On the National Day of Prayer, there's faith-based news from the White House — and an RNS scoop

Hey, look at that: a scoop for Religion News Service.

Over the last week and a half, amid all the discussion about the firing of the RNS editor in chief and the resignations of its managing editor and a national correspondent, the wire service reportedly hired a crisis management PR firm.

But for a news organization, here's the best kind of PR: good journalism that breaks important news.

Enter Adelle Banks, RNS production editor and national correspondent since 1995, with a scoop that will surprise no one who has followed her award-winning career:

(Full disclosure: Banks has edited my RNS freelance pieces from time to time and always impressed me with her meticulous attention to detail.)

Banks broke the news Wednesday night that the White House would announce a new faith-based initiative coinciding with today's National Day of Prayer:

WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Trump plans to unveil a new initiative that aims to give faith groups a stronger voice within the federal government and serve as a watchdog for government overreach on religious liberty issues.
He is scheduled to sign an executive order on Thursday (May 3), the National Day of Prayer, “to ensure that the faith-based and community organizations that form the bedrock of our society have strong advocates in the White House and throughout the Federal Government,” a White House document reads.
Trump plans to sign the order in a Rose Garden ceremony that is expected to be attended by members of his Cabinet and some 200 representatives of religious groups.
The White House said those working on the initiative will provide policy recommendations from faith-based and community programs on “more effective solutions to poverty” and inform the administration of “any failures of the executive branch to comply with religious liberty protections under law.”

RNS' interim editor in chief, G. Jeffrey MacDonald, noted that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared the story with her 2.9 million Twitter followers:

By today, other top Godbeat pros — including Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post and Emma Green of The Atlantic — jumped on the story.

The Post's Bailey and Boorstein juxtaposed the president's faith-based announcement with other, not-so-holy headlines:

The timing of the event comes as Trump continues to receive attention for a settlement his lawyer paid to Stormy Daniels, an actress in pornographic films who has said she had a sexual encounter with the president more than a decade ago.
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who serves on Trump’s legal team, said Wednesday that Trump made a series of payments reimbursing his attorney for the settlement. Trump confirmed Thursday that lawyer Michael Cohen was reimbursed, but said that they payments were through a “private agreement” and did not come from campaign funds. Trump said last month that he didn’t know anything about payments to Daniels.

Green delved into the potential impact of the new office, offering thoughtful analysis as she and The Atlantic tend to do:

The faith leaders who offered prayers on Thursday were diverse, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who oversees the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Washington; Levi Shemtov, the Hasidic rabbi who leads the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington; Jean Bingham, the general president of the Relief Society of the LDS Church; and the Hindu priest Narayanachar Digalakote. The new office may give more opportunity for diverse religious leaders to have access to the White House: Presumably, it will operate more transparently than Trump’s informal evangelical faith advisory board, since this initiative will create a formal government office.
But it’s also not exactly clear what this office will do, and how it will differ from the initiatives that preceded it. Unlike Bush and Obama, who both created their versions of this office within the first months of taking office, Trump waited a year and half to create a formal White House mechanism for reaching out to faith groups. Many of his past religious initiatives have been more show than action, and this office, like so much other federal bureaucracy, may end up being more symbolic than anything.
But that symbol still matters. On Thursday, Trump’s message to Americans—and his voting base of white Christians—was clear. “We take this step because we know that in solving the many, many problems and our great challenges, faith is more powerful than government,” he said. “And nothing is more powerful than God.”

Meanwhile, this tweet from New York Times faith and politics writer Elizabeth Dias made me chuckle:

CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke replied:

One final note: GetReligion repeatedly has praised San Antonio Express-News writer Silvia Foster-Frau for her coverage of the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church massacre six months ago.

The good news for readers is that the Express-News dispatched Foster-Frau to Washington, D.C. to cover Sutherland Springs survivors attending the National Day of Prayer:

Her coverage, as always, is a must read. Check it out.

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