Why did Reuters (and almost everyone else) miss Pope Francis' all-too-familiar Bible/cellphone quote?

Your correspondent is neither a prophet nor is he the son of a prophet, but I can muster one small claim to fame in the predictive realm. In 2013, I reported in The Washington Times the rather prophetic utterance of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington that the next Pope would have to master social media.

There can be little doubt that the current Pontifex Maximus, the Argentinian-born Pope Francis, has indeed done so, having an estimated 23 million Twitter followers.

Thus, it's certainly news when the tweeting pontiff says, before a congregation of thousands in St. Peter's Square, that it's time to "Love your Bible as you do your cellphone," as the Christian Science Monitor headlined it. The Monitor report indicates it included data from a Reuters dispatch, which was the first I'd seen of the comments:

Pope Francis on Sunday called on people to carry and read the bible with as much dedication as they do their mobile phones.
Speaking to pilgrims in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square, the 80-year-old pope asked: "What would happen if we treated the bible like we do our mobile phones?"
He continued: "If we turned around to retrieve it when we forgot it? If we carried it with us always, even a small pocket version? If we read God's messages in the bible like we read messages on the mobile phone?"
Francis called the comparison "paradoxical" and said it was meant to be a source of reflection, adding that bible reading would help people resist daily temptations.

As I said, Papa Francisco has mastered social media. And the bit about checking the Bible as others do unto their Android devices was rather cute.

But it was also rather, well, familiar. I'd heard those phrases before. Long before, it turns out. And yet no one in the media glommed onto this.

The earliest Internet reference I could find was from the year of Our Lord 2010, when a Christian blogger named Rusty Shaw posted this on her blog

Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone? 
What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets? 
What if we flipped through it several times a day? 
What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it? 
What if we used it to receive messages from text? 
What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it? 
What if we gave it to kids as gifts and insisted they take it with them everywhere? 
What if we used it when we traveled? 
What if we used it in case of emergency? 
This is something to make you go...hmmm...Where is my Bible? 
Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill. 

Ms. Shaw acknowledged those words didn't originate with her, as did Focus on the Family president/CEO Jim Daly when he posted it about a year later. And over at the conservative website "Godfather Politics," a Dan Jolley, who may or may not be the same person who represented a Florida district in Congress for two terms, posted a version in 2014.

It's hard to keep a good story down. Evangelical pulpiteers have long relied on volumes such as Paul Lee Tan's Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations (now doubled to 15,000), or Charles R. Swindoll's Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes. Any preacher who's had the "Saturday night sweats" of not having a message ready for Sunday morning can be forgiven for swiping a good story, or even an entire sermon. (In the introduction to one of his books, Max Lucado — bless him! — issued a dispensation to those pastors who appropriate one of Max's chapters for a last-minute message.)

Am I saying Pope Francis picked this up without credit? Well, let's just say these phrases were not original to him. After reading a Vatican Radio report on the comments, I sent an inquiry via email to the official news outlet, asking who writes the comments the pope gives, and haven't yet had a response.

In viewing a video of Francis' remarks (above), it appears he is reading, in rather flawless Italian, from printed notes. That's not uncommon for preachers, either. But it suggests that those comments may have been written by someone tasked with the job, presumably with input from Francis. Could that literary assistant have picked up the Bible-as-cellphone bit and slipped it in? Did the pope suggest it? (A Time magazine video captions him as noting "Someone said" before uttering the oft-repeated phrases. No one else seems to have caught that.)

It's no sin to use an anecdote you've heard or read somewhere else, although acknowledging it as such is always good, as the pope appears to have done. Regardless, the journalism issue here is that with the exception of the video captioning by Time magazine, no other news outlet reported that these were the words of "someone" that made their way to Francis' message.

I'm going to suggest -- and this isn't an original thought, either -- that the other reporters and editors didn't pick up on this because there's a lack of familiarity with what circulates in evangelical and/or general Christian culture. Having a few evangelicals on staff and on the editing desk would be a step towards avoiding that.

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