What we have here is another case of what we could call "generic-god syndrome." That's when claims of divine guidance or deliverance are important enough to feature in a mainstream news story, but not important enough to define with facts -- perhaps with a single clause in a single sentence.
Most of the time we see generic-god syndrome in sports coverage, or stories about the Grammy Awards. The stakes are much higher in a news story about Ebola.
As a former GetReligionista put it in an email: "Did the dallas ebola patient have faith? ... Looks like his son did ... maybe that offers a clue?" In this case, our former scribe was talking about material strong enough (yet it still needed to be vague) to provide the human-interest hook for a CBS News story.
Here's a large chunk of the story -- about the death of Thomas Eric Duncan -- to provide context. This comes right after the lede:
The son of the Texas Ebola patient traveled hundreds of miles to visit his father on Tuesday -- but was unable to see him, reports CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez. He said it was his faith that pushed him to leave college to be with his father.
"I just came down here because I felt God was calling me to come see my dad," Duncan's 19-year-old son Karsiah said.
Duncan died Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He was being treated with an experimental drug. He was also on a ventilator and receiving dialysis.
"I hope and keep praying that my family is okay and my dad makes it out safely," his son said.
And that was, literally, that. For safety reasons, the son -- Karsiah Eric Duncan -- was not allowed to see his father -- although the CBS team poignantly notes that hospital officials did offer to let the young man Skype into the room for a final conversation. The son declined, until it was too late, while holding out hope for visitation rights.
As a reader, I was left with all kinds of questions, including wanting to know which college the son was coming from that was hundreds of miles away, as opposed to thousands. Oh, and then there was that faith question?
A much better and more in-depth report in The Washington Post offered many, many more details -- in some cases details from the events (sort of) covered by the CBS team. In this news report, the son's mother Troh actually has a church and a pastor (which were glimpsed in a recent Bobby Ross post about other coverage in Dallas).
“I’m praying that my dad will be okay,” Karsiah said Tuesday night at his mother’s church in Dallas. “I hope that they will find a cure for this.”
He was about to leave for the hospital Wednesday morning when he received a phone call from his mother telling him his father had died. Family members began to wail, doubling over, sobbing.
“Before the drug treatment was started, she was very anxious because she felt like nothing positive was being done for him,” her pastor, the Rev. George Mason, said in an interview. “She just broke out in elation when they announced that he was being treated with the drug. . . . She began to praise God. She was very happy.”
On Tuesday, her son, a student at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Tex., surprised her by arriving in Dallas. ...
Troh has refused to allow her son to visit her in isolation. “She has felt that it was best for him to have complete confidence that he was not exposed,” said Mason, who is senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.
The obvious question is this: In the Internet age, did the CBS News story have the room -- online -- to report these details? Of course. Did the CBS team have the personnel to cover these press conferences and to interview the participants? It appears, to me, that the answer is "yes."
So why play the God card in this kind of story and then not offer one or two sentences that raise a vague reference into stronger and more specific information?