Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

Is it crucial for reporters to know basic facts about what Jordan Peterson is saying?

As I have said many times here at GetReligion, it is helpful if -- every now and then -- journalists listen to the voices of people who have been on the other side of a reporter's notepad.

This also applies, of course, to television cameras and any other form of technology used in modern newsrooms.

Thus, I would like to share a think piece that I planned to run this past weekend, only the tornado of news about Archbishop Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick got in the way and rearranged my writing plans for several days (while I was traveling, once again).

Here is the overture of a recent essay by Mark Bauerlein, published in the conservative interfaith journal First Things, that ran with this headline: "Dr. Peterson and the Reporters." This is, of course, a reference to the now omnipresent author of "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos." 

The crucial question from the other side of the notepad: Would it be a good thing if journalists actually read what Peterson has written and listened to what he is actually saying?"

 One ingredient in the astounding fame of Jordan Peterson is his capacity to show just how lazy, obtuse, unprepared, smug, knee-jerk, and prejudiced are many journalists at leading publications.

In a tendentious New York Times profile, for example, Peterson is held up for ridicule when he cites “enforced monogamy” as a rational way of fixing wayward, sometimes violent men in our society. If men had wives, they’d behave better, Peterson implied, and they wouldn’t “fail” so much. The reporter, a twenty-something from the Bay Area, has a telling response to Peterson’s position: “I laugh, because it is absurd.”

Her condescension is unearned. With no background in social psychology or cultural anthropology, she doesn’t get the framework in which Peterson speaks. But that doesn’t blunt her confidence in setting Peterson’s remarks into the category of the ridiculous. And the category of the sexist, too, as the subtitle of the profile makes clear: “He says there’s a crisis in masculinity. Why won’t women -- all these wives and witches -- just behave?” 

The problem, of course, is that Peterson is using language from his professional discipline and his own writings.

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Poynter think piece proclaims: No need for 'balance' in abortion news reporting

Poynter think piece proclaims: No need for 'balance' in abortion news reporting

I've been thinking about this weekend think piece for quite some time.

The key to this post, according to journalists with whom I have discussed the topic, is that the think piece in question -- "New study shows why it's so hard to get abortion coverage right" -- was:

(a) Published on the Poynter.org website (a crucial brand name in mainstream journalism).

(b) However, it was written by a professional from an advocacy think tank on the issue being discussed, a fact clearly noted in the author bio at the end of the essay.

Thus, readers face a crucial question: To what degree do the contents of the essay speak for Poynter.org and its team? Perhaps this is the first half of a debate, with another piece -- representing the other side -- coming in the future? Then again, perhaps this piece is an endorsed statement (thinking of the newsroom policy ethics and style guide at BuzzFeed) that abortion is now a public debate that, for journalists, has only one side that needs to be covered?

I do not know. Because of my respect for the Poynter Institute and its work, I have been rather puzzled. And cautious.

I will point readers to the new Poynter piece -- in a moment.

First, I want to mention a symbolic statement on this topic from an earlier era. I am referring to the much discussed 2003 memo to Los Angeles Times section editors by John Carroll, the newspaper's executive editor at that time. The memo's subject line was: "Subject: Credibility/abortion." Readers really need to click and see the whole memo (it isn't long) for context. However, here is how it ends.

Apparently the scientific argument for the anti-abortion side is so absurd that we don't need to waste our readers' time with it. 

The reason I'm sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage. We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times. 

I'm no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it presents a profound philosophical, religious and scientific question, and I respect people on both sides of the debate. A newspaper that is intelligent and fair-minded will do the same. 

So what does the article published by Poynter say?

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So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

So how many controversies can dance in the light of Wonder Woman's Shabbat candles?

There is a piercing cry from click-bait hungry editors that you know is being heard this week in newsrooms everywhere: "OK PEOPLE! I need Wonder Woman-angle stories and I need them now! With as much art as possible."

If you do an online search, for example, for the terms "Wonder Woman" and "feminist" you get a mere 680,000 hits in Google NEWS, as opposed to the whole WWW. That was last night. 

With the whole Amazon meets Greek mythology thing going on, there have been a few stories sort of chasing that religion angle.

However, we can celebrate the fact that The Washington Post dedicated a large amount of digital space (I would appreciate knowing how much of this copy ran in the dead-treepulp analog edition) to an "Acts of Faith" feature that offered a great deal of information about the Jewish faith and Israeli identity of the actress with the iconic sword, shield, wrist armor and, well, form-fitting battle garb -- Gal Gadot.

The headline: "How the Jewish identity of ‘Wonder Woman’s’ star is causing a stir." Just about the only thing negative I can say about this report was that, for logical reasons, it needed to include quite a bit of material from other media sources. Oh, and this story also requires me -- once again -- to praise the work of this reporter, none other than former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey. Awkward.

