rural America

Merry Christmas to media critics: Elite German reporter visits American heartland and ....

Merry Christmas to media critics: Elite German reporter visits American heartland and ....

The following post doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas.

Well, wait. I can imagine that there are conservative critics of the mainstream press — especially in its most elite forms — who would see the following headline as a kind of Christmas present. And later on in this post, there will be a religion-and-politics angle to this scandal. So hold that thought.

But let’s start with the end of tale, care of this NBC News headline: “German reporter stripped of CNN 'Journalist of the Year' awards for fabricating stories.”

Hey fans of great journalism movies: We are talking about a kind of sequel to “Shattered Glass,” only with a reporter who was working for an elite news publication — Der Spiegel — as opposed to a liberal journal of editorial opinion, commentary and news. Here’s the top of that Associated Press, as featured by NBC News:

BERLIN — A German journalist who was found to have fabricated numerous articles is being stripped of two awards he received in 2014 from CNN International, the broadcaster said Thursday.

In a statement to The Associated Press, CNN International said the independent panel of judges who awarded Claas Relotius the Journalist of the Year and Print Journalist of the Year awards four years ago decided unanimously to remove them following revelations about his fraud.

German magazine Der Spiegel, where Relotius worked as a freelancer and later full-time, said Wednesday that he had fabricated interviews and facts in at least 14 articles.

The publication, one of Germany's leading news outlets, said the 33-year-old had committed journalistic fraud "on a grand scale" over a number of years, including fabricating elements of an article about an American woman who he said volunteered to witness the executions of death row inmates.

Now it’s time for the flashback to a feature at Medium that got lots and lots of attention — in America and, perhaps, in Germany. The headline: “Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town.”

The key is that one of the most celebrated newsrooms in Europe decided to probe the dark heart of Middle America in the age of Donald Trump. You know: How do solid, faithful, ordinary Americans in the heartland make peace with their support for a demon? That sort of thing.

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Texas ghosts: Rural Democrats in Lone Star State don't like Trump, but what issues do matter to them?

Texas ghosts: Rural Democrats in Lone Star State don't like Trump, but what issues do matter to them?

At the top of today's Dallas Morning News front page is a political feature heavy on anecdotes, but rather short on the hard facts -- especially about links to religion.

The basic storyline is that rural Democrats in Texas counties that voted heavily for President Trump face a stigma.

The big, bad Republicans, it seems, don't care much for folks who'd dare cast ballots for the other party.

Know what I mean, pardner?

My major problem with the story is that it never really provides any concrete evidence to back up its claim.

But the piece does hint at a potential better story, albeit one this report almost completely ignores. I'm talking about the fact that the counties in question used to be dominated by "'Yellow-dog' Democrats — those who would sooner vote for a dog than a Republican." (You may recall that just the other day, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly pointed out that the late Rev. Billy Graham was a registered Democrat.)

So what happened? Is there any chance that holy ghosts are involved?


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New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

To put things in country-music terms, this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to that) is about pain, sorrow, alcohol, divorce, blue-collar families, coffee, hard times, opioids and God.

Oh, and waffles.

If you don't live in Waffle House America, let me explain. We are talking about a chain -- in 25 states -- of old-school, Southern-style dinners that serve breakfast 24/7 and attract large numbers of workers and rural folks who don't work normal schedules.

If you want to laugh about the Waffle House world, you can listen to the country-fried tribute song by Stephen Colbert (a native of South Carolina) and alt-country star Sturgill Simpson, entitled, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads."

But the podcast isn't really about laughter. It's about the complex issues that affect ministry to many hurting people in this slice of the American people.

My chat with host Todd Wilken focused on my "On Religion" column this week -- which is about a United Methodist pastor in Alabama who is doing some interesting things while trying the reach working-class people. His name is Pastor Gary Liederbach and he uses his local Waffle House as his unofficial office on weekday mornings.

This anecdote sets the tone:

One recent morning, Liederbach sat down at the diner’s middle bar, where the line of side-by-side chairs almost requires diners to chat with waitresses and each other. He didn’t see the empty coffee cup of a rough, 50-something regular whom, as a matter of pastoral discretion, he called “Chuck.”
When Chuck came back inside from smoking a cigarette, he lit into Liederbach with a loud F-bomb, blasting him for taking his seat.


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Where even God doesn't help: The Washington Post chronicles the despair of rural poor

Where even God doesn't help: The Washington Post chronicles the despair of rural poor

After President Donald Trump’s victory last year, not a few journalists traveled to the hinterland to find out just where were those disenchanted white folks who voted Republican. Who were these people and was it possible to get inside their heads?

The Washington Post has come out with three lengthy pieces about these folks, one of which was set in Grundy, Va., a town I stayed in six years ago when I was researching serpent-handling Pentecostals (which also ran in the Post). This section of Appalachia is where a lot of these believers live. The photo with this story is one I took in a town in Tazewell County, Va., just down the road from Grundy and where one in six working-age residents are on disability.

Would this series, I wondered, mention the faith that sustains many of these residents, who have little else in life to live for? The answer, I found, was yes and no.

The first part of the series, set in Alabama, focused on the stunning percentage of adults who are on disability across the country.

Across large swaths of the country, disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults live on monthly disability checks, according to a Washington Post analysis of Social Security Administration statistics…
The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether. For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish.

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Yes, angry rural Democrats are talking: But did the Washington Post team listen to the details?

Yes, angry rural Democrats are talking: But did the Washington Post team listen to the details?

So, journalism elites, how is that "listening" to average Americans thing going?

The other day, our own Mark "KMark" Kellner took at look at an admirable effort by the features team at The Washington Post to visit rural, Middle America with the sole (or even soul) intent of listening to what ordinary people had to say in Corbin, Ky.

The story was packed with human details -- including a prayer said (gasp) out loud in a public restaurant. In the end, however, the emphasis was on politics, politics, politics. Politics is, after all, the most important factor in the lives of ordinary Americans. Got that?

You can certainly see that equation at work once again in a new report -- "Rural Americans felt abandoned by Democrats in 2016, so they abandoned them back. Can the party fix it?" -- from the faith-challenged political desk in this same newsroom. This is the latest of many Post political-desk reports that I have looked at in recent months, noting the religion and culture ghosts hiding between the lines. 

You can see the basic tensions in the story in the overture. Who to quote when parsing out the  direct-quote ink? The actual rural Americans or the Democratic Party operatives who are courting them?

HAYWARD, Wis. -- The local Democrats had hoped for 25 people to show up at the meeting, and they set up a dozen more chairs to be safe. By 12:30, 75 Democrats were crowding the VFW community center, some from as far as 90 miles away. They spent two hours venting to Thomas Perez, a candidate for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, about how the party had blown it in rural America.
“I talked to neighbors, to working people, and they felt that the Democrats no longer represented working peoples’ interests,” said Steve Smith, a former state legislator from Wisconsin’s rural north woods who had lost his seat to a Republican in 2014. “I was shocked, but they were speaking from their heart. And in the 2016 election, rural America abandoned Democrats, because they felt like Democrats had abandoned them. We’ve got to use acute hearing and figure out how that happened.”
Perez scribbled in his notebook.

Now, two hours is A LOT of venting. Clearly the folks who turned out for this meeting spoke their minds.

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