One of the nation's top religion writers looked at the following Washington Post story that ran the other day and his/her head almost exploded after reading the lede. So, put on your GetReligion-reader hat and take a look at this one, which ran under this headline: "Wade Michael Page was steeped in neo-Nazi ‘hate music’ movement." And here is the top of the story, just to establish the context for the lede:
Whatever caused Wade Michael Page to massacre worshipers at a Wisconsin Sikh temple on Sunday may never be known. But this much is clear: For at least a decade, he had been steeped in a neo-Nazi “hate music” scene that espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions.
The existence of this music subculture surprised many Americans, but law enforcement agencies and civil rights organizations that monitor hate groups have been paying attention to these groups and their followers since the genre began to emerge in the United States in the early 1980s. The Anti-Defamation League estimates that there are approximately 100 to 150 active or semi-active bands that perform and release such music in the United States.
Aiming to energize followers and intimidate others, many of these bands boast names that favor shock over subtlety -- Jew Slaughter, Grinded Nig, Angry Aryans, Ethnic Cleansing.
OK, did you spot the issue in the lede?
What we are facing is a simple matter of logic. Let's look at the hot phrase, once again, in which we are told that Page was associated with the whole neo-Nazi rock scene that "espouses white power and racial superiority and occasionally promotes violent acts against people of other races and religions."
So what did our religion-beat pro see in that (and I certainly agree with this criticism)?
Religions "other" than what? Is he implying that these folks are Christian? Does he mean other than Teutonic pagans? Inquiring minds want to know, but this story never elaborates on that lede, other than to mention anti-semitism.
In other words, the neo-Nazis have been known to commit violence against believers in religious faiths other than their own. Thus, the question: What is the faith of the neo-Nazi groups? What is the name of that faith? How is it described? Are they Pagans, evangelicals, ex-Catholics, liberal mainline Protestants or what?
The Post story never goes there and that is the problem. This leaves a large and dangerous hole in the report.
To be specific, this story is missing some very important facts. This is another case in which, to return to that Poynter.org diversity-and-ethics essay by Aly Colon ("Preying Presbyterians?") that I quote so often, the editors have failed to produce a story that connects "faith to facts."
As you may recall, Colon writes:
“As journalists, we choose words carefully and conscientiously. We select nouns and adjectives to advance the story. We connect dots. We make points. We clarify. We explain,” wrote Colon. “So when I see the word ‘Presbyterian,’ I expect an explanation somewhere in the story that tells me why I need to know that. I would expect the same if other terms were used, such as ‘Catholic,’ ‘Episcopalian,’ ‘Christian,’ ‘Hindu,’ ‘Jew,’ ‘Mormon,’ ‘Hindu,’ ‘Buddhist,’ ‘Muslim’ or ‘Pagan.’ “
In this case, the Post team did not use a label -- other than the vague term "religion" -- but set up a sequence of logic that implied one. Is the implication that the neo-Nazis are a religion in and of themselves? If so, that is something that needs to be shown, not assumed. Are the neo-Nazis a twisted version of another religion that they have, in practice, rejected? That would also need to be demonstrated -- connecting the faith language (or this implication) to on-the-record facts.
Once again, what we are talking about is a process called "journalism." This story failed to do the basics -- about a subject raised in the lede.
In. The. Lede.