Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

One of the most challenging assignments in the world is stuffing 10 pounds of sugar into a five-pound sack.

Reporters face this all the time: A carload of details that must be crammed into a small shopping bag.

Such may well have been the lot of investigative reporter Laura Ungar of the Louisville Courier-Journal, a daily now noted as "part of the USA Today network." After six months of reporting, she delivered a devastating three-part series on the HIV epidemic that still plagues Austin, Indiana, a town less than 40 miles north of the paper's offices, in a region known as "Kentuckiana."

Let me be clear: This is important work touching on a vital topic of national interest, and it deserves a wide readership, I believe. How HIV gripped this town, how addictions to opioids opened the floodgates, how transmission the virus is being fought and what the human and policy consequences are should concern every American. After all, as noted in the two-year-old PBS NewsHour video above, one trucker hiring a prostitute in Austin could subsequently carry the infection hundreds of miles away.

The articles focus on the health care and policy issues, subjects well within the reporter's wheelhouse. But we also get glimpses of faith elements at both ends of the series.

The glimpses left me wanting more.

The first piece begins with a discussion of the Christian physician laboring to help save the town, and the final installment boldly proclaims Austin as "having faith" in the midst of the crisis, Ungar -- or her editors -- seem to hold back when discussing the exact nature of faith that's involved.

The final installment's headline, "Healing Austin: Faith lifts small town from depths of HIV plague," could lead a reader to expect a more detailed discussion of just what that faith is, how it is practiced, what it entails. The subhead is equally promising: "As the outside world moves on, [a] small city draws on faith to save itself from drugs and disease."

Everyone who imagines we're going to get a few tales of tent revivals and the old "sawdust trail," please raise your hand.

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What did God say? Mike Pence prayed and then changed his mind on needle exchanges

What did God say? Mike Pence prayed and then changed his mind on needle exchanges

What we have here is a rather complex, not-so-shallow, for the most part fair-minded New York Times news feature about (wait for it) a crucial political event in the life of Gov. Mike Pence, the evangelical Protestant running mate of Citizen Donald Trump.

Yes, faithful GetReligion readers, there are times when this story actually allows people close to Pence to talk about issues linked to religious faith and you cannot hear a snarky newsroom Greek chorus in the background. I know that you are all asking the same question: How did this miracle happen?

Actually, it's not a miracle at all because this story fits some rather familiar patterns that can be seen in work at the Gray Lady, as well as in other prestige newsrooms from time to time. What are these patterns?

(1) The story is about a complex and controversial moral and cultural issue -- in this case needle-exchange programs to stop the spread of H.I.V. among drug users -- but it is not an issue linked to the Sexual Revolution.

(2) Savvy evangelicals (Catholics, Mormons, etc.) who work in the public square know that all they have to do to improve their press coverage is to take actions that some would see as progressive and/or offensive to their core constituents in evangelical pews and pulpits.

(3) The politico in question, as part of his or her decision making process, goes to God in prayer and, lo and behold, in this case the voice of God is said to agree with the editorial-page policies of the New York Times.

So take a quick read through the feature that ran under this headline: "Mike Pence’s Response to H.I.V. Outbreak: Prayer, Then a Change of Heart." Do you see what I see?

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