More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

More on that 'omniscient anonymous' voice concept: Update and correction

Thank you to all the readers who helped out by finding working URLs, online and in wayback machines, for the Associated Press story that I referenced -- by memory and in incomplete form -- in my post about what I called the emerging world of "omniscient anonymous" voice journalism.

Here's my theory as to what happened. The story -- "Pope Francis drawing criticism from some conservative Catholics" -- went up on Drudge report an caused so much traffic that Lodi News took it down. Thus, the broken URL for the story.

Now, let me state right up from that I was wrong about the key paragraph in that Associated Press story being an example of "omniscient anonymous" voice reporting. It's a remarkable paragraph, for the other reasons I listed, but it does include a kind of attribution in its interesting reference to "conservative Catholics."

Here is that passage, in context, as it ran at Newsday. Let's work through this, shall we?

Robert Royal, founder and president of the conservative think tank Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that he was "astonished by some of the things he's said about the public order. He's the pope least prepared to do public commentary in about 150 years, and yet he's waded in on Cuba, Scottish independence, Greece, Israel, international economics, etc., in which it's clear he knows very little."

Hit pause for a moment.

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Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

Pope Francis and the trendy new world of 'omniscient anonymous' journalism

It may be time to introduce a new term into the world of writing, and alleged hard-news journalism in particular.

First, a few notes about news craft. Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.

The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading. If something comes from the Family Research Council, say so. If something comes from Planned Parenthood or a company linked to Planned Parenthood, say so.

This is less crucial in opinion-based writing, since writers -- usually in first-person voice -- are sharing their own biases, beliefs, etc. The world of journalism needs both, in my opinion, but it is impossible to have good, healthy public discourse without lots and lots of basic, accurate, fair-minded, balanced hard-news journalism with clear, concise attributions.

In fiction, people can be very creative in terms of the point of view used in telling a story. In journalism? Basically, it's clear third-person or first person.

This brings me to what I see as a disturbing trend in journalism -- the creation of a point of view that could be called "omniscient anonymous" voice. Here is a sample from a new story in The Washington Post. I ask readers to look for the source of these stated facts about, yes, Pope Francis and his upcoming visit to the United States:

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Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?

Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?


I am no longer sure which Bible to use. I currently have the New American Standard Bible. How accurate is this? What are your thoughts on the New English Translation? 

Note: This is a direct response to our immediately preceding Religion Q & A : "Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?"


There are so many different English translations in today’s alphabet soup of a marketplace that Dale’s dilemma is common. Other responses to the August 16 Religion Q & A show there’s considerable anxiety out there, but the Religion Guy reassures readers they can rely upon any of the modern mainstream translations. That includes Dale’s NASB and NET. Not to say there aren’t important variations in wording that today’s Bible readers should know about and ponder, so it’s good to have a couple or three translations handy. And one blessing of our Internet age is that you can compare 52 English translations, verse by verse, at that familiar website --

Loose paraphrases like “The Living Bible,” “The Message,” or J.B. Phillips’ elegant “The New Testament in Modern English” are valuable for fresh thinking and enjoyable reading. But they aren’t Bibles. Then we have actual Bibles that are not paraphrases but lean toward “dynamic equivalence” translation that aims at clear comprehension and flow of thoughts. That’s an OK choice but serious students and seminarians, at least, should own a translation with more literal renderings of the original Greek and Hebrew such as Dale’s NASB (more on that version below).

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Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

Concerning Donald Trump, Billy Graham, Joe Biden and the political ties that bind

It's a comment that I have heard several times from historians who specialize in the history of American religion, especially Protestantism in the 20th Century.

The Rev. Billy Graham has not had a spotless career, and he would be the first to note that. In particular, there were the revelations in the Richard Nixon tapes about some of the evangelist's private opinions, which led to a season of public repentance. When you look at Graham's work, it's clear that the Nixon-era train wreck led him to focus more on Christianity at the global level and less on America, America, America.

