Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

If you have read GetReligion over the years, you may have seen previous posts in which your GetReligionistas asked this question: In terms of journalism, what exactly is The Huffington Post, exactly?

It's a news and commentary website, obviously.

Ah, but there's the issue: Where does the commentary stop and the news begin? Is it possible to separate the opinion and advocacy from the hard-news reporting in some of the features at HuffPost? This is a question writers at this blog have had to ask about a number of different newsrooms in our foggy digital age.

Yes, that buzzworthy HuffPost piece about the trial of Noor Salman -- the widow of gunman Omar Mateen -- does contain elements of commentary. Yes, it is first-person, magazine-style journalism. It is also a blockbuster that raises all kinds of questions about any role that religious faith -- specifically, a radicalized, ISIS-style Islam -- played in this deadly attack.

Salman was found not guilty of helping her husband plan the attack. That's big news. But what's the larger story here? Here is a crucial passage near the top of the piece, which ran with this main headline: "Everyone Got The Pulse Massacre Story Completely Wrong."

Almost overnight, a narrative emerged that until now has been impossible to dislodge: Mateen planned and executed an attack on Pulse because he hated gay people.
“Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people,” Tim Teeman wrote in The Daily Beast. The massacre was “undeniably a homophobic hate crime,” Jeet Heer wrote in The New Republic. Some speculated that Mateen was a closeted gay man. He was likely “trying to reconcile his inner feelings with his strongly homophobic Muslim culture,” James S. Robbins wrote in USA Today.  
There was compelling evidence of other motivations.

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It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

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Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White

Time offers a little more insight on friendship between Donald Trump and Paula White

A new story by Elizabeth Dias, the Time magazine religion and politics correspondent, offers more insight into the friendship between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and televangelist Paula White.

Overall, it's a well-done report, although it sparked a question or two that I'll pose below.

First, let's check out Time's lede:

Donald Trump’s son Eric was glowing when he sat down at a Cleveland restaurant next to Orlando pastor Paula White. “Your prayer did it, Paula,” Eric told her. The younger Trump’s teleprompter had broken the night before as he prepared to address the Republican National Convention. “I thought I was going to have to wing 15 minutes to them all,” he said. “You prayed, and the prompter went back on.”
Eric Trump is not the only member of his family who has come to rely on White, 50, a popular televangelist who believes that intercessory prayer can have an immediate impact on shaping events. After she saw Eric, she went to her room in the Trump campaign’s Cleveland hotel, where she spent the next four hours praying for Donald Trump as he prepared for his prime-time convention address. Then at the candidate’s invitation, she met the Republican nominee, his wife Melania and 10-year old son Barron for another circle of prayer in their room.
“I do remember asking God to give him his words and his mind, and to use him—that it would not be his words but God’s words, that he would just really be sensitive to the Holy Spirit,” White recalled in an interview with TIME weeks later. “I probably [interceded] against any plot or plan or weapon of the enemy to interfere with the plan or the will of God.” That evening, White rode in Trump’s car with his family to the arena.

Keep reading, and the Trump-White story is relatively brief — less than 750 words. That's different from the deep dive that Dias earlier produced on "Donald Trump's Prosperity Preachers." You may recall, too, that I praised the Time writer's profile of Mark Burns ("Meet Donald Trump's Top Pastor") back in July. 

In her previous story, Dias asked White about the prosperity gospel:

Theologically, the belief that God wants people to be rich is controversial. Prosperity preachers often interpret Jesus’ teachings about abundant life in Christ financially, and that has earned them a bad name in many evangelical circles. White says her message is not “all about the money,” but a holistic gospel message of “well-being and opportunity,” which also addresses suffering. “How can you create jobs for people who want to work?” she says. “If you want to call that prosperity, yes, I believe in prosperity.”

For more insight on that angle, see former Time religion correspondent Richard Ostling's excellent GetReligion post from July on "The mystery of Donald Trump’s religion: Inspired by Peale, or by Paula White?

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Citizen Trump in Orlando, the Sequel: So WHO were the evangelicals in the room?

Citizen Trump in Orlando, the Sequel: So WHO were the evangelicals in the room?

The latest news from the campaign trail:

ORLANDO, Fla. — Off-his-rocker Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday addressed a group of 700 generic evangelical pastors with no first or last names, focusing on his problems in Mormon-dominated Utah and saying more quirky things like winning the election may be "the only way I'm going to get to heaven."

