I personally asked Dr. Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index (Ga), why he signed the letter Robert Simpson penned to the Executive Committee taking exception to the editorial written by editors James Smith (Fl), Marty King (IL), and Gary Ledbetter (Tx) . He responded:
I am happy to respond to your question. There are several reasons why I signed the letter. First, I did not consider Baptist Press to be biased. I don't know that it was either for or against the GCR Task Force report. I didn't keep any record, but I thought they were fair in their reporting of the GCR Task Force news.
If you remember, we were initially promised to have some Baptist media present at each of the Task Force meetings and since that did not happen, there was more speculation, than actual news circulating about what was taking place during the meetings prior to the first report on February 22. If Baptist Press had been allowed in the meetings as was the case when the SBC Peace Committee conducted their meetings, I think the reporters could have done a good job of communicating an accurate account of what was being said and accomplished throughout the process.
I also signed the letter, because I thought a separate entity for BP would probably cost more money which I thought was unwise in this economy. I also thought the Task Force report would invite enough change and that a change in the status of Baptist Press was unnecessary. I also have a personal appreciation for the Baptist Press Executive Editor and didn't think his position needed to be placed in jeopardy.
Others may have far more information at their disposal than I do, but like the ten other editors that signed the letter, I didn't see any substantial reason to support the recommendation by James Smith and Marty King.
One thing is for sure: the Smith-King-Ledbetter editorial which attempted to make BP into a personal megaphone owned and operated by the President of the EC did not resonate well with other Southern Baptist editors. Nor can the Smith-King-Ledbetter assertion stand up to the raw data accessible to anyone who’d care to take a look.
In their original piece citing the alleged widely perceived bias of BP--especially toward the GCRTF agenda--the editorial trio offered but a single example: a four-part opinion piece by Morris Chapman. But how one is supposed to definitively determine bias based on one example is very hard to tell. The fact is, BP posted approximately 182 articles on the GCR beginning in May, 2009 and extending right up until the week of the SBC in June, 2010. BP even collected all the GCR articles onto two pages for easy access: GCR Task Force Collection (posted Mar 26, 2010) and GCR Task Report Viewpoints (beginning Mar 5, 2010).
If one will rummage through these publications, one may observe a definitive pattern of posting both pros and cons concerning the GCR and the subsequent TF report. If “bias against GCR is so obvious as to not require an exhaustive listing of the facts” as Smith-King-Ledbetter maintained, it is not obvious to me. I scanned almost all the 182 articles and could not perceive the “obvious bias.” Of course, it could be argued I cannot see the bias because I myself am biased. O.K. But such petty little games gain one nothing in demonstrating the “obvious bias” the editorial trio maintains. Now it’s not just a BP bias problem, it’s a readership bias problem as well. So, are the eleven other state Baptist editors biased too when they claim BP was fair in its GCRTF publications? Nonsense like this could go on ad infinitum. The fact is, if one examines the on-line paper trail which actually exists, there appears no discernible bias against the GCR.
If this is so, James Smith, Marty King, and Gary Ledbetter owe BP an official apology. Furthermore, they owe all Southern Baptists an apology as well. Only days before the Southern Baptist Convention, three editors of Baptist state papers publicized their intention to make a motion at the SBC that Baptist Press--the official news agency of the Southern Baptist Convention--should be removed from Executive Committee supervision not because more money would reach the mission field, but because BP is irredeemably biased, indicating BP cannot be trusted as our official newswire service. In fact, for them, BP is little more than a “personal megaphone” for the president of the EC.
I wonder if James Smith, Marty King, or Gary Ledbetter has ever thought if he looked to some of us like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black? Consider: only days before the SBC, their motion is posted in the Florida Baptist Witness (FBW), the paper which undoubtedly has the larger circulation of the three and arguably the largest circulation of any state paper. Was this editorial intentionally placed in the FBW to influence SBC messengers? Messengers who would be travelling to Florida to vote on the GCRTF report in only a few days?
Even more concerning were their names being associated with the their elected roles as officers of the Association of State Baptist Papers (ASBP). Albeit an official apology was published online and sent to the ASBP., this does not reduce the impression that their official status in the ASBP was being exploited to influence the minds of messengers. In fact, in his letter to EC chair, Roger Spradlin, Robert Simpson cited the same concern I’m raising:
I also found it very interesting that, as the immediate past president of the Association of State Baptist Papers, I was never consulted as to what was written in the Florida Baptist Witness. I knew nothing about any of this until I arrived in Orlando and was made aware on Monday morning of Convention week. The Florida Baptist Witness editorial bore the ASBP roles of the three authors. This created the false impression that the editorial expressed the opinion of ASBP. For the record, BP's coverage of this issue was never discussed by the ASBP.
Finally, I wonder if one were to examine, say, the FBW’s published articles on the GCRTF, would the FBW escape the charge of being biased as in favor of the GCRTF? One might respond, a state paper is not a newswire service. Granted. However, a state paper should adequately and fairly reflect all Southern Baptists within its respective state, should it not?
If I am correct, would our example of the FBW, if examined, reflect balanced views--both pro and con--of the GCRTF report? I don’t know. But I do have a “gut-hunch” about it. Perhaps the FBW could follow Will Hall at BP and collect all its documents on the GCR so its readers could have easy access to examine the issue if so inclined.
Even so, as it stands, from my perspective there is no reason to believe Baptist Press does not provide a useful, helpful, and accurate newswire service for all Southern Baptists.
With that, I am…
An interesting site which has a series of articles on news & journalism is News Consumer: You Control the Story. It offers brief but insightful pieces on how to discern unhealthy bias in today's media