The Plain Dealer

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

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In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

Let's consider a mirror-image scenario, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls it.

The scenario: A federal judge, who once served as a local chapter director and board president for the National Right to Life Committee, hears a case concerning abortion. In his ruling, the judge rejects a new state law friendly toward a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Might news reports on the judge's decision mention his connection to the anti-abortion movement? (You think?)

Now, let's look at a real-life scenario involving a U.S. district judge in Ohio with ties to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is "crystal clear" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

A quick aside: My colleague Julia Duin recently delved into "Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?" I, too, have explored the holy ghosts that have haunted much coverage of the Ohio legislation.

But for the purposes of this post, my focus is this specific question: Does news coverage of Black's ruling inform readers of his possible bias? In a case such as this, that seems like a pretty crucial detail, right?

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