This is a national news story? Pastor with tiny flock sends email attacking new boy toy!

OK, let's try this again. One of the hardest things for journalists to explain to ordinary news consumers is the whole concept of what makes a story a "story."

For example, a "march" in your city that draws two dozen protesters may end up on A1, while a rally that draws thousands may not even make the newspaper. An editor would probably say that the "march" was about a new issue, while the massive rally was about a cause that's "old business." Readers may suspect that it has something to do with subjects that do or do not interest the editors.

So the other day I wrote a post asking why it wasn't news that the Catholic committee that coordinates Boy Scout work released a statement saying that a new policy allowing trans scouts will not apply to the many, many units hosted by Catholic parishes. What, I asked, about other doctrinally conservative faith groups? This is a big story, since religious groups host about 70 percent of America's Boy Scout troops.

But that wasn't a "story" in mainstream news publications.

Now we have a story -- that is receiving quite a bit of online push in the national USA Today network -- about an Asheville, N.C., pastor who has a problem with a new product from the American Girl company.

Why is this a national story? Look for the really interesting details in this overture:

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A move by a national doll manufacturer to add the first boy to its lineup has one local minister in a tizzy.
The Rev. Keith Ogden of Hill Street Baptist Church sent a message to more than 100 of his supporters and parishioners Wednesday titled, "KILLING THE MINDS OF MALE BABIES."
Ogden invoked Scripture as he criticized the American Girl company for its debut of Logan Everett, a drummer boy doll, who performs alongside Tenney Grant, a girl doll with a flair for country western music. ...
"This is nothing more than a trick of the enemy to emasculate little boys and confuse their role to become men," the minister said in the e-mailed statement he sent at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday after watching a segment about American Girl on Good Morning America.

That's right! This pastor sent an email to about 100 members of his "supporters and parishioners." In other words, his church only has 100 members or so (or that many with email addresses)? If you know anything about the South, this is not a large church.

Clearly, the hook here is that this wild Baptist man said something about gender that might have something to do with trans issues. Maybe. There is this quote later on in the story.

"There are those in this world who want to alter God's creation of the male and female," he wrote. "The devil wants to kill, steal and destroy the minds of our children and grandchildren by perverting, distorting and twisting (the) truth of who God created them to be."
Later that morning Ogden told the AshevilleCitizen-Times that he doesn't think that boys should play with dolls, that he thinks American Girl's move will confuse children.
"Now you are going to have little boys playing with baby dolls, and that's not cool," he said. "We need to get back to our old values and morals."

Oh, those wild fundamentalist types.

But there is a problem with that image, this time. If you visit the website of this pastor's church -- he will soon be leaving this pulpit, apparently for reasons linked to his wife's health -- you discover that it is part of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. This is a small, but significant, African American flock. Here is a bit of background:

The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., (PNBC) is a vital Baptist denomination with an estimated membership of 2.5 million people. PNBC was formed to give full voice, sterling leadership and active support to the American and world fight for human freedom. The convention was the convention-denominational home and platform for the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who addressed every annual session of the Convention until his death in 1968. New generations of Progressive Baptists are continuing the struggle for full voter registration, education and participation in society, economic empowerment and development, and the realization of universal human rights and total human liberation for all people.

Sure enough, the USA Today piece does note:

Ogden has been influential in Asheville's community, often speaking publicly about race and policing, violence in low-income communities and his opposition to same-sex marriage. ... 
Ogden said churches need to stand up and speak truth to power as the community wrestles with gender identity and changing values, especially as it relates to youth programming and activities. The Boy Scouts of America, last month, for example, announced that it will allow transgender children to enroll in scouting programs.
"It just doesn't make sense," Ogden said. "It's not natural for a boy to act like a girl. It's not natural for a girl to want to be a boy. You've got the government and people who placate this mess instead of telling little boys they can't change their biology."

So we have a black pastor with a tiny Bible Belt flock -- in a trendy, hip city in the mountains -- who has taken a stand linked to the gender wars. If you look at the larger picture, it's clear that his public activism has in the past addressed a mix (from the viewpoint of journalists) of liberal and conservative issues.

So why is this a story?

It's a story in Asheville, in part, because this pastor has made news in the past (see this earlier Citizen-Times story) on other newsworthy topics, such as race and same-sex marriage. Maybe the journalists there are trying to figure out why he is a good guy on some issues and a bad guy on others.

Why is this a national story worthy of promotion by the wider USA Today network?

I would assume that the answer is rather simple: It fit into a template, with a silly -- the pastor went into "a tizzy" -- fundamentalist pastor who is on the wrong side of history making a big deal out of a PR campaign for a new boy doll.

Dolls are symbolic and they are big business. The leaders of the USA Today network made sure to link this story to other developments in the world of Barbie diversity, for example. And thus:

The YWCA of Asheville, which works to empower women and eliminate racism, operates child care programs that serve children from infants through school age throughout Buncombe County. Though it does not have any specific programming or initiatives that address gender roles or gender neutral clothing or toys, it said American Girl's move was in line with progress.
"At the YWCA, we encourage play that helps all children explore what it means to be human and to accept each other's differences," CEO Beth Maczka said. "We are happy to see dolls that celebrate diversity and represent different races, abilities, body types and genders."

The bottom line: This was the kind of novelty culture wars story that produces "clicks" online. I mean, this story has the potential to get onto Comedy Central and Fox News! Tweeter in chief Donald Trump might even weigh in.

So this email from a Progressive Baptist pastor to a tiny circle of church members and friends (with a reporter or two in that list, based on previous contacts) in a small city suddenly becomes the stuff of national social-media chatter and maybe even late-night humor.

This is America.This is news. Right?

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