Ohio

Friday Five: March for Life, Protestant prodigals, dementia and faith, Tiffany Rivers' child No. 9

Friday Five: March for Life, Protestant prodigals, dementia and faith, Tiffany Rivers' child No. 9

It’s another busy week in the world of religion reporting. Once again, I’m having trouble keeping up with all the headlines.

Today is the March for Life, and the Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer had an interesting preview piece, exploring how political polarization is leading some to view the anti-abortion gathering as a Republican event.

Meanwhile, The Tennessean’s Holly Meyer offered insightful coverage of a Lifeway Research survey. Gannett flagship USA Today picked up the story. The key finding: Large numbers of young adults who frequently attended Protestant worship services in high school are dropping out of church. 

And with those headlines, we’re just getting started.

Look dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Religion News Service published an important, compelling three-part series on dementia and religion by national reporter Adelle M. Banks.

You really need to check it out.

Also, read my GetReligion commentary on the project.

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In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

Let's consider a mirror-image scenario, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls it.

The scenario: A federal judge, who once served as a local chapter director and board president for the National Right to Life Committee, hears a case concerning abortion. In his ruling, the judge rejects a new state law friendly toward a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Might news reports on the judge's decision mention his connection to the anti-abortion movement? (You think?)

Now, let's look at a real-life scenario involving a U.S. district judge in Ohio with ties to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is "crystal clear" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

A quick aside: My colleague Julia Duin recently delved into "Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?" I, too, have explored the holy ghosts that have haunted much coverage of the Ohio legislation.

But for the purposes of this post, my focus is this specific question: Does news coverage of Black's ruling inform readers of his possible bias? In a case such as this, that seems like a pretty crucial detail, right?

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Holy ghosts in Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer reports on debate over aborting Down syndrome babies

Holy ghosts in Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer reports on debate over aborting Down syndrome babies

So often at GetReligion — here, here, here, here and here, for example — we call attention to the mainstream news media's rampant bias in coverage of the abortion issue.

I'm referring, of course, to the longstanding and indisputable problem of news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side.

But guess what!?

This isn't going to be one of those posts.

In fact, I'm generally impressed with the balanced, factual nature of the Cincinnati Enquirer's story on a Down syndrome abortion ban going to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the former moderate Republican presidential candidate.

I do think, however, that the piece is haunted by ghosts. As regular readers know, we refer to them as "holy ghosts." More on that God-sized hole in the Enquirer's otherwise fine report in a moment.

But first, the compelling lede:

COLUMBUS — When a mother receives the news that her child will be born with Down syndrome, should she have the choice to obtain an abortion?
Ohio's GOP-controlled Legislature says "no." Lawmakers, with a 20-12 vote in the Ohio Senate, sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that would penalize doctors who perform abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Kasich said in 2015 that he would sign such a bill. 
The proposed law has sparked division within the Down syndrome community.

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A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

A young GOP star's double life cracks, after evangelical leaders failed to call him out

If I have learned anything in my 40 years working on the religion beat (and studying it), it's this: Repentance is really hard, even for the leaders of religious institutions.

Some would change that to say "especially" for the leaders of religious institutions.

This is true, I have found, for leaders on both the theological left and right (as anyone knows who has covered sex-abuse scandals among Catholic clergy). And many evangelicals choose to hide the sins of leaders. Ditto for leaders of liberal Protestant flocks.

As we are finding out during the current American tsunami of ink about sexual harassment and assaults, this trend is also found in Hollywood, inside the D.C. Beltway and elsewhere. That's rather obvious. It's also obvious that religious leaders should do a better job of handling sin than other folks. Some do. Many do not.

This brings me to an important Washington Post headline that many GetReligion readers made sure that I saw over the weekend: "How a conservative group dealt with a fondling charge against a rising GOP star." Similar stories ran elsewhere.

So how did Family Research Council leaders deal with the sins of Ohio Republican Wesley Goodman? They tried to shut him down, while seeking to keep things private and -- in the age of easy-to-copy emails -- got caught. This journalism truth is also clear: Many evangelical leaders, like their liberal-church counterparts, would rather line up for anesthesia-free root canals than cooperate with mainstream news reporters.

