Concerning the strange tale of the Associated Press and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: I have some good news, some bad news, a disturbing update and one very good question from a reader.
First the good news.
If you will recall, my earlier post on this topic -- "Here we go again: Will someone please explain Christianity to the Associated Press? -- asked for a correction in an AP story that mixed up some crucial details in 2,000 years of Christian beliefs about the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. This is the kind of information that isn't hard to get online or, for that matter, in a Bible at the newsroom reference desk.
Well, I am happy to report that this story, at the main AP site, now opens with a clear correction, which is even flagged in the headline. The correction states:
JERUSALEM (AP) -- In a story March 20 about renovations at the tomb of Jesus, The Associated Press reported erroneously that the Edicule is revered by Christians as the site where Jesus rose to heaven. Tradition says the Jerusalem shrine is the site of Jesus' resurrection, not the ascension to heaven.
The crucial issue, of course, is whether the newspapers that carried this report, in America and around the world, will run this same correction. GetReligion readers who saw this report in their local newspapers may want to let us know in the comments section.
What about the bad news?
Well, it does appear that someone still needs to explain basic Christianity to the photo-desk at the main Associated Press office. You see, as if this morning, the tag line for the main photo released with this fine feature still reads as follows:
The renovated Edicule is seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's old city Monday, Mar. 20, 2017. A Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Obviously, the AP team now needs to ship a correction for this photo information, or simply expand the current correction with some kind of alert to photo and layout specialists in newsrooms. Wrong is still wrong.
One other point, as a way of underlining that there are complicated issues here. Several readers wrote in to make statements such as this: "Also in the photo description the sepulcher is described as the site of the crucifixion which occurred on Golgotha not in a cave."
Well, that would be true, sort of. The key is that the early church believed that Jesus was buried in a stone tomb not far from the place where he was crucified. This gets into complicated arguments about the precise location of the city walls at that time.
The bottom line: Early church leaders believed that BOTH of these holy places (shown in graphic at the top of this post) are contained inside the sprawling Church of the Holy Sepulchre. How is this possible? Much of the surrounding hillside was removed in construction (and destruction) of the church.
There are those -- Protestants mainly -- who disagree. This is complicated, but fascinating, stuff. (Click here for a Christianity Today feature, by my friend Gordon Govier, about some of these debates.)
Anyway, the corrected text at the main AP site how reads:
JERUSALEM (AP) -- The tomb of Jesus has been resurrected to its former glory.
Just in time for Easter, a Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation of the Edicule, the shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was entombed and resurrected.
Gone is the unsightly iron cage built around the shrine by British authorities in 1947 to shore up the walls. Gone is the black soot on the shrine's stone façade from decades of pilgrims lighting candles. And gone are fears about the stability of the old shrine, which hadn't been restored in more than 200 years.
The fears are gone? Not according to and new report from journalists at National Geographic, who have been closely linked to this project. This disturbing story argues that the foundation UNDER the shrine now needs to be repaired. The headline on this piece is stark: "Exclusive: Tomb of Christ at Risk of 'Catastrophic' Collapse."
The Associated Press may want to plan a follow-up story, as Holy Week approaches.
What about that good question from a GetReligion reader, one Christopher Enge?
I have a couple journalistic questions for Terry. Do big time papers make these kinds of errors with religions other than Christianity? To me, it seems like a basic matter of respect to find out about someone's deepest beliefs when writing about them.
Second, one thing I've wondered as a long-time reader of getreligion as well as a listener to Terry's interviews on Issues, Etc. is whether these kind of basic factual errors are unique to the religion beat or is it a symptom of general ignorance and lack of professional competence? It seems like with many stories where I know something about the subject, whether religious or not, there are statements of fact that strike me as wrong. Is there a lot of general sloppiness in journalism made by writers who think they know more than they do or is this a problem specific to religious stories?
It would take a book to answer all of these questions. Yes, similar errors take place with other religions. That raises the question whether, in newsrooms in America (a nation that is allegedly majority Christian in background), journalists are equally unfamiliar with Christianity and, well, other world faiths such as Buddhism or Islam.
Yes, there are often errors of fact on other complicated news beats. One witty journalists, in a discussion long ago, did note that it was interesting that many American journalists seem to know less about Christmas and Easter than about simple subjects such as DNA sequencing and global climate change. How often does one see errors on basic facts linked to sports and politics? Clearly, all newsrooms take those subjects seriously.
So, yes, it does appear that many, many journalists do not get religion. It also appears that some newsroom managers still do not want to hire veteran, skilled religion-beat professionals who can do something about that.