"MSNBC can do a decent religion story? Miracles do happen," a friend of GR said in a tip about an article on nurses volunteering to fight Ebola.
And the tipster is right. For a company whose founder called church a waste of time -- as Bill Gates did in 1997 -- MSNBC has produced a remarkably sensitive, respectful story on nurses' preparations to work in Ebola-stricken Liberia.
The article packs a lot in its 1,289 words. It updates us on the quarantine controversy -- the rush of states to isolate medical workers on their return from treating Ebola patients. It's full of touching personal details on the two women who are about to leave for western Africa. And it presents an unflinching, unapologetic look at the faith that drives them to risk their lives.
MSNBC's writer clearly liked Megan Vitek, her friend Sara Phillips and their well-wishers. She notes that Vitek's home, and that of her friends, is dubbed the "Scooby Doo Mansion." She tells of Vitek visiting an apartment building and greeting an inflatable Headless Horseman dummy. It's a clever device to show the contrast with where she's going.
Here's the lede:
Before she left town on Sunday, there were a few things that Megan Vitek, a nurse, needed to get done: Return a big serving bowl to a relative, eat a scone from her favorite coffee shop in Washington, D.C., and pick up 25 pairs of goggles to protect her team from Ebola in Liberia.
But Vitek isn't cast as a Pollyanna or proselytizer. She is instead portrayed as humble, matter-of-fact, perhaps pushing away the enormity of what she's about to confront:
After dropping off the backpack full of goggles, she got inside her silver hatchback to pick up her friend Sara, who will also be heading to work at a rural Ebola clinic in Liberia’s Bong County, about 120 miles outside Monrovia. “If I’m being called to do this, in some ways, God is going to provide for me,” Vitek said as she drove.
“That doesn’t mean I’m not going to get sick, that doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. But I feel pretty confident, and others do as well, that this is what I’m being called to do,” she said.
Called? Howso? MSNBC relates the answer in a refreshingly non-cynical way. Vitek speaks of circumstances steering her: roommates marrying and leaving, feeling "unfulfilled" in her job at an insurance firm, the rapid ramp-up of Ebola news.
The news made Sara Phillips react more emotionally, according to an intense paragraph:
Phillips packed some worship music to keep her spirits up and made sure her will was settled. In the last few weeks, she had become more anxious to get over there. Driving in her car, she heard a radio segment about the crisis in West Africa. She couldn’t contain herself. “I’m trying!” she said aloud in the car. “I’m trying to get there!”
We get a couple of hints of how desperate the medical situation remains in Liberia. Even the larger facilities there require a triage treatment -- suspected, probable, and confirmed cases -- and smaller ones lack sufficient staff for more than two categories.
Vitek shows consideration for her housemates in Washington, D.C., the MSNBC story shows. On her return, she has told them, she'll use plastic utensils and keep to her bedroom until she's sure that she is free of Ebola.
And yes, MSNBC bears down on the controversy over how long to quarantine people who return from Ebola areas. It has both Vitek and Phillips gently protesting the treatment of Kaci Hickox, who fought Maine's order to stay indoors for three weeks. “She just watched a bunch of people die from Ebola,” Phillips says. "She has no interest in getting it, or spreading it."
The article relates the glow of support from Vitek and Phillips' friends and family: a chocolate bar, an Amazon Kindle, a prayer meeting. An amazing section of five paragraphs relates the prayers: for courage, for more people to answer the call, for a cure for Ebola.
One of the friends even quotes from the Gospel According to John -- and the verse gets into the MSNBC story.
So if there's hope for Ebola patients, we can hold out hope for MSNBC and its founder, right? OK, that may be overly facetious. Bill Gates himself told Rolling Stone in March, "The moral systems of religion, I think, are superimportant." He also said that he felt an obligation "to try and reduce the inequity in the world. And that's kind of a religious belief."
Whatever the motivation, MSNBC was clearly won over by the quiet faith and courage of two young women as they prepared to face an out-of-control plague. The result was a warm, perceptive story.