Marjory Stoneman Douglas High

A laugh-or-cry correction: In Florida shooting story, AP hears 'sit and shiver' instead of 'sitting shiva'

A laugh-or-cry correction: In Florida shooting story, AP hears 'sit and shiver' instead of 'sitting shiva'

Here at GetReligion, we always enjoy a good correction from the world of religion news. Yes, it's a character flaw for which we probably need to repent.

But who can forget a few years ago when The Times of London reported that John Paul II was the first non-Catholic pope? They meant first non-Italian pope.

Or remember when NPR referred to "the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham" — a year and a half before he actually died?

Well, now The Associated Press has issued "a correction for the ages," as one Twitter user aptly characterized it.

Here is the correction:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — In a story Feb. 22 about the Florida school shooting, The Associated Press misquoted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in some versions of the story when he spoke about the families of the victims. He said, “I’ve been to their homes where they’re sitting shiva,” not “where they sit and shiver.”

As you might imagine, Twitter has taken notice of AP's mistake:

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Thoughts and prayers vs. reality: New York Times offers a Rosetta Stone for gun-control news

Thoughts and prayers vs. reality: New York Times offers a Rosetta Stone for gun-control news

While working my way through what became the farewell to Billy Graham week (which will continue as the funeral approaches), I kept watching the tsunami of press coverage linked to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Frankly, I have been stunned. Faithful GetReligion readers will know that I back many forms of gun control that would infuriate the cultural right. (This is simplistic, but I would like to see guns treated like cars, controlled with a training-testing-license formula. Also, I'm from hunting-crazy Texas, but I don't see why civilians need military level hardware.)

What has stunned me is the degree to which some on the left (think CNN) seem determined to destroy any hope for serious compromise. Please read this David French commentary for one view of where all of this screaming could take us.

What does this have to do with religion and religion-news coverage?

Well, check out this New York Times story that ran several days ago under the headline: "Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat."

As you read it, please ask yourself this question: Is this a news story?

I have been checking, day after day, to see if the principalities and powers at the Times have retroactively put an "Analysis" or even "Commentary" label on this piece. They have not.

If this is a news story (I think it is reported commentary and it should have been labeled as such), then I think it can be considered a kind of Rosetta Stone that media critics of all kinds can use to help break down and interpret much of the "reporting" that is being done linked to this torrid debate.

Once again, we see a basic journalistic formula that can be summarized as "thoughts and prayers" Americans vs. rational Americans who don't want to see students slaughtered.

Think about that. Might there be people out there who believe in the power of prayer, but who also want to see gun-control compromises take place (as well as discussions of mental health, the side effects of many medications, school security improvements, etc.) in this trouble land of ours?

Let me state this as a basic journalism question: If compromise is going to happen -- real change -- then wouldn't it be important to find voices in the middle of the armed camps on the cultural left and right?

Now, with that as prologue, what is happening in this Times sermon?

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Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Back in the days when he attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Joseph LaGuardia had a good friend who was working his way through some tough times.

But there were two constants that his friend could count on -- football and church.

The friend was Aaron Feis, who would later become a security guard and football coach at his alma mater. Feis has emerged as one of the most heroic figures in the school massacre in Parkland, Fla. Students said he used his massive frame to shield the innocent and was fatally wounded while doing so.

The national press has paid attention to the Feis story, with lots of quotes talking about his unique and powerful bond with students and his commitment to his work. He died in a local hospital, while friends sent out waves of social-media appeals for prayer on his behalf.

Today, LaGuardia is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, north of West Palm Beach. I don't know how the local newspaper found him, but his warm words about Feis added some interesting and poignant details to his life story.

The bottom line: Bless be the ties that bind.

As often is the case, there may have been a faith angle in all of those appeals for prayer. In a way, that's the theme that ran through this week's "Crossroads" podcast, which followed up on my earlier post about the Ash Wednesday-Valentine's Day shooting. Click here to tune that in.

But back to the story about Fies, as seen through the eyes of this pastor who knew him well.

LaGuardia ... said Feis was a couple of years behind him in school, but the two grew close through their church, the New Covenant Church on the Lake in Pompano Beach.

“There were three of us friends who spent most weekends together,” LaGuardia said. “We were very active in the youth group, kind of always there when the doors opened. And his wife was also part of the youth group as well.”

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'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

You turned on the television.

Within minutes you saw the images, you saw the religion "ghost." Clearly, the journalists behind the cameras knew what they were seeing.

It would be hard to imagine a more powerful image -- in terms of ancient traditions clashing with Life. Right. Now. -- than ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of people caught up in yet another mass shooting of students and teachers.

The images, of course, called up words that would be familiar to any reporter who has worked, or is working, on the religion-news beat. We are talking about words that -- especially in South Florida's large Catholic community -- many people, including students, had heard that morning as a priest marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross, during Ash Wednesday rites.

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The prayer that many worshipers would have whispered during the rite are even more haunting:

Jesus, you place on my forehead the sign of my sister Death:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

So did this symbolic detail make it into many stories about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? To my surprise, it did not. To see the context, let's look at the main story in The Washington Post. Did the national desk see the religion ghost?

PARKLAND, Fla. -- A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.

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