The New York Daily News

Pope Francis and the ongoing fallibility of (quite a few members of) the mainstream media

Pope Francis and the ongoing fallibility of (quite a few members of) the mainstream media

Here is a rather simple test for reporters with experience on the religion beat.

In terms of Catholic tradition, which of the following two forms of communication by Pope Francis has the greater level of authority?

* A formal papal encyclical distributed by the Vatican.

* A comment made during an informal airplane press conference, as Shepherd One flies back to Rome after an overseas trip.

Like I said, it isn't a tough question if one knows anything about the papacy.

Ah, but how about the content of an off-the-cuff Pope Francis one-liner about abortion, "culture wars" and politics? Do those words have more authority, less authority or the same level of authority as a a papal address, using a carefully prepared manuscript, delivered to an Italian conference for Catholic doctors focusing on the sanctity of human life?

That's a tougher one. I would argue that the papal address had more authority than the one-liner. However, if one uses an online search engine to explore press coverage of these kinds of issues -- in terms of gallons of digital ink -- you'll quickly learn that I am part of a small minority on that matter.

Now, I was talking about religion-beat pros. What happens when political editors and reporters try to handle issues of papal authority, when covering tensions and changes in today's Catholic church? Frankly, I think things get screwed up more often than not under those circumstances. But, well, who am I to judge?

If consistent, logical, dare I say "accurate" answers to these kinds of journalistic questions are important to you, then you need to read a new essay -- "Pope Francis and the media’s ongoing fallibility" -- posted by The Media Project. The author is veteran New York City journalist Clemente Lisi, who is now my colleague on the journalism faculty at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

Here's some material gathered from the top of this piece:

Did you hear what Pope Francis said about (fill in the blank)? ...

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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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Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

When I was in Tennessee two weeks ago, one of the fun things my daughter and I did was wade among some cotton plants, which we had not seen since we'd moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago. You see them all the time in the Volunteer State this time of year. They’re kind of pretty, actually, if you don’t cut yourself on the sharp bracts that result when the boll has burst open and dried.

Even so, they can serve as an inexpensive table centerpiece were you trying to entertain a crowd, which is what drew me to the news about the president of a Christian college in Nashville who did just that.

But the black students who were his guests one night felt the cotton arrangements were a racist statement, according to the New York Daily News.

But note: If you look for any hints of the religious background of this Nashville college in this story, you will find none:

A dinner intended to give African-American students at a Tennessee university the opportunity to discuss their experience at the private liberal arts school left attendees shocked after tables were decorated with cotton stalk centerpieces.
Lipscomb University president Randy Lowry invited black students to his Nashville home Friday night for a dinner, but many of the students deemed the tableware and menu offensive.

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Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

So here is a rather stupid question to ask news consumers in the age of social media and online news. Did you hear that there was apparently some kind of police raid on a drug-fueled gay orgy at one of the most prestigious addresses in Vatican City, an apartment building many call the Holy Office?

All kinds of people live there, but it also is known as home base for the Vatican's powerful -- in terms of working to promote traditional teachings -- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Combine this location with activity that fits years and years of rumors about a "gay lobby" at the highest levels of Catholic hierarchy and the odds are good that you will get a news-media firestorm.

Maybe you saw the story at The New York Daily News, since this is the kind of subject that has "tabloid" written all over it. The headline: "Vatican police raid drug-fueled gay orgy at top priest's apartment." Let's look at the top of this report.

Vatican police raided a drug-fueled gay sex party at a top priest’s apartment near the city, according to an Italian newspaper report.
The apartment’s occupant, who was not named by police, serves as a secretary to Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, a personal adviser to Pope Francis.
The apartment belongs to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith -- the branch that reviews appeals from clergy found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, according to Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which first published the explosive report. Police raided the apartment in June after neighbors complained of unusual behavior among frequent nighttime visitors.
Police arrested the priest and hospitalized him to detox him from the drugs he had ingested, according to the newspaper. ... He’s currently in retreat at a convent in Italy, according to the report. Coccopalmerio’s aide was reportedly under consideration for promotion to bishop.

