Let's play a journalism game for a minute, one that we have played before here at GetReligion (for an example, click here). We call it the mirror-image game.
Let's assume, for a second, that the Southern Baptist Convention elected a new president. Then, shortly thereafter, three of the convention's top leaders were purged -- perhaps the phrase would be "placed on administrative leave" -- because of accusations of misconduct while on the job.
Oh, and there were some really strange and shady things in the recent past, like reports of top Southern Baptist leaders spying on each other -- literally.
Do you think that this story would receive any mainstream coverage? Would that draw coverage in The New York Times, the Associated Press and/or regional newspapers?
What if the official Southern Baptist press agency all but ignored the story? Would that serve as a red flag for mainstream coverage, or would that be an effective signal to reporters that there is "nothing to see here, so move along"?
What if this happened at Focus on the Family? Or how about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?
Now let's look in the mirror image. Way back on Dec. 11, the new leader of the Episcopal Church -- Presiding Bishop Michael Curry -- released a letter, care of the denomination's official news service, that said in part:
I need to inform you that on Wednesday I placed on administrative leave Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, Samuel McDonald, Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Mission, and Alex Baumgarten, Director of Public Engagement. This is a result of concerns that have been raised about possible misconduct in carrying out their duties as members of senior management of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
I want to be clear. My decision should not be confused with a finding of fault, but is necessary to allow us to find clarity. We are taking these allegations seriously and there will be a full and fair examination of the concerns that have been raised to be conducted expeditiously by an independent investigator. To protect the integrity of that process, we will not be able to say more about the concerns at this time.
I immediately began running online searches looking for mainstream media coverage of this story. Ditto for my esteemed GetReligion colleague Richard Ostling, who lives in greater New York City, where TEC is based.
So what did we find?
Zero. Zip. Nada. Niente. Nichevo.
I found this most strange. I mean, normally all the Episcopal Church has to do to make news is have someone sneeze at the wrong time, or perhaps even at the right time if the topic has something to do with sex and progressive theology.
In this case, you have a charismatic new leader -- apparently -- trying to head off a scandal of some kind very, very, early in his administration. I think this is called "sweeping the decks." Is this scandal linked to finances? With declining numbers in the pews and lots of lawyers to pay, a money scandal would be a very bad thing. Might one or two of the accused Episcopal leaders be in charge of controversial aspects of church life, like disciplinary actions against bishops?
So what is going on? I mean, the Episcopal News Service didn't even produce a story. There has, however, been a second Curry notice about this affair that stated:
I have today engaged a law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the concerns that led me to place three members of senior management on administrative leave last week. The firm is Curley, Hessinger & Johnsrud LLP, of New York and Philadelphia, and the work will be carried out by Michael A. Curley, the firm’s senior partner, and partner Lindsay Vest.
And that's that.
Now, there are conservative news alternatives, of course. Over at the Juicy Ecumenism blog, run by the conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy, there was -- pronto -- a report that added a colorful detail that had previously been discussed in online chatter about Episcopal life. In other words, this commentary connected some potential dots:
While no further information was offered in the staff letter, there have been recent tensions between church staff and Episcopal Church Executive Council, an elected body that convenes in the three year period between General Conventions.
On November 18, a concealed audio recording device was found during a meeting of the Executive Council in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. The device was placed near the table where Curry and Episcopal House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings had been seated during plenary sessions. At several points in the meeting, the council went into executive session and staff and visitors were asked to leave the room.
Participants were asked to check their tabletops and to look under their tables for any additional devices, none were found.
Episcopal News Service reported that General Convention Executive Officer and Executive Council Secretary Canon Michael Barlowe told the council that his staff was checking to see if there were security tapes that could be reviewed to determine what happened.
That strange recording-device tidbit had been mentioned, briefly, at the end of an earlier Episcopal News Service report with this headline:
Executive Council members end four-day ‘joy-filled meeting’
Members turn to new triennium with emphasis on evangelism, reconciliation
So why the lack of mainstream media coverage?
Like I said, look in the mirror image on this one. Can you imagine another highly newsworthy religious group -- especially one of the doctrinal right -- making a similar announcement, one that heralds a potential scandal, and drawing zero coverage? I mean, the Episcopal Church is based in New York City. That's a pretty important news town.
Just asking. Got news?