Jeff Reynolds has been sent to do a follow-up article on an accident in Cairo, Ill. A school bus approaching a railroad crossing stopped as it must by law. A semi truck did not slow and struck the bus from behind, sending it into the path of an oncoming train. Eleven school children between the ages of six and twelve were killed and fifteen others were injured. The bus driver was also killed. The truck driver was slightly injured, was taken to the hospital, treated and released.
Jeff decided to interview parents of the dead and injured children. Several pairs of parents refused to talk with him; their pain was not a public matter, they said. Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Buckton did agree to speak with Jeff. He went to their home for the interview. Mrs. Buckton showed Jeff a picture of Jenny, aged 8, their beautiful, intelligent, playful daughter, their only child. She wept and continued to speak about her wonderful, dead child. Mr. Buckton remained stolidly silent, arms crossed, eyes down. Jeff turned to him to ask what sustained him during this terrible tragedy? Mr. Buckton looked at his wife and then said that only their faith kept them from going to the truck driver’s house to confront him and perhaps, admitted Mr. Buckton, do him physical harm. He was angry, deeply angry, but he was controlling it and trying to find the strength to forgive the truck driver whom the Bucktons felt was responsible for their Jenny’s death.
“Where do you look for such strength?” Jeff asked.
Mrs. Buckton looked at her husband who said, “In our faith. Jesus forgave his executioners. I wonder if he could have forgiven them if they had killed his daughter?”
Jeff wasn’t sure what to do at this point. He knew that his editor was against any mention of God in the paper and especially against stories that seemed to support any particular faith. Jeff wrote the story of the Buckton’s struggle pretty much as they had told it to him. The story appeared without any mention of faith, only of the Bucktons’ anger at the truck driver.
Issues and Study Questions
- Based on the overview above, what are the issues?
- What are the beliefs at issue here?
- Should Jeff have mentioned religion in his story? If so, how should he have done so?
- What could Jeff or his editor do differently?
- What do you feel the newspaper/parents should do here?
- Why was religion an issue in this situation?
- What do you think the parents’/readers’ reaction was to this story?
- What is the responsibility of journalists in such a situation? What about other professions?
- Do you think there is a “right” and “wrong” way to handle this situation? Why? Why not?
- Have you faced similar issues in your own profession or personal life? If so, what were they? Were they resolved?
- What can be learned?
- Do you think education about religious literacy would have helped/harmed in this situation? How so?
Source: Religion and the Professions (General Honors 1030) taught by Dr. Jill Raitt, University of Missouri