scare quotes

Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Debate is back in Georgia, and so are the scare quotes

Religious freedom vs. gay rights: Debate is back in Georgia, and so are the scare quotes

Georgia’s legislative fights over gay rights vs. religious freedom have made headlines before.

In fact, I wrote a 2016 post headlined “Down in Georgia, here's what the news media's love of 'religious liberty' scare quotes tells you.”

I noted then that most major media insisted on scare quotes around "religious liberty" or "religious freedom.”

By the way, Dictionary.com defines scare quotes this way:

A pair of quotation marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.

Fast-forward to present day, and a similar bill is making news again in Atlanta. The differing treatments of that bill by The Associated Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are interesting.

On the one hand, scare quotes still seem to be in vogue at AP, which has this headline:

'Religious liberties' bill renews a recurring Georgia debate

AP’s lede also relies on scare quotes:

ATLANTA (AP) — A ‘religious liberties’ bill that aims to add greater protections for personal beliefs has renewed a recurring debate in Georgia about discrimination and religious freedom.

Republican state Sen. Marty Harbin of Tyrone said Thursday his proposal was drafted to mirror the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

“I believe that Georgians need to be fully protected under the First Amendment from not only federal law, but also state and local law,” Harbin said at a news conference.

But critics say the bill would allow discrimination against the LGBT community.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp pledged during his election campaign last year to sign “nothing more, nothing less” than a mirror image of the federal law. His predecessor, GOP Gov. Nathan Deal, vetoed a similar bill passed by lawmakers three years ago amid threats by major companies to boycott Georgia if the measure became law.

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How to cover religious liberty: Quote both sides — and skip the scare quotes

How to cover religious liberty: Quote both sides — and skip the scare quotes

Pssssst.

Hey you, guess what? I'm going to do a positive post. Another one.

Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Yesterday, I highlighted Emma Green's magnificent Atlantic piece on the Islamic radicalization of two Mississippi college students.

Our friends at The Media Project shared that post on Twitter and described it as "rare and high praise from GetReligion."

That prompted our editor, Terry Mattingly, to note that "we praise quite a bit of stuff."

The dirty little secret is that our positive posts typically generate far fewer clicks than the negative ones in which we point out problems with mainstream media coverage of religion. Still, we are committed both to identifying holy ghosts and offering kudos when news organizations get it right in terms of fair, balanced journalism.

To that end, I wanted to draw your attention to a story by the Alabama Media Group, which includes the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Press-Register of Mobile. The story concerns a bill protecting the religious liberty of faith-based adoption agencies:

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Scare quotes and factual journalism in Florida: This here is what they call a 'religious liberties' bill

Scare quotes and factual journalism in Florida: This here is what they call a 'religious liberties' bill

Yes, there are scare quotes in the Miami Herald's coverage of a fast-tracked religious liberties bill in the Florida Senate.

As regular GetReligion readers know, that is so often the case when the mainstream press reports on such legislation — but not always.

However, we come today not to dwell on the Sunshine State newspaper's sin (we're in a forgiving mood) but to praise the overall quality of the Herald's reporting.

The lede sets the scene:

TALLAHASSEE — Students and teachers in Florida’s public schools would more explicitly have the right to say the Lord’s Prayer, pray to Allah or worship Satan under a highly polarizing measure that’s being fast-tracked through the Florida Senate as the 2017 session begins this week.
Called a “religious liberties” bill, SB 436 is intended to “clarify First Amendment rights of free speech, specifically as they apply to religious expression,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, a conservative Republican from Ocala who’s driving the measure in the Senate.
“I grew up in an America where you were free to express your faith, and there was no intimidation of whether you could say ‘Jesus’ out loud or not,” Baxley said. “This is where we’ve come: The pendulum has swung so far that there’s been a chilling effect on people of faith of just expressing and being who they are.”
While comments before the Senate Education Committee on Monday heavily emphasized a need to protect Christians, Baxley’s bill would shield students, teachers and school staff of all faiths from religious discrimination — protections already guaranteed through the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, as well as U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The phrase "called a 'religious liberties' bill" gives the impression that the concept is new to the Herald, when, in fact, that issue was a factor in Donald Trump's surprise election as president. 

