infelix culpa

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 07, 2006

Terry Mattingly at GetReligion has an instructive post on the peculiarly alarmist boners to which the prestige media are susceptible when reporting on evangelicals. Most recently he'd come upon a howler in Denver's Rocky Mountain News for November 23rd. The correction reads:

This story incorrectly stated that James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, believes people who don't practice what they preach should undergo an exorcism. His quote, in a TV interview about reaction to the firing of evangelical leader Ted Haggard for "sexual immorality," was: "Everybody gets exercised (worked up about it) when something like this happens, and for good reason."

Wait a minute. Our betters famously told us that it's the evangelicals that are "poor, uneducated, and easily led," yet it's the RMN that has to add the gloss in parentheses to explain its own misconstrual of Dobson. How can this be?

Mattingly also cites Newsweek's botched article on Jerry Falwell last February. The correction:

In the original version of this report, Newsweek misquoted Falwell as referring to "assault ministry." In fact, Falwell was referring to "a salt ministry" -- a reference to Matthew 5:13, where Jesus says "Ye are the salt of the earth." We regret the error.

In this instance the phonetic confusion is understandable; less so is the failure of the reporter to register puzzlement and ask for clarification.

Not only evangelicals get the treatment. Last May the Weekly Standard remarked on a comparable gaffe in the coverage of the papal funeral:

There was a classic mistranscription in the International Herald Tribune's coverage of Pope John Paul II's funeral last month: "His folded hands intertwined with a rosary, the body of Pope John Paul II was laid out inside the papal palace on Sunday as the balance of power in the Roman Catholic Church began its shift to the unnamed man who will soon replace him. ... Tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow's ear, that he had carried in public." As the correction sheepishly noted: We "used an incorrect term to describe the silver staff of Pope John Paul II. It is a crosier."

Perhaps the reporter was a hue's ear, and his Gary accent led him astray.

Mattingly imagines that evangelicals will ask the apposite question: why is it that journalists would be likely to hear Dobson speak of "exorcising" and Falwell of "assault"? Ignorance no doubt accounts for some instances. Fr. Neuhaus, in search of a more charitable explanation, suggests stupidity: "They are not always the sharpest knives in the drawer." Your Uncle Di inclines to an explanation less flattering on both counts. Having caught the zinger on tape, the journalist may well be surprised and baffled by it, yet he grasps instantly how, once in print, it 'll work to the detriment of Christian orthodoxy by making its defenders look ridiculous. Just as an attorney stops examining his witness the moment he gets the crucial admission, the journalist doesn't ask the obvious follow-up questions precisely because the explanation that follows might diminish the dork value of the quote he already has: "Assault ministry! Everybody gets exorcised!"

In their world, it doesn't get much better than that.

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