Boy Scouts, Mormons and CNN's tabloid-style 'reporting'

Let's face it: Most of the mainstream media coverage of the Boy Scouts of America's decision to delay a vote on possibly accepting gay Scouts and adult leaders was pretty ho-hum.

Here's how The New York Times boiled down Wednesday's development in a 65-word lede (sorry, I could not resist counting):

The Boy Scouts of America, which confirmed last summer its policy barring openly gay people from participation, then said last week that it was reconsidering the ban, announced Wednesday that it would postpone a decision once more, until May, as talk of gay men and lesbians in the ranks has roiled a storied organization that carries deep emotional connection and nostalgia for millions of Americans.

The Times and other major media (such as The Associated Press and The Dallas Morning News) relied heavily on a three-paragraph statement issued by the Boy Scouts:

For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, providing its youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public. It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization.

After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.

To that end, the National Executive Board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the National Council will take action on the resolution at the National Annual Meeting in May 2013.

Over at Religion News Service, national correspondent Adelle M. Banks noted:

The decision by Boy Scouts of America to postpone any change in policy about gay membership was fueled by an “outpouring of feedback.” Much of that reaction came from a sector with strength in numbers: the religious groups that comprise the majority of the Scouts’ chartered organizations. ...

There is simply no denying the influence of religion in the Boy Scouts, a group that includes “my duty to God’’ in its oath. According to the BSA, religious organizations comprise 70 percent of its sponsoring organizations. Mormons, United Methodists and Catholics — the three largest groups — sponsored more than 1 million of the current 2.6 million Scouts in 2011.

Alas, it seems that only one news organization snagged the real story. And trust me, it's much less ho-hum than the scripted Boy Scout statement and predictable quotes from gay-rights supporters and religious conservatives on which the other media depended. Of course, the same might be said of the reporting in the Weekly World News.

Congratulations go to CNN, which managed to grab the scoop without revealing any sources (or presumably, interviewing anyone) at all — always an accomplishment among "journalists."

Click this link for the full report from CNN's Erin Burnett, but here's the story in a nutshell:

A major announcement from the Boy Scouts today: As I said, they’re delaying a controversial and highly anticipated vote to lift a ban on gay membership.

The question tonight: Does the long history between the Mormons and the Boy Scouts have anything to do with the announcement today?

Check out the connection between the two groups, and it really amazed us. This is really stunning. Mormons represent 15 percent of the 2.7 million registered Boy Scouts.

That is the single biggest group in America. They pay dues. They also jointly own land together, and their departure could leave a gaping hole in the Boy Scouts’ organization, which has seen its membership overall decline by a third since 1999. So as the organization has gotten smaller, the Mormon influence has gotten bigger.

Who is asking that question? CNN doesn't specify. What land do the Mormons and Boy Scouts jointly own? CNN doesn't say. How exactly has the Mormon influence gotten bigger? CNN provides no details.

CNN is correct that the Mormons have the highest number of Scouts — roughly 421,000 — among the Boy Scouts' faith-based charter organizations. But what would be interesting in a "news story" with a bit of actual reporting would be to ask why the Mormons purportedly have so much more influence than the United Methodists (371,000 Scouts) and the Roman Catholics (284,000 Scouts)?

For the record, the Mormons issued an official statement on the Boy Scout decision (or lack thereof).

Am I suggesting that the Mormon connection to the Boy Scouts is not a newsworthy peg? Not at all. Am I contending that CNN's approach to that peg is better suited for a supermarket tabloid? Of course.

If the choice is CNN's sensationalism vs. the rest of the media's fact-based coverage, I'll choose ho-hum any day.

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