‘Long gone,’ but not soon forgotten

To those who love baseball, it is more than a game. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously called it “the faith of 50 million people,” as Daniel Burke noted in a recent Religion News Service feature:

It follows a seasonal calendar — begun this year on Easter Sunday — and builds towards a crowning moment. Its players perform priestly rituals, its history abounds with tales of mythic heroes, and its fans study and argue arcana with the intensity of Talmudic scholars.

Sadly, baseball has lost one of its true saints: Ernie Harwell, the longtime voice of the Detroit Tigers.

Despite his love of the game, Harwell put his faith not in baseball, but in Jesus Christ. In his final months, Harwell, 92, made no secret of his strong Christian faith and his belief that God had a better home waiting for him. In an October 2009 video interview with Mitch Albom that accompanies this post, Harwell talked about his spring-training conversion at a 1961 Billy Graham Easter crusade in Bartow, Fla.:

“That’s what made the big change. I surrendered my life completely, and now whatever he (God) wants suits me fine. … It’s a great blessing that he has given to me that in my final days, I can really know where I’m going, whose arms I’m going to end up in and what a great, great thing heaven will be.”

As you’d expect, both Detroit newspapers devoted extensive space Wednesday to Harwell’s death, with plenty of colorful baseball anecdotes and warm personal tributes.

But how’d they fare on the faith angle?

Well, the Detroit Free Press didn’t exactly strike out. But the big part of the bat came nowhere close to the ball, either. Let’s call it a weak infield fly.

Up high in its nearly 3,900-word main obituary, the Free Press references Harwell’s faith:

“I’m ready to face what comes,” he said at the time. “Whether it’s a long time or a short time is all right with me because it’s up to my Lord and savior.”

In the ensuing months, in an emotional farewell ceremony at Comerica Park, in his columns for the Free Press and in interviews with national media, Harwell referred to death as his next great adventure, a gift handed down by God.

“I’ve had so many great ones,” he said. “It’s been a terrific life.”

But that’s it. The end. There’s no mention of Harwell’s conversion experience back in ’61. No discussion of the role faith played in his life. The only other reference to God is this quote from his final broadcast in 2002:

He wrapped up the address and 55 years as a major league broadcaster by saying, “I thank you very much, and God bless all of you.”

Interestingly enough, Harwell also said something else that day, but this didn’t make the story:

“Now, God has a new adventure for me, and I’m ready to move on.”

As part of its package on Harwell’s death, the Free Press makes other quick references (in columns by Albom and Rochelle Riley) to Harwell’s faith, but nothing substantial.

Meanwhile, let’s be blunt and say that The Detroit News missed the religion angle altogether, as best I can tell. As Harwell would put it, “They stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.” Seriously, the News’ main obituary has more than 1,700 words — not a one of them “God,” “Jesus,” “Christian,” “faith” or “heaven.” We get tributes like this:

Upon learning of Harwell’s death, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said:

“Ernie Harwell was the most popular sports figure in the state of Michigan. He was so genuine in everything that he did — from his legendary broadcasting to the way he treated the fans and everyone around him. He was truly a gentleman in every sense of the word. Ernie has a special place in the hearts of all Detroit Tigers’ fans and the memories he created for so many of us will never be forgotten.”

That’s wonderful. But was there something inside of Harwell that made him such a gentleman? Was there a reason he was so genuine? Could it — just possibly — have something to do with his faith?

By contrast, I was pleased to see ESPN highlight Harwell’s faith in a significant way.

In a video accompanying its obituary, ESPN notes that Harwell started each season by referencing a Bible verse — a passage from Song of Solomon:

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

ESPN includes an AP quote from Harwell on his faith in “God and Jesus” and links to a December 2009 feature on how Harwell’s spirituality provided peace as his friends and fans said goodbye. That feature ends this way:

“I have great faith that heaven’s there and I’ll see my brothers and my mom and dad when I get there,” Harwell says. “I think it’s better than here. I think God always has the best for us.

“I just have faith. It’s just there. It’s not any big deal.”

No, it’s a real big deal, an important part of who Harwell was. Coverage of his life — and death — should reflect that.

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‘Mushy’ millennials in the news

Honk if you’ve heard the phrase “more spiritual than religious.” That, not “WWJD,” appears to be the mantra of today’s young people, even those who call themselves Christian. The movement has significant ramifications for Christianity — and religion in general — in the United States.

So when a major survey comes along that confirms the trend, it’s pretty big news, right?

Yes, if you’re USA Today religion beat specialist Cathy Lynn Grossman, whose story on the survey made Page 1-A this week:

Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

The survey also drew notice in the religion press, from the Christian Post to World Magazine. I’ve also heard that Katie Couric and Glenn Beck referenced it, but I didn’t see those reports. Did you?

But in general, this story doesn’t seem to have caught fire in the media. I don’t find any other national media coverage in Google News (think Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, et al). I did come across a few interesting local reports, including one by a Pittsburgh television station and another by a Georgia newspaper.

Why the lack of coverage? Did USA Today get the scoop and scare off the other media? (That doesn’t seem to happen on other big stories, wink, wink.)

Is this latest survey too similar to other recent findings, including a study earlier this year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life? Is it that a Baptist organization commissioned the survey? Is it the loss of so many Godbeat pros?

I don’t know.

But this survey and the place of millennials in the modern American religious landscape seem to merit wider attention.

Grossman’s story did an excellent job of framing the issue through the lens of experts such as Lifeway’s Rainer. But plenty of ground remains to be plowed, including putting a better face on these “mushy” millennials.

“More spiritual than religious” is one of those phrases that makes sense when you hear it. But reflect on it a bit more and you find yourself going, “Huh? What exactly does that mean?”

Religion writer Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal tackled that exact question in an enlightening piece last month — even before the release of the LifeWay survey. Smith cited an in-depth Bowling Green State University study:

Those who self-identified as “spiritual” — whether they were also “religious” — were more
likely to have been “hurt by clergy”; to have higher levels of education and income; and to
take part in mystical and group spiritual experiences.

And those who identify as “spiritual” and who reject “religion” are less likely to pray and hold orthodox beliefs and more likely to be agnostic.

Such trends alarm Christians who emphasize Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation.

“‘Spiritual’ has, in some sense, come to mean ‘my own personal religion with my own individual creed,’” said Timothy Paul Jones, associate professor of leadership and church ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Now, that reference to “Christians who emphasize Jesus as the only source of truth and salvation” made me smile. “Are there any other kind of Christians?” I asked myself. Alas, I know the answer …

But back on topic: Have you seen any other major mainstream coverage of the LifeWay survey? Do you agree that there’s a religion ghost in the lack of headlines? Is it time for the media to get spiritual?

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Hooking up with CNN

Religion is overrated. Here in the bubble of GetReligionland, we sometimes forget that. Thank you, CNN, for reminding us.

For those of you trapped in the Stone Age — a bygone era back before students at Caveman University started drinking and having sex — we live in an era when “at least 75 percent of women have engaged in hooking up on campus.” I know that because CNN told me so:

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) — Almost every weekend, there is a tradition called raging at Vanderbilt University.

It’s a recurring, drunken activity that isn’t the proudest moment for student Frannie Boyle. After consuming large quantities of alcohol before a party, her night would sometimes end in making out with a stranger or acquaintance.

But there is wonderful news: Some young ladies are bucking this trend and demanding that, um, guys “at least invite us to dinner before expecting us to get down and dirty!” And the best part of this backlash: It has nothing to do with religion!:

“Right now, people conceive the idea of what they think from the media and friends — that the only options are to extremes: to deny everything fun, including sex, or just to hook up,” says Emily O’Connell, a freshman at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

After observing the hook-up scene as a freshman, O’Connell is starting a nonreligious group to talk about alternatives to hooking up.

“There’s definitely a middle ground, and it’s not that outrageous,” she said.

Because, of course, if someone were to deny casual sex because of religious beliefs, that would be, like, totally uncool. And so not fun. But secular abstinence — that’s where it’s at!

I could go on, but since GetReligion focuses on journalism, I probably should heap some specific praise on this piece. What makes the CNN report work? At least three main things:

1. The one-source-knows-all approach. On a subject this nuanced, a reporter could waste valuable time interviewing a number of students and experts. Much better to focus on one Vanderbilt University student and let her speak for an entire campus and an entire generation:

At Vanderbilt University, a pristine campus defined by elegant, Southern-style architecture and manicured lawns, the hook-up culture can be hard to avoid, Boyle said. The Greek scene also can create more pressure to hook up, added Boyle, who is a member of a sorority.

