Follow the money.
Adhering to that old journalistic adage pays off for Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jennifer Berry Hawes in yet another rock-solid story on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
This time, Hawes' coverage concerns not the faith nor the forgiving nature of a black congregation devastated by a white gunman's attack on a Wednesday Bible study.
Rather, the projects writer for The Post and Courier, Charleston's daily newspaper, digs into the touchy subject of church finances:
In the weeks after a suspected white racist gunned down nine worshippers in Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, applause for the Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. swelled as talk of forgiveness inspired mourners nationwide.
Praise poured in — even mention of the Nobel Peace Prize — along with millions of dollars in donations to Emanuel AME Church and the families of the victims.
But others are coming forward to paint a much different picture of the man named interim pastor and now overseeing how the donations are doled out.
Across Goff’s path of past churches, from New York to Columbia to Charleston, accusations of poor financial oversight swirl amid lingering questions about how he is handling the huge pot of donations at Emanuel AME.
Among them, a woman who served as secretary to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, slain pastor of Emanuel AME, said she was terminated after raising concerns about the oversight of incoming donations.
And several members of Goff’s most recent church, Reid Chapel AME in Columbia, contend their former pastor took out large mortgages against the church without proper permission while amassing federal and state tax liens that reached $200,000.
Similarly, the pastor who succeeded Goff at his previous church, Baber AME in Rochester, N.Y., said Goff also left it saddled with debt and hard feelings among members.
After that broad introduction, Hawes methodically presents the facts and accusations in a 2,700-word investigative piece that is both hard-hitting and fair.
Readers can draw their own conclusions after reviewing the evidence — including court documents — and hearing from attorneys, church members and the embattled pastor himself.
The Post and Courier repeatedly gives Goff an opportunity to respond — in his own words — to the claims against him:
But Goff strongly defended his ministerial record and told The Post and Courier on Friday that he hopes to announce within 10 days how money addressed to victims’ families will be dispersed. At that time, he will discuss how much the community donated to the families and to the church itself.
Goff, who was promoted to become the area’s presiding elder less than a year ago, said church leaders have worked diligently to address questions following the loss of nearly all of Mother Emanuel’s ministry staff in the massacre.
“We are confident that we’ll be able to have accountability and transparency,” he said. “The public has a right to know about our movements.”
Alas, it's not shocking that Goff himself takes issue with the story. He held a news conference today to defend himself, as noted in these tweets by Mitch Pugh, The Post and Courier's executive editor:
For an update on the story, read this follow-up to Hawes' front-page Sunday piece:
From the beginning, we have praised Hawes' strong, sensitive coverage of Emanuel AME:
The inspirational, restore-faith-in-humanity nature of Hawes' past narratives highlighted her remarkable storytelling ability.
This latest coverage reminds us that the best journalists — count Hawes among them — understand the importance of reporting the good, the bad and the ugly.
By following the money, Hawes and The Post and Courier deliver the goods.