Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

Today in Kellerism: New York Times reporters offer contraceptive mandate apologetics (updated)

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Roman Catholic nuns who take care of elderly people, many (if not most) of whom are indigent or nearly so.

As a non-profit, the Little Sisters provide health insurance for their employees, under a so-called "church plan," a special type of insurance for, well, religious organizations. The Christian Brothers, another Roman Catholic order, administers the insurance for the Little Sisters.

Years of back-and-forth charges and counter-charges over a 2011 rule promulgated by the Obama administration Department of Health and Human Services have just about come to an end. The current administration, following the promise made by President Donald J. Trump, is planning to roll back the contraceptive mandate's application to religious groups -- both religious groups (and their branch organizations) and other doctrinally defined schools and non-profit ministries, such as the Little Sisters.

Cue up a dose of Kellerism, the journalistic belief that certain issues have already been decided by American elites and do not need "balanced" coverage. Unsurprisingly, The New York Times, whose onetime editor Bill Keller provided the name for this GetReligion term, is at the head of the class on this story, headlining its piece, "White House Acts to Roll Back Birth-Control Mandate for Religious Employers."

Let's dive in:

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials, following through on a pledge by President Trump, have drafted a rule to roll back a federal requirement that many religious employers provide birth control coverage in health insurance plans.
The mandate for free contraceptive coverage was one of the most hotly contested Obama administration policies adopted under the Affordable Care Act, and it generated scores of lawsuits by employers that had religious objections to it.

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Another chapter in the tragic story of sin and scandal at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university

Another chapter in the tragic story of sin and scandal at Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university

You can't buy the kind of front-page publicity the New York Times gave Baylor University the other day.

Honestly, you wouldn't want to.

This was the Page 1 headline Friday as the national newspaper added another, in-depth chapter to the sad story of sin and scandal at the world's largest Baptist university: "Baylor's Pride Turns to Shame in Rape Scandal."

The New York Times focuses on one rape victim while providing a detailed overview of the string of sexual assault cases involving Baylor football players that have made national headlines for months. 

Before discussing the recent coverage, I'll remind readers of GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly's past posts on the scandal at his Waco, Texas, alma mater. Our own tmatt (who as a student journalist in the 1970s was involved in student-newspaper coverage of issues linked to sexual assaults) expounded last year on what he describes as "the 'double whammy' facing Baylor (with good cause)": 

First, there is a solid religion angle here as the Baylor Regents try to defend their school, while repenting at the same time. Does Baylor want to live out its own moral doctrines? ...
Then there will be sports reporters covering the Baylor crisis and the complicated sexual-assault issues [that NCAA officials are said to be probing] on those 200 or so other campuses. I am sure (not) that the sports czars at other schools never blur the line between campus discipline and the work of local police. Perhaps some other schools are struggling to provide justice for women, while striving to allow the accused to retain their legal rights (while also remembering that a sports scholarship is a very real benefit linked to a contract)?

In a related post, tmatt delved into this key question:

Can you worship God and mammon? Baylor crisis centers on clash between two faiths

My own limited, personal experience with Baylor came in 2003 during my time with The Associated Press in Dallas. For a few months, it seemed like I spent half my life driving back and forth on Interstate 35 as I covered the slaying of 21-year-old basketball player Patrick Dennehy and the ensuing disclosure of major NCAA violations in Baylor's basketball program.

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Church struggle: Tampa Bay Times settles for tabloid-style coverage

Church struggle: Tampa Bay Times settles for tabloid-style coverage

Ruskin, about 21 miles south of Tampa, is best known for its beaches and resorts -- and, like elsewhere in Florida, for the occasional gator encounter. But when it's the site of a power struggle in a church, it draws coverage from the state's largest newspaper. 

But not necessarily informative coverage -- either for religion or basic journalism. The Tampa Bay Times is apparently there just for the tabloid-vintage fun of watching reverent people squabbling.

