PBS

PBS story on Iran's Jews hurt by failure to fully explain what captive minorities must do to survive

PBS story on Iran's Jews hurt by failure to fully explain what captive minorities must do to survive

Captive minorities in nations ruled by all-controlling despots play by the rules — or else. Iran’s estimated 9,000-15,000 Jews, one of the world’s most ancient Jewish communities, are a case in point.

Why? Because playing by the rules is just what happened recently when a visiting PBS journalist came calling on Iran’s Jews — with Teheran’s explicit permission, of course.

You’ll recall that Iran’s leaders constantly call for Israel’s physical destruction and that Teheran funds Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Both proxies are also sworn to destroy Israel.

This means that Iranian Jews are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Many of them have relatives in Israel, and the Jewish homeland is where their biblical-era ancestors fled from some 2,700 years ago, when forced into exile.

In late November, one of PBS’s premiere news platforms, “PBS NewsHour,” broadcast a piece that, like other attempts to explain the Iranian Jewish community, came up frustratingly short.

Once again, those Iranian Jews interviewed on camera said what they always say, which is that life for them in Iran is, on balance, secure — though not always perfectly so — and that Israel is their enemy simply because it's their government's enemy.

What else could they say in a nation where just one politically suspect utterance by a Jewish community member, particularly if made to a foreign media outlet, could mean devastating consequences for them and their co-religionists?

(“Special correspondent” Reza Sayah did note some of the tightly controlled circumstances in which Iran’s Jewish minority survives as second-class citizens. But PBS could have added the comments of an outside expert or two to more fully explain the Iranian context. I can’t help wonder why that didn't happen.)

Here’s the lede-in to the NewsHour story, lifted from the segment’s transcript:

Jewish people have called Iran home for nearly 3,000 years. The Trump administration and U.S. ally Israel often depict the Iranian government as composed of anti-Semitic radical Islamists bent on destroying Israel. But within Iran, many of the estimated 15,000 Jews say they're safe and happy living in the Islamic Republic. Reza Sayah takes a rare inside look at life for Iran's Jewish minority.

“Safe and happy”? Perhaps in a Potemkin village sort of way.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Billy Graham reaped a media harvest through artless charm, more than promotional gambits

Billy Graham reaped a media harvest through artless charm, more than promotional gambits

As a flood of obits is proclaiming, Billy Graham had remarkable impact. He brought revival meetings from the margins back into the cultural mainstream with unprecedented audiences at home and abroad, changed Protestantism’s dynamics by turning much of fighting “fundamentalism” into the palatable and vastly successful “evangelical” movement and, along the way, befriended and counseled an incredible lineup of politicos and celebrities.

Not least among the accomplishments was winning “good press” for his meetings and his movement. Coverage was not only vast but fond -- even from journalists with little regard for his old-fashioned, unwavering beliefs that that personal faith in Jesus Christ is the “one way” to salvation and that the Bible is God’s unique and infallible word to modern humanity.

How did he do it?

Graham’s well-chosen media team certainly knew how to manage all the usual promotional tactics. Its most spectacular feat of organizational moxie occurred in 1995, when his meetings in Puerto Rico were beamed by satellite TV to sites in 175 countries.

However, The Religion Guy would maintain the secret to media appeal was not such benign artifice but the artless charm of the man himself, his evident sincerity, and, above all, his humility. In these times of political narcissism, it is remarkable to reflect that one of the most famous men on the planet managed to carefully leash his ego, not to mention remain free of scandal. Perhaps only prayer could have accomplished such a thing.  

The Guy reported on the preacher’s last revival meeting (New York City, 2005) for The Associated Press, and 39 years before that had first joined the Graham beat for one of his most interesting forays, covering it for Christianity Today (the evangelical magazine made possible by Graham’s connections).

It was his “crusade” in Greenville, S.C., the home of his harshest critics, the leaders at arch-fundamentalist Bob Jones University, which the young Graham had briefly attended.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: Trump's Christmas, Hatmaker's critics, Dallas monks, remote Catholic places and more

Friday Five: Trump's Christmas, Hatmaker's critics, Dallas monks, remote Catholic places and more

It's Friday again.

At least I think it's Friday. I've been on vacation all week celebrating Christmas, and I've mostly lost track of what day it is.

"Nobody knows what day of the week it is," John Mayer tweeted earlier this week. "Any attempt to answer is mere bluster and bravado. It’s just dark and not 2018 yet."

But I just checked the calendar and confirmed — just to make sure — that it's time for another Friday Five.

Here goes:

1. Religion story of the week: I'll admit that I haven't paid a lot of attention to the news this week — religion related or otherwise. Please refer to my earlier note about vacation (albeit not at GetReligion, which naps but never sleeps).

However, here's a well-done story I did catch (and highlighted in a post) from PBS: "How the 'war on Christmas' became a political rallying cry."

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Julia Duin has our most-read post of the week: "Evangelical rebel Jen Hatmaker deserved more from Politico than a puff piece."

 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Happy Trump-idays! The real reason for so much winning and saying 'Merry Christmas' this season

Happy Trump-idays! The real reason for so much winning and saying 'Merry Christmas' this season

Thank you, President Trump!

Because of you, my family was able to celebrate and say "Merry Christmas" this holiday season. That's something we haven't been able to do since ... last Christmas.

As GetReligion readers probably heard, the president congratulated himself in a Christmas Eve tweet: "People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!"

So much winning — and Christmas spirit!

But personally, I identified with the response of Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, to Trump's tweet: "So, was this a thing that I missed? Were some of you really ashamed of saying Merry Christmas before the election? Or afraid to? Teach me — are you proud and more bold now? What?" (See Stetzer's Twitter timeline for some excellent feedback that he received.)

Here's the deal, though: Trump's emphasis on Christmas — like his "Make America Great Again" slogan — has tapped into something deeper than saying Merry Christmas, as a nice PBS Newshour segment noted Monday night.

I recall that when I interviewed Robert Jeffress, one of Trump's key evangelical advisers, earlier this year, I asked about the Christmas issue.

Jeffress told me:

People say, 'Well, what’s the big deal about Merry Christmas? I think President Trump understands that Christianity has been marginalized in our country. For the two years I’ve known him, he’s talked about that quite a bit, the marginalization of Christianity. He certainly believes that people of all faiths or no faith ought to have the right to practice whatever faith they have. But he’s noticed the decline of Christianity in America, and that concerns him.

Real war on Christmas or not (for what it's worth, the Washington Post's opinion Twitter account thought Dec. 25 was a great day to question Jesus' existence), Trump's Christmas focus seems to have resonated with much of his evangelical Christian base.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Sex-trafficked Nigerian teens: Why so little reporting on religious roots of this tragedy?

Sex-trafficked Nigerian teens: Why so little reporting on religious roots of this tragedy?

There’s been some amazing articles out there about the modern-day slave trade involving Nigerians who think they’re fleeing to Europe for jobs, but end up getting forced into prostitution or crime.

The British press has been particularly astute in tracking this horrific trend, which involves west Africans, the majority who come from Nigeria, Gambia and Ghana and who head north via Libya only to end up in a tangle of slave markets patronized by Arab buyers. The Guardian, BBC, the Washington Post and many other media are describing how Libya is outdoing India in being the world capital of sex trafficking.

But not enough has been done when you consider there's a bizarre mix of voodoo and Pentecostalism undergirding it all. After all, CNBC calls Libya the “torture archipelago” for poor African migrants. The Guardian asks the world why it’s ignoring this African holocaust in its midst.

Possibly the best story of them all was the New Yorker’s “Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl” that ran in April. Now The Times of London did a piece on what happens to the few lucky Nigerian teenagers who get through this hell to reach Italy. 

 The Nigerian prostitutes working on street corners in Castel Volturno this summer look like schoolgirls dressed up for a fancy dress party in their mothers’ clothes and make-up.
The reason: they are schoolgirls, as young as 14, part of a new wave of children tricked into crossing the Sahara and forced by voodoo threats, beatings and gang rape to become prostitutes.
“No-one acknowledges what is going on, but customers are coming here from miles away just for a chance to have sex with these 14-year-olds,” said Blessed Okoedion, a Nigerian woman who escaped from prostitution and now helps working girls.

We’re not talking Sicily here; we’re only 12 miles south of Naples. And this is not a topic where one would expect religion to be an issue but the author does find a “Sister Rita,” who is an Italian Ursuline nun helping these girls. Then:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Snip, snip? The symbolic clout of Sikh man nodding approval for (a) Trump or (b) Schumer

Snip, snip? The symbolic clout of Sikh man nodding approval for (a) Trump or (b) Schumer

Anyone who knows anything about America in the past half century or so knows that we live in a culture that is increasingly dominated by visual images and the emotions they produce.

Images were crucial as modern print journalism evolved. It goes without saying that images are crucial in visual storytelling in television, past and present. 

Today? While words matter in social media, nothing grabs people quite like that punchy, ironic, cute, infuriating or poignant image that seems to sum up (a) whatever is happening in the real world at the moment or (b) whatever we are consuming in order to be able to ignore whatever is happening in the real world at the moment.

Thus, a former GetReligionista sent the current team an email the other day -- with the simple headline, "Hmmmm" -- containing the item at the top of this post.

What's the point? The question has been asked many times: Why do so many people get confused and think that Sikhs are Muslims? Is there something compelling about the Sikh turban (the dastaar) that makes journalists think "foreign," "exotic," maybe "Arab" and, thus, "Muslim" or someone who would be accused of being a "Muslim terrorist"?

Ah, but the turban is VISUAL and it all but screams "diversity," "other world religions" and "multiculturalism."

At the moment, is the whole point -- in terms of journalism shorthand -- that a Sikh believer looks like the kind of man that the angry, fact-challenged, Islamophobic Donald Trump voter is supposed to want to (a) beat up and then (b) accuse of being a "Muslim" terrorist? 

Well, a few key facts are all wrong. But, hey, the point is to make a point. Right?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Religion news on TV: A not-quite post mortem on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Religion news on TV: A not-quite post mortem on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Late last year, a story broke about the impending demise of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, the almost 20-year-old PBS show that is unique in American journalism. No other network has mounted such an ambitious effort to cover faith and ethics with Washington-based talent and staff.

Those of us on the religion beat were amazed when the show began in September 1997. Imagine, a TV news magazine about ethics (unheard of) and religion (nearly unheard of). Instead of the obnoxious religious TV that constantly hit you up for contributions, R&E had enough funding from the Lilly Endowment to keep those telephones quiet. WNET, whose head office is in New York, produced the show and PBS distributed it.

It also had star power behind it in the person of Bob Abernethy, a widely traveled NBC news correspondent who in his retirement years (age 69) started the show. The show set up shop in offices on H Street, borrowed studio space from Reuters and took off.

Religion News Service told us how it’s all ending two decades later:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Twas their gift to be simple (and celibate), but now the Shakers are all but gone

'Twas their gift to be simple (and celibate), but now the Shakers are all but gone

If you have studied the history of religion in America -- part of my double-major as an undergraduate and then my master's degree work in church-state studies -- then you will have run into the fascinating movement called the Shakers. Trust me, there is more to these believers than their influence on the Arts and Crafts Movement and, well, L.L. Bean.

The Shakers are in the news right now for reasons that are easy to understand, but a bit harder to explain -- if you care about the details.

The best report I've seen on this topic so far (combining elements of several other news stories) ran last week in The Washington Post with this headline: "One of the Shakers’ last three members died Monday. The storied sect is verging on extinction." It's a solid report, but does contain a very interesting and important hole. Meanwhile, here's some key material at the top of the story:

Sister Frances Carr died at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, Maine, “after a brief battle with cancer,” according to a statement on the community’s website. It continued, “The end came swiftly and with dignity surrounded by the community and her nieces.” Carr was 89.
Carr was a member of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, a Christian group formed in 1747 in Manchester, England. They earned the name the Shakers when critics began calling them “Shaking Quakers” because of “their ecstatic and violent bodily agitation in worship.” ... The Shakers eventually abandoned this particular dancing-style worship, but the congregation adopted the term, according to the Associated Press.
The religious sect moved to the United States when Ann Lee, one of its leaders (known as Mother Ann) who was imprisoned in England for her views, fled to the New World with eight of her followers in 1774. Eventually, the group established its first American community in New Lebanon, N.Y. Slowly, it blossomed into 18 communities across the Eastern United States, including locations in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Massachusetts.

The last remaining Shaker community is at Sabbathday Lake, with two members.

Now, if you know anything else about the Shakers -- other than about their music (think "Simple Gifts") and furniture -- then it is probably a rather logical reason for the movement's decline:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

God help us: How will our digital supermen define what is and what is not 'fake news'?

God help us: How will our digital supermen define what is and what is not 'fake news'?

We have two important journalism subjects -- both linked to religious issues -- that are currently generating lots of heat in the "America after 11/8 cultural meltdown" among America's chattering classes.

No. 1: What is "fake news" and how can it be stopped before it generates more help for Donald Trump?

No. 2: What, precisely, does the term "alt-right" mean and how can the enlightened powers that be in digital technology and mass media (think the gods at Twitter and Facebook) crack down on it to prevent dangerous people from continuing to pump their views into the body politic.

Of course, for some experts, "fake news" (they aren't talking about Rolling Stone) and the alt-right overlap quite a bit. There are times that truly nasty stuff in the alt-right filter up into the mainstream through websites that may not be alt-right themselves, but they run lots and lots of paranoid fake news.

Now, before we get to the religion angles of all of this fake news stuff -- the subject of this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tun that in) -- let's face another blunt reality: How people define the terms "alt-right" and "fake news" often tell you as much about their beliefs and convictions as it does the folks who genuinely deserve to be covered with those nasty labels.

So what does "alt-right" mean? Let's ask the online version of an Oxford dictionary:

alt-right
(in the US) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content:

Please respect our Commenting Policy