San Bernardino

Your Thanksgiving think piece: How did 'prayer shaming' become a news media thing?

Your Thanksgiving think piece: How did 'prayer shaming' become a news media thing?

So it's Thanksgiving.

Has anyone heard whether it's OK to offer "thanksgiving" on this day, or has the implication that there is a Supreme Being to whom thanks should be is given been declared a microaggression? Is "thanksgiving" sliding into the "thoughts and prayers" category in American life, both public and private?

That's the subject lurking beneath the surface of an interesting news-related think piece that ran the other day at The Catholic Thing website.

The headline: "Resist 'Prayer Shaming' This Thanksgiving."

I noticed the essay and started reading it. Then I noticed that this piece was written by veteran journalist Clemente Lisi, who is one of my faculty colleagues at The King's College in New York City. Lisi is a New Yorker through and through and has two decades of experience in various newsrooms in the Big Apple, including reporting and editing duties at The New York Post, ABC News and The New York Daily News.

The overture of this piece quickly links the holiday and recent news trends:

Thanksgiving and prayer are intimately linked. While the holiday ... has its roots in Protestant England (the very first Thanksgiving in 1621 was held by the Pilgrims who fled Europe seeking religious freedom), Americans of all faiths have since embraced this uniquely American holiday of giving thanks to God.
You wouldn’t know this from how the mainstream media has generally chosen to cover it in recent years. Thanksgiving has lost its religious meaning -- many people don’t offer a prayer before addressing the turkey -- and has been replaced with a focus on football games and Black Friday shopping. Christmas, unfortunately, has also become less about Jesus and more about consumerism. It’s part of a larger trend whereby our society becomes gradually secularized, even on explicitly religious holidays. And prayer, so central to the lives of millions of Americans, is invisible to those who deliver the news to you each day.

This raises an interesting question for any GetReligion readers who are online today, either before or after the feast.

The key question: Was there any "Thanksgiving" coverage in your newspaper today?

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Another San Bernardino shooting; news media profile a generic pastor who shot his wife

Another San Bernardino shooting; news media profile a generic pastor who shot his wife

When I first heard the phrases “shooting” and “San Bernardino” earlier this week, my thoughts raced to another shooting in the same city 17 months ago caused by two jihad-happy shooters. And now this?

Then the news came out that this tragedy had all of the characteristics of a deadly domestic dispute, so I mentally compartmentalized it as a non-religion story. Then we learned from the Los Angeles Times that the shooter was a pastor -- although no one seems to know anything about his church or denomination or beliefs.

In other words, has this shooter said anything that links his actions to his beliefs?

I’m cutting and pasting the parts from the Times where it identifies the pastor part: 

Karen Smith tied the knot in January with a man she had known for years.
A pastor her own age with a military background, Cedric Anderson seemed like a man of faith with whom she could share the next chapter of her life. ...
On Monday, the tumult of their brief marriage burst into a San Bernardino elementary school. Anderson walked into Smith’s special-needs classroom and opened fire, fatally wounding her before turning the gun on himself, police said. One of Smith’s students, an 8-year-old boy, was also struck by the gunfire and died. A second child was injured.

The story then went into available details about the couple, including her expertise in special education and his history of spousal abuse and then:

Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope, said he knew Anderson as a pastor who attended community meetings.
"He was a deeply religious man,” Ali said of Anderson, who sometimes preached on the radio and joined community events. “There was never any signs of this kind of violence … on his Facebook he even criticized a man for attacking a woman."

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That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

Certainly, the plight of Muslims in America is a relevant subject for quality journalism in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

But where is the quality?

When major newspapers decide to delve into that subject matter, I wish they'd do some actual reporting. Real reporting.

Instead, too many stories follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism. The latest example comes courtesy of the largest newspaper in Minnesota, a state I happen to be visiting this week.

In a story headlined "Non-Muslim Minnesotans are donning the hijab to show support," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune muddles through a hodgepodge of sources connected by random facts.

