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September 14th, 2013
08:01 AM ET

Hey atheists, let’s make a deal

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - Famed atheist Richard Dawkins has been rightfully criticized this week for saying the “mild pedophilia” he and other English children experienced in the 1950s “didn’t cause any lasting harm.”

This comes after an August tweet in which Dawkins declared that “all the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

Dawkins is known for pushing his provocative rhetorical style too far, providing ample ammunition for his critics, and already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism.

As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.

So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?

Now I’m not saying we just let these destructive words and actions go—not at all. It’s important for both believers and atheists to decry irresponsible views and hateful rhetoric, especially from within our own communities.

(Believe me. There are plenty of Christians who raise hell every time Robertson says something homophobic or a celebrity pastor somewhere says something misogynistic.)

READ MORE: Why millennials are leaving the church

But what if we resist the urge to use the latest celebrity gaffe as an excuse to paint one another with broad brushes?

What if, instead of engaging the ideas of the most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists, we engaged the ideas of the most reasonable, the most charitable, the most respectful and respected?

Only then can we avoid these shallow ad hominem attacks and instead engage in substantive debates that bring our true differences and our true commonalities to light.

It’s harder to go this route, and it takes more work and patience, but I’m convinced that both Christians and atheists are interested in the truth and in searching for it with integrity, without taking the easy way out.

Pope Francis took a step in that direction this week with a letter in a Rome newspaper responding directly to questions posed by its atheist director and inviting respectful open dialog between nonbelievers and Christians.

READ MORE: Why millennials need the church

So, yes, Richard Dawkins is an atheist. But so are authors Greg Epstein and Susan Jacoby. So is my friend and fellow blogger Hemant Mehta. So is Sir Ian McKellen. So is ethicist Peter Singer, who may or may not be the best example.

And yes, Pat Robertson is a Christian. But so is Nelson Mandela. So is acclaimed geneticist Francis Collins. So is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. So is Barack Obama. So is Stephen Colbert.

And I'm willing to bet that the same collective groan emitted by millions of Christians each time Pat Robertson says something embarrassing on TV sounds a lot like the collective groan emitted by millions of atheists when Richard Dawkins rants on Twitter.

Still, in the end, it’s not about who has the most charismatic or generous personalities in their roster, nor about who has the most “crazies.” It’s about the truth.

So let’s talk about the truth, and with the people who most consistently and graciously point us toward it.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" and "Evolving in Monkey Town." Evans blogs at rachelheldevans.com, and the views expressed in this column belong to her.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Faith

soundoff (5,916 Responses)
  1. R.J.H

    I don't know of any Atheist that claim that Pat Robertson is what most Christians are, Pat is an idiot, we know that and there are plenty of Christians that would agree with me. At least for the most part Dawkins doesn't say stupid stuff, yes you may not agree with him or think he is rude or whatever, but 90% of the time he says perfectly fine things. Pat on the other hand 90% of the things he says are stupid.

    I do not know what this issue you are bringing up about Dawkins recent comments are, but from the little info I picked up here, I can honestly stay that was a idiotic thing to say. I agree on with Dawkins view on how some people raise their children into religion to be (near) child abuse. I may not classify it as child abuse or use those words, but I think it's far from harmless.

    We Atheist NEED people like Dawkins and the late Hitchens , we need these loud voices to get us heard and to get things that keep us down changed, there are plenty of quiet Atheist that will never bother you. Shutting up and sitting in a corner will not help us.

    It is not an option for us/everyone to leave each other alone and just be in our two separate camps. Christians have a lot of things how they want them to be, many of those things interfere with other peoples lives, even with those that are not Christians. You wouldn't want us Atheist to come into your church and tell you how to do things and what is or isn't allowed do you? So why do you get to come into our lives and tell is what to do and what is allowed and isn't.

    Gay marriage, Hospital visits for gay couples, adoption by gay couples, benefits for gay couples. forcing children that do not wish to recite the edited version of the pledge to go outside, slowing/stopping science, All of these things are things that religion wants to stop and in America the religion that is pushing that the most of Christianity.

