So let's say that you are a political reporter from The Washington Post and you are covering a rally by Sen. Marco Rubio and, in the middle of remarks to his inner-ring of supporters, he says something in Spanish. The crowd responds with warm applause and cheers.
As a responsible reporter, would you (a) do an online search and find out what this phrase actually meant, (b) talk to someone from the Latino community to learn what the phrase meant, in context, and why it drew cheers or (c) both of the above? It is also possible that a major newsroom like the Post would have assigned someone to cover the Rubio campaign who speaks Spanish, but that is another issue.
Oh wait, there is another option. You could also pull the phrase out of context, assume that you knew what it meant and then, online, make a snarky remark about it. That will show 'em.
This is kind of what happened the other day with some behind-the-scenes remarks by Sen. Ted Cruz. The problem was that this event was covered by someone who appeared not to know anything about language drawn from that obscure book called The Bible. Here's the top of the story:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told volunteers ... he believes the Republican presidential contest will be decided in the next 90 days, but warned them to get ready for a nasty ride.
"I want to tell everyone to get ready, strap on the full armor of God, get ready for the attacks that are coming," a hoarse-sounding Cruz told volunteers on a conference call. "Come the month of January we ain’t seen nothing yet."
The call, part thank you and update to volunteers and part fundraising pitch where listeners could press a button to give a donation, comes after Cruz's campaign announced it raised nearly $20 million last quarter as the Texas Republican ascended in the polls in both Iowa, the nation's first voting state, and nationally.
Then there was this official Post remark on Twitter, promoting this news report:
Now, surely anyone who is covering Cruz would know that Christian conservatives of various kinds, but especially evangelicals, are crucial to his campaign efforts.
Surely this person -- a veteran reporter with experience at The New York Times, the Associated Press and now the Post -- would understand that insiders in this crowd often speak a biblical language that includes colorful images and metaphors. Evangelicals, in particular, have been a big part of the American political scene ever since Jimmy Carter and reporters covering them have to know that many of their inside-baseball remarks, when removed from a biblical context, may as well be encoded in an unknown tongue.
So what happened here? As GetReligionista emeritus M.Z. Hemingway of The Federalist tweeted out, in response:
So what is the context of this "nasty" remark by Cruz to his volunteers? Here are the crucial verses from Ephesians, verses that I stress are extremely well known and popular among modern believers:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. ...
Strong words? Yes. Did his followers understand the "spiritual warfare" context of this reference to the New Testament? Yes. Would it have helped Post readers to know that Cruz was quoting a specific biblical image with spiritual content, as opposed to a literal call to armed combat?
Most of all, Cruz was making a remark about preparing, spiritually, for a defense against attacks by others, as opposed to an attack on other people.
So was this insider-language remark a bit pushy, from the perspective of elite Acela corridor scribes who don't speak Bible? Probably. But was it NASTY, in terms of using harsh language that would attack others? Not when seen in context.
So why not take a few seconds to look up the context, the way journalists would look up similar remarks to other cultural communities?