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From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

From awful to fantastic: Three lessons in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of religious freedom

It seems like just yesterday that we were bashing NPR's flawed coverage of the religious freedom issue.

Because it was just yesterday.

What a difference a day makes!:

Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain
song by Dinah Washington

It's not often that the same news organization — in this case, NPR — fumbles the ball away in the end zone, then immediately returns a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

However, that's exactly what has transpired in NPR's Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde coverage of the battle pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty.

To refresh everyone's memory, yesterday's post highlighted three problems with NPR's coverage: 1. Scare quotes on "religious freedom." 2. Use of the editorialized phrase "so-called religious freedom bills." 3. Favoritism toward the gay-rights side of the debate.

But this morning, GetReligion reader Darrell Turner pointed me toward a different NPR report covering the same subject matter:

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This news isn't fake, but it's flawed: Three problems with NPR's report on religious freedom bills

This news isn't fake, but it's flawed: Three problems with NPR's report on religious freedom bills

Well, that didn't last long.

A week after Donald Trump's stunning election as president, I wrote a GetReligion post with this title:

Based on Trump's win, it looks like religious liberty really is a thing — with no scare quotes

In that post, I gave a brief history of biased and lackluster media coverage of religious freedom bills tied to conscience claims by people of faith. (If any of this is new to you, I'd encourage you to take a moment and read that post before proceeding with this one.)

In a nutshell, here's the issue I explored back in November:

Fast-forward to the 2016 presidential election, which was won by a candidate — Donald Trump — who pledged in a letter to Catholics last month to "defend your religious liberties and the right to fully and freely practice your religion, as individuals, business owners and academic institutions."
It seems that — to many voters — religious freedom was an important issue in the Nov. 8 election. An issue to which many news organizations were tone-deaf, based on their previously mentioned coverage.
So will coverage of this subject improve based on a new president in the White House?
Perhaps.

I then cited a newsy, balanced Associated Press story that raised my hopes for better journalism.

I'm not feeling as optimistic, though, after a reader called my attention to a weekend NPR report on religious freedom bills. On the positive side, the NPR piece offers a nice case study in how a news organization that claims "impartiality" ought not to cover the issue.

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Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

Define 'radical Islam,' please: Is this a candidate for 'scare quote' status? Really?

If you have read GetReligion.org for any time at all, you are probably familiar with the whole idea of "scare quotes."

Actually, I would assume that this piece of media jargon is now in common in just about any setting in which critics, news consumers and journalists argue about issues linked to news coverage and, especially, media bias.

So what does the term mean and what, on this day, does it have to do with discussions of "radical" forms of Islam? Wait. You see the quote marks that are framing the word "radical"?

Here is one online definition of this term:

scare quotes -- noun
quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

For example, this online dictionary notes that, "putting the term 'global warming' in scare quotes serves to subtly cast doubt on the reality of such a phenomenon."

Here at GetReligion, many of our discussions of scare quotes have started using them to frame a perfectly normal term in discussions of the First Amendment -- religious liberty. Religious liberty turns into "religious liberty" whenever religious traditionalists, usually in conflicts over the Sexual Revolution, attempt to defend their free speech rights, rights of freedom of association and rights to free exercise of religious beliefs.

A GetReligion reader sent me a recent piece from The Atlantic and asked if another important term in public discourse is about to be shoved into "scare quotes" territory. The double-decker headline on that piece saith:

The Coming War on ‘Radical Islam’
How Trump’s government could change America’s approach to terrorism

You knew Trump had to be involved in this somehow, right? Here is the overture, which shows the context of the question that was raised by our reader:

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I pray thee, might this story on Lulu the therapy dog have needed 'scare quotes'?

I pray thee, might this story on Lulu the therapy dog have needed 'scare quotes'?

Well, what do you know?

