To the Washington Post copy desk: I know it's a really busy day, with the blizzard blowing in and all, but I wanted to make sure that your received a copy of the following letter from a strategic leader of the American Baptist Churches/USA. I think I received at least three copies of it by email yesterday and it seems that it was sent to news organizations across the nation.
Then again, I'm a journalist who specializes in covering religion news. People send me things like this all the time.
The wording in this online version focuses on broadcast journalism, although I could have sworn that I received a neutral or print version.
Dear Sir or Madam:
As I watched your report of the Baptists arrested for suspicion of kidnapping the children, I was concerned about mis-communication in your report. While the people involved are Baptists from the United States, they are not American Baptists, a title belonging to the churches who are part of the American Baptist Churches/USA based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Please correct this in future broadcasts.
The American Baptist Churches/USA are very involved in earthquake relief through our partnerships in Haiti as well as through our missionaries there. We do not want any misunderstanding of our work.
Ruth Clark President, Board of International Ministries
I hope that this letter is helpful. Words matter, on the religion beat -- kind of like politics, or sports, or the food page.
Terry Mattingly GetReligion.org
I realize by now that many GetReligion readers really do not care about this picky little journalism issue. However, the American Baptists care about it and that's enough for me. There are plenty of ways to get around this particular issue in news style while writing stories about the now infamous Southern Baptists from Idaho.
You think? Alas, here's the latest from the Post:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Ten American Baptists who said they wanted to save orphans after Haiti's earthquake were charged with child kidnapping Thursday in a case that has raised fears about the trafficking of minors.
The Americans, most of whom belong to a Baptist church in Idaho, were arrested last week after they tried to enter the Dominican Republic in a bus loaded with 33 children, ages 2 to 12. The group's attorney here in Port-au-Prince, Edwin Coq, told reporters that nine of his 10 clients had little idea what they were doing.
Note, please, the "American Baptist" wording is still in the lede. Note, also, the missed opportunity to simply add the word "Southern" in front of the words "Baptist church" at the start of the second paragraph.
Nowhere in the article is there a word -- zero, zip, nada -- that tells readers anything about the denominational affiliation of this ill-fated mission project. Then again, that might require explaining that, while this group is from a Southern Baptist congregation, it was acting totally on its own, not in cooperation with foreign missions efforts planned by the Southern Baptist Convention (the nation's second largest religious group, after the Catholic Church). It might require explaining something about how Baptists work.
How did another major news organization open a similar update on this story? Let's try the New York Times:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Ten Americans who tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the country last week without the government's consent have been charged with child abduction and criminal conspiracy, as Haitian officials sought to reassert judicial control after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Americans, most of them members of a Baptist congregation from Idaho, had said they intended to rescue Haitian children left parentless in the quake and take them to what they described as an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic. But they acknowledged failing to seek approval to remove the children from Haiti, and several of the children have at least one living parent.
This story contains all kinds of new information on the case and, as in previous efforts, the Times has been talking to Haitians and focusing on other trends that have helped turn this case into an international incident.
It's also interesting -- note the video at the top of this post -- that some journalists have discovered that there are Haitian religious leaders linked to this story. In fact, the Baptists from Idaho claim that Haitian pastors and former Haitians made most of the arrangements that set this train wreck in motion. So far, however, I have seen no evidence of legal authorities focusing on the Haitian connections. Clearly, this story is not going away anytime soon.
The Times report ends with yet another wrinkle in the case, yet another reason for making a capital case out of the misadventures of this independent Baptist group:
One expert said that by pursuing the case Haitian authorities seemed to be trying to make a point.
"Haiti's decision to prosecute the Baptist missionaries may be motivated, in part, by the need to show its own people and the world that it is a viable entity that is tackling the grave problem of international child abductions in Haiti," Christopher J. Schmidt, a lawyer with Bryan Cave L.L.P. in St. Louis who has been involved in multiple cases of international kidnapping, said in a statement.
An American expert said that. I wonder what people think in Haiti?