While most of her Godbeat colleagues were in Atlanta enjoying #RNA2014 this past weekend, The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor Carla Hinton remained in her home state of Oklahoma to cover a big news story.
If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you've seen our past posts on the national media attention leading up to Sunday's Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City.
For good background on the black mass, check out Tulsa World religion writer Bill Sherman's excellent interview with the Satanic organizer. Sherman produced a good story, too, on Monsignor Patrick Brankin, a Catholic exorcist who reports increasing demonic activity. From that story:
Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa said the practice of exorcism is gaining ground in the Catholic Church.
This summer the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Catholic exorcists to which Brankin belongs. Exorcism conferences are held at the Vatican.
When Slattery arrived in Tulsa 20 years ago, he said, the diocese was getting about one call a year concerning demonic activity, and those callers were determined to have psychological problems, not demon possession.
“But in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,” he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that “open the door to the demonic.”
But back to Carla and The Oklahoman: Oklahoma City's daily newspaper covered the black mass and related protests the old-fashioned way: by dispatching writers and photographers to the scene and reporting as fully and fairly as possible under deadline circumstances. Of course, besides cranking out stories for the next day's print edition, the journalists provided live updates, too.
I chuckled at one of Carla's tweets.
The in-depth, breaking news coverage in Monday's Oklahoman included stories both on the protesters and the black mass itself.
Interestingly, the newspaper put the protest story — not the Satanists — on the front page:
Hundreds of people gathered Sunday night outside the Civic Center Music Hall to protest a Satanic “black mass,” many praying or holding signs denouncing the ritual being held inside.
The protest story gave a readers a feel for the overall crowd while putting a face on individuals outside the Civic Center — some Christians and others just curious:
Albert Storz, 44, of Tulsa, walked with determination through the crowd, sermonizing and holding up his Bible.
“Shame, shame on Oklahoma City,” he yelled, his voice hoarse and cracking and his forehead dripping with sweat.
Storz, who described himself as a street preacher who often visits prisons to preach, said he drove down to show his opposition to a ritual he felt was offensive and antagonistic.
“The Bible says evil prevails if good men do nothing,” Storz said, his breath short from yelling.
“We may be provoking the Satanists, but it’s a whole lot better than standing by and doing nothing,” Storz said. “I’m going to be a light, a voice in the darkness.”
Another interesting observer:
Alberto Velazquez, 31, of Oklahoma City, tried to find a ticket to attend the sold-out ritual. Velazquez, a member of the Air National Guard and a practicing Catholic, said while he didn’t agree with the ritual he fought for the freedom of religion as a member of the armed forces.
“I just want to be educated on what they stand for,” Velazquez said.
“I think it’s hard to be against something you don’t understand.”
Meanwhile, Carla's story on the black mass itself ran inside the newspaper. It was told in a straightforward, non-judgmental manner.
Readers could make up their own minds about what transpired based on the plentiful specific details that The Oklahoman provided:
(Satanic group leader Adam) Daniels was followed out on to the stage area by three other people garbed in black cloaks and a man dressed in a black shirt and jeans. The lights were dimmed slightly. A woman who Daniels earlier in the evening identified as his wife Kelsey Daniels, lay on her back on an altar table with her legs bent at the knees and splayed open.
Daniels put a silver chalice of grape juice on the table between his wife’s legs. He then took a piece of black bread, which was to symbolize Christ, and held it up for the audience to see. Daniels and and the others participating in the ritual stomped on the bread several times.
“We do not have a consecrated host. I’m sure everybody is aware as to why,” he said, alluding to the fact that he agreed to return consecrated Eucharistic bread to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City so that the archdiocese would not proceed with a lawsuit about the use of the bread.
The Oklahoman's coverage wasn't perfect. I noticed a few crazy-deadline typos and style errors. But overall, the newspaper deserves kudos for its exceptional handling of a major, controversial religion story.