Publisher declares this news story on Johnson Amendment 'accurate and complete,' but is it really?


Sometimes, writing a GetReligion post is as simple as paying attention to Twitter.

Today's edition is brought to you courtesy of an exchange I witnessed between James A. Smith Sr., vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, and Ron Fournier, publisher/editor of Crain's Business Detroit.

Yes, this is the same Ron Fournier whose 20-year career in the nation's capital included serving as Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press. 

The back-and-forth between Smith and Fournier concerned a Crain's Business Detroit blog item on the Johnson Amendment:

Charitable nonprofits could see new pressure to endorse political candidates and partisan issues if a renewed bid to repeal the Johnson Amendment becomes a reality.
Following the defeat of a similar proposal last year as part of the tax reform legislation, politicians and special interest groups reiterated their goal of repealing the amendment last week at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, the National Council of Nonprofits said in an email alert Monday afternoon seeking nonprofit advocacy on the issue.
The council said it believes congressional leaders are now considering an upcoming appropriations bill as a vehicle to nullify the amendment. Such a repeal would fulfill a promise President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail.

In response to the item, Smith tweeted:

Fournier responded:

Smith replied:

Fournier again:

And Smith again:

Certainly, dear reader, you can check out the Crain's Business Detroit item and draw your own conclusion. In fact, I encourage you to do so and report back in the comments section.

The item contains wording such as this:

Put another way: Charitable, religious and philanthropic nonprofits would see new pressure to endorse or oppose political candidates and other partisan activities.
And that could present a slippery slope.

What am I missing? That does not sound like impartial journalism to me. It impresses me as  editorialization. It contains no attribution, unless the email alert referenced earlier is supposed to serve as the catch-all sourcing note.

And Smith is correct when he says that the story fails to quote anyone from the other side, right? How is that a "complete" story?

At their meeting last week, the National Religious Broadcasters board of directors approved a resolution related to the Johnson Amendment:

• Opposing the Chill of the Johnson Amendment: The Board called on both “government and ministry leaders to stand against the Johnson Amendment’s chill of the constitutional free speech rights of churches and ministries.” The resolution also supports adoption of the Free Speech Fairness Act to provide a statutory remedy for the Johnson Amendment “by clarifying that political statements made by 501(c)(3) organizations are permissible as long as they are made in the ordinary course of the organization’s activities.”

That information — or a similar note — would have been easy for Crain's Business Detroit to reference, even in a quick, single sentence in the blog post. I believe that's Smith's point, and a reasonable one at that.

Please respect our Commenting Policy