One of these things is not like the other

bo_running_blogJournalism can cause some strange pairings simply because two things happen on the same day. World Series games and natural disasters, for example. Often that means that two disparate events end up in the same newspaper, but that doesn’t mean they should be in the same story.

I couldn’t quite figure out why The New York Times chose to put together the First Family’s dog and the First Family’s church. But here is how the Times covered the weekend’s developments:

WASHINGTON – For the first time since settling into the White House, the Obama family attended church services in Washington on Sunday, but their closely watched search for a spiritual home was overshadowed by news that a longer quest — for a dog — had ended.

To my mind as a religion writer, the comparison belittles the church search. Although I can imagine a dog enthusiast having just the opposite reaction. How can you compare the two? Perhaps it’s better not to. Most news outlets recognized the principle of the separation of church and canine and reported them accordingly.

Maybe the Times is still smarting from getting beaten on the dog story. As it noted Monday:

The Washington Post, in a front-page article on Sunday, reported the decision.

The line was in some ways a parody of the Times obsessive practice of attribution. But perhaps it was also a dig at the Post‘s news judgment. Was the story of Bo the Portuguese water dog really a Page One story?

Let’s see how the Times and the Post play it when the First Family finally picks a church. And I can only wonder if Bo will be in the story.

Photo: White House press office.

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  • Ted Olsen

    And then there was Slate’s “The Obama Puppy … He Is Risen!” headline.

  • Jerry

    The whole media circus around Bo shows in very clear detail how the media deals with stories. I heard some discussion about whether or not Bo met Obama’s promise to look for a shelter dog or not taking into account that he was returned from the first home for some unnamed reason. And on and on.

    And, how pray tell did the Times know that the search for a dog took longer than their search for a church? For all I know, they could have been thinking about a church for longer than the dog.

  • hoosier

    The comparison is completely legitimate if you commodify news, which I think the Times was doing here. The story essentially says that there are two hunks o’ news out there, dog search and church search, and that the dog search hunk o’ news is bigger than the church search hunk o’ news. Now, some verification of this assertion would be helpful, such as number of stories reporting each, or number of times each was emailed, or something. But I think asserting that news can be commodified is hardly controversial; we’ve been commodifying labor since the beginning of the industrial revolution, why not news?

    You seem to be asserting a normative judgment that it is unseemly or wrong to commodify news, but I can’t think of why. News, in our society, exists to sell ads (mostly), whether that news is about Brittny Spears, the Obama’s dog, or the Somali pirates; maybe if papers paid a little more attention to news as a commodity, they wouldn’t be going out of business.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Yawn. Slow news day, kids?

  • Jerry

    A followup: if they had waited a while they could have had a trifecta of stories since President Obama said this about the economy today:

    There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men.The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when “… the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house … it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

    We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand.

    In a later part of that speech, it’s clear he also understands how the media currently works:

    There is also an impatience that characterizes this town — an attention span that has only grown shorter with the twenty-four news cycle, and insists on instant gratification in the form of instant results or higher poll numbers. When a crisis hits, there’s all too often a lurch from shock to trance, with everyone responding to the tempest of the moment until the furor has died away and the media coverage has moved on

  • cheryl

    I speculate that the arrival of the First Dog on Easter was timed perfectly from a PR standpoint. The Obamas know that people have been watching and waiting for a decision about where they will worship in Washington. People have also been watching and waiting, with even more fevered anticipation, for the arrival of The Puppy.

    The announcement about the dog (the perfect Easter gift!) was sure to overshadow any attention devoted to where the Obamas went to church on Easter Sunday (they knew they had an obligation to take the girls to church on Easter or face criticism, and the “church of the presidents” was a safe choice.) It was probably also considered a good idea to trot out the dog on a slow news day.

    I predict the Obamas will revert to “seeker mode” regarding the church because IMHO it’s just not a priority for them as a family. It was a priority when Obama was clawing his way up in Chicago ward politics, but no longer necessary.

    So while the NYT story linking the church choice and the dog choice was odd, it’s possible there was a method to the madness as far as the WH was concerned.