It's time for another edition of "What is this?"
This is where we at GetReligion attempt to determine whether a particular piece of journalism -- or in some cases, a media organization in general -- is news or commentary or something in between.
The traditional American style of journalism -- the model that this website unabashedly promotes -- relies on impartial, accurate reporting with named sources cited. On controversial topics, it's really nice to see some balance in terms of the quoted sources.
But much U.S. journalism has given way to a European brand of advocacy, frequently making it difficult to distinguish between what is meant as "Just the facts, ma'am" and what is purposely told with a (biased) attitude. Lean forward!
Today's example comes to us courtesy of a reader, who questions whether a piece on evangelical voters from Yahoo! News and attributed to the website's "senior political correspondent" really falls under the category of news:
The reader notes that the story is "full of snark and opinion, but not labeled as opinion or even analysis." Let's take it from the top:
To Americans who stand outside the evangelical tradition, Franklin Graham’s recent proclamation that there’s “no question” that God supports Donald Trump’s presidency was another head-scratcher in a growing list of puzzling statements by Christian leaders over the past year.
Even without getting into the question of whether God chooses sides in elections, or how Graham can be so sure of his preference, there is the obvious fact, much discussed in the campaign, that the generally non-churchgoing, avidly materialistic Trump seemed an unlikely vessel for God’s will.
But Graham’s remark and white evangelicals’ continuing support of Trump make more sense when viewed in light of American evangelicalism’s history and DNA. It is a subject explored in depth in “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” a new history of the movement by Pulitzer Prize-winner Frances FitzGerald.
“He did everything wrong, politically,” Graham told the Atlantic’s Emma Green. “He offended gays. He offended women. He offended the military. He offended black people. He offended the Hispanic people. He offended everybody! And he became president of the United States. Only God could do that.”
Graham’s mentality reflects the evangelical obsession with dramatic solutions and easy answers that Michael Horton, a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California, described in his 2014 book, “Ordinary.”
“American Christianity is a story of perpetual upheavals in churches and individual lives. Starting with the extraordinary conversion experience, our lives are motivated by a constant expectation for The Next Big Thing,” Horton wrote.
Um, OK. Where to start? I mean, other than Graham losing his "the Rev." status.
Speaking of head-scratchers, that very first phrase "To Americans who stand outside the evangelical tradition" could use some tweaking, given that it implies that all Americans inside the evangelical tradition would agree with Graham's statement. (This reminds me of when less-informed mainstream journalists assumed that all evangelicals marched in lockstep with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.)
But anyway, Yahoo!'s opening line gives readers a pretty clear idea of where this particular "What is this?" is headed.
Keep reading, and the piece has -- to a certain extent -- a newsy feel, minus much actual reporting or seeming interest in engaging those (evangelicals) that the writer feels so comfortable overgeneralizing.
In an actual news story, Yahoo! News might have explored deeper the question of whether the 80 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump actually saw him as God's chosen vessel. Or -- as your GetReligionistas have been noting for months -- is there evidence that they viewed Trump as the best alternative in a nasty race with two flawed major-party candidates? Moreover, what part of Trump's support actually related to him as opposed to his promise to appoint anti-abortion Supreme Court justices?
But those are serious questions that probably don't fit in this writer's snarky approach to journalism.
The reader who shared the link noted:
As a refresher, I previously mentioned this reporter, noting his practice of writing in the first person, which seems to be how he writes all his stories (or, at least every one that I’ve read, I think). Perhaps that’s just Yahoo!’s style. But it sure gives a lot of leeway for opinionating mixed in with reporting.
Barring any evidence to the contrary, let's assume that Yahoo! News political reporting is meant to be commentary.