It isn't the short little prayer on the front page of every day's Oklahoman that caused it to receive the designation as the “Worst Newspaper in America” but it certainly didn't help.
(It's only fair to note that the paper, under somewhat more enlightened management, has improved significantly since this review was published in the Columbia Journalism Review in 1999.)
This daily pseudo-religious dreck is a constant source of irritation to me. And I don't think it's because I'm neither Christian nor theistic. Yes, some of my best friends are religious; their prayers are usually done quite privately, which is where they generally belong, those I've heard are not the kind of pablum the O prints.
It's because, when I read a newspaper, I want the friggin' news. Unfortunately, because of my admitted oversensitivity, I probably look at that damn prayer more than 99.9% of the paper's other readers who aren't so perturbed about it.
Here are some recent samples:
Lord, deliver us from the hands of our enemies. Keep us as Your treasured possessions. Amen.
Frankly, I find that “possessions” bit a creepy idea. And it sounds pretty worldly for a deity.
Dear Lord, help us to settle our petty disputes without having to drag them into court. Amen.
This sounds highly editorialized to me. Perhaps the regular prayer writer was sick that day and someone from the editorial board had to pitch in. Truly, the real editorials are about that well reasoned.
So anyway, I've got a sore spot about this practice, not because I begrudge anyone who likes to pray all the freedom in the world to do so. But the front page of a professional newspaper is no place for sectarian blather, unless, you know, actually spoken by a newsmaker. This is the only major daily I'm aware of that has this feature.
The thing is, once you start something like this, you are stuck with it forever, even if those in charge might wish to discontinue it. All hell would break loose from those who can't abide any inch of their universe not plastered from one end to the other with supposedly holy words or images to the point where they see them where they really aren't, like imagining representations of Jesus in food objects, animal hide patterns and oil slicks (link added 2/21/08).
The U.S. didn't start putting “In God We Trust” on money until 1938 for coins and 1956 for paper. The addition of “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance didn't occur until 1954. But removal now, or ever, would be seen as a rejection of religion, and in this country, no one subject to election would survive even the suggestion of such an action.
So, feeling as I do about the Oklahoman's daily prayer, I got to wondering if it was carried over to the paper's web site. So I went looking for it.
And found that the religious fervor of the Oklahoma Publishing Company apparently does not transfer to their digital edition. (Obviously with the annoying way they reproduce the exact dead-tree version of the paper under the label “Electronic Edition,” the prayer would be part of it; but I'm talking about their regular web site.)
In fact, using the Wayback Machine, I even looked to see if they had ever put the prayer on the site in previous versions of the website. I was able to go back as far as 2001, and couldn't find any.
So, what to make of this omission? Sometime in the 90s, when the paper started publishing online, did the management make the decision not to include a prayer, knowing that once featured, it would have to be a forever commitment, just as it was in the traditional paper? Did they figure that their Internet readers are less religious? Or just less observant?
Are there minutes of that meeting? If so, I'd love to read them. I bet there was some real soul-searching involved.
So you will find “Today's Prayer” on the front page of the Oklahoman every day until you die, they go out of business, or the planet runs out of newsprint.