How to Best Cover (Purported) End of the World

News organizations face an uphill challenge when it comes to headlining about the Apocalypse.

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    Julie Baker walks the streets proselytizing with other believers that the world will end this May 21, Judgment Day, on May 13, 2011 in New York City. The Christian based movement, which claims thousands of supporters around the country and world, was founded by the Oakland, Calif.-based Harold Camping. Camping is president of Family Stations Inc., a religious broadcasting network that promotes the belief that May 21, 2011 is Judgment Day.

    We've already heard about American Family Radio leader Harold Camping claiming the four horsemen are coming Saturday.* The idea has gotten a lot of attention, primarily thanks to billboards declaring "Judgment Day is coming, the Bible guarantees it."

    It's also been comedy gold for people like Stephen Colbert, who pointed out recently there are a limited number of days until there are no more shopping days.

    How does one cover the end of the world? This has caused some angst in newspaper newsrooms. While they're familiar with their own coming doom, covering the world's is a bit more complicated.

    The problem is at some point talk of the predicted apocalypse enters pop culture, if not forcing the mainstream media to cover it, at least tempting it.

    How do you simultaneously cover something and debunk it at the same time? Most news agencies are fairly skilled at this, having practiced while covering claims that President Obama was born outside the United States. Journalists can legitimately cover a conversation about something while simultaneously debunking it.

    How precisely do you debunk a religious belief, though? The simple way is "Camping claims the world will end May 21. He's wrong."

    As for how sure we are about the end of the world likely not coming anytime soon, we turn to Matthew 24:36. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father only."

    As blogger Bryan Fisher points out, "Jesus said that he himself didn’t even know. One thing I can tell you for certain: if the Father did not reveal the date of his return to Jesus Christ, he ain’t gonna tell Harold Camping."

    * Technically, Camping claims Jesus arrives Saturday and kicks off a five month apocalypse ending in October.