In addition to soaring box-office numbers and feminist and post-feminist arguments about cleavage, there is actual news linked to the popularity of this movie and its star. Right up top, readers learn:

Ahead of the film’s international release, Lebanon banned the film because of Gadot, who, like most Israeli citizens, served a mandatory two-year stint in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat trainer. (Jordan is also reportedly considering a ban on the film.)
In 2014, Gadot posted on Facebook support of the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza while lighting candles with her daughter and writing “Shabbat Shalom,” the common greeting Jews say to one another on the Sabbath.

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Yo, New York Times team: How do marriage, motherhood, Judaism affect Ivanka's agenda?

Yo, New York Times team: How do marriage, motherhood, Judaism affect Ivanka's agenda?

So you sit down to read a long New York Times profile of Ivanka Trump that ran with this headline -- "Ivanka Trump Has the President’s Ear. Here’s Her Agenda."

The story has lots of room for details and nuance, while probing the ideas and convictions that shape her "Women who work" worldview and the branding image behind her life as a married mom with three children and a lightning rod last name.

Now, I certainly had an agenda when I read this piece. I was curious to know about the contents of this woman's head and how that affected her views -- as a modern Orthodox Jew -- of marriage and family.

So with that in mind, guess the one subject -- out of the following short list -- that is explored (or even mentioned) in this long profile.

(1) Jewish faith and tradition and its role in her home.

(2) The impact of her marriage to Jared Kushner and her life as a wife and mother.

(3) Her beliefs on religious liberty conflicts in America, including those sure to affect Orthodox Jewish believers.

(4) Her relationship with her father and, in particular, his track record when it comes to sensitivity to the feelings and ambitions of women (other than her).

If you guessed answer (4), then you are a winner and have a great future writing profiles of important Americans for the Times.

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With the Bible, one little word can stir a ruckus and, thus, produce a news story

With the Bible, one little word can stir a ruckus and, thus, produce a news story

Here’s an intriguing story taken from religious Internet sites that has yet to reach any mainstream media, at least that The Guy has seen.

It’s a feminist-hued fuss over the English Standard Version (ESV), which ranks No. 3 in U.S. Bible sales behind the venerable King James Version and the New International Version. And no, we're not talking about that long-running argument over replacing singular pronouns in the biblical texts with “gender inclusive” plural pronouns.

In August the ESV’s publisher, Crossway, announced 52 word changes for a 2016 second edition.

Journalists will want to know that the most important concerns God’s curse upon sinful Eve in Genesis 3:16. The original ESV (duplicating the Revised Standard Version) says “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

The 2016 rewrite has “your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

This shift involves one little word, the Hebrew pronoun ‘el, which has a primary meaning of “to, unto, or toward.” Instead, the ESV translators (all male, all conservative) used the secondary meaning of “against,” which is archaic though some scholars find it acceptable if the context fits. Here it indicates rebellious women. Shall we say uppity?

One vigorous critic of the change is Scot McKnight of Northern Seminary. He says the change teaches that humanity’s sinful Fall in Eden caused  women’s “desire to rule or dominate” and “usurp men’s authority,” which challenged God’s design in which the male is to rule the woman.

The original ESV leaves room for the interpretation favored by McKnight and others, that God’s statement is not a “prescriptive” command but is “descriptive” of what human sin produces, with the man seeking rule over the woman. Says McKnight, “This is not what God wants; but this is what will happen.” He wants Crossway to immediately restore the previous wording. Here's another useful article on similar lines.

All of this has been fused with a second issue.

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RNS looks at 'new' Jewish Institute for women priests -- but not closely enough

RNS looks at 'new' Jewish Institute for women priests -- but not closely enough

I get it -- we've all been there, all of us newspaper religion writers. Holidays come up, and our editor demands something besides the "same old same old." So we reach for the new and bizarre.

So it's understandable when the Religion News Service used Yom Kippur, which Jews observed on Wednesday, for a look at the Hebrew Priestess Institute, even though the institute is a decade old.

Still, why simply hand the mike to its boosters?

The institute is about as non-traditional as they come, as the article quickly establishes: dancing, beating a drum, sitting in a circle, placing women's pictures on the altar, praying to the "divine feminine." And, of course, ordaining women as priests -- something that would arch many Jewish eyebrows. But RNS offers only the slightest hint that not everyone buys into this approach.

That approach gets a loud, clear hearing in the article. Rabbi Jill Hammer, co-founder of the institute, wants to "re-imagine the role of a holy woman, an intermediary between the human and the divine who is part prophet, liturgist, shaman":

For inspiration, this Jewish priestess movement looks to biblical women such as Miriam, Moses’ sister, who drums and sings, and Deborah, the judge who held court beneath a palm tree.
It also embraces those ancient Israelite women who worshipped fertility goddesses condemned by the prophets, as well as modern teachings from various Earth-based religions with their healers and ritualists.
This Yom Kippur, as Jews crowd synagogues for the Day of Atonement, some women will gather in a circle for a mix of prayers, chants, songs and meditations — all of which incorporate references to the divine feminine – sometimes known in the Jewish mystical tradition as the Shekhinah.

Institute students are introduced to 13 women’s "archetypes" of leaders, including prophetess, witch and fool. Some participants refer not to God but the Goddess.  And Jill Hammer and cofounder Taya Shere use artifacts like stones and divination cards in worship.

