Faithful readers of this blog over the past decade or so will know that your GetReligionistas rarely write about the contents of mainstream news blogs or op-ed page columns, even as the line between news coverage and commentary continues to blur.
However, every now and then someone writes a piece that is highly relevant to work on the religion-news beat or offers a fresh insight into how mainstream journalists are covering an important religion event or trend. This brings me to a new piece in "The Fix," the self-proclaimed "top political blog" at The Washington Post.
In this case, the headline states the issue facing political writer Aaron Blake:
Americans strongly opposed airstrikes in Syria last time. Why would it be different now?
So what has happened in, oh, the past year or so in this region -- Iraq and Syria -- that may have changed the minds of many Americans?
Hint: Search this Post article for the following words -- "Mosul," "Nineveh," "Yazidis," "Christians" and "religion."
So what did you find? Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothing.
Instead, here is the heart of the argument for why Americans opposed bombing the forces of Bashar al-Assad, but now seem ready to attack those of the Islamic State. Might religious issues have something to do with this?
Today, it's increasingly likely Obama might have to make an eerily similar decision, with his administration apparently priming for some kind of action in Syria.
This time, though, would be different. The airstrikes would not be against the Syrian government, but rather against Islamist militants. The Islamic State militants (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL) are the ones who murdered American journalist James Foley on video last week and have taken over significant portions of both Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Now, the social-media explosion linked to the Foley execution is crucial, no doubt about it. Yet even there we are dealing with a story in which the faith themes are now drawing significant news coverage (thank you Bobby).
As a career journalist, I am -- trust me on this -- thankful that millions of Americans are upset about the murder of a journalist. However, might many people in a land that remains, to some degree, majority Christian also be upset about the slaughter of religious believers in communities that have been havens for Christians for about 2,000 years?
Here is some material charting the basic shift in opinion:
Certainly, Obama's call for airstrikes last year was not met with approval; that much was abundantly clear. And it wasn't just from Congress; a Washington Post-ABC News poll at the time showed Americans opposed the airstrikes 64-30.
But now, the opposition is a terrorist group that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel labels "beyond anything that we've seen" in terms of its wherewithal, and things could certainly change. In addition, the administration's airstrikes in Iraq have proven popular, with a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing Americans approved of them 54-39 (and other polls showing even more support).
But that was in Iraq -- a country in which Americans sacrificed thousands of lives and trillions of dollars over the past decade. Support was undoubtedly buoyed by that investment and the fear of losing hard-fought gains in that country.
In Syria, there is no such long-term investment. So basically, it comes down to whether Americans see ISIS as something worth stomping out.
Indeed. I simply think that, if this blog item offers insight into Post thinking, the dominant news force here in Beltway land may be rather blind (again, Bill Moyers would say, "tone deaf") to the role that religion is playing in this big story.
So, how do you ponder what Americans are thinking about events in Iraq and Syria without taking the current Islamic State campaign against religious minorities into account? What do many ordinary Americans "get" that many journalists are struggling to "get"?
IMAGE: Given to CNN and other media outlets by the activist group "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently."