There is some seriously conflicting information out there right now concerning Crystal Cathedral founder the Rev. Robert H. Schuller. The Los Angeles Times, which has the more recent story, explains:
Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor Sheila Coleman expressed outrage in an interview Sunday after rumors spread across the media and Internet that her father, famed televangelist Robert H. Schuller, was stepping down.
"Dad is not retiring," she said. "I told [the congregation] that Dad's role would not be changing and mine would not be changing."
The media storm started when the Orange County Register reported that the 83-year-old Schuller announced his departure during the morning service at the Garden Grove cathedral. The Associated Press picked up the Register story. And within the hour, dozens of papers and media sites picked up the AP article and Twitter was buzzing with the news that the man who created the empire behind the popular weekly Christian TV show "Hour of Power" was moving on. Wikipedia added to its entry that Schuller was retiring.
As of 10:15 am PST, neither the Orange County Register nor The New York Times, which ran the AP story under the headline "Founder Retires From Megachurch" -- had changed its tune. Twitter still hasn't caught up.
The AP, 10 hours ago, ran an "updated" version of the story, which was the sorriest attempt I've seen to get around running a correction:
The 83-year-old Schuller will take on a new role as head of the church's board of directors.
Coleman told the Los Angeles Times that the move is not a retirement for her father, that he will still make appearances at the church and continue to preach "until the day he dies."
Previously the AP had hidden behind the reporting of the OC Reg. It's events like this that remind me that, at least on occasion, the Associated Press is the local TV news of print journalism.
So what happened with the OC Register? The paper opened its story with something of an obit intro, followed by the "announcement" that Schuller was going to be the new head of the church board and then this quote:
"I'm very proud that Sheila has earned her doctorate at the University of California, Irvine, and that this university has declared her to (have earned) a distinguished alumnus award," Schuller told his congregation during the 9:30 a.m. service. "Congratulations, I'm very proud of her."
It's difficult to imagine that a televangelist of Schuller's skills couldn't give a better, to-the-point quote about why his daughter was fully taking over and why he was stepping aside. But that's all the OC Reg offered. While we are at it, please note this as well: Shouldn't that first reference to his daughter, under Associated Press style, be the Rev. Sheila Coleman? I would imagine that the elder Schuller is legally ordained, as well. You think?
Meanwhile, where is the rest of this story? Was there any? Was this a reporting snafu or just a matter of he said, she corrected? The LAT appears to have answered those questions. And it doesn't look good for the Register.
Part of the blame likely falls on circumstances. This story "broke" on a Sunday. That's not usually a day when religion reporters -- if the paper even has them on staff -- are just sitting around the newsroom listening to church sermons on the police scanners.
And with that in mind, I thought the LAT did a good job.
The story was fairly short, but considering that it was a story clearing up a non-story, the length is sufficient. And the context was impressive for reporters who previously had not covered the schism between Schuller and his son, Robert A., that put Coleman into (hour of) power. They even worked a quote from Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, about whether Coleman would be able to have the success that her father did.
Of course, this non-story says some uncomfortable things about the continuing evolution of the news business.
I don't want to call it a devolution, because so many good things have come from the added speed and readership of stories being analyzed on blogs and shared on Twitter. But, not surprisingly, when stories are inaccurately reported the first time around, a lot more people get the misinformation -- and you can expect that far fewer people are re-tweeting that Schuller didn't retire.
PHOTO: The Rev. Sheila Coleman, fronting the church that her father built.