Any, um, Baptists in Alabama?

Pretend for a moment that you’re a New York Times reporter. You’re going to do a story on churches’ reaction to a tough new immigration law in Alabama.

What church groups might you include as part of your reporting?

You may recall a story earlier this year in which The Associated Press suggested that “you can spot a Baptist church from almost any hilltop in Alabama.” Hmmmm, that almost makes me think there might be a few Baptists in Alabama.

But for a Times story over the weekend headlined “Bishops Criticize Tough Alabama Immigration Law,” the reporter apparently did not stand on any hilltops or come across any Baptist churches.

Up high, the story summarizes opposition to the law:

Thousands of protesters have marched. Anxious farmers and contractors have personally confronted their lawmakers. The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have sued, and have been backed by a list of groups including teachers’ unions and 16 foreign countries. Several county sheriffs, who will have to enforce parts of the new law, have filed affidavits supporting the legal challenges.

On Aug. 1, the Justice Department joined the fray, contending, as in a similar suit in Arizona, that the state law pre-empts federal authority to administer and enforce immigration laws.

And on that same day, three bishops sued.

An Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop, all based in Alabama, sued on the basis that the new statute violated their right to free exercise of religion, arguing that it would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”

“The law,” said Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, “attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church.”

Later, there’s this:

To some church leaders — who say they will not be able to give people rides, invite them to worship services or perform marriages and baptisms — the law essentially criminalizes basic parts of Christian ministry.

And this:

The politics of this are unusual, with those opposed to the law, mostly coming from the left, arguing that the statute falls short of biblical principles, and the law’s supporters, mostly from the right, arguing that secular laws and biblical law cannot always run on the same track.

And the politics are thorny for ministers, who acknowledge that the immigration law is broadly popular. Congregations are not in lock step behind their leaders.

The story feels a bit too one-sided in its portrayal of the thoughtful religious opponents vs. the seemingly non-religious politicians (although a Methodist lawmaker who supported the law is quoted).

But search the story for these two words — Southern Baptist — and you’ll come up with no matches at all. In fact, the only reference to Baptists at all is this one line:

Bob Terry, the president of The Alabama Baptist newspaper, wrote in a column that the state was trying to dictate Christian ministry.

Why does that omission strike me as strange? For one thing, the governor who pushed for the law’s passage is a Southern Baptist deacon and Sunday school teacher. Is that fact not relevant in a story such as this?

For another thing, Alabama has roughly four times as many Southern Baptists as United Methodists, eight times as many Southern Baptists as Roman Catholics and 30 times as many Southern Baptists as Episcopalians. Would it not make sense to at least mention Southern Baptists in a story on churches responding to this new law? Of course, Southern Baptists aren’t the only Baptists in Alabama.

But including Southern Baptists in the story would have given the Times piece credibility and probably not hurt its story’s thesis, based on a mid-July report by the AP. From the earlier AP story:

The state’s largest denomination, the Alabama Baptist Convention, hasn’t taken a position publicly and likely won’t since it doesn’t speak for individual churches.

“I am concerned about the language concerning giving a ride in an automobile to an illegal immigrant or allowing children of illegal immigrant parents to ride on a church bus to Sunday school, vacation Bible school, or church camp,” said convention president Mike Shaw, pastor of a church in suburban Birmingham, in a statement.

“Should we ignore people who are injured or have broken down on the side of a busy interstate highway and have small children in sweltering heat with no family or friends to help them?”

Seriously, would the Times do this same kind of report in Utah and neglect to include Mormons?

Perry’s evangelical appeal

Republicans had a big weekend between the Iowa Straw Poll and the announcement from Texas Gov. Rick Perry that he’s running for President. Rep. Michele Bachman won Iowa, making her the first female to achieve that feat. But what about fellow evangelical Perry?

Perry is a long-time governor of a large state, but the Washington, D.C.-centric political media is only beginning to cover him. Most of the religion coverage thus far has been around the prayer event Perry hosted last week where evangelicals gathered to pray for the country.

CNN’s Dan Gilgoff had a fresher angle with his story about Perry entering the race:

Evangelical pastor Jim Garlow has met Texas Gov. Rick Perry only once, but the politician left quite an impression.

Garlow, who is based in California, where he helped lead the campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the state, was attending a big prayer rally that Perry sponsored last weekend in Houston when he and his wife were invited backstage with the governor.

“My wife has stage 4 cancer, and Perry ended up talking with her quite a bit and praying for her and her healing,” Garlow said. “We spent a fair amount of time backstage.”

