By now, many GetReligion readers will have already seen some or all of the video at the top of this post, the one in which Toya Graham of Baltimore offered some blunt guidance to her son as he was poised to throw rocks at police during the Baltimore riots.
In online coverage and commentaries, the 42-year-old Graham is often known as the "Hero Mom." Police and civic leaders have praised her for trying to control her child, while noting they wish there were more parents around who would do the same.
The Baltimore Sun did a very interesting and complex profile of Graham and covered almost all of the bases relevant to this story, including some interesting material about her church ties. Still, by the end, I was left asking a familiar question: What would the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a giant of the Democratic Party in the late 20th century, say about this sad urban scene?
I suspect that, like many readers in commentary boxes on reports about this incident, he would ask a basic question linked to faith, family and culture: Where is this young man's father? Moynihan, of course, is famous for producing a 1965 report (50th anniversary news feature alert) in which he argued that in the future the key factor in poverty in America would no longer be race, but whether children were raised in intact homes, with a father as well as a mother.
Is that a question with religious and moral overtones? I suspect that many, but perhaps not all, leaders in the black church would say that it is. Is that question relevant to the material in this Sun report? That's my journalism question here.
The story opens like this:
Just over two weeks ago, Toya Graham was a recently unemployed single mother of six and grandmother of one struggling to scrape by in West Baltimore.
Today, she's the beneficiary of a growing GoFundMe page, and a scholarship fund has been established for her 16-year-old son. She's fielding job offers, she said, from BET, Under Armour and St. Joseph's Hospital. ...
Graham's newfound opportunities are the result of one indelible moment: She confronted her son with a barrage of slaps -- just as he was poised to throw rocks at police officers by Mondawmin Mall. ... The clip catapulted her to overnight fame, with whirlwind appearances on almost every major news network and on shows such as "The View." She even received a call of support from Oprah Winfrey.
And the details from her religious life show up soon after that.
"It's really overwhelming," she said, sitting in a couch in her living room, where framed pictures of her family and religious scripture adorn a glass table atop paneled wood floors. "When you have struggled for so long, you don't know where your next meal is coming from. It means a lot. … I'm grateful that they heard me say I was struggling."
But prior to April 27, Graham's experiences were not atypical for West Baltimore: going to church, getting by, raising her children in a neighborhood that can echo with gunshots.
Now, I should note that I read this story in the print edition before I read it online. In the version that landed in my front yard, most of the following material about her church activities was missing. Unless I missed something, that was the only material editors cut from the full online report. Interesting.
The key is that this story is framed as an in-depth look at Graham's family ties and her faith. But part of that family angle is missing. Note the stress on her family background, including her own father.
Even while Graham struggled, she never lost sight of her faith and her family. The youngest of five, she was raised by her parents in a close-knit family in Park Heights.
"Growing up in Baltimore, everyone had a mother and father in the household. Parents were strict. I had to do chores, go to school. We respected elders," she said.
She was devastated when her mother died in 1996. "It was hard for me," she said. Her voice lowers to almost a whisper as she describes family gatherings at the gravesite. "We go up there with blankets and talk to her," she said.
Graham has a "strong connection with the church," she said. Her faith helps her cope, along with a closeness to her father, who often hosts Sunday fish-fry dinners. She has served as an usher in Berean Baptist Church, where she has been a member for years, she said. Her daughters have been part of the dance ministry there.
Perhaps it is Graham's stern background that comes through in the video that shows her hitting and pushing her son while yelling and cursing at him.
In other words, Graham's roots touch a different era in urban Baltimore, a time when children had mothers and fathers and intact homes. It was a time when the ties that bind were still intact, in other words. There were moral and religious expectations.
And today? Clearly, Graham's church is a key element of this story and the Sun team deserves praise for getting those details in -- at least in the online edition.
But if the "father factor" is crucial in her upbringing, what about the struggles that have defined her own life as a single mother? What about her current family?
Now, I raise this question because it is clear that, for some reason, the Sun will not, or cannot, even ask these questions about poverty in Charm City. I know that because of another major news feature that ran recently that stressed (a) that money alone cannot heal these broken neighborhoods and (b) there are factors at play that civic leaders find hard to discuss.
The headlines on that report, in the print edition: "Incomplete healing" on A1 and then inside, atop the jump page, "Money can cure some ills, but not all."
So what is the story about? The need for more government spending in Baltimore, of course. And what subject is nowhere to be found in this massive report? Let's just say that Sen. Moynihan would spot the gaps, the subjects too painful to discuss.