Ghost in the opioid crisis? Haunting New York Times report probes New Hampshire's pain

Ghost in the opioid crisis? Haunting New York Times report probes New Hampshire's pain

If you spend much time in New Hampshire, as I do (visiting family), you know that it's a complex and interesting state.

Lots of people know about "Live free or die," the state's motto. Lots of people -- The New York Times quotes the regional slang, "hella wicked many” -- know about the state's unique tax structures and its state operated liquor stores.

Of course, I am interested in the state's interesting mix of secularism and radical individualism. Take a look at the Pew Research Center's "How religious is your state?" website and there's New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, right at the bottom of the chart. Note that 43 percent of folks in New Hampshire are absolutely sure that they believe in God.

So, how does one handle religion -- or a glaring lack of religion -- when dealing with haunting subjects like this state's opioid crisis? When dealing with hurting hearts, tortured minds and ravaged bodies, should journalists raise any questions about the human soul?

I thought about that as I read a stunning New York Times feature that ran with this headline, "1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours." It was based on a year of face-to-face research with an addict named Patrick Griffin, his father Dennis (a recovering alcoholic), his mother Sandy and his sister Betsy, a recovering addict.

This is the rare case in which I want to praise a story that appears to have zero religious content. It's a great story, one that few readers will forget if they read to the final shattering lines. However, I also want to raise a journalism question: Should someone, at some point, have asked a few religious questions when covering a story that is packed with stark, life-and-death questions about moral issues and choices? Yes, where is God during this family's agony? Are there religious issues linked to the drug culture in this secular region? The Times notes:

In Patrick’s home state of New Hampshire, which leads the country in deaths per capita from fentanyl, almost 500 people died of overdoses in 2016. The government estimates that 10 percent of New Hampshire residents -- about 130,000 people -- are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The overall burden to the state, including health care and criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, has ballooned into the billions of dollars. Some people do recover, usually after multiple relapses. But the opioid scourge, here and elsewhere, has overwhelmed police and fire departments, hospitals, prosecutors, public defenders, courts, jails and the foster care system.
Most of all, though, it has upended families.

This is, of course, a story centering on a health crisis that affects the mind and body. But, throughout the piece, there are constant references to a great mystery: Why do some people recover and others do not?

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Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

Doctrine of Discovery: Still relevant when covering Pope Francis' outreach to indigenous tribes

In both Chile and Peru last week, Pope Francis addressed the plight of those two nations’ indigenous tribes that have been on the losing end of interactions with European colonizers since the dawn of the Age of Discovery.

In Chile, he spoke about the Mapuche tribe’s struggle, which has turned violent at times, to gain back some of its ancestral land in that nation’s south. This Associated Press piece (published here as it appeared in the Seattle Times) provides the background necessary to understand the issue.

It was in Peru, however, where the pontiff’s words about the worsening plight of the Amazonian tribes, received greater media attention.

That’s due in part to his equal emphasis on the ever-increasing intrusion by miners, ranchers and others intent, often with government complicity, on exploiting the Amazon basin, the world’s largest tropical rain forest.

Given the Amazon’s critical role in the debate over climate change, any mention of it by Pope Francis is sure to draw headlines.

But I wonder: Why did I find no mention in the mainstream news reports I read about the papal trip of Rome's huge role in the early colonization of the tribes and their land? Why no mention of the, to me, confused status of the Doctrine of Discovery, the papal documents by which the Vatican first officially blessed the ruthless takeover of newly “discovered,” non-Christian lands and any of their inhabitants in the New World?

Because just as the church's sex abuse scandal won't disappear, Vatican relations with indigenous peoples can't fully heal until Pope Francis -- or some future pope -- confronts the lingering anger over the doctrine’s unilateral claim to lands inhabited by non-Christian tribes.

The doctrine, you may argue, has a confusing history dating from a premodern mindset. Nor can it's damage simply be reversed -- so why dwell on it?

Such an argument may be made. But so can an argument be made for its further debate. After all, other Christian churches and even bodies within the Catholic church have repudiated the doctrine or asked that Rome officially take that step.

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Oops! Politico confused on 'politically prominent evangelicals' in Trump's health department

Oops! Politico confused on 'politically prominent evangelicals' in Trump's health department

Politico started today with a story on "The religious activists on the rise inside Trump's health department."

At least one reader immediately pointed out a factual error way up high.

Hint: The mistake involved an oft-discussed, hard-to-define group. You got it, it's the evangelicals again.

"This article manages to get the facts wrong in its very first sentence," James Hasson said on Twitter. "Roger Severino is a Melkite Greek Catholic, not an evangelical. That's kinda important if your whole premise is that evangelicals in HHS are "support[ing] evangelicals at the expense of other voices..."

Hat tip to "D Minor" -- another Twitter user -- who alerted your friendly GetReligionistas to Hasson's tweet.