OK, I made up that lede.

But my exaggeration is not so far from the truth of how major mainstream media covered The Donald's speech to pastors in Orlando.

Our own tmatt provided a framework yesterday on how to judge coverage of Trump's Florida appearance.

For a fuller understanding of this post, take just a few minutes and read what tmatt wrote in advance, including this:

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Citizen Trump in Orlando: Press must note evangelicals who attend and those who do not

Citizen Trump in Orlando: Press must note evangelicals who attend and those who do not

(Cue: audible sigh)

Do we really have to keep writing about Donald Trump and THE evangelicals? It would appear so, since he is headed to Orlando today to talk to a Florida Pastors and Pews event, organized by the American Renewal Project.

Once again, the team behind this story seems to think that we are dealing with Trump efforts to fire up THE evangelicals and THE "religious conservatives." That's kind of like saying a candidate is reaching out to THE Jews, THE Catholics, THE Muslims, etc.

That won't cut it. It's really crucial for journalists, when covering this kind of event, to give readers some of the details on who is taking part and who is not.

This is especially true for an event in Orlando, which is a hub city for evangelical megachurches and parachurch ministries. The Orlando area -- especially the suburbs -- is also a very important region in Florida (and thus national) politics, when it comes to gauging evangelical enthusiasm at the polls.

So let's look at the Bloomberg News report that The Miami Herald picked up about Trump's appearance. He is expected to say more about his opposition to the Johnson Amendment, the IRS rule that prohibits churches from endorsing individual political candidates, as opposed to making faith-driven statements about moral and cultural issues in public life.

I'll comment on that issue once we see the press coverage of what Citizen Trump has to say. However, it's important to stress that -- as is so often the cases -- there is no one evangelical camp on that topic. In fact, some evangelicals would like to see that rule enforced in a more consistent manner, affecting churches on the left as well as the right.

What's the first thing I noticed about how Herald editors handled this Bloomberg News report?

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New York Times offers partial headline about Mateen, ISIS and calls from inside The Pulse

New York Times offers partial headline about Mateen, ISIS and calls from inside The Pulse

If you have followed this blog for long, then you have heard your GetReligionistas -- in a kind of whiny voice common among offended reporters -- stress that reporters do not get to write the headlines that run on top of their stories.

Nevertheless, readers often blame the contents of a headline on the person named in the byline. People who study these kinds of things will tell you that a high percentage of readers only scan the headlines and then skip all but the first few lines of most news stories, if they read that much.

So what's my point? Headlines really matter.

Case in point: I got excited today when I saw the following headline as I worked my way through my morning email summary of the top news in The New York Times. I'm talking about the one that said: "Transcripts of Calls With Orlando Gunman Will Be Released."

That's important news, in light of all of the speculation there was been about the "Why?" part of the "Who, what, when, where, why and how" equation linked to Orlando gunman Omar Mateen. I mean, there are many mysteries about what was happening inside the mind of this sexually conflicted (possibly gay), Muslim with Afghanistan roots who was a registered Democrat and, with his job as a low-level worker in a security firm (that even had ties to the Department of Homeland Security), had no trouble legally purchasing weapons.

This news about the transcripts of the cellphone calls between the police and Mateen -- during his rampage inside the gay bar -- is crucial. These transcripts would, apparently, give the public a chance to hear the gunmen talking about his actions, even his motives, in his own voice. 

The problem with this soft Times headline is that it was missing a crucial word that readers needed to know. Let's see if you can spot it in the lede:

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Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I suggested a story on the verses in the Quran that dealt with killing unbelievers, including how local imams interpret them. My editor hesitated and said, "I'd rather do stories about diversity in the community."

That looks like the attitude among most mainstream media, 15 years later. We know that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club, was Muslim and anti-gay. But what exactly does Islam say about homosexuality?

Many mainstream media seem to have been avoiding answering that, even when asking it themselves. They’ve chattered about how he checked Facebook and traded texts with his wife. They say he tried to buy body armor. And of course, they talk about gun control and homophobia.

But few have ventured into the minefield where Muslim communities border homosexuality. And of those that do, most concentrate on LGBT Muslims themselves.

