A flurry of e-mailed links to religion news stories flies back and forth each day among your friendly neighborhood GetReligionistas. If a contributor wants to take a crack at a particular story, that person calls "Dibs!"
We review many more stories than we have time or space to critique, evidenced by the 3,798 items in my "GR story possibilities" folder. In the case of the story I'm about to highlight, the e-mailed link drew an immediate question from one member of our team, who asked:
Is this a news story?
I replied to the question by attaching an image of the Sunday front page of The Tennessean, where Godbeat pro Bob Smietana's story on the Christian right received prominent play.
But the connotation of my colleague's question was clear. And in the case of this particular report, it's a fair question, I believe.
As is typically true, Smietana quotes excellent sources who provide interesting insight. But in a number of places, this story reads more like an editorial than a news account, starting at the very top:
Since the day Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, white Christians have considered themselves the home team in American politics.
As the dominant social group, they’ve shaped the country’s moral and political culture for nearly 400 years.
But the recent presidential election is a sign that those days may be over, a prospect that’s encouraging or terrifying, depending on which side people are on.
For some, the change leads to fear that America is no longer a Christian nation. For others, it’s an opportunity to separate faith from the quest for political power.
What's missing? Specific attribution (named sources) certainly would help back up the claims stated as facts.
Perhaps labeling such a piece a "News Analysis" would alert readers that they're in for a heavy dose of the reporter's perspective and opinions, but that did not occur in this case.
The writer's choice of Bible teachings to reference provides additional hints of editorialization. For example, there's this:
Mansfield points out that conservative politics and the Bible don’t always match up. Take immigration. The Bible teaches believers to welcome strangers and immigrants and not to mistreat them, he said, but conservative politics dictates illegal immigrants be deported and a wall built to keep them out.
I wrote a story myself this year in which I noted that Leviticus 19:33 declares, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.” On the flip side, however, Romans 13:1 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established."
Also in The Tennessean's story:
The Bible tells believers to care for the poor. Religious conservatives often put a priority on personal responsibility.
Again, I would expect that an objective news story would allow the religious conservatives, too, to offer a biblical perspective. For example, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'"
Before closing, I should remind GetReligion readers that I am a fan of Smietana's generally first-class work on the religion beat, evidenced by my previous posts praising his stories. That's probably why I did not immediately call "Dibs!" on this latest story but rather was encouraged to take it.
But in this single case, a talented and competent journalist (and his newspaper) fell short of the mark, in my humble opinion. As always, I welcome opposing viewpoints in the comments section. However, please take a moment and read the whole story before weighing in.