Here's the original wording of Politico's lede:

A small cadre of politically prominent evangelicals inside the Department of Health and Human Services have spent months quietly planning how to weaken federal protections for abortion and transgender care -- a strategy that's taking shape in a series of policy moves that took even their own staff by surprise.
Those officials include Roger Severino, an anti-abortion lawyer who now runs the Office of Civil Rights and last week laid out new protections allowing health care workers with religious or moral objections to abortion and other procedures to opt out. Shannon Royce, the agency's key liaison with religious and grass-roots organizations, has also emerged as a pivotal player.

If Severino isn't actually an evangelical, you can understand Hasson's concern, right?

I did some quick Googling and didn't immediately find any online mention of Severino being a Melkite Greek Catholic. So I asked Hasson for the source of his information. It turns out he had a pretty good one: Severino himself.

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March for Life 2018: Washington Post wrestles with Trump's statement on late-term abortion

March for Life 2018: Washington Post wrestles with Trump's statement on late-term abortion

It's hard to have a discussion of any topic linked to abortion in the United States of America without starting debates about the basic facts -- especially when abortion is discussed in news reports by mainstream journalists.

It's hard to quote the most basic of facts -- the number of abortions in any give year -- without starting fights over the specifics. In part, this is because different kinds of statistics on this subject are released by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (with its history of complex ties to Planned Parenthood) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What happens when a story focuses on an ultra-controversial topic, such as the number of abortions that take place after an unborn child has, to one degree or another, reached the point of viability outside the mother's womb? At that point, it's especially crucial to be transparent about sources of information, with the clear attribution of sources.

I bring this up because of a hot-button passage in President Donald Trump's address to the 2018 March for Life, the one that stated:

As you all know Roe versus Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world. For example, in the United States, it’s one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions along with China North Korea and others. Right now, in a number of States, the laws allow a baby to be born [sic, aborted] from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month.
It is wrong. It has to change.

I mentioned that quote in my GetReligion post on the day of the march, but didn't really discuss it because I assumed these controversial words would draw quite a bit of coverage in the mainstream press.

Well, I was wrong.

It's especially amazing that Trump's reference to this issue drew little mainstream news attention because of an embarrassing verbal stumble. The president (whose history with Planned Parenthood is complex, to say the least) noted that laws in some U.S. states "allow a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month." He clearly meant to say "aborted," instead of "born."

This reference was addressed in a long, detailed Washington Post "Acts of Faith" feature about the march. Readers were told:

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Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Many journalists quick to slam religious freedom for doctors -- for all the wrong reasons

Sometimes I wish so many  journalists weren’t so predictable.

The announcement for the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the Department of Health and Human Services was barely 24 hours old when a bunch of articles rained down promising everything from massive discrimination against gays to something close to A Handmaid’s Tale.  

The majority of the articles were so focused on the possibility of LGBTQ fallout from this new division that the reporters missed one of the real targets: Planned Parenthood. This Christianity Today article explains why Planned Parenthood is the real victim, as it were, of this HHS development. 

Instead, you have everything from Slate calling the division “organized, insidious form of bigotry” to NBC News saying the new conscience protections puts the rights of providers over that of patients

Here’s how the New York Times explained it:

WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it was expanding religious freedom protections for doctors, nurses and other health care workers who object to performing procedures like abortion and gender reassignment surgery, satisfying religious conservatives who have pushed for legal sanctuary from the federal government…
For religious conservatives, the new protections address long-held concerns that religious people could be forced to comply with laws and regulations that violate their religious beliefs. Roger Severino, the director of the office for civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, promised that he and his staff would investigate every complaint of a violation of “conscience rights” protected by federal law.
But civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights groups, as well as some medical organizations, expressed alarm at a move they described as part of a systematic effort by the Trump administration to legitimize discrimination.

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Weekend thinker with a punch line: Please take this 'You might be an evangelical if ...' quiz

Weekend thinker with a punch line: Please take this 'You might be an evangelical if ...' quiz

Sorry for the social stereotypes, but the video at the top of this post -- or the comedy riff at the heart of it -- was the first thing that I thought of a week or two ago when I saw a tweet from Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post that proclaimed: "This is a fun quiz. Are you an evangelical?"

Obviously, that link went into my "GetReligion Guilt" file.

Of course, "Are you an evangelical?" isn't that far from, "You might be an evangelical if ..." You can understand how I guy (that would be me) who grew up in a Southern Baptist pastor's home in Texas would make the leap to Jeff Foxworthy.

Now, I realize that there already are lots of websites with one-liners built on this concept. For example, at the "Progressive Christian" site at Patheos you'll find examples such as these:

If you have strong opinions about when, precisely, Amy Grant “sold out,” then you might be an evangelical.
If the first time you saw your uncle’s shot-glass collection, you wondered where he got all those fancy communion cups, then …
If you’ve ever forgotten to set your clock back at the end of Daylight Savings Time and your first thought at seeing the empty church parking lot was, “Oh no, I’ve missed the Rapture,” then …
If you never watched “Highway to Heaven,” not because it was too preachy, but because it aired on Wednesday nights, then …
If you knew that “Wednesday nights” in the previous joke was a reference to prayer meeting, then …

But, semi-seriously, there is a reason that your GetReligionistas have dedicated so much digital ink over the years to discussions of what the word "evangelical" does or does not mean.