    What Atheist want, keep your religion in your church and in your house, you are allowed to bring it outside those two areas, but not if you plan to force it unto other people. That is it.

    If religion could keep it in their house.church and stop pushing it on other people we would all get along.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Jesse

      Well stated!!! Articulate and to the point. Thank you for voicing your ideas in such a matter of fact way without the need to being so passionate you forget your original point.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Keith

      Well said!

      September 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Odahar

      You are so right, but, "children of god" have this commandment to go forth and convert heathens to the "true" word. Isn't it funny how all of the other religions are the "heathens"?

      September 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
      • R.J.H

        Most religions tell their followers to try and convert as many people as they can, but it's only Christianity and Islam have changed the societies that they are in to what their book tells them it should be, you could says Judaism has also changed Jerusalem but it's to a lesser extent.

        To think. I found Jehovah's Witness annoying when I was young, at least they only bother once a week and for the rest you wouldn't even know they were JW's.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
        • G to the T

          Actually – only Christianity, Islam and their offshoots really activetly try to convert. When was the last time a Jew or a Buddhist tried to convert anybody?

          September 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
        • Nick

          I'd hardly call what the Muslims do 'converting'.

          The Koran teaches conversion on pain of death.

          – N

          September 16, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  2. Walt

    You don't need a religion to have a conscience, and if you do not have a conscience there is no religion in this world that can give you one.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Steve

      Very true. Well said.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • What

      religions steal the good works and words of others, and claims it as their own. As if religion actually understood life and goodness. Religions are simply fraud.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  3. Vic

    This a good article. It calls for the "Golden Rule." I couldn't agree more.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Vic

      .."is.."

      September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Ken

      Apples and oranges, really. Robertson's comments are ridiculed because they reflect his understanding of Christianity and claim to be one living as a Christian. Dawkin's off the cuff remarks are unrelated to his actual arguments for atheism. These criticisms are merely ad hominem attacks aimed at getting people to ignore his arguments.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  4. Mopery

    If you'd just keep your religion out of our government we'd have no problem, Rachel.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • i12bphil

      Gee, thanks for proving her case.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
      • doobzz

        How so?

        September 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • What

      which all our founding fathers wanted. Agreed.Tax the leaches tooooo!

      September 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  5. NorthVanCan

    Everyone has their own little interpretation of holly books and religion, but science is so much cooler in every way .

    September 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I'm not sure about "every" way. Many of the myth narratives are "cool" in their attempts at explaining the human experience of searching for something more powerful and potent beyond the self and within the self.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  6. kyzaadrao

    Can we stop with atheists on a "belief blog" yet? Thanks.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • What

      you mean a blog where atheist exercise common sense?

      September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Alias

      So it is okay for you to listen to what Dawkins says and judge people with similar relegious ideas, but we shouldn't be allowed to take part in the conversation?
      And people like you wonder why people like me think christians share mental disfunction ...

      September 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Ken

      We're just the other side of the same coin, my friend.

      Some people believe in gods, and other people believe that those people are mistaken.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • doobzz

      No, you can't. This is a public comment section.

      Why do you assume that I don't have any beliefs? I do, but belief in deities isn't one of them.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Oh I get it – you can't make a convincing argument for your beliefs so those that point out the inconsistencies should go elsewhere. Is your name Dana?

      September 14, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  7. NateFromIndiana

    I would accept that deal, but honestly I don't think either believers or atheists have enough control over their loudmouths to make either side feel like the other is abiding by the rules of the agreement.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  8. Jon Price

    If the god of Abraham (that is a greater being who created humans in his own image, meaning they are more important to that greater being than all other species it created), then every one of them would KNOW the god of Abraham existed. In other words, if God existed, he wouldn't need preachers, priests, and mullahs. I suspect that thought has occurred to most of them at one time or another. They spend 8 years in preacher school learning how to respond to such questions and comments.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  9. Loathstheright

    I'll just keep on being a good person. Being good is a natural thing for Atheists, we don't need threats from "God" to be good.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • What

      agreed. Atheists don't do good deeds for eternal reward promises.

