tabloids

The New York Times, Falwell, Trump and shady Florida real estate (Oh! And nude pictures!)

The New York Times, Falwell, Trump and shady Florida real estate (Oh! And nude pictures!)

Long, long ago, there was a time when few newspaper editors in Texan could resist an opportunity to put the words “Baylor” and “Playboy” in the same headline. Yes, we are talking ages ago — back in the 1970s and ‘80s when Hugh Hefner was still considered a player.

Baylor, of course, was the state’s most prominent Baptist institution. Playboy was Playboy. Clickbait didn’t exist, but everyone knew that combining “nude” and “Baptist” would draw cheers in secular newsrooms.

Why bring that up? It appears that the Donald Trump-era version of that editorial state of mind is a story that puts “Falwell” and “pool boy” in the same headline. Oh, and don’t forget the hyper-clickable words “nude pictures.” And prison-resident “Michael Cohen.” And alleged comedian “Tom Arnold.”

With those lowbrow ingredients, some New York Times professional showed remarkable self-control when writing this headline: “The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen.”

During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast — click here to tune that in — I told host Todd Wilken that you can sense that this headline was supposed to be “The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen, oh my!” You know there had to be some Times voices arguing in favor of including “Falwell” and “nude pictures.”

Days later, it’s remarkable how little traction this story has gained. So far, even The Drudge Report has resisted adding a racy headline about it. While liberal Twitter has gone loco (see some of the attached tweets), there hasn’t been a mainstream firestorm — which is what usually happens when a neo-tabloid tale of this kind is baptized into mainstream journalism by the holy New York Times. What’s going on here, in terms of journalism? Here at GetReligion I noted:

Everything begins and ends with politics, of course, even in a story packed with all kinds of sexy whispers and innuendo about personal scandals. …

Basically, this story is built on real estate and court documents (that’s the solid stuff), along with a crazy quilt of materials from sources like Cohen, reality-TV wannabe Arnold, BuzzFeed and a pivotal anonymous source (allegedly) close to Falwell who readers are told next to nothing about, even though he/she is crucial to this article’s credibility.

In social media, lots of folks have simply led their imaginations run wild.

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What were the 'religious reasons' why a couple allegedly refused to get help for their infant?

What were the 'religious reasons' why a couple allegedly refused to get help for their infant?

The Washington Post reports — in an aggregation/clickbait kind of piece — that a 10-month-old died after her parents allegedly refused to get help for religious reasons.

By aggregation/clickbait kind of piece, I mean that this is a story made up mainly of links to other media reports and social media. There's not much original reporting. This is mainly a web search aggregated into a quick report designed to get internet clicks.

I offer that background not as a criticism (although it's admittedly not my favorite form of "journalism") but to lower the expectations for the quality of material that a reader might expect to find.

Still, I think the reader who shared the link with GetReligion asks a relevant question, even for this gutter-level form of news. More on that question in a moment.

First, thought, the top of the Post report offers the basics:

In video sermons, the man railed against vaccines, “bad medicine” and doctors whom he deemed to be “priesthoods of the medical cult.”

And he explained why he refused to vaccinate his children, saying: “It didn’t seem smart to me that you would be saving people who weren’t the fittest. If evolution believes in survival of the fittest, well then why are we vaccinating everybody? Shouldn’t we just let the weak die off and let the strong survive?”

On a Facebook page matching his name and likeness, Seth Welch of Michigan spoke of his religious beliefs, which he shared with his wife, Tatiana Fusari. Those beliefs may have contributed to their own child’s death, according to court records.

Although the circumstances surrounding the baby’s death remain unclear, the couple were charged Monday with felony murder and first-degree child abuse after their nearly 10-month-old daughter, Mary, was found dead in her crib from malnutrition and dehydration, according to court records cited by NBC affiliate WOOD.

Now, back to the reader's question:

Any particular church or denomination? Implies they're Christians but what if they're not? Early story? 

So the reader wants to know the specific details concerning the vague "religious reasons."

Me, too!