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Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

Why should clergy (and journalists) pay serious attention to 'Oprah America,' and its pope?

In 1990, I began the process of moving from being a full-time journalist to being a full-time teacher and part-time journalist. The first place I taught was in Denver Seminary, serving as a specialist on religious themes in mass media.

In my main apologetics class, I tried to get seminarians to explore places in popular culture in which ordinary Americans encountered religious questions and themes. For example, I required students to watch "The Simpsons." I was also very high on the CBS series "Northern Exposure." And, of course, I asked them to pay close attention to Oprah Winfrey.

Why? Well, that's a question linked to this week's "Crossroads" podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I discussed that fascinating media storm that followed Winfrey's sermon at the Golden Globes, with plenty of liberal activists and journalists suggesting that she should run for president. Click here to tune that in. Also, this was the subject of my column this week for the Universal syndicate.

But why -- in the early 1990s -- did I want future pastors, youth ministers, counselors and others to pay serious attention to Oprah? Years later, I was interviewed about my work at Denver Seminary by the journal Homiletics. Here is a key piece of that piece, which was called, "We're Taking Communion at the Mall."

MATTINGLY: We live in Oprah America. The dominate dialogue of our culture is feeling, emotion, and experience.
HOMILETICS: I taught a class once in which the name Gloria Steinem came up. No one, including the women, knew whom I was talking about. When I asked them what feminist voices they were listening to, they didn't reference Wolf, Faludi, or Mackinnon. They said, "Oprah."
MATTINGLY: You know what? I think Orpah is a feminist and she's an amazingly doctrinaire feminist on issues of gender feminism and certainly on issues of the sexual revolution. What's so funny is that you've got millions and millions of women who think of themselves as conservatives, but also think of Oprah as their buddy. She's consistently liberal, especially on moral and cultural issues. She's managed to communicate warmly to the average American woman without conveying how truly radical some of her views are. She's the essence of the victim culture: the woman as victim. That's not what feminism was supposed to be. But I think most people would agree that that's a piece of what modern feminism has become: You're a victim. Get mad, get angry, get even.
HOMILETICS: Do you really think it would be wise for a pastor to get in the pulpit and start attacking Oprah or Martha Stewart?
MATTINGLY: I would certainly quote Oprah.

So what is "Oprah America" and why is it so important?

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Pre-weekend think piece: A brief history of why March for Life news causes so much heat

Pre-weekend think piece: A brief history of why March for Life news causes so much heat

It's March for Life day and, during a rather busy teaching day here in New York City, I have been trying to pay attention to some of the live-streams of coverage from Washington, D.C.

So far, I have not seen any edgy websites or cable shows manage to get "president," "prostitute" and "pro-lifers" into the same headline or info graphic, but I won't be shocked if that happens.

President Donald Trump's speech to the marchers -- via video hook-up -- pretty much guaranteed this year's event would get more mainstream ink than it has in the past. As always, politics is worth more coverage than piety or poignant personal stories (the kind told, year after year, by the "I regret my abortion" activists).

Nevertheless, the March for Life remains what it has been for decades -- the Olympics for researchers studying media-bias issues (click here for a collection of GetReligion posts on this topic). I think it would be helpful to pause and look at the history of that, as we await some of the headlines and trends from this year.

During my early 1980s graduate work at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I looked at quite a few of the articles and photo-analysis studies that already existed contrasting mainstream media coverage of these giant anti-abortion rallies and other Washington events on other topics.

Then, in 1990, everything changed.

That was when the late, great media-beat reporter David Shaw of The Los Angeles Times wrote his ambitious series on media-bias issues tied to abortion. Ever since, any significant discussion of March for Life news coverage has included some kind of reference to this story: " 'Rally for Life' coverage evokes an editor's anger." The overture is long, but essential:

The Washington Post is "institutionally 'pro-choice,' " the Post's ombudsman, Richard Harwood, wrote. ... "Any reader of the paper's editorials and home-grown columnists is aware of that." But "close textual analysis probably would reveal that, all things considered, our news coverage has favored the 'pro-choice' side," too, Harwood conceded.

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Friday Five: Livin' On A Prayer, Emanuel AME juror, deranged parents, Arkansas shooting and more

Friday Five: Livin' On A Prayer, Emanuel AME juror, deranged parents, Arkansas shooting and more

Confession time: I chose one of this week's Friday Five because it gave me an excuse to post the video of Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer."

See if you can guess which one.

Woah, we're halfway there

Woah, livin' on a prayer

Take my hand, we'll make it I swear

Woah, livin' on a prayer …

But enough of that. Let's dive right into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes profiled the jury foreman in last year's trial of Dylann Roof, the gunman sentenced to death in the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, S.C.

In a post this week, I described Hawes' story in The Post and Courier as "an amazing narrative piece."

"Jennifer Hawes is AMAZING. The end," the jury foreman, Gerald Truesdale, commented in response to my post. 

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