Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

Newsweek twists message Elizabeth Smart has been sharing with Mormons about sex

The people who manage modern, digital newsrooms are -- to say the least -- under all kinds of pressure to print a never-ending stream of content with headlines and snappy story hooks that try to inspire readers to click, click, click those computer mouses (and maybe even visit an ad website every week or two).

This has led to all kinds of "you won't believe what happens next" editing, both in "news" reports and in graphics.

This has led to an increase in an old kind of news confusion.

In the past, it was perfectly normal for readers to wonder, every now and then, how a strange news headline ended up on top of a perfectly normal story. Your GetReligionistas have often reminded readers that reporters rarely, if ever, write their own headlines. Editors can make mistakes, too.

These days, it's no surprise that there's lots of confusion -- especially in newsrooms where journalists are asked to crank up their daily production count with various kinds of quickie articles. Often, the goal is to take a hot-topic story seen somewhere else, perhaps in a video that can be accessed online, and then combine a bit of that and a little more of this and quotes from other articles (attributed and backed with a URL) into a news product that rarely even requires a telephone call.

Hopefully, with a jazzy headline, this results in clicks.

I think that's what happened with a recent Newsweek article about a young Mormon woman who, after surviving a hellish kidnapping, has been speaking out on the need for religious leaders to be more sensitive when dealing with issues of sexuality, abuse and even trauma.

The headline that caught our reader's eye: "Elizabeth Smart, who changed Mormons' views on sex, is wary of religion."


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Theology, ESPN, then a terrible headline: 'The thing that Jesus does best is second chances'

Theology, ESPN, then a terrible headline: 'The thing that Jesus does best is second chances'

Over the years, I have read many news stories about men finding their way into the priesthood.

As you would expect, I hear about many of these features because of emails from GetReligion readers. It is extremely common for these emails to include a comment that sounds something like this: Ah, come on! How can journalists write about men becoming priests (or women becoming nuns) without including a single mention of Jesus?

That's a good question. This is one kind of story in which a person's religious experience is a crucial part of the news equation. I think it's safe to assume that having some kind of mystical relationship with Jesus -- also known as "The Lord" -- does play a role in these career choices. The word "God" often shows up in these news reports, but rarely, well, the "J-word."

That brings me to a recent "Acts of Faith" piece at The Washington Post that ran with this headline: "Fired by ESPN for a racist headline, he’s finding his second chance as a Catholic priest."

To cut to the chase: This is a very fine story and, yes, Jesus does get a shout out. My only complaint about this story is that it was not accompanied by some kind of longer Q&A feature. This is a man with a unique story to tell and, with his journalism background, an interesting skill set to bring to the priesthood.

To set the stage, Anthony Federico's life in journalism changed because he accidentally wrote a racist headline about Jeremy Lin, whose meteoric rise at the New York Knicks was one of the hottest sports stories of 2012. Federico's job in the editorial process included writing headlines and he didn't have a safety net. He clicked "save" and the flawed headline went live.

That set up this amazing sequence of life changes.

Then the barrage of social media outrage started, and he saw what he had done.
“I went to the bathroom and vomited,” he said at the time, describing the sickening realization that he had inadvertently made a racist pun that was now circling the world. What came next was predictable: As angry emails poured in from readers all over the world, Federico was fired from his dream job in sports media.

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New York Times offers solid Religious Left update, with skewed headline that's LOL territory

New York Times offers solid Religious Left update, with skewed headline that's LOL territory

Every now and then, newspapers need to go out of their way to correct errors found in headlines, but not in stories.

This would, for example, help news consumers understand that headlines -- 99.9 percent of the time -- are written by copy-desk editors who do not consult with the professionals who actually reported, wrote and edited the story in question.

My first full-time job in journalism was working as a copy editor -- laying out news pages, doing final edits and, yes, writing headlines. It's hard work and you rarely have time to visit the newsroom for debates with reporters about the wording of headlines.

