Well, the Judas Gospel story, the one that was supposed to shake the foundations of Christianity, seems to have passed away rather quickly. Christianity was similarly unfazed by the week’s reports that Jesus walked on an ice floe (not water), that he wasn’t crucified in the manner in which people think, and that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera, not Joseph. Let’s see if Christianity implodes under the allegation that Jesus didn’t die on the cross so much as pass out after being doped up.
The Judas Gospel thread had a number of comments. I wanted to share a few because they highlight a problem that reaches beyond the National Geographic public relations incident. I had questioned why all of the stories about Judas quoted the same narrow group of scholars. Amy Welborn shared her thoughts:
I’m guessing that the consistency that we see in the press stories are on this are due to nothing else than dependence on the press packet. The voices in the stories are all “consultants” and experts to the project. [Donald] Senior and [Craig] Evans are both in the program.
Reader Matt agreed that reporters on this story suffered from limited Rolodexes. He explained a bit more about how reporters get their sources:
I’ve worked at two newspapers. Every reporter at these papers had lists of experts provided by different sources. Stanford University made sure that each reporter had actual Rolodex cards to be filed by topic. For instance, there was an economics card with the names and phone numbers of several professors good for a quote. San Jose State’s College of Sciences and Arts published a little booklet titled “Knowledge Resources for Journalists” with the same kind of information. (Every election Dr. Terry Christiansen from the Poli Sci dept is interviewed on TV at least once.) One of my colleagues had a list of experts published by U.C. Berkeley stuck on her cubicle wall. Does Holy Cross or St. Vladimir’s or Biola or Franciscan of Steubenville publish similar lists and get them into the hands of reporters?
And everyone knows that Elaine Pagel’s agent is Royce Carlton. Royce Carlton makes money by getting bookings for their clients. They need to keep their client in the public eye and make sure that she is available to reporters covering any story related to any of her books or speaking topics. Does anyone know who Archbishop Dmitiri’s agent is? Or who is Harold O.J. Brown’s agent? Or who is Scott Hahn’s agent? How would a reporter reach these people? Does the average reporter know that these people, who would offer a different view than that of Pagels, even exist? I doubt it. The economic incentive to get their names out is not as great as it is for Pagels.
We reporters have our go-to sources. And we love it when a good public relations firm helps us locate folks who can speak coherently and competently, particularly when we’re approaching a deadline. But, as we saw, there are pitfalls with this. A wide variety of sources, especially for complex religious topics, helps reporters avoid embarrassing themselves like many of them did in promoting National Geographic‘s magazine sales and television show.