ABC News' 20/20 messed up big time. In a March episode the show showed a video clip of the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price, founder of the Crenshaw Christian Center in Los Angeles, saying that he lives in a 25-room mansion and owns a $6 million yacht, a private jet, a helicopter and seven luxury cars. The problem for ABC News is that Price wasn't stating facts about himself. It was a hypothetical. Alan Semuels' story for the Los Angeles Times is rather flippant and fails to dig into the relevant legal issues or religious doctrine.
Price has sued 20/20, its co-anchor John Stossel, ABC News and the network's owner, Walt Disney Co., for unspecified damages. The LAT couldn't help but mention in the first eight words of the story that Price owns two Bentleys, but never gives us any idea of whether Price has a legal case.
From my understanding of the law and the facts, he doesn't. Price preaches in a 10,000-seat dome and his church's services appear on Lifetime, coincidentally also owned by Disney, which sells the time. Because Price is a public figure, the bar is set high to prove defamation. Journalists must knowingly publish incorrect facts about him that cause him damage. The burden falls on Price to prove that ABC News knew it was broadcasting falsehoods.
Now if Price can somehow relegate himself to the status of a private person when he was defamed, he has a very good case to make. But the efforts, however poor, by ABC News to correct the record will likely keep the network from forking over a dime to Price. How ironic that we are dealing with a man who preaches the gospel of prosperity.
It's pretty clear that ABC News wronged Price, and by no means should anyone condone that.
Here's the explanation from ABC News via the LAT:
ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said he couldn't comment on the suit but noted that the network had run two retractions, one on "Good Morning America" and the other on "20/20." ABC also posted a retraction on its website.
"We did make a full retraction and apology on the air and certainly regretted the error and made that very clear to Rev. Price," Schneider said.
In the retraction, Stossel said "20/20" had thought Price was talking about himself in the sermon. "We used his quote out of context, and for that we apologize to Dr. Price and to the Crenshaw Christian Center and to you if we misled you," Stossel said.
It's great that ABC News and Stossel are backtracking, but the LAT could have pointed out that finding the retraction on 20/20's website is next to impossible. I wasn't able to find it. Can you?
The LAT article concludes with a rather lame attempt to address the irony surrounding the piece. A preacher who proclaims the financial blessings of following Jesus Christ is suing for damages because he believes he was unfairly portrayed as a rich and greedy preacher who profits from his flock. (I really wish Price's lawyer would stick a price tag on the lawsuit. Then we would know how many more Bentleys Price can afford.)
Congregants expressed their support for Price and disdain for "20/20."
"It's obviously so outlandish," said Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's former sidekick, who has attended the church for 15 years. "I know the man quite well, and there's no possible way" that Price would ever dip into church coffers.
After listening to Price's sermon -- which began, "Why do so many Christians fail to enjoy the abundant life?" -- parishioner Mary Grimes said that Price deserved to live well.
"In the regular world, if he was a CEO, he'd get a penthouse and airplanes," she said. "I give abundantly because I want him to be pampered."
There is so much serious doctrine and theology that the LAT could delve into here, but alas, it does not. You have everything from the traditional line that the preachers of the word should be poor. There are those who believe they should be well cared for and then there are apparently those who want their preachers to be pampered. I don't understand how the reporter in this case could resist getting further into this juicy subject.