don't ask where

Charming, 'God-fearing' Southern woman goes to church — but don't ask where

Via the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., this is an adorable little profile full of warm fuzzies.

And from the beginning, the newspaper makes it clear that Katie Brown's Christian faith is a big part of what makes her special:

You may not have met Katie Brown, but you know her.
The sprightly 69-year-old lab assistant at Jackson Healthcare for Women has a presence that makes it really hard, almost devastatingly so, to stay in a bad mood. A God-fearing, Southern woman who you imagine came into this world smiling while the rest of us were red-faced and hollering.
Makes sense. Brown seems like she was born to smile.
That smile made a patient forget Brown's instructions.
“(I told them,) 'Go to the room,' and she said, 'What did you say? Katie, I was just looking at your smile.'”
Brown said it comes from her father, Willie Thomas, better known as Sarge, who worked at the VA for 30 years and encouraged those broken in spirit.
Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” If that’s true, “Ms. Katie” (and Southern folks will tell you it’ll always be Ms. Katie, even if she tells you to call her different — she commands such respect) has brought a piece of heaven to four generations of patients over the past 51 years.
“I just try to let my light shine for everybody,” Brown said before going on to reference a verse from the Gospels. “You may be taking care of Jesus. I don’t want him to say, ‘Katie you didn’t take care of me,’ I want him to say, ‘Well done.'”

At this point, I'm relatively confident the Clarion-Ledger will avoid any holy ghosts. Yes, the decision to reference a "verse from the Gospels" as opposed to a specific Scripture puts my GetReligion antenna on alert. Still, the newspaper seems to understand the importance of Brown's religion to the story.

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