This might be the time to raise a frequent GetReligion complaint up to the level of common law: If journalists play the God card in their ledes, they really owe the reader some basic information about the significant role that religion plays in the story. The Associated Press obituary for Penthouse founder Bob Guccione is a perfect example of this principle -- especially since this is the story that is running in newspapers from coast to coast. Here is the top of the digital clip from the Washington Post:
DALLAS -- Bob Guccione tried the seminary and spent years trying to make it as an artist before he found the niche that Hugh Hefner left for him in the late 1960s. Where Hefner's Playboy magazine strove to surround its pinups with an upscale image, Guccione aimed for something a little more direct with Penthouse.
More explicit nudes. Sensational stories. Even more sensational letters that began, "Dear Penthouse, I never thought I'd be writing you. ..."
It worked for decades for Guccione, who died Wednesday in Texas at the age of 79. He estimated that Penthouse earned $4 billion during his reign as publisher. He was listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people with a net worth of about $400 million in 1982.
Anyone who has done any reading about the history of magazines in modern America knows something about the alleged connections between Hugh Hefner's Methodist roots and his unique sense of vocation. However, this was the first I had heard (I took Ted Peterson's legendary graduate course on magazine theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) that the even more pushy, and less pretentious, Guccione had a dose of traditional religion in his background.
Clearly, this lightning bolt in the first few words of the story was worthy of further exploration. What led him to ditch his religious faith -- in terms of moral theology, at the very least -- when he decided to pick up a camera and enlist in the Sexual Revolution? What did Guccione have to say about religion, in general (in an era when Hefner held himself up as a philosopher)?
Here is what we get.
Guccione was born in Brooklyn and attended prep school in New Jersey. He spent several months in a Catholic seminary before dropping out to pursue his dream of becoming an artist.
That's it. The obit contains some other interesting details (special guest appearances by the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Helen Mirren), but nothing that really digs behind that provocative lede element.
The story ends with a sigh:
Married four times, Guccione had a daughter, Tonina, from his first marriage and three sons, Bob Jr., Tony, and Nick, and a daughter, Nina, from his second marriage. April Guccione said services for her husband will be private.
In other coverage, The Wall Street Journal notes that he left the seminary to marry his high school sweetheart. He then moved to Rome to "paint still lives of apples, pears, and, of course, nude female bathers."
Over at Bloomberg.com, readers can learn that the czar of soft-porn "was once an altar boy in the Catholic Church who spent several months in a seminary before dropping out, according to Biography.com."
That's that. Apparently there is no moral content here worth exploring.