Though Garlow notes that the meeting was personal, not political, he is hardly the only conservative evangelical leader who has begun forming a relationship with Perry in recent days.

The story focuses on relationships. We’re told that Perry and his circle have systematically reached out to religious leaders. Religious leaders have also reached out to him, underwhelmed by the current options:

Kelly Shackelford, a Texas-based evangelical activist who has been close to Perry for 20 years, says he has fielded roughly 100 phone calls in recent weeks from Christian activists across the country who are eager to learn more about Perry.

“People are calling and asking, ‘Is this guy really a social conservative and a fiscal conservative?’ and it’s easy to say yes because I’ve seen it,” said Shackelford, who runs a conservative legal advocacy group called the Liberty Institute. “As far as proving himself, he’s been the most solid conservative I’ve seen anywhere in the country.”

The article gives specific information about why Christian conservatives might support Perry, including pro-life legislation he’s signed as governor.

The article explains why some activists are supporting Perry for pragmatic reasons. It’s not that they think he’s particularly better on the issues than certain other candidates so much that he’s got broader appeal to voters who aren’t motivated by social issues.

Here’s how the Romney issue is handled:

Romney, the current establishment favorite, is unpopular among many conservative Christian activists because of his onetime support for abortion rights and because of a health care law he signed as governor of Massachusetts that mandates coverage.

And Romney, a Mormon, faces obstacles in connecting with evangelical voters along religious lines, as Perry, Pawlenty and Bachmann appear to be doing.

Too often reporters boil down the above complaints into “anti-Mormon bias” which omits the social and economic concerns. And while I’m sure there is anti-Mormon bias among some voters, that is much more difficult to substantiate than the simple “failure to connect,” which seems a more accurate way to put it.

In any case, this report was thorough, explanatory and a nice introduction to the relationship between Perry and evangelicals.

Image via Wikipedia.

Can’t Armenians and Azerbaijanis just get along?

The Washington Post published a news feature the other day about the stunningly complicated and delicate post-Soviet-era standoff in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, which pits Armenians against Azerbaijanis. On top of the story, of course, is a feature photograph — the first in a series.

If you have ever seen a news feature about Eastern Orthodoxy you have probably seen this photo. It shows worshipers (represented, perhaps, by one or two symbolic hands in the frame) gathered around one of the sandboxes kept near the doors of Orthodox sanctuaries, which are there to safely hold those lovely golden beeswax candles that the faithful light as they make prayers for loved ones, for those who have died, as a sign of thanksgiving, out of concerns about difficulties in life, etc., etc.

For copyright reasons, I cannot show you the photo — but click here to go see it.

When I first started reading this long piece, I got hung up on the cutline that was underneath this photo. The photo, once again, showed people in prayer and worship — perhaps even people praying about those lost in the years of bloodshed in this troubled region.

The cutline, however, stated:

Peace remains elusive as Armenians and Azerbaijanis, unleashed from Soviet control 20 years ago, keep each other in the gunsights.

I sensed a bit of a disconnect there.

Thus, as I read the story, I wondered if the Post team (backed by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting) was ever going to get around to the religious issues that are at the emotional heart of the conflict. Meanwhile, the story starts like this:

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh – This is where the first war set off by the Soviet collapse took place. And it may be where the next one breaks out.

Twenty years ago, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, unleashed from Soviet control, waged a bitter struggle for this mountainous region in the South Caucasus. A cease-fire was reached in 1994, after about 30,000 people had been killed, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh outside Azerbaijan’s control, as an unrecognized, de facto republic in the hands of ethnic Armenians.

Since then, no one on either side has had the will to hammer out a settlement. Tension has been put to use by those in power — in Azerbaijan, in Armenia proper and here in separatist Nagorno-Karabakh. Democracy, human rights, an unfettered press, a genuine opposition — these are the sorts of things that get put aside in times of crisis. And here, the crisis has been going on for two decades and shows little sign of letting up.

This is one of those stories that mixes politics, ethnicity, centuries of complications and, of course, religion into one complex picture. However, mainstream journalists often seem reluctant to deal with the role of religion in these stories — even if that is one of the first things that people on the ground at the scene will talk about.

Roughly halfway into this report, readers finally hear one of those caught up in the conflict say: “We will live and prove to the world that Karabakh is the heart of the Armenian nation and the spirit of the Armenian nation. The land on which we live has become sacred from the blood of our martyrs.”

