False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

On one level, what we have here is another sad, tragic, case of a person of color making false accusations of racism — violent racism in this case — against other people.

That’s an important story. But wait! There was a chance to link this attack to Donald Trump and his White House team. That makes it a bigger story, right? Maybe even a national story. #Obviously

We will deal with those issues rather quickly, because I think there is another interesting news story hidden inside this case study. It’s an angle that The Washington Post didn’t dwell on, but managed to handle in a way that was accurate and fair. NBC News, on the other hand, settled for stereotypes and politics.

Let’s start with NBC and this dramatic double-decker headline, before this story took a dramatic twist:

3 boys at Christian school where Karen Pence teaches allegedly cut black girl's dreadlocks

"They said my hair was nappy and I was ugly," the sixth-grade girl said.

That headline does say “allegedly,” which is important since the 12-year-old girl has now said the attack never happened. Her family says she made it up. That’s really all we need to say about that, methinks.

What interests me is how NBC handled the school involved in this story. This whole situation is newsworthy, of course, because Karen Pence teaches at this Christian school.

So, a black girl is bullied — with racist taunts — in a Christian school that is, somehow, connected to the white evangelical empire of Donald Trump.

Many readers probably asked: Why was this African-American student attending a white evangelical school? She was doomed from the start, since this has to be a white evangelical school if Karen Pence is teaching there. Right? All of those evangelical “Christian” schools are for white people, you know.

Now let’s turn to the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: “Virginia sixth-grader now says she falsely accused classmates of cutting her hair.” Here is the crucial statement from the family:

The grandparents of the girl, who are her legal guardians, released an apology Monday.

“To those young boys and their parents, we sincerely apologize for the pain and anxiety these allegations have caused,” the grandparents wrote in a statement sent to The Washington Post by the school. “To the administrators and families of Immanuel Christian School, we are sorry for the damage this incident has done to trust within the school family and the undue scorn it has brought to the school. To the broader community, who rallied in such passionate support for our daughter, we apologize for betraying your trust.”

“We understand there will be consequences and we’re prepared to take responsibility for them,” the statement continued. “We know that it will take time to heal, and we hope and pray that the boys, their families, the school and the broader community will be able to forgive us in time.”

As it turns out, school leaders had cooperated with local police throughout this process.

In response, I thought this statement was especially gracious:

The Fairfax County NAACP issued a statement thanking Fairfax County police for quickly launching an investigation of the alleged incident and the school for “being forthcoming and open” throughout the process.

But here is the information about Immanuel Christian that I thought was crucial, in terms of readers understanding the context of this drama.

Yes, there is important factual information readers need to know other than the fact that Karen Pence has been associated with this school for a decade-plus.

Immanuel Christian is a private K-10 National Blue Ribbon school with 469 students. Just under half the pupils are students of color, according to information provided by Immanuel officials. African American students account for 11 percent of the school population. Tuition for middle-school students is $11,500. Vice President Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, teaches art part time at the school in grades one through five.

So the student body of this evangelical school — reflecting the racial make-up of American evangelicalism — is actually rather complex and diverse? Approximately half the students are Latino, Asian, black or some combination of the above? This might be worth some coverage.

I wondered if that information had been included in the original Post story about the alleged attack and — to the newspaper’s credit — it was there.

“We take seriously the emotional and physical well-being of all our students, and have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of bullying or abuse,” Stephen Danish, Immanuel Christian’s head of school, wrote in a statement. “We are deeply disturbed by the allegations being made, and are in communication with the family of the alleged victim to gather information and provide whatever support we can.” …

Immanuel Christian is a private K-10 National Blue Ribbon school with 469 students. Just under half the pupils are students of color, according to information provided by Immanuel officials. African American students account for 11 percent of the school population. Tuition for middle school students is $11,500. Vice President Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, teaches art part-time at the school to students in grades one through five.

So what about NBC News?

What were the must-cover facts that this newsroom’s pros thought readers needed to know about this evangelical Christian school? Did NBC include the information about racial diversity in the student body, which is a highly relevant fact in this specific news story?

The answer is, “No.”

Can anyone spot a theme running through this chunk of the highly politicized NBC online report about the alleged attack?

Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen, worked as an art teacher at Immanuel for 12 years, and started teaching there again in January. A school spokeswoman confirmed Friday that Pence was still working there part-time.

When Pence returned to Immanuel, it emerged that the school bars employees from engaging in or condoning “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity” and “transgender identity."

At the time, Pence’s communications director said, “It's absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school's religious beliefs, are under attack.”

Karen Pence's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged incident at the school.

That’s that.

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