Santorum stunner at Florida church!

One of the first things that I do with student journalists is teach them the following trick. If you are struggling with some particularly tough passage in a story, perhaps a tricky paraphrase with some complicated grammar, then it is wise to print a copy of your rough draft, walk away from the keyboard and read the stuff out loud. Most of the time, your ears will catch the mistakes. This even works, sometimes, with errors of fact. It's amazing how the really dumb stuff just jumps off the page when you hear your own voice reading the words. No, this technique doesn't work nearly as well when you simply read the text silently, inside your own head.

A reader just sent your GetReligionistas a classic example of a mistake that made it into print at the Palm Beach Post (the newspaper that landed in my yard about a decade ago) that surely, surely would have been caught if a reporter or editor had paused long enough to read this howler out loud. Here's the top of this short political-beat story:

Rev. O’Neal Dozier, the conservative pastor of Pompano Beach’s Worldwide Christian Center, told the Palm Beach Post ... that Mitt Romney cannot win the presidency because Americans won’t vote for a Mormon president.

Following his third place finish in South Carolina, Rick Santorum made his first Florida campaign stop at Dozier’s church, where he gave a faith-based sermon. Dozier has been an outspoken critic of homosexuality and radical Islam. In November, former presidential candidate Herman Cain decided minutes before a speech not to have Dozier deliver his invocation, as was originally planned.

First of all, under Associated Press style, that would be "The Rev. O'Neal Dozier," with a T-H-E.

However, that isn't the most humorous choice of words in this passage.

Did you see it? Raise your hands, out there in GetReligion reader land, if you have ever heard someone deliver, in a church, a non-faith-based sermon.

I assume that the reporter was trying to say that, instead of getting up in the pulpit of a conservative church and giving a talk about tax breaks for manufacturers, the Catholic senator elected to talk about matters directly related to Christian faith. Thus, it was a "faith-based sermon" instead of, well, a "secular sermon."

Then again, after that kind of gaffe, are readers supposed to trust that this was a "sermon" at all? Did Santorum actually preach the sermon in this church service or did he simply make some off-the-cuff remarks? In other words, is the reporter using the word "sermon" as a metaphor?

In this case, I would think that many readers would actually want to know if a candidate for the White House spoke before the service in a major African-American church, during the service or afterwards. Was he in the pulpit or did this take place in coffee hour?

After reading that strange "faith-based sermon" reference, I am not sure what happened, in this case.

As for the main thrust of this story, Palm Beach Post editors also needed to challenge this prominent pastor on one of his alleged facts. Read the following carefully:

Dozier, who is black, said a Republican will need at least 10 percent of the black vote to win the presidency.

“Blacks are not going to vote for anyone of the Mormon faith,” Dozier said. “The book of Mormon says the Negro skin is cursed.”

From 1849 through 1978 the Church of Latter-Day Saints barred blacks from its priesthood. The church has lifted but not repudiated the policy. Dozier said if Romney is the nominee, President Obama’s surrogates will bring out what Dozier considers to be racist views in the Mormon Church.

First of all, the story should have referred to "The Book of Mormon," not the "book of Mormon." Also, that controversial "doctrine" or "teaching" -- as opposed to "policy" -- is linked to a passage in a different Mormon text, one called "The Book of Abraham," within "The Pearl of Great Price." It isn't in "The Book of Mormon," itself. If I am in error on that point, someone shoot me a correction.

All in all, this was not a happy excursion onto the religion beat.

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