So it’s after 6 p.m. and as far as I can tell, most of us are still here. [Insert joke about how funny that is.]
That’s what you are most likely going to hear from reporters across the country tonight and tomorrow as they (hopefully) wrap up their coverage on Harold Camping’s prediction that the rapture was supposed to occur today. Then again, there’s still supposedly the end of the world on October 21. I hope that time around, reporters can ignore round two, but we’ll see.
Then again, it was a story that was really hard to ignore for most religion reporters. A quick scan of CNN, USA Today, the New York Times and other news sites suggest that the judgment day stories have landed on the most-read, most-e-mailed and most-blogged lists. I was initially confused why it was getting so much attention, since Camping has predicted wrong before, his following isn’t terribly significant and most people (including other Christians) dismiss his ideas.
But it’s easy to see how seductive the topic is as people have been searching and commenting on it all week long. People are apparently searching for more information about it because keywords like Harold Camping, rapture and May 21 have been on Google trends all week long. I thought Wisconsin was out of the loop, but on our 45-minute drive back from a disc golfing trip yesterday, we drove past two judgment day billboards.
It will be interesting to see how Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism breaks down this week’s coverage because it’s been such a hot item. If Osama bin Laden had been killed this week, media outlets would likely spend much less time on it and most people would not be searching for more info. But the media and people’s attention spans work in mysterious ways. Maybe there is a little bit of chicken vs. egg going on here. Did the media create the interest in the May 21 buzz or is the media trying to jump on what people are already interested in?
It’s hard not get caught up in the cutesy stories, the little parties going on, the end of the world playlists, atheists who will take care of your pets, and how the town of Rapture, Indiana is handling it (as a Hoosier I couldn’t resist that one).
Over at USC, J. Terry Todd laments the coverage lacking historical context and analysis.
Almost all of it, of course, was marked by a whiff of superiority and a tone of condescension, intended to put distance between “us” (the rational public) and “them” (the purveyors of prophecy belief and their gullible consumers).
…True, Camping is ripe for ridicule: His low-hanging jowls, wrinkled face, muddled voice and (worse?) badly-designed website embody an elderly, outmoded expression of Christian faith, out of place in our sleekly sophisticated digital world.
Some reporters are just getting sloppy as they don’t recognize the difference between the rapture and the end of the world prediction. You can tell that they are not actually reading what was said, glossing over the basics. Take this comment from Joel from Mollie’s thread yesterday.
I know it’s tangential to the “branding” discussion, but I did a double-take at this AFP story yesterday:
The tongue-in-cheek post makes no reference to fervent allegations by some preachers that the world will end on Saturday May 21.
Some preachers? Has anyone other than Camping alleged that the Rapture is tomorrow? (And let’s not even get into the difference between the Rapture and the actual end of the world.)
Underneath all the snark and sarcasm, maybe some people do want to talk about ideas of the afterlife, heaven, hell, judgment day, etc. These are not new ideas, by any means, but they remain hot. I’ll be curious to see if reporters do follow-up stories with the families that put their faith in Camping’s teachings.
It would be interesting to hear from some religion reporters about dealing with the rapture coverage. Did you feel pressure to cover the story? Did you struggle to find local angles?
And from our observers, did you think the coverage was overblown or fair? Are there elements each story should contain? Anyone looking forward to 2012 for the Mayan predictions?
Do let us know if you find particularly interesting coverage.