It's time for an update on a "mirror image" post that I wrote a few months ago during the media dead zone that is the days just before Christmas.
That was, when you may recall, the new leader of the Episcopal Church -- Presiding Bishop Michael Curry -- sent out a very interesting letter (in the midst of a personal medical crisis, no less). In said letter he wrote the following, which I argued was very important news if the Episcopal Church remains a highly important institution in American religious life (and, thus, in the news).
The headline on my post was, I thought, pretty sexy: "Zero news coverage? Episcopal Church's new leader cleans house (including a possible spy."
Yes, "spy," as in a corporate spy, as opposed to the Rt. Rev. James Bond, or something. The Curry letter 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.
So what kind of mainstream news coverage did the more controversial elements of this bombshell receive?
Thus, setting up the "mirror image" framing, I asked:
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 this happened at Focus on the Family? Or how about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?
And the spying element in this drama? People were talking about it. The conservative Juicy Ecumenism weblog, and others, had reported the following information:
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.
So what is the update that I bring to GetReligion readers today? The other day, Religion News Service published a short story about how this all turned out.
Must have been pretty exciting stuff, right? Here's the top of that report:
(RNS) Episcopal Church presiding bishop Michael Curry has fired two top executives for failing “to live up to the church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees.”
Sam McDonald, deputy chief operating officer, and Alex Baumgarten, director of public engagement and mission communications, were accused of misconduct and put on administrative leave Dec. 9.
Curry announced both men were found to have violated the church’s workplace policies, according to a staff update released by the church Monday afternoon (April 4).
The exact complaints against the men have not been made public.
And Bishop Sauls? The story notes that he was cleared, according to a church statement. However, he also lost his job and will be reassigned.
So what was left out of this short RNS report?
Simply stated: The bug, as in the earlier reports about the hidden recording device. Were there people willing to talk on the record about that? Well, yes and no. There were Episcopalians ready to talk about that, but not in the Episcopal information offices, apparently.
Here is the key. If you look at the mainstream news coverage of this story, and there is very little to look at, it's amazing the degree to which the media simply settled for reporting what came out in the Episcopal Church press release. The story was defined by the hierarchy and that was that.
What happened to calling experts on both sides to get their insights and commentaries?
Meanwhile, about that mirror image question? Would the whole bugging angle of this story have been ignored been omitted in news reports about other religions groups, especially on, say, the Evangelical or Catholic right? Can you imagine that?
I guess there is a larger question now: Is the Episcopal Church still front-page worthy, other than when it makes pronouncements that, well, echo the doctrines of The New York Times editorial page?