Secular or sacred? LA Times says some Hong Kong protestors tempted to become 'martyrs'

Secular or sacred? LA Times says some Hong Kong protestors tempted to become 'martyrs'

I have covered quite a few public protests in the past four decades and I have even taken part in two or three, after leaving hard-news work in a newsroom and moving into higher education.

If I have learned one thing about protests it is this: They are almost always very complex events. Protestors may have gathered to protest about a single issue or event, but they often are doing so for different reasons. While they are there at the annual Right to Life march, members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians will have their share of differences with most mainstream Catholics and evangelicals who are taking part. Then there is the Secular Pro-Life network of atheists, agnostics and others.

I have also noticed that protestors are rarely silent, in terms of chants, songs and symbolic speech (think signs and banners). It is often important to listen to what protesters say and then (a) ask them questions about these statements, (b) quote the statements verbatim or (c) both.

This brings us to a long, long, I would say appropriately long Los Angeles Times news report about the protests that continue to rock Hong King. The headline: “Activists fear shattered glass may obscure demands of Hong Kong protest movement.” What caught my eye, online, was a reference to some of the protestors seeking “martyrdom.” Hold that thought.

I read this piece, of course, with an intense interest in whether some — or perhaps many — of the protesters where motivated by fears about Chinese crackdowns on Christians, Muslims and members of other minority faiths. Have these human-rights concerns continued to play a role in the protests. GetReligion readers (about 6,000 people have clicked that, so far) may recall Julia Duin’s recent post with this headline: “American media ignore 'Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,' the anthem of Hong Kong's protests.”

So what did protesters do and say, during that recent protest when they shocked authorities — including some sympathetic to their cause — by seizing Hong Kong’s legislative chambers? What kinds of groups took part and why?

I would still like to know answers to those questions. And who is talking about new “martyrs”?

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Read this fine RNS feature about changes at Westboro Baptist (oh wait, it's an opinion piece)

Read this fine RNS feature about changes at Westboro Baptist (oh wait, it's an opinion piece)

Here we go again.

What we have here is a Religion News Service think piece that I sincerely wish was a hard news story. 

In other words, it's a first-person essay that is clearly labeled "opinion," yet it deals with a topic that worthy of serious hard-news reporting. Here's the headline: "They’re still here: The curious evolution of Westboro Baptist Church."

The key, of course, is that the author is an academic in religious studies -- Hillel Gray of the Jewish Studies department at Miami University of Ohio -- instead of an RNS reporter or freelance writer.

Maybe that's the answer to this puzzle. Maybe Gray had the time to do this feature and no one else did. I would imagine that it was much less expensive to pay a freelance stipend to a professor than it would have been to send a reporter. There's that Internet-era equation, again: Opinion is cheap. Information is expensive.

What's interesting, in this case, is that Gray provided lots of new information and it's about a group that is certainly newsworthy -- especially if the "God Hates Fags" flock has made major changes in its mission, following the death of the Rev. Fred Phelps in 2014.

Like what? Once you get past the academic overture (Gray has studied this topic since 2010) readers are told that the Westboro flock is still out there, even if reporters are ignoring them. They remain hyperactive on the Internet and continue doing public protesting -- with some of their famous signs and many new ones. There's even a Donald Trump angle in this essay. 

But the faces have changed and so have the signs. That's the news angle that's worthy of hard-news coverage:

In the last few years, membership has even broadened beyond the Phelps clan. ... Perhaps the most unexpected “new” member is Katherine Phelps, a daughter of Fred Phelps Sr. who had been estranged for decades.

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Journalistic malpractice: Metro daily serves up embarrassingly incomplete, one-sided abortion story

Journalistic malpractice: Metro daily serves up embarrassingly incomplete, one-sided abortion story

Oh, this is bad.

So, so bad.

If you read GetReligion with any frequency, you know we've pointed out — once or twice or a million times — the rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

But even graded on that negative curve, the Charlotte Observer's weekend coverage of an anti-abortion rally takes slanted, inadequate journalism to a whole new level. This is, to use a term familiar to regular readers of this journalism-focused website, Kellerism on steroids.

Seriously, we're talking about a major metro daily publishing a news story built almost entirely upon quotes from a single source — an abortion clinic administrator. The Observer didn't bother to send a reporter to the pro-life rally and apparently couldn't (or didn't want to) locate a single person out of hundreds who attended the rally to comment on it. 