Boyle explained the warm weather compels some students to engage in “day fratting,” imbibing for hours in the front yard of a fraternity. Day fratting can result in “afternoon delight,” noncommittal physical activity between two people that can include casual sex.

2. The you-better-believe-this-is-a-trend method. Cite “various academic studies” to back up the stat that 75 percent of college women have hooked up, but avoid specific attribution. Credit the assertion that alcohol precipitates these activities to “studies show,” but again, remain vague. And then follow up with this:

Evidence of the backlash on hooking up on campuses can be seen in the growing popularity of the Love and Fidelity Network, a secular, nonprofit group dedicated to helping college students open the discussion for a lifestyle that doesn’t involve casual sexual activity with anonymous or uncommitted partners.

The organization, which promotes sexual integrity and defends marriage though discussion and speakers, has gained a presence on at least 20 schools from Harvard University to the University of Notre Dame since its inception in 2007. There is no official count on the number of students who participate in the Love and Fidelity Network. But at Princeton University, about 40 students have joined.

Wow, 40 students! If the group keeps growing like that, will there be a room on campus large enough to contain all the members?

3. The don’t-muddy-the-waters technique. This is perhaps the most important aspect of this piece. To make a story like this work — one that portrays all men as pigs, most Vanderbilt students as horny drunks and all young people who abstain from premarital sex for religious reasons as boring — the reporter has to avoid a lot of potential voices. This report succeeds on all counts.

Religion is overrated. So, apparently, is quality journalism. Thank you, CNN, for reminding us.

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Ghosts of gay-bashing

I’ve let this story percolate for a little while. Still, the story of the three NorCal cousins accused of shooting a man they believed to be gay with a BB gun has gotten only touch-and-go coverage, mainly from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press.

In multiple reports that the men allegedly video taped more BB-gun attacks, there has been no discussion of the men’s religion. Religion may be relevant because, you know, there are a few belief systems out there that might motivate such an attack.

From the Chronicle‘s first report:

Three cousins from Hayward have been charged in San Francisco with a hate crime and assault for allegedly firing a BB rifle at the face of a man they believed was gay, an attack the men videotaped, authorities said Wednesday.

Mohammad Habibzada, Shafiq Hashemi and Sayed Bassam, all 24, are scheduled to be arraigned today in San Francisco Superior Court. They are free on $50,000 bond apiece.

And a follow-up Friday from the AP:

Really, there’s nothing to share from that report, except that the men are considered suspects in 11 similar shootings.

Of course, bloggers are speculating that these men are Muslim and that that’s why they’re getting the free pass:

Imagine, if you will, that the BB gun attackers had been white. Or from Utah. Or from Texas. Or Laramie, Wyoming. What kind of wild adjectives would have been applied? We can only surmise. Editorializing against mainstream Americans who are now out-of-favor by the media (whites, Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, conservatives) happens everyday on America’s front pages and network news programs. But when it comes to Arab/Muslim attackers — all silence is golden for the American media.

That’s from Bruce Carroll Big Journalism. These men could, of course, be Christian. But Carroll’s general premise about media treatment is accurate. Reporters are often quick to identify as intolerant fanatics many Christian strains but are more reticent to do so when it comes to domestic members of religious minorities. (This doesn’t necessarily hold when talking and foreign members of the same religious groups.) Over at Beliefnet, Rod Dreher provides a more sober discussion of the “dark side of minority religions.” He begins with another Carroll report regarding a Muslim adjunct faculty member at Vanderbilt University agreeing at a public forum that Islam requires the death penalty for homosexuals:

The Muslim, a chaplain at the university, also said that Muslims aren’t at liberty to question this teaching. In his rather vituperative blog entry, Carroll talks about how a statement like this would have been covered by the MSM and in the blogosphere if it had been made by an Evangelical Christian.

I know what he means. When I lived in Dallas, I ran across this kind of thing with some frequency. It used to drive me crazy how journalists at my own newspaper, and at other media outlets in Dallas, showed little or no interest when leading Muslim figures would say things this outrageous, or affiliate themselves closely with those in their faith who did. If influential Christians in the community had said such things, they would have been ripped, and would have deserved it. But the media have a strong tendency to want to protect minority religions, I find. Moreover, some in the media get caught up in a ridiculous form of zero-sum thinking, assuming that if right-wing Christians are up in arms over what certain Muslims say, then maybe the Muslims aren’t all wrong. It’s seeing the complexities of our religious reality through a culture-war prism, and it’s really distorting.