Anyway, one of the big religion-beat stories of the weekend ran at The New York Times with this double-decker headline: 

Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game.
Faith leaders whose politics fall to the left of center are getting more involved in politics to fight against President Trump’s policies

That top line is simply wrong. Anyone who has worked the religion beat in recent decades knows that it is wrong -- wrong as in factually wrong.

Read carefully, and note that the headline does not accurately state the primary thesis by religion-beat veteran Laurie Goodstein in this summary material up top:

Across the country, religious leaders whose politics fall to the left of center, and who used to shun the political arena, are getting involved -- and even recruiting political candidates -- to fight back against President Trump’s policies on immigration, health care, poverty and the environment.
Some are calling the holy ruckus a “religious resistance.” Others, mindful that periodic attempts at a resurgence on the religious left have all failed, point to an even loftier ambition than taking on the current White House: After 40 years in which the Christian right has dominated the influence of organized religion on American politics -- souring some people on religion altogether, studies show -- left-leaning faith leaders are hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.

I would question one piece of that statement. When did religious progressives (defined in terms of doctrine) ever "shun the political arena"?

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Thinking about all those Pope Francis quotes: John L. Allen Jr. offers three calm guidelines

Thinking about all those Pope Francis quotes: John L. Allen Jr. offers three calm guidelines

The questions have become so familiar, by now.

What did Pope Francis say this time?

What did the mainstream press say that Pope Francis said this time?

The wise news consumer, of course, asks one more question: Does the Vatican or some other form of Catholic media have a transcript posted online that shows us what Pope Francis actually said this time and perhaps even enough context to know what the words that he said may have meant?

The classic case of this syndrome, of course, is the infamous "Who am I to judge?" quote that launched a million headlines. Have you ever actually read a transcript on that one? Please do so, because it's enlightening.

Now we have the pope's statements expressing a surprising degree of openness to seeing married men ordained as priests (other than in the Eastern rite and in cases of Anglicans and Lutherans moving into Catholic ministry). That story has actually received some pretty decent coverage, in my opinion. If you've seen stories that botched it, please let your GetReligionistas hear about it.

Meanwhile, it's clear that wise news consumers need some guidelines on how to read coverage of off-the-cuff, spontaneous remarks by Pope Francis. The person I would turn to, of course, is the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr. of Crux (who I actually got to meet the other night, after years of online and telephone contacts).

Allen has written a Crux think piece that will do the trick, with this headline: "Rules of thumb for processing the latest papal bombshell." He notes, with a nod to realities deeper than newsprint:

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Scare-quotes update: Yes, The Telegraph actually put 'pregnant' inside you know what

Scare-quotes update: Yes, The Telegraph actually put 'pregnant' inside you know what

At this point, I would say that GetReligion readers have their "scare quotes" detection meters set on 11. (Yes, that's a reference to the movie "Spinal Tap.")

We are, of course, talking about the difference between laws affecting religious liberty, as in decades of court cases centering on the First Amendment's protection of the free exercise of religious convictions, and "religious liberty" laws that clash with evolving cultural standards on sexual liberty. Square quotes equal "so-called" or "allegedly."

You can also have scare quotes on the cultural right, such as conservative websites framing "marriage" in quotation marks in the term same-sex marriage.

Or how about "natural" family planning? Anyone for "physician-assisted suicide"? How about a female Catholic "priest"? Not that long ago you even had editors refusing to print the words "partial-birth abortion" -- even when they were in the name of a bill being debated in Congress.

So here is the latest example that punched buttons for several readers, after the case heated up on Twitter. This is a story straight out of the heart of the religious and cultural tensions in Germany, since we are dealing with an attack by a Syrian refugee on a woman from Poland. Fill in the blanks there.

Here is the headline in question, atop a story published by The Telegraph:

Germany machete attack: Syrian asylum seeker murders 'pregnant' woman in Reutlingen

Say what?

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Washington Post bait and switch: When pushy Twitter posts change the rules of the game

Washington Post bait and switch: When pushy Twitter posts change the rules of the game

For years now, your GetReligionistas have been explaining why it is wrong to blame reporters for the contents of the headlines that run with their stories.

