Did the Devil make him do it?
In a massive front-page story today, The New York Times delves deeper into the background of Robert L. Dear Jr., the suspect in last week's shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo.:
Earlier this week, GetReligion highlighted the two prevailing media streams concerning Dear and the "Why?" factor in an attack that left three dead and nine wounded.
In today's report, that dichotomy of certifiable lunatic vs. religious anti-abortion warrior prevails again. The Times paints an in-depth portrait of "an angry and occasionally violent man who seemed deeply disturbed and deeply contradictory."
The Times opens with a focus on Dear's religion:
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The man she had married professed to be deeply religious. But after more than seven years with Robert L. Dear Jr., Barbara Micheau had come to see life with him as a kind of hell on earth.
By January 1993, she had had enough. In a sworn affidavit as part of her divorce case, Ms. Micheau described Mr. Dear as a serial philanderer and a problem gambler, a man who kicked her, beat her head against the floor and fathered two children with other women while they were together. He found excuses for his transgressions, she said, in his idiosyncratic views on Christian eschatology and the nature of salvation.
“He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Ms. Micheau said in the court document. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.”
But then the story moves to Dear's views on abortion:
A number of people who knew Mr. Dear said he was a staunch abortion opponent. Ms. Micheau, 60, said in a brief interview Tuesday that late in her marriage to Mr. Dear, he told her that he had put glue in the locks of a Planned Parenthood location in Charleston.
“He was very proud of himself that he’d gone over and jammed up their locks with glue so that they couldn’t get in,” she said.
But another ex-wife, Pamela Ross, said that he did not obsess on the subject of abortion. After his arrest, Mr. Dear said “no more baby parts” to investigators, a law enforcement official said.
One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work.” In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.
Not until deep, deep in the story does the Times get to what seems like a rather important detail, as GetReligion emeritus Mollie Hemingway pointed out:
In the latest version of the story, it's the 59th paragraph (by my count). But the point remains: Why is this information buried nearly 2,600 words into a 2,700-word story?
The relative, who spoke with Ms. Bragg in recent days, also said that before the shooting, Mr. Dear reportedly “wasn’t sleeping at all,” and had “been talking about the Devil getting in his head and such.”
Wait, wait, wait, a few readers are saying: Should news reports really get into the question of demonic possession?
Granted, the claim comes from an unnamed source — not exactly the most reliable attribution. But if the information is credible enough to include at all, shouldn't it go much higher?
I'm not saying the Devil should be in the lede, but even Pope Francis has said he believes the demonic is real:
So where does the Times' story leave us? With the press still struggling to figure out whether Dear is simply crazy. Or not.
And with, it would appear, the possibility of voices inside Dear's head that may deserve a fuller hearing.