In the world of modern, short-attention-span journalism -- let's call it the post-USA Today era -- 1,300 words or more is a lot of room in which to explore the crucial details of a news story.
So I was pleased when the Army Times managed to drop several hints -- even in the lede -- about the role that religious faith has played in the life of a soldier who recently won a major medal for his bravery in tense, dangerous situations -- outside of combat. However, this was one of those stories that started out fine, when it comes to spotting the religion angle, and then never delivered the goods.
Like I said, the lede opened the door.
Staff Sgt. Bret Perry was raised to help those in need.
He keeps a tow rope in his truck (in case a motorist needs pulled out of a ditch), and he never hesitates to engage when encountering a dicey situation. It's a good thing, too. Bad things keeps happening to people in his vicinity, and he keeps saving the day.
Now, I realize that all kinds of people -- religious and secular -- can have all kinds of motivations for helping "those in need." That statement doesn't automatically point toward a religion hook. There doesn't have to be a God-shaped hole in the heart of this story.
No, what intrigued me was the reference to Perry's family history as part of his motivation for jumping into danger, over and over, in order to help people. I expected to see the story return to that theme and give readers some details. Like I said, this is a long story -- so there was room.
Of course, readers get the essential details of his heroic acts, and there are plenty. Perry, who works as a military recruiter in Iowa, broke into a burning house a year ago -- making three trips into the smoke and flames -- to save the residents. He saw smoke as he was making his morning commute into the office.
Perry once jumped into a bloody brawl in Italy to save some off-duty soldiers. He pulled a mother and her baby out of a "smoking overturned car."
Why does this stuff keep happening to this guy?