Breaking news: Rick Perry prays

When I first read about Texas Governor Rick Perry's upcoming prayer event, I thought "Meh, PR event. Who cares?" Little did I realize that the media would freak out over it.

Today's the big day, and even though Perry is not speaking at the public, it's gained him quite the media attention. It's hard to know why the coverage has gotten out of control.

People are protesting, but that's a nice way for them to get automatic media attention, right? It's specifically Christian, but it's not paid with taxpayer money, right? Perry might run for president, but a lot of people are running for president, right? Someone please help me understand the news value of this event, because we are seeing some embarrassing media coverage come out of this.

Let's start with NPR (bolded phrases are my own to illustrate some loaded language).

While the governor claims it's nothing more than a Christian prayer rally, the event has touched off a holy war among critics, who claim it is Jesus-exclusive and political.

Then there's some misinformation.

Among prominent religious leaders expected to speak: James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Um, did you miss the memo that Dobson left Focus and started his own show? Oh yes, there's a correction at the top, but it illustrates that the reporter must be new to religion coverage.

The Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes the AFA as a hate group because of its fierce anti-gay agenda.

Does the Southern Poverty Law Center actually set the standard for hate groups? What are some examples that they cite?

The Associated Press leads off with some vague description of Perry's own religious views.

Openly and deeply religious, Texas Gov. Rick Perry organized what seemed like a slam-dunk event for a politician in a state where religion and politics walk hand in hand: He would fill Houston's Reliant Stadium with fellow believers in a seven-hour session of Christian atonement by some of the nation's most conservative preachers, exhorting believers to pray about the nation's moral decline.

Um, how is he openly and deeply religious? Where does he attend church?

The gathering could give the Texas governor a chance to further demonstrate his bona fides with the Republican Party's social conservatives, who are being aggressively courted by several candidates already in the race. Others worry a rally of Christian fundamentalism, and one involving several controversial religious organizations, could alienate independent voters and conservatives who are more focused on economic issues.

So as long as you say "others worry," then it's okay to go against AP style on "fundamentalism"?

Locally, the Dallas Morning News published a piece with the headline, "Rick Perry says he doesn’t endorse extremists participating in prayer meeting." I just assume that politicians attend lots and lots of functions and don't necessarily endorse every one of them, but I missed the expectation here. Here's the Houston Chronicle's piece:

Dubbed "The Response," the all-day event is attracting an inordinate amount of attention, not only because of the governor's presidential ambitions, but also because of his embrace of Christian groups and leaders known for their theocratic tendencies, fringe beliefs and intolerance toward nonbelievers.

Do any of the leaders coming to this event embrace theocracy? Or is this just because they oppose gay marriage and abortion (hardly fringe beliefs)? How do they act intolerant toward nonbelievers?

Noting that Perry himself has expressed the conviction that he is, perhaps, "called" to the presidency, they contend that the prayer event is prelude to his White House pilgrimage.

The reporter doesn't explain the context of when he said he felt "called" to the presidency or that he walked back on that statement later (referencing how he can feel called by his mother). Do these supporters back him politically, or do they just support his idea of public prayer?

Perry's own political alliance with fundamentalist pastors has its antecedents in ties forged some years ago.

So he hasn't come into religious ties until recently (never explained further) but he forged the fundamentalist ties some years ago? Let's review: Associated Press style says avoid the term fundamentalist.

The only person that the reporter finds to support him is a former aide. It's like he is trying to only do a perfunctory attempt at "balance." Surely someone can speak to larger role of public prayer in politics?

The same paper ran a much more calm, informative piece from Kate Shellnutt* (and, if you want to follow the prayer event, follow her live tweets and liveblog). Please let us know what you find in post-event coverage, the good, bad and ugly.

Update: To be clear, I don't think the media should ignore this event. I just think the coverage has been overblown and poorly executed. *This post has been updated to correct Kate Shellnutt's name. My apologies.

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