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Lessons (long ago) from Hurricane Harvey news: Yes, even Brits fussed about Joel Osteen

Lessons (long ago) from Hurricane Harvey news: Yes, even Brits fussed about Joel Osteen

“A week is a long time in politics,” is a saying attributed to the late Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of Britain from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1976. What is of vital importance today, for politicians and the press, may be of no concern a week later.

A week? What about a month?

This phrase, like that attributed to Harold MacMillan, “events, dear boy, events,” has worked its way into the fingers of journalists around the Anglosphere. It is a handy cliche to be trotted out by the hack who wishes to appear world weary and sophisticated, and who is also pressed for time and cannot think of something original to say.

Biographers of Wilson and MacMillan claim not to be able to verify if or when these phrases were ever uttered by their subjects. Yet, provenance is no longer important when they appear in an article -- they serve to set a tone.

If one looks back in time, that furor over Joel Osteen’s alleged callousness towards those seeking shelter from Hurricane Harvey in Houston is a fine case study of reporting via tone. In American the press, social media and the television networks had extensive coverage of the report the telegenic pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston had failed to open his 16,000-seat church to those fleeing the rising flood waters in Houston.

The story seemed to be everywhere -- then 10 days later it was nowhere to be found (except in commentary pieces, of course).

The reason? “Events, dear boy, events.” Hurricane Irma, etc., displaced Hurricane Harvey in the press cycle and the lidless eye of Mordor media turned its gaze from Texas to Florida and back out into the Atlantic Ocean.

But back to that Houston case study.

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Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

Vatican! Drugs! Police! Gay clergy! Orgy! Clickbait! What happens next will not shock you

So here is a rather stupid question to ask news consumers in the age of social media and online news. Did you hear that there was apparently some kind of police raid on a drug-fueled gay orgy at one of the most prestigious addresses in Vatican City, an apartment building many call the Holy Office?

All kinds of people live there, but it also is known as home base for the Vatican's powerful -- in terms of working to promote traditional teachings -- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Combine this location with activity that fits years and years of rumors about a "gay lobby" at the highest levels of Catholic hierarchy and the odds are good that you will get a news-media firestorm.

Maybe you saw the story at The New York Daily News, since this is the kind of subject that has "tabloid" written all over it. The headline: "Vatican police raid drug-fueled gay orgy at top priest's apartment." Let's look at the top of this report.

Vatican police raided a drug-fueled gay sex party at a top priest’s apartment near the city, according to an Italian newspaper report.
The apartment’s occupant, who was not named by police, serves as a secretary to Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, a personal adviser to Pope Francis.
The apartment belongs to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith -- the branch that reviews appeals from clergy found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, according to Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, which first published the explosive report. Police raided the apartment in June after neighbors complained of unusual behavior among frequent nighttime visitors.
Police arrested the priest and hospitalized him to detox him from the drugs he had ingested, according to the newspaper. ... He’s currently in retreat at a convent in Italy, according to the report. Coccopalmerio’s aide was reportedly under consideration for promotion to bishop.

Now, you may not have seen the Daily News report. On newsstands in the Big Apple, that would have been sitting right next to The New York Post, proclaiming (it what is a rather restrained headline for this newspaper): "Vatican cops bust drug-fueled gay orgy at home of cardinal’s aide."

Let's face it. Readers had lots of opportunities to see a lurid headline about this case.

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Digging in: Yes, this is another headline containing the all-important search term 'Duggars'

Digging in: Yes, this is another headline containing the all-important search term 'Duggars'

I realize that, in the current Washington Post effort to organize and increase its religion coverage (we applaud, of course) the flag headline "Acts of Faith" has become a kind of logo and catch-phrase to attract readers.

Still, I wonder if anyone at the copy desk stopped for a second before producing the following double-decker head on the tabloid-esque story of the week, producing some rather painful content when read in one flow:

Acts of Faith
Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter, parents tell Fox News

Hang on, because we will get to the content of the Post story, which was actually quite straightforward and subdued -- in contrast to the take-no-prisoners tone of some of the other coverage.

Religion News Service also produced a rather flat, sensible news piece, but as is the norm in the edgy social-media age, felt the need to wave the editorial flag with this bite of snark in the promo headline atop the daily email newsletter:

Duggars keep digging

As in the Duggars keep digging their own grave, of course.

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