Nonetheless, the Observer feels compelled to report the pro-abortion official's claims as gospel truth:

The leader of a Charlotte abortion clinic claims the city improperly gave a pro-life group a parade permit, and is demanding answers after a large protest at the facility Saturday left patients feeling harassed.
Calla Hales, the administrator at Preferred Women’s Health Center of Charlotte on Latrobe Drive, said the city had rushed approval for a permit for pro-life group Love Life Charlotte. That left Hales’ center less time than usual to prepare for the demonstration, she said.
The event was billed as a prayer march that would draw 1,000 men to the clinic to stand against abortion, according to a Facebook page. Justin Reeder, founder of Love Life Charlotte, called on men to discourage women from getting abortions, in an effort to highlight how abortion impacts men.
“The truth is that this is more of a men’s issue than it is a women’s issue,” Reeder said in a video on the Facebook event page. “We forget about the men so often in this story.”

Not only does the paper rush to publication before allowing anyone on the pro-life side to respond to the clinic leader's claims, but the story — based on my reading of the same Facebook page — unfairly characterizes the intent and spirit of the event.

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Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

One of the most basic story assignments in all of journalism is covering a speech, especially one delivered in ordinary language to a general audience (as opposed to, say, a scientist speaking in science lingo to a room full of science pros).

First of all, you have to get the words of the speech right. Then you need to understand them, figure out the contents that might be newsworthy and then, if relevant, get reactions from people the room, from experts or from the wider public.

But it's sort of important to cover the speech. Right?

Take, for example, the appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Notre Dame. As you would expect, liberal Catholics were not amused by his presence at commencement, even though he was raised Catholic and is Indiana's former governor. Everyone knew there would be protests, since there are plenty of students and faculty on campus who would have protested even if a conservative Catholic bishop, archbishop or cardinal showed it. #DUH

USA Today, via Religion News Service, did a great, great, great job of covering the protests. First rate. But what did Pence have to say? Was it worth a word, a phrase or even a sentence?

Hold that thought.

Clearly what mattered here was the LGBTQ protesters and others who have perfectly obvious disagreements with Pence (and Donald Trump, of course). Here is the overture:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (USA Today) When Mike Pence took the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement on Sunday, more than 100 students quietly got up from their seats and left. There were a few cheers. Some boos.
This was not a surprise, but rather a staged protest some students had been planning for weeks. When Notre Dame announced that the vice president and former governor of Indiana would be the university’s 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.

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Hey journalists, if the Greater Church of Lucifer says it's not Satanic, check it out

Hey journalists, if the Greater Church of Lucifer says it's not Satanic, check it out

There's a new church in the Houston area — and it's drawing a ton of media coverage.

Protesters showed up at Saturday's first service of the Greater Church of Lucifer in Spring, Texas, and the Houston Chronicle gave the clash prominent play in Sunday's print edition:

The centerpiece headline on the City-State section front:

Protesters denounce Church of Lucifer

The subhead:

Spring group's first service marked by demonstrators against alleged Satanism

Alleged Satanism, huh? This ought to be interesting.

Let's start at the top:

Protesters holding signs in Spanish and English stood Saturday along the road leading to the Greater Church of Lucifer as the church in Spring held its first service.

The signs proclaimed the power of Jesus, and one protester blew a horn fashioned from antlers. They said they attended various Houston-area churches as well as a few from other cities and states.

The Luciferians, who use the name Lucifer because it is Latin for "light bearer," say they do not worship Satan or practice animal sacrifice. Most of the protesters refused to believe it.

"They said it was in the news that they were building a satanic church in Spring," said Esther Limbrick, 77, of Spring. She predicted that God would bring a flood that very day to wash away the Luciferian church.

"I'm here to stand against a satanic church," said Christopher Huff, 46, a deacon and self-described evangelist from the Conroe Bible Church. Huff joined others pacing uttering prayers - sometimes shouting them - at the intersection of Spring Cypress Road and Main Street a few hundred feet from the Church of Lucifer. Huff said he had seen the Greater Church of Lucifer web site and described it as filled with "satanic symbols and lies."

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Holy ghosts in Hong Kong: Is there a religion angle on the democracy protests?

Holy ghosts in Hong Kong: Is there a religion angle on the democracy protests?

In a story on Hong Kong's democracy protests, the Los Angeles Times provides this background:

In Beijing, the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily continued to condemn the protests in Hong Kong. The newspaper said the demonstrations are aimed at challenging "China's supreme power organ" and are doomed to fail.
"There is no room to make concessions on issues of important principles," the commentary said.
Hong Kong, a former British territory, returned to Chinese rule under a formula known as "one country, two systems." Those in the territory of 7 million were promised greater civil liberties than their mainland counterparts.
Chinese leaders have said Hong Kong voters can for the first time cast ballots in 2017 for the chief executive, now chosen by a Beijing-friendly committee of 1,200 people. However, authorities want to limit voters' choice to two or three candidates who pass muster with Beijing, which protesters say amounts to "fake democracy."

The Times story gives no hint of a religion angle. Ghosts, anyone?

Enter the Wall Street Journal.

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