In Florida itself, I could find only one newspaper -- my alma mater, the Sun Sentinel -- reporting on a "confused, broken community that lies at the intersection of the tragedy," as it calls them. One of its three subjects is college student Hytham Rashid:

There are not a lot of terms to describe gender identity or sexual orientation in Arabic, Rashid said. The word "transgender," for example, translates to "You are like a woman" or "You are like a man," which can be considered offensive, he says.  
As a gay Muslim, Rashid says he faces both Islamophobia and homophobia every day. He said in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, he doesn’t feel safe going to memorials and events.
"We can put up our stickers and wave around our rainbow flags in Wilton Manors, but the core issue is, there isn’t a safe space for us," he said.

The Sun Sentinel also imports a statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that there is "no religious justification or precedent in Islam for mass shootings targeting any population, regardless of identity." But it doesn't look at the Quran or the Hadith (the record of Muhammad's words and deeds).  Nor does it ask any leaders of the 15-20 mosques in its circulation area.

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Classic M.Z.: When it comes to Christianity 101, The New York Times flunks out -- again

Classic M.Z.: When it comes to Christianity 101, The New York Times flunks out -- again

Attention: Copy desk at The New York Times

Subject: Reading adult books

To whom it may concern:

I have a journalistic question, a question centering on basic facts about religion, that I would like to ask in light of the following statement that ran in a political report in The Times under the headline, "After Orlando, a Political Divide on Gay Rights Still Stands." Context is important, so here is the complete reference:

... The deep divide over gay rights remains one of the most contentious in American politics. And the murder of 49 people in an Orlando gay club has, in many cases, only exacerbated the anger from Democrats and supporters of gay causes, who are insisting that no amount of warm words or reassuring Twitter posts change the fact that Republicans continue to pursue policies that would limit legal protections for gays and lesbians.
In the weeks leading up to the killings, they pointed out, issues involving gays were boiling over in Congress and in Republican-controlled states around the country. More than 150 pieces of legislation were pending in state legislatures that would restrict rights or legal protections for sexual minorities. A Republican congressman read his colleagues a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays. Congress was considering a bill that would allow individuals and businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples.

My question: When it comes to the authoritative interpretation of Christian scripture, who has the highest level of authority for the Times, the leaders of Westboro Baptist Church or legions of Christian saints, hierarchs and theologians (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants) over 2,000 years of church history? Who do you trust more, Pope Francis or the Rev. Fred Phelps?

The answer, to my shock, appears to be -- Westboro Baptist. When it comes to St. Paul and the interpretation of his Epistle to the Romans, the Times leadership appears to believe that the tiny circle of Westboro activists represent all of Christendom.

How did the Times leadership reach this decision on such an important theological issue?

Sincerely, Terry Mattingly


My question is sincere.

If you have doubts about this, let me point you toward a work of classic M.Z. Hemingway media criticism over at The Federalist that is currently going viral in social media.

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Why a wounded Orlando survivor begged God to 'take the soul out of my body'

Why a wounded Orlando survivor begged God to 'take the soul out of my body'


So, so powerful.

That's the only way to characterize Orlando survivor Patience Carter's description of the hell that she endured at the Pulse nightclub early Sunday.

In a front-page story today, the Los Angeles Times puts readers in the middle of the heartbreaking scene.

The lede from the Times:

ORLANDO, Fla. — As Patience Carter and two friends cowered inside the handicapped bathroom stall, injured and pinned by a crush of bleeding bodies, the gunman who opened fire in the Pulse nightclub kept talking.
“He said, ‘Are there any black people in here?’ I was too afraid to answer,” said Carter, who is African American.
Carter continued: “There was an African American man in the stall with us... he said, ‘Yes, there are about six or seven of us.’ The gunman responded back to him saying that, ‘You know, I don’t have a problem with black people, this is about my country. You guys suffered enough.’”
Carter, a slight 20-year-old NYU student from Philadelphia, had just arrived in Orlando, Fla., for her first night of vacation.
On Tuesday she and others who sought refuge in the side-by-side men’s and women’s restrooms during Sunday’s attack recounted how the gunman barked orders, claimed to have accomplices and laughed during the attack, which took 49 lives.
They also described how those trapped in the restrooms played dead, reached out to police by phone and tried to arrange their escape.

The Associated Press, CBS News and the local Orlando Sentinel are among other news organizations sharing Carter's story.

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