The lot of a newspaper general assignment reporter these days -- even in the tony precincts of the Washington Post -- can't always be a happy one. You're slapped around by the day's events: a Cadillac TV ad "casting call" for an "alt-right" type one day, the tragic story of a guy who turned his life around, only to die while attempting to help someone in distress the next.
It's a tough spot, particularly when one appears to be tasked with aggregating news that happens far from your desk. That generally involves looking at, collecting, paraphrasing and linking to stories from external sources. (Your commentator does something similar with Utah-related business news five nights a week, Sunday through Thursday; I understand a bit of what's involved. Trust me on that.)
So one can have a bit of empathy for Cleve R. Wootson Jr., the Post reporter in question, when it comes to the question of a clearly idiosyncratic individual in Amarillo, Texas, one David Grisham, who apparently feels led to share the "good news" that there is no Santa Claus.
To children. At a mall. While they are waiting in line for interviews with the aforementioned non-existent Santa.
Can you say "clickbait"? I knew you could! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
At first, the parents try to ignore the screaming man at the mall telling their children they’ve been lied to about Santa Claus.
Then it becomes clear he’s not going to stop.
“Kids, I want to tell you today that there is no such thing as Santa Claus,” the man tells people waiting in line for Christmas photos at the Westgate Mall in Amarillo, Tex. “Santa Claus does not exist. The Christmas season is about Jesus.
“The man you’re going to see today is just a man in a suit dressed up like Santa.”
The shouting man is David Grisham, an evangelical street preacher from Anchorage, who has shouted his sermons at people across the country for nearly a decade, whether they want to hear them or not.
On Saturday, his unwilling audience was a group of families snaked around Westgate’s seasonal Christmas village at the food court near Hot Topic and the Gap.
The story continues, and, interestingly for something snatched from the Internet, features some actual quotes from a conversation reporter Wootson had with subject Grisham, something rarely found in similar items.
To his credit, Wootson digs into Grisham's motives for doing "street-preaching most weekends ever since" God allegedly spoke to Grisham during a vacation in Mexico.
OK, think of a one-man Westboro Baptist Church lite: Grisham is happy to tell you where you're going wrong, spiritually, whether it's in taking the kiddies to Santa, going to see Pope Francis in Pittsburgh or patronizing a strip club. Such "good news" is delivered by this professional regardless of one's interest in hearing the message.
But here is the journalism problem. While Grisham is identified in this story as a "pastor" and an "evangelical," there's no explanation of what flock he serves or where, as well as what makes him an "evangelical" as opposed to somebody who just goes around and rants in public, while recording the affair with his iPhone.
Missing from the story, too, is a bit of context about one Santa Claus, which might have helped things. We can agree that the figure regarded as Santa Claus today has only a passing relationship to the patriarchal Saint Nicholas, or St. Nikolaos of Myra, whose penchant for giving gifts to the poor secretly morphed into the Sinterklaas of Dutch legend, who became, well, you-know-who.
If only there were a scholar out there who might be able to connect the dots. You know, in a soundbite or two that would not only counter Grisham's rantings, but also make a good point about church history? If only such informed sources existed.
Well, yes, Virginia, there is a "Santa Claus scholar," or more precisely, a Christian historian who knows lots about good ol' Nikolaos of Myra. Truth be told, there are lots of fine sources about this piece of church history, all around the world.
But, you know, it's so hard to find sources of this kind in the age of Internet search engines.
Anyway, let's take the easy route. Say howdy to Dr. Adam C. English, chair of the Department of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Theology and Philosophy at Campbell University, a school founded by a Baptist and located in Buies Creek, NC. English quite literally wrote the book on Nikolaos and Santa, "The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra," published four years ago by Baylor University Press. The school even offers a toll-free phone number to reach English's office.
(In the charitable spirit of the season, it's worth noting that many of us have missed the opportunity for a "deep dive" into the Nikolaos/Santa story, as my colleague Bobby Ross, Jr., explains here. In his case, I'm guessing Bobby was merely counting the days until the Texas Rangers open their season and thus was slightly distracted.)
I fear no lump of coal for saying the story of David Grisham's anti-Santaism got lots of clicks locally and elsewhere -- The Salt Lake Tribune picked up the tale just yesterday.
But is it too much to suggest that adding even a soupçon of historical context might put an author on a certain gift-distributor's "nice" list?