Media stumbles over the ABCs

ABC'sSometimes media coverage of issues involving religion is so bad that there is just not much left for us to say at GetReligion that hasn't already been said. Case in point is the media stumbling in an attempt to cover the resignation of Wheaton College professor Kent Gramm. Here is some analysis from a Christianity Today news reporter in a harsh blog post titled "The ABCs of Journalism." (Full disclosure: the author Sarah Pulliam is my sister):

ABC's report of Wheaton College professor Kent Gramm's resignation was an example of sloppy journalism and weak analysis.

The original headline was simply false: "Professor Fired for Getting a Divorce." Gramm was not fired. He resigned because he declined to talk with the college about his divorce. (The image to the right is a screen shot of an earlier version)

Later today, ABC changed the headline to "Professor Loses Job Over Divorce." The headline is still not quite accurate. To lose your job generally indicates that someone took it away from you. However, Gramm voluntarily resigned. And according to the Chicago Tribune, the college offered him another year of employment while he searched for another job.

Also, student Emma Vanhoozer's name was misspelled. Most journalists are extremely careful about getting basic facts like these correct. But reporter Russell Goldman bypassed whatever fact-checking system ABC has set up, if they have one.

"If the school is free to impose its beliefs on divorced family members where does the law draw the line? Could the school just as easily impose arranged marriages?" Goldman writes.

Yes, that's the big looming threat here: forcibly arranged marriages. Someone has been reading too much coverage of the raid on the polygamist sect's ranch in Texas.

Yes, Russell Goldman, Wheaton is considering arranging marriages because that would fulfill its mission of controlling every aspect of its faculty's lives. This bit of unnecessary and inappropriate hyperbole in a news report is Exhibit A in the museum of artifacts showing how and why journalists do not understand religion. I think the newly opened Newseum should have an exhibit dedicated to this purpose.

Here's how Wheaton professor Alan Jacobs described the story at First Things:

Well, maybe not all about. Russell Goldman's moronic story on ABC news is chiefly concerned to pursue the question of whether Wheaton might start forcing its faculty into arranged marriages -- a wonderful example of the old practice of creating imaginary worlds so you can place people you don't like there and make them be really, really evil. (The version of the story now online is corrected in a few ways, though still littered with errors -- the previous one was submoronic.) ...

Beyond that, here are the facts. Kent wasn't fired for getting a divorce, as so many of the headlines say. Though Wheaton, in keeping with what it believes (and I believe) to be historic Christian teaching, sees divorce as a very bad thing, indeed often tragic, it does not fire people for getting divorced. We have a number of faculty who have been divorced while employed here; in the past dozen years or more, only one has been asked to leave. But the college authorities do ask to interview employees who are getting divorced in order to understand the circumstances. It was this interview that Kent declined to accept, and that's where things unraveled.

More biting analysis is available here at the Sanctus blog.

For some positive news that is completely unrelated, check out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's analysis in this week's Interfaith Voices on why tolerance-preaching liberals seem to have a blind spot about Christian evangelicals. It's a breath of fresh air.

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