News travels fast. Sometimes.
Back in 1999, The Associated Press reported on Bible Belt states battling the highest divorce rates in the nation.
As religion editor of The Oklahoman nearly a decade ago, I wrote a series of stories on Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating’s effort to reduce the state’s No. 2-in-the-nation divorce rate (I reflected on that series in a GetReligion post earlier this year).
Enter CNN with breaking news this week — in the year 2011:
(CNN) – While the Bible Belt is known for its devotion to traditional values, Southerners don’t do so well on one key family value: They are more likely to get divorced than people living in the Northeast.
Southern men and women had higher rates of divorce in 2009 than their counterparts in other parts of the country: 10.2 per 1,000 for men and 11.1 per 1,000 for women, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.
By comparison, men and women in the Northeast had the lowest rates of divorce, 7.2 and 7.5 per 1,000, which is also lower than the national divorce rate of 9.2 for men and 9.7 for women.
“In the South, there are higher rates of marriage and higher rates of divorce for men and women,” said Diana Elliott, a family demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau and co-author of the new report. “In the Northeast, you have people who are delaying first marriages, and consequently there are lower rates of marriage and lower rates of divorce.”
Keep reading, and CNN quotes a variety of experts. However, for a story about the Bible Belt, there’s a glaring absence of religious voices in the story, except for one Georgia author and minister. There’s no mention of the resolution passed by the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in 2010 on “The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce.” (By the way, ReligionLink provided a nice primer this month for Godbeat reporters covering marriage and divorce. And a Wall Street Journal column this week provided an enlightening take on how the media frame bad news and religion.)
But four of the lamest paragraphs ever written by a major news organization tell you all you need to know about the level of reporting in this CNN piece:
A divorced mother of two who grew up in Virginia and is now living in the Atlanta area, Lynn (not her real name) said she knows why her eight-year marriage failed. She and her ex-husband got married after a whirlwind three-month courtship, and she now knows, “You really don’t know somebody after three months.”
She didn’t have a college degree when she got married, although she did eventually graduate from college and is now a teacher.
Lynn said she can see some reasons that Southerners divorce at higher rates than the nation as a whole.
“Where I grew up in Virginia, I saw some of my peers not finishing high school, some not going to college and some not finishing college,” she said. “I saw a lot of people just staying in my hometown, staying in dead-end jobs, just settling, taking very little risk-taking for their careers.”
Did CNN really just grant anonymity to a source to allow her to share the shocking news that she married too soon and it didn’t work out? I used a pseudonym like that in a high school cheating story one time, but my excuse is that I was writing for the high school newspaper at the time.
Are there no divorced mothers of two willing to go on the record in Atlanta? It’s been a few years since I visited the CNN Center, but I bet CNN could send an intern down to the mall food court and find at least one divorcee — or 50 — willing to speak on the record and use her real name in a story such as this.
If the goal is producing actual journalism, quoting a named source would be a step in the right direction.