Since when did speculation become a journalist’s standard of excellence?

http://www.abpnews.com/culture/social-issues/item/8957-activist-says-media-helps-stop-abuse#.Um3OQxA7CSp

Associated Baptist Press, which is the press agency supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and which has operated as an “alternative” to Baptist Press, which is connected to the Southern Baptist Convention for quite a while now, has been running a series of articles critical of Southwestern Seminary President Dr. Paige Patterson regarding a statement he made in a chapel sermon.  Patterson was one of the leaders of what has become known as the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC, and is a frequent target of criticism from Baptists who dissented, including ABP.

“We don’t take matters before unbelievers. What goes on in the church of God doesn’t go to the press,” Patterson said, speaking to students at Southwestern Seminary during an October 15 chapel service.

Initially, the criticism that came from ABP, and from those who opposed Patterson’s position in the SBC controversy related to his own exposure to the press during the period from 1979 to 1989 when the controversy was still happening, and the resurgence was moving to elect trustees and officers of the SBC and its entities who were theologically compatible and supportive of its cause.  Critics said that Patterson sought out and spoke to any reporter who would listen in order to promote his views, insinuating that he is now being a hypocrite for advocating the Biblical position of not airing church problems before the secular courts.  Patterson is apparently including the court of public opinion in including the press.

Patterson’s chapel remarks were in reference to local church issues, and I do not see where he specifically extended his remarks to include denominational politics.  His citation of Biblical support in the context of the message he was preaching sets the context for what he said.  As is typical of many of the sermons Patterson preaches in the chapel at Southwestern, his remarks are instructional for students, and are practical for those who are either currently serving in church leadership, or soon will be.  Pulling out a particular phrase or sentence, and reconstructing its meaning around his past denominational political activity is speculation for the purpose of providing a platform for criticism and is nothing more than idle gossip.

The criticism is taken further by the article linked above, and applied to a situation of which Patterson was not even addressing.  The author of the piece even admits this when he says, “Patterson didn’t specify what kind of internal matters he meant, but critics termed his blanket statement ill-advised and potentially dangerous given evangelicals’ poor track record of mishandling reports of known or suspected criminal abuse in churches.”  The first phrase of this statement is exactly what makes this piece nothing more than speculative gossip.

I certainly don’t want to downplay the work done by Amy Smith, of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests.  She was cited and used by the author as an example of why Patterson’s view is the wrong one to take, and in order to provide a platform for criticism of Patterson.  If Smith was concerned about Patterson’s remark and its context, as she asserts, then she should have contacted him and got clarification by bringing up the specific example she quoted to the press.  Clergy abuse is a serious problem, and cover ups by church leaders are as well.  Patterson’s perspective on this specific issue, as president of one of Baptists largest and most influential theological seminaries, would be news.  But he was apparently not contacted, though conclusions were drawn, and though that does not diminish the seriousness of the problem, using it to criticize Patterson does diminish the credibility of ABP.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which provides ABP with much of its financial and moral support, constantly insists that it has moved away from its incessant criticism of the SBC, and it has gotten over the shift to conservative control of the denomination.  But when one of the SBC’s leaders make a statement that is subject to interpretation, or seems on the surface to be contradictory when it comes to their previous words and deeds, and one of its entities jumps on it, speculates, and takes it out of context in order to be critical, it is hard to believe they’ve “gotten over it.”

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2 responses to “Since when did speculation become a journalist’s standard of excellence?

  1. Lee

    ABP has made a further attempt to put a particular interpretation on Patterson’s chapel statement by bringing in Christa Brown of SNAP, and making an attempt to link his use of the term “abused” directly to clergy sexual abuse. It would certainly be controversial for a Southern Baptist leader to appear to be endorsing a means of covering up clergy abuse in a chapel message.

    However, if you go to the Southwestern Seminary website and listen to the message, considering the context in which it was delivered, it would be next to impossible to jump to the conclusions that ABP asserts. Patterson is a prolific writer and speaker, and a good journalist would not have much trouble locating enough statements that he’s made, in reference to both church conflict and clergy sexual abuse, to determine his position. And a good journalist could pick up the phone and ask. Patterson spoke to a specific audience in a specific context. He doesn’t have to clarify himself. It is up to the journalists to verify information and make their point, and they clearly haven’t done that.

  2. The Associated Baptist Press is a business which generates income. $621,847 of it in 2011, in fact. That year, they had revenue in excess of their expenses, of $108,294.

    Ask yourself what approach to Dr. Patterson’s speech would generate more attention, interest, and in the end, income.