      More so, it's secular society which tames the religious. Thank fully so. Hadn't we, it'd be like the middle east here, except with christians. No denying that.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • maryl1

      Since Christians and atheists are all human beings, I suspect both groups are good and bad in about the same proportions, and each individual has both good and bad mix in.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • What

        which clearly indicates that religion has no corner on 'good'. And is NOT in any position to tell anyone what is right or wrong.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
        • maryl1

          I completely agree. No one has a corner on "good".

          September 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Isn't that true of anyone, regardless of their beliefs or lack of them?

          September 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          @maryl1

          Nobody has a corner on "good," but more atheists have a corner on reasoning and critical thought. Sensibility takes its own side on the issue, and it is not with the fundamentalist god believers.

          September 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        Atheists can't run with the argument of "this act is horrifying and dis.g.usting and evil in every way.....but the creator of the universe wants me to do it," so I think our side is at a distinct adv.antage.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
        • maryl1

          So you're saying atheists are actually better human beings; fewer flaws than religious believers, more perfect. Got it.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          I think what he's saying is that atheists don't have an ancient, largely allegorical tome from which to rationalize immoral behaviour.
          Pick a contentious topic and you'll find folk on both sides using scripture to justify their positions (abortion, slavery, women't rights, ho/mophobia etc)

          September 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  10. J.R.

    Not throw Pat Robinson stuff in your face? That would mean you would have no problem with Pat Robinson's hateful, ignorant, very un-Christ-like views and instead, support them.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • SSB

      Why worry about Pat Robertson when everything he says is based on non science (nonsense). Poor chemistry and biology knowledge has led to this cult! Probably some science education and understanding will help.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • doobzz

        I agree, it would help. The problem is that Christians want their own version of "science", intelligent design, taught in public school science classes as fact.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  11. therealwanderingcrow

    “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

    that is from the pope........................

    September 14, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • What

      ah,, the pope who is in charge of child abuse cover ups.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  12. jens gessner

    As I see it, the biggest problem that atheists have with religion is NOT that religious people are irrational. – They are deluded, for sure, but why should I care about their delusions? The bigger problem is religion's insistence on influencing public policy based on irrational belief (the most serious issue is competing religious views and their resulting threat to all of humanity, but that is beside the point).

    Thus, IF Richard Dawkins' comment about his own childhood experience resulted in people demanding changes in the criminal code, or IF his assessment of the long-term effect of 'mild pedophila' caused proposed changes in public policy and the way we view child abuse, then Rachel would have a valid argument. – But nobody, atheist or not, is making any proposals to that effect. Therefore, her comparing Dawkins with Robertson is nothing more than cheap journalism. We should expect better.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • kati

      "As I see it, the biggest problem that atheists have with religion is NOT that religious people are irrational. – They are deluded, for sure, but why should I care about their delusions?"

      jimmy carter

      September 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
      • jens gessner

        Jimmy Carter said that?

        September 14, 2013 at 11:58 am |
        • kati

          carter is a devout reborner. go sit in his sunday school class

          September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • deep blue

      You are misinterpretting. Her main point is not to compare Dawkins and Robertson. The author is saying that the two below claims are completely stupid and thus should be discontinued:
      1. Dawkins is stupid, therefore, all atheists are stupid.
      2. Robertson is stupid; therefore, all Christians are stupid.
      You are claiming the two premises are not equivalent. That isn't the point! The point is, both claims use the same faulty logic.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
      • Jon Price

        Pat Robertson is stupid.
        Christians listen to Pat Robertson.
        Therefore Christians are stupid.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • jens gessner

        Deep Blue,

        That is not what I read. She seems to be suggesting that we should dismiss extremist voices of 'the other side' in the discourse, because they do not represent the mainstream. But there is a huge difference between an atheist scientist who expresses his own, controversial opinion on a matter unrelated to atheism, and an christian evangelist whose irrational preaching makes its way into public policy.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  13. Alias

