Southwest Airlines

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

A GetReligionista looks back on some of his — and his colleagues' — most-clicked posts of 2018

I write more than 200 posts a year for GetReligion.

My pieces range from our bread-and-butter critiques of mainstream news media coverage of religion to our weekly Friday Five columns highlighting each week’s major (or just plain quirky) developments on the Godbeat.

At the end of each year, I’m always curious to see which posts caught the attention of the most readers.

What makes a GetReligion post go viral? In 2017, key ingredients included Joel Osteen, same-sex wedding cakes and the Mark of the Beast. The previous year — 2016 — Donald Trump’s “Two Corinthians,” Merle Haggard’s Church of Christ mama and a rare opening of a Chick-fil-A on Sunday were in the mix.

2018? Well, let’s check out the top five posts for GetReligionista Julia Duin, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly and myself.

We’ll start with Julia, for reasons that will become obvious:

5. How journalists can nail down the rest of the Cardinal McCarrick story – for good

4. Cardinal Ted McCarrick, Part II: The New York Times takes a stab at this old story

3. Catholic News Agency pulls off investigative coup in the 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick saga

2. Another #ChurchToo: The Chicago Tribune investigates Bill Hybels in 6,000 words

1. The scandal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and why no major media outed him

See any common thread there? That’s right — McCarrick and the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal were huge news and big traffic drivers to GetReligion in 2018, as was the related #ChurchToo news that also made headlines.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Reporters miss great religion angle on Southwest Airlines story about a Down Syndrome girl

Reporters miss great religion angle on Southwest Airlines story about a Down Syndrome girl

Every once in awhile, a piece of religion news slips by that shows a writer’s complete ignorance of basic stuff in American religious culture.

For instance, most of you have heard of “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren, right?

There’s a reason for that. This was the 2002 devotional book that was on the New York Times Bestseller List for more than 90 weeks; sold 30 million copies by 2007 and basically broke all sorts of records for a Christian product. We’ve all seen it for sale in the supermarkets.

So when someone involved in a news story says that they are “purpose-driven,” there is a very good chance that this person has some knowledge of that book, yes? It would be worth asking about, at the very least.

You’d think. Recently we found this heartwarming story on inc.com — although I believe it originally aired on one of the Sacramento TV stations -- about a stewardess written by a clueless reporter when it comes to such terms. To wit:

This is the tale of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, whose gesture literally helped a passenger achieve a lifelong dream. The passenger: Tracy Sharp, a Sacramento woman who has Down syndrome. The flight attendant: Vicki Heath.

The two met on a flight Sharp was taking home after visiting family in Houston a few months ago, and they had a conversation in which Sharp shared with Heath that it was her lifelong dream to be a flight attendant herself. … According to news reports, she started making phone calls within Southwest to get permission to bring Sharp on another Southwest flight, and have her work alongside Heath as a sort of assistant flight attendant.

“ …on Friday, Sharp flew with Heath on a flight from Sacramento to Seattle, wearing a red uniform, helping to greet passengers and do a few other things that Sharp thought would be really cool, and even getting flight attendant wings for her service. …

"You're going to make me cry!" Heath replied when a reporter asked how she felt about bringing the whole thing together. "I feel like I'm living my purpose-driven life. And that's huge."

Now where have we heard that before?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'God put people on that plane for a reason,' Flight 1380 hero says -- but why does he believe that?

'God put people on that plane for a reason,' Flight 1380 hero says -- but why does he believe that?

How many times could God be mentioned in a news conference without reporters asking a single follow-up question about, you know, faith?

I lost count of how many times hero firefighter Andrew Needum -- who rushed into action after an engine exploded aboard Southwest Flight 1380 last week -- and his family referenced God in the YouTube video embedded with this post.

I'll give a rough estimate of 20 or 30 mentions of God.

But questions from reporters about Needum's faith? I didn't hear a single one.

Instead, the media focused on details of the flight itself (understandably, to some extent) and the closeness of the family and, well, just about anything except for religion. Which is frustrating to anyone -- I'll raise my hand -- genuinely curious about the faith angle.

Interestingly, the quotes about God figured prominently in much of the news coverage I read — just without any context.

For instance, give credit to the Dallas Morning News for highlighting -- not ignoring -- Needum's "God talk."

The Dallas newspaper -- more so than other major news organizations, such as CNN and USA Today -- emphasized his faith emphasis in its headline and up high in its story.

The headline:

Celina firefighter who rushed to help woman on Southwest flight says God put him there for a reason

Here's the opening of the story: 

On Tuesday morning, Celina firefighter Andrew Needum hurried to New York's LaGuardia Airport with his parents, wife and two young children to catch a flight back home. He said he did not yet know that God had placed him on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 for a reason.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: Chick-fil-A, Southwest pilot's faith, Waco anniversary, clergy sex abuse scandal and more

Friday Five: Chick-fil-A, Southwest pilot's faith, Waco anniversary, clergy sex abuse scandal and more

I have a confession to make, dear reader.

I eat too much Chick-fil-A. Way too much Chick-fil-A.

I love Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits for breakfast. I love Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches — minus the pickles, which I know is heresy to some— for dinner. I love anything on the Chick-fil-A menu for Sunday lunch. Or, I mean, I would if Chick-fil-A would just do me a favor and open on Sunday.

