First is not always best.
That's my quick critique of the NPR story that made such a splash Friday. You know, the one that reported evangelical leaders are very concerned about swirling allegations "about the president and a payout to a porn star to cover up a sexual encounter."
Those leaders, NPR said, "are organizing a sit-down with President Trump in June."
Alrighty, but where's the story coming from?
The answer would be "four sources with knowledge of the planned meeting." In other words, we have what has become all too frustratingly common in the Trump era: a narrative based on anonymous voices.
Bottom line: Such sources know what they're talking about. Or they don't. You can trust them. Or you can't. And therein lies the problem.
I'll admit my bias: I wish major news organizations would stop using anonymous sources (who have an agenda or wouldn't be talking). Make people go on the record (so readers will have more information on which to judge a source's agenda). Or simply don't quote them. It's that simple.
Anonymous sources do nothing to improve the credibility of journalism in an age in which the president of the United States scores cheap political points by criticizing what he calls the #FakeNews media.
After quoting the anonymous sources, NPR includes a named source — yay! — who pooh-poohs much of the earlier storyline:
Johnnie Moore, an informal evangelical adviser to Trump, downplayed the discussions, calling them "entirely conceptual" at this stage.
Moore described himself as an "observer" rather than an organizer but did say conversations are underway about a potential gathering of hundreds of evangelicals in Washington, D.C., in the coming months.
"There is a very active discussion about the desire of evangelical leaders to get together again, principally to discuss policy issues going into 2018. And it has nothing to do with any questions about the past life of our president."
As for the format, Moore said that, too, is still being discussed, and the president would not be the "center of the discussion" — though Moore said that if 1,000 evangelicals gather in Washington, he believes the president would try to meet with them.
Moore noted that many conservative Christians are pleased with Trump's policy record so far and are eager to talk about "what's next" for their policy priorities.
"What I think will happen if there is a meeting and he participates," Moore said, "I think there will be one heck of a celebration."
It appears the actual story is more nuanced and complicated than the anonymous sources' portrayal up top.
In fact, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins issued a statement calling the NPR narrative false:
“An NPR story published this morning says evangelical leaders are organizing a meeting with President Trump because they are “concerned” about the tantalizing details of President Trump’s past and its effect on the mid-term election. There is only one problem. It’s not true. How do I know? I am one of the key organizers of the event, which is very similar to the event we did in New York City in June of 2016. We are inviting a 1,000 evangelical leaders to come to Washington for the day to discuss what has happened on the shared issues of concern since January of last year. The media, which has earned the descriptor, fake news, has been pre-occupied with talking about Russia collusion, and the manufactured scandals de jour. The media has not focused on the fact that his administration has advanced the most pro-life policies since Roe v. Wade and is working hard to restore religious freedom that was systematically attacked by the previous administration.
“We’ve invited the president and do hope he will join us to continue the conversation that began with evangelical leaders two years ago in New York City. Our concern is that evangelicals are discouraged, not because of details dredged up from the president past, but from Congress’ poor performance on promises made. The GOP’s future depends upon evangelicals remaining enthused and engaged, which depends on the president’s agenda going forward – and the Left knows it. “
Earlier, I suggested that first is not always best. What did I mean?
I'll point you to a better story — a Washington Post piece by religion writers Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Julie Zauzmer — following up on the original NPR story.
The Post article (1) gives credit to NPR for breaking the news of a possible meeting and (2) obviously benefits from NPR's earlier reporting in knowing what questions to ask evangelical leaders.
But here's what is so impressive about the Post report: It quotes real, live human beings and identifies them by name (which, by the way, is something I'd love to see in more of that same newspaper's political reporting on the Trump administration).
From the Post:
There is a range of opinions among participating pastors about what should take place during this meeting. Some said the meeting is mainly about praising the president and thanking him, and there are no plans to mention the words “Stormy Daniels.” Others said Christian conservatives behind the scenes are panicked that evangelical voters, discouraged by sex scandal stories, will lose enthusiasm for voting in the 2018 midterm elections.
Bob Vander Plaats, the president of conservative group the Family Leader in Iowa, who has been asked to serve on a committee for the meeting, said Trump has done more for evangelicals than any other administration in recent history. But news events threaten to cloud Trump’s accomplishments and cause people “angst,” he said. He listed stories about Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s allegations of an affair with the president and the ongoing Russia investigation. He also criticized Trump’s profanity in his recent comments railing against the mainstream media, when the president called NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd a “sleeping son of a b—h.”
“We’re in this environment of unease, definitely among evangelicals. But it’s broader than that,” he said, saying he thinks it could affect the midterm elections.
He said if Trump were to confess to an affair and say he’s sorry if he’s guilty, the country would be forgiving.
“As people of faith, we should cheer him on when he does right,” he said. “But when he goes outside the boundaries, when he needs a voice of accountability, we also need to be a voice of accountability. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
The entire Post story is worth reading, even if it followed NPR's report.
First is not always best.
Image via Pixabay.com