Apparently there is a time and a place for just about everything and, in the field of news, that even includes the use of "scare quotes." Surf here for some discussions of the meaning of this hot-button term in modern semi-opinion journalism.

Now, anyone who has visited this blog more than two or three times probably knows that your GetReligionistas are not fond of "scare quotes" around religious terms that have perfectly fine, established meanings, thank you very much. Most of the battles right now, of course, are about religious liberty vs. "religious liberty." Oh, and "traditional marriage" is another one.

However, in this case I am going to argue (wait for it) that the Washington Post team probably needed to use scare quotes in the Health & Science feature that ran with this headline: "There’s a dog at this funeral home, ready to pray with you."

Come to think of it, I would have put some quote marks around a specific term in that headline. See if you can figure out which one, after looking at the overture:

“Lulu, say a prayer,’’ Matthew Fiorillo tells his 2½ -year-old goldendoodle. Hearing the command, Lulu, a therapy dog who comforts mourners at Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services in Westchester County, N.Y., puts her paws up onto the kneeler and tilts her head down.

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New adventures in 'scare quotes,' in which New York Post has doubts about prayer

New adventures in 'scare quotes,' in which New York Post has doubts about prayer

Every now and then, GetReligion readers see something online -- several weeks after the item actually appeared in a mainstream newsroom -- and send it to us. That time delay matters, if there is a strong time element in the piece.

That isn't a problem with this recent piece at The New York Post. This is another one of those strange updates on one of your GetReligionistas favorite topics -- "scare quotes." No this isn't another "religious liberty" case.

This is totally new territory, so hang on. First you have to know the context for this strange issue in journalism style. Here is how the story begins:

A nearly six-hour standoff in Columbus Circle ended Thursday morning when a suicidal man wearing a red helmet suspected of tossing a hoax bomb into a police vehicle was taken into custody without incident.
The man, identified by police as Hector Meneses of Queens, was taken into custody on a stretcher at around 8 a.m. after cops were forced to pepper spray him, police said. Dozens of officers, their guns drawn, had surrounded the car and SWAT team members had cleared the circle, as they brought in equipment to deal with Meneses.
“I have a bomb strapped to me, and I want to die,” he’d told cops, according to police officials.

Now the two cops inside the patrol car where Officer Peter Cybulski and Sgt. Hameed Armani.

Now, if you were in that patrol van, in the current atmosphere surrounding police in America, and some unknown person tossed a strange package into the vehicle, package making a strange noise, what would you think?

Next question: What would you do? The odds are that you would do several things at once, including a rather predictable religious behavior. Read carefully.

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Scare quote alert: Cheers and jeers for that Associated Press primer on 2016 'religious vote'

Scare quote alert: Cheers and jeers for that Associated Press primer on 2016 'religious vote'

Go ahead.

See if you can spot the scare quotes in this Associated Press primer on religion and the 2016 presidential election:

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Donald Trump has told conservative evangelical pastors in Florida that his presidency would preserve "religious liberty" and reverse what he insists is a government-enforced muzzling of Christians.
The same afternoon, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine praised a more liberal group of black church leaders in Louisiana for their "progressive values that are the values of Scripture," and he urged them to see Hillary Clinton as a kindred spirit.
The competing appearances earlier this month highlight an oft-overlooked political reality: The "religious vote" is vast and complex, and it extends beyond generalizations about "social conservatives" who side with Republicans and black Protestant churches whose pastors and parishioners opt nearly unanimously for Democrats.

Did you catch them?

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you know that we have complained time and time again about the news media's love of scare quotes (Dictionary.com definition here in case you're new to the term) around "religious liberty" and "religious freedom."

So if you noticed the scare quotes on "religious liberty" in the AP's lede, you win the prize! (What is the prize? It's a free subscription to GetReligion. Go ahead and read all our posts for free!)

What's wrong with putting "religious liberty" or "religious freedom" in scare quotes? As even a GetReligion critic acknowledged this past spring, the quote marks inject editorial opinion into a news story and "imply something along the lines of: 'Religious freedom? Not necessarily.'" 

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