Go ahead and encourage me to #EatMorChikin (not to mention waffle fries). I'm just not sure it's possible. My waistline will back me up on this.

Yes, in case you're wondering, there's a religion news angle on Chick-fil-A in this week's Friday Five.

Let's dive right in:

1. Religion story of the week: A devout Christian pilot with "nerves of steel" calmly maneuvers a Southwest Airlines flight to the ground after a blown engine kills one passenger and injures seven others.

How can that not be the religion story of the week?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Dear Jesus, send some angels': More notes of faith and prayer inside Southwest Flight 1380

'Dear Jesus, send some angels': More notes of faith and prayer inside Southwest Flight 1380

Several years ago, I was flying home from a reporting trip when the pilot came on the loudspeaker and reported trouble with the controls that direct the plane.

He said we needed to make an emergency landing, and rescue vehicles would be waiting as a precaution. But he stressed that the flashing lights on the ground shouldn’t alarm anyone because he didn’t expect any problem landing the plane.

That statement would have provided more comfort if I hadn’t kept asking myself: If the plane were going to crash, would he be so candid as to say so?

“Attention, passengers, I fully expect that we are all about to die. Please buckle your seat belts and get your affairs in order.” 

For an anxious flyer such as myself, that experience was scary enough.

But I can't even imagine what the passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 endured this week. As you no doubt heard, one passenger was killed and seven others wounded Tuesday after an engine exploded. 

However, as I noted Wednesday, devout Christian pilot Tammie Jo Shults is being praised for her "nerves of steel" in calmly maneuvering the plane to the ground and avoiding a much worse catastrophe.

Since I wrote that post, I've come across more faith-filled news coverage that needs to be highlighted.

The New York Times' front-page narrative today on the "20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror" is especially compelling:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Devout hero: Might Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults' 'nerves of steel' be related to her strong faith?

Devout hero: Might Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults' 'nerves of steel' be related to her strong faith?

If you follow the news, you know that a Southwest Airlines plane made an emergency landing Tuesday after an engine exploded.

Sadly, one passenger was killed and seven others wounded.

But pilot Tammie Jo Shults is being praised for her "nerves of steel" in calmly maneuvering the plane to the ground and avoiding a much worse catastrophe.

News reports also have noted that Shults is a pioneer who was among the U.S. Navy's first female pilots trained to fly fighter aircraft.

So, why does this story merit attention by GetReligion? I'm so glad you asked.

Enter reader David Yoder, who tipped us to be on the lookout for holy ghosts in the coverage of Shults.

"She's a committed Christian," Yoder told us.

That was news to me: I saw no mention of the faith angle in profiles of Shults by CNN, ABC News, the New York Times or The Associated Press.

But as I started Googling, I was pleased to see a number of news organizations did catch this angle.

The Washington Post offered these strong details:

Her mother-in-law also described her as a devout Christian, with a faith she thinks may have contributed to her calm state amid the emergency landing.
“I know God was with her, and I know she was talking to God,” Virginia Shults said.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Islamophobia: Wrestling with the subjective from Southwest Airlines to Latvia

Islamophobia: Wrestling with the subjective from Southwest Airlines to Latvia

My GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross Jr. published a post last week about the removal of a California man from a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger overheard him speak Arabic and became concerned. If you missed the Southwest saga, click here for an Associated Press report on the incident.

Bobby's focus was that the line between irrational Islamophobia and rational precaution is often fuzzy, and that journalists sometimes rush to assume the former because "we journalists love victims."

Good point. The white-hat-versus-black-hat trope is a journalism classic.

Now let's state this issue of subjective judgement another way: Given how complicated the question of when-is-it and when-isn't-it Islamophobia can become, should journalists even try to discern between the two in what we quaintly refer to as straight, or hard, news stories, beyond the he-said, she-said level? I don't think so.

In the case of an airline about to take off, I find it difficult to argue against putting group passenger safety over all other concerns. That includes taking the risk of showing ignorance or acting insensitively toward one or more Muslim or Arab-speaking passengers in a highly sensitive, ethnically, racially and politically charged setting.

I'm not an Arabic speaker, Muslim or person or color so perhaps I'm just not as sensitive to this issue as I might be if I were any of these things. Let me also stipulate that I fly to Israel often and I can recall on more than one occasion mentally frowning when I thought some non-Israeli airline was being lax in its pre-boarding security checks.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'Islamophobia': In reports on student kicked off Southwest flight, there's that term again

'Islamophobia': In reports on student kicked off Southwest flight, there's that term again

We journalists love victims.

Victims make for easy stories and enticing clickbait.

For one example, see GetReligion's posts on this week's alleged-gay-slur-on-a-cake-sold-by-Whole-Foods brouhaha: here and here.

For another, perhaps you've heard about the college student who was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for the crime of ... speaking Arabic.

To read the news reports, it seems obvious that the student is a victim of "Islamophobia." Yes, that vague, undefined term shows up in most of these stories with no real explanation of what it means. Again.

If you're a regular reader of GetReligion, you know how we feel about that.

The only problem: When you read the full details of what happened in the latest scenario, it becomes a bit more complicated than the simple headlines.

Please respect our Commenting Policy