Thus far, the Times has devoted at least two articles to the infighting at the church, detailing a lawsuit by the pastor and stunts like changing the locks. But the lack of a seasoned religion writer -- the Times laid off its veteran specialist, Michelle Bearden, in 2014 -- shows in the coverage.

We get a promising lede in these 550 words, even a hint of religious literacy:

RUSKIN — Thou shall not steal, reads the eighth commandment, but Shirley Dail insists she had to take possession of the Ruskin Church of Christ Christian Church to save it.
In the two months since she seized the shrinking church, where she had worshipped off and on the past 16 years, the 80-year-old Dail has brought in a vibrant congregation, she said. 
Now, the people she pushed out are in court fighting to get their space back.
The house of prayer on Second Avenue NW in Ruskin is a house divided, according to a lawsuit filed by the church July 14.

I'm also pleasantly surprised that the Times calls the church "a house divided," although it doesn't attribute Jesus as the source of the phrase. But the story is better on the lawsuit and the "he said, she said" part than on anything touching religion. Or even on following up the "he said, she said."

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Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Episcopal land wars in Maryland: So is this waterfront property war story truly doctrine-free or not?

Now here is an interesting thing to ponder. What we have here is a Baltimore Sun story about a controversy in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland that does not appear, at first glance to have anything to do with evolving sexual ethics or alcohol. The latter, of course, is a reference to the various charges brought against Bishop Heather Cook, including multiple charges of drunken driving, after the car that she was driving veered into a popular bike lane and hit a cyclist, killing a 41-year-old father of two.

No, this story has to do with a shrinking parish and conflict about the sale of a valuable piece of property that includes a church sanctuary. Thus, what we have here is a Baltimore-area story linked to a much larger national and even global trend about what religious leaders can do with properties held by flocks that are, to be blunt, not producing their fair share of converts and/or babies.

The issue, of course, is whether the Sun editors know about this demographics-is-destiny connection and whether they want to cover it. It is clear, however, that they know their local diocese has major financial problems (even before the DUI bishop case) and that the parishioners at the tiny Church of the Ascension allege that their property is being sold, against their will, because of that. Thus, readers are told:

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Nuns, strippers and the never-boring Godbeat

Sister Mary Clarence could totally fix this: Nuns file suit over noisy strip club next door: Two words: nuns, strippers. AP colleague on this irresistible story also touching on zoning law, strip club rights:

Suburban nuns step up fight against neighboring strip club: @nbcphilrogers

— NBC5 Investigates (@NBC5Investigate) June 10, 2014

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A 'new twist' in states' same-sex marriage debates

A time or two, we’ve highlighted media coverage of what happens when religious liberty clashes with gay rights. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported back in October:

As more states permit gay couples to marry or form civil unions, wedding professionals in at least six states have run headlong into state antidiscrimination laws after refusing for religious reasons to bake cakes, arrange flowers or perform other services for same-sex couples.

Now comes Reuters with what its headline characterizes as a “new twist” in the same-sex marriage debates.

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Wind of change comes sweeping down the plain

My home state of Oklahoma made big news Tuesday when a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The New York Times noted that the ruling occurred in the “heart of the Bible Belt,” while The Associated Press characterized Oklahoma as “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” (Religion angle, anyone?)

For the Tulsa World — whose banner headline today proclaimed “Gay marriage wins” — the ruling hit especially close to home, and not just because a Tulsa-based judge made the ruling. Two of the four plaintiffs are World editors, a connection that — to its credit — the Tulsa newspaper made clear in its story.

A friend of mine who works for the World remarked on his Facebook page that “it’s not often you walk into the newsroom and watch news happen in front of your face. Like national news kind of stuff.”

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When religious liberty clashes with gay rights

This was the headline on a Wall Street Journal story this week:

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Jeers, not cheers, for latest cheerleader story

In the midst of the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting earlier this month, I did a quick, positive review of a New York Times story on a legal clash over Kountze, Texas, high school cheerleaders painting Bible-based messages on football banners.

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