The Joplin twister, God and CNN

Let’s conduct a little journalistic experiment here at GetReligion.

First, watch the embedded video from CNN on a father’s vigil for his injured son. Then, read the story below the video on the CNN Belief Blog.

(Take all the time you need. I’ll be here when you get done.)

OK, finished watching and reading? Did you notice any difference between the two reports? The difference between night and day maybe?

The video report, by veteran CNN correspondent Brian Todd, contains powerful visual images of a boy in a medically induced coma and the father planted by his bedside. What the report, nearly three minutes long, lacks is any mention of the family’s faith. There’s absolutely no reference to God or prayer or the reason for the father’s hope. The piece is haunted by the kind of holy ghosts that inspired this weblog’s creation.

Then there’s the written report, with a double byline for Eric Marrapodi and Todd. Marrapodi, as you may recall, is a religion-beat specialist at CNN. Think Godbeat pros don’t make a difference on a story like this? Think again.

Here’s the headline on the story:

From tornado to hospital, prayer sustains Missouri family

See what just happened? We went from a generic “vigil” on the video to a religious family praying.

The top of the story:

Joplin, Missouri (CNN) – It’s quiet here. The only sound in the hospital room is the steady hum of a ventilator pushing air into Lage Grigsby’s lungs. It’s a stark contrast to the haunting noise of Sunday’s Joplin tornado, which put him here.

Lage’s father, James Grigsby, sits by his 14-year-old son’s bedside anxiously keeping vigil, praying and hoping his boy will pull through OK. Lage is in a medically induced coma.

There’s that P-word again (praying) way up high.

Keep reading, and we hear from the boy’s grandmother about what happened in the Home Depot parking lot that day:

They watched as orange shopping carts took flight.

“I turned around and pushed my grandkids down to the floorboard,” she said. “I kept telling them, ‘We need to pray. God’s going to take care of us.’ ”

The windows in the truck shattered, sending glass flying into Lillard’s back. She bit her tongue; she didn’t want to scare her grandchildren.

“Then all of a sudden we felt the truck go in the air.”

“All I kept saying was ‘God protect us,’” Lillard said. “Because that’s all we had was God to protect us. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

There’s another Godbeat word — used three times, by my count. “The Lord” makes an appearance in a quote later in the story.

The written report ends this way:

Through the pain and anxiety, Grigsby said his faith remains firm. The family regularly attends the Church of Christ in Neosho.

“We’re a very Christian-bound family,” Grigsby said. Lage, who has four siblings, is active in the Royal Rangers, a Christian version of the Boy Scouts.

“The hard part about this is I know God’s hand has been in this and works through this,” Grigsby said. “He is here and is at least with us at this point.”

Grigsby says he praying for his neighbors, too.

“I know there’s probably people out there who are going to be disheartened by this– I got to keep my son and they may not have,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

Now, except for referring to the Church of Christ in Neosho — where there are at least three Churches of Christ — that’s powerful stuff. The last quote is used in the video, but the part about faith, “Christian-bound family” and God is totally absent.

It makes me curious: Did the generalist go do one interview and then the Godbeat pro go do another one? Or did the two reporters produce vastly different accounts of the same interview? Am I missing something here? Is there a reason for one report to ignore the religion angle entirely?

Anyway, I’ll pose my original questions again: Did you notice any difference between the two reports? The difference between night and day maybe?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Daniel

    My suspicion is that a vocal minority of any TV audience may object to seeing images of praying people. Producers might suspect it could be good business to avoid these images. This raises the question whether the result of concealing one fact may be equal to the effect of overemphasizing one or two other facts. If producers hold these suspicions, they may communicate them to reporters. I’m sure that sometimes reporters are given a comparatively free hand.

  • mer

    To give them the benefit of the doubt (and assume them a little ignorant rather than purposeful), I would guess that to a secular media, a bedside vigil and prayer beside a bed wouldn’t actually be different in kind. I believe they are different in kind, but to those for whom prayer isn’t well understood, it seems very like a well-intentioned vigil.

  • sallyr

    Interesting contrast between the two stories. But why would anyone object to a father praying next to his gravely injured son? That seems like such a natural thing to do. Even if you somehow object to religion, or find it repellent, who would begrudge a father this little comfort? Perhaps it seemed too preachy?

    Also noticed that Anderson Cooper a couple of nights ago rather sheepishly asked viewers “if you are so inclined and believe in it” to pray for the people of Joplin. I think more often news anchors will say – “we’re sending our thoughts and prayers” rather than straight out asking for prayer.

  • sharon d.

    I didn’t see a problem with “attends the Church of Christ in Neosho.” I read that as “attends the Church of Christ (in Neosho)”–that is, “is a member of this denomination, and his church is in Neosho.” You apparently read it as “attends Neosho’s Church of Christ,” which indeed would imply there was only one congregation of that denomination there. But I found the former reading more natural.

  • http://jochopra.blogspot.com/ jo Chopra

    Quite a stark difference. What I find really interesting is how much more eloquent the references to faith and prayer are than the stuff about playing on the computer or using the x-box. Why on earth would they prefer that sort of banality to a profound comment like: “Because that’s all we had was God to protect us. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

    Bad editing, bad choices. Feels like the pure wisdom of two common believers was rolled up in a McDonald’s box and served with fries.


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