Franklin Graham 'experts,' singular

The following post is not really about Franklin Graham and his upcoming festival targeting Latinos in the greater Los Angeles area. I mean, in a way it is. That's kind of the subject. But it's not really the journalistic subject that interests me in this here Los Angeles Times report, which almost certainly was butchered by an editor somewhere (at least, I hope that is what happened).

So what's up? Let's start by checking the sprawling double-decker headline:

Franklin Graham hopes to launch Latino religious revival

After speaking across Central and South America, he kicks off a Festival de Esperanza in the Los Angeles area Saturday. Experts say the Latino audience may not embrace his across-the-board conservatism.

Crucial journalism word in there? That would be "experts" -- plural.

To cut to the chase, anyone who knows any Billy Graham history knows that the evangelist's tent-revival meetings 60-something years in Los Angeles were pivotal events in his career, almost as important as his first trip to England and the great New York City crusades. This story does a pretty good job of setting that scene.

However, things get more interesting when Graham the younger's blunt style and some of his political comments are woven into the story. Thus, here's the key chunk of the report:

Graham, who doesn't speak Spanish, said he has preached with a translator's help in all but one of the Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America, the exception being Guatemala, and would offer a similar experience to those attending this weekend's festivals.

"We're treating this festival the same as if I was in Argentina, or if I was in Lima or Guayaquil," he said. If it is successful, he added, he hopes to hold Latino revivals in other places, such as Houston, San Antonio, Fresno and Miami.

"Graham is really acknowledging that the face of evangelicalism is changing," said Helene Slessarev-Jamir, a professor of urban ministries and ethics at the Claremont School of Theology.

She wondered, though, if a Latino audience would accept some of his conservative political positions. "Latino evangelicals are conservative on many social issues," she said, but not on other matters, especially immigration. "Franklin Graham tends to be conservative all the way around," she added.

The story moves on to a very blunt summary of a few of Graham's beliefs and actions, all tweaked to fit the narrative that he more closely resembles the late Jerry Falwell than is own respected father.

While her comments are rather mundane, what truly fascinates me is that Slessarev-Jamir is, apparently, a scholar with multiple-personality syndrome. This singular woman is, it seems, the plural "critics" referenced in the headline. Were there others experts who were cut out of this story somewhere between keyboard and printing press?

That's one issue. The other issue is that the only voice evaluating Franklin Graham, in this story, is this singular scholar from a campus that would make anyone's A list of America's most liberal or progressive theological centers. Remember the stories about this school going multifaith and risking it's United Methodist ties and support?

How to put this? Allowing a professor from Claremont to be the only expert quoted in a hard-news story covering Franklin Graham is something like writing a story about Elton John and citing, as your only expert, a cultural critic from Focus on the Family or Regent University.

I mean, quoting Slessarev-Jamir is a great start on a balanced debate about this controversial man. It would also be easy to find evangelical intellectuals who would offer informed criticism of some of his views. It would be even easier to find Latino evangelicals and Pentecostals -- in greater LA -- who would praise him, but then critique some of his past actions and statements. This is not hard work.

But one pluriform "experts" from Claremont and that's it? That's the best the Los Angeles Times can do on a non-deadline story?

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