Can the NYT's religion coverage be resurrected?

We somehow missed this yesterday, but Newsbusters certainly didn’t, and it’s worth a look even a day later.  The New York Times, with reporters around the world and “layers of fact-checkers and editors,” somehow couldn’t properly define Easter in a news article that focused on Pope Francis’ message on Christianity’s most holy of days.  This correction has to be a contender for the most hilarious of the year:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 1, 2013

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.

Clay Waters at Newsbusters resurrected the original paragraph, emphasis his:

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life. In urging peace, Francis called on Jesus to ”change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”

Even the correction is in error.  Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead three days after he was crucified, but his ascension into Heaven was not a “resurrection” at all.

One has to wonder why no one bothered to run this by Ross Douthat, who writes an intriguing column for the New York Times that often reflects on his Catholic faith.  For that matter, one has to wonder why none of the layers of fact-checkers and editors missed this egregious error prior to publication — or why they have assigned a reporter to cover the Pope’s Easter message who has no understanding of the event itself.  Ross would have been the more natural choice to write a report on Francis’ Easter address rather than Elisabetta Povoledo, their correspondent in Rome who has oddly not bothered to familiarize herself with even the most basic facts of the religion practiced in the Vatican.

Part of the problem for the NYT is the lack of a religion section, and a religion editor.  At one time, most newspapers had a particular section dealing with news stories about faith and religions, which presumably would have lent enough expertise to at least catch this kind of ignorance before it hit the newsstand and the Internet.  With newspapers facing tough budget choices, it’s not difficult to understand why a section on religion might be considered expendable, especially for a publication that serves an increasingly secular market.  However, the lack of an editor with at least some basic knowledge (and a reporter who checks her assumptions) will eventually lead to silly, avoidable, and credibility-damaging errors like the original story and the still-erroneous correction.  It might have also avoided some of the ignorant opinion pieces offered by the Gray Lady during the papal transition, which one can find via a search on “Benedict XVI.”

If the New York Times wants to cover religion, then it had better find reporters and editors who understand it, at least if they want to maintain that they have any credibility to perform those functions.

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