Here's the top of the Post story, which features tons of references to emails and documents to support key points:

On a fall evening two years ago, donors gathered during a conference at a Ritz-Carlton hotel near Washington to raise funds for a 31-year-old candidate for the Ohio legislature who was a rising star in evangelical politics.

A quick aside: Yes, I winced at the reference to "evangelical politics."

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Set the WABAC machine for when? Time for another trip into United Methodist polity!

Set the WABAC machine for when? Time for another trip into United Methodist polity!

As veteran journalists know, sometimes there are stories that seem really, really big when you read the press releases, but they turn out to be business as usual when you dig into the details.

That appears to be what happened with the Cincinnati Enquirer story (part of the USA Today network) offering on update on one of the many legal battles unfolding in the United Methodist Church about the status of LGBTQ ministers. The headline: "Gay Methodist minister David Meredith, church claim victory."

It's a very familiar story, part of a familiar ecclesiastical puzzle that has been in place since (wait for it) 1980. How many years ago was that? Let's put it this way: I wasn't even working full-time on the religion beat at that point.

We will return to the WABAC machine angle of this story in a moment. First, let's look at the story that the Enquirer thought it had, as opposed to what appears to have happened. The key question: Is this a local story, a regional story or a national/global story? Here is the public-relations release overture:

Claiming victory for LGBTQ members of the United Methodist Church nationwide, officials told The Enquirer on Wednesday that two of three charges against a Clifton congregation's openly gay pastor, David Meredith, were not certified
The Rev. Meredith appeared Sunday before the Methodist Committee on Investigation in Columbus, Ohio. Several complaints were filed against Meredith after his May 2016 marriage to his significant other of 29 years. Meredith and Jim Schlachter were married in a Methodist church by a Methodist minister.
Meredith was not charged with being a self-avowed practicing homosexual or with immorality.
Clifton United Methodist Church, whose membership overwhelmingly supports its pastor, said the case may be the first time in denominational history that a charge relating to homosexuality reached the investigative body and was dismissed. A charge of disobedience was certified. 

OK, readers, here is my question. Based on what you just read, at what level of United Methodist polity was this decision made?

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Loved the headline, not a fan of the story: Associated Press reports on churches-turned-breweries

Loved the headline, not a fan of the story: Associated Press reports on churches-turned-breweries

The Associated Press has a 675-word trend story on closed churches finding second lives as breweries.

I loved the headline, which includes a punny reference to "Holy spirits."

And the story itself starts out as if it's going to be interesting and informative. To some extent, I guess the piece turns out that way.

But here's what's frustrating to me: The AP report hopscotches all over the place, fails to reflect the voice of a highly relevant source and generally tries to do way too much in too little space. There's no way to know if this is a reporting problem or one created at the editing stage. We do know a memo was issued a few years ago limiting most AP stories to 300 to 500 words.

The lede:

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — Ira Gerhart finally found a place last year to fulfill his yearslong dream of opening a brewery: a 1923 Presbyterian church. It was cheap, charming and just blocks from downtown Youngstown.
But soon after Gerhart announced his plans, residents and a minister at a Baptist church a block away complained about alcohol being served in the former house of worship.
“I get it, you know, just the idea of putting a bar in God’s house,” Gerhart said. “If we didn’t choose to do this, most likely, it’d fall down or get torn down. I told them we’re not going to be a rowdy college bar.”

Based on those first three paragraphs, is there any source from whom we might expect to hear as the story keeps going? The Baptist minister perhaps?

That was my thinking, but he or she never appears.

Instead, we get this later on:

Gerhart’s is scheduled to open this month after winning over skeptics like the Baptist minister and obtaining a liquor license.

OK, I suppose we have no choose but to take your word for it.

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When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

When is a heartbeat not a heartbeat? When NPR (briefly) calls it 'sounds from the fetus'

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

You know the answer to that one, don't you? In a way, that old puzzler reminds me of questions your GetReligionistas face from time to time. I am thinking, to be precise, about emails in which readers send us items claiming that this or that newsroom has committed this or that atrocity, yet there is no URL provided and, when push comes to shove, there is no way to know if that news report ever contained the words or phrases quoted by the offended readers.

