Saturday, September 10, 2005

Beyond the stupid question

If there's a medal for the highest single-article nonsense-to-space ratio in American daily journalism, a certain Southeastern daily is going to have its picture on a box of Wheaties any day now:

Was Katrina `the fist of God'? (1)
Many embrace a God of love. Others believe more in a God of retribution.(2) Katrina dramatized the difference. A Pennsylvania group called Repent America, for example, noted that the hurricane hit New Orleans days before a planned gathering of gays in the French Quarter. "Act of God Destroys New Orleans Days Before `Southern Decadence,' " Repent America declared. Others mused that the hurricane sprang from U.S. involvement in Jewish settlers leaving Gaza,(3) or that Katrina came as punishment for humankind(4) defiling the Earth. One Web site columnist said "the fist of God" was behind it all. We asked several religious leaders to reflect on God, Katrina, other natural disasters and in what ways they relate. Or don't relate. Their thoughts aren't intended to represent the wide range of beliefs on this topic.(5) They're just intended to make you consider other views.(6)

1) Your hed last week asked essentially the same question. Are you going to keep trying until you get an answer, or did you not read any of the "well, no" replies the question elicited, or what?
2) And still others think false dichotomies are for the clueless.
3) This particularly batty observation tends to produce hard-hitting, cutting-edge journalism along the lines of "Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy." If you're going to dignify it with space in your newspaper, at least have the good sense to ask some follow-up questions (which, again, you've had a week to work on): Does this fit God's MO from the past (Hurricane Audrey hit the Gulf ... what, a mere seven months after Ike leaned on the Israelis to pull out of Sinai)? Where were the messages after Camp David and the '93 accord? And why didn't God simply turn the hurricane eastward, kinda tilt it on its edge to get it through Gibraltar, and send it up the Med -- where He or She could not only inundate Gaza but probably take out Sharon's ranch in the bargain?
4) Not to be picky, but since the objects here are "leaving" and "defiling," not "settlers" and "humankind," you really ought to make the latter two possessive. If you're going to produce phrases like "reflect on ... in what ways they relate," I mean.
5) Technically correct, since your lede mentions a range of beliefs that runs from A to B and you present only A. But what exactly would be the point of chronicling the whole "wide range of beliefs" here anyway? Which gets us to ...
6) Amazing what a remarkable range of people and beliefs you can offend with a statement this blithe, isn't it?
a) When you tell me your intent is to make me "consider other views," you're telling me that the (monolithic) view you present is not mine -- in other words, that I believe, as a minister in Florida said after the tsunami, "You have to look at where it happened to understand. Most of the people who were killed were nonbelievers." Where exactly do you get off, bubba?
b) On the other hand, if I do share the view you present, does your editorial policy really give equal weight to the idea that New Orleans got what it deserved for all those years of decadence? (It's hard to see a single gay convo as the casus belli here, but God works in mysterious ways.) One looks forward to your future endorsements of Christian Identity, human sacrifice and other such expressions of diversity.
c) Religion is not public policy. It is not theory-building. It does not require the presentation and dissection of alternatives. Perhaps newspapers should consider sticking to stuff they can explain and understand.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree. There is a huge difference between explaining how churches, other houses of worship and religious people are responding to the hurricane. It's quite another to pop off random speculation (this was retribution for Gaza) without even attempting to back it up with anything other than a few quotes from a few ministers. Heck, if we're trying to get a handle on what God thinks, why don't we interview God? It seems to me that these kind of stories have every potential to damage, and very little potential to add anything of value to the discussion. -Kate Germain

9:26 AM, September 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, maybe this is just stupid designer talk here, but I don't agree. I think the view of this story depends on where it ran in the paper and what it was trying to accomplish. I don't disagree with any of your comments, Fred, the piece needed some improvements. But it's certainly a topic worthy of discussion.

6:52 AM, September 14, 2005  

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