I suspect I'm not alone in being weary of Ted Haggard media coverage. But I thought I might mention another recent piece because so many readers sent it in and because it points to a few larger sins in journalism. Cindy Schroeder, a longtime Cincinnati Enquirer reporter, penned a personal essay for her paper based on the fact that she knew Ted Haggard over three decades ago in high school. In some sense, the story is really interesting. She reveals things about Haggard that I never knew -- namely that he was an award-winning high school journalist. She speaks glowingly of a series he ran on teenage sexuality and its risks. She reveals a bit about his parental and religious influences, too.
But even though she hasn't talked to him since Gerald Ford was president, she has no qualms delving deep into his psyche. This might be a stretch, to say the least. She begins by noting the latest headlines on Haggard -- the third-party account alleging Haggard is "completely heterosexual":
I cringed at the irony of it all. Pastor Ted, the fallen evangelist who claimed to have a hotline to God and President Bush, the preacher who enjoyed bantering with his critics in the media, had once aspired to be one of them.
Thirty-three years ago, my name was linked with the future religious superstar's in court depositions and news accounts, when we wrote about the sexual problems of our fellow teens. For much of our senior year, Ted and I were embroiled in a fight for a free high school press and our journalism adviser's job.
Hotline to God? Calm down, sister. Ted Haggard might have claimed he had a special relationship with President Bush -- but did he say anything terribly out of the evangelical mainstream as it relates to his relationship with God? On the other hand, the second paragraph is interesting and deals with something I've never heard about this newsmaker. She goes on to explain that everyone found Haggard easy to talk to, and that students began talking to him about problems with sexual activity, including pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. He begins working on a series:
The first story related anonymous accounts of students who'd dealt with the fallout from unprotected sexual encounters. Ted also wrote how we planned to report on available services for pregnant teens, compare local schools' sex education programs, explain the laws applying to doctors treating pregnant teens, and report local churches' roles in advising teens with sex-related problems.
While all of the students portrayed in our series were straight, I now wonder if this was when Ted discovered a part of his life that he would later describe as "so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.''
Because he once wrote about sex, it must have been a gateway to a life of deception and degenerate behavior? Why is this woman reporting? She should be a psychoanalyst! Or how about this part:
The aspiring journalist, who would later speak out against abortion as the leader of the National Evangelical Association, defended the series that had covered the legal aspects of abortion and told the school board: "There's no excuse for (teenagers) to be ignorant in this day and age. ... We simply told the facts as we found them.''
Ted Haggard, in his vocation as NAE head, speaks out against abortion. Ted Haggard, as a high school reporter, writes about abortion objectively. How, how is this worth noting?
She goes on to note that Haggard went to Oral Roberts University and that this was because his father bribed him with a new Monte Carlo T-top with an eight-track tape player. She says he stops being liberal-leaning in college (although I'm not sure either what that means or why she didn't feel the need to substantiate that somehow). They lost touch early in college. Here's how she ends the piece:
The Ted Haggard that I knew in high school would shun the hypocritical, homophobic dogma of Pastor Ted. He would become a model for the acceptance of others, regardless of their sexuality.
For her knowing Haggard so well, the statement's a bit overdone, no? Evangelicals Concerned, which is the premier pro-gay caucus within evangelicalism, probably shares the reporter's ultimate view. They think that if Haggard could have been open about his sexual desires, he and his church might have been spared the agony of the last few months. But they note something else about Haggard that seems lost on much of the nuance-deficient mainstream media:
Although the gay press has caricatured Haggard as rabidly antigay, he never made attacking homosexuals a hallmark of ministry, as has the Religious Right. Indeed, at great personal risk, he stood up to antigay churches that demanded he rescind his invitation to a (GLBT) Metropolitan Church choir's participation in a massed Easter service and he commended the Supreme Court's overturning of sodomy laws.
It's just interesting to me that this gay evangelical group displays a more subtle and nuanced understanding of Haggard than a woman who thinks she knows him so well. What Schroeder says about Haggard may or may not be true. But to assume it based on a very tenuous and distant connection says more about her than him.