You see, the Armenians tend to use words such as “sacred” and “martyrs” in a religious context (and they have had to do this a lot). A few lines later, another Armenian voice calls Karabakh “holy.”

Finally, a few more paragraphs later, readers get a glimpse of the religious history involved in all of this:

The Armenian kingdom was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301, and Azerbaijanis are Muslims, though both sides like to play down the religious divide. (Iran favors Armenia, for one thing.) Yet Armenians marked their tanks with white crosses. And at the mountaintop Gandzasar Monastery, where the St. John the Baptist Cathedral was consecrated in 1240, there is a regular liturgy for the “martyrs” of the war.

“The strongest thing that keeps us here is our faith,” Prime Minister Ara Harutyunyan said. Then, using the Armenian name for Karabakh — Artsakh — he invoked a prophet who is a major figure in both Christianity and Islam. “In Artsakh, we have 70,000 Abrahams. We fully realize our children can become sacrifices any day. But we still live here, still give birth to children. And we think this is the main guarantee of our security.”

There’s a lot more to the story, including some strong language about the role of corruption in Armenian politics (and among the Azerbaijanis, perhaps?). In the background loom other nations that could get involved — such as Turkey and Russia. Religion is woven into those connections, too.

Everyone agrees that there might be another war. That would be bad. Children and farm workers are still being killed by mines from the most recent conflict in a region that has seen more than its share of conflict.

Religion seems to have a little bit to do with it. But clearly the main problems are political. Between the lines, the message seems to be this: If only the combatants were not so emotional about all of this — with their talk of “sacred” ground and “martyrs.”

I finished the story and read it again. Twice. I still do not know what it was all about.

But religion does seem to play a small role in the region. Just a little role, like at the beginning and then at the end of almost everything that happens in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. Oh, and in the middle, too.

IMAGE: St. John the Baptist Orthodox Cathedral at Gandzasar Monastery.

B-level story on ‘Christian A-team’

Right off the bat, can I make a confession?

I’ve read a 3,500-word New York Magazine piece on King’s College’s new president at least three times, and each reading leaves me more confused.

I’m exaggerating a bit, but this is one of those rambling pieces of, um, journalism where you never really know where you’re going or what the point is. It’s almost as if the writer assembled a bunch of facts and anecdotes, dumped them in a blender and created a messy concoction that tastes pretty darn nasty.

At the beginning, this much seems clear: In the basement of the Empire State Building, something wacky — and decidedly right-wing — is going on:

Dinesh D’Souza, the new president of the city’s only Evangelical college, wants to build a “Christian A-team.” But can the man who says Obama supports radical Muslims persuade students to follow him?

The top of the story:

Each spring, the King’s College, a Christian school occupying two floors in the Empire State Building, hosts a series of lectures and debates on a single theme. This year’s theme is villainy. In a windowless basement room, Dinesh D’Souza, the college’s newly installed president, is delivering his remarks to a student camera crew, two potential donors, and about 30 undergraduates. In keeping with the college’s dress code, the students wear business suits.

“I want to talk a little bit about what I call the unique villainy of Barack Obama,” D’Souza, 50, says with a grin. “In my view, it’s the villainy of nondisclosure.” Obama campaigned as a standard liberal, D’Souza says, but actually is a vehement anti-colonialist. “For Obama, the radical Muslims are on the right side of history—that’s why he is so unnaturally solicitous toward them.”

This theory, D’Souza’s idiosyncratic twist on birtherism, forms the core of his 2010 book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, which was, like many of D’Souza’s books, both a New York Times best seller and a piñata for critics of all political stripes. Even the conservative Weekly Standard lamented the book’s “misstatements of fact, leaps in logic, and pointlessly elaborate argumentation.”

An austere young man asks, “Doesn’t the villainy of deception sort of pale in comparison to Obama’s moral villainies, such as supporting the abortion agenda or even the redistribution of wealth, stealing from the rich to give to the poor?”

The next paragraph provides an indication that internal support of the new president may not be 100 percent:

“In a sense, yes,” D’Souza concedes, and later says, “Frankly, I don’t think Obama cares that much about the poor. What he cares about is bringing down the people at the top … In my opinion, Obama’s animating energies are negative.” By now the two potential donors have left the room looking ashen. Chris Ross, an employee of the college who is “facilitating” my visit by never leaving my side, winces slightly every time I write something down. As he escorts me out of the building, he says, “Remember that President D’Souza speaks for himself, not for the school.”

