In a memorable episode of "The West Wing," Press Secretary C.J. Cregg is advised to save a few embarrassing stories for release on Friday. Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and his assistant, Donna Moss, engage in a somewhat humorous discussion of the strategy involved:
DONNA What's "Take Out the Trash Day?"
DONNA I mean, what is it?
JOSH Any stories we have to give the press that we're not wild about we give all in a lump on Friday.
DONNA Why do you do it in a lump?
JOSH Instead of one at a time?
DONNA I'd think you'd want to spread them out.
JOSH They've got X column inches to fill, right? They're gonna fill them no matter what.
JOSH So if we give them one story, that story's X column inches.
DONNA And if we give them five stories?
JOSH They're a fifth the size.
DONNA Why do you do it on Friday?
JOSH Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.
DONNA You guys are real populists, aren't you?
Speaking of "Friday news dumps" ...
The Boy Scouts of America made a major policy statement this past Friday concerning admittance of gay members. Of course, most Americans' attention was focused solely on Boston that day. Intentionally or not, the Boy Scouts' announcement came at the worst possible time for actually conveying the news.
If you missed the headline, here's how the Los Angeles Times summarized the news:
Top officials of the Boy Scouts of America have unanimously recommended allowing gay boys into the ranks of one of the nation's oldest and most traditional youth groups while continuing to exclude homosexual adults as leaders.
Scouting's executive committee described the proposal as an effort to acknowledge changes in society while respecting the religious organizations that sponsor many Scout troops across the country. It also aims to move the organization beyond a controversy that has rocked its foundation in the last several months.
"We believe the BSA can no longer sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, controversial, and unresolved societal issue," National President Wayne Perry said in a statement.
The recommendation is set for a vote at the Scouts' 1,400-member national council meeting in May.
Though a dramatic shift from the Scouts' outright ban on gays, the proposal left many on both sides of the debate unsatisfied. It comes after months of intense pressure inside and outside the organization, whose leadership has sent mixed signals on the issue. On Friday, some who have pushed for change were no happier than those who want to keep the status quo.
Most major news outlets stuck to a similar theme of the proposal generally failing to satisfy both sides. Quotes pulled straight from advocacy groups' news releases reigned.
While reports hinted at the key religion angle, voices of faith were scarce in the stories I read. The New York Times, for example, referenced "conservative Christians" up high:
The proposal drew swift criticism from both sides as conservative Christians said the Boy Scouts had caved in to political pressure, and gay rights groups said they were perpetuating discrimination and dangerous stereotypes about gay men.
But the story failed to quote a single conservative Christian by name.
CNN, meanwhile, quoted a pro-gay Scout leader in Utah with no mention of his religious affiliation or beliefs:
Provo, Utah, Scout leader Paul Barker sees the glass as half-full.
"I am forever an optimist, and I see it as a very big step forward in the right direction to which I will applaud," said Barker, an Eagle Scout and married father of four, ages 4 months to 7 years.
Saddened by recent stories of Eagle Scouts turning in their badges, Barker launched Ally Patches to support gay Scouts and their allies and create an atmosphere that's more welcoming.
To its credit, The Associated Press provided details to help understand the thinking behind the compromise proposal:
Included in the survey were dozens of churches and other religious organizations that sponsor a majority of Scout units. The BSA said many of the religious organizations expressed concern over having gay adult leaders and were less concerned about gay youth members.
Many Scout units are sponsored by relatively conservative denominations that have supported the ban on gays in the past - notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.
A Southern Baptist Convention spokesman, Roger Oldham, said the SBC would prefer that the Boy Scouts maintain the ban on both gay youth and adults. LDS spokesman Michael Purdy said Mormon leaders would study the new proposal before commenting, and there was no immediate public reaction from Catholic officials who have been dealing with the BSA membership issue.
The Dallas Morning News, meanwhile, caught a key detail ignored — or missed — by most reports:
The lengthy proposed resolution includes a recitation of the well-known Scout Oath, by which a Boy Scout pledges “to do my duty to God and my country” and “to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
It also makes it clear that belief in God remains a Scouting requirement. (Current policy bans avowed atheists.) An estimated 75 percent of Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops are chartered by churches and other faith-based groups.
With a month before the vote, don't be surprised to see journalists — understandably preoccupied with that bigger story this past Friday — circle back and provide greater attention to the Boy Scout proposal and debate.
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