Peter Baker

And now, this just in from The New York Times: The tomb of Jesus remains empty

And now, this just in from The New York Times: The tomb of Jesus remains empty

Every now and then, it's good to see all kinds of people -- religion-beat professionals included -- using social media to celebrate a major news report.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that other journalists celebrated the contents of the story -- "Crypt Believed to Be Jesus’ Tomb Opened for First Time in Centuries" -- as in celebrating its theological implications.

No, I'm saying that lots of people simply celebrated the fact that the New York Times ran a nice, solid news feature on efforts by priests, monks, scientists and construction workers to study and repair the shrine surrounding the tomb of Jesus. To be honest, however, some would say that they celebrated the fact that the story mentioned that millions of Christians do, in fact, believe in that whole "Up From the Grave He Arose" thing.

In other words, we do not have a new entry in our occasional GetReligion series on the Gray Lady offering the opposite point of view, as in our recent post: "Believe it or not: The New York Times has quietly returned to its 'Jesus is dead' theme."

Still, there is one rather strange thing, in terms of journalism, about this news story (emphasis on the word "news"). Let's see if you can spot it. Here is the overture:

JERUSALEM -- The only mystical power visible was the burning light from seven tapered candles. And yet for ages, the tomb that sits at the center of history has captured the imaginations of millions around the world.
For centuries, no one looked inside -- until last week, when a crew of specialists opened the simple tomb in Jerusalem’s Old City and found the limestone burial bed where tradition says the body of Jesus Christ lay after his crucifixion and before his resurrection.
“We saw where Jesus Christ was laid down,” Father Isidoros Fakitsas, the superior of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, told me. “Before, nobody has.” Or at least nobody alive today. “We have the history, the tradition. Now we saw with our own eyes the actual burial place of Jesus Christ.”
For 60 hours, they collected samples, took photographs and reinforced the tomb before resealing it, perhaps for centuries to come.

Need another hint? The next sentence adds:

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Rhino hide alert! Changing of the guard at New York Times bureau in Jerusalem

Rhino hide alert! Changing of the guard at New York Times bureau in Jerusalem

What presidential campaign reporting is to political junkies, the naming of a new New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief is to the most vociferous partisans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's red meat for people on both sides.

The Times is arguably the world's most influential newspaper and the Jerusalem job is among its most visible perches. That means only the thick-skinned need apply. I'm talking rhino-hide thick.

Just about every story produced by the Jerusalem bureau -- for which the bureau chief is deemed responsible by friend and foe alike -- is perceived by partisans to be of ultimate importance in the closely watched, extraordinarily complex and seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It matters little if yesterday's story went your way, or that tomorrow's may as well. We're talking about virtually daily conflict reporting in which every ephemeral sentence is subject to microscopic scrutiny. Because who knows when some verb or noun chosen hastily under deadline pressure will sway world opinion?

The charges of bias fly fast and furious. And they come, at one time or another, from just about every faction -- from the far-right and the far-left, from Israelis and Palestinians, from those in-country and those outside it. From every angry troll with a keyboard.

(Nor does the partisan crowd seem to know or care that editors may chop copy for length, may change verbs or nouns on a whim, choose the accompanying art, and write the headline. The person in the byline always gets the blame.)

Oy, the pressure -- which I've written about before.

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