In nitty-gritty of journalism, the difference between a 'devil worshiper' and a 'known devil worshiper'

The devil is in the details.

Pardon the cliche, but that old bit of wisdom seems appropriate for this post.

Three years ago, a Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City made headlines and sparked a few here at GetReligion.

Now, one of the figures at the center of that controversy is back in the news. As we sometimes — OK, often — do at this journalism-focused website, I want to go old-school Journalism 101 and ask a simple question.

In the nitty-gritty of journalism, what difference do you notice between these two headlines?

The first one:

Devil worshiper files lawsuit against Putnam City Schools

And the second one:

Metro School District Sued By Known Devil Worshiper

I see a lot of you raising your hands, especially those of you who have been reading GetReligion for a while.

The distinction is simple: The first one (from The Oklahoman) simply states a fact. The second one (from an Oklahoma City-area television station) adds a value judgment.

For a journalist seeking to be fair and impartial -- yes, even to a "known devil worshiper" -- the first headline is better. It's neutral. It raises no eyebrows with the use of an adjective such as "known." Right?

Here's the deal: The Oklahoman's story — by longtime religion editor Carla Hinton, a recent inductee into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame — is even better than the headline. 

Why's that? Because Hinton, a consummate professional (full disclosure: she's also a friend and former colleague of this writer), doesn't use a simple description like "devil worshiper" in her story. She goes to the trouble of using precise, complicated details to describe the source's faith and quotes him and his lawsuit in their own words. (Reporters at large newspapers such as The Oklahoman don't typically write their own headlines. Copy editors do.)

The lede:

The leader of a group that once held an event described as a Satanic "black mass" at the Civic Center has filed a lawsuit against a school district alleging that his family has been subjected to a barrage of harassment because of their "alternative non-Christian-based religion."
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Oklahoma County District Court, Adam Daniels, with his wife Kelsey Daniels, alleges that several Putnam City School District employees at several schools have mistreated their three children and made repeated false allegations about their parenting to the Department of Human Services.
The Daniels are seeking a $300,000 judgment.
"The District has taken an adversarial stance toward the Parents of these children based largely on the fact that the Parents practice an alternative religion which is a violation of the Civil Rights of the Plaintiffs," the lawsuit alleges.
"Parent Plaintiffs were subjected to approximately 40 visits from DHS Child Protective Services of a period of years which were based on falsified allegations purported by District personnel."
The suit also alleges the district failed to provide protection for the Daniels' children from bullying and mistreatment by students and teachers and that the family was asked if they maintain a "dungeon."
In their lawsuit, the Danielses allege that in 2013, the school district became aware that their family participates in and began the local charter of Dakhma of Anramainyu and that Adam Daniels is the dastur or lead minister of this religious group. Adam Daniels' Dakhma of Anramainyu chapter held a "black mass" -- a parody of a Catholic Eucharistic Mass -- at the Civic Center Music Hall in 2014.
"The point of the lawsuit is to make them stop using DHS as a weapon to bludgeon us with because they don't believe in how we practice our faith," Adam Daniels said Monday in a telephone interview.

Yes, Hinton seeks comment from the school district (unfortunately, they don't comment on pending litigation, so only one side of the story can be told at this point).

Note to aspiring journalists: Want to gain a reputation for fairness and accuracy -- traits for which Hinton is known in my home state of Oklahoma?

Here's the secret: Regardless of your personal opinions and beliefs (Hinton is a Christian), treat everyone as respectfully as The Oklahoman religion editor does this "devil worshiper."

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