Would Dallas readers care about creation?

I need to wrap up some unfinished business from last week, which was a busy one. So let’s take a flashback to a major story.

Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows what it means when a reporter briefs an editor about what happened in an event or an interview and the editor says, “That’s not all that important. Just do some bullets and put it at the end of the story.”

Bullets are those little stars, bold dots or other graphical devices — “bullets” — that copy desks put in to break up the leftovers that may or may not make it into the final editions of the newspaper. Just look for the telltale words “In other business.” Then come the bullets.

With that in mind, compare the following leads from major newspapers about President Bush’s interview with a cluster of Texas journalists, the interview that veered into his thoughts on God, science and education.

Here is the Los Angeles Times:

Advocates of an alternative to the theory of evolution took heart Tuesday from President Bush’s remarks that “both sides ought to be properly taught” in public schools.

Nicely done. Now, here is The Washington Post:

President Bush invigorated proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks saying that schoolchildren should be taught about “intelligent design,” a view of creation that challenges established scientific thinking and promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of humanity.

As Texans would say, that’s close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades.

This was a big story, so there are many other newspapers we could take a look at. But let’s check out how The Dallas Morning News covered the story, since that is such a powerful newspaper in the state of Texas — home to George W. Bush and a couple of zillion other people who care deeply about this issue (just ask the people who publish school textbooks).

Here is The Dallas Morning News’ lead on this hot story:

WASHINGTON –- President Bush expressed “complete confidence” in adviser Karl Rove on Monday, offering the first public endorsement since his embattled aide’s name surfaced as one of the administration officials who may have had a hand in unmasking an undercover CIA agent.

Wait a minute! Is this the same Bush press conference with that circle of Texas journalists? To answer that question, you need to do some digging. Sure enough, 15 paragraphs down into the story we get to those crucial words “On other topics, Mr. Bush” and the dreaded “bullets.” There are quite a few of them and there — not in the first, second, third or fourth bullet, but in the fifth — we learn that the world’s best known Texan

• Waded gingerly into the evolution vs. creationism debate, saying local school boards should decide whether to teach evolution or “intelligent design,” an alternative creation-of-life theory promoted by religious conservatives. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes,” he said.

This was a mere one bullet ahead of Bush’s remarks about the summer weather in Central Texas. He still likes to visit Texas, even if it’s hot.

Something tells me that the average citizen of the Bible-Belt Mecca called Dallas might have been more interested in the God and science story than the average Dallas Morning News editor. You think?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.theparishokc.org greg

    I read the DMN regularly. I’m a Christian living in the Bible Belt. I care far more about Bush’s response to the Rove issue than what a “C” student thinks of ID. I think the story was appropriately placed, as his views on the weather in TX are as substantive and useful as his views on natural science. Since, to my knowledge, the President doesn’t get to influence the selection of curricula, his views seem moot.

  • Stephen A.

    Terry, you don’t expect the MSM to treat any religious issue thoroughly when they instead can try to crucify the unindicted, uncharged Rove and try to “frog march him out of the White House in handcuffs,” do you? C’mon. Where are your priorities, man? (sarcasm)

    Trumped up, overblown issues are much more pressing than what kids will read and learn from textbooks, anyway – and more compelling for Pulitzer-Prize seeking, would-be Woodwards.

  • tmatt

    Stephen:

    You missed the point of my post.

    Almost all of the MSM thought that — for better or for worse — that the ID story was the lead, not a bullet. But the local newpaper in the heart of DALLAS didn’t realize the impact that the creation remarks would have. The MSM got this story right, or close to it, IMHO….

  • Chris

    I grew up in Dallas, but always had the opinion that the DMN had a relatively urban readership – a smattering of ultra-violet conties, if you will, comprising it’s core readership.

    Perhaps they, like Greg, don’t really give a flip about our President’s social impact – even to the point of (I believe) ignoring the obvious impact he does, in fact, have…

    Though if that were the case, and nobody cared, you’d expect the LA and NY Times also burying the story like the Dallas paper did?

    I’d be interested to hear what Terry thinks to be the motive for burying the story.

    It seems to me that they’d want to make a plenty big deal of it, as other papers and online blogs have done, since Creationism is seen by many as being an uninformed, ignorant belief. Was the writer protecting what he thought was an ignorant statement by Bush?

  • Stephen A.

    Terry: It should have read DMN instead of MSM. Force of habit.

    Putting the local, religious issue so far down in the story is a classic case of burying the lede.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    I tend to view them all as “bullets”, since they are all ritual bits of political posturing. Bush’s confidence in Rove will/would be repeated until Rove’s (likely forced) resignation; the prez’s opinions about science teaching mean nothing with regulations or legislation. That’s just me though.

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    Could be that the Dallas story reflects an editorial weariness with the whole evolution/creation debate (they have covered the textbook wars extensively), whereas for the MSM, coverage about the debate has been spotty and as far from the front page as possible. When Bush takes such an “anti-intellectual” stand, it’s big news in LA, NYC and Washington.

    I’ll bet you can’t get elected dog catcher in Texas if you claim to believe in godless evolution!

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    When Bush takes such an “anti-intellectual” stand, it’s big news in LA, NYC and Washington.

    Not so much “news” as it is a “well, what else would you expect from such an idiot?” piece. (Surely there must be a name in the news business for that kind of story?) I tend to discount such stories for (if they are “true”) not telling me anything I didn’t already know, though it also occurs to me that as ledes they are an excellent way for the editors to hide inconvenient details from those of us too impatient to read all the way to the end of the “dog bites man” stories that such ledes produce.

    It also occurs to me that the DMN got sucked into the MSM trap of being more interested in the machinations of politics– who’s in, who’s out– than in the consequences.


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