Every now and then, I like to write what I call a "mirror image" post. The basic idea is that you take a current news story and change one detail that flips the perspective around. Up becomes down, left become right, GOP becomes Democrat, etc.
The goal is to try to imagine how some elite newsrooms would have covered the mirror-image story, in contrast with how they covered the story that is making real headlines in the here and now.
So, in this mirror-image mode, let's go back four years. Pretend that it's the Barack Obama era and the president is holding a Florida rally to urge his base to back his agenda for the new term.
The pastor of a local church -- a single pastor from a normal church -- goes to the rally with his daughter and finds the attitude of Obama fans a bit unnerving, a bit too worshipful. Maybe there is language and symbolism in the rally that is worthy of that Obama Messiah website that collects material about Obama supporters comparing him with Jesus.
This pastor goes home and writes a Facebook post in which he opines that, instead of being a wholesome civic lesson, he thought that this rally was an ugly spectacle in which "demonic activity was palpable."
OK, here is the mirror-image question: Would this one Facebook post by this one ordinary pastor in which he voiced a strong opinion about supporters of President Obama have become an international news story?
I ask this mirror-image question because a journalism friend of mine who now lives on the other side of the world -- not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination -- wrote me when she saw this headline in The New Zealand Herald: "Trump rally: 'Demonic activity palpable' says pastor."
This journalism educator wondered, after reading one of my recent posts ("This is a national news story? Pastor with tiny flock sends email attacking new boy toy!") how this one Facebook post, out of myriad social-media blasts on any given day, turned into a news story worthy of international distribution.
Now, it helps to know that The New Zealand Herald didn't have a staff reporter at the real Trump rally in Melbourne, Fla. This was -- surprise! -- a wire-service piece from The Washington Post.
At this point let me pause and stress what this post is not about.
If you have followed this blog for very long you know that, as a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary guy, I have opposed The Donald at every step of the presidential campaign. When watching the news, I continue to strive to prevent his face from ever appearing on my television screen. I am sure that if I had been at this Florida rally, I would have considered its civil religion content to have been absolutely creepy. I remain much more interested in Trump voters -- especially Rust Belt Democrats -- than I am in Trump.
I'm asking a journalism question here: Would journalists in a very strategic American newspaper have found messianic attitudes about our previous president as disturbing and newsworthy as they do similar themes about the current occupant of the White House? Would we have seen international news about the pastor of an ordinary church writing a fierce, and to some inflammatory, Facebook commentary (as opposed to something on a huge national denomination's website) about an Obama rally?
So what does the Post story say? Here is the overture:
A Florida pastor who took his 11-year-old daughter to campaign-style rally for President Donald Trump said he hoped the event would serve as a civics lesson -- but that it turned instead into a spectacle where "demonic activity was palpable."
Joel Tooley, lead pastor at Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene in eastern Florida, said that when he heard that the president and first lady would be passing through town, he decided to go see them in person.
"I am enough of a sentimentalist that when I found out THEEEE President was coming to town, I got online quickly and reserved two tickets," he wrote on Facebook.
But the rally last weekend was not what the pastor had in mind.
"As people were coming in, there was a lot of excitement and a strong sense of patriotism," Tooley wrote.
But then, theologically speaking, things got very dark. It appears that some were Pentecostal Christians and, while singing "God Bless the USA," some -- no surprise -- raised their hands high.
"People were being ushered into a deeply religious experience," Tooley wrote, "and it made me completely uncomfortable.
"I love my country; I honour those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and I respect our history and what we stand for, but what I experienced in that moment sent shivers down my spine. I felt like people were here to worship an ideology along with the man who was leading it. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the song per se -- it was this inexplicable movement that was happening in the room. It was a religious zeal."
It helps to know that the Post report notes that this pastor could not be reached for further comment.
Also, the White House "did not immediately respond" to a Post request for comments on this claim that the president's fans were, well, taking part in possibly demonic activities to back his cause.
Let's go back to the Facebook post, since that is the only real news hook for this Post "Acts of Faith" report. Things got worse:
"The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord's prayer," he added. "I can't explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn't a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative. People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, 'be the glory forever and ever, amen!' As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, "USA! USA! USA!"
I am curious about one thing -- the context of this pastor's use of the term "demonic."
I could not find that crucial information in this news report.
However, if you read the entire Facebook post -- click here for that text -- you learn that the "demon" language is found in his description of a confrontation between two female anti-Trump demonstrators and a cell of Trump supporters. The pastor and his daughter (holding "Make America Great Again!" signs distributed at the rally) were caught in the middle.
It appears that this crucial passage opens with strong language from two pro-Trump women who are yelling at the two anti-Trump females.
The two angry, screaming ladies looked at me, both of them raised their middle finger at me in my face and repeatedly yelled, "F*#% YOU!" Repeatedly.
I calmly responded, "No thank you, I'm happily married." Their faces and their voices were filled with demonic anger.
I have been in places and experiences before where demonic activity was palpable. The power of the Holy Spirit of God was protecting me in those moments and was once again protecting me and my daughter in this moment.
Some other rally participants then stepped in to help Tooley protect the anti-Trump duo from people who were losing their cool.
Here is my question: My reading of this lengthy Facebook post is that the pastor is saying (a) that he found the religious overtones of the rally overblown and even disturbing (I say, "Amen, brother") and (b) that he felt the presence of evil in the bitter emotions unleashed during the clash between anti-Trump demonstrators and some, but not all, pro-Trump people.
Is the complexity of that dramatic scene accurately captured in a headline, and a lede, that simply state that "demonic activity" was "palpable" at the Trump rally? In other words, is it accurate to imply that Tooley linked the term "demonic" directly to Trump and/or all those who rallied to support the president?
What think ye?
UPDATE: The pastor speaks on CNN.
Right up front: "First of all, I did not describe the event as 'demonic.' "