To the casual observer, it looks like news.
Politico certainly does nothing to present it as something else — say, a single liberal theologian's opinion.
I'm talking about the article published over the weekend with this clickbait of a headline:
Marco Rubio Is Tweeting the Most Republican Part of the Bible
The piece has a byline and reads — to some extent — like straightforward, fact-based journalism:
Marco Rubio had a message for his nearly 3 million Twitter followers on the morning of June 26: “As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Proverbs 26:11.”
That one might have been his most head-snapping, but Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, had been tweeting verses like that one since May 16. He has tweeted a biblical verse almost every day since then. Almost all of them come from the Old Testament, and specifically the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs is notable in that is presents a fairly consistent view of the world: The righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished. In the understanding of Proverbs, everyone gets what is coming to them; behavior is directly linked to reward or punishment. This worldview has social consequences: Those who succeed in life must be more righteous than those who struggle.
Some, including The Hill, interpreted it as a news story, reporting on Rubio's response:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Sunday pushed back at a news article that claimed the conservative lawmaker was tweeting "the most Republican part of the Bible."
"Proverbs is the Republican part of the bible? I don't think Solomon had yet joined the GOP when he wrote the first 29 chapters of Proverbs," Rubio said tongue-in-check, while retweeting Politico Magazine's story on the matter.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a former Southern Baptist youth pastor, also weighed in via Twitter:
Daniel Darling, vice president for communications for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, suggested:
Two thoughts on Darling's tweet:
1. Amen! Politico could use a Godbeat pro. Please hire one ASAP!
2. A bigger question related to the Rubio piece is whether Politico wants readers to take its actual news coverage seriously.
If so, Politico will do a much better job distinguishing between news and opinion. Because, as one keeps reading the Rubio article, it becomes obvious that it's not news. It's one professor's opinion.
The final paragraph and author's bio:
It’s always nice to know that whatever your ideological persuasion, there’s a verse in the Bible just waiting to be appropriated. Or, as Ecclesiastes put it, “For every thing, there is a season.”
Joel Baden (@joelbaden) is professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School.
An actual news story on Rubio tweeting from Proverbs might have included Baden — as one source. But the story would have quoted other authoritative scholars, too, some who undoubtedly would take issue with Baden's point of view.
Why do so many Americans have trouble distinguishing between real news and fake news? In part, it's because outlets like Politico do such a terrible job labeling what's actual news and what's one person's opinion.