Which brings us back to the original and now lingering question: What role, if any, did religion play in the anti-gay BB-gun attack?

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Got news? Got news! PCUSA and Israel

I was all set to make this a “Got news?” post. I had been reading rumblings about an upcoming Presbyterian Church (USA) report in the religious and conservative press, but nothing in the mainstream media. Here’s a sample religious media report and here’s a bit from the conservative Weekly Standard:

Six years ago, the nearly 3 million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became the first and only U.S. religious body to adopt a divestment policy against Israel. After a large uproar from Christians and Jews, including a personal appeal from Presbyterian former CIA Director James Woolsey at the church’s General Assembly in 2006, the divestment stance was repealed.

Controversy over the church’s stance towards Israel may now reignite. A special PCUSA study committee is proposing that the denomination’s 2010 General Assembly take a strident anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stance. The committee’s report points to the Israeli presence on the West Bank as the great evil in the Middle East. It urges the United States to “employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid to enforce Israel’s compliance” with demands for withdrawal. The committee recommends no similar pressure against any other actors in the region.

It was five years ago that tmatt noted that the media didn’t seem terribly interested in stories about mainline denominations and their relationship with or stance on Israel. And the trend toward divestment and other measures seemed possibly to be fading.

So I thought this report made a perfect Got news? feature. That’s where we highlight stories that appear on opinion pages even though they’re breaking news. And if you do a Google News search, it seems all the hits come from opinion sources or religious media.

But the reason why this doesn’t make a great example of that is because there is a mainstream report that covers the issue. And it comes from the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s Peter Smith, who does excellent work covering the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is headquartered there.

His story is very balanced, very nuanced. He notes that the report has harsh words for Israel and that the denomination is trying to handle public relations a bit better this time by issuing letters to Jews, Christians and Muslims living in both the United States and Israel:

The report released Friday proclaims “in no uncertain terms: we support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders.”

Yet it decries Israel’s 43-year-old occupation of Palestinian lands, the building of a separation barrier around and through Palestinian territories and the increasing radicalization of Israeli settlers in the territories.

In a letter to Palestinians, the report uses the term “nakba,” often translated as catastrophe, which Arabs have used to decry the creation of Israel and subsequent war. “From 1948, we have made our stance clear on the unjust situation of Palestinian refugees since the Nakba. Your experience is one of displacement; as a people of faith.”

I have absolutely no doubt that Smith will continue to cover this story well, including whatever fallout comes from within the denomination and other communities. He also does a good job of providing background information at the paper’s religion blog.

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Got news? Five soldiers arrested, really?

When I received this email alert yesterday I had strongly conflicting emotions, as a journalist.

This is one of those stories that makes a stark fact claim. This claim is either accurate or it is not.

If it is accurate, why in heaven’s name is it breaking at the Christian Broadcasting Network? Here is the blog item as it first came in:

CBN Exclusive: Five Muslim Soldiers Arrested at Fort Jackson in South Carolina

CBN News has learned exclusively that five Muslim soldiers at Fort Jackson in South Carolina were arrested just before Christmas. It is unclear whether the men are still in custody. The five were part of the Arabic Translation program at the base.

The men are suspected of trying to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson.

A source with intimate knowledge of the investigation, which is ongoing, told CBN News investigators suspect the “Fort Jackson Five” may have been in contact with the group of five Washington, DC area Muslims that traveled to Pakistan to wage jihad against U.S. troops in December. That group was arrested by Pakistani authorities, also just before Christmas. Coming as it does on the heels of November’s Fort Hood jihadist massacre, this news has major implications.

Now, stop and think about this. It is very, very hard for me to believe as a journalist that the source for this story — as his or her first news-coverage option — took this material directly to CBN, a niche-news site. Having the story break in this setting automatically labels it, and validly so.

Then there is the matter of the time element. The story claims that the arrest were made before Christmas. How long has the source been trying to draw attention to this alleged event? If the event happened, why was it ignored by the mainstream?

Again, either those arrests were made or they were not. That’s a news event, if it is true. It’s breaking news.