    Ms. Evans is not as smart as she seems to think she is. I think this every time i read one of her articles. I suppose it is wrong to point out the obvious and expect people to find it enlightrning, aka write like she does and stoop to her level.
    However, since i'm already typing, let me point out how shallow her view of the world is. People who believe in the bible have a commonality that allows you to correctly group them together. People who do not shouldn't really be considered one group. Kind of like it is stupid to put everyone with red hair onto one group, and treat everone else as if they had some common bond.
    I also find it interesting that she pays so much attention to what attention wh0res who discard the bible are saying, and assumes athiests listen to mentally disturbed christians.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  14. Somewhere in Montana

    Atheist = There is no god
    Agnostic = Not sure if there is a god, but I am sure that if there is, it sure isn't your god.

    Just my opinion, but I'm sure others disagree. Good

    September 14, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Michael

      Most atheists do not assert that no gods exist. We simply don't find enough convincing evidence to base our entire lives on a group of stories from long ago. This type of atheism is called agnostic atheism. People that claim they know there are no gods are called gnostic atheists. This is a position I don't hold since proving something doesn't exist is virtually impossible.
      http://atheism.wikia.com/wiki/Atheist_vs_Agnostic

      September 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • Chris

      Agnosticism and Atheism are not rungs on the same ladder. They speak of different things. Agnosticism speaks to having no knowledge of the gods (which I differentiate from lacking knowledge of what other people claim about their gods), while Atheism speaks to simply not believing in any gods. It is entirely possible to be an agnostic atheist (which is how I count myself). And until someone can actually deliver some evidence (your holy book doesn't count, that's the claim), there's no reason to change my position. I'm not expecting anyone to actually be able to deliver any evidence, since theists all run on faith, and faith is only possible in the absence of evidence. Besides, theists have been trying for 40,000 or so years to prove their various gods actually exist, and have succeeded a (not) mind boggling zero times. I won't exactly be holding my breath waiting for their next failed attempt.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  15. Rickmess

    Here's a deal. Howabout you believe anything you want and so can we agnostics, but the one thing that we agree to is that neither one of us can be sure.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • kati

      why?

      September 14, 2013 at 11:54 am |
      • G to the T

        He's just stating that it's impossible to KNOW that some kind of god exists or not – it's the CERTAINTY on either side (though in my experience mostly on the deist side) that won't allow for a reasonable discussion.

        September 16, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
        • Nick

          Well put. Thank you.

          – N

          September 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • kati

      why sacrifice everything if one can't be sure it is worth it?

      September 14, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • George

        And how exactly has your "sacrificing everything" manifested itself? Are you a monk or a nun somewhere?

        September 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
        • kati

          a monk? a nun?
          huh?

          what r u talking about?

          "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" "And then I will declare to them..." what? great job. well done? you know the answer. why does he tell them to get lost? what did their show have to do with following him? what do monks and nuns sacrifice or do to follow christ? live w/o luxuries? pray a lot? treat others kindly? nice stuff and one can do those things and still not do god's will.

          what is god's will?
          "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."

          September 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
        • George

          You're the one who brought up sacrificing everything. To me, that means monk or nun.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  16. beders

    Pat Robertson doesn't exist in a vacuum.
    He's getting financed, he has millions of believers, he is actively harming people.

    Comparing him to Dawkins is just insane.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • kati

      u said it. u r getting closer. after months watching atheists miss what is obvious to a christian, someone FINALLY CAUGHT ON A TAD AND MADE A DISTINCTION! HOLY COW U ALL R THICK!

      you got it. pat has many believers

      September 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
      • kati

        pullin teeth here

        getting blood from a rock

        holy mackerel

        September 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    No deal!

    Pat Robertson is a Pharisee. Even Christians should be angry with this man for his tireless work to destroy Christianity and usurp God's glory for himself. Someone must remind Robertson that abusing his position as a so-called "holy man" for money and power is an even more grave sin than any atheist belief.

