Southern Religion

Editor burns fellow Baptist journalists with straw men [With Addenda I & II]

Pastor Johnny M. Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, echoed on twitter pastor and Executive Director of Founders Ministries Tom Ascol’s suggestion that Oklahoma Baptist Messenger Editor Douglas Baker “gets it.”

“It” is apparently the function and role of Baptist state newspaper journalists, like Baker.

After all, Hunt and Ascol were referring to Baker’s Sept. 3 column, which is certainly a critique of the press. It uses a “merciless” 1936 New Yorker profile of Time Inc.’s Henry Luce to build a straw man with which to castigate current-day press, apparently for “‘gotcha’ and cynical,” “slanted,” and inaccurate journalism.

To do so Baker fails to properly attribute humorist Wolcott Gibbs’ famous parody of Timespeak’s topsy-turvy narrative structure. Baker mentions only Harold Ross, Gibbs’ editor.

Ross, with his wife Jane Grant founded the New Yorker in 1925 with the goal of creating a sophisticated humor magazine, “and not be edited for the old lady in Dubuque.”

Baker offers us what may be that deliberately irreverent magazine’s most famous satire as somehow an example of current mainstream journalism profiles. And that’s a little off the rails.

Current New Yorker Editor David Remnick does attribute to Ross the words with which Baker characterizes modern journalistic profiles. Specifically, when accused of malice by Luce, Ross is reported to have said, “you’ve put your finger on it, Luce. I believe in malice.”

Baker pivots off the word “malice” to import the Apostle Paul’s admonitions (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 3:3) against malicious tendencies, which he ascribes to a controversy-loving press:

For what news agency doesn’t desire to rid the world of one more charlatan or corrupt preacher intent only on fleecing the flock of God? The profile is often just the tool to do it.

Moving quickly along, as the use of straw man arguments requires, Baker segues from his critique of journalism in general to a critique of Baptist state newspapers. Without offering a single illustrating example or link to one, he writes:

In the Southern Baptist Convention, many believe that fair and balanced reporting has all but disappeared.

Who are the “many”?

No names. No links. No time for that.

Baker has other points to make:

How to maintain legitimate and respectable news organs throughout the SBC seems to be the question of the hour. . . . It now seems that a malicious tone has entered the realm of religious journalism to such a degree that a person can be profiled in a manner that highlights certain sins or character faults absent context and direct reporting required by secular journalistic outlets.

Thus he returns to the generalized malice he ascribes to Ross, and without proof paints it on Baptist journalists. No quoted examples. No links or other evidence.

His criticism of other Baptist journalists also appeared in his first column as editor there, dated July 23, when he wrote:

Over time, Baptist newspapers somewhat deviated from their original purpose of service to local churches toward a more progressive practice of opinion journalism void of a theological worldview which kept them grounded in the practical realities of church life. Through the years, the creeping tides of modern life slowly choked out any semblance of a gospel-centered publication where the challenges of modern life and thought were carefully reported in ways which examined the key facts hidden behind the veil of political and societal diversions.

Again, he supports his assertions about his fellow Baptist journalists with neither quoted text nor links, choosing instead to move from unproven assertion directly to recommendations.

He recommends a journalism that is simultaneously Christian, evangelical, truthful and devoid of whatever it is that he sees as malice. It is difficult to imagine a professional journalist disagreeing with his view that “truth must remain the goal even when the news is less than laudatory.”

Note that Baker’s first column as editor appeared the week after the Baptist Messenger’s publication of a copy of State Representative Sally Kern’s “Proclamation for Morality”[.pdf] which had been photoshopped to create the impression that the controversial document had been signed by Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and Secretary of State Susan Savage. Baker had to handle the resulting correction and apology.

One commenter at Baptist Life forums wrote, “Welcome to Oklahoma, Doug. Hope you brought your flame-proof kevlar with you.”

Truly, and we wish him well as he attempts to implement his vision of a journalism that is simultaneously Christian, evangelical, surpassingly truthful and devoid of whatever it is that he sees as malice — standards which forbid resort to undocumented charges.

Addendum I:

Gary at Baptist Life forums observes that “a thoroughly discredited ‘quote’ attributed to James Madison” is part of a Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee guest editorial published by the Baptist Messenger on July 16.

Wikiquote has the BGCO ERLC Madison “quote” on a list of misattributions. The phrase falsely attributed to Madison is:

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

Wikiquote says:

  • This statement appears nowhere in the writings or recorded utterances of James Madison and is completely contradictory to his character as a strong proponent of the separation of church and state.

As of this writing, the guest editorial’s error apparently remains uncorrected.

Addendum II:

We asked. Before writing the original blog, we asked Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt what he meant by “it” in his echo of @tomascol’s twitter comment that Oklahoma Baptist Messenger Editor Douglas Baker “gets it.”

Specifically, we wrote:

@johnnymhunt We seek your insight: Please explain what “it” Doug gets.

That wasn’t the first time we asked. We had previously written:

RT @johnnymhunt RT @tomascol: A Baptist State Paper editor who gets it [ It? ]

No answer thus far. Just that public declaration of confidence by the president of the SBC.

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Publications, Satire, SBC | , , | Comments Off on Editor burns fellow Baptist journalists with straw men [With Addenda I & II]