Judgment Day for CNN

Back in January, I bid farewell to life as we know it and voiced a few concerns about an Associated Press story on the impending end of the world.

With Judgment Day only about 10 weeks away, I thought I'd focus on another major media report on this topic -- while there's still time.

Now, I am fully aware of the Doomsday scenario that typically befalls the comments section of any GetReligion post that praises the mainstream media. Nevertheless, I intend to shower an apocalyptic level of adoration on CNN's "Road trip to the end of the world."

The top of the story:

From Jacksonville to Tampa, Florida (CNN) -- If you thought you had less than three perfectly healthy months to live, what would you do? Would you travel? Spend time with loved ones? Appreciate the joy life has given you?

Or would you ditch your kids and grandkids, join strangers in a caravan of RVs and travel the country warning people about the end of the world?

If you're Sheila Jonas, that's exactly what you'd do.

"This is so serious, I can't believe I'm here," says Jonas, who's been on the road since fall. Like her cohorts, she's "in it 'til the end," which she believes is coming in May.

She won't talk about her past because, "There is no other story. ... We are to warn the people. Nothing else matters."

Such faith and concern drove her and nine others, all loyal listeners of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio, to join the radio station's first "Project Caravan" team.

This is the kind of story that -- just a few years ago -- the old-school newspaperman in me would have argued that only a print journalist could produce. Yet here is a 3,300-word multimedia feature by the Cable News Network that provides a remarkable window into a major 2011 religion story.

First of all, this is a story, not a report. It unfolds naturally and develops characters, not stereotypical cardboard cutouts. And it does so in a way that takes the subject matter seriously, but not too seriously.

In other words, there is room for humor.

My favorite section in the whole piece occurs as the end-of-the-worlders struggle to line up their five RVs -- numbered 11 to 15:

"Eleven, 15, go back please," a voice crackles over the walkie-talkies.

Spin around. Veer right. Stop. Wait.

"Is everyone in order and ready to come out of there?" Crackle, crackle. "13?"


"I hope the Rapture is smoother than this," one driver says.

That's real journalism -- the kind that occurs when a reporter has the time and resources to go behind the scenes and tell the story.

But please don't misunderstand: This story isn't all fun and games. The journalist takes care to provide specific details about the faith journeys of the people who have left their regular lives to go on the road and spread an end-times message. And the writer includes specific biblical references:

They have been chosen by God to spread the news few understand, the ambassadors say. They liken themselves to biblical figures, including Jonah, who God commanded to warn the people of Nineveh of their city's destruction.

They say their work comes with ample precedence, that the God they believe in would never bring judgment on his people without warning them first. Their job is to "sound the alarm," they say, pointing to Ezekiel 33. Just by being out in their RVs, wearing their T-shirts, jackets and caps, and passing out their pamphlets -- which they call tracts -- they are fulfilling a mission.

Moreover, the piece contains important background on Harold Camping, the broadcaster behind the end-of-the-world prediction, including the fact that he has gotten the big day wrong in the past:

He has dissected scripture and crunched his biblical numbers to come up with the fateful dates. He rattles off mathematical explanations of how he did this work, throwing out Bible verses and calculations that leave an outsider's head spinning.

But Camping also happens to be the man who once said September 6, 1994, would be the big day. ...

This time around, he has no doubts.

"I know it's absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true," he says. "If I were not faithful that would mean that I'm a hypocrite."

This is one of those stories where I'm tempted to copy and paste nearly every word as a blockquote. But I'll resist the urge and simply encourage you to read it yourself.

Feel free to offer your own reflections on the piece. Of course, comments will mess up my entire Doomsday scenario. But that's OK.

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