Sometimes I think the best thing a reporter can do to improve his craft is be interviewed by another reporter for publication. I have been interviewed as a subject matter source by a few different reporters and have experienced a wide range of results. There is nothing more frustrating than being misquoted or misunderstood by a reporter. If it happens to you, you're much more careful with your sources. You take the time to make sure you understand where they're coming from and what they're trying to say.
Many of my sources tell me horror stories about being mishandled by reporters. Just this week I was talking to a friend of mine, a former reporter who goes to The Falls Church, one of the churches that just split from The Episcopal Church. I asked her what she thought of the media coverage of the story and she said, "Well, what do you expect? Of course they get the story wrong." Without getting into the merits of the coverage, she said her frustration is that the story is being portrayed as about homosexuality when she considers the story to be about being in a church that confesses the Gospel correctly.
Last week we looked at a couple of Neela Banerjee's stories. One dealt with people who identify both as homosexuals and evangelical Christians. The other looked at the response of various congregations to homosexuals. I enjoyed both stories, although I offered a few points of criticism.
Source Robert Gagnon wrote about his experience being interviewed by Banerjee. He felt that she misconstrued some of what he said. Here is how she characterized his views:
But for most evangelicals, gay men and lesbians cannot truly be considered Christian, let alone evangelical.
"If by gay evangelical is meant someone who claims both to abide by the authority of Scripture and to engage in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions, then the concept gay evangelical is a contradiction," Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, said in an e-mail message.
"Scripture clearly, pervasively, strongly, absolutely and counterculturally opposes all homosexual practice," Dr. Gagnon said. "I trust that gay evangelicals would argue otherwise, but Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture."
In fact, both sides look to Scripture. The debate is largely over seven passages in the Bible about same-sex couplings. Mr. Gagnon and other traditionalists say those passages unequivocally condemn same-sex couplings.
Gagnon reprinted his four paragraph response to Banerjee's question of whether there are gay evangelicals. The most notable criticism he had was that he answered her question both in the affirmative and the negative. However, she only quoted from his "no" response.
His other criticisms were that she made it look like he didn't know that Christian proponents of homosexual practice had attempted to substantiate their views using Scripture; that she misstated his views about whether gay men and women can be considered Christian; and that she neglected to include his emphasis on the importance of love. You can read his whole case here.
One thing I appreciated about his critique is that he also took the time to praise Banerjee for her good work in the article, as he did here:
On Ms. Banerjee's behalf I can say that I've seen far worse reporting on this issue. At least Ms. Banerjee solicited my comments, was polite, and actually used most of three of my sentences. Moreover, she ended her article on the helpful note that relatives of one "gay Christian" in a homosexual relationship tell him, "We love you, but we're concerned." These features of her article and reporting should be applauded even as we continue to seek improved reporting on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality from the Times and other major media publications.
This business of reporting on complex religious stories is a long ball game. With each story, reporters try to include the right perspectives, accurately portray contentious and complex views and put it all in a nice package on a tight deadline. If sources or interested parties think mistakes were made, they would do well to follow Gagnon's example of offering criticism while putting the best construction on perceived mistakes.