Now, in the wake of that CBN report we do have a short Associated Press item. Here is the tiny little story that ran this morning in the Washington Post, a paper that one would think would jump on a story of this kind:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Army has been investigating five soldiers over allegations of food poisoning at its largest training base.

But Army spokeswoman Julia Simpkins said Friday no soldiers were ever in danger at the South Carolina base. Simpkins says an investigation continues at Fort Jackson, located outside Columbia. She said the investigation involved potentially threatening comments toward fellow soldiers.

On Thursday, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon said the investigation involved allegations that soldiers’ food was being poisoned, but no credible information to support the allegations was found.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the investigation has been going on for almost two months. Garver said he was not aware of any arrests.

Again, look at the timing. We have Army quotes from today — Friday? — and from yesterday. Are those contacts in the wake of the CBN report?

Once again, please focus on the key facts. Notice that the CBN source says the five tried to poison the food and that AP quotes a military spokesperson as denying that the food was poisoned. The two statements do not contradict one another.

What in the world is going on here?

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Got news? Focus PWNs the shocked left

The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc, co-founder of this here weblog, is not writing for GetReligion at the moment, but he’s still out there in media land — seeing things through GetReligion eyes.

After the Super Bowl, he sent me the link for an editorial column that hinted at a wonderful hook for a “God news?” post. The source is the conservative RedState.com site, where columnist Jeff Emanuel had some interesting commentary on the media storm that surrounded the Focus on the Family advertisement featuring Tim and Pam Tebow.

Once again, I know that this is editorial-column content, not hard news. But hang in there with me, because there is a news hook in here:

The fact that the commercial was not overtly pro-life (or anti-abortion) made the PWNing even sweeter, and likely brought far more people over to the Life side of the issue (or, at least, divorced them from the pro-abortion side) than an overtly anti-abortion spot would have. … On top of all that, the absence of an abortion message in the ad meant the pro-abortion left had to bear the entire burden of publicizing such a divisive and touchy issue all by themselves.

This was made possible, in part, by a brilliant non-information campaign. The ad’s contents were kept entirely secret. … In this absence of detail, the pro-abortion left immediately assumed the worst, treating the ad as though it would approach the issue as they do: by getting in people’s faces and shoving views down their throats.

The fact that Focus on the Family did nothing of the sort made the pro-abortion left’s smear-and-silence campaign into a massive overreaction — and made Focus’s effort an EPIC WIN for the pro-life side of the aisle.

By the way, since I am not a computer-game guy, I was not familiar with the term “PWN.” Thus, Doug had to point me to the Urban Dictionary for clarification. I do not know what this says about Doug and his media habits. But, I digress.

Try to forget the editorializing in Emanuel’s post and focus on an a very interesting question: Who was the media strategist who thought up this strategy for Focus on the Family? This leads to another question: Can you imagine this kind of media-savvy tactic being used during the regime of Dr. James Dobson? Does this ad seem like his style?

The story behind the ad is interesting enough, if anyone at Focus will talk about the fine details. But the larger news question is now obvious: Is this ad one of our first looks at a the “new” Focus, a glimpse of what may be its new style after the departure of Dobson (and the subtle tensions that have followed)?

In a way, these questions are linked to that eyebrow-raising column by Sally Jenkins, a proud and articulate feminist, that ran in the Washington Post sports section the other day about the Tebow affair. Lots of folks sent me the URL for that column (as if I didn’t see it in one of my local newspapers), asking for GetReligion commentary on it.

Well, LeBlanc’s tip makes a chunk of that editorial column relevant. You can see shades of the Focus strategy in this passage, even though this ran before the Super Bowl:

Tebow’s 30-second ad hasn’t even run yet, but it already has provoked “The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us” to reveal something important about themselves: They aren’t actually “pro-choice” so much as they are pro-abortion. Pam Tebow has a genuine pro-choice story to tell. She got pregnant in 1987, post-Roe v. Wade, and while on a Christian mission in the Philippines, she contracted a tropical ailment. Doctors advised her the pregnancy could be dangerous, but she exercised her freedom of choice and now, 20-some years later, the outcome of that choice is her beauteous Heisman Trophy winner son, a chaste, proselytizing evangelical.

Pam Tebow and her son feel good enough about that choice to want to tell people about it. Only, NOW says they shouldn’t be allowed to. Apparently NOW feels this commercial is an inappropriate message for America to see for 30 seconds, but women in bikinis selling beer is the right one. I would like to meet the genius at NOW who made that decision. On second thought, no, I wouldn’t.

