Errors And Corrections

Attention New York Times editors: Was El Paso priest following the 'spirit' or the Holy Spirit?

Attention New York Times editors: Was El Paso priest following the 'spirit' or the Holy Spirit?

Is it time for The New York Times to hire a liturgist as a copy editor?

Well, maybe the world’s most influential newspaper doesn’t need to hire someone with a degree in liturgical studies. It might be enough to hire a few people who are familiar with (a) traditional Christian language, (b) the contents of the Associated Press Stylebook or (c) both of the previous options.

Faithful news consumers may recall the problem Times editors had following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. I am referring to the news report in which Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, was quoted — a direct quote — as saying that he rushed into the flames to save a “statue” of Jesus. In a gesture that left Catholic readers bewildered, he was said to have used the statue to bless the cathedral before rushing to safety.

Apparently, someone thought the priest’s reference, in French, to the “Body of Christ” was a reference to a statue. That led to this correction:

An earlier version of this article misidentified one of two objects recovered from Notre-Dame by the Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier. It was the Blessed Sacrament, not a statue of Jesus.

This brings me to a much less serious error — but one I am sure some readers found jarring — in a story following the racist massacre in El Paso. The headline: “In a Suffering City, an El Paso Priest Needed a Message of Hope.”

The content of that message? The Times team — to its credit — noted that the Rev. Fabian Marquez preached from a specific passage in the Gospel of Matthew:

“We need to follow the commandment of love — love God, love your neighbor,” the priest said. “This was a tragedy that came to break us and separate us, but God is inviting us to spread the love that only comes from him, and only with that are we going to be able to overcome this tragedy and this sadness.”

What inspired this sermon? What was the source of this inspiration?

That’s where the Times had trouble, once again, with basic Christian language and doctrine. Read this overture carefully:

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AP forgets a tiny detail in story about Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

AP forgets a tiny detail in story about Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

So this error is a small thing.

Maybe that's true, but in journalism the small details really matter. This includes using the proper name for things.

Try to imagine, if you will, a sportswriter producing a story about a game involving a sports team from the University of Tennessee and simply referring to the squad as the Volunteers, with no mention of the full name of the institution.

Now, a writer here in the mountains of East Tennessee near the giant, iconic structure called Neyland Stadium might be able to get away with that. But what about a news writer for a global wire service, with readers all over the place? After all, Tennessee has a lot of teams and, come to think of it, the word "volunteers" has meanings elsewhere other than the historic hook that is well known around this neck of the woods (I live in Oak Ridge).

So imagine traveling to Salt Lake City and producing a story about African-American Mormons for the global Associated Press and, well, forgetting to use a rather important term. Here's the top of the report. What's missing in this sizable chunk of the text?

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- African-American Mormons discussed the ongoing challenges of belonging to a predominantly white religion ... during a university conference designed to address the status of blacks in the faith.
Darius Gray, a pioneering black Mormon, commended church leaders for publishing an essay in 2013 that disavowed a previous ban on blacks in the lay priesthood. The essay offered the most comprehensive explanation ever from church headquarters about the ban that was in place until 1978. Still, Gray noted, only two in 10 Mormons have read the essay, limiting its impact.
The common theme at the conference at the University of Utah: Discussions about race in the Mormon religion don't happen enough at congregational levels.

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Christian Science Monitor shows how it's done

Kudos to the Christian Science Monitor for correcting is 10 August 2013 story entitled “Churches feel vulnerable after Mugabe reelected in Zimbabwe”. By moving quickly and acting openly, the Christian Science Monitor shows how a quality newspaper responds to a mistake. Well done!

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