    As for the atheists on this board. I understand most atheists exist to be little more than satanists (do what thou willt, and target only Christianity.) That is okay. Please consider this atheists. You are in a unique position where you can look at religions with a degree objectivity. Furthermore you all ready know organized religion is a sham. Keep an open mind atheists, research the Bible, research the other religions, research science, research society. Just because you have no beliefs right now does not mean you won't able to find the Truth later. Atheists are typically good investigative thinkers, so don't be too worried about being atheists, but please don't forget to use your great investigative thinking abilities.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Alias

      You should consider the possibility that our open minds and great investigative thinking abilities have already helped us find the truth.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:56 am |
      • kati

        he hides from people with your self-assurance. why you cannot see that is a mystery

        September 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Why you believe that is the mystery. With no evidence of a god you are adamant that there is one and that you know what it thinks. Yet this omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent being is too shy to make its presence known, so we get the "you have to believe to believe" logic. The pretzel logic of the believer.

          September 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
        • kati

          thanks for sharing your opinion. keep coming back. you can still learn

          September 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          If that was for me, I'd be happy to continue learning. Do you have any evidence or facts?

          September 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
        • kati

          no

          September 14, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Grouch

      A extremely small fraction of christians follow Pat Robertson or any other TV celebrity. You're post shows that move activist Atheists are as much zealots as any taliban, zionist, or hillbilly christian.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • kati

        right on

        September 14, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • kati

      Anonymous
      No deal!
      Pat Robertson is a Pharisee. Even Christians should be angry with this man for his tireless work to destroy Christianity and usurp God's glory for himself. Someone must remind Robertson that abusing his position as a so-called "holy man" for money and power is an even more grave sin than any atheist belief.

      yea. you remind athies about sam the pervert

      September 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • logan5

      How can you consider atheists to be "Satanists" if they don't believe in Christianity? And clearly it has never occurred to you that the reason people turn to atheism is because they HAVE read the bible, investigated other religions, studied world history etc.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • doobzz

      "As for the atheists on this board. I understand most atheists exist to be little more than satanists (do what thou willt, and target only Christianity.)"

      That statement shows you have very little true understanding of atheism, that you are willing to lie for Jeebus, or both.

      Atheists don't believe in devils any more than they believe in gods. Nor do they target only Christianity.

      Christians get a good amount of attention from atheists, though, because Christians keep trying to get their creationist beliefs taught in public school science classes as fact, they want to control women's medical decisions, and they want to encode their dogma into civil law.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  18. NorthVanCan

    The information revolution is speeding up the demise of religion to such an extent that we can practically see it happening in real time..
    Thank god for that......not a minute too soon.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • LiberaLIowan

      Hear, hear.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  19. Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear

    Evans ends her opinion piece with:

    "Still, in the end, it’s not about who has the most charismatic or generous personalities in their roster, nor about who has the most “crazies.” It’s about the truth.
    So let’s talk about the truth, and with the people who most consistently and graciously point us toward it."

    It's about the truth, she says, and we should talk with those who "consistently and graciously" point us to it.

    Unfortunately, if you believe that it is delusional and crazy to base your life on the belief that an invisible all-powerful being created you, and your world, and actively monitors you, and cares about what you eat, who you sleep with, and what part goes where, it can be a bit difficult expressing that graciously. "Excuse me, dear fellow, but I believe you are barking at the moon crazy and you are poisoning the minds of your children". Does that qualify as gracious?

    September 14, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  20. deep blue

    The author is saying that the two below claims are completely stupid and thus should be discontinued:
    1. Dawkins is stupid, therefore, all atheists are stupid.
    2. Robertson is stupid; therefore, all Christians are stupid.
    Some people on this forum are hung up on her premises. It is ok if you disagree the premises of the false claims she is highlighting. The premises aren't the point. The point is, if you look at the logic that leads from those premises to the conclusions, they employ the same logical fallacy

    September 14, 2013 at 11:50 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.