The lede:

Nade Conrad's long black hair disappeared under the cover of a lilac hijab.
"I feel different," she said.
Conrad, who is not Muslim, had donned the scarf to show support for a Muslim friend at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
Such acts of "hijab solidarity" are on the rise.
World Hijab Day, a global event inviting people of all faiths to post pictures of themselves in a hijab on social media, is gathering steam. It was at a World Hijab Day event at Normandale — one of several such events held at Minnesota colleges in early February — that Conrad first tried on a hijab.

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Sorry, Heartland, you suffer from a major case of Islamophobia — an elite newspaper said so

Sorry, Heartland, you suffer from a major case of Islamophobia — an elite newspaper said so

On the front page of Sunday's Washington Post — below the banner coverage of "A blizzard for the ages" — ran a long, long profile of a young Muslim woman from Kansas.

The nearly 4,000-word story, told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer, follows a now-familiar media premise: Americans, particularly those in backward places like the Heartland, treat Muslim women who wear hijabs with suspicion and even disdain.

In this story — dubbed "The Education of Maira Salim" — the Post declares that Muslims like Salim are "enduring the worst spasm of Islamophobia in their lifetime as they decide their relationship with America."

We have, of course, repeatedly highlighted the problem with that word.

Granted, a lot of people on Twitter seemed to really like the Post's story on Salim. The piece was described as "beautifully sensitive," as "an engrossing read" and as "the very best of what the Washington Post does," just to cite a few examples.

And certainly, the story benefits from a talented writer:



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Houston, we have a problem: What's wrong with all those 'Muslim backlash' stories in the media

Houston, we have a problem: What's wrong with all those 'Muslim backlash' stories in the media

The backlash is back.

Back on the front page, that is.

Before dissecting today's Houston Chronicle story, a little background: After the San Bernardino massacre, the New York Post splashed the inflammatory headline "Muslim Killers" across its tabloid cover. At that time, we noted that — ever since 9/11 — the phrase "Muslim backlash" has entered America's lexicon. 

In follow-up posts, we questioned media reporting a "surge" in anti-Muslim crime without providing hard data to back up that factual claim. Moreover, we pointed out bias by media using the term "Islamophobia" without bothering to define it.

That leads to Houston, where firefighters battled a Christmas Day blaze at a storefront mosque. Investigators called the fire "suspicious," citing multiple points of origin. 

The fire serves as the news peg for the Chronicle's Page A1 report today on anxiety in the area's Muslim community:

Even before investigators determined that a Christmas Day fire at a southwest Houston mosque was set deliberately, Muslims in the Houston area were on edge.
Recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., were followed by threats to area Muslims on social media and elsewhere. Now, in the aftermath of the arson at the mosque, local Muslim leaders and public officials are organizing a meeting to try to calm fears and ease tensions. 
M.J. Khan, the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, said he understands the community’s growing anxiety. 
“Families and children come, and we do take precautions to make sure people are protected and feel safe,” said Khan, whose organization operates the mosque. Still, he added, “These are places of worship, and we cannot make them fortresses.”
The fire broke out at around 2:45 p.m. on Christmas Day at the small mosque inside the Savoy Plaza strip center, near Wilcrest Drive and Bellfort Avenue. About 80 firefighters helped extinguish the blaze, which significantly damaged the worship hall.

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I see what your church security plan is trying to do, but you lost me at 'Throw your Bible at the shooter'

I see what your church security plan is trying to do, but you lost me at 'Throw your Bible at the shooter'

Stop a mass gunman by throwing your Bible at him?

Yes, an expert quoted by The Associated Press actually recommended that. More details in a moment.

But first, I'll share my overall impression of this year-end AP rundown of security measures taking place at houses of worship nationwide. 

My reaction is this: There is such a thing as trying to do too much. The amount of information the wire service packs into this all-encompassing lede seems to be a case in point:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — In Alabama, a Presbyterian church wanted to be able to hire its own police for protection. Mosque leaders around the country are meeting with law enforcement officials as an anti-Muslim furor fuels arson attacks and vandalism. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been holding specialized training for congregations for "all hazards, including active shooter incidents."
Religious congregations across the United States are concentrating on safety like never before following a season of violence, from the slaughter unleashed in June by a white shooter at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the killings this month in San Bernardino, California.

