Reporters! When in doubt, be specific

Caught with pants downWhile it may surprise GetReligion readers who reside in some parts of the United States, there are thousands of evangelical Christians -- millions, globally -- who worship in United Methodist pews week after week. That is certainly true down in the Southeastern corner of the Sunbelt, where there seems to be a United Methodist congregation in every small town and in almost every zip code. Now hold on to that thought.

I am sad to report that ABC News served up a story the other day that, once again, pinned the "evangelical" label on another GOP falling star without offering any practical details that would, or would not, justify that word. At best, this appears to be a story about a man who "voted" evangelical and then got caught with his pants down.

We simply don't know. Here's the top of the story, which includes all kinds of slimy details about a scandal that deserves to be called an "affair" in every sense of the word. The detail about the stolen disc of nude photos is especially choice.

What began as a government internship for a one-time honors student with a questionable past has become a full-blown sex scandal that ensnared a married Tennessee state senator and led him to resign.

Republican Sen. Paul Stanley had maintained a low profile until his announcement ... that he was resigning from the state Senate effective Aug. 10, after his affair with a 22-year-old intern and a subsequent extortion attempt was revealed to the public.

Stanley, a 47-year-old evangelical Christian with two children, said in his resignation letter that he has "decided to focus my full attention on my family."

"Whatever I stood for and advocated, I still believe to be true," he told Memphis radio station WREC-AM Tuesday. "And just because I fell far short of what God's standard was for me and my wife, doesn't mean that that standard is reduced in the least bit."

He had been engaged in a sexual relationship with intern McKensie Morrison when her boyfriend, Joel Watts, contacted him, according to an affidavit filed in Davidson County by prosecutor Douglas Long. Watts threatened April 8 to release nude photos of Morrison at the senator's apartment unless Stanley paid him $10,000, the affidavit claimed.

So he is an "evangelical" and that's that. Read on and you'll see that there is nothing in the story that gives us any clue as to why Stanley fits that label -- unless simply being a Republican is enough. Take it away, Jim Wallis.

Now, as a GetReligion reader quickly noted by email, it isn't all that hard to Google this politician's name and read the following on his personal website. At least, it was easy to do that before the contents were locked after his resignation announcement. Still, the direct link still works, so click here. That's where we read that:

From 1997-1999 he was Vice Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. Paul was Senior Field Representative to U.S. Senator Bill Frist from 1995-1997 and served on the Republican State Executive Committee from 1998-2002. He is a member of Christ United Methodist Church where he serves as a Sunday school teacher and board member of their day school.

OtherPaulStanleySo here is the question for the reporter. Why not simply say that the state senator is a Sunday school teacher in a United Methodist congregation? That would be specific and accurate.

But wait, I hear some of you thinking, "But that doesn't offer any political content about this man who has sunk into this pit of shame. It makes his actions worse if he is one of those 'evangelical' people. After all, if you just said he was a United Methodist, then people might think that he's, uh, well educated and sane."

As it turns out, the state senator's "about" page also offers more information, noting that:

He has sponsored and passed many pro-business and technology bills and has a 100% rating from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, NRA and Tennessee Right to Life.

There you go, Stanley had a sky-high voting record from his state's Right to Life chapter -- even higher than the rating by another pro-life evangelical from Tennessee years ago. You remember Sen. Al Gore, don't you? But he was a Democrat, of course.

In conclusion, there may be all kinds of specific information -- other than this one political statistic on life issues -- that would justify pinning the stunningly vague term "evangelical" on this latest GOP falling star. However, that information is clearly not in the ABC News story, where all we get is a hollow label.

It was easy to learn that Stanley is a United Methodist. Why not simply be specific, for a change? Go ahead and give us a few details.

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