The burning crux of the matter

Surely by now you've seen the news that an enormous statue of Jesus was burnt to the ground in Ohio Monday. There were only 1,000 or so Google news links about it.

I knew right away that copy editors would have a field day with potential headlines about "Touchdown Jesus," the structure's nickname. "Oh, tmatt, you should never dare a copy editor," Doug LeBlanc said yesterday to Terry's "Burning (Son of) Man" headline suggestion. Here's Doug's list:

Refiner's Fire Our God Is a Consuming Fire Crispy Kitsch Kritter Paging Flannery O'Connor Jesus' Cute Overload Kitschapoppin

Trust me, the ironies behind this story make me laugh as much as the next person. I love watching a good battle over the best headline.

At the same time, journalists seem to be peeing their pants over this story making sure its fully covered. It's not like the Southern Baptists were having a convention or anything.

In their attempts, I wonder whether reporters were trying so hard to be cute that they forgot to just tell the story. I'm all for laughs and giggles, but surely reporters understand there is some line that shouldn't be crossed. Apparently not, if you check some of the most respected sources like the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

"The King of Kings is now ashes to ashes," Diane Kepley says in her video report for the Associated Press. "They say the King of Kings was a beacon of hope and salvation."

This lead won't even make sense to most people who aren't familiar with the grand structure. I guess I preferred this lead that ran in the Detroit Free Press from the AP.

You know that huge statue of Jesus on northbound I-75 just outside of Cincinnati?

It was struck by lightning and burned down.

So simple yet so true. Jennifer Grant of the Cincinnati Enquirer captured the news while leaving room for some jest. (Check out the "write your own headline" feature and the audio of the 911 call) This is an example of how a newspaper kept the reporting solid while capturing the ironies.

In the meantime, forget any financial woes at the Washington Post; they have the resources to put not one but two reporters on the case.

Here's the grand and very expensive lede from Monica Hesse and Dan Zak:

It appears God has sacrificed his only son. Again.

Blasphemous much? Sure, reporters can have some fun with this, but they could keep in mind that they are comparing this to the same person that Christians believe lived and breathed and was crucified.

When I chatted with Brad about this topic, he produced a few ledes in less than a minute:

Well, it looks like God got tired of competing with Sunday football.

Who said God appreciates endzone exaltations?

Jesus raised the roof and now it's on fire.

The rest of the Post's piece reads as if the reporters held a drinking game for every time they found a religion reference during a natural disaster. The newspaper's style section is known for its puff pieces, but surely two heads could come up with something better than this.

So, we turned to science. Religious structures, especially church steeples, are regularly zapped because they are often the highest point in a given area, according to John Jensenius, lightning safety specialist for the National Weather Service. But the same goes for towering secular symbols.

"Oh, she's hit by lightning on a continual basis," says Statue of Liberty spokesman Darren Boch.

When asked whether such lightning strikes might represent a malevolent act of God toward America, Boch says, "I can clearly state that no one here deems it an act of God."

Which brings us to the main reason for writing this story: Lightning Safety Week starts Sunday.

Finally in the 16th paragraph, the reporters make their point. I hate to be the party pooper, but do national reporters really need to fall all over themselves to put several reporters on this? The Post story could've been written by someone in his mom's basement in pajamas. I'm all for clever leads, brilliant headlines, witty comparisons, but on some level, doesn't the story tell itself?

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