If you want to dig deeper into the arguments that followed that Jenkins piece, click here and explore some of the 1212 comments that were posted before the newspaper shut them down.

So has anyone in the mainstream press seen the news hook here?

You can see hints that veteran Godbeat reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today has seen the news hook — but has only been able to write about it online, in her Faith & Reason weblog. Click here to see what she has to say.

Yes, she talked to Jim Daly (photo), the new Focus on the Family president:

For a week now, earnest groups have been protesting the anti-abortion, anti-gay rights Focus group getting CBS to change its policy against advocacy advertising and let this issue ad run.

Now, it’s airing and it’s a major score in the “Euphemism Bowl” — no mention of abortion, of choosing to carry a life-threatening pregnancy to term or anything else politically hairy.

Daly told me Sunday afternoon that they were perplexed by all the hyperventilating.

Perplexed? Or pleased? That’s the story.

What’s next? Cooperating with the witty women at Feminists For Life? Stay tuned.

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Got news? Saluting a Baltimore hero

To my amazement, the Baltimore Sun managed to get some newspapers delivered earlier this week — in between the record-shattering snow storms that keep rolling through the Mid-Atlantic region. As I type this, we are in the middle of storm No. 3. and, OMG, the word “snow” is in the Monday forecast.

As I dug into that thin Monday newspaper, I was struck by the power of a story that appeared under the headline, “One man’s fight against redlining.” Here’s the top of that piece:

A small paid notice in Wednesday’s Sun announced the death of Anne Irene Ruth Salzman at Charlestown Retirement Community. She was 97 and “was preceded in death by her husband of fifty years, Sidney Salzman,” the notice said.

Missing was the rest of the story — how the Salzmans in 1941 fought the Federal Housing Administration for the right to live in a neighborhood of their own choosing. Much has changed since then, but studies suggest that each year millions of Americans still face similar discrimination — not by the government, perhaps, but by the real estate marketplace.

In 1941, Anne Salzman and her husband wanted to buy 821 Glen Allen Drive, one of seven foreclosed houses in Hunting Ridge, a neighborhood off Edmondson Avenue. Four years earlier, the federal government had prepared lending risk maps for Baltimore and 238 other American cities from coast to coast. It had given to Hunting Ridge its highest ranking, the same rating it bestowed on Guilford, Homeland and Rodgers Forge. Under federal guidelines, such mostly Protestant neighborhoods generally barred “inharmonious elements” — African-Americans and Jews.

In Hunting Ridge, though, the homeowners’ covenant against Jews had expired in 1940.

Sidney Salzman was Jewish and his wife was a Christian and they had always managed to live in Gentile neighborhoods. The bureaucrats were “not impressed.”

Mr. Salzman decided to fight. He repeatedly offered purchase prices verbally suggested by FHA officials, proposing to put nearly half the money down. He was refused each time, even though he had been pre-approved for a mortgage, according to documents in the possession of University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor W. Edward Orser.

Finally, one official, “with evident embarrassment … gave as reason for the turning down of my offer the fact of my Jewish extraction, that it was thought best not to sell one of these properties in a restricted neighborhood to me, that it might affect the sale of other properties, and that the [Charles] Steffey Co. real estate brokers handling the properties strenuously objected to such sale to me, on the same grounds.”

And so the fight began, a pivotal fight in the history of race and religion in this city.

The Salzmans won the fight.

It’s an amazing and important story.

So why did this story have to appear on the newspaper’s op-ed page? Why did it need to end with this credit blurb?

Antero Pietila retired from The Sun after 35 years. His history of Baltimore, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” will be published later this month. He may be reached at www.anteropietila.com.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am very glad that the newspaper ran this piece — somewhere. However, the piece opens with a reference to factual material, to an event — the death of Anne Irene Ruth Salzman — that provided all of the news hook that was needed for a news feature.

This is a major story. Why wasn’t it played out front, with photos and, online, some kind of video tribute to this couple and the role they played in the history of Baltimore? I assume that retired reporters can still receive or share bylines, or perhaps write sidebars to major stories. Why did this very important subject get shuffled over to the op-ed page? A quick search of the newspaper’s web site found no other references to “Sidney Salzman.”

This is an A1 news feature story if I have ever seen one.

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