Many readers never make it past the headline, you see. That's bad if the headline is, to be blunt, inaccurate or misleading, in terms of summing up the contents of the story. By the way, I spent a couple of years on a newspaper copy desk early in my career, where one of my primary jobs was to write headlines.

Nothing does more to pull readers into a story than a good headline. Nothing hurts a story more than a bad one.

Now we live in the age of Twitter, which is a completely different kettle of fish. In an effort to promote their work, while also building their personal "brands," many reporters now push out waves of tweets, many of them right on (or just over) the edge of snark. Some of these tweets deserve their own corrections. Hold that thought.

Consider, for example, that "Acts of Faith" feature that ran at The Washington Post under the headline, "God might not want a woman to be president, some religious conservatives say."

This essay struck me as interesting, since I have seen absolutely zero discussion of this issue online. I guess I don't read enough commentary by doctrinally conservative Christians, Jews and Muslims. The big idea of this piece, with Hillary Clinton on the verge of winning it all, is this:

Clinton is poised to be nominated for president by the Democratic Party next week. And so religious hard-liners of all faiths -- the most conservative Christians, Muslims and Jews -- are debating: Do their Scriptures prohibit a female president?

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M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

M.Z. asks: Why do some journalists avoid using the name of the 'Little Sisters of the Poor'?

It happens. Every now and then, during my daily tsunami of reading mainstream news reports about religion, I look right at something and fail to see it.

Consider, for example, that rather important religion-news ghost in that New York Times story the other day about a certain non-decision decision by the U.S. Supreme Court about the Health and Human Services mandates linked to the Affordable Care Act. The headline on the story was this rather ho-hum statement: "Justices, Seeking Compromise, Return Contraception Case to Lower Courts."

Now, the Supreme Court is in Washington, so I focused most of my post on the Washington Post coverage of this religious-liberty case, which involves quite a few Christian ministries and schools (see this Bobby Ross, Jr., post for more). However, for a variety of reasons, public discussions of the case have boiled down to the Barack Obama administration vs. the Little Sisters of the Poor. In part, as illustrated in the photo at the top of the post, we can thank Pope Francis for that.

My post the other day focused on the fact that many journalists -- headline writers in particular -- seemed frustrated that this case keeps going on and on and on, with one complicated and nuanced development after another. As I put it, the desire of many editors is clear:

The goal is to write that final headline that Will. Make. This. Stuff. Go. Away.

Toward the end of the piece I turned, briefly, to the coverage in The New York Times. To make a long story short, I saw a few interesting details and missed The Big Idea in that report. You see, the college of journalism cardinals at the Times, and in some other newsrooms, found a way to write about this case without mentioning some rather important words, as in, "Little Sisters of the Poor."

Luckily for me, there are now -- more than 12 years into the life of this blog -- lots of people who know how to spot a GetReligion angle in the news. That includes, of course, one M.Z. "GetReligion emerita" Hemingway of The Federalist.

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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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Washington Post raises another one of 'those' Jerry Falwell, Jr., gun questions

Washington Post raises another one of 'those' Jerry Falwell, Jr., gun questions

As best I can tell, there are plenty of important subjects in public life on which Jerry Falwell, Jr., and I would sharply disagree.

For starters, there is the whole Donald Trump thing. Also, it certainly appears that we disagree on some basic gun-control issues, since I lean toward stricter controls.

However, I have always thought that the most important skill in Journalism 101 is the ability to accurately quote someone with whom one disagrees. With that in mind, let's return to a recent controversy involving Falwell and editors at The Washington Post.

Do you remember the mini-media storm in which the Post noted that Falwell had urged Liberty University students to purchase handguns and learn how to use them should they ever be attacked by heavily armed terrorists? What? That isn't the story that you remember?

This issue was clarified in a latter headline and updated text, but now it's back.

So let's start at the beginning -- again.

Watch the CNN clip at the top of this post and then reading the following. Here is the quote as published in the Post:

“It just blows my mind that the president of the United States [says] that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control,” he said to applause. “If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …,” he said while being interrupted by louder cheers and clapping. “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, chuckling.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”

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