Now, you may not have seen the Daily News report. On newsstands in the Big Apple, that would have been sitting right next to The New York Post, proclaiming (it what is a rather restrained headline for this newspaper): "Vatican cops bust drug-fueled gay orgy at home of cardinal’s aide."

Let's face it. Readers had lots of opportunities to see a lurid headline about this case.

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Glitter and ashes, bikinis and other adventures in news about 'American Lent'

Glitter and ashes, bikinis and other adventures in news about 'American Lent'

So let's say that you are a religion-beat reporter and your editor assigns you to do a news feature about Lent, beginning with the Ash Wednesday rites found in Western Christian traditions.

What are the questions that you need to ask at that point?

That's where this week's "Crossroads" podcast starts, spinning out of my recent post with this headline: "Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there." Click here to tune that in.

A savvy religion-beat reporter would -- first thing -- try to find out what the editor means when she or he says the word "Lent."

Are we talking about Roman Catholic Lent? Pre- or post-Vatican II? Fasting or no fasting?

Are we talking about Anglican Lent? Lutheran Lent? Yes, there is such a thing in some congregations, on the doctrinal left and right. How about Eastern Orthodox Lent, in which many believers -- on the fasting side of things -- basically go vegan for the whole season? (By the way, who can name the rite that opens Lent among the Orthodox?)

Here is the key: Is the editor talking about what I call "American Lent," which basically allows a person to create their own version of the season. That's the whole "give up one thing for Lent" thing. The problem is that the ancient rites and traditions of Lent are not -- to say the least -- an exercise in American individualism. Just the opposite.

You see, there is a good chance that the editor may actually want a story that is FUNNY, not solemn. The editor may want "10 hip things for Millennials to give up for Lent in 2017" (I suggest kale or skinny jeans). Somehow, Lent has turned into a novelty story. Here's the tone at The New York Daily News:

If you notice people walking around with smudges on their forehead today, don't be alarmed: It's Ash Wednesday. (It's definitely not schmutz, so please don't try to rub it off of anyone.)

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The Satanic Temple comes to Salem and the Boston Globe does a puff piece

The Satanic Temple comes to Salem and the Boston Globe does a puff piece

Gotta love the new style of opinion journalism out there these days. Here we have articles that look like a news piece, present as news but are actually public relations.

Such is a recent piece in the Boston Globe about the Satanic Temple setting up shop in Salem, Mass., site of the 1692 witch trials. The Temple’s national headquarters is breaking local zoning regulations to move there, but that is brushed off. I’m not sure another house of worship –- or unworship –- could get away with that but, well, the devil is in these details.

When The Satanic Temple officially opens its doors on Friday, Salem will become home to the organization’s international headquarters.
But pitchfork-wielding mobs protesting the move seem unlikely, as the fire-and-brimstone theology of the Puritans who once populated the city has given way to a “live and let live” attitude in present day Salem.
Less than a mile from Gallows Hill -- the notorious spot where villagers executed more than a dozen people accused of witchcraft in the 1690s -- an 1882 Victorian on Bridge Street will serve as The Satanic Temple’s first physical headquarters, said Lucien Greaves, the temple’s spokesman.
“The history of Salem is also part of the history of Satanism,” Greaves said. “I feel that [Salem] is a very appropriate place for this” temple.
The Satanic Temple building, which is zoned as an art gallery, will open to the public with art installations, lectures and film screenings, said Greaves, a Cambridge resident.

Then comes the theology insert:

Dating back centuries, Satanism has been misunderstood by wide swaths of American society, Greaves said. Satanists do not worship an Antichrist, or any other deity. Rather, Satanism preaches independent thought and using evidence-based science as a basis for understanding the world, and views Satan as a literary figure representing an eternal struggle against authoritarianism.

Yes, the narrative of modern-day Satanism (at least in this case, with this circle of people) is that its followers are atheists who do not believe in the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Satan.

