Miracle of technology bites Houston Chronicle and mars excellent reporting on faith-healing evangelist

Media blogger Jim Romenesko called attention to an embarrassing photo mishap by the Houston Chronicle.

A screenshot from Romenesko's blog:


The text of the Texas newspaper's correction:

Correction, Feb. 17, 2015
A photograph appearing with a story on page A1 about Reinhard Bonnke on Monday was digitally manipulated by the evangelist's organization to superimpose the preacher's image on a crowd of about 1.6 million gathered for a 2000 crusade in Lagos, Nigeria. Mary-Kathryn Manuel, U.S. director for Bonnke's Christ for All Nations, said the photo was a combined shot of the crowd during daylight hours and Bonnke preaching after nightfall. The photo, provided to the newspaper by Bonnke's crusade, was not represented to the newspaper as a digitally altered image. The Houston Chronicle apologizes for this error.

Unfortunately, the doctored photo marred the Chronicle's excellent reporting on Bonnke.

The top of the newspaper's meaty, 1,500-word report:

Strange things happen when African evangelist Reinhard Bonnke begins preaching, believers will tell you. The blind see. The deaf hear. And — most astoundingly, as in the case of a Nigerian man — the dead live.
Such "miracles" trace their authority to the pages of the New Testament, and Bonnke's ministry is careful to stipulate that God is the power behind such "signs and wonders." Still, events such as the purported resurrection of auto crash victim Daniel Ekechukwu during Bonnke's November 2001 crusade in Onitsha, Nigeria, have made the fiery German evangelist a charismatic star of the developing world.
At 74, Bonnke - still relatively unknown to secular Westerners - is the chief proselytizer at Florida-based Christ for All Nations, a globe-spanning ministry that claims to have saved more than 75 million souls and, in one recent single year, garnered almost $15 million in grants and contributions.
This week, Bonnke will bring his message to Houston for two nights at the BBVA Compass Stadium, his fourth stop in his first American crusade.
"At every single meeting we see these miracles," said Daniel Kolenda, Bonnke's top lieutenant, ministry heir-apparent and designated spokesman. "It just happens in an unobtrusive way and all glory goes to Jesus. You might think we're just a miracle show coming to town, like a circus, but what we're after is salvation, saving souls."

That dramatic opening certainly grabs a reader's attention. 

I wonder about the quote marks around "miracles" in the second paragraph. Are they what we at GetReligion sometimes refer to as "scare quotes" — used to alert the audience to skepticism on the part of the media organization? Or is the intention simply to let the reader know that the newspaper is quoting others, not attaching that term itself to what happens?

In either case, quote marks around such a simple, common word so early in the story slowed me down. I wish the Chronicle had chosen a different wording or approach to maintain the flow of what turns out to be a worthy read. For example, saying something like "The miracles, as the believers describe them" would have eliminated the need for quote marks.

But overall, the story succeeds because the Chronicle provides deep reporting and quotes exceptional sources — both pro and con.

Just a small section of the insightful reporting:

But others distanced themselves from the supernatural aspects of Bonnke's ministry, which also have been questioned on a number of Internet sites.
Former Spanish missionary David Rogers, now a Southern Baptist blogger in Tennessee, allowed that miracles are possible, but worried that such incidents might be exaggerated or subject to human manipulation.
He alluded to the prophet Elijah's Old Testament showdown with the priests of Baal, in which each side endeavored to demonstrate the power of its god. Elijah prepared a sacrificial offering, then repeatedly doused the altar in water before calling down a consuming heavenly fire. "There's a little question mark in my mind that today the priests aren't soaking the altar in water, they're soaking it in gasoline," Rogers said.
At the evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary, Orr (Rodney Orr, chairman of the Dallas Theological Seminary's Department of World Missions and Intercultural Studies) said that while he believes Bonnke "feels the spirit of God," he nonetheless disagrees with the evangelist's take on the Holy Spirit.
"In terms of reaching people for Christ," Orr said, "he is fearless in going where the spirit moves him."

Go ahead and read the full story.

As for the photo mishap, anyone who has never made a stupid mistake can cast the first stone. I accept the Chronicle's apology and offer my condolences.

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