Left the room looking ashen. In a perfect world, a journalist would provide a bit more concrete information than that. Did the writer attempt to interview the potential donors? Did they voice any concerns on the record?

“Remember that President D’Souza speaks for himself, not for the school.” Seriously? In what world does a college president not speak for the school? That little nugget right there seems to be the newsworthy peg for this story, a delicious angle that could be explored and developed. But keep reading, and the piece only scratches at the surface of that highly relevant question, instead zigging and zagging all over the place in a scatterbrained profile of the college and its new president.

Strangely enough, the report capitalizes evangelical in the few references to it. Meanwhile, the writer all but ignores D’Souza’s Catholic background — the subject of a 2,700-word Christianity Today report when he was hired last year. While CT referred to D’Souza as “widely identified as a Roman Catholic,” this is how New York Magazine handles his religious affiliation:

Born Catholic in Mumbai, D’Souza was brought to Evangelicalism by his wife, Dixie, whom he met when he was Reagan’s youngest policy analyst and she was a White House intern.

Nearly 3,000 words (3,000 WORDS!) into the story, a hint of some student disfavor with D’Souza finally emerges:

I offer to treat them to a meal at a Lower East Side bistro. At the restaurant, they squint at the menu by candlelight and ask for a crash course in French culinary vocabulary. When I ask them to describe their teachers and classmates, each uses the phrase “the smartest people I’ve ever met.” But when talk turns to D’Souza, their enthusiasm seems to dim. “I think he has some … interesting ideas,” Smith stammers.

If the board of trustees hoped a marquee conservative would help with fund-raising, their gamble could still pay off. Yet signs suggest that the King’s community may find D’Souza more divisive than galvanizing. Some King’s professors are considering resignation next fall rather than pledging allegiance to their new president. “I mean, I’m a conservative,” one tells me. “I didn’t vote for Obama. But I don’t hate him.”

I’m still unclear what role politics actually plays at King’s College, whether anyone besides D’Souza wants to create an “A-team” of Christian power brokers, whether the college’s trustees regret D’Souza’s hiring or support his direction, what level of dissent has occurred, etc., etc., etc.

Seldom have 3,500 words conveyed so little real information.

Strange, strange, strange.

A submissive (or raging?) Bachmann

In case you missed the debate in Iowa last night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was asked if she would be submissive to her husband.

The question wasn’t completely out of left field, since Bachmann mentioned it at a gathering in 2006 when she said she initially hated her husband’s idea of studying a degree in tax law. “But the Lord said, be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husband,” she said. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York asked a question about wifely submission that was quickly booed by the audience.

It’s amusing that the egalitarian/complimentarian debates (whether husband and wife more equal in their roles or whether men play a larger role in leadership) are coming up in the presidential election; maybe tomorrow we’ll be asking them about their views on eschatology. For instance, if you watch this CNN clip, you’ll see the anchor grasping for another interpretations of Ephesians 5:24.

Although I didn’t see the question as sexist or completely irrelevant since she did mention it in the past, I hope that her response (“what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, is respect”) settles it and we can move on from these kinds of questions to other issues.

The media sexism question came up earlier this week when we saw the Newsweek cover “The Queen of Rage,” which provided the art for this post. I’m not going to cry liberal media, but please do check out the previous covers of Sarah Palin and Newsweek head Tina Brown’s string of women on the covers (and you thought the Princess Diana cover was odd).

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post thinks Bachmann needs to get her image under control. “It’s as if someone is dangling a treat (or maybe it’s a line of Scripture) to get her to look at the camera the way a photographer tries to get a kid to focus on class picture day.” Yeah, get on that, guys. Brown defends the photo and Bachmann has mostly ignored it.

There really isn’t much to talk about the actual Newsweek profile from a GetReligion perspective, except that the magazine attempts to sell the issue with the religiously oriented deck “Michele Bachmann on God, the tea party, and the evils of government.” Sadly, the article hardly touches on her faith and we don’t learn anything new.

One of the funniest articles this week about Bachmann and faith came from the Los Angeles Times with the headline “Michele Bachmann woos Iowa Christians, attends anti-gay service.”

Handing more ammunition to detractors who say Rep. Michele Bachmann has an aggressive anti-gay agenda, the GOP presidential candidate attended a church service in Iowa on Sunday in which the pastor labeled homosexuality “immoral” and “unnatural.”

According to NBC News, Bachmann attended a non-denominational church near Des Moines along with her husband Marcus. She was holding her personal copy of the Bible.

A reader sent me this sarcastic message: “What business does a church have talking about what the Bible teaches about sexual ethics??” Are we really surprised by any of this or think it’s worth a news story? Also, there’s a slight distinction here that perhaps reporter James Oliphant should consider. The pastor said, “We inherently know that homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural.” He did not say the same about homosexuality. While these views may not be shared with the broader culture, they aren’t terribly unusual in this context.

Overall, while the media does need to do some scrutinizing and explaining of Bachmann’s beliefs and influences, we’re seeing some pretty embarrassing coverage so far of her faith and beliefs so far.

Goldman’s searing return to Crown Heights

Several years ago, the great religion-beat writer and scholar Ari Goldman briefly signed on the work here at GetReligion, before deciding that the daily deluge of email, criticism and comments was a bit too much for him.

But just because Goldman — best known for his work at the New York Times — didn’t warm up to blogging does not mean that he isn’t willing to take out a scalpel from time to time and doing some candid work on the state of mainstream news coverage on this beat. As you would imagine, he is brilliant at it.

Now Goldman has basically opened a vein and dipped his pen into some highly personal ink (to mix a metaphor), sharing his memories of one of the most controversial American religion stories of the late 20th century — the Crown Heights riots of Aug. 19, 1991. This has forced Goldman — a major figure in the history of Times coverage of religion — to focus his criticism, in large part, on an institution that he holds in high respect, the newspaper that he served so brilliantly.

The basic thrust of this article from The Jewish Week is simple and painful. The Times editors insisted on seeing the riots through the lens of race — only. The problem was that the editors failed to get the role that religion, and antisemitism in particular — played in this event. The bottom line? Can you say “moral equivalence”?

Goldman talks openly about his role in the newsroom and in the world of Orthodox Judaism, before getting into the basic facts that he witnessed with his own eyes and that he reported back to his newsroom, only to see them vanish.

Brace yourself:

My job was to file memos to the main “rewrite” reporters back in the Times office in Manhattan about what I saw and heard. We had no laptops or cellphones in those days so the other reporters and I went to payphones and dictated our memos to a waiting band of stenographers in the home office. The photographers handed their film off to couriers on motorcycles who took the film to the Times.

Yet, when I picked up the paper, the article I read was not the story I had reported. I saw headlines that described the riots in terms solely of race. “Two Deaths Ignite Racial Clash in Tense Brooklyn Neighborhood,” the Times headline said. And, worse, I read an opening paragraph, what journalists call a “lead,” that was simply untrue: “Hasidim and blacks clashed in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn through the day and into the night yesterday.”

In all my reporting during the riots I never saw — or heard of — any violence by Jews against blacks. But the Times was dedicated to this version of events: blacks and Jews clashing amid racial tensions. To show Jewish culpability in the riots, the paper even ran a picture — laughable even at the time — of a chasidic man brandishing an open umbrella before a police officer in riot gear. The caption read: “A police officer scuffling with a Hasidic man yesterday on President Street.”

Goldman cracked after witnessing demonstrators march past the Lubavitch headquarters chanting, “Heil Hitler. Death to the Jews.” Police watched as Jews started falling in a rain of bottles and rocks.

He ran to a pay telephone and called his news desk, his hands shaking. He screamed at his editors. Things changed a little bit in the Times coverage. A little bit.

However:

The one who first broke the frame and spoke the truth was the fearless poet of the New York newspaper business in those days, Jimmy Breslin, then a columnist for Newsday. He was one of numerous reporters, photographers and television journalists who were beaten or otherwise injured during the riots. In Breslin’s case, he was dragged from a taxi by a group of rampaging young men, pummeled and stripped of his clothes. …

The other person who spoke the truth was the brilliant former executive editor of the Times, A.M. Rosenthal, who by 1991 had become a columnist for the paper. Rosenthal was one of the first journalists at the Times to call the riots what they were. “Pogrom in Brooklyn,” was the headline of his column on Sept. 3, 1991, just two weeks after the riots ended. …

It pains me to recall that not many people at the Times took Rosenthal seriously at the time. He had gone from being the editor of a great “liberal” newspaper to being a “conservative” columnist who seemed to return to the same issues over and over again: the security of Israel, anti-Semitism, the persecution of Christians in China and the war on drugs.

But Rosenthal was right about Crown Heights.

But all means read it all. It will not be easy, but read it all.

Did religion play a role in 9/11?

