Don’t stop reading here!!!

I saw the headline and was more skeptical than surprised.

“North Carolina mom begins serving jail sentence for baptizing daughter”

Recognizing the “war on Christianity” theme as a legit, and often repeated mantra in our society, I realized this story would add credence to that belief.

Typically, I find this alleged “war” largely unremarkable, and typically more rooted in paranoia than actual fact, but hey, anything is possible, right?

So I clicked on the little link on my little phone so I can read the little text and up pops the story with again, the same headline leading the top of the page in bold letters, followed by a mug shot of the very sad looking mother.

Then I read the first paragraph.

“A North Carolina mom started serving a week-long jail sentence for having her daughter baptized, according to reports.”

Sigh. Okay. I got that after reading the headline. Twice.

“The 2016 baptism at St. Peter’s Catholic Church when the girl was 2 years old defied a judge’s order in a custody battle between unmarried couple, Kendra Stocks and Paul Schaaf, who are no longer together.”

Oh well now, this changes everything. This whole story is cast in an entirely different light.

It turns out a judge had ruled until final custody was determined, the girl wasn’t to be a part of any religious ceremonies, like a baptism or a christening.

Both parents were reportedly very devout and wanted to make sure they attended any kind of religious dedication.

Then Ms. Stocks defied the court order and not only had her daughter baptized, but publicly bragged about it with posts on Facebook.

So let’s be clear. Stocks’ actions clearly were not rooted in deep religious conviction. She used her daughter, and baptism, as a weapon to inflict emotional damage upon the child’s father.

That’s not religious devotion. That’s an abomination.

However, that’s not how it was depicted by this TV news network. Just reading the headline, or the lead sentence, one would believe this poor woman was being persecuted because she was a Christian.

She was arrested and jailed for baptizing her child, just like John the Baptist. What’s next? The subsequent beheading by our pagan government?

But alas, no. She wasn’t arrested for baptizing her child. She was arrested for defying a court order.

I’ve worked in media long enough to fully understand the motivation for presenting this story in this manner. Had the headline been completely responsible, it would have said “mom jailed for defying court order, baptizing daughter.” But then, I don’t click on it. So, they tell you a kernel of the truth hoping to bait you to read more.

Unfortunately though, most of the time we don’t read more.

I remember when I was in basic news writing classes nearly 30 years ago, we were told if the story was read, half of the people wouldn’t get past the first sentence.

In a recent study on how Americans consume news, that number has apparently grown. Nearly 60 percent of respondents indicated they don’t read past the headline, much less the lead paragraph.

So if 60 percent don’t get past the headline, it’s safe to say another 15 percent don’t get past the lead, which means three out of four people who saw that headline believe a North Carolina woman was simply jailed because she’s a Christian.

And if collective ignorance was the only casualty, it would be palpable. But what happens in our digital world is this story will never really go away. Another mom will get arrested and this will be linked to its as a “related story” and another batch of people will only read that misleading headline.

Or worse yet, some enterprising politician will reference the story to galvanize his conservative base, using it as evidence that they need him/her in Washington DC or the state capitol, or the county courthouse to protect their Christian religion.

And when the TV station covers that speech, this story will appear at the bottom of it under related links. Or if the politician is really lucky, it will be embedded in the story.

Folks, we gotta be smarter than this. We have to read beyond the headline and use the brains God gave us. Until we do, we will continue to be manipulated by people who want our votes, our clicks, or our attention.

Don’t fall for it.