“Religious differences,” a knife and a TV report

Every now and then, a GetReligion reader sends us a link to a religion-deficient story produced by a local television station or even one of the national networks.

The print version of the story will be about four or five short paragraphs long and in most cases will lack basic facts. The 90-second video report posted on the website may or may not be any better, when it comes to the depth of the reporting. Most of these stories resemble this recent example of the genre, from my old stomping grounds in West Palm Beach, Fla. This is the whole story:

Police: Man killed brother because of religious differences

Brandin Gonsalves accused of fatally stabbing his brother at their apartment

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A West Palm Beach man accused of killing his brother said he did it because of their “differences in religious beliefs,” according to a police report.

Brandin Gonsalves was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of his brother, Gerard Gonsalves Jr., last week.

According to the West Palm Beach police report, Brandin Gonsalves confessed to detectives that he “ambushed” his brother after he stepped out of the shower at the home they shared in the Ponte Verde apartments. He then took a shower in another bathroom, changed clothes and stole his brother’s pickup truck, the report stated. Police later found the truck parked outside a convenience store in Broward County. Gonsalves was arrested three days later in Sweetwater.

An autopsy revealed that Gerard Gonsalves Jr. was stabbed at least 69 times.

Obviously, a GetReligion reader sent us this link because of the “religious differences” angle. The reader wanted an answer to the obvious question: What kind of “religious differences”? Was this a fatal argument over premillennial dispensationalism or the ordination of women? Were they arguing about whether or not Mormons are traditional Christians or whether President Barack Obama is or isn’t a Universalist Christian?

Well, if you watch the video version, it seems that if you want to blame anyone for the religious ghost in this story you really need to blame the local police. To me, it seems that the reporter is simply reading the language that was typed into the public-record police document.

However, this reader’s email raises a basic question for your GetReligionistas, one that The Divine Mrs. MZ and I were discussing just the other day. Here it is: What is this website supposed to be doing in terms of critiques of religion-news coverage on television, seeing as how (a) hardly any exists and (b) we would almost certainly be criticizing stressed-out reporters for failing to provide deep, detailed stories while working in a format that, 99 percent of the time, does not allow for deep, detailed stories?

Truth be told, isn’t it possible to criticize most television reports for their lack of depth? Frankly, I am amazed at how much information truly committed television journalists manage to jam through the small windows they are given.

So what’s my point? We really do need GetReligion readers to keep sending us URLs for this kind of news material — especially when the video reports are paired, CNN or MSNBC style, with substantial text products. At the same time, we need people to think twice before clicking “send.” Please let us know when TV reports do a great job. Please let us know when reports make errors on essential facts, the kinds of errors that warp the material. But if a story is simply shallow, then ask this question: Could I have done better with this topic in 60 seconds or so?

Meanwhile, here is the entire Associated Press report for that same faith-based stabbing in South Florida.

SWEETWATER, Fla. (AP) – Police in South Florida say they’ve arrested a man who stabbed his brother more than 65 times with a knife.

Sweetwater police say 23-year-old Brandin Anderson Gonsalves of West Palm Beach has been charged with first degree murder. Gonsalves is suspected of stabbing his older brother, Gerard Gonsalves, to death on July 10. He’s also accused of stealing his brother’s car.

A Sweetwater police officer saw Brandin Gonsalves standing suspiciously in the city’s business district on Thursday. The officer asked what he was doing there, since most of the businesses nearby were closed. Authorities say the suspect responded that he did not know.

Police say Brandin Gonsalves then told the officer he had killed his brother and that he was the one police were searching for.

Wow. Now I’m really depressed.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Martha

    I don’t know if we can really blame reporters (or even the police) for the lack of any facts here; if the man said, when charged, that he killed his brother over “religious differences” and declined to elaborate on that (before his lawyer told him to say nothing and keep on saying it), what more can anyone add?

    I foresee a recommendation for a court-appointed psychiatric evaluation in the future, and maybe we’ll get more details then. But it might have been helpful if they could have expanded on the background – were the Gonsalves brothers members of any particular church or denomination? Had Brandin become involved in, or dropped out of, any particular faith?

    And the burning question to my mind: what on earth is “standing suspiciously”? How is it different from ordinary standing?

  • Jon in the Nati

    I don’t know if we can really blame reporters (or even the police) for the lack of any facts here; if the man said, when charged, that he killed his brother over “religious differences” and declined to elaborate on that (before his lawyer told him to say nothing andkeep on saying it), what more can anyone add?

    Agreed. With all due respect, I think we may be overreacting a bit here. The investigation is a week or so old, and the suspect may not even have had his preliminary hearing/arraignment yet. The underlying reasons, including religious ones, for the crime may not be known to anyone but the suspect, and will likely remain so until trial or until he makes a guilty plea. If the authorities even know, they’re not likely eager to release them to the public.

    I feel like this is less a religious ‘ghost’ than a simple lack of information.

  • Julia

    On the other hand, in FL it seems that anything the cops have, even from an FBI investigation, the public gets to see long before trial. I’m absolutely astounded at the evidence being released to the press in the Zimmerman case.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    The length of that AP report and the way it’s written (with present-tense “say” instead of said and with “23-year-old” spelled out instead of putting the age after the name) make me think it’s probably a broadcast-only report. When I was there, those reports were about 120 words or so, and you’d sometimes put lesser crimes on the broadcast wire than you would the print wire because there was the potential for more radio stations and TV stations to want the information for hourly updates, etc.

    I’d guess that AP either didn’t know about the “religious differences” statement or figured it was so vague as not to include in a quick news bite.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen

    And are you calling President Obama a Universalist, a church he has never been associated with? There are still a few Universalist churches that didn’t merge with the Unitarians, but Obama isn’t a member.

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    Or perhaps the irrationality of hypostasized “religion” is automatically considered sufficient explanation. Y’know, the kind of thing those “religionists” are constantly doing to each other and everyone else.

  • Monique

    Well I know the family personally and both men were raised up in a Christian background. Brandin recently converted to the Muslim faith. He had some mental issues as well. What argument they could have had to insight that much anger in him I have no idea, but it’s just a terrible, terrible situation for the parents who have now lost two sons. RIP Gerry!!