Concentrating on safety like never before. A verifiable fact? Or journalistic hyperbole? 

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On the red-hot Islam beat: (1) Helpful, if recycled, info, (2) far-fetched 2016 scenarios

On the red-hot Islam beat: (1) Helpful, if recycled, info, (2) far-fetched 2016 scenarios

The Council on American-Islamic Relations reports that 2015 has produced at least 63 incidents of vandalism and harassment against U.S. Muslims, the most since it started counting in 2009 and three times the 2014 total -- a spot story to pursue.

The biggest spike of such crimes occurred in November, likely a reaction to “Islamists” downing a Russian plane in Egypt October 31 followed by atrocities in Lebanon, Nigeria and Paris that together slaughtered  429 innocent victims and injured hundreds more. Next came the San Bernardino attack that murdered 14 partygoers and injured 22, then the December 15 announcement of an anti-terror military alliance among 34 Muslim nations.

CAIR provides new news. But recycled information can be manna on the red-hot Islam beat as newswriters prepare explainers. The ever-reliable Pew Research Center has assembled prior data for a valuable online report, “Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world.” Thank you Pew. 

We learn – or are reminded -- that Pew surveys show 86 percent of U.S. Muslims think violence against innocent civilians is rarely or never justified, compared with 7 percent who think it’s sometimes justified, and 1 percent saying it is often justified. 

That’s somewhat reassuring, though the “sometimes” number is worrisome and, by Pew’s estimate of 1.8 million U.S. Muslim adults, 1 percent saying “often” equals 18,000 radicals. Notably, 48 percent of U.S. Muslims think their religious leaders haven’t done enough to oppose Islamic extremists.

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Hey media, in the name of journalism, can we please stop the 'Islamophobia' bias?

Hey media, in the name of journalism, can we please stop the 'Islamophobia' bias?

There's that word again — this time on the front page of the New York Times.

What word?:


What does it mean? The Times doesn't say. But the newspaper reports that there's been a "surge" in it:

Hebh Jamal does not remember the Sept. 11 attacks. She was 1. Growing up in the Bronx, she was unaware of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and was mostly insulated from the surge in suspicion that engulfed Muslims in the United States, the programs of police surveillance and the rise in bias attacks.
But in the past year, especially in the past several months, as her emergence from childhood into young womanhood has coincided with the violent spread of the Islamic State and a surge in Islamophobia, she has had to confront some harsh challenges of being a young Muslim in America.

Similarly, as GetReligion noted yesterday, the Los Angeles Times used the I-phobia word in a recent story on Muslims women saying headscarves have made them a target for harassment:

The Washington-based nonprofit Council on American–Islamic Relations has documented dozens of Islamophobic incidents nationwide since last month, including many against women wearing headscarves. defines "Islamophobia" as "hatred or fear of Muslims or their politics or culture."

So what's my problem with journalists sprinkling their stories with that term? 

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Got those bad headline blues again: Did Falwell take a shot at all Muslims or not?

Got those bad headline blues again: Did Falwell take a shot at all Muslims or not?

At this point, I really, really wish that I didn't have to address the whole "who is to blame for bad headlines" thing again. I mean, your GetReligionistas have written so many posts about this issue in the past.

Let me make this comment again: (click here please).

Now, what's up? I have received several questions about the recent Washington Post "Acts of Faith" story about the remarks by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., in which -- in the aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre -- he urged qualified Liberty University to get legal permits to carry concealed weapons.

The problem is that it appears there were radically different headlines used on different versions of this story. In my opinion, what appears to have been the early headline is journalistically problematic, to say the least. Hold that thought.

But first, let me stress once again:

... It's important for readers to understand that reporters rarely write the headlines that accompany their stories. Editors and specialists at copy desks write the headlines. It's tough work, and I say that as someone who did that job for several years early in my career.
A good headline can really help a story. A bad one can warp the framework in which the reader encounters the ideas and fact in the text. Alas, that's just the way the business works.

Now, with that in mind, please listen to the full context of this very controversial Falwell quote -- using the YouTube file from CNN that is featured at the top of this post. Here is the quote as published in the Post:

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