Scripture verses: reporters’ Kryptonite?

Scripture verses: reporters’ Kryptonite? February 17, 2013

The Media Research Center found this clip but I thought readers here might get a kick out of it, too. You really need to watch the exchange to get the full effect but here’s how one side posted the relevant passage from an interview of one of the Carnival cruise passengers who recently disembarked:

NBC News’s Mark Potter (Reporting during the Ed Show on MSNBC)

JENKINS: No, but one thing I do want to say that really made a huge difference in my time versus some other people’s time is we knew where hope was. We knew the Lord was in complete control of the situation. Our verse for the trip was Joshua 1:9 which is

[Microphone pulled]

POTTER: Okay, well thank you both very much. Enjoy your trip home to Houston and enjoy that first warm shower and that warm meal. Thank you very much. Thanks for talking with us.

I want to say that I can’t begin to understand how difficult a live, on-air interview is to pull off. And I know that when dealing with unknown interview subjects, you want to be careful to avoid any difficult lines of questioning that result in intractable responses. And sometimes those Bible-verse quoters can have trouble getting to the point.

But still.

This is just a great example of how Scripture verses are like Kryptonite to many reporters. The moment this pretty young woman says “Joshua 1:9,” everything changes and you can see the reporter just thinking “Abort! Abort!” as he pulls the microphone and stutters into a segue.

Now, I’m partial to letting people quote scripture in interviews. I think it can tell a great deal about a subject and is also informative and interesting to viewers and readers. But even so, a word to the wise: most Bible verses aren’t terribly long. Unless someone tells you she’s about to quote Esther 8:9, you’ll probably be out of there in no time. As it turns out, Joshua 1:9 is a rather short one:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It was relevant to the interview, completely on point and interesting to boot.

A more religiously literate interviewer might know the verse to begin with but either way, allowing the interview to continue and asking a good follow-up might have been preferable to this hilariously awkward handling of the Bible verse mention. (I would be dreaming to imagine a reporter able to tie in this cruise ship’s troubles with St. Paul’s shipwreck in Malta, commemorated on Feb. 10.)

I mean, if you’re going to be doing wall-to-wall coverage of this cruise ship, go ahead and explore every avenue. Even that, to the media’s discomfort, some found comfort in the words of God.

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17 responses to “Scripture verses: reporters’ Kryptonite?”

  1. Being fair to the reporter, I think he probably was afraid that if he permitted a Scripture quote to go out on live television, someone would immediately complain about preferential treatment for religion and promoting a specific religious belief.

    I’d like to think I was being too pessimistic about this, but I really do think there is no limit to the capacity some people -whether they are religious believers or not – have for taking offence.

    • It’s sufficiently fair to the reporter to point out that HE is the one who initiated the interview and HE is the one who is getting paid for this. Since someone is spending their time keeping him in a job, he could at least be polite to them. As for the “preferential treatment” aspect of this, a comfortable majority of Americans claim to be Christians of one type or another. Pretending that Christians are a minority, or at least no more numerous than Jews or Muslims, is the real “preferential treatment”.

  2. Yes this was poor, but I am hedging my criticisma bit per caveats from both the OP and Martha (reporter concern, not necessarily hypersensitivity) above.

    I will note the woman on the left addressed the camera after the reporter’s closing remarks and said “Joshua 1:9, look it up.” So she at least noticed the cut.

  3. I listened to the segment and changed my mind a bit from the printed quote. Because the reporter had particular questions he wanted answered but the women had an agenda as well. If the reporter had asked the women how they managed to emotionally deal with the situation it would have been another matter. So I have a question for reporters: if you ask a question and someone says something not responsive to the question, do you cut them off or not on live TV. Specifically I want to abstract the situation from the religious dimension to a more general case. If I know what a reporter should do in situations like this, then I’d feel better about either supporting or not supporting the assumption that he’s specifically trying to cut off an expression of religion rather than applying a general principle.

    • But the reported specifically noted that these young ladies seemed to handle the ill-fated cruise better than most! And she was just getting to the reason for that when he cut her off.

      But we can’t get inside the reporter’s head to know if, for example, his fear of reprimand from his boss might have been his motivation for preventing the young lady to finish her statement.

  4. I share jerry’s question. I also wonder how much of this is just a general problem with journalism in having a predefined narrative and stereotyping interviewees. If the narrative had been “Passengers find solace in God” would these girls have been interviewed at all or would the focus have been on older, conservative or more generally “religious-looking” passengers. Here it seems more likely that the predefined narrative more akin to “Cute girls scared, will do future partying on dry land.” So interview a coupl of 20-somethings and gasp, shock, horror when they go off script and try to say something of substance. If I were a betting girl, I’d say the one thing traditional media fears more than a Bible verse, it’s a cute girl refusing to act like a dumb lush.

    • “Narratives” aren’t news. Who cares what stories journalists think they are telling? When your subject is talking, you shut up. Is this really so complicated?

      • I agree. Bt I certainly get the impression in all media that only accurate word they use is “story”. That all Amy of it is to them and they present ‘news’ as a story. S what if facts get in the way. They have a story to tell. Tis isn’t limited to religion, but just about anything.

  5. I think instead of kryptonite which relates to Superman’s vulnerability, a better analogy would have been to use garlic and crucifixes which relates to demonic life sucking Vampires vulnerabilities. MSNBC on air people are more like Vampires than Superman. Either way it is good to know that there are people out there that think like these girls do.

  6. HA!!! That was great 🙂 I have nothing to add, just thought it was so funny how the reporter reacted. If I had been on that ship for such a long period of time in those conditions, I’m not too sure I would have acted as gracefully as those two ladies did when cut off like that. Good for them!

  7. Oh, the irony of Joshua 1:8,
    “Keep this book of the law on your lips. Recite it by day and by night, that you may observe carefully all that is written in it; then you will successfully attain your goal.”

  8. Like kryptonite to superman? More like salt to a slug. This reporter would never have cut off any witless comment that a Kardashian or Beyonce was making, but a bible verse that is illustrative of a faith that sustained two young girls in very difficult times; can’t bear to hear it.

  9. Okay, note to self, when quoting Bible verses, always quote first then cite. Got it.

    So, he should have said he remembered, ““Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” and then tagged on, “y’know that is Joshua 1:9.”