You see, it's so easy to change the content of online news and there is no common standard for digital corrections. (At GetReligion, when non-troll readers -- especially journalists -- leave comments noting typos and clear errors of fact we change the text, but we thank them and leave their comments live at the end of repaired articles.)

Thank goodness there are people who know how to use the "screen grab" (or screen shot) function in their computer browsers. I say this because of a remarkable "Heartbeat Bill" fix in a story at National Public Radio, which led to a piece by Bre Payton at The Federalist, as well as cyberspace shouts from readers.

Before we get to the NPR case study -- backed by a screenshot -- let me remind readers why stories about abortion show up so often at GetReligion. First, these public-square debates always involve activists from religious groups. Second, it's virtually impossible for activists on either side to describe their beliefs without raising moral and theological questions, as well as questions about science. For decades, abortion-coverage issues (click here for the classic Los Angeles Times series by reporter David Shaw) have played a crucial role in discussions of both media bias and religion-news coverage.

So what is the "Heartbeat Bill" in Ohio? Let's look at how The New York Times started a story on this topic, to get a sample of the language being used. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON -- Gov. John Kasich of Ohio on Tuesday signed into law a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but vetoed a far more restrictive measure that would have barred abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

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New York Times correspondent pays faith-free visit to #NeverTrump #NeverHillary territory

New York Times correspondent pays faith-free visit to #NeverTrump #NeverHillary territory

As we stagger closer to election day, the political desk at The Washington Post has produced several stories focusing on the fact that many centrist voters (Catholics in particular) are sickened by the thought of going into a voting booth and supporting either Donald Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

What’s the problem? It’s something called “values,” apparently.

However, it appears that journalists believe that this has nothing to do with the whole “values voter” phenomenon seen in recent elections. In other words, this panic out there in many corners of the heartland has nothing to do with faith, morality, culture, religion or what have you. Yes, I have written several posts about this Post trend. In particular, see the recent post with this headline: “Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion).”

Now, the New York Times political desk has bravely sent a correspondent into the heartland and found pretty much the same thing. Lots of folks in red zip codes are upset about the Donald vs. Hillary situation and, what do you know, it appears that there is more to this anger than the state of the economy. The Times headline proclaims: “Reliably Red Ohio County Finds Both Trump and Clinton Hard to Stomach.”

As you can see in the overture, the Gray Lady team visited a rust-free part of Ohio in which the economy is doing just fine. 

DELAWARE, Ohio -- Donald J. Trump is not popular in this prospering county north of Columbus. The Republican nominee’s dystopian language does not resonate here. Signs that read “Now Hiring” outnumber “Trump” campaign placards.
But many residents of this reliably Republican county, which last voted for a Democratic president in 1916, simply cannot imagine voting for Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. And that goes a long way toward explaining why she has struggled to separate herself from Mr. Trump in this bellwether state.

This doesn’t fit the received wisdom among the chattering-class elites.

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Bracing for Trump, Clinton TV: Are Americans as cynical as the French about morality?

Bracing for Trump, Clinton TV: Are Americans as cynical as the French about morality?

If you hang out with lots of #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary people, either in digital or analog life, you know that one of the things pushing them toward despair right now is the knowledge that in the near future the White House will be turned into a reality TV franchise.

Anyone who lived through the Clinton years (or checked out the book) knows what that was like. And does anyone doubt that -- win or lose -- Citizen Donald Trump will find a way to increase his brand's profile via opinion and entertainment screens large and small?

Can you imagine the lurid advertisements the Democrats could run about Trump's private and business affairs if they were running a candidate other than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

This brings me, logically enough, to that Washington Post feature that ran with this headline: "2016 is the year of the messy private life -- and the year when it no longer matters." As best I can tell, the goal of this story was to ask two painfully valid questions:

(1) Is this the year when Americans finally achieve the maturity of the French and and admit that the moral lives of politicians don't matter?

(2) How are so many evangelical Christians rationalizing their support for Donald "You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass" Trump?

As you would expect, the emphasis is on the second half of that equation:

HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio -- In this deeply conservative part of Ohio, full of cornfields and horse-drawn Amish buggies, people know all about Donald Trump’s two very public divorces, his extramarital affair with a beauty queen who became his second wife and his five children from three marriages.

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