Get those opinions in the news

If anyone needs any evidence that inaugurations are for the most part all about pomp and circumstance, see The Chicago Tribune's home page the day after the big event. The top of the "most read list" was an article about who made Michelle Obama's dresses. Just below the front page's top news story ("Obama freezes top-pay, adds ethic rules") were two columns of articles -- the first titled "fashion" and the second titled "The reaction."

I was hoping to find a follow-up article on the role of religion throughout the day's events, particularly after Manya A. Brachear's Sunday article questioning (in the headline) whether religion should be a part of the day at all, but unfortunately I have yet to see anything (other than this short piece on ballroom guests).

The role of religion in the public square is a great subject to ponder, particularly in news articles. If we get a preview of religion's role in an event, should there not be some sort of follow-up from the newspaper that covers Obama's hometown? In other words, if you write a news article saying that Miami's warm weather could play a role in the Super Bowl, might you want to follow that up with an article the next day talking about whether the weather did indeed play a role in the game.

For various reasons of which I am not aware, the Tribune's coverage of the reaction to religion's role in the inauguration was relegated to opinion-oriented blog posts.

Leading the list of reactions for the Tribune was Steve Chapman's post (on a blog subtitled "Solving the world's problems, one post at a time") on how a certain prayer was a slap in the face against nonbelievers:

If I were a Christian, I'd have been embarrassed by Rick Warren's invocation at the Inauguration. It was aggressively evangelical, serving to exclude everyone who doesn't accept the divinity of Jesus. Warren invoked his name four times, in four different languages, and closed by reciting the Lord's Prayer, a specifically Christian supplication. He seemed to think he was at a revival rather than a secular event meant for all -- in a country whose constitution rejects official sponsorship of any faith.

No one expected Warren to pretend to be something other than an evangelical Christian. But better pastors know how to strike themes that resonate with believers without making everyone else feel slapped in the face. Nonbelievers are asked to respect religion by sitting quietly during prayers of this sort. It's not too much to expect a measure of restraint in return.

Chapman's fourth and final paragraph has a super short opinion-oriented statement from Americans United for Separation of Church and State's Joe Conn (that backs up his post's point), but that is a total of four paragraphs of almost solid opinion (without any links, texts, or videos). That's nice, but what purpose is that post really serving beyond the above-average letter to the editor? If newspapers are to survive, their blog posts will have to be more relevant than that.

I know resources are tight these days, but covering the opinions on matters such as these in news stories -- along with an attempt at balance, the filter of editors and the benefits of providing original content -- could provide a much better product than what we have here.

But onto other coverage of the big event that relates to religion. Tribune critic Chris Jones noticed an interesting bit about the benediction:

When the benediction to a presidential inauguration -- the benediction -- contains the very ungodly phrase "fiscal climate," you know times are tough. But Barack H. Obama has a preternatural sense of context.

At Tuesday's inaugural ceremonies, analysts and cameras strained for symbols, metaphors and context. His brow furrowed against the icy currents of the moment, the new 44th president of the United States delivered duties, challenges and responsibilities.

Has any political process anywhere, anytime, ever churned up so disciplined a rhetorician, a speaker with such an innate simultaneous sense of the possibilities and limitations of the moment?

At least we know one person at the Tribune paid attention to the religious content of the inauguration beyond Warren's prayer.

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