Kelly Brewington of The Baltimore Sun had a good idea. After the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. said that an attack on him was an attack on the black church, Brewington polled local black pastors to see if they agreed with him. Considering the difficulty of polling black pastors nationally, the reporter was smart to keep the focus local.
Brewington started the story strong. The Sun reporter hinted to readers that the story would contain subtlety and nuance. She quoted a black pastor whose views could not be easily categorized:
The Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr. considers the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. to be a tremendous pastor and a brilliant theologian. But sitting in the audience of the National Press Club in Washington this week, Hathaway found himself wincing at some of the remarks by Sen. Barack Obama's embattled former pastor.
"When Jeremiah Wright says an attack on him is 'an attack on the black church,' that's kind of stretching things," said Hathaway, pastor of Baltimore's Union Baptist Church. "I think it's potentially dangerous."
He is not the only one who thought so.
Brewington also pulled off two feats. The reporter quoted the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, a Baltimore pastor who co-wrote a book with the famous pastor, and gave readers important context for Wright's assertion that the U.S. government infected blacks with the HIV virus:
Reid said those who find Wright's words offensive might not be aware of the context.
"Certainly, all black churches do not think that the American government created AIDS to kill black people, but all black people also know that the Tuskegee Experiment was real," he said.
In the Tuskegee study, researchers for the U.S. Public Health Service allowed syphilis in black men in Alabama to go untreated for more than 40 years.
I wish Brewington's story had continued in this vein: localizing a hot national story. Alas, it did not. The reporter failed to put the pastors in context -- denominationally, politically, or congregationally.
Brewington quoted from numerous black preachers, but the reasons for doing so are unclear. Are churches such as New Unity Church Ministries and the Ark Church part of a denomination or not? Do the pastors quoted in the story represent the largest churches in the city or a mixture of sizes? Are these pastors, to paraphrase the author, educated and enlightened or
dumb less educated and socially conservative?
Brewington had the opportunity to make the story great. But by not executing the journalistic fundamentals, it was an opportunity missed.