The Associated Press has issued a style and reference guide for its reporters to follow when covering the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It covers the spelling, definitions and context for some of the terms that might be used when covering the anniversary. Many of the terms already appear in the AP Stylebook itself but it also includes some new ones, such as proper names that might be mentioned. This Reuters story lists out the information in the style guide.

Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab has a story on the style guide:

The guide is intriguing — not only as a useful tool for the many journalists who will be, in some way or another, writing about 9/11 over the next few weeks, but also as a hint at what a Stylebook can be when it’s thought of not just as a book, but as a resource more broadly. AP’s guide (official name: “Sept. 11 Style and Reference Guide”) is a kind of situational stylebook, an ad hoc amalgam of information that will be useful for a particular set of stories, within a particular span of time.

“I’m not aware of anything quite like this,” says David Minthorn, the AP’s deputy standards editor who oversees the cooperative’s Stylebook. The AP has distributed a list of terms for certain big, broadly covered events in the past — the Olympics, say; this is the first time, though, Minthorn told me in a phone call, that the AP has produced a reference guide quite this comprehensive tied to a specific news event.

But the event, he says, called for it. “This is a momentous occasion, a momentous anniversary,” Minthorn notes. Because of that, “we want to, particularly for our own staff, make sure everybody is conforming to certain spellings and definitions.”

And that uniformity includes information, as well. One of the most intriguing aspects of the style guide is that it’s not just a style guide: It emphasizes the facts of 9/11 as much as the manner in which those facts are be presented.

So how comprehensive is this comprehensive reference guide? How much does it emphasize the facts of 9/11?

Well, it depends on how much you think religion played a role in the events of that day, I guess. The terms Islam and Muslim don’t appear and neither do any terms related to those words.

Interesting.

I did learn something from the guide, 10 years out:

al-Qaida
Headed by Osama bin Laden until his death by U.S. forces in Pakistan in May 2011. Pronounced al-KY’-ee-duh.

al-KY’-ee-duh? ee? I thought it was al-KY-ay-duh.

Another reporter pointed out that there is no entry for terrorist. Don’t worry, there’s no entry for freedom fighter either and there is an entry for the hijackers.

Any other key entries, religious or otherwise, you might have liked to see?

Imitation flattery … or journalistic ripoff?

NPR featured a meaty, intriguing religion story this week on what might be considered old news but really is not.

The top of Godbeat pro Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s piece on evangelicals questioning the existence of Adam and Eve:

Let’s go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam’s rib.

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It’s a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”

That sounds like a relevant, newsworthy story, right?

Christianity Today certainly thought so.

The prominent evangelical magazine delved into the exact same topic in a June cover story by Richard N. Ostling, a former Associated Press colleague of mine who needs no introduction to most GetReligion readers. But to the chagrin of some GR readers who passed along the link, NPR paid no homage to Christianity Today in its report. One GR reader complained:

It’s really, really strange that almost every one of her sources was cited in CT’s story except for Al Mohler (and that’s an obvious source).

No one’s claiming plagiarism here. It’s obvious that NPR — even if the story idea came from CT — did its own reporting. The question is: When a media organization essentially duplicates another journalistic entity’s work, should the follow-up story at least mention the original report?

In the age of aggregation, it seems to me that reporters and editors today are much less reluctant than they used to be to cite sources, even if they happen to be other media. I’m torn on whether NPR should have cited Christianity Today, if in fact that’s where the story idea came from.

I’m Facebook friends with Ted Olsen, Christianity Today’s managing editor for news and online journalism. (By way of full disclosure, I regularly write freelance stories for Christianity Today.) Olsen linked to the NPR piece on his Facebook page this week and referenced two other recent CT cover stories:

I’m looking forward to NPR’s upcoming profile of Jim Daly and an in-depth look at what Americans really think about evangelicals.

I couldn’t help but chuckle. I e-mailed Olsen to see if he’d mind me quoting his comment here. He replied:

You can quote it, but I was joking. Look, the reality here is that there was no real need for Barbara to cite CT. We covered it, yes. We put it on our cover, yes. But we didn’t own the story, and we weren’t the story. World magazine had it on its cover recently, too. BioLogos and Al Mohler have been going around and round on their blogs for a while. And of course there all these new books on it. Am I mad that Barbara didn’t mention CT’s cover story? Not at all. It would have been nice, but we’re not the story. I only would have been mad if she (or World) had done the story earlier or better than we did.

I’d love to know what GR readers, and particularly Godbeat pros, think: When is a citation of another media source appropriate? When is it necessary?

Should NPR have given a nod to Christianity Today?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X