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Schlafly was hated by cultural left, which means her obits featured classic, 50-50 reporting

Schlafly was hated by cultural left, which means her obits featured classic, 50-50 reporting

If you want to learn how to write obituaries about controversial figures, all you need to do is pay close attention to articles written about leaders on the cultural and moral right. They are sure to include a 50-50 mix (or close to it) of warm quotes from the person's supporters and stinging attacks from critics.

This is not the approach that one sees when a controversial figure dies on the cultural left. If Gloria Steinem died today, one would see obituaries packed with tributes, stacked up against one or two (at most) quotes from her many critics. Most of all, the story would emphasize -- as it should -- her many victories in life, the times when she spoke out and was proven right.

We can leave all of that to another day, since, in this case, we are talking about the death of Phyllis Schlafly. That means we are looking at classic, 50-50 journalism about a figure who was truly and utterly loathed by the left and, thus, by most journalists and pundits. By the way, it's wise to avoid glancing at Twitter, where can find a wide and deep river of acidic speculations on the left about how Schlafly will fare in the afterlife.

But consider the top of The Washington Post obituary, which includes a highly ironic summary paragraph:

Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist, lawyer and author who is credited with almost single-handedly stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and who helped move the Republican Party toward the right on family and religious issues, died Monday at her home in St. Louis. She was 92.
Her daughter, Anne Cori, said Mrs. Schlafly had been ill with cancer for some time.
A champion of traditional, stay-at-home roles for women, Mrs. Schlafly opposed the ERA because she believed it would open the door to same-sex marriage, abortion, the military draft for women, co-ed bathrooms and the end of labor laws that barred women from dangerous workplaces.

The Post team offered that list without comment. It would have been easy to find scholars and pundits willing to note that most of Schlafly's wild predictions don't sound quite as crazy these days.

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The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism

The press missed this detail? Pat Summitt took a very timely walk into the waters of baptism

During the 20-plus years that I taught a basic journalism class, I asked my students what I thought was a simple question during my lecture on strategies in beat reporting, including sports. The goal was to get them to think about the impact of one of the high commandments of the news business: All news is local.

In other words, you don't just cover news stories. You strive to cover stories with unique hooks into the lives and interests of your own, local readers. Thus, I would ask: If you were a reporter who wanted to specialize in covering women's basketball, where would you rather work -- Atlanta (or some other big market) or Knoxville, Tenn.?

For decades the answer was obvious. You needed to work in Knoxville, because of two words -- Pat Summitt.

As you would imagine, the media here in East Tennessee have been offering wall-to-wall coverage in the wake of the Tuesday morning death of the 64-year-old Summitt, who many consider the greatest basketball coach of all time, male or female. At the very least, the czarina of the Lady Vols was to the women's game what the great John Wooden of UCLA was to men's college hoops. Truth is, Summitt changed the whole world of women's sports.

I thought I knew quite a bit about Summitt and the challenges of her amazing life. Then a saw the tribute story at Baptist Press. Yes, Baptist Press.

It included a timely detail from her life that I had not seen in the local and national coverage. It's especially stunning that this detail -- yes, it's a religion ghost -- was not included in Knoxville coverage.

All news is local, you know, and just a few years ago Knoxville was named No. 1 in a poll of "Bible-minded cities" in the United States (and it's currently No. 11).

The key passage, starting with a quote just before she died:

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Will Catholicism admit women deacons or deaconesses to ranks of ordained clergy?

Will Catholicism admit women deacons or deaconesses to ranks of ordained clergy?


What are the reasons the Catholic Church might, or might not, ordain women in the clerical rank of deacon? (Almost all Q and A topics are posted by our online audience, but The Guy decided to pose this timely question himself.)


Catholicism’s long-simmering discussion about whether to ordain women into the clerical ranks as “permanent deacons” took a dramatic turn May 12 when Pope Francis said he’ll form a commission to study the issue. His promise came during seemingly off-the-cuff answers to questions during a Rome session with the International Union of Superiors General, whose members lead nearly 500,000 nuns and sisters in religious orders.

Without doubt, female deacons would be a major change. Liberals hope — and conservatives fear — that permitting women to be deacons would be a step toward allowing female priests. However, that’s a distant prospect if not an impossibility considering Pope John Paul II’s absolute prohibition in his 1994 apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.”

To explain that term “permanent diaconate”: The order of deacons in the early church gradually dwindled over centuries so that eventually ordination as a “deacon” became a mere stepping-stone for men on the path to priesthood. (That usage occurs in Anglican and Episcopal churches. Lutheran deacons, male and female, fill a permanent office, not a temporary one. Baptists use the deacon title for lay members who govern congregations with the pastor.)

Catholicism’s Second Vatican Council (1962-65) restored the “permanent diaconate” as a third, separate and ongoing ministerial order in its own right that is subordinate to priests and bishops. Particularly in North America, which has half the world total, such deacons help ameliorate the shortage of priests.

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