"Religious differences," a knife and a TV report

Every now and then, a GetReligion reader sends us a link to a religion-deficient story produced by a local television station or even one of the national networks. The print version of the story will be about four or five short paragraphs long and in most cases will lack basic facts. The 90-second video report posted on the website may or may not be any better, when it comes to the depth of the reporting. Most of these stories resemble this recent example of the genre, from my old stomping grounds in West Palm Beach, Fla. This is the whole story:

Police: Man killed brother because of religious differences

Brandin Gonsalves accused of fatally stabbing his brother at their apartment

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A West Palm Beach man accused of killing his brother said he did it because of their "differences in religious beliefs," according to a police report.

Brandin Gonsalves was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of his brother, Gerard Gonsalves Jr., last week.

According to the West Palm Beach police report, Brandin Gonsalves confessed to detectives that he "ambushed" his brother after he stepped out of the shower at the home they shared in the Ponte Verde apartments. He then took a shower in another bathroom, changed clothes and stole his brother's pickup truck, the report stated. Police later found the truck parked outside a convenience store in Broward County. Gonsalves was arrested three days later in Sweetwater.

An autopsy revealed that Gerard Gonsalves Jr. was stabbed at least 69 times.

Obviously, a GetReligion reader sent us this link because of the "religious differences" angle. The reader wanted an answer to the obvious question: What kind of "religious differences"? Was this a fatal argument over premillennial dispensationalism or the ordination of women? Were they arguing about whether or not Mormons are traditional Christians or whether President Barack Obama is or isn't a Universalist Christian?

Well, if you watch the video version, it seems that if you want to blame anyone for the religious ghost in this story you really need to blame the local police. To me, it seems that the reporter is simply reading the language that was typed into the public-record police document.

However, this reader's email raises a basic question for your GetReligionistas, one that The Divine Mrs. MZ and I were discussing just the other day. Here it is: What is this website supposed to be doing in terms of critiques of religion-news coverage on television, seeing as how (a) hardly any exists and (b) we would almost certainly be criticizing stressed-out reporters for failing to provide deep, detailed stories while working in a format that, 99 percent of the time, does not allow for deep, detailed stories?

Truth be told, isn't it possible to criticize most television reports for their lack of depth? Frankly, I am amazed at how much information truly committed television journalists manage to jam through the small windows they are given.

So what's my point? We really do need GetReligion readers to keep sending us URLs for this kind of news material -- especially when the video reports are paired, CNN or MSNBC style, with substantial text products. At the same time, we need people to think twice before clicking "send." Please let us know when TV reports do a great job. Please let us know when reports make errors on essential facts, the kinds of errors that warp the material. But if a story is simply shallow, then ask this question: Could I have done better with this topic in 60 seconds or so?

Meanwhile, here is the entire Associated Press report for that same faith-based stabbing in South Florida.

SWEETWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Police in South Florida say they've arrested a man who stabbed his brother more than 65 times with a knife.

Sweetwater police say 23-year-old Brandin Anderson Gonsalves of West Palm Beach has been charged with first degree murder. Gonsalves is suspected of stabbing his older brother, Gerard Gonsalves, to death on July 10. He's also accused of stealing his brother's car.

A Sweetwater police officer saw Brandin Gonsalves standing suspiciously in the city's business district on Thursday. The officer asked what he was doing there, since most of the businesses nearby were closed. Authorities say the suspect responded that he did not know.

Police say Brandin Gonsalves then told the officer he had killed his brother and that he was the one police were searching for.

Wow. Now I'm really depressed.

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