However, stop and think about this question: Can you name an American in his era who had a higher-profile public career than Graham, becoming -- literally -- one of the most famous people in the world, yet who was involved in fewer scandals linked to morality, money or ethics? Turning that around, as one historian did, and ask yourself this question: If I had been in Graham's shoes, would I have done as well?

This brings us to Donald Trump. 

To be specific, if brings us to the new Crossroads podcast, in which host Todd Wilken and I -- spinning off my Universal column this past week -- dug into mainstream press claims that the F5 category Trump (talking media storms) has become the GOP candidate with the most appeal to "evangelical" voters.

Why bring up Graham in that context? View the start of the video at the top of this post. That was where I started in my column:

When it became clear that normal venues were too small, Donald Trump met his Mobile, Ala., flock in the ultimate Deep South sanctuary -- a football stadium.
"Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable. Unbelievable," shouted the candidate that polls keep calling the early Republican frontrunner. "That's so beautiful. You know, now I know how the great Billy Graham felt, because this is the same feeling. We all love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

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Global religious freedom: Watchdog is threatened, and only religious media notice

Global religious freedom: Watchdog is threatened, and only religious media notice

It's a definite "Got News?" item when religious news outfits report the appeal of a major human rights watchdog to stay alive -- and almost no one else notices.

World magazine and Baptist Press this week wrote up a letter signed by 86 religious liberty advocate surging Congress to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF, a semi-official organization that monitors how nations treat those of various faiths, was born by an act of Congress in 1998, but its mandate runs out on Sept. 30.

Both stories are spot-on in highlighting the need for such a voice. USCIRF is the group that releases an annual report on the state of religious freedom worldwide, red-lighting "Countries of Particular Concern." The reports, and interim statements, are often quoted in media reports on human rights.

The story by World, an evangelical newsmagazine, is the more political of the two:

WASHINGTON—A coalition of international religious freedom groups is urging the Senate to approve a six-year reauthorization for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and reject attempts to cripple the organization.
Eighty-six partners of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable this week delivered a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which currently is weighing two drastically different visions for USCIRF. The letter noted the authors agree on “very little” theologically, but they agree religious freedom strengthens cultures, stabilizes democracies, and is “the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon.”
“The most effective way to ensure the continuity of USCIRF’s essential mandate to protect and promote religious freedom worldwide is for the Senate to pass, in a timely fashion, S. 1798,” the groups wrote to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the Foreign Relations chairman, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member.

World's article also does us the service of linking to the International Religious Freedom Roundtable letter itself. And World identifies who filed S. 1798: Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican candidate for president.

The Baptist Press version stars Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, part of the Southern Baptist Convention -- saying he "and his allies" with the Roundtable put out the letter:

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Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

It's time for another weekend of preseason National Football League games -- those meaningless revenue generators in which the league's top players try to get ready for the new season, while doing everything they can (praying even) not to get hurt.

This brings us, whether most sports reporters know it or not, to centuries of debates about the sovereignty of God.

Yes, one of the hottest topics in sports news this past week (click here to scan the nearly 2,000 news articles) was whether Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin was crazy when he said superstar Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury had something to do with God's plan for his life. Looking at this from the viewpoint of Packer fans, you could even say this was another one of those stories that centered on "theodicy" questions (previous GetReligion discussions here) about why God allows evil to exist.

From a journalism perspective, what this sad case study demonstrates is that there are times when it is simply wrong to yank one tiny simplistic soundbite out of a long, complex quotation about a complex topic.

Here is the top of an ESPN feature examining the wreckage in this case:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin defended himself ... after his comment about the injury to Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and the will of God caused a backlash in social media.
Quin, when asked ... about Nelson's injury, said he respected Nelson and hated to see him hurt. But as part of the answer, Quin also said "God had meant for Jordy to be hurt." The comment was part of a bigger answer on what Quin believes about how and why injuries happen. ...

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Holy smoke! Did Baptist News Global spot a ghost in that BBC barbecue report?

Holy smoke! Did Baptist News Global spot a ghost in that BBC barbecue report?

