Larry Stanford: No atheists in the newsroom

June 18, 2014 

A famous quote from World War II is "There are no atheists in foxholes." That quote has been attributed to a number of people, including Rev. William T. Cumming and Lt. Col. Warren J. Clear, both who were at Bataan in 1942, and was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during a radio address in 1954. But the quote is most often attributed to war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

What brought that quote to mind was a sentence I read recently in a Gospel Coalition article. It was the introductory sentence to the article, which was about Thomas Lake, a writer for Sports Illustrated. The sentence reads: "It may surprise you to learn the finest young sportswriter -- perhaps the finest young writer period -- in America is a Christian."

What surprised me was the last portion of the sentence, where the writer seemed to be surprised that a journalist can be a Christian. I'm a Christian. I've been in the newspaper business for almost 20 years now, and the majority of journalists I've known have been Christians.

Maybe the writer thought that as journalists, it is our job to question everything, including the existence of God. I've known journalists like that. But I'm pretty sure that, like a soldier in a war zone, if those journalists got into situations where their lives were in danger, that they stopped questioning and started believing. And I'm not talking about going into a war zone. Every time we cover a major fire, or a car accident with traffic whizzing by inches away, or a hostage situation or drug raid, we do our best to get as close as we can to get the photographs and information we need, even though in the back of our minds we know if something blows up, or a car swerves, or someone starts firing a gun, we could easily end up among the wounded and dead. But like the firefighter and the police officer, this is the job we signed up to do.

I've put myself into such situations. When I was working for a newspaper in Henry County there was a hostage situation where a woman was holding her mother at gunpoint in a mobile home. I got there about the same time as the Sheriff's negotiator, and we were told she wouldn't talk to officers and only wanted to talk to someone with the newspaper. The negotiator asked for my press I.D. badge and reporter's pad. I said I'd let him use them only if I could go along as a photographer. I told him it would make it look more realistic. He agreed as long as I stayed behind him. While he was on the porch talking to the woman through the screen door and I was taking pictures, the SWAT team went in through a window at the other end of the trailer and captured the woman without anyone getting hurt.

Another time, the press was invited to go on a drug sweep through a bad neighborhood in Henry County. When we got to the briefing before the raid, the "press" consisted of me and a TV news crew from Atlanta. The officer in charge had one bulletproof vest left over and offered it to us. He said they didn't expect any gunplay, but you never knew when a suspect might pull out a gun and start firing. The TV news reporter said he needed the vest, so he got it. On the raid, me and the TV cameraman were out right behind the officers, shooting pictures of them wrestling suspects to the ground. The TV reporter with the vest? He stayed behind inside the news van, making sure no one tried to steal it.

In both cases, I wasn't trying to be brave, I was just doing my job. Besides, if something happens to me, I know where I'm going.

Larry Stanford, Thomaston (Ga.) Times; www.thomastontimes.com.

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