Suppose you opened your newspaper this morning and saw this on the front page:
The Grove. Each one will be a magnet tonight for an array of neo-Pagan denominations flocking to celebrate the return of their dead ancestors.
What would your reaction be? Why?
Examine the language closely – what is it about the construction of that sentence that would give you pause?
Let me offer a hint. There’s a difference between celebrating a belief that dead ancestors are returning and celebrating the return of dead ancestors. As constructed, this sentence asserts that the return of dead ancestors is a matter of journalistic fact, on a par with celebrating Florida’s victory in the NCAA tournament or celebrating a national holiday. You cannot construct a technically viable sentence that has people “celebrating Ohio State’s victory over Florida.” If they’re doing that, the sentence needs to be written differently. Very differently.
If you’re with me so far – and I realize this one looks subtle at first – let me note that to the best of my knowledge that sentence didn’t appear in your newspaper this morning. Or any other newspaper, this or any other morning.
This one did, however:
The Church. Each one is a magnet this week for an array of Christian denominations flocking to celebrate the death and Resurrection of Christ.
Rocky Mountain News, front page, yesterday.
Now, there’s lots of evidence suggesting that Jesus Christ was a real person, so a news item noting that people celebrate his birth or death – no problem there. Matters of probable fact – if he lived, it’s safe enough to assume that he was born and died. And even as a non-Christian, I have no issues with the assertion that he was a real person, and in all likelihood a great spiritual figue.
But resurrection. That’s a matter of great faith for millions of people, to be sure, but it’s also an event for which there is nothing remotely like acceptable evidence. The myth’s role in the spiritual lives of people is potentially a subject for all kinds of good journalism, but the assertion of this miracle as rational fact by the Rocky or any other newspaper is an egregious, appalling bit of journalistic malpractice that ought to get whoever was responsible for it fired. Today. Period. If they wrote that a man who had been murdered the other night miraculously arose and walked out of the morgue – not that this event was reported, but that it happened, and without the word “alleged” anywhere in sight – their careers would be over. (I mean, come on, this is an industry where people can watch video of a guy being beaten senseless from eight different angles and still use the term “alleged attackers.” What are we really talking about here?)
But since they’re playing to an article of faith embraced by lots of their readers, that makes it… what? It’s certainly innocent looking enough – what? we’re talking about Christians celebrating one of their holidays – but it actually takes an article of dogma and conducts a clever bit of linguistic smuggling past the reader’s crap detectors, embedding that which cannot be proven in a way that presents it as a given.
Our two newspapers here are pure crap and have been for years. The Rocky and Denver Post both lied about the Cassie Bernall “she said yes” story – by their own admission, they published the “she said yes” version of events several days after they knew them to be false (although they didn’t use the word “lie”) – so it isn’t like this is the first time they’ve rolled out an edition of the Jesus Times. And if they want to publish “faith-based news” that’s certainly their prerogative.
If they’re going to do so, though, I’d appreciate it if they’d stop pretending to be a real newspaper.
I’m sure I’m going to hear it on this one. But what that sentence says is not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of linguistic and grammatical fact. If you want to argue that this isn’t what they meant to say, well, that may be. I can’t prove that one way or another. At the least, professional journalists in major metro dailies shouldn’t make mistakes like this ever.
At the worst, it makes it hard to accuse people who worry about the looming shadow of Dominionism of being paranoid.