Journalists in Washington, D.C., know how to cover protests. At the top of the "to do" list is finding that killer quote that captures the style of the protesters and their cause. This is harder than it sounds, as illustrated by this disastrous story.
Picture this scene. A flock of Pentecostal Christians has gathered at the U.S. Capitol for yet another prayer rally about sex, abortion, family values and the public square.
"At times, the mood turned hostile toward the lawmakers in the stately white building behind the stage," wrote The Washington Post in its coverage of the event. Then, without explanation, the story offered this on-stage quotation from a religious broadcaster: "Let's pray that God will slay everyone in the Capitol."
Slay what? Clearly, the reporters didn't know about the experience that Pentecostal Christians call being "slain in the Holy Spirit," in which they believe they are transformed by a surge of God's power. The result was a journalistic train wreck that ended up in the book The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.
"The problem," wrote authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, "was that the reporters didn't know, didn't have any Pentecostals in the newsroom to ask, and was perhaps too anxious for a 'holy sh-t' story to double-check with someone afterward whether the broadcaster was really advocating the murder of the entire Congress." This mistake made "a strong case for the need for humility" at the news desk, they said.
Read the entire article on the USA Today website (new window will open).