The piece was written by a female reporter who had been one of my TAs in college – a very talented writer who chose every word with care.
For this article, she interviewed Weston Field, the executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation. Explaining that the Scrolls were written 1,000 years earlier than the oldest Old Testament manuscript known at the time of their discovery, he said, “Now we had something that … we could use to check what had happened to the text of the Bible for 1,000 years and how much it had changed along the way.”
Okay, so I’m not a journalist; I sold out when I started selling my Journalism-school skills to corporate America. But I still write a lot of articles based on interviews, and I know how to ask an appropriate follow-up question.
So given this comment of Mr. Field’s, what do you think this reporter should have asked?
How about this: “Wow, Mr. Field, what did you find out? How much had the Old Testament changed over those 1,000 years?”
But if this reporter asked the question, the answer never made it into the finished article.
Perhaps that’s because surely his answer would have been something along these lines: “It had hardly changed at all, and not in any way impacting message or doctrine.”
He might have said, “Those charged with copying the manuscripts were so painstaking in their craft that barely any errors crept in.”
He might have added, “The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Old Testament we have today is virtually the same as the Old Testament that existed when Jesus Christ walked the earth.”
Of course, even if Mr. Field had said those things, they never would have been published in the Journal-Sentinel, or any other mainstream newspaper. After all, such comments would have contradicted the idea that reporters like to toss around, that the Bible is just like the telephone game, with the message being hopelessly and hysterically garbled with each successive re-telling.
How much easier it was, for this reporter or perhaps her editor, to just leave the obvious question unasked and unanswered – to instead leave this comment hanging: “we could … check what had happened to the text of the Bible for 1,000 years and how much it had changed along the way.”
Not another word about it. The implication? That the Old Testament had indeed changed, and had changed quite significantly.
I have a follow-up question for those responsible for this sort of oh-so-subtle hatchet job: Do you mean to leave such impressions?
In this case, I asked it, in fact – sent the reporter an email. But I never received a response. Guess she was too busy working on her next story, which turned out to be a piece lauding Darwinian evolution.
Originally published 3/26/14