Guilt by association: Pastor to Cabinet officials gets trashed by The Los Angeles Times

There’s been chatter this past week about Bible studies at the White House, thanks to a Christian Broadcasting Network story calling President Donald Trump’s advisors “the most evangelical Cabinet in history.”

Looking for a local angle, the Los Angeles Times found one in the person of the Rev. Ralph Drollinger.

Now, Drollinger had been mentioned in a very similar CBN story back in April. This time around, however, a Washington correspondent for the Times realized that one of the people in CBN’s story sounded awfully familiar. He wrote the following:

News from the Christian Broadcasting Network that members of President Trump’s Cabinet are attending Bible study sessions together didn’t come as such a shock in Washington.
The shock was who is teaching them.
That teacher, Pastor Ralph Drollinger, is well known to some members in the California congressional delegation -- and not just because he is a 7-foot-1 former UCLA basketball star. He is the evangelical spiritual leader who once counseled a group of Sacramento lawmakers that female politicians with young children have no business serving in the Legislature. In fact, he called them sinners.

Before we go, may we remind the Times that the Associated Press-approved way to refer to clergy on the first reference is as “the Rev.,” not “Pastor.” Maybe the reporter wouldn’t know such niceties but someone on the copy desk should have.

Drollinger also declared that Roman Catholicism “is one of the primary false religions in the world” -- precipitating his Bible study group’s move out of a suite of offices controlled by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Catholic.

The Times helpfully provided a link to information about that 2004 incident with an article written by the same reporter (then the Times Sacramento bureau chief) who obviously remembered the pastor from 13 years before.

The story goes on to tell the reader of Drollinger’s most offensive act.

But it was the remark about female politicians, made in a written Bible lesson distributed to his study group in 2004, that stoked the most controversy.
“It is one thing for a mother to work out of her home while her children are in school,” wrote Drollinger, a Californian who created a group called Capitol Ministries to teach evangelical interpretations of the Bible to politicians. “It is quite another matter to have children in the home and live away in Sacramento for four days a week. Whereas the former could be in keeping with the spirit of Proverbs 31, the latter is sinful.”
At the time, the commentary caught the attention of the legislative women’s caucus, where several members expressed mortification at what they flatly labeled Drollinger’s misogynistic teachings. State lawmakers protested by wearing aprons in chambers.

After quoting a member of the California Legislature who well remembers Drollinger’s remarks, the reporter tells how all the Cabinet offices of the officials named in the story –- plus Drollinger himself -- were not available for comment.

Good luck with that. When I worked for the Washington Times, I was aware of quite a few Bible-study meetings on the Hill but it was nearly impossible to get anyone to go on the record about them.

Now, a printed source of information is a good thing, in terms of journalistic credibility -- especially if the reporter has a copy of the original document. What I object to is where the article went next.

Drollinger spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2004, as the controversy around his writings on female legislators erupted. Acknowledging he frequently did not see his own young children while traveling for work, Drollinger expressed no regrets about his remarks back then and saw no double standard in not labeling fathers of young children serving in Sacramento sinners. He said his belief was that husbands are free to serve leadership roles outside the home but should be “extra sensitive” about being away too long. ...

Then we jump back into the present.

Drollinger’s Bible study with Trump Cabinet officials comes after many women have been rankled by Pence’s long-standing, faith-based policy of refusing to dine alone with any woman other than his wife, in a town where so much business happens at power lunches and dinners.
Trump, whose 24-member Cabinet includes just four women, has struggled to garner support from female voters. During the campaign he apologized after a decade-old videotape surfaced in which he boasted of groping women.

Whoa, wait a second.

How fair is it for the journalist -- as opposed to a source being quoted in the article -- to link Drollinger with events in the lives of Pence and Trump? And has this reporter been reading any of the recent New York Times poll data about how many Americans agree with Pence’s stand? My colleague Bobby Ross reported on it in early June.

To link someone’s remarks from 13 years ago with Trump’s misbehavior (which occurred 12 years ago) with the media elites’ disdain for Mike Pence’s stance on being alone with women (voiced in an interview that occurred 15 years ago) is stretching it. In other words, here’s a guy who’s a Neanderthal on women’s rights coupled with two other guys who are also clueless. This Cabinet Bible study is sounding nastier by the minute.

I’m curious as to whether all four of Trump’s four female Cabinet members (Elaine Chao, transportation; Betsy DeVos, education; Nikki Haley, United Nations and Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration) attend these Bible sessions. CBN said that DeVos did but we don’t know about the rest.

Drollinger was out of town when the Times tried to interview him, so it appears that the reporter was reduced to making guesses.

I hope the newspaper circles back and gives the pastor his day in journalism court because the structure of the current story is unfair and imputes motives that Drollinger no longer may have.

People have been known to change their minds when they arrive in Washington. Perhaps Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, who has four young children, might have some things to say to Drollinger on this issue.

Guilt by association isn't fair journalism. Never has been; never will be.

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