Praying in California (giggle, giggle)

A telephone rings in The New York Times' Big Apple newsroom. It's a Los Angeles correspondent calling with a righteously humorous scoop on the California state budget crisis.

Correspondent: "Hey, I got a good one on the budget thing."

Editor: "OK, shoot."

Correspondent: "Some people with connections are stepping in to solve the crisis."

Editor: "Really, who?"

Correspondent: "Some faith groups. They're going to pray and ask God to intervene."

(Insert hysterical laughter by the editor and correspondent.)

Editor (regaining his composure): "You're kidding. Are they serious?"

Correspondent: "I don't know. Maybe."

(More laughter.)

Editor: "OK, could be a worth a bright. Have some fun with it. Give it 350 words or so, OK? And let me know if you come across any real news."


The next morning, this "news story" (trying to conform with Times style on scare quotes) appears on Page A15 of the New York edition. Here's the top of the piece (please prepare to guffaw):

Big budget gap? Call in the big guy

LOS ANGELES -- And on the first day without a state budget, the men and women of God gathered in prayer at the Capitol to beg that he guide the mortals in closing a gap of biblical proportions.

A day after California lawmakers missed the June 15 deadline to have a budget in place, leaders representing 10 faiths sought "divine wisdom" on Wednesday, offered prayers and demanded that God occupy a seat at the budget negotiating table, joining the so-called Big 5: the governor and the four ranking Senate and Assembly leaders.

"We are calling for a Big 6," said Sara Nichols of the Center for Spiritual Awareness, a former lobbyist and minister-in-training with the nondenominational religious community that organized the event. "We wanted to bless them and say, 'They can do it.' "

Not only was GetReligion privy to the above phone conversation (it's a rush transcript, by the way), we obtained a confidential copy of the editor's notes to the reporter on the final version of the piece.

Here's what the editor had to say about those three paragraphs above:

Great lede. The Genesis reference is a nice touch, and the "gap of biblical proportions" phrasing is snappy.

But what I liked best: The description of those praying as "men and women of God" and "mortals" made it real clear that we're not taking this craziness too seriously, or seriously at all, I mean.

To that end, I added the quote marks on "divine wisdom" in the second graf just so there was no misunderstanding.

On the reference to "leaders representing 10 faiths," I thought about asking you to be more specific. I had no idea whether you meant different Christian faiths, or whether there were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, et al, involved in this. You mention the Center for Spiritual Awareness, but again, I'm clueless on what that is -- is it a Christian group; is it a multi-faith group; is it some New Wave religious movement?

But I digress. Such details would probably matter in a political or business story, or even a sports story, but since we're dealing with religion, no need to worry about it. LOL.

Later in the story, there's this:

This year, the fiscal misery befits Job: a $19 billion deficit, legislative gridlock that has defied even a governor with an action-hero past, that same governor mightily resisting the lame-duck mantle, and an election year that makes compromise -- increasingly a four-letter word -- harder still. All this while the state comptroller warns that it gets harder to pay bills the more the state pushes past the July 1 start of the fiscal year, just two weeks away.

Mere "human creations," Ms. Nichols scoffed. "They don't have to tie us down. There is room for creativity and divine intervention. What is inspiration? It draws on the other power we have."

More from the editor:

Really enjoyed the Job reference. Shows that even though we don't take this praying stuff seriously, we are intellectual enough to throw in a Bible reference when it adds to the cheekiness factor.

By the way, still would love to know whether these folks are serious about thinking prayer could solve a budget crisis. That's insane. I understand why you didn't get into that in the story, but when you're in New York sometime, let's have a beer and chat about the "real scoop."

(In case it's not abundantly clear, the above is a fictional attempt at humor. Please take it as seriously as the Times did its news reporting on this story.)

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