Harold Camping, Round 2

Remember Harold Camping, the man who predicted that many would be raptured on May 21? Camping (who has wrongly predicted these kinds of events before), set a prediction for the end of the world for October 21.

Part of me fears that just by writing on this, I’m reminding reporters of an easy story to pursue this week, since there is a clear date to pounce on. Harold Camping stories are kind of made for the media. The question is whether any reporters will find truly new and compelling angles.

After we saw round one of Harold Camping, I told a religion reporter to cross off any events on her calendar this week. “You might as well plan to be stuck at your computer and on the phone that October week because you know it’s going to be Harold Camping all over again,” I said. But who knows? Perhaps something else will happen this week that will keep reporters busy?

Besides, people are less likely to consider Camping’s claims this time around because he was wrong earlier this year. Many of the May reports ignored the May 21/October 21 delineation, simply suggesting that May 21 was the end of the world. It was a silly story that didn’t need fact checking, apparently.

For religion reporters, stories of people predicting a rapture or the end of the world is kind of old news. New York magazine offers a lengthy feature recapturing the hysteria, including how the media has covered the May prediction.

Over the course of years of herculean effort, Camping and his listeners had spread his—and His—word far and wide: $100 million raised to finance 5,000 billboards across the U.S. and 30 countries; millions of copies of free books and pamphlets distributed; 24-hour Bible instruction translated into 75 languages, available to millions via Family Radio’s network of radio stations and its website. Added to this, the extraordinary media attention: from the New York Times to the BBC to Al-Jazeera to the Kenya Daily Nation. Every day as May 21 approached, hundreds of stories ran in media outlets around the world—an informational saturation “only God could have orchestrated,” as Camping noted.

Author Dan P. Lee notes that the lead-up to May 21 was one of the most successful worldwide media campaigns in recent history, but media outlets have paid less attention this time, at least so far.

Despite a world now days away from annihilation, the media has largely ignored Camping’s October 21 prediction. There is none of the joking and condescension, the gleeful alarm, the attempts to tie loose strands of human despair into a story of Camping-induced hysteria.

People love talking about heaven, hell, end-of-the-world issues and Harold Camping offers reporters an individual with some sort of identifiable following. One of my theories for why the initial story did well in May was because it came on a weekend, when people could have parties and talk about it on Facebook on a Saturday. If it was predicted for a Tuesday, people probably would have been thinking and talking about lots of other things. Also, we probably wouldn’t have seen the same level of interest if it had fallen on the same weekend as Kate Middleton’s wedding or Hurricane Irene. Timing is everything.

It’s worth considering whether covering Camping lends a level of legitimacy when most Christians believe something along the lines of “no one knows the hour” for Jesus’ return. It’s nice to see a religion story thrive on the web, but it’s unfortunate when it devolves into jest and puns.

Perhaps there is room for a few follow-up stories, especially talking with people who gave time and money to Camping’s theories. I’m also curious to see what kind of money is being poured into a campaign, if there is one that is comparable to the one in May. Part of me wishes the media would agree to let just a few outlets pursue the story and agree not to pursue a herd mentality.

Will we see the same level of coverage that we did last time? Let’s hope not.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • http://!)! Passing By

    Nah! Too much important stuff to cover this time.

    Look on the bright side, Dakk – no arthritis or Depends.

  • Jan

    “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him”
    (Deuteronomy 18:22).
    Dakk, he has predicted the end of the world twice before and it didn’t happen. Put your trust in God no matter what happens….you’ll be in good hands.

  • Daniel
  • http://burrowingowls.info Burrowing Owls

    You may enjoy this video we made about Harold Camping and the merger of politics and religion in the US:


  • YoMamma

    Mr. Camping knows neither scripture nor prophecy. He is best ignored, because he is wrong. Again. Still. Move on to more important and relevant news and save yourselves time and energy reporting on a non-event. He’s just looking for attention. Don’t give it to him. Please.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    We’re here to discuss journalism, not your feelings about Harold Camping. I’ve spiked a few comments that went off track. Thanks.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    You know, I skimmed most of that New York Mag article and never did get any sense of the joy and hope that is the Christian expectation at the coming of the Lord – the bride going to meet her bridegroom – the wedding feast of the Lamb – the New Heavens and the New Earth – all wrongs righted and all tears wiped away. The stories (and I know I haven’t read them all) seem to focus on THE END OF THE WORLD (cue: scary organ music) and not an event that might be, you know, comforting in the midst of this life’s pains.

    … so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

    The story starts with the quote, but never seems to fit it into the narrative. But like I say, I only skimmed and that only to page 5.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Passing By, I’m having a hard time figuring out what that would look like within an objective journalists’ lens. How would you write about that for a broad audience that doesn’t necessarily hold those views?

  • Passing By

    Why would it be a problem to inform people of views they don’t share?

    I recognize that Camping is possessed of, shall we say, idiosyncratic views, but why he so interested in the this particular topic? I’m not talking about advocacy, but if you are going to talk about eschatology and Christianity, can’t it be a little more sophisticated than ”the end of the world”?

  • Passing By

    I’m saying that if you are going to quote Thessalonians, then you should explain why it’s comforting, at least to some people.

  • Mike O.

    I must say, I greatly enjoyed the media coverage around May 21st. While we’re simply not going anything close to that for October 21st (largely because Family Radio and its followers aren’t out and about like in May 21st) I’m still eager to see the articles this week.

  • http://www.FreethoughtDay.org David

    For those who don’t think that the world will end on Oct 21, Sacramento is throwing a huge party.

    We invite freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and people of all religions to join us for Freethought Day on October 23rd.

    We’ll have some great speakers like Dan Barker and Michael Newdow, plus live entertainment including the Phenomenauts and comedian Keith Jensen.

    Best of all… it’s free! Learn more and register online (free) at http://www.FreethoughtDay.org.

  • tim

    the san francisco chronicle has what i found to be a concise, nonjudgmental story about what Camping is saying now. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/20/BASV1LJD1N.DTL