‘I’m an atheist, Wolf’


Oh what a perfect clip for GetReligion.

You have to watch it to get the full gist but CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer is, above, interviewing Oklahoma tornado survivor Rebecca, holding her son Anders. (Full interview here.) Then, as transcribed by Politico:

Blitzer: We’re happy you’re here. You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?

Survivor:  Yeah.

Blitzer: Did you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?

Survivor: I — I’m actually an atheist.

Blitzer: You are. All right. But you made the right call.

Survivor: Yeah. We are here. And you know, I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.

Blitzer: Of course not.

Is this not a perfect example of why yes/no questions are a bad idea? I mean, it turned out all right. In fact, the survivor’s response is what made this such an interesting interview, despite Blitzer’s best attempts. But what was he expecting to have someone say?

Also, though, while I object to the form of the question and how it gave too much direction to the respondent, I do find it interesting how this question rests in the general sector of “journalists are weird about religion and disasters” that I’ve noticed over the years. My favorite recent example was from another CNN interview. It was back in February and the legendary Poop Cruise had finally docked. CNN was ignoring the Gosnell trial but, for some reason, doing round-the-clock coverage of the survivors of the Poop Cruise. But when two survivors tried to say what Scripture verse had sustained them during their journey, they were cut off. It was weird.

Anyway, the vast majority of the time the problem with how religion is treated in disaster interviews is that the reporters behave as if religion plays no role in sustaining people during their time of need. Perhaps it’s the loving way in which the atheist here answered the question, but I found it oddly interesting and comforting to see that religious adherents and skeptics alike get the silly questions that make assumptions about belief or non-belief.

Another interview I want to highlight was aired on CBS. I can’t stop thinking about it. The reporter is speaking to an older woman who lost her entire house while she sat in it. She is battered and bruised but she rather cheerfully describes what she went through and talks about how she knows she lost her dog under the ruins. A few minutes into the interview, someone off camera says “A dog!” The interview subject then realizes that her precious dog is alive and she asks for help getting him out of the rubble. She’s so very happy. And then she says, unprompted:

“Well I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be OK, but He answered both of them. Because this was my second prayer.”

It’s a powerful moment and it was captured simply by letting someone speak freely about a dramatic moment.

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  • llee611838

    I wonder if Blitzer made an assumption about people from Oklahoma as much as about religion. Was he prompting her out of an assumption that people from this region are all Evangelicals? This may have been a clumsy attempt to “speak the local language.”

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

    Poor Wolf. :-)

    I know I ask a lot of stupid questions in my reporting work, and sometimes the stupid questions lead to important answers. Fortunately for me, I’m not on camera when I’m asking the stupid questions.

  • PalaceGuard

    Am I now so totally jaded that I doubt Wolf didn’t know she was an atheist before the interview? Just to take a jab at the foolish religionistas out there?

    • RayIngles

      That’s… yeah, that’s pretty jaded.

      • PalaceGuard

        I was afraid so Just wanted some confirmation!

    • Donalbain

      Well, Glen Beck said the same thing, so jaded is probably the nicest thing I would say about such a reaction. But it doesnt surprise me. Its just another example of the persecution complex that American Christianity displays. An atheist exists, and says so on TV, and naturally you see that as an attack against you, the poor oppressed majority.

      • PalaceGuard

        Oh, horsehockey. It’s not a persecution complex, you daft lad, (at least not on my side). It’s just a natural outgrowth of disbelief sprouted and nurtured in the well-manured hothouse of the MSM over the course of decades. (And if you listen to Beck, you’re crazier than I am.)

        • Donalbain

          OK.. so you assumed that someone was “taking a jab” at you, but you don’t have a persecution complex. If you say so.

    • Billiamo

      I don’t think he knew beforehand, but do think he was making fun of religious people, though not in a malicious way. I thought the young lady was lovely.

      • Donalbain

        Yes, the religious Wolf Blitzer was making fun of religious people. That is totally what happened.

    • Frank Elliott

      The only one who looked foolish was Wolf Blitzer. He he insincerely tried to ape the locals. It was condescending to people of faith and just plain stupid. I am an agnostic.

  • Phil

    Another interview I want to highlight was aired on CBS.
    I can’t stop thinking about it. The reporter is speaking to an older
    woman who lost her entire house while she sat in it. She is battered and
    bruised but she rather cheerfully describes what she went through and
    talks about how she knows she lost her dog under the ruins. A few
    minutes into the interview, someone off camera says “A dog!” The
    interview subject then realizes that her precious dog is alive and she
    asks for help getting him out of the rubble. She’s so very happy. And
    then she says, unprompted:

    “Well I thought God just answered one prayer to let me be OK, but He answered both of them. Because this was my second prayer.”

    It’s a powerful moment and it was captured simply by letting someone speak freely about a dramatic moment.

    I too find that “journalists are weird about religion and disasters,” mostly because it is such a painful setting, with no one knowing what to say. And you get painfully bad theology, which the Reporter is not allowed to comment on or even acknowledge.

    For example, if you assume that God actually answered the woman’s prayers (in the quote above), then what about the woman who was killed along with her 4 month old baby in a walk-in cooler? See

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/oklahoma-tornado-victims-included-two-infants-10-children-in-all/2013/05/22/fa94c38a-c2f3-11e2-8c3b-0b5e9247e8ca_story.html?hpid=z2

    Did that woman just forget to pray? Or did God just choose not to answer her prayers? Can a reporter even ask those questions? (The answer is no.)

    • Carlh

      Even most reporters who may not fully “get religion” seem to understand that the caricature, ever popular with the skeptics, of prayer as the equivalent of rubbing the magic lamp of a wish-granting genie is a simplistic misunderstanding of religious faith.

      • Phil

        Carlh,

        My problem isn’t with the reporter.

        • Maureen O’Brien

          If you really want to get into a theodicy discussion in order to chastise a little old lady for praising God for her dog’s survival, I question your theological nous.


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