Religion News Service's LGBT blogger omits a needed Q(& A)

Religion News Service's 'LGBT' blogger omits a needed Q(& A)

Religion News Service has a new blog on being "Faithfully LGBT," and the first item by blogger Eliel Cruz (other than his introductory post) is a report on the "Gay in Christ" conference held last weekend at the University of Notre Dame.

Besides offering his opinions regarding the ideas discussed at the conference -- which is fine, that's his job -- Cruz naturally reports on who said what. In the course of reporting, he makes an observation about an audience member:

Courage, a familiar Catholic organization that claims to help people with same-sex attraction or “homosexual desire,” was not officially involved with the conference. Some tension arose when a member of Courage—who seemed to only attend the very first night specifically for Ron Belgau’s presentation—vocally pushed back at the idea that Courage’s twelve step program to help overcome homosexual desires was not effective or even “Catholic enough.” 

My eyebrows went up when I read that "a member of Courage...seemed to only attend the very first night specifically for Ron Belgau's presentation." I knew that was inaccurate -- because the member in question, Daniel Mattson, is a personal friend of mine. In fact, I was seated next to him as he "pushed back" during the Q&A after Belgau's talk. 

When I alerted him to Cruz's odd inferral, Mattson, who lives more than two hours' drive from Notre Dame's South Bend, Indiana, campus, responded in an e-mail:

It seems strange that the assumption of a reporter was that someone he never talked to drove to a conference to hear one talk over another. I was most interested in the second day's talks, to be honest, and was disappointed that I wasn't able to make it back down to South Bend because of my work schedule.

In other words, RNS's LGBT commentator omitted a needed Q. All Cruz had to do was approach Mattson after the talk to ask why he was there. Instead, the blogger creates a narrative of "tension" caused by an audience member whose opinions, in his mind, really didn't belong at the conference. (I won't go into his mischaracterization of Courage itself, but members would tell you its spirituality is based on its Five Goals, not the Twelve Steps.)

Cruz's Twitter feed likewise bristled at "awkward" moments caused by audience members supportive of Courage (including, in all likelihood, me, since I asked a question identifying myself as a supporter):

Cruz's journalistic error reflects what happens when a news organization emphasizes commentary over reporting; the facts get blurred. Why did RNS send only him to the conference, without also sending a reporter to cover the (ahem) straight-news angle? It makes me wonder about the direction the organization is taking in hiring Cruz, whose job is funded by the Arcus Foundation, which also supports GLAAD and Planned Parenthood. His own opinions, which he voices freely on Twitter, align neatly with Arcus's pet causes:

Does Cruz's hiring not represent a bit of a departure for RNS, moving way beyond religious commentary (Jonathan Merritt, Jana Riess) into a kind of advocacy journalism that could create problems for a supposedly "down the middle" news service? Where is the voice for an opposing view? Will RNS add a blogger on something like "Faithful and Hetero"? Are they deserting coverage in favor of propaganda, HuffPo style?


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