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Omar Mateen's interesting trips to Saudi Arabia: The details are 'conservative' news?

Omar Mateen's interesting trips to Saudi Arabia: The details are 'conservative' news?

Journalists and all you careful consumers of foreign-news coverage, I have a question for you. At this stage, after the horrors of the massacre inside The Pulse gay bar in Orlando, what elements of the case do you think are drawing the most attention from investigators at the local, national and global levels?

Everyone (well almost everyone) is really interested, of course, in learning more about the motive for the crime.

That could be a local question or it could be a national question. That could be a global question. I can imagine a scenario in which it is all three and, for national-security experts, that is the nightmare scenario. What if the lone wolf wasn't really a lone wolf?

If that is the case, then it is fair to ask when Omar Mateen met radical jihadists with ties to ISIS or, at the very least, ties to radicalized forms of Islam that might lead a young man to sympathy for the Islamic State. Yes, the internet is a likely channel But the World Wide Web alone?

This brings me to the question that I have been asking for a week or so now. I would imagine that investigators are rather interested in what did or did not happen during Mateen's two relatively recent trips to Saudi Arabia, as in 2011 and 2012.

What? You have not read much about those rather expensive and flexible trips? Well, that's because, when it comes to follow-up work among journalists, these trips appear to be (wait for it) "conservative news."

Here is a typical New York Times reference, from early reporting:

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Let punny headlines reign: Thumbs up as Dawn Eden completes doctorate in theology

Let punny headlines reign: Thumbs up as Dawn Eden completes doctorate in theology

Over the years, this here weblog has seen one or two skilled journalists hit the exit door in order to go to law school. Now, former GetReligionista Dawn Eden taken this whole post-journalism academic thing to a new level by completing a doctorate in theology.

Yes, what a long, strange trip it's been.

That popular music reference is intentional, since Dawn started out in journalism as a rock-music beat reporter before evolving into an award-winning creator of punchy headlines, at The New York Post and then the Daily News. You may want to surf this file of commentary about the writing of her famous "The Lady is a Trump" headline about one of the weddings of a certain public figure who is still in the news. Dawn offered her own very modest take on that episode in her GetReligion intro piece, called "The inky-fingered Dawn."

Now, Dawn has evolved once again, from her life as a popular Catholic apologist into an academic who has just complete a truly historic degree in theology. Here is a key chunk of a post up at The Dawn Patrol, her personal website.

The Doctoral Board ... gave me an A on both my dissertation and my presentation. Now I am set to graduate with my sacred-theology doctorate from the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary) on May 7, magna cum laude. It will be the first time in the university's history that a canonical (i.e. pontifically licensed) doctorate will be awarded to a woman.

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Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

So what kinds of thoughts pop into your mind when you are watching a newscast, after some kind of tragedy, and the anchor-person ends a report by saying, "All of our thoughts are with the families involved in this event," or words to that effect.

The key buzz word, of course, is "thoughts." In some parts of America, anchor-people still dare to say "thoughts and prayers."

Either way, here is what I usually think when I hear that: "Really?"

Cynical? You betcha. This brings me, of course, to this week's media storm about The New York Daily News cover -- in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre -- with the infamous "God Isn't Fixing This" banner headline. Click here for Julia Duin's post on the "prayer shaming" debate that followed that piece.

The key, of course, was whether one took the headline as a shot a God, a shot at Republicans who issued statements about praying for the victims (as opposed to calls for gun-control legislation) or as both.

Lots of folks, this week, asked why I thought the Daily News ran that headline. I immediately thought about the numbers in the Pew Forum report that put the "nones" -- the growing number of religiously unaffiliated Americans -- in the news. You may recall that one implication of that survey was that a coalition of secularists, "nones" and our nation's small cohort of religious liberals was now the largest constituency group in today's Democratic Party.

Clearly, Democrats -- with the media that service them -- need to please that base, from time to time (just as Republicans have to worry about the concerns of the very religious). Might the Daily News leaders (who desperately need someone to fund their newspaper) have been courting that audience?

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