As you would expect, I get lots of email about religion- news stuff. That tends to happen when you've been in the religion-columnist business -- in one form or another -- since 1982. All that old snail mail on dead-tree pulp turned into email. Turn, turn, turn.

I still receive quite a bit of material from denominational wire services and independent religious publications, both large and small. That's one of the places that I find all those "Got news?" items about valid and interesting news stories that are out there, but not in the mainstream press.

During the decades since the great Southern Baptist civil war, I kept reading both the SBC operated Baptist Press and the Associated Baptist Press wire linked to the "moderate," or doctrinally progressive (some would say liberal) Baptist congregations that remain in the larger convention, and a few that have fled. ABP has evolved into a broad, basically mainline-Protestant wire called Baptist News Global. Both Baptist wires are must reading for journalists following the religion beat.

One of the most interesting things Baptist Global News does is offer, in its regular "push" digest online, a selection of links to interesting religion items from other newsrooms. The other day -- right there with retiring Presbyterian leaders, a key Southern Baptist voice calling for more countercultural Christianity and other items -- was a link to a long, interesting BBC report about the fact that America's pop-culture boom linked to barbecue culture seems to have skipped over African-American pitmasters.

 So, as the East Tennessee mountains guy that I am, I dug right into this story -- assuming that it would eventually have an interesting religion hook. After all, why would Baptist News Global have this piece in its news elsewhere list?

I read on, and on. This is about as close as I came to hitting a religion theme:

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How to die well: Talking to Jesuit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel omits a key question

How to die well: Talking to Jesuit, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel omits a key question

I've been hearing and thinking about end-of-life and death issues a lot lately.

In recent weeks, my 90-year-old father has been in the hospital twice and while he's (thank God) coming home tomorrow, the prognosis we got on Wednesday is not good. My brother Steve wrote an amazing column for the Oregonian on my father's journey to Minnesota in July to see his 100-year-old sister, possibly for the last time. And of course there's friend-of-this-blog Rod Dreher's posts on the death of his father on Tuesday. There's a sadness that never goes away and death arrives in the midst of our lives.

We don't talk about it much, but to the people in my parents' retirement home, the imminent end of one's life is a reality they face all the time. This is true for us all.

Man knows not his time. Which is why I was intrigued by a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story on John Schlegel, a Catholic priest who is dying of pancreatic cancer. Dying well seems harder to do than ever, and here's one person taking the not-so-easy way out. 

The Rev. John Schlegel, pastor of the Church of the Gesu, has pancreatic cancer. He is foregoing medical treatment because he does not believe it would increase his quality of life. He has been visiting friends and carrying on his duties while he awaits the inevitable.
Since being diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in late January, the Rev. John Schlegel has given away most of his books, artwork and clothes.

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Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way

Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way

Inverted pyramid, you're still the one.

A staple of news writing for more than a century, the inverted pyramid "puts the most newsworthy information at the top, and then the remaining information follows in order of importance, with the least important at the bottom."

For example, most news organizations went the straightforward, "who, what, when, where, why and how" route with Wednesday's news concerning the Mormon church sticking with the Boy Scouts of America.

From The Washington Post:

The Mormon church announced Wednesday that it will remain in the Boy Scouts, a month after the church expressed major concern about the Scouts lifting a ban on openly gay adult leaders.

From The New York Times:

The Mormon Church announced Wednesday that it would continue its close association with the Boy Scouts for now, ending speculation that it would sever ties because of the Scouts’s decision last month to let openly gay men and women serve as leaders.

From The Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church will continue to charter the nation's largest Boy Scout organization.

From CNN:

(CNN) The Mormon church will remain affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America despite the organization's decision to allow gay troop leaders, church officials announced Wednesday.

From The Associated Press:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church announced Wednesday it will maintain its longtime affiliation with the Boy Scouts despite the organization's decision to allow gay troop leaders — preventing what would have been a thundering blow to the national association.

None of those ledes will win a Pulitzer. But they get straight to the point. And in a click-happy world, that's usually helpful.

But what might happen if a journalist tried a different approach?

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