Paul Glader

Friday Five: Synagogue shooting, Messianic controversy, young evangelicals, Squirrel Hill memories

Friday Five: Synagogue shooting, Messianic controversy, young evangelicals, Squirrel Hill memories

Saturday’s synagogue shooting, which claimed 11 lives in Pittsburgh, has dominated religion headlines this week. Here at GetReligion, we’ve produced a half-dozen posts on that unimaginable tragedy.

If you get a chance today or this weekend, check out what we’ve written, and feel free to let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

Among our posts:

• Julia Duin’s thoughtful commentary on how “Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity — synagogue shootings.”

Ira Rifkin’s expert analysis noting that “Pittsburgh surprised many: But not those who repeatedly reported rising American anti-Semitism.”

• And my own piece reflecting on “Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy.”

I’ll mention some of our other Pittsburgh-related offerings below as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: In a post Thursday, I called Emma Green’s Atlantic report headlined “The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead” one of the best religion stories of 2018.

Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein praised Green’s “lovely reporting,” and CNN religion editor Daniel Burke lauded the "sensitivity, nuance, context — and the insights” of the story.

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Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

I was a journalism major in the first half of the 1970s, an era in which -- even at Baylor University -- everyone who wanted to be a journalist was reading Tom Wolfe. I even dreamed that Wolfe would venture down to Waco and write the definite magazine piece on just how crazy things really were in Jerusalem on the Brazos.

Even in the Bible Belt, Wolfe was the essence of hip, cutting edge journalism. Of course, everyone assumed this also meant "liberal," whatever that word meant back then.

As you would expect, his writings returned to my radar during my graduate work in 1981-82 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Then there was a lull until the explosion of criticism of his reporting/fiction in "A Man in Full" and "I Am Charlotte Simmons." 

As I read press reactions to those novels, something hit me: Some of the gatekeepers in elite American media were truly afraid that Wolfe might, well, have a moral and cultural point of view that was guiding his sniper-like attacks on American culture.

Oh. My. God. Might the man in the white suits be some kind of "conservative"? Should these books be read while listening to Bob Dylan's acidic, countercultural work on "Infidels"? Was Wolfe a heretic? Hold that thought.

My task here is not to criticize or even to summarize the many, many Wolfe obituaries and tributes that are -- with good cause -- being published right now. I recognize that it takes genuine chutzpah to try to write about Wolfe, or even to write about other people writing about Wolfe. The subject is just too big, too colorful and too complex.

So right now, I would simply like to make a few observations about the articles in The New York Times and New York magazine. After all, everything begins and ends with Wolfe (a transplanted Southerner, of course) and the city that he stalked for half a century, decked out in the white suits that he called "Neo-pretentious" and “a harmless form of aggression.”

Let's start with a symbolic fact about Wolfe's life. The Times noted:

He enrolled at Yale University in the American studies program and received his Ph.D. in 1957. After sending out job applications to more than 100 newspapers and receiving three responses, two of them “no,” he went to work as a general-assignment reporter at The Springfield Union in Springfield, Mass., and later joined the staff of The Washington Post.

How many people finish a Yale doctorate and then head straight into an entry-level job on a newspaper city desk?

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Concerning the New York Times: 'Fake' news? No. 'Flawed' or 'flavored' news? From time to time ...

Concerning the New York Times: 'Fake' news? No. 'Flawed' or 'flavored' news? From time to time ...

It's the question many journalists are hearing right now from family and online friends as discussions of "fake news" keep heating up: "OK, where am I supposed to go to find balanced, accurate reporting these days?"

As you would expect, when I hear that question there is often an editorial twist in it, something like this: "OK, where am I supposed to go to find balanced, accurate reporting on religion news these days?" That's the question that loomed in the background during the latest "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), as host Todd Wilken and I discussed the fact that GetReligion marked it's 13th birthday this week.

It's crucial, for starters, to recognize that there are online sources that seem to welcome fake news and then there are established media brands that seem, every now and then, to catch a fake-news virus that affects one or two stories or issues. You can see my colleague Paul Glader of The King's College (he also directs The Media Project that includes GetReligion) striving to make that distinction in his Forbes piece, "10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts Rather Than Alternative Facts."

Glader is absolutely right on this basic issue of ethics and quality. At the same time, the minute I read the headline on his piece I could hear the voices of skeptical online friends saying, "Is that '10 Journalism Brands Where You WILL Find Real Facts' or is it '10 Journalism Brands Where You CAN Find Real Facts'?"

As we have stressed many times here at GetReligion, the quality of mainstream media coverage of religion news is consistently inconsistent. There are professionals who do fantastic work and then, in the same newsroom, there are reporters and editors who -- when it comes to getting religion -- think up is down and down is up. They don't know what they don't know.

For example, contrast the informed and nuanced religion-beat coverage of issues linking politics and religion at The Washington Post with the tone-deaf material produced throughout 2016 by the political desk in that newsroom.

Meanwhile, what are we to make of The New York Times, which remains one of the world's top two news organizations (I put BBC in that mix, as well) in terms of its reach and ambitions?

Anyone who ignores the high quality of work done at The Times is, well, ignoring the facts.

Yet it is clear, as the newspaper's own editor has stated, that the great Gray Lady struggles when it comes to grasping many basic facts about life in ordinary America -- starting with